Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
You wouldn’t know it from the stock market’s record-breaking tear since Hillary Clinton snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but the mood among Trump-averse Americans remains bleak.
Blinkered with rage and disbelief because Clinton won more votes than any other presidential candidate in US history (except Obama in 2008), the despondent blame her stunning upset on nefarious reasons such as “whitelash” bigotry, as CNN’s Van Jones fumed on election night, leading many to sever relations with friends and family.
For partisans inhabiting thought silos influenced by social media’s curated tribalism, the election was rigged, if not by hacked voting machines in rustbelt states or by hacked journalism’s “fake news,” then by Russian email hackers who exposed Democrat dirt, including revelations about how Democrat primaries were rigged against Bernie Sanders.
No credible intelligence source maintains Russia tipped the election in Trump’s favor, only that they meddled to sow chaos and discord regarding the election’s integrity and the winner’s legitimacy. With Clinton supporters clamoring to hack the 227-year old Electoral College, demanding its electors Think Again about making Trump president, you can almost hear Vladimir Putin’s evil-maniacal cackling.
The scheming of 2016’s losers negates Clinton’s laudable concession speech, politicizing and muddling serious matters like Russian malfeasance and cyber-security, and sullying the electoral process by which presidential power peacefully transfers under the world’s oldest constitution.
Unfortunately, political elites – including Trump, the master media manipulator – are being played by Putin whose long-term strategy is to discredit American-style democracy and the liberal order we lead. Considering the post-election freak-out, it’s as if the combatants are double agents working for Russia.
All Americans should agree that Russian covert influence in our democracy is an intolerable threat. It’s one reason why Mitt Romney considered Russia our top geopolitical foe, a claim famously mocked by President Obama who scolded, “The 1980’s are calling. They want their foreign policy back.”
That wisecrack followed the Obama-Clinton “reset” with Russia and Obama’s assurance to former-Russian President Medvedev (caught on an open-mic) that he’d have “more flexibility” after the 2012 election – such as disregarding Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian and Georgian territories. Meanwhile, foreign cyber-intruders have repeatedly hacked federal agencies, without much consequence.
Now, despite dismissing Clinton’s Espionage Act violations related to her unsecured email server and her foundation’s international solicitation fraud, and after denouncing as un-American Trump’s assertion that the election might be “rigged,” Dump-Trumpers insist Clinton would be President-elect, but for Russian cyber-rattling.
On his “The Messy Truth” program, CNN’s Jones heard otherwise from two-time Obama voters who switched to Trump, flipping six states. “If she’d spoken to the blue-collar worker, she’d have won,” explained Ohioan Scott Seitz about Clinton, who hardly campaigned behind her “blue wall.”
In the industrial heartland left behind in America’s asymmetric recovery, long-suffering voters believed Trump would address the issues affecting their livelihoods, preferring Trump’s message of “I’m with you,” to Hillary’s “I’m with Her,” as Seitz framed it. Clinton’s elitist sneer about Trump’s “basket of deplorables” didn’t help.
Rather than grapple with their staggering electoral losses since 2010 – Congress, governorships, state legislatures and now the presidency – or their aged and weak leadership bench, Democrats prefer to fundraise off claims that Russian saboteurs stole the election and Trump-voters are stupid or racist.
If the last 18-months have taught us anything, it’s that Trump shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should his outsider appeal. According to his “Art of the Deal” playbook, “controversy sells,” and he’ll manufacture it if necessary, as he showed en route to the White House.
Speaking bluntly and carrying a big Twitter stick, Trump outlasted 16 primary rivals, the well-funded Bush and Clinton dynasties, and an unprecedentedly hostile media, which he trolls to perfection.
Like all reality-TV stars, Trump is a survivor who’ll outlast the current freak-out too, assuming he revives blue-collar jobs. Hopefully his compulsion to trumpet cronyist deals like Carrier will fade as his economic growth plans make America ripe for private-sector deal making again, as the stock market expects, even amid rising interest rates.
