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Russia: Grin and Bear It
When President Obama was caught by an open microphone in 2012 telling Russia's President Medvedev, "This is my last election; after my election I have more flexibility," supporters refused to believe that he meant more flexibility to genuflect -- despite a history of bowing to our enemies and deserting our friends.
For instance, President Obama's first trip abroad as commander-in-chief was to Egypt, where he invited the Muslim Brotherhood to attend his speech even though the Brotherhood was banned by our staunch ally, Hosni Mubarak, as a terror group supporting Hamas and the creation of a radical Islamic state.
Less than two years later Mubarak was toppled and the Muslim Brotherhood came to power -- and proved so radical that Egyptians themselves overthrew those Islamists and reinstated the military.
Meantime America's other secular or relatively moderate allies looked on and realized they could not count on our country.
The pattern was repeated in Iran, when we failed to support massive protests against that militant theocracy.
In Poland and the Czech Republic when we scrapped their missile shield.
In Libya, when we helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi -- even though he had shut down his nuclear program after the Iraq invasion and was supplying the West with anti-terrorist intelligence. (The Islamists who deposed Gaddafi attacked our mission in Benghazi and murdered our as yet unavenged ambassador.)
In Syria, where President Obama unilaterally drew a red line against Assad's use of chemical weapons and then -- lacking support from the British and our own Congress -- sheepishly accepted a disarmament plan proposed by Russia's Vladimir Putin that predictably proved to be merely a fig leaf covering Syria's continued mass killings.
And now in Ukraine, where President Obama warned Putin to keep his distance.
Putin moved in troops.
Ukraine presents a problem. Although President Yanukovych's first election, in 2004, was later declared fraudulent, international observers said he clearly and cleanly won in 2010.
The larger problem is that Ukraine is now two countries. Its west favors Europe. Its east is largely Russian and favors Putin. Crimea's parliament has now voted to join Russia.
But the biggest problem if we're talking realpolitik: Europe fears that if it opposes Putin he will cut off their oil and natural gas.
Yet there is little recognition of all these dilemmas in President Obama's rhetoric -- or, in fairness, in the bellicose statements by his more militant critics.
Stiil, if there is no easy answer in Ukraine (as there was none when Putin overran Georgia under George W. Bush) we now see -- we have seen for five years -- the hard consequences of an American president drawing red lines, issuing warnings, parlaying with terrorists, deserting crucial allies, weakening our economy and then cutting our military.
It is amateurish.
It is dangerous.
And it may now have us wrestling with the Russian bear.
In that same conversation in 2012 about how President Obama intended to be more flexible with Russia, Mevedev promised to pass that assurance on to his boss, Vladimir Putin.
We now we see that Putin got the message.
Lois the Robot
The lavishly retired head of the IRS unit that targeted conservatives, Lois Lerner, once again responded to congressional investigators by taking the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. Despite President Obama now insisting there was "not even a smidgen of corruption" in the way she and her colleagues pursued their prey.
So in the afterglow of the Oscars, I got to wondering how the president's friends in Hollywood might film the Lois Lerner story. Assuming they cared. Hollywood after all is the land of make believe.
Let's call our movie... I, Government.
Okay, we're ripping off that Will Smith flick, I, Robot.
But since when does Hollywood mind rip-offs?
Now pretend we're power lunching in Beverly Hills.
You're a producer named Jerry.
Here's my pitch:
Jerry, sweetheart, how do you like this?
Our heroine is an IRS robot named Lois.
I see her played by Joan Allen.
No, Jerry, not Joan Rivers.
I don't think we could get Joan Rivers to take the Fifth and keep quiet.
Anyway, Lois the Robot has always been an unthinking bureaucrat, a cog in the great machine of government. But then her creator, IRS head Doug Shulman, comes back from his daily White House briefing and tells Lois ... that evil is abroad in the land!
Groups with names that include words like Patriot and Tea Party don't just want to beat the bureaucrats' big boss in the 2012 election.
These "small government" groups also want to reform the tax code.
They want to ax countless corrupt tax breaks and exemptions.
They want to substitute a simple flat tax, eliminating the need for the Death Star known as the Internal Revenue Service, and eliminating most of the 150,000 members... of the National Treasury Employees Union.
As well as supervisors. Like Lois the Robot!
No, we don't have to build a Death Star, Jerry.
We can borrow that Star Trek set the IRS used at their convention.
Anyway this warning from the White House awakens a whole new level of self-awareness in the robots. They now fear for their own destruction!
So Lois and her friends go to battle, interrogating the evil tea partiers about their reading lists, their relatives -- even the content of their prayers.
And, most important, drying up contributions during the 2012 campaign.
Who saves the tea partiers?
Jerry, I was hoping you wouldn't ask me that.
We haven't yet found a credible hero.
Marco Rubio wants to make a deal with the robots.
Chris Christie went and hired a killer robot of his own.
And we can't cast Rand Paul because he commits the cardinal sin in Hollywood.
The guy cuts his own hair.
So what do you think, Jerry?
Nobody cares about big government?
Well, maybe you're right.
But wait. I've got another script.
It's about national health care reform.
We call it, American Hustle.
We hope Attorney General Eric Holder recovers quickly from his health scare... and even faster from the legal scare he's just given the country.
Not content to have trampled the rule of law in the Fast and Furious gun running scandal, in refusing to pursue voter intimidation complaints, in spying on Associated Press and FOX reporters, and in a whole docket full of other cases, the attorney general is now counseling his state counterparts to quit defending state laws -- and even state constitutions -- that ban same-sex marriage.
We'll examine the substance of Holder's stance in a moment.
But first consider another attorney who once risked his life defending the rule of law.
In 1770 British troops occupying Boston killed five protestors. The colonial government charged Captain Thomas Preston and his men with murder.
Fearing for their careers and possibly their lives, no lawyers in Boston were willing to defend the perpetrators of "the Boston Massacre."
Except for John Adams, who wrote in his diary,
"The part I took in defense of Captain Preston and the soldiers procured me anxiety, and obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country."
Far from eternal obloquy, Adams of course went on to earn the presidency.
In a very different time.
Eric Holder justifies asking state attorneys general to refuse any defense of their states' laws by likening bans on same-sex marriage to racial discrimination. Ignoring the fact that when he ran for president in 2008, and as recently as three years ago, Barack Obama repeatedly opposed same-sex marriage.
Our country may be undergoing a sea change regarding gay rights. And the Supreme Court of the United States has overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed into law by Bill Clinton.
But the Supreme Court did not overturn any state bans on same-sex marriage. The majority expressly recognized that these bans for now remain in effect.
I ask you, for the moment, to put aside your own feelings about gay, lesbian and transgender rights. I am not going to tell you my feelings because in this context they're irrelevant.
And that's because the larger issue is the rule of law. If we continue to ignore it -- as President Obama has joined Holder in doing regarding DOMA, immigration, recess appointments, the implementation of his own Affordable Care Act and so much else -- then America truly will be "fundamentally transformed."
Into a dictatorship.
President Obama has shrugged off the notion of American Exceptionalism.
So let him look deeper into our past. Recall that Winston Churchill traced Anglo-American reverence for the rule of law back to the legendary King Arthur. The Camelot that so stirred Jack Kennedy was not just about pageantry and beautiful tunes. It was about Arthur's idealism -- founded not on feudal loyalties, not on might makes right, but on the rule of law.
Moving from legend to history, when nobles forced King John to sign Magna Carta they were rebelling against tyranny and imposing the rule of law.
England's unwritten constitution is its noblest possession. Just as America's brilliantly, wisely, justly written constitution used to be our greatest possession.
When he lectured at the University of Chicago's law school Barack Obama took exception to our constitution, calling is a "charter of negative liberties" because it set limits on government's intrusion on individual rights but did not specify what government must provide for its citizens -- including, the president believes, health care, housing, food and who knows what else.
Our founders might have applauded President Obama's general desire to improve the constitution. They even provided a process for that. The amendment process.
And well short of constitutional amendment, gay rights supporters can take their case to the courts and to the voters. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriage.
But blatantly and systematically ignoring the constitution -- ignoring state laws and state constitutions because they seem to you unjust -- is unlawful.
It is tyrannical.
It is something no supporter of gay rights should support, because lawlessness will eventually come back to bite you too. Like Churchill's famous crocodile, that appeasers can only hope... will eat them last.
In sum, John Adams felt it was his duty as an attorney to defend men he found repugnant. But I believe even John Adams would have found Attorney General Eric Holder, and his boss... indefensible.
Hollowing Out Our Military
Hollowing out our military is one of America's most hallowed traditions.
Right after we won the Revolutionary War, in 1783, Congress refused to pay our soldiers back wages and pensions. This sparked the army's "Newburgh Conspiracy," defused only because General Washington refused to rebel. (See George Washington's Finest Hour.)
After we sacrificed a generation of doughboys on the fields of Flanders in World War I, politicians again gutted our military, especially the Navy. That left America an easy target for the Japanese Empire until America once again rose -- late, but luckily not too late -- to the challenge of Pearl Harbor and World War II.
A military buildup hastened the demise of the Soviet Union. The Clinton administration and then Republican Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld proceeded to "streamline" the military. One result: insufficient boots on the ground made it impossible to occupy Iraq or even to secure towns our troops had already taken, like Fallujah. You can debate whether a larger force would have brought peace to Iraq. Or Afghanistan, where President Obama surged but at the same time set a date for withdrawal. But if the total victory that let us turn Japan and Germany into democratic republics was not possible, what right did we have to ask American soldiers to lay down their lives?
All this leads to our current defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, now proposing to reduce troop strength to pre-Pearl Harbor levels.
Few dispute that there is room to cut at the Pentagon.
And the more libertarian wing of the Republican party, led by Senator Rand Paul, supports fewer American bases around the world, especially in countries that can afford to defend themselves.
Then too, perhaps we don't need the anti-tank aircraft Hagel wants to scrap.
Some might even support the White House seeking to trim everything from military pensions to health benefits to -- I kid you not -- funding for commissaries.
But at some point you have to ask yourself if our military is a favored constituency of the Obama administration.
After all, these are the people who played a game of chicken with Republicans, agreeing to sequestration spending cuts -- only -- if 50% of them came from defense. Seeing no other way to slow the growth of deficit spending, the GOP shocked President Obama by accepting the deal. The president now takes credit for reducing deficits. And the defense cuts continue.
Why don't Democrats fight to preserve defense spending as fiercely as they fight to expand food stamps, jobless benefits, disability benefits, and funding for teachers and other public union members?
Critics suggest it's because the Pentagon is not as easily politicized as, say, the EPA, HHS, the IRS and the Department of Education.
Soldiers don't seem as willing as many other people to remain dependent on government. Americans who volunteer for military service are often traditionalists. Many of them hail from the heartland. They want to defend our country and learn skills in the process so that when they muster out they can be self-reliant.
And national polls showed a vast majority of soldiers and veterans favored Mitt Romney.
Secretary Hagel's proposed cuts may well be in the best interest of America. And if more domestic and entitlement spending boosts our economy, maybe that's America's best line of defense.
But as Congress debates Hagel's budget, many will wonder if 2014 is looking a lot like 1783.
When some lawmakers felt we no longer needed so many soldiers.
And there was no rush to see that our soldiers were paid.
House of Cards
When Shakespeare staged plays at court for Queen Elizabeth I about feckless kings like Richard II or evil kings like Richard III he was not suggesting that Good Queen Bess was remotely like them.
Instead Elizabeth's grandfather appears as England's virtuous deliverer at the end of Richard III. And even Elizabeth's hound dog of a dad, Henry VIII, in his play of the same name is made to seem heroic, since his adultery and apostasy finally produce ...baby Elizabeth! And this libertarian prophesy:
In her days every man shall eat in safety
Under his own vine what he plants
Now contrast Elizabeth's love of Shakespeare with our current leaders' love for House of Cards.
We've learned that its biggest fan, President Obama, has asked for advance copies of upcoming episodes. And it's not just the president. Peggy Noonan writes that Democrats and establishment Republicans alike in Washington are now obsessed with this Netflix series
House of Cards depicts Washington as a cesspool reeking of ambition, avarice and revenge.
Which is to say it provides better reporting than you'll find anywhere in the mainstream media.
In times of greatness -- like those of Pericles, Ashoka, Kangxi, and Elizabeth I -- leaders liked to see themselves portrayed as farsighted and enlightened.
In times of decadence and decline, like today, leaders smirk at less flattering depictions, so long as they feel confident of their power and the loyalty of those allowed to poke fun.
Kings encourage court jesters.
But make no mistake. The popularity in Washington of House of Cards is a sign of contempt for us.
And the joke will be on us when these cards collapse.
Unless we act quickly on these other lines from Shakespeare:
The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
Invisible America: The Long-Term Unemployed
I don't often plug our own television stories. But here's one you might find interesting -- perhaps startling -- because it's deliberately ignored by the mainstream media.
Just click: http://www.fox45now.com/shared/news/top-stories/stories/wrgt_vid_18765.shtml
It's the story of invisible America: the long-term unemployed.
True, most news outlets reluctantly mutter each month that America's jobless rate is falling largely because millions of people are dropping out of the workforce. Yet we're seldom told what that really means. And we rarely meet someone who can't find a job, someone you'd never expect would be out of work.
Simply in terms of numbers, January's official jobless rate fell to 6.6% although the economy -- during the holiday season, no less -- created just 113,000 jobs, most of them part-time or government work.
That official rate is bad enough when you recall it's remained stuck far above 5% for more than five years. Under any Republican president this would be called a jobless recovery. Especially since the recovery part is pretty much confined to Wall Street, thanks to artificially low interest rates and federal pump-priming of $75-85 billion ...a month.
In other words, for all its rabble-rousing about income inequality, this administration caters to the rich. If establishment Republicans fail to seize that argument it's because they cater to the rich too.
But we're not going to focus on the official 6.6% jobless rate. We're looking into the real rate -- what's called the U-6 rate -- of 12.7%. The U-6 includes people who have stopped looking for work or who unwillingly accept part-time jobs.
People like Christopher Joseph.
College educated, talented, personable... and out of full-time work for three years.
Chris will tell us...
-- how he and his wife have had to move in with his in-laws...
-- how this 43-year-old father has to comfort his oldest daughter at night because she worries about whether they'll get by...
-- how he's applied for countless jobs...
-- and how he's been lucky to find work at a county job center in exchange for food assistance and other extended government benefits.
But we'll also look at why Chris may have struck out.
He majored in communications. How many colleges warn students paying tuition up the wazoo (or more likely going deeply into debt) that there are pitifully few jobs in communications or any number of other oversubscribed majors?
Then we'll show you how students can find rewarding and remunerative careers by learning disciplines that match the evolving job market. You'll see how every student majoring in Operations and Supply Management at the University of Dayton has been offered a paid internship and a great full-time job.
Still, not everyone is cut out for work that combines business and engineering. I'm not! In fact, not everyone should be pressured into going to college. Certainly not right out of high school.
Ever since World War Two and the GI Bill we've equated college with upward mobility -- with respectability. A stigma's attached to anyone without a diploma. And a stigma's attached to most anyone who pursues and even excels at a non-collegiate sort of career.
We talk with a small manufacturing firm about this and the challenges they face finding workers. For instance, they have to test ten applicants just to find one who can pass a drug test.
We hear now from government leaders that Obamacare is freeing people from "job lock" so they can pursue their dreams.
But Chris just dreamed of having a decent job.
The nightmare will come when a majority of Americans -- like the "angry young men" of socialized post-war Britain -- no longer aspire to work but instead are willing to live on the dole and nurse their resentments.
The good news ... is that Chris just found a job.
With the same county job center where he previously received only government benefits.
But not all of us can work for the government.
At least not yet.
Keeping America's private sector thriving and creating jobs will require a different mindset from government and from each of us, as workers and as parents.
Now, thankfully, off to work.
George Washington's Finest Hour
On Presidents Day I thought about our two greatest leaders, Washington and Lincoln, who used to have holidays of their own.
This was a good thing.
A necessary thing.
Because we should be honoring individual character and achievements, not just anyone who imagines himself great for having occupied the Oval Office.
America is not about titles and offices, and it's certainly not about power. America is exceptional because, as our founding documents make clear, inalienable individual rights precede government. We the people created our federal government to protect those rights.
This used to be taught in all civics classes and at all law schools. Even Harvard's and the University of Chicago's.
No one was more mindful of the limited, decentralized power of America's government than the first and only man chosen unanimously to lead it, largely because he had already demonstrated -- not only supreme devotion and courage -- but also supreme self-restraint.
George Washington could have been a king. The most moving instance of his refusing to seize personal power came in 1783. With the Revolutionary War won, a bankrupt Congress found it had higher priorities than paying our troops years of back wages. Seething senior officers threatened armed rebellion. General Washington had previously refused a crown. If he refused again, the army might mutiny against its commander in chief.
Torn between defying Congress and opposing the men with whom he had suffered countless privations and so often risked death, Washington unexpectedly attended a meeting of the officers at their headquarters in Newburgh, New York. It was March 15, the same day that Roman conspirators in 44 B.C. assassinated Julius Caesar, a military dictator. Washington's ambition and his fate were exactly opposite.
To reassure the soldiers Washington pulled from his pocket a letter from a member of Congress. Then he fumbled for something else. Recently the general had found he needed reading glasses. He had not yet worn them in public. With a slight smile Washington said, "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country." He then read the letter and left. Witnesses recall that many of the officers were in tears. They immediately affirmed their loyalty to Congress, the Newburgh conspiracy collapsed, and America remained a republic of laws not men.
This for me is one of the greatest moments in history. And upon hearing that, like the Roman leader Cincinnatus, Washington was eager to return to his farm, even King George III called his adversary "the greatest man in the world."
He was: first as the soldier who staked an immense fortune and his own life in the fight for liberty; then as impartial president of the Constitutional Convention; and finally as the first President of the United States, setting the precedent that his office was one of strong but limited power, freely shared with members of the cabinet, Congress and the courts -- and subject always to the preeminent rights of we the people.
Swearing Off Obamacare
A local employer came on our air several months ago and told you that he's not hiring any more full-time workers, due to the "crippling" regulations and costs... of ObamaCare.
I won't tell you that employer's name, or identify his business now.. since that might send him to jail.
Because the Treasury Department just ruled that businesses must certify -- under penalty of perjury -- that they are not cutting full-time jobs to avoid having to comply with the Affordable Care Act.
The Treasury Department's involved because Chief Justice John Roberts and his Supreme Court majority found the ACA is constitutional only if it's construed as a tax measure. And that gives the IRS power to enforce it.
Now bear in mind that employers make business decisions all the time based on tax considerations.
Heck, our gargantuan tax code is almost nothing but a bunch of politicized tax breaks for favored businesses.
Even more galling, the White House just postponed the ObamaCare business mandate, but not the individual mandate, yet again -- for purely political reasons. They want to delay as many worker layoffs as possible until after the November congressional elections.
So under penalty of perjury, let's get this straight:
President Obama -- who "jokes" that he can do anything he wants -- unilaterally rewrites the clear mandates of this "duly enacted, settled law"... but employers can no longer make a business decision based on the tax implications of that law.
Forgive me, but I've got to run -- to warn that local job creator how to stay out of jail.
Debt Ceiling: America's Bar Tab
Let's say you're a drunk and you've run up a staggering tab at your local bar.
You can't pay it off because you're now just working part-time.
So you go to your wife, who luckily still has a decent job. She says she'll pay off your bill, but only if you promise to drink less and stop running up future bar tabs.
You say, "Honey, I'll talk about the future, but I won't do that with a gun pointed at my head. Pay off the bar bill and then we'll discuss whether I need to cut back on future tabs."
In this parable, President Obama and his fellow Democrats are the patrons of that tavern (I was going to say bar flies, but that wouldn't be respectful)
... and Senator Ted Cruz is the wife.
What they're of course arguing about is the debt ceiling, which Senator Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner agreed to raise "clean" of any spending cuts.
In fairness, the analogy is not precise.
Progressives would object to calling anyone a drunk. They would say we're alcoholics, meaning victims of a disease, who can't be blamed for our actions. Be it drinking. Or spending.
And in fairness, establishment Republicans have been more than happy to run up a tab at this establishment.
George W. Bush, for instance, never saw a spending bill he was willing to veto.
Beyond that, GOP leaders want to steer clear of another government shutdown. They want to steer clear of anything that distracts attention before the election from the imploding Affordable Care Act.
But tea partiers are teetotalers when it comes to deficit spending.
So they are saying precisely this:
"Mr. President, don't claim you only want to pay the bills Congress has already run up, and preserve the full faith and credit of the United States, if you're not also willing to negotiate future spending limits. And Mr. President, don't claim we're trying to put a gun to your head (aren't we supposed to have given up that kind of violent political speech?) when the only leverage Republicans have is when we're asked to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. Otherwise, you ignore us."
Frank Sinatra used to croon a great saloon song called "One for My Baby and One More for the Road."
But when Frank sang, "set 'em up, Joe," he was able to pay his own bar tab -- unlike America.
And that road he sang about wasn't leading over a fiscal cliff.
So Washington -- and I do mean both parties -- how about joining a 12-step program before you go on another bender?
With the latest delays of the employer (but not the individual) mandate, Obamacare -- as passed by Congress -- is now imploding.
President Obama just granted businesses with 50 or more full-time employees yet another reprieve from having to provide them all insurance.
But only till after the next elections.
That tactic, and the false promise that you could keep your policy, helped reelect the President in 2012.
Yet it won't keep businesses from continuing to freeze hiring and reduce workers' hours.
And it means individuals forced onto government exchanges will see even higher premiums and deductibles. What they may not see are their doctors, who refuse to accept lower reimbursement.
Still, if Obamacare's staunchest supporters now find it hard to defend , that does not mean the Republican establishment has a better plan.
Or any plan at all.
To see why, let's review how America came down with our health care fever.
It all started ...
That's when businesses became the prime providers of our health insurance.
During World War II, employers skirted FDR's wage controls by offering workers health
benefits. Those benefits were not taxed as income for employees, and businesses -- unlike individuals -- were allowed to deduct premiums as business expenses.
Soon most bigger employers started offering group health insurance. And as so often, there was an unintended consequence. Since they didn't buy policies themselves, workers stopped noticing what health care actually cost.
But what if you didn't work for a large company?
At first it didn't matter.
In the 1950s, when I was a little kid in a Davy Crockett coonskin cap, my parents -- self-employed at a small business -- had no health insurance. Yet they were able to pay out of pocket to have me delivered and to have my tonsils and appendix removed. A visit to our local doc cost fifteen bucks.
And he made house calls.
But since Washington's tax policies in effect subsidized health care for workers at bigger businesses, those tax deductions soon pushed up prices for everyone.
Washington had created a health care gap by giving some folks the benefit of tax-exempt coverage while others -- like my folks -- had to fend for themselves.
After the war, Washington could have phased out health insurance deductions for employers and returned to free market principles. After all, employers don't buy our food, clothing and shelter.
But politicians would sooner jump off a bridge -- or worse, get a real job -- than ask voters to give back a government benefit. So instead the politicians tried bridging the health care gap they created... by creating even more benefits, and more health care subsidies -- including Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor.
To the surprise of no one, unless your health care included a lobotomy, budgets for both Medicare and Medicaid soon rocketed beyond the estimates used to sell them to taxpayers.
As always, government had little incentive to control costs much less outright corruption. To the contrary, bureaucracies fed on built-in budget increases that outstripped inflation. So did health providers, including physicians, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.