Among history’s greatest dealmakers were America’s founders whose constitution was a heavily negotiated compromise designed to assure that unaccountable power couldn’t be centralized. They believed the boundless potential of individuals operating free from government intrusion would make America great, and they were right.
Unfortunately, as ruling elites have circumvented constitutional guardrails, concentrating power in the ever-growing, unaccountable federal bureaucracy, presidential elections have become life-or-death slugfests. Now half the country quakes in fear that the other half will punish them if they gain power.
The solution is not to further erode constitutional guardrails by defacing the Electoral College; it’s to return the role of Congress, the Supreme Court and the president to their original proscribed limits.
Think Again – Wouldn’t it make America great again if we didn’t have to care so much about who won the White House?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
In this topsy-turvy election year, wonders never cease, as Americans Think Again about how to throw the bums out, even unelected bureaucrats.
The willingness to break with long-standing political norms isn’t surprising, considering voter anger, pessimism and spiking anxieties. Recent surveys of Americans show overwhelming majorities believe the country is on the wrong track, the American Dream is unachievable, and our powerful, unaccountable government is America’s biggest threat.
Consequently, political dynasties have been rendered passé, as mega-donor darlings Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton discovered en route to their coronations. Not even their powerful Super PACs (funded by unlimited individual, corporate and union support) can assure their victories.
The standard trump cards aren’t working either, including the gender card, played recently by former Secretary of State and Hillary-backer Madeleine Albright who admonished, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
For Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, the normally formidable race card trumps nothing. But a blustering and incoherent Donald Trump trumps everything, thanks to the limitless free airtime the ratings-hungry media grant him. ”I’m winning by a lot,” the self-funder boasts, but “I spent almost nothing.”
Meanwhile, the media leaves unexamined Trump’s assertion that his wealth is a scorecard of his abilities. Some analysts calculate the present value of Trump’s inheritance would approximate his current net worth, if he’d simply invested it in the S&P 500.
Undermining Trump’s inevitability, the self-described winner’s first electoral outing was a loss to Cruz and near-upset by Rubio, as 76 percent of Iowa caucus-goers voted not-Trump. His New Hampshire victory was impressive, capturing all demographic groups, but two-thirds still voted not-Trump.
As under-performing contenders like Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina exit the crowded field, the eventual consolidation – and Trump’s record-breaking unfavorability in the general population – bode poorly for his candidacy.
Nevertheless, the ratings-magnet is well positioned to parlay popularity into a Trump network, like the media platform that made Michael Bloomberg – who’s contemplating his own self-funded presidential campaign – one of the world’s richest.
Another surprising result was Cruz’s defeat of King Corn in Iowa. The anti-Washington agitator won record numbers of votes in a historic GOP turnout while arguing that farmers are hurt by government ethanol mandates – not helped, as powerful agribusiness lobbyists allege.
Most extraordinary is Bernie Sander’s durability. Polls show the septuagenarian-socialist tied with Clinton nationally, after narrowly losing Iowa but routing her in New Hampshire where 93 percent of Democrats prioritizing honesty preferred Sanders.
Are voters drawn to Sanders’ socialism, or is he the beneficiary of a “no more Clintons” mindset, especially after reports the Clintons “earned” $153 million in speaking fees since leaving the White House?
It’s probably both, since Sanders’ support skews young. Thirsty for trustworthy leadership, “Sandernistas” have witnessed government bailouts and rampant cronyism, while suffering through the feeblest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
According to Pew Research, this generation is “the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty, and unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income.”
No wonder they find political revolution tempting. But they should study the American Revolution before accepting Sanders’ plan to concentrate ever-growing government power in the name of “social justice.”
As founder James Madison explained, “The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” Concerned that a government would eventually encroach on rights and liberties, Thomas Jefferson forecast “debt, corruption and rottenness,” absent constitutional guardrails.
That’s why, after overthrowing King George’s arbitrary and unfair rule, America’s founders established a government with limited powers to protect the equal rights of the people, believing the boundless potential of individuals operating in a free society would “make America great” – and they were right.