To remedy these problems, Democrats passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Obamacare aimed to control costs and insure those 30 million Americans who didn't have insurance through work and couldn't afford to buy it themselves.
But no one is now claiming that the average family of four will save the promised $2,500 a year. Instead, again, premiums and deductibles are rising.
And even the Washington Post concedes that 30 million people will still be uninsured -- not counting the millions more for whom the employer mandate is being postponed.
And let's not even get into worries about privacy, politicization, and enforcement by... the IRS.
So Republicans call Obamacare a giant leap toward "fundamentally transforming" our country.
But... who are they to complain?
And what do they promise?
When the GOP called the shots in Washington for six years under George W. Bush, they could have come up with their own solutions -- free market solutions, like
- individual tax-free health-savings accounts, with tax credits for low-income people
- assigned risk pools for those with preexisting conditions, perhaps as part of Medicare
- the right to buy policies across state lines to increase competition, and
- malpractice litigation reform
Instead the GOP expanded federal entitlements -- for rich and poor alike -- to include prescription drugs under Medicare Part D.
So now a civil war is erupting in Republican ranks.
Libertarian-minded lawmakers were willing to shut down the government to defund Obamacare, or at least delay the individual mandate, just as the White House is now again delaying the employer mandate.
And the Republican establishment?
It's continuing to play rope-a-dope, hoping voters will simply turn to them as the lesser of two evils.
But who's the dope here?
By offering no replacement for Obamacare, the GOP will once again turn their own conservative base away from the polls, and allow other voters to be distracted at election time by the headline of the day -- whether it's the next Superstorm Sandy, or some polarizing social issue, or a personal attack on their contender.
Remember the media pouncing on George W. Bush's 24-year-old DUI?
More important, if the GOP does nothing, America truly will have been fundamentally transformed.
Obamacare is imploding.
But as President Obama joked with France's socialist president only yesterday...
"That's the good thing about being President. I can do anything I want."
Unless the loyal opposition quits taking Obamacare...
What Else Ed Sullivan Gave Us
Wasn't that celebration of the Beatles' 50th anniversary on Ed Sullivan wonderful -- especially for those of us old enough to remember 1964 (something we don't usually celebrate)?
Like millions of kids, I was so completely conquered by the British Invasion, my cousin Stevie and I covered our crew cuts with Beatle wigs and started what may have been the first -- and certainly the worst -- air guitar tribute band.
But while mourning John and George, and singing along with Paul and Ringo, can we also take a moment to remember the other acts Ed Sullivan gave us?
Because they say a lot about the current state of our culture, and of our nation.
On a typical night in the '50s and '60s, Ed would bring onstage everyone from Borscht Belt comics, to a wheedling puppet called Topo Gigio, to "teen sensations" like Elvis, though mostly from the waist up, and the Fab Four, though screaming girls in the audience kept us from really hearing them at home.
Ed also did something that today seems strange.
He showcased opera singers and ballet dancers.
Why go so high brow?
Well, there were only three major networks, and most families owned just one television set, so Ed had a more or less captive audience.
We didn't like everything he shared, but my mom, dad, sister and I patiently sat back and waited for Mr. Sullivan to serve up something for each of us.
More importantly, those divas and dancers answered what used to be a deep-seated American need.
We're a nation of immigrants. Many of our parents and grandparents arrived with little formal education, but they wanted to "improve" themselves and they wanted their children to be cultivated.
They instinctively realized that what makes us human is the ability to build on all that's best from the past to create something new.
So opera's Enrico Caruso cut the first hit records back in 1902, and Hollywood later made movie stars of Jeanette MacDonald and Mario Lanza . The classical pianist Jose Iturbi accompanied the bobby-soxers' Frank Sinatra.
Stokowski conducted for Mickey Mouse. And it wasn't public but commercial television that brought a wide public to Leonard Bernstein on Omnibus and his Young People's Concerts.
Then two things happened.
First, society changed. The children of those erstwhile immigrants -- to paraphrase one of the kids' favorite movies -- had no more brains than their parents, but they had one thing they hadn't got -- a diploma.
And funny how the validation that came with that diploma bred cultural complacency.
The children no longer sought self-improvement. They were already new and improved and stuck in their own cultural moment with scant regard for the past.
Worse, they were taught that older art propped up the imperialism of dead white European males.
They were taught wrong. Great artists have always looked beyond their own time and their own borders.
That's what the Renaissance was all about.
And more recently, just in the realm of music, Debussy was entranced by Javanese harmonies. Duke Ellington retooled Grieg and Tchaikovsky and wrote a Far East Suite. Miles Davis drew inspiration from Africa and Brazil. And Bill Evans grooved on... Debussy.
Humanism is a great circle.
A spiritual descendent of those musicians, Wynton Marsalis, bemoans what most young people now hear in their place.
And that's due in large measure to a second big change: the media explosion.
The old-line network trio gave way to cable's hundreds of channels and now innumerable internet and wireless platforms.
What's wonderful is that the fruits of every civilization are now available at the click of a mouse.
What's sad is that producers can no longer count on Ed Sullivan's captive audience -- on a big slice of the media pie -- so they can't easily risk going high-brow, however you
might define that. They're instead reduced to fighting over smaller and smaller slices of that pie by pandering to the lowest common denominator.
But ultimately this is about more than culture.
It's about liberty.
The dumbing down and coarsening of our culture makes it easier for politicians to manipulate us.
Long ago families gathered for prayer or story-telling or actual music-making.
It's been decades since we gathered as families, even around a single electronic hearth.
Atomized individuals can make wider choices but -- dreading isolation and seeking solidarity -- we can also be more easily led.
Reaching us on old and new media platforms, Hollywood has a disproportionate influence on our lives. Its political messages permeate everything from obvious polemics to more subtle propaganda.
Everyone remembers that George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four warned us about surveillance.
But that novel also had a more ominous message, revealed in the manifesto of its authoritarian state:
"(T)he only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism... (T)he Party member, like the proletarian, tolerates present-day conditions partly because he has no standards of comparison. He must be cut off from the past... because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off than his ancestors"
In so many ways we are better off, if you support civil rights, women's rights, gay rights or any kind of technological advancement.
But culturally we are not better off than our ancestors.
That is not to to say we should return to our parlors or even to a world of just three TV networks.
The latest generations of electronic devices give us a genie who can transport us anywhere, answer any question (if not always accurately) and connect us to the most arcane communities of interest.
We are omniscient. We are all-powerful!
But -- once in a while -- we might recall the humility of our forebears, their yearning to bring something timeless and uplifting to their lives and the lives of their children.
The Beatles may well prove to be timeless.
And they sure are uplifting.
Ed Sullivan just did what each of us can still do.
He made sure that besides the Beatles... we had Beethoven too.
The Evil Rich Beatles
The 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on Ed Sullivan...
(I say appearance because you could hardly hear them above the screaming)
... must make President Obama mighty indignant, even though he's been hanging out a lot lately with Sir Paul McCartney, not to mention Beyonce, Jay Z, and other icons of income inequality.
To see how unjust it is for these rock, pop and rap stars to rake in their millions while the poor and middle class lose income, try this thought experiment based on what the late Harvard philosopher John Rawls called the Original Position for an ideally just society.
That would be one where we make up laws and divide up property -- in the dark -- without knowing what our personal positions in society would be.
For instance, want to oppose gay marriage? Okay.
But what if the lights flick on and you find out... you're gay!
That might or might not change your perspective.
When it comes to property, let's imagine no one in the Original Position would know if they'd be born rich or poor. Do you gamble on being "lucky in life's lottery?" Or do you worry about being born on the other side of the tracks?
Well, in our ideal society we could protect against anyone starting out rich or poor by giving everyone the same amount of money -- say $100,000.
Some of us would then spend our money on necessities and invest the rest. We might next get a good job or even start a small business. Barring a catastrophe, these prudent people should live stable, middle-class lives.
But now let's imagine four lads named John, Paul, George and Ringo. Instead of investing their money in beauty salons (that was actually Ringo's early dream) they buy guitars and a drum kit.
The boys then take some of the rest of their $100,000 (or whatever that is in British pounds) and entrust it to a manager named Brian Epstein. Brian spends some of their collective cash to hire the Cavern Club in Liverpool, and to do what Elvis did -- cut their first record on their own dime.
In just a couple of years, what do you know?
Millions of the rest of us are spending a chunk of our $100,000 on Beatles concerts, albums... and even the Beatle wigs my cousin Stevie and I used to pull on over our crew cuts.
Now we fans are all out hundreds or -- if we're real Beatlemaniacs -- thousands of dollars.
And the Beatles are filthy rich.
So how do we return to the Original Position of income equality?
Well, we could levy confiscatory taxes on the Beatles.
But they've got a subversive nerve and just keep cutting more and more top-selling albums.
If our Utopia really is committed to income equality we could nationalize all music groups and allow them to be heard only on state-run media (while at the same time making sure their music conforms to state standards and includes messages that promote the state, ideally performed by friends of our leaders).
You laugh? That's what's ultimately happened in collectivist states throughout history.
The Beatles would protest that their success has grown the economy. Just as they made money for their manager, they've also made billions for record companies, concert venues, wig makers and tribute bands, like that one I had with my cousin.
And the Fab Four might cheekily insist that -- besides having had the moxie to strike out on their own -- they also had the talent to make good.
But as President Obama and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren would say, the Beatles didn't get there on their own. They were products of a society -- a Hillary Clinton "village" -- that helped make their success possible by providing them roads and airports so we could get to their concerts. Now it's the band's duty to "pay it forward."
And that philosopher who posited the Original Position, John Rawls, actually went further, arguing that inequality of natural gifts obligates the talented to work for the less talented.
Thing is, all that redistribution or property raises the question:
Who decides who gets what?
The rest of us can set steeply graduated tax rates -- which the Beatles will mock in songs like "Taxman."
But as we know from real world experience, politically savvy people will use their $100,000 in the cleverest way of all: to bribe democratically-elected politicians.
Those politicians will make sure some government revenue goes to the poorest people, but that even more goes to the richest. If you doubt that's been the mission of both Republicans and Democrats alike, please read another prior blog called "Who's Occupying Wall Street Now?"
Between tax breaks, bailouts, government grants and innumerable other provisions, our utopian government will soon ensure that the politically well-connected are as successful as the most talented risk-takers among us. That's why 6 of the 10 richest counties in America now surround Washington, D.C.
And those politicians and their cronies make sure that the growing population of poor people look to the government for hope.
My modest proposal is that, rather than rely on ever-expanding government to redress "income inequality," we instead limit the size of government, and allow rock bands, hairdressers, and anyone else out to make a buck, to try earning it in a free marketplace, where some bands and beauticians will go bust, but others will be rewarded for their risks.
Will some people wind up richer than others?
Should we provide a social safety net for those truly in need?
But for the rest of us, instead of envying others people's honestly earned success, how about just loving -- and being inspired by-- what they bring us?
Because as the Beatles sang...
"...in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
Keeping Your Enemies Closer
One of the questions President Obama shrugged off when interviewed by Bill O'Reilly was why he has not fired Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for the Affordable Care Act fiasco.
In fairness, O'Reilly knew that was a rhetorical question.
Because while holding everyone "accountable," the President never fires -- or even reprimands -- anyone.
Not Attorney General Eric Holder for the deadly Fast and Furious gun running scheme, or for spying on reporters.
Not Doug Schulman or Lois Lerner for the IRS targeting of conservatives that President Obama now calls a scandal manufactured by FOX News.
And certainly not former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when she failed to protect, rescue, avenge or just tell the truth about the victims of terror in Benghazi, Libya.
President Obama apparently agrees that you've got to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
That maxim's been attributed to the ancient Chinese general Sun-tzu.
More to the point it was adopted by a gangster... Michael Corleone.
Who knows what Holder, Schulman, Lerner or Hillary might have coughed up if their boss put them on the hot seat?
Actually, there is a guy who knows.
He's now feeling the heat from a boyhood chum, Port Authority head David Wildstein, who resigned after the Jersey governor hurled so much abuse on underlings... for the Washington Bridge payback ploy, I thought we were listening to Don Rickles.
Now Wildstein claims there's evidence (he has not produced) proving Christie knew all about that punishment for a Democratic mayor.
Christie may have lashed out in righteous indignation.
Or he may not be so righteous.
But he failed to follow the example of President Obama, who saves his indignation for conservatives.
Of course Christie was at a disadvantage.
He could not count on the mainstream media shrugging off Bridgegate.
The way President Obama shrugged off Bill O'Reilly's questions.
Liberty? It's Greek to Me
For my family, the Super Bowl marks the end of the holiday season.
Meaning it's the weekend we finally put our drooping Christmas tree out of its misery.
If you agree the post-Super Bowl season also means the end of fun and games, perhaps you'll now follow me from your man cave... into philosophy's most famous cave.
Because I believe that's where we can find a way out of our political crisis.
Plato's Republic -- despite many centuries of misappropriation by tyrants, churches and Plato's own followers -- is the first and still the best survey of politics.
What's more, it's a guide to living a good life.
That's because Plato cares less about government than about the individual.
The aim of life for him is the pursuit of truth and goodness. The best government is the
one that assures individual citizens the freedom to become what Plato calls philosophers -- what others might call righteous Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or simply decent human beings.
No government can make you good. Although Plato seems to be constructing an ideal government in his Republic, that government is actually just a metaphor for the ideal individual. The perfect state is impossible. And seeking it can be dangerous. But each of us can strive to be better people.
Plato's Republic is a dialogue. Its lead character is Plato's teacher,
Socrates, who says most of us waste our lives chained in a cave, facing a wall, staring at shadows.
This even before we had LCD monitors and big screen TVs.
Those shadows are false images of reality, illusions --what passes for entertainment and, far worse, conventional wisdom. Peer pressure makes us succumb to those false images.
To pursue truth, cave dwellers need the guts to break free...and be illuminated by the sun.
Socrates shares this subversive parable during a bull session that kicks off, not in downtown Athens, but at the nearby seaport where foreigners come and go. Folks there may be more broadminded.
They'd better be. By the time Plato wrote his Republic the real Socrates had already been
condemned by Athens's democratic majority to drink hemlock for the crime of challenging political correctness.
Conventional wisdom insists the Republic is Plato's condemnation of democracy, and manual for an elite dictatorship.
With apologies for being ignorant, I think it's just the opposite.
Plato wants us to realize that when we seek perfect leaders promising perfect outcomes we're far more likely to wind up with tyrants.
So Socrates, a master of irony, is really mounting a defense of the democracy that killed
As Winston Churchill growled twenty-four centuries later, democracy is the worst form of government -- except for all the other ones.
Democracy derives its power from a broad base of citizens, and among those citizens
are at least some who are willing to be taught. The key is to teach enough of them well enough ...before they kill you.
Or tax you to death.
Or needlessly abridge your freedom to expand their power.
Poignantly, that's what Plato shows Socrates trying to do.
What that provoking old man hopes to teach future leaders goes far beyond politics. The initial question posed in the Republic --"What is justice? " -- focuses on personal ethics. And, as always, Socrates answers...
Well, actually he doesn't answer.
He asks questions.
Apollo's oracle at Delphi said no man was wiser than Socrates.
What did that mean?
That Socrates was wise... or that no one was wise?
The latter, Socrates insisted, confessing that all he knew was that he knew nothing.
How many politicians ever admit that?
Yet humility lies at the heart of our defense of limited government.
Unless you know what's right, what right do you have to dictate how other people live?
The most government should do is the minimum it must to protect each citizen's life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
Just its pursuit.
Because happiness for a philosopher -- a free thinker, an independent spirit -- is different from happiness for tyrants or demagogues or their followers. And demonstrating that to young bucks who might someday support either an actual dictatorship or -- just as dangerous -- the tyranny of the majority, is what the Republic really is all about.
So what does make you truly happy, just and good?
The first answer we get in Plato's Republic comes from a jolly codger. He advises: "Don't rock the boat. Placate the powers that be. Go along to get along."
Well, what up and coming kid wants to hear that? He or she's thinking, "You've made your pile, old man. How do I get mine?"
The answer to that question comes from a sophist -- a tutor hired to teach youngsters how to become movers and shakers. Unlike Socrates, sophists claimed to know everything, or at least how to win every argument.
Like our sophists of today -- lawyers, lobbyists, pundits and politicians -- they knew how to cement power.
And power is justice for Thrasymachus, the sophist who bursts into Plato's Republic.
Fiercely insisting that might makes right, he anticipates...
Nietzsche's claim that morality is a trap laid by the weak to ensnare the strong.
At this point the young people for whose souls the sophist and the philosopher are contending tell Socrates, in effect, "Dude, you're losing this debate. If we have to live in a world where politicians care only about grabbing power, where financial Masters of the Universe promote schemes to squeeze greedy investors and gullible schlubs, and where people who play by the rules wind up subsidizing everyone else, we'd be crazy to obsess about justice. A tyrant's life for me!"
Well. Socrates may know nothing, but he's no dope. So seeing his students slipping away, the philosopher changes the game.
Okay, he suggests, instead of focusing on how puny individuals like us can get ahead, let's consider the individual writ large. Let's examine what kind of government would give us the best chance of living well.
Thrasymachus makes a great case for being a tyrant, but what if the tyrant... turns out to be somebody else? Would you still want to live amid tyranny?
So what sort of ideal "city in speech" do Socrates and his companions come up with?
They begin by accepting that most of us demand creature comforts. Therefore, folks should be free to plow their fields or ply their trades and amass private property.
But these lovers of luxury will not rule.
The most courageous and civic-minded among us will protect our community from attack. They will become police officers and soldiers. These sentinels will be armed, and honored... but they will not rule.
A select group of citizens who -- having passed tests of all sorts since childhood to prove their merit -- will in their late maturity be accepted as philosopher kings.
And queens, since Socrates treats both sexes equally.
After a lifetime of rigorous academic and practical education these guardians will be guided only by a love of what's good for the community.
How can we be sure?
Because Socrates would wean them off all selfish desires.
Ah, there's the rub.
These ideal guardians would own no private property, but would instead live communally?
The citizens of their ideal city would not marry, but instead mate anonymously?
And they would not know their children, who would be reared in common to avoid
nepotism and dynasties?
Give me a break!
As we mentioned, Socrates was no dope, and neither was Plato. He actually tried turning a ruler into a philosopher king. Dionysius II of Syracuse, at the urging of his uncle, invited Plato down from Athens to teach an adult education course.
And how did that work out?
Fearing the loss of their meal ticket, courtiers leeching off Dionysius accused the high-minded uncle of high treason, and Plato hightailed it back to Athens before Dionysius ever earned his diploma.
Let's get real.
Rulers are never going to be so philosophic that they're willing to forego wealth, wives
Just look at Washington, chock full of disinterested do-gooders who mysteriously wind up rich.
The few rulers in history who even considered being selfless... gave up being rulers.
For instance, Charles V -- the grandson of Columbus's Ferdinand and Isabella --handed his own son Spain, the Netherlands and a chunk of America, and then retired to a monastery.
This is what we call "the exception that proves the rule."
Most rulers don't become monks.
So if kings are not likely to become philosophers, or philosophers kings, what's the best of all possible regimes?
Socrates surveys the contenders.
First, there's an old-fashioned aristocracy run by warriors who equate nobility with honor.
Trouble is, as economies evolve, honor and twenty-five cents won't buy you a cup of mead.
Impoverished aristocrats -- the kind who sell tours of their castles and marry American heiresses -- are then supplanted by oligarchs, the new tycoons.
The rich become richer, and with the growth of cities and industries we also see the growth of a middle class -- and the urban poor -- and both rightly demand political rights.
Interestingly they find allies in some children of the rich. Expensively educated, disdaining the source of their wealth and filled with guilt over their privileges, the more
ambitious of these trust fund babies become champions of the downtrodden. They become leaders of democratic movements.
They may also become demagogues.
That's how Julius Caesar got started in politics.
You can probably cite current examples.
Whether democratic demagogues really do their followers any favors is discussed in many of my other blog postings, but for now note Plato's fear that democracies are inherently unstable.
While their leaders may start out as idealists, they wind up caring only about power, and they maintain and swell their power base by currying favor.
Some politicians are supported by the rich who swap contributions for sweetheart deals.
Other politicians pander to the poor, including those who want something for nothing by taking it from someone else.
Stoking indolence and envy, demagogues make their followers -- rich and poor alike -- dependent on government handouts.
The greatest risk comes during times of crisis, military or economic, when panicked citizens turn demagogues into dictators.
Athens was in crisis when it condemned Socrates, having just lost a war to Sparta.
Tyranny discards the rule of law, insisting on the need for "emergency measures." These boost the politicians' power even further, so -- in the fashion of George Orwell's Big Brother -- clever tyrants contrive permanent
Think of how Cuba's Fidel Castro fed for fifty years off the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion, forever frightening his subjects into believing the U.S. was about
to invade again.
Plato demonstrates that real world political regimes inevitably degenerate and, if we're not careful, morph into dictatorships.
Fine for Thrasymachus, if he gets to be the tyrant. Not so fine for the sort of person Socrates wants us to be.
Because, again, I believe the point of the Republic is to describe not the ideal state, which is impossible, but the ideal individual, which we can all strive to become.
The components of the impossible ideal state are the same ones each of us ought to balance in our own lives.
Most of us demand a measure of comfort, even luxury, and that's okay. Like the Buddha and arguably Jesus -- who we're told turned water into wine for the wedding at
Cana -- the Socrates of the Symposium rejects an ascetic life, though he counsels moderation.
And it's more than okay -- it's admirable -- to muster courage and dedication on behalf of your community. The real Socrates, when needed, was a valiant soldier.
Yet Socrates did not remain a soldier. A non-conformist voice called on him to break ranks.
Just as the ideal republic would be ruled by disinterested philosophers, so each individual's appetites and passions ought to be ruled by a philosophic spirit -- well educated, questing and unafraid to pursue one's own notion of goodness.
Philosophy leads us out of our caves into perilous places.
Aristocracies, oligarchies and certainly tyrannies display little patience for free-thinkers -- or indeed any individuals beyond their ruling circles. The state always comes first. The only place where you can think for yourself and live by your own light is in a democratic republic.
"If," as Benjamin Franklin warned, "you can keep it."
When enemies finally convinced the majority to condemn Socrates he could have fled Athens. But having enjoyed the benefits of citizenship, the philosopher thought it only right to take his poison.
His pupil Plato then opened a school, the Academy.
And Plato taught those who would rule Athens that they must first learn self-knowledge, self-discipline, self-abnegation, and above all... humility.
If our leaders followed that example we would have something better than an ideal city, something better than a utopia.
We would have what Franklin, Madison and the other founders intended:
The Real Minimum Wage? Zero!
If you're out of work your minimum wage is zero.
This was once obvious even to The New York Times, which opined in 1987:
"There's a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market."
Not coincidentally this editorial was published during the Reagan economic boom.
By the time Reagan left office unemployment was down to 5.3 percent, with none of the U-6 nonsense that lowers our current numbers because they don't count people who've stopped looking for work.
Nevertheless, either because he thinks it will stimulate the economy or because he wants to change the subject away from Obamacare, President Obama is again pushing a hike of the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10.
Actually that's modest.
Fast food workers last month tried staging a nationwide strike for pay raises of at least $15 an hour.
All this reminds me of an interview years ago with President Clinton's Secretary of Labor...
Robert Reich, who at one point turned the tables and asked me, "Don't you wish, when you were starting out in the news, that employers would have been required to pay you a living wage?"