Yet as government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, corrupting our founders’ liberty-preserving system with cronyism that rewards political connections over competitive excellence.
Using massive powers to legislate, tax, spend and regulate, policymakers have rigged the economy and undermined the principles on which freedom, fairness and opportunity rely – equality under the law, property rights and sound money.
Given America’s heritage and Big Government’s dismal track record, it’s stunning that Sanders and Trump -- both advocates of using unprecedented government power to centrally plan and control economic life – could win New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” state. Have its freedom-loving voters forgotten the national purpose their state helped found – the democratic self-rule of a free people?
Hopefully, America is in revolt and casting about for outsiders not because they want more government, but because of the failures of our hyper-politicized, unaccountable government: contaminated water, terrorist attacks, dying vets, IRS harassment, illegal immigration, health care chaos, and murdered U.S. diplomats and border guards.
Think Again – in this anti-conventional wisdom year, may our founders’ wisdom about the dangers of Big Government ultimately prevail.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“All the great inspiring leaders and organizations…think, act and communicate the exact same way… opposite to everyone else,” Simon Sinek revealed in his famous TED talk. They “start with why they do what they do.”
Consider how these transformational Whys moved masses to Think Again: “All men are created equal,” declared America’s founders; “I have a dream” – not a five-point plan – proclaimed Martin Luther King; “Think different” and “Just do it” urged Apple and Nike en route to brand domination.
In 2008, Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” mantra quenched a thirst to challenge the status quo, helping him become the political equivalent of an iPad whose novelty rendered Hillary Clinton a vintage desktop.
As Obama predicted in his autobiography “Audacity of Hope,” he became a human Rorschach test, serving ”as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."
Chanting “yes we can” while staring at Obama’s inkblot, supporters agreed with him that his nomination was “the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless… when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal… when we ended a war, secured our nation and restored our image.”
Obama’s inkblot sent a “thrill up my leg” for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and convinced conservative David Brooks he’d be “a great president.” Newsweek compared the new president to Abraham Lincoln, and 65 percent of voters believed they’d be better off in four years.
Reflecting on the media’s role in creating the Obama phenomenon, CBS’s Bob Schieffer recently acknowledged, “Maybe we were not skeptical enough.”
The same is true of the soaring candidacies of anti-Washington insurgents Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. In their inkblots, supporters see trustworthy leaders whose Whys resonate. To voters hurt by our cronyist political system, and revolted by self-dealing politicians and their special interests, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Sanders’ “A Political Revolution Is Coming” are the “Hope and Change” of 2016.
Hard-working Americans play by the rules and resent politicians who don’t. They’ve watched Wall Street and Washington boom while enduring stagnant wages, job insecurity, rising health-care costs and reduced living standards.
Now, with the economy growing at half its 100-year historic average, small businesses failures exceeding starts, U.S. debt approaching Greek proportions, and national security threats looming, many fear we’re bequeathing our children a less secure and prosperous America.
But on what rational basis do Trump and Sanders merit such unbridled loyalty? Even Trump is amazed, joking recently, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters.”
History shows that when politicians are elevated before winning in the marketplace of ideas, they stop answering questions and being held accountable, and then everybody gets trumped.
Case in point: Trump. The reality-TV star now refuses to appear at the last pre-primary debate, drawing plaudits from minions who celebrate his bullying and bombast. Meanwhile, inquiring minds want him to persuade his way to victory.
How would the self-described insider-dealer dismantle the cronyist system that rewards political connections over competitive excellence? If he’s free of special interests, why not end corporate welfare, such as ethanol subsidies favored in Iowa?
How does Trump reconcile his penchant for unilateral action with the constitution’s separation of powers, never mind America’s founding purpose – democratic self-governance of a free people?
How can Trump defend religious liberty while proposing a blanket ban on Muslims entering the US? How does he justify “eminent domain” whereby government can seize an individual’s property, even for private use, such as a casino parking lot?