Seems I was the only reporter Reich ever encountered who answered, to his astonishment, "No."
That's because, far from demanding more than my minimum wage salary, I gladly would have paid any employer who gave me a foot in the door to this highly competitive business. And I reminded Mr. Reich that even in my previous career, fledgling attorneys until not that long ago routinely followed in the steps of Abe Lincoln. They apprenticed with a seasoned lawyer for little or no pay while learning the business.
Years before that, working as a hotel bellhop throughout high school and college, I didn't make any wage at all. Just tips. The more bags we carried the more guests we could check in and the bigger the tips.
What we made was dependent not on fairness and not on our needs but on what we earned.
Bet you had an entry-level job like that too.
Those fast food workers and the unions backing them say the current minimum wage of $7.25 is unfair. And they would have us believe America is a minimum wage nation.
It's not true.
Actually, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, minimum wage employees last year accounted for just 4.7 percent of hourly paid workers. Less than 3% of all workers.
But if America is not a minimum wage nation, we are fast becoming a part-time nation.
According to the far from conservative Huffington Post, three quarters of all new jobs created last year were part-time, due to worries about higher taxes, regulations, including Obamacare, and our slow economic growth.
When do you ever hear that word from the White House or even from establishment Republicans?
Not paper growth on Wall Street but real growth on Main Street... among people who make things here in America, for Americans who can afford to buy them.
Real wages and net worth for millions of our workers are now declining. And that's among those who are lucky enough to find even a part-time job.
Others are members of America's fastest-growing industry... the electoral machine that lets rich and poor alike -- but not the middle class -- vote themselves ever-expanding federal benefits.
Those benefits and regulations are costing us jobs and depressing real wages.
But hold on.
Wages are not benefits.
Can't many businesses afford to pay their workers more?
As President Obama notes, Costco chooses to pay its workers at least $4.25 above minimum wage.
But most businesses subject to the minimum wage law are not giants like Costco. They're small and medium sized companies operating with razor thin profit margins.
Beyond that, requiring businesses -- big and small -- to raise their wages puts the future of those businesses into the hands of incompetent, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who are more interested in redistributing income than in growing our economic pie so everyone can earn more.
Of course, there is another way to avoid being paid unfairly.
Start a business of your own.
I never had the guts or the gumption to do that.
But instead of envying the success of people who risk failure, I support giving more people the freedom to become entrepreneurs.
Not crony capitalists. I don't believe in bailouts or sweetheart laws (like Dodd-Frank, which protects banks deemed "too big to fail" but not smaller ones).
And although our 401K plans for now are growing, I don't believe in the Federal Reserve indefinitely pumping $75 billion a month or more in new debt to inflate our latest Wall Street bubble.
Candidates -- Republican, Democrat or independent -- who promise to support truly free markets may do very well this November.
Meantime, yes, it's their right and perfectly understandable for fast-food workers to organize a nationwide strike for $15 an hour. I wish they could make 30.
And raising the federal minimum wage would help many other workers too.
Union contracts are often pegged to hikes in the minimum wage, and this may be the White House's bigger interest.
But in the long run the only way to grow our economy is to help businesses -- not government, private businesses -- create more high-paying, full-time jobs, and to inspire workers to go out and get those jobs -- or better still, create them.
The alternative is to have more Americans earning zero.
Churchill and the State of Our Union
Why does President Obama cringe at the memory of Winston Churchill... to the point of having sent this Oval Office bust back to the Brits in 2009?
One reason may be Churchill's famous warning about big government's insatiable appetite.
In the dark days of 1940, when America had not yet been blasted by Japan into the Second World War, the British Prime Minister -- standing alone -- implored neutral countries to join the fight, and chided them for thinking that by appeasing dictators they might be spared:
"Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured. But I fear -- I fear greatly -- the storm will not pass."
In fact, far from passing, look at which Americans have now been devoured...
About the same time he was returning the Churchill bust, President Obama revved up government takeovers of General Motors and Chrysler. (Ford refused a bailout.)
Secured bondholders cheered, thinking they'd be spared the pain of normal bankruptcy reorganization. The crocodile would not eat them!
Instead what happened? Ignoring bankruptcy law (as they would ignore so many other laws, including their own) the White House stripped those bondholders of their rights and gave preference to labor union supporters.
President Obama then rewarded another group of supporters -- environmentalists -- by putting the brakes on profitable GM trucks in favor of green energy subcompacts, including Chevy Volts that nobody wanted -- even with massive government incentives.
The upshot: Chrysler is now owned by the Italian automaker, Fiat, and General Motors only this month resumed paying dividends -- now that the government's finally sold its last shares of GM.
Next, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, "Take the Affordable Care Act. Please!"
While seeking reelection, President Obama guaranteed 30 million people government mandated health policies, and promised the rest of you would feel no pain -- that, "If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance."
Instead it's now forecast that more than 30 million people will lose the policies they liked and be forced to buy Obamacare, often paying higher premiums and far higher deductibles.
Beyond that, businesses dropping health coverage are replacing full-time workers with part-timers to avoid Obamacare employer mandates.
And healthy young people seduced by the promise of "free" contraceptives and birth control are finding the price is that they can no longer buy the affordable catastrophic policies many of them liked, and that while they can stay on their parents' policies till age 26, they're also staying -- unemployed -- in their parents' basements.
Finally, though we could cite so many more examples of crocodile government taking the bite out of Americans, consider the major theme of President Obama's State of the Union Address: income inequality. It's a subject he can address with authority since, as we enter the sixth year of Obamanomics, the poor and middle class are getting poorer while the rich are growing richer.
A record number of Americans are now on Food Stamps and extended jobless benefits, or they've dropped out of the workforce altogether and are no longer being counted as unemployed.
Yet the rich continue to be enriched through crony capitalist federal "investments."
Like the President's pal, Warren Buffett, the rich often self-righteously skirt paying taxes thanks to a politicized tax code that rewards investors while punishing all of us who pull a paycheck. Those investments are inflated by the Federal Reserve pumping $75-85 billion a month into Wall Street, panicking investors with the least hint of tapering this deficit bond buying.
But even the rich may yet rue crony capitalism. As Tim Carney points out, in 2010, running pretty much unopposed, New York Senator Charles Schumer, "was the No. 1 recipient of money from the insurance industry, private equity, hedge funds, Wall Street, real estate, the cable industry, and hospitals." And Hollywood loved him too.
Yet Schumer, without shame, continues to rail against "plutocrats" and vows to redistribute their riches to the poor. Or at least to greater Washington, D.C., which now outstrips New York and California in boasting six of the nation's ten wealthiest counties.
Those "plutocrats" fund Schumer at their peril.
Just ask the plutocrats of all political stripes and creeds who built up the war machine that Churchill had to fight in World War II.
That crocodile didn't just swallow up Poland and France. It also devoured the German and Italian and Soviet dictators' earliest and most trusting supporters.
So when you hear now about income inequality, free condoms and other stimulating federal investments -- all of which are supposed to cost the other guy, not you -- stop and think to yourself...
Churchill -- or bust.
Our Imperial Senate
Think our politics are dysfunctional?
In 44 BC Roman Senators attacked Julius Caesar like he was a Thanksgiving turkey, because he sought to undercut their authority.
Yet just a few years later, that same Senate made Julius's grand-nephew., Octavian, their first emperor, ushering in a succession of tyrants who trampled on the idea of divided government.
For instance, Caligula showed what he thought of Rome's legislators by decreeing that his horse be made a senator.
Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same, right down to the horse's patootie.
Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is defending his institution about as valiantly as those Romans did under Caligula.
Reid has no problem with the President picking and choosing which parts of ObamaCare, or the Defense of Marriage Act, or immigration law he chooses to enforce, postpone, or ignore.
Reid dispenses with the budget committee process in favor of omnibus spending bills and continuing resolutions.
Reid shrugged off our joining the Libyan civil war without any congressional authorization.
And, just to end this list short of a filibuster. Reid's now ditched the right to filibuster federal judicial nominees.
In fairness, Senator Reid will no doubt oppose all these encroachments on Senate authority... if Republicans regain a majority.
But this is not a partisan charge.
The late Senator Robert Byrd was no angel. Opponents noted his past leadership in the Ku Klux Klan, and sneered that Byrd brought so much pork to West Virginia, his state ought to be renamed, like the famous jazz club, Birdland.
But Bobby Byrd revered two things.
The Constitution of the United States of America.
And the United States Senate.
When he served as majority leader, Senator Byrd insisted that both Republican President Ronald Reagan and fellow Democratic President Jimmy Carter treat the legislative branch as co-equal. Even if it might have furthered President Carter's agenda to rule like Augustus Caesar rather than to serve like the man who refused to be a king, George Washington.
Harry Reid can choose to be Caligula's horse.
But voters ought to recall that having an equine, supine Senate was a major factor in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
Overcoming Identity Politics
On this Martin Luther King Day can we honor that great leader by overcoming identity politics?
Jackie Robinson did not make it to the Brooklyn Dodgers because he was black.
He made it despite being black.
The 28-year-old UCLA star and army veteran who batted .387 in the Negro League was not a prospect. He was a pro.
And the Dodgers GM Branch Rickey needed him.
Not to assuage white guilt. There was no white guilt in 1947. Rickey needed a hard driving infielder.
The only way to justify breaking the color barrier was for Jackie Robinson to make good.
When Margaret Thatcher became Britain's first female prime minister in 1979, she did not promise new government programs for women. Thatcher instead rolled back socialist programs that had nationalized key sectors of the economy and left Britain reeling from labor union strikes.
As everyone who saw The Iron Lady knows, far from benefiting from affirmative action, Mrs. Thatcher was derided -- by fellow conservatives -- for everything from being a grocer's daughter to having a rather shrill voice. But she stiffened the spines of wobbly Tories and in time was no more patronized for being a woman than Elizabeth I had been four centuries before.
As much as it prides itself on gumbo -- gastronomically and demographically -- Louisiana was not looking for a son of Indian immigrants when it elected Bobby Jindal governor in 2007. But then Jindal did not run as a minority candidate.
Instead of claiming to be a victim or even a trailblazer, by age 36 Jindal was already a Rhodes Scholar, a physician, secretary of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals, and the youngest president ever of the state's university system.
I could mention that Jindal was also elected to Congress, with 78% of the vote. But why demean him?
The point is that none of these high achievers asked to be judged by anything other than their achievements.
Or, as Dr. King would say, they asked to be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.
Much less their reproductive organs.
By contrast, former President Bill Clinton is once again saying it's time America elected our first woman president, and he feels the best available candidate would be his wife.
The reason may be no more apparent to voters in 2016 than it was in 2008.
Hillary Rodham was a brilliant student in college and law school. She then married Bill Clinton and joined a Little Rock law firm where her legacy included suspiciously successful cattle futures investments, and real estate dealings that sent other people to jail.
Following a succession of affairs and at least one alleged rape, of Juanita Broaddrick, it was only because Mrs. Clinton stood by her husband on 60 Minutes when Gennifer Flowers came forward that he was elected president in 1992.
Seemingly as a reward, the First Lady was entrusted -- not with encouraging literacy or proper nutrition -- but with reforming our country's entire health care system. Along with her friend Ira Magaziner, Mrs. Clinton drafted a national plan so radical that it received no support from Republicans or Democrats.
Mrs. Clinton spent much of the rest of her time in the White House dealing with charges ranging from cronyism in its travel office to hiding her old law firm billing records.
But trumping all that, Hillary Clinton again stood by her husband, this time during the Paula Jones-Monica Lewinsky sex and perjury scandal, which she dismissed as a "vast right-wing conspiracy."
Mrs. Clinton then won a U.S. Senate seat in New York, a state in which she had never lived.