Sanders is similarly vague. At CNN’s town hall, he described democratic socialism as “an economy that works for all,” a benign vision -- especially for younger voters -- considering its devastating track record. Socialism is a discredited idea because, Time’s Joe Klein wrote, “it dampens incentives, which dampens creativity, which leads to poverty.”
That’s why the Scandinavian social-democracies Sanders touts reformed their economies, reducing taxes and regulations. Doesn’t Sanders worry that his ideas will disincentive the very entrepreneurialism that transformed America from an agrarian backwater into history’s greatest economic wonder?
Sanders argues “the 1%” will pay for trillions in new government spending, though they rarely do. Instead, they pay lobbyists and lawyers to avoid taxes, and often stop working or move overseas. These are luxuries unavailable to the middle class and debt-saddled future generations who invariably pay when government grows.
America’s founders understood what Sanders doesn’t. Poverty is humanity’s natural state, and free enterprise is the best system for moving people toward productive and prosperous lives. What government-planner can design “an economy that works for all” that's better than the free market, where endless autonomous decisions are made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively?
Think Again – Sanders is right. A few rich people shouldn’t run America. Hopefully, voters willing to look beyond 2016’s inkblots will insist that a handful of politicians shouldn’t run the country either.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
If only Pope Francis were in my Buenos Aires taxi last Christmas.
I could have used his moral authority (and Argentine-accented Spanish) in negotiating with a driver who’d forgotten the “Golden Rule.” And in witnessing my struggle, the self-described “very allergic to economics” pontiff might have gleaned a moral lesson, helping him Think Again about the free enterprise system he’s criticized.
Perhaps he’d grasp why the life-enhancing innovations that America continuously exports – cars, vaccinations, refrigerators, iPhones, 3-D printers, and the cheap and reliable taxi-alternative Uber, for which I longed – don’t happen in Argentina.
Nor do they spring from other Latin American countries, like Venezuela where a protest sign encapsulated people’s contempt for the social-justice espousing frauds who run many Latin nations: “These Castro-Chavistas speak like Marx, govern like Stalin, and live like Rockefeller, while the people suffer.”
Would His Holiness recognize how Argentina’s corporatism – the unholy alliance between government and conglomerates – corrodes social trust, rendering his countrymen voiceless and crucifying their wellbeing and dignity?
After successive governments eroded the rule of law, property rights, and sound money, replacing free enterprise with central planning and a debt-financed welfare state, Argentina slid toward the bottom of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World Index.
Once the world’s breadbasket and fourth-richest nation per-capita – hence the saying “rich as an Argentine” – the Pope’s native land is now a basket case with economic wellbeing (GDP per-capita) only one-third America’s.
If the Holy Father had heard our cabdriver despair over widespread deprivation, corruption and distrust of everyone except the pontiff, might he agree with fellow rock-star Bono about how to lift up the masses? “In dealing with poverty,” Bono stresses, “welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure.”
The patient is mending, the World Bank reported: For the first time in history, extreme poverty afflicts less than 10 percent of world population. Meanwhile, people in economically freer countries enjoy higher living standards, cleaner environments, longer lives, and better-protected civil rights. They also have less corruption, child labor and unemployment.
In his new book, “The Conservative Heart,” American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks calls the free enterprise system “America’s gift to the world,” enabling more people to pursue their happiness through earned success derived from work.
“It was the free enterprise system that not only attracted millions of the world’s poor to our shores and gave them lives of dignity, but also empowered billions more worldwide to pull themselves out of poverty,” Brooks asserts.
At home, however, America’s asymmetric recovery “has cleaved the country into winners and losers like never before,” he writes. Consequently, Americans fear our free society’s trademarks – opportunity and social mobility – are disappearing, imperiling our children’s security and prosperity.
We may be better off than Argentines, but with median income down 6.5 percent since 2007, record numbers out of the workforce, poverty and government dependency rates at all-time highs, and deaths of small businesses (job creation’s primary engine) exceeding starts for the first time on record, it feels like we’re slouching toward Argentina.