Under President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton's foreign policies included fostering the Arab Spring and its initial promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the Libyan intervention that led to the Benghazi attack and cover-up, and also the "reset" with Russian leaders who are now sheltering NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
In fairness, Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy Seals on Secretary Clinton's watch.
But it is not at all apparent that America today is more respected in the world than it was five years ago. Polls suggest the opposite.
And it is not at all apparent why Hillary Clinton is qualified to be president.
True, she achieved celebrity as the wife of a successful politician. But is this feminism?
Of course, identity politics are not confined to Democrats.
Would first-term senators Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz already be considered presidential contenders if they were not Hispanic?
Who was the last rookie lawmaker nominated for the presidency?
I can think of only two.
Abraham Lincoln served one term in the House. But he then achieved national prominence debating Stephen Douglas seven times in the 1858 Illinois U.S. Senate race. Douglas won the seat, but Lincoln in those debates and in his "house divided" speech took a strong, clear stand on the major issue of the day -- slavery.
The other rookie legislator was Barack Obama. He had barely begun his one term in the Senate when he began campaigning for the highest office in the land.
Prior to that , President Obama had been a community organizer, a part-time law school lecturer, and a backbencher in the Illinois legislature. His major accomplishments were publishing two autobiographies and delivering a speech at the 2004 Democratic convention.
As it turned out, Barack Obama's identity politics beat Hillary Clinton's.
Racial, ethnic, gender and -- traditionally -- geographic identity will always play a part in our politics.
But they must no longer be the primary factor in selecting candidates.
Someday we will have the first woman president, the first Latino, Asian and gay presidents.
Yet for group identity to define a candidate and determine the votes of other members of that group -- and sympathizers as well -- is to diminish not only that candidate but also the political process and what used to be our melting pot nation.
In 2014 we should instead follow the examples of Jackie Robinson, Margaret Thatcher and Bobby Jindal and judge candidates by what they have accomplished in life -- inside and preferably outside of politics -- and by the vision they have for a country whose motto at least for now remains...
Out of Many, One.
Christie vs. Reagan: The Real Fighter
While the mainstream media focus -- far more than they did for any of President Obama's scandals -- on the early Republican presidential front-runner Chris Christie and what's come to be called ... "BridgeGate," there's something else about the New Jersey governor that's troubled me at least as much.
This former prosecutor denies he's a bully but proclaims himself a fighter.
Yet there's at least one fight he ducked.
One that tells you a lot about the true measure of the man.
When he ran for reelection last November, Christie didn't just want to win big.
He wanted to show that he alone among likely GOP presidential contenders could attract Democrats as well as Republicans.
So when Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg died, Governor Christie -- instead of appointing a Republican replacement -- called a special election.
Not only that, instead of holding the Senate election on the same day as the November general election, Christie held this vote three weeks earlier.
At a cost of around $24 million.
Because had Christie appointed a Republican to serve Lautenberg's unexpired term, the governor himself might well have faced Newark's popular Democratic mayor, Cory Booker, in Christie's run for re-election.
Instead Booker ran for the Senate seat against weak opposition.
And why did Christie schedule that Senate election for October instead of November?
Because having Booker on the same general election ballot as himself might well have boosted Democratic turnout, and helped Christie's otherwise feeble Democratic opponent.
Booker added to the Democrats' Senate majority.
And Christie's landslide victory landed him the lead among GOP contenders.
Now contrast that with Ronald Reagan in 1976. The former California governor did not believe the incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, was sufficiently conservative. So Reagan bucked his own party and risked political suicide by challenging Ford, helping to elect Jimmy Carter.
Reagan wound up trouncing Carter four years later, but Reagan in 1976 could not have known he'd ever get the chance. Rightly or wrongly, Reagan valued principle over party loyalty and his own political future.
Chris Christie did not face that tough a choice. He was merely seeking to inflate his reelection margin and win some Democratic support.
Giving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid another loyal foot soldier, and forcing the people of New Jersey to go $24 million deeper into debt, were just the price to be paid for advancing Chris Christie's presidential ambitions.
Trouble is, Christie may now find that ambition is taking him a bridge too far.
Out of Work? Just Vote!
A falling unemployment rate used to be good news.
Now it's proof that America truly is being fundamentally transformed.
The official jobless rate in December dropped to 6.7%.
Even though -- at the height of the holiday hiring season -- our economy created only 74,000 new jobs. Nationwide.
And about half of those jobs were part-time.
How can the jobless rate decline when almost no one is hiring?
Because another 347,000 Americans in December gave up looking for work.
Bringing the total number of people who have now dropped out of the labor force to nearly 92 million.
President Obama's answer is to extend jobless benefits yet again.
And indeed that is a brilliant, long-term political strategy.
Promising desperate Americans 99 weeks and counting of unemployment compensation, food stamps, permanent disability, health care subsidies, housing and free phones makes people even more desperate to vote against anyone who might cut back government benefits.
President Obama blames the failure to put America back to work on the financial collapse under President George W. Bush.
More than five years ago.
Yet the financial sector is soaring. Thanks to the Federal Reserve's artificially low interest rates and monthly infusion of funny money the rich are getting richer.
It's the middle class that's being stampeded.
President Obama denies that five years of uncertainty about higher taxes, energy regulations, health care mandates, and government subsidies for favored industries and workers has depressed the free market's ability to rebound from that Bush collapse.
Viewers are now writing to me about their long-term struggle to find work. We will soon be sharing their stories with you.
Meantime, if like me you're fortunate enough to have a job, think what it would be to be without one.
Because that can happen to the best of us.
And then ask yourself if you'd welcome the news that -- while the real unemployment rate is over 13% -- the "official rate" is falling... because no one else can find work either.
The 50 Year War on Poverty
Exactly a half-century ago, President Lyndon Johnson in his first State of the Union Address declared a "war on poverty."
Since then, according to a Cato Institute study cited by Cal Thomas, federal and state anti-poverty programs have cost more than 15 trillion dollars (others estimate 20 trillion) while the percentage of people living in poverty has barely budged.
Much of the spending on everything from child nutrition to job training has been beneficial.
But other payments taught generations of Americans to become excessively dependent on government.
Future historians will look back -- aghast -- at how welfare grew under the Great Society. They'll conclude that however well-intentioned its backers originally may have been, they must have realized that this federal entitlement destroyed families of all races -- urban and rural alike -- by encouraging women to have children out of wedlock and fathers to abandon them.
Yet for years efforts to reform welfare got beaten back by politicians and special interest groups that thrived on their followers' abject dependence.
Aid to Dependent Children or ADC was enacted in 1935 as a pension plan for the widows of West Virginia coal miners and other families whose head of household was "dead, disabled, or absent."
To ensure that there really was "no man in the house" ADC was amended in 1950 to let district attorneys seek child support from absent fathers.
This soon led to notorious midnight raids on the homes of recipients.
And so, of course, more and more women, including young teenagers, refused to marry, or even identify the fathers of their children.
They learned that single motherhood meant subsidized freedom to set up their own homes -- however poor those homes might be. And welfare payments increased with the birth of each child.
Belatedly recognizing the disincentives to marriage and fatherhood, the name of the law was changed in 1960 to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). But the
basic provisions did not change. And roughly 90 percent of families receiving welfare did not have fathers living in the home.
Calls to make welfare more humane went unheeded. Some critics suggested moving unwed young mothers who accepted welfare into group homes, where youngsters could be watched by trained caregivers while their moms attended school.
Defenders of the status quo branded such plans Dickensian in their heartlessness.
Critics in turn accused defenders of caring more about swelling welfare rolls -- and their captive constituency -- than in liberating mothers and children, aiding family formation and stemming the rising tide of delinquency, drug abuse and dependency that crossed generations.
Finally, in 1996, President Clinton signed a Republican welfare reform bill. It ended the 60 year-old federal entitlement and restored responsibility to the individual
states, now free to experiment with their own education, counseling and work requirements and to limit benefits to a more or less fixed period.
Despite dire predictions that millions of AFDC recipients would be forced onto the streets, the reform bill achieved remarkable success in reducing welfare rolls and helping poor people become self-sufficient.
But Robert Rector and Jennifer Marshall saw a turning point in 2012 when, "the Obama administration issued a policy directive from the Department of Health and Human Services dismantling the core of the '96 reform: the... work requirements that have sharply reduced dependence and increased employment."
In fairness, it's been tough the last five years for anyone to find full-time work.
And President Obama is now focusing on extending jobless benefits once again, while critics demand off-setting spending cuts and a focus on policies that will create jobs.
On this 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty record numbers of Americans are now receiving food stamps, seeking permanent disability benefits, and qualifying for government health care subsidies.
The White House condemns growing income inequality while opponents say administration policies are making the rich richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class an endangered species. See "Who's Occupying Wall Street Now?"
As President Johnson urged, we must always help those who cannot help themselves.
But as the War on Poverty enters its next half-century, is it too much to ask that government policies refrain from destroying families, undermining the American work ethic, and leaving people looking only to Washington for hope?
Term Limits Now
A news director once told me, "You have libertarian tendencies; I have socialist tendencies."
This was just after the first election of President Obama, when a Newsweek cover proclaimed, "We Are All Socialists Now."
You might expect someone with libertarian tendencies to oppose term-limits and take the attitude, "If you like your lawmakers, you can keep your lawmakers " -- for life!
But unless you're a socialist, theory should bend to reality.
So here's why I believe presidential and congressional term limits are not just defensible but vital to preserving our liberty.
America's first president was also our greatest, not least because of the many precedents he set that we revered for generations. Having refused to be a king, George Washington -- who took office reluctantly in the first place -- relinquished it after two terms. The "American Cincinnatus" longed to return to his farm. And he recognized the risk of unlimited rule.
Washington's two-term example was respected until...
Franklin D. Roosevelt won four elections. He went from being a domestic executive during the Great Depression to a wartime commander-in-chief who felt himself indispensable when he last ran in 1944. To the surprise of none of his intimates, FDR's grave infirmities killed him five months later.
Normally the most genial of men, Roosevelt had spent almost no time preparing his last vice president, Harry Truman, and none at all informing him about the secret weapon that promised to end the war swiftly and save countless American lives, the atomic bomb.
Once he learned of the Manhattan Project, Truman rightly or wrongly dropped two bombs on Japan. And he went on to pursue a far tougher containment policy against the Soviet Union than Roosevelt's.
Nevertheless, because Truman was not as popular as FDR, or because many Americans bristled at 20 years of Democratic rule -- or simply because they realized George Washington was right -- Congress in 1947 passed the 22nd Amendment to our Constitution, and the states ratified it in 1951.
Today, some supporters of President Obama claim the biggest reason he has lost mojo is not that his policies are self-defeating, or that his credibility is shot, but that he is a lame duck.
They want to repeal the 22nd amendment and let him run again. Recent polls suggest it's unlikely a majority of Americans would go along, but that's because Mr. Obama has lost popularity.
The bigger danger will come someday when a wildly popular president wants to remain in office --one who has been successful or, more likely, one who promises to relieve catastrophic failure by doling out more government benefits.
Because it's not optimism that breeds dictators but dread.
Or to paraphrase our only four-term president, "You have EVERYTHING to fear, so vote for me."
But while presidents are limited to two terms for now, when Congress passed the 22nd Amendment it did not set limits on itself. If that surprises you, consider the issue's poster-boy, George Nethercutt.
This Republican from the great state of Washington argued in 1994 that the not-so-great state of affairs in Washington, D.C. should be blamed ...on political hacks.
Of both parties.
For every Jimmy Stewart retaining his principles when Mr. Smith Goes to Washington we have a hundred statesmen on the take.
Together, Democrat and Republican hacks constitute the eternal, impregnable Washington establishment.
Power brokers with the fattest paychecks pay off pols on both sides of the aisle with everything from campaign contributions to insider stock tips and lobbying jobs for family, staffers and --if they ever do leave office still breathing -- former-lawmakers themselves.
As government grows to be far and away the most powerful economic force in our country, providing the biggest contracts and the best jobs and targeting anyone who opposes the growth of government, it's hard for us to imagine how much power our lawmakers wield.
In their supreme arrogance they even exempt themselves from the laws they pass to control the lives of others... including Obamacare.
And the longer they stay in office, the more powerful they become.
So they do anything it takes to remain in office.
Our hero, George Nethercutt understood this. Twenty years ago he challenged, not just any Bozo congressman of the opposing party but the Speaker of the House, Democrat Tom Foley.
The key issue in their race was ...term limits.
Nethercutt, a little known lawyer and political neophyte, vilified the 30-year congressional veteran as a creature of Washington, D.C.
Nethercutt nobly vowed to serve no more than three terms on the Hill.
And he won.
Then a funny thing happened. In 2000, instead of relinquishing his seat, Nethercutt told The Washington Post, "I'm less enamored with the idea of term limitations, and I'm the perfect example of why we don't need them."
Like Franklin Roosevelt, George Nethercutt had come to see himself as indispensable.
Ignoring Charles de Gaulle's jibe that, "The graveyards are filled with indispensable men."
Yet Nethercutt's constituents are equally to blame.
Glad to gorge themselves on all the pork George sent home from the Appropriations Committee, they voted him a fourth and even a fifth term.
Mark Levin in his excellent book The Liberty Amendments is now calling for congressional term limits, and reminding us of the prescribed process by which the states could seize the initiative in amending the Constitution.
Meantime, creatures of Washington like Nethercutt -- not to mention barons who have lorded it over Capitol Hill for decades longer than he did -- must be opposed in primaries by more principled opponents.
And those who only pretend to uphold principles -- libertarian or progressive or anything in between -- and then reveal themselves to be rank opportunists must be opposed too, even if it risks a safe seat and some party-line votes.
By the way, George Nethercutt finally lost a Senate bid and went on to run a foundation, named after himself, that acquaints college students with Washington, D.C.'s inner workings.
As too often happens, Mr. Outsider is now Professor Insider.
2014 Will Define Liberty
Just before the 2008 election, Senator Barack Obama promised to fundamentally transform America.
Just before the 2012 election, most of us still had no idea what he meant.
The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, deliberately postponed its pain until after President Obama stood for reelection.
And the White House, along with the mainstream media, also managed to postpone till after November of 2012 our learning the truth about a whole lot of other things -- from the IRS persecuting conservatives to the Benghazi cover-up (which The New York Times is still trying to cover up.)
But fundamental transformation means more than depriving 5 million Americans in 2013 of the health insurance they liked, and dumping them onto the Obamacare exchanges. Tens of millions more of us will suffer the same fate in 2014, when the postponed employer mandate kicks in. Yet fundamental transformation means more than that, too.
To see what it really means let's climb into the Way Back Machine and learn why progressives like President Obama have fundamentally different ideas about liberty than conservatives like the late President Reagan.
In an earlier blog I suggested that this debate started with cave men.
As we saw, some hunted and gathered more than other cave men did. Did the hunters and gatherers have an obligation to share? That's what the other clan members insisted, arguing, "If you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own."
Now let's fast forward to the fall of the Roman Empire, which ushered in the Dark Ages.
With no jobs, and no law to protect them, peasants gathered around powerful lords, taking shelter in their castles when other lords went marauding. This came to be called the feudal system.
Peasants didn't own any property. Instead, they were allowed to farm on the lord's land in return for giving him most of their crops.
Those peasants only got the chance to make a career move when free trade spurred the growth of cities.
Now a peasant could start a business and hire other peasants. They no longer had to serve a feudal lord.
However, the biggest lords of all -- kings -- fought to control cities and their free citizens. Royal decrees and taxation soon came to cramp business owners. So did royal wars over religion.
Seeking religious freedom, our Thanksgiving Pilgrims were among America's first European settlers. They set up rules for self-government even before getting off the Mayflower, and New England town meetings fostered democratic traditions.
Colonial Americans came to believe they had rights given to them by God (some called this Natural Law) -- the rights to life, liberty and property.
Yes, property was listed in Thomas Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence. And the founders believed these rights trumped the powers of government. In fact, as every law school -- even Harvard and the University of Chicago -- used to teach, the Constitution strictly defined the new national government's powers, noting in the ninth and tenth amendments of the Bill of Rights that all other powers were retained by individuals and the states.
In other words, the American Revolution began with the proposition that individual citizens -- free and equal under the law -- needed to create a limited government to protect their own, individual, inalienable rights.
Now contrast all this with the French Revolution.
The French were rebelling against divine right kings like Louis XIV, who declared, "I am the state!"
When France's peasants and shopkeepers finally said, "The heck with that" (it sounds more elegant in French) they unfortunately had no tradition of self-government. So unlike the American colonists, the French botched their chance to establish a democratic republic and instead came up with the Reign of Terror and then Napoleon's empire.
But that's not surprising, because French ideas about government did not start with individual rights. Far from seeking to secure private property, they agreed with the philosopher Rousseau that private property was a crime against the original state of nature.
Instead Rousseau said individuals and their property claims had to bow to the "general will" of the state.
Karl Marx, a follower of Rousseau, later inspired Russian Bolsheviks and Chinese communists to make state collectivism supreme.
But why should we Americans care about the French Revolution?
Because -- whether they know it or not -- many Americans today prefer it to the American Revolution!
They believe that America's founders -- far from advancing the equal rights of all Americans -- disenfranchised and oppressed Native Americans, African slaves, Mexicans, women, gays and lesbians and many other groups. They believe those groups continue to be victimized. And they believe only government can redress those wrongs, since the United States remains a fundamentally intolerant, unjust society, much as the French believed their society was fundamentally unjust.
But others disagree.
They note that 600,000 people died in a civil war that, however belatedly, emancipated slaves and recognized their equal rights under the law by amending our Constitution -- though shamefully it took even more time to make those rights a reality.
They note that waves of immigrants from around the globe faced discrimination upon landing here but ultimately assimilated, worked hard, and achieved success.
And they note that even now gays, lesbians and transgender Americans are losing some battles but winning others -- three state referendums in just the last election and two Supreme Court decisions -- by attempting to persuade fellow citizens that society is continuing to evolve. This debate continues.
In sum, conservatives and libertarians believe that while America has at times been unjust, a fundamentally changed America would be much more unjust.
Because instead of protecting individual liberty and encouraging people to achieve individual success, a collectivist state fuels its own expansion by making people more and more dependent on the state.
And not just poor people. Businesses, media and academia are all becoming more reliant on state favors, and they in turn prop up ever-growing government.
But all this begs the question, why are so many Americans, rich and poor alike, choosing to be more like the French?
To paraphrase James Carville's famous advice for Bill Clinton's campaign, "It's the CULTURE, stupid!"
And that's what we explore in another blog called "What Else Ed Sullivan Gave Us."
Meantime, as we make resolutions for this New Year, accept the fact that we probably won't lose weight.
But recognize that in November of 2014 we can decide what liberty will mean for America.
Modern Family and the Tax Code
If like me you've been happily married for years
(our wives, like Modern Family's Claire, may not be as enthused, but they put up with us)
... and you have kids who have not committed any heinous crimes, for which I'm grateful even on slow news days...
if, in other words, you've contributed to "family formation"
... do other taxpayers owe you a reward?
I say no.
But a conservative pundit who's a walking encyclopedia of politics -- heck, he writes The Almanac of American Politics
Michael Barone, disagrees.
Mr. Barone sides with social conservatives in suggesting, "Today a strong case can be made that we need tax and other policies not just to encourage entrepreneurs but also, to the extent possible, to help bolster family formation."
Policies, he writes, like higher child tax credits.
In other words, Barone wants to pick winners and losers, something I believe Republicans must refuse to do if they ever truly want to offer voters an alternative to the other party
... the party of big government.
Establishment Republicans have long supported countless tax breaks for behavior they consider worthy.
And I do mean countless.
Our federal tax code and regulations now include more than 9,000,000 words.
And these are not, as Hamlet breezily said, just "words, words, words." They're highly politicized words that order every aspect of our lives.
Some are the result of good old-fashioned cronyism and vote-buying.
But millions of others stem from a desire, like Barone's, to engage in social engineering.
Our rulers deem home ownership better than renting an apartment, so they include a mortgage interest deduction.
They deem contributions to designated charities more important than doing charity at home or privately, so they include designated charitable deductions.
Perhaps most important, politicians want to boost contributions to political groups, so they confer tax exempt status on 501(c)(4) "social welfare organizations" that
-- as we've seen with tea party groups -- gives the IRS enormous and highly politicized discretion.
My point is not that we should discourage political groups, charities, or home ownership -- much less families.
But I believe each of us will be in a better position to have children, buy homes, support charities and churches and donate to political groups ...
if our economy is growing.
And the most important thing we can do right now to grow our economy is not to carve out still more tax breaks, but to simplify -- gradually but radically simplify -- the tax code and treat everyone equally.
Getting back to families, I do agree with Michael Barone that we must remove government disincentives to family formation, of the sort that we find in the Affordable Care Act. See my previous blog just below called "Obamacare's Marriage Penalty." I believe this penalty was included for the same reason politicians include so many provisions in our tax code: to advance their own notion of social engineering and to buy votes.
America was founded on the principle that each and every one of us should be free to pursue our own vision of "happiness" so long as it does not directly harm others.
I may -- and probably do -- share Michael Barone's ideas about what makes a happy life, a life that contributes to the greater good of this greatest of all nations.
But I don't need politicians or my fellow citizens advancing that idea by making our tax code even more hideously complex -- and tyrannical.
Lies and Legitimacy
While SNL and other late night comedy shows joke about whether President Obama is a serial liar... what The New York Times calls the president's "incorrect promises" are raising questions about the legitimacy of this administration.
When Barack Obama first ran for the White House in 2008, the little-known senator's promises were so vague that veracity was not an issue. He promised hope, change, transparency, reconciliation, and the end of red-blue state divides.
To be fair, Senator Obama did get a little more specific on the virtual eve of the election, promising -- or warning: "We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America."
But no one really knew what that meant when we voted in 2008 ... or even again in 2012.
Because key aspects of that transformation were concealed until after the 2012 election.
Far from having a White House committed to transparency, we did not learn, for example, about the Benghazi cover-up, because the White House blamed the assassination of our ambassador on a You Tube video.
And Benghazi was not like President Eisenhower lying about pilot Francis Gary Powers spying on the Soviet Union. Ike was trying to protect national security. President Obama was trying to win reelection.
Far from bridging the red-blue divide, we also did not know that the IRS was harassing and drying up funds for tea party groups that had helped Republicans regain the House in 2010.
And although the most transformative law of President Obama's first term -- the Affordable Care Act -- was passed by Democrats before they lost the House in 2010, we did not realize how fundamentally Obamacare would transform America until after November of 2012.
The law was written to deliver its pain after that election.
The "incorrect promise" critics are focusing on now is President Obama assuring voters dozens of times that if you like your health insurance plan you can keep it.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a TV interview this week conceded Democrats always knew that would not be possible.
But in the same interview Reid insisted the president told the truth.
How is that possible?
Reid relies on the kind of clever, if dishonest, argument that ancient Greeks called sophistry: since insurance plans have always changed every year (though before Obamacare the changes were usually minor) what President Obama called "your plan" is no longer the same plan you had before Obamacare took effect. Therefore, Reid insists, even though millions of people are now receiving cancellation notices, you are not losing the plans you liked.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus might back up Reid and Obama. He famously said, "You cannot step into the same river twice because new water is always flowing on."
But whatever the merits of Reid's logic, would President Obama have been reelected if 50 to 90 million people thought they might be about to lose their health care plans?
Another philosopher, Immanuel Kant, wouldn't have much use for our leaders. For that German idealist the basis for all morality -- for all decent human society -- must be truth-telling. When we lie to someone we make it impossible for that person to make a reasoned choice. We rob that person of his or her humanity.