While Wall Street and Silicon Valley have boomed, the richest and most generous nation on earth contains pockets of destitution and immiseration – like Baltimore – where millions are deprived of the dignity and fulfillment of work.
Brooks’ snapshot of the last seven years is “deja-vu all over again,” Argentine-style: “People see corporate cronies getting rich because of their cozy relationship with the government. They see bailouts for huge banks but small businesses going bust. They see government loan guarantees for big companies with friends in high places, but hear ‘No loans for you’ from their local bank.”
Ranked among the world’s most economically free nations for decades, America has fallen to 16 in Fraser’s Index, due to these unfair government policies. Consequently, US annual growth is projected to be half its 3 percent historic average.
That His Holiness is unaware of the relationship between economic freedom and human flourishing is a sin, though not original. After all, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders sins similarly, arguing for greater government control of our lives, even at the expense of economic growth.
“You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants,” Sanders declared, “when children are hungry in this country” – as if narrowing deodorant choice could decrease hunger.
The truth is, poverty is humanity’s natural state, and free enterprise is the most merciful economic system yet designed for moving people toward productive and dignified lives. No central planner exists who’s capable of improving on the endless autonomous decisions made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively in the free market, as if divinely guided.
Think Again – as long as we enjoy the blessings of economic freedom, we have the choice not to attend the Pope Francis & Bernie Sanders School of Economics where the tuition is free, but extraordinarily costly, as my Argentine cabbie would confirm.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” is perhaps the most famous closing argument in American criminal justice history. Decisive in rendering a not-guilty verdict for OJ Simpson, it also summarizes our free society’s reliance on “due process” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
So that no innocent defendant is wrongly convicted, a guilty defendant may occasionally go free – like Simpson, who was later found liable by a civil jury applying a lower standard of proof.
Reflecting on the criminal trial’s not-guilty verdict, several jurors conceded that though they thought Simpson was guilty, the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, hampered by suspicions that police tampered with evidence. To African-Americans, the Simpson verdict leveled the justice system’s playing field; to others, it was a miscarriage of justice.
Two decades later, despite pervasive African-American political power throughout society and into the White House, race relations are tense and perceptions of justice diverge. Fueled by the tragic deaths of young black males after run-ins with law enforcement, protestors proclaim “no justice, no peace” while demanding authorities Think Again about upholding due process.
Like Ferguson, Baltimore raged after last month’s mysterious death of Freddie Gray while in police custody -- not without justification. Baltimore’s corruption and incompetence-plagued police department appears to have denied Gray the presumption of innocence and due process.
Now under the spotlight, a once-vibrant and safe Baltimore has become a synonym for mismanagement, catastrophic institutional failure and societal collapse, like much of big-city America. Neither afforded due process or their just due, many residents languish in cesspools of poverty and despair, despite per-pupil educational expenditures and a social safety net that far exceed national averages.
After decades of ever-increasing taxes and spending -- and a cronyist system that rewards the politically connected while blocking public-sector reforms, though claiming to protect the poor -- Baltimore is a tale of two cities where the privileged few are enriched at the expense of the disenfranchised many.
In America’s fifth-most-deadly city, the unemployment rate exceeds the national average by 50 percent and one-in-four Baltimoreans live in poverty -- a rate 250 percent higher than in 1960, before the $20 trillion “War on Poverty.” Gray’s blighted neighborhood suffers even greater poverty, fatherlessness, school dropouts, unemployment, crime, and dependency.
It’s a miscarriage of justice -- and the civil rights struggle of our time -- that the wealthiest and most generous country on earth contains pockets of destitution and immiseration where millions are deprived of the dignity and fulfillment of work.
Sparked by Gray’s death, legitimate frustration morphed into lawless rage, as looters and arsonists became the threat officials are elected to thwart. Yet, rather than uphold her duty to safeguard the equal rights and property of all citizens, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the police to “give those who wished to destroy, space to do that.”
Unfortunately, when rioters believe they can misbehave without consequence, order is lost and job-creating businesses – many black-owned -- flee. To curb the mayhem last week, Chief Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced the arrest of six police officers, including three for manslaughter and one for second-degree murder. “To the youth of this city,” Mosby proclaimed, “I will seek justice on your behalf.”
Famed civil rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz called the indictments “crowd control,” not justice. “Under our constitution,” he explained, “the only people entitled to justice are the defendants,” not the victim or community. Given the abandonment of procedural justice, Dershowitz predicts acquittals -- and more rioting.
However satisfying, OJ-type verdicts won’t solve urban America’s plight, nor will pouring more money into failed government institutions. But kids can overcome the real source of their angst – opportunity and values deficits – by following a three-step plan: graduate high school; get a full-time job; and wait until 21 to marry and have children.
“Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class,” the Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins wrote. They’re also less likely to require due process in criminal court, though there’s no guarantee, considering OJ.
To steer fatherless children toward opportunity’s 3-step Holy Grail will take a village of mentors, and a phalanx of moms – not police. Toya Graham became a national hero after retrieving her rampaging son so he wouldn’t “become another Freddie Gray.”
Graham’s plea is every mother’s hope, one that can’t be realized by government power, but rather through a government that empowers. Politicians could begin by not condemning children to failed schools, and by reforming the unfair system that enslaves innocents so guilty gatekeepers of union and other public-sector privileges reign freely.
Think Again – Human history is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that without equality under the law and due process, there can be no liberty and justice for all.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Aired-out uproariously on Saturday Night Live, “Deflate-gate” has been a national fixation since word broke that the New England Patriots used under-inflated footballs in their Super bowl birth-clinching victory over Indianapolis. The alleged cheating controversy has even pumped up the lovability of the oft-despised Seattle Seahawks.
However, Think Again if you believe Deflate-gate is merely hot air. Though overblown, Americans’ disquiet reflects our fairness instinct and commitment to equality of opportunity – the ideal that all competitors in the race of life, no matter their status, can succeed on a level playing field.
Sensing a slanted NFL field, Seahawk Richard Sherman questioned the close relationship between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriot owner Robert Kraft, calling it a “conflict of interest.”
Sherman’s unease resonates in an America increasingly distrustful of society’s umpires. President Obama spoke to this anxiety in last week’s State of the Union address. “This country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” he declared, labeling this “middle-class economics.”
Yet the story of our five-year-old recovery is how poorly working Americans have fared. With workforce participation at forty-year lows, “America’s wealth gap between middle-income and upper-income families is the widest on record,” Pew Research recently reported. From 2010 to 2013, household incomes fell for all except the most affluent 10 percent, a 2014 Federal Reserve survey revealed, with the bottom 40 percent suffering disproportionately.
So while Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Washington boom, the rest of America suffers crisis levels of job insecurity, economic immobility and government dependency, with a record 50 million living in poverty.
That’s because our economy’s playing field is askew, warped by a cronyist system -- long in the making -- that is neither “middle-class economics” nor Thomas Jefferson’s ideal: “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.”
Free to pursue their individual life objectives, American entrepreneurs -- and immigrants fleeing societies where one’s start pre-determined one’s end -- transformed an agrarian backwater into human history’s greatest economic wonder. Between 1800 and 2007, economic well-being (real GDP per-capita) increased 32-fold in America compared to 14-times in Great Britain and 5-times in India.
It’s not a miracle; it’s the free market where rivals meet in open competition, generating a continuous stream of innovation, choice and value. In return for pleasing customers and being good corporate citizens, entrepreneurs earn profits.
As government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, corrupting the free market with corporate cronyism -- the incestuous relationship between Big Government and Big Business that rewards political connections over competitive excellence.
Our tax code is a cronyist masterpiece, allowing well-connected individuals and big companies like GE to lobby for, win and exploit tax breaks, rendering their tax bills negligible and affording lawmakers unending contributions.