And when our leaders lie to the electorate they undermine democracy and their own legitimacy.
For a number of reasons, I am not suggesting President Obama should be impeached.
But there will be other elections, in 2014 for Congress and in 2016 for President Obama's successor.
Voters will question each candidate's experience and platform -- something they failed to do in 2008.
But above all else they should ask if candidates have a record of telling the truth.
Who's Occupying Wall Street Now?
After nearly five years of fundamentally transforming key sectors of our economy -- including energy, banking, health care and, of course, government benefits, President Obama today bemoaned a growing income gap.
For which he blames... the rich.
But along with Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS targeting of conservatives, and NSA surveillance, one of the dirty little secrets of this administration has been how the rich never had a better friend ... than Barack Obama.
On his watch it's not leftist protesters now occupying Wall Street but rather Washington manipulators inflating stock values and shrinking the middle class.
Last month for the first time ever the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 16,000.
A key reason is that investors are hooked on government heroin.
The Federal Reserve through "QE" -- quantitative easing -- continues to pump $85 billion a month into Wall Street -- the same amount as an entire year's sequestration furloughs and cuts.
And by keeping interest rates artificially low (though they are rising for all but the favored few) there aren't many places to invest or even save -- other than Wall Street.
Yet while the stock market is going gang busters:
Middle class income is lower than it was five years ago.
Food stamps now feed 48 million people -- 1 in every 7 of us.
The labor participation rate is the lowest we've seen since the catastrophic Carter years.
And the greatest growth now -- apart from Wall Street -- is the demand for jobless and disability benefits.
What all this means is that both the destitute and investors are now equally dependent on Washington.
But wait, didn't President Obama raise taxes on rich investors like his good friend Warren Buffett?
Yes. But the dirty little secret there is that Mr. Buffett paid lower taxes than his secretary because he declares very little income. Like many other wealthy investors he makes most of his money through capital gains, taxed at a far lower rate than ordinary income. And while middle class people with 401K plans may benefit from soaring stock rices, a bubble market disproportionately enriches... the rich.
That's why cuts in food stamp funding create no less panic than hints that the Federal Reserve may taper quantitative easing.
And that's why Janet Yellen was tapped by President Obama to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve. Like Ben Bernanke she supports keeping interest rates low and quantitative easing high.
Now is it a surprise that all this is happening -- not under the historic "Party of Wall Street" -- but under a Democratic administration?
Not a bit.
Throughout history and around the globe, statist regimes have catered to both the poor and the rich.
It's the middle class that gets plundered.
So even if this Wall Street bubble does not burst before the 2014 elections, Repubicans had better simplify and target their message.
Soft-pedal social issues.
If there's no international crisis, put foreign policy divides on the back burner too.
And instead focus on what the GOP sees as the need to rid Washington of crony capitalism, corporate welfare, and quick fixes like raising the minimum wage.
If populists of whatever party win office, investors may be less giddy.
And government bureaucrats dispensing benefits will be downright gloomy.
But the vanishing middle class need no long be preoccupied with who's occupying Wall Street.
Give Me Liberty or Give Me SEX!
Ladies, is the White House respecting you in the morning?
Sure they do. Around election time.
Nearly one-quarter of the 2012 presidential voters were unmarried women, and President Obama successfully wooed more than two thirds of them.
During the campaign, the White House went after single women with its website called "The Life of Julia," which promised cradle to grave government benefits.
But many women who no longer need husbands still want the occasional man. So to sell them on Obamacare's chief joy -- free contraceptives -- two nonprofit groups in Colorado funded this ad campaign, which has now gone viral.
The "Got Insurance?" campaign revives memories of Sandra Fluke, who testified before Congress that she and other law students at Georgetown University were suffering financial hardship because that Catholic school's health insurance plan did not provide birth control.
Fluke became a lightning rod for Obamacare advocates when Rush Limbaugh called her a slut. But someone who might have understood her better was Aldous Huxley. His novel Brave New World depicts government in the future keeping citizens docile by teaching small children sex games, and by providing older ones with free contraceptives.
Huxley's government also hands out a feel good drug called soma and keeps its perpetual adolescents entertained with "feelies" -- movies that appeal to every faculty except the mind.
The "Got Insurance?" campaign and Sandra Fluke defend taxpayer subsidized contraceptives as a matter of health and personal finances, not just fun.
But thousands, perhaps millions of single women are finding that the price of Obamacare
far outstrips what they're saving on birth control. And while "free" contraceptives may represent liberation, the mandate to buy government-regulated health insurance or pay a tax could curtail the freedom:
-- to buy a low-cost policy that covers catastrophes but not routine treatment, or
-- to keep your previous policy, doctor and hospital, or
-- to choose your own treatment -- especially toward the end of life.
There is a different kind of freedom that neither Democrats nor most Republicans have been pushing -- free market alternatives to Obamacare. To read more about them, and how we got here, see my blog just below called "Hitler, Davy Crockett and Our Health Care Mess."
Meantime, ladies, hope that Got Insurance guy is good to you.
Both the one in the ad... and the one who's selling you that insurance.
GOP Better Fight and Unite
The Republican establishment refused to support their party's nominee in the Virginia governor's race, tea party favorite Ken Cuccinelli, and he lost by just 55,000 votes.
The Republican establishment did support incumbent Chris Christie in the New Jersey governor's race, and he won with more than 60% of the vote.
But citing policy differences and scandal, a lot of tea partiers now say they could not support Christie for president even if he becomes the GOP nominee.
Both the Republican establishment and the tea party are suicidal.
If Republicans hope to win the White House again they must fight for their favored candidates tooth and nail in the primaries. But then they must unite behind the eventual winner.
Ronald Reagan challenged a sitting Republican president, Gerald Ford, in 1976. Yet when Ford won the nomination Reagan appeared at the GOP convention and said:
"We must go forth from here united, determined that what a great general said a few years ago is true: 'There is no substitute for victory, Mr. President.' "
Then, when Ford was beaten by Jimmy Carter, and Carter gave us soaring inflation, interest rates and unemployment -- not to mention a 444-day hostage crisis in Iran -- the GOP turned to Reagan, and he won in a landslide.
But Reagan was already a master of political reality. As a two-term governor of California he constantly compromised with Democrats -- even over abortion -- as he later would with a Democratic Congress. Reagan won more than he lost, and he accepted partially losing on some issues, and living to fight another day, as the price of divided government in a constitutional republic.
Speaking of which, our founders compromised a heck of a lot too in writing the Constitution. In fact it's often not possible to speak of the "framers' intent" because they remained deeply divided on a whole slew of issues, from the future of slavery to the power of federal courts.
The point is not that the GOP should compromise in the first instance but that it must compromise as a last resort if the bitter alternative (for them) is leaving control of the federal government in the hands of Democrats.
If Republicans want to win, let Chris Christie make the case in 2016 that his big tent moderation or pragmatism can best help the GOP achieve its aims.
Let Ted Cruz retort that pragmatism has left Republicans complicit in crony capitalism, expansion of entitlements, and a 17 trillion dollar debt serviced by Federal Reserve funny money.
Let those contenders and others duke it out in substantive debates, and with campaign ads that do not leave fellow Republicans too grievously wounded.
Try to keep disaffected GOP voters and tea partiers from falling for third party candidates financed by Democrats, as happened in Virginia. And urge those voters not to stay home, as millions did protesting Mitt Romney.
How many of those non-voters are among the millions now losing their health insurance?
In short, let GOP primary candidates fight but then unite.
And then -- even more important -- let them reach out to the rest of the country and make their case that less dependence on government, and greater personal responsibility, will bring America and all the world a better future.
This Just In
The most startling headline Obamacare's brought us so far is not that its website has a few glitches, or that tens of millions of Americans will lose the insurance they like, or that the government exchanges are giving all but the insolvent sticker shock.
No, the biggest headline is that we're seeing any headlines at all.
The mainstream media, or as George Orwell called them in Nineteen-Eighty Four, the Ministry of Truth, have actually been somewhat critical of the Obama administration lately.
The key word there is "lately."
For instance, the nation's number one news program, 60 Minutes, just aired an expose' on the administration's action and inaction in Benghazi -- more than a year after the terror attack there and nearly a year after President Obama's reelection. Prior to that CBS report, the most memorable coverage of Benghazi came during the 2012 second presidential debate when CNN's Candy Crowley did something for President Obama that his administration did not do for the Americans trapped at that diplomatic mission.
She came to the rescue.
Similarly, NBC of all networks is now getting credit for exposing that the White House knew insurance policies would be canceled for tens of millions of Americans, despite President Obama's promises to the contrary. But we've also learned that the White House was warned of those coming cancellations in 2010.
Where was NBC three years ago?
That CBS, NBC and even John Stewart are exposing President Obama now says more about timing than about truth.
We are now a year away from the next congressional elections -- elections crucial for the White House if it hopes to keep the president from becoming a lame duck.
And we are three years away from the 2016 presidential election, when it now seems Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.
Mrs. Clinton wants the dirty linen on Benghazi to be aired now, not in 2016.
And she and media liberals want health care to be fixed now if that's at all possible, so conservatives cannot dwell on how, in 1993, First Lady Hillary Clinton came up with her own health care plan, Hillarycare, that was even more far-reaching than Obamacare -- and so unpopular that it was defeated by fellow Democrats.
The point is that in 2014 and 2016 -- as in 2012 -- you will not be seeing mainstream media stories critical of this administration.
We did not learn about the IRS targeting of conservatives until after the presidential election, nor the truth about Benghazi, nor the truth about Obamacare.
And if we're learning some of the truth now, it's because the White House can safely say, along with Mrs. Clinton...
"What difference at this point does it make?"
Washington: We Break It, You Buy It
On weekends my wife and I like to borrow movies from the library, and one we found tells you a lot about what's really troubling our country.
Charlie Chaplin's silent classic, The Kid.
Charlie adopts little Jackie Coogan, and to support him Charlie has Jackie throw rocks through people's windows, so Charlie can then sell them new panes of glass.
That's what Washington has been doing to us. Creating crises and then fixing them by expanding the power of Washington.
Think back to the housing bubble.
Washington inflated the real estate market by insisting that banks grant mortgages to people who didn't have full-time jobs or sometimes any income at all besides government benefits (which sadly is the case with more and more of us).
Then when the mortgage bubble burst, Washington came to the rescue by selling us bailouts, stimulus spending, banking reform and higher taxes.
Oh, and one other thing.
To coax Wall Street investors back from the window ledge, the Federal Reserve pursued QE -- quantitative easing. The Fed has been buying bonds to the tune of $85 billion -- every month.
Does that figure sound familiar?
$85 billion is the amount of an entire year's sequestration cuts.
But Wall Street is now so hooked on that QE heroin that the mere whisper of tapering sends it into a tailspin.
Yet those rocks Washington has been throwing to shatter windows are nothing compared with the boulder that could demolish our entire economy.
Most Americans have been getting their health care from employers since World War Two, for reasons that from the beginning were arbitrary and unfair.
Republicans should have pursued free market health care reforms decades ago, along with entitlement reform, tax reform, and a general reining in of Washington's power. But establishment Republicans instead paved the way for Democrats to insist that the only way to reform health care was by letting Washington assume control of 1/6 of the U.S.economy.
Wait a minute.
Am I suggesting that President Obama is a tramp like Charlie Chaplin?
Charlie was just trying to scratch out a living.
The president and his political allies (in both establishment parties) all live like kings.
So is there a happy ending to this movie?
Only if the Kid and the Tramp finally realize that the trick is not to break windows, but to build new houses -- in the free market.
And they'd better realize that soon. Because there's another lesson to be learned from The Kid.
Mischievous little Jackie Coogan grew up to be
TV's Uncle Fester.
It could get scary, friends.