Equally distortive are corporate welfare programs sold as economic saviors -- the 2009 stimulus, cash-for-clunkers, farm bill, bailouts, Export-Import Bank loan guarantees and Dodd-Frank “Wall Street reform.” Each benefits well-connected private companies, forcing Americans who “work hard and play by the rules” to subsidize elites who don’t.
Then there’s cronyism’s granddaddy, Obamacare, “the product of an orgy of lobbying and backroom deals,” according to Steven Brill, whose new book “America’s Bitter Pill” details how the $3-trillion-a-year health industry’s largest stakeholders – drug and medical device companies, hospitals, insurers – profited, at taxpayers’ expense.
When profits accrue to those with the most to invest in politics -- and the most to lose in the free market -- wealth and opportunity shift from ordinary people to the government and its friends. That’s why Americans struggling to maintain living standards must contend with ever-increasing prices in government-controlled sectors -- housing, health, and education.
Most worrisome, the small business sector, which generates two-thirds of new jobs, is languishing. Unable to grow in a market that protects large corporations from competition, and disproportionately burdened by an explosion of regulatory red tape, small business deaths now exceed business births for the first time in the Brookings Institution’s thirty-plus-year history of data collection.
So who are the greedy Gordon Gekko’s? Those who prudently risk hard-earned money to continuously deliver life-enhancing benefits – iPhones, 3-D printers, medicines, refrigerators – or cronies who relegate competitors, consumers, employees, and investors to the sidelines of a rigged game?
To protect our freedom and broadly share prosperity, shouldn’t we disperse power away from economic leeches, returning it to economic producers whose raison d'être is the fulfillment of needs and desires?
Think Again – It’s human nature to want competitive advantages -- whether tax breaks or deflated footballs. That’s why a free society needs referees with only enough power to assure fair competition, not so much that they become self-interested players in the game.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
In an ironic twist, the long-awaited sequel to the cult-classic “Dumb and Dumber” opened as Americans discovered that in the eyes of our Political Class, we’re like the film’s low-IQ duo – “stupid voters.”
Caught dropping truth bombs in a series of videos, MIT professor and Obamacare co-architect Jonathan Gruber describes how policymakers hid the Affordable Care Act’s true nature. “Call it the stupidity of the American voter,” Gruber chortled, since “that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”
But who’s the dunce considering Gruber is now persona non grata in capitals where he’s earned millions of taxpayer dollars for his wizardry?
Prior to Obamacare’s enactment, Americans overwhelmingly approved their health insurance plans -- 86 percent, according to Time Magazine’s July 2009 poll. Fearing their health system-upending plan wouldn’t survive public scrutiny, Gruberites launched an operation to obfuscate and deceive.
Without a vote to spare, there wasn’t time to Think Again about Obamacare’s numerous taxes, employment disincentives and cross-subsidies from healthy to sick (including those with unhealthy behaviors) and young to old.
"We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it," Nancy Pelosi insisted, demonstrating how raw political ambition trumped the consent of the governed in passing modern history’s most consequential law.
In our era of secretly negotiated lawmaking, “comprehensive” legislation (Obamacare, Dodd-Frank’s “Wall Street reform” and the Senate’s Immigration bill) means complex enough to hide the special interest-laden truth.
“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber explained, which is why the 2,409-page “bill was written in a tortured way” to game the arcane Congressional Budget Office’s system for measuring legislation impacts. “If CBO scored the [insurance] mandate as taxes, the bill dies,” Gruber admitted.
Armed with CBO’s contorted conclusions, politicians and their media minions wielded them like weapons, including at the Supreme Court, which upheld Obamacare’s constitutionality by deeming the mandate a tax.
To achieve other politically treacherous measures, like limiting tax deductions on employer-provided health benefits, Gruberites designed the “Cadillac Tax” on expensive plans. “Mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people,” was possible, Gruber contends, because “the American people are too stupid to understand the difference.”
In revealing Obamacare’s deceptions, “Grubergate” upsets Thomas Jefferson’s self-government truism -- “whenever the people are well-informed they can be trusted with their own government.” By conspiring to misinform and manipulate, Gruberites have engendered distrust of the institutions they’re empowered to run.
More interested in advancing partisan agendas than assuring government’s legitimacy and durability, Gruberites endanger the constitutional stability that’s enabled America to become the freest and most productive society on earth, deviating from history’s norm – tyranny, instability and stifled human potential.
Unfortunately, by circumventing the debate and consensus on which pluralistic democracies depend, Gruberites prove Jefferson’s observation that “even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”
As America’s constitutional framers understood, process matters to orderly self-government. To constrain Gruberites, the founders designed a liberty-preserving system founded on popular consent, limited government, and equality under the law. To check abuse, they separated political powers among co-equal branches, pitting “ambition against ambition.”
That’s why President Nixon was wrong to tell interviewer David Frost, “When the President does it, that means it isn’t illegal.” Similarly, President Obama is wrong to claim authority for sweeping legal changes – like amnesty-by-fiat for 5 million illegals -- if Congress doesn’t pass laws he likes. Presidents are entitled to discretion in executing, not vacating, the law.
According to Jonathan Turley, constitutional scholar and Obama policy-supporter, the President’s unprecedented separation-of-powers violations render him “the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid -- the concentration of power in any single branch.” If Presidents can enact consequential changes in defiance of Congress, the law and public will, what can’t they do?
Unilaterally legalizing millions of low-wage workers – a magnet for millions more -- to compete with America’s economically distressed working class mirrors the imperial and unfair rule we overthrew in 1776. Absent rapid job growth, it’s also a recipe for poverty and dependency, straining the society to which immigrants are drawn. Americans aren’t stupid or heartless to insist on the right to control whom we admit and in what numbers, no matter what Gruberites say.
Saturday Night Live mocked Obama’s King George-like views and his “go big or go home” immigration overhaul in its Schoolhouse Rock parody: “How a Bill Becomes Law.” First it passes Congress; then the President signs it. Even lame-duck Presidents must operate within constitutional bounds, using the bully pulpit and the legislative process -- not imperial edicts -- to advance policy goals.
Think Again – Ambitious Gruberites are an enduring threat to government of, by and for the people. Wouldn’t it be dumb not to deploy all available checks and balances to curtail them?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“The people have spoken…. and they must be punished,” former New York City mayor Ed Koch famously vented in defeat.
In sweeping away waves of Democrats in Tuesday’s midterm election – even in blue states like Maryland, Illinois and Massachusetts – a punished and disrespected American people have vented, silencing the politicians whose agenda and tactics they soundly rejected.
In this collective Think Again election, Harry Reid was demoted for allowing hyper-partisanship to trump the constitutional integrity of the Senate, known as the “world’s most deliberative body” -- except under Reid’s leadership.
Though Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s fate awaits a December run-off, she typified the political class’ disdain for constituents, attributing electoral woes to their sexism and racism. “The South hasn’t always been the friendliest place for African Americans,” she told NBC correspondent Chuck Todd during her campaign’s frantic homestretch, nor “a good place for women to present ourselves.”
But with the American Dream slipping beyond reach for ordinary citizens, and amid unease over America’s increasingly weak standing in the world, how is dissing one’s constituents a winning message?
Apparently, that’s shrewd politics, even in a state that thrice elected Landrieu and just re-elected its Indian governor, according to the New Republic’s Brian Beutler who applauded “Landrieu’s candor [because it] came in the service of her political interest.”
Herein lies America’s gravest problem, one that Tuesday’s midterm tsunami should help mitigate: Rather than do the right thing even when no one is looking – the definition of integrity – today’s self-serving leaders routinely do the wrong yet politically advantageous thing, even when everybody’s looking.
Whether in the Rose Garden, TV interviews, before Congress, or on the campaign trail, political elites have promised the unattainable, spun the news cycle with false narratives, stonewalled investigations, and smeared adversaries. Absent honest disagreement and accountability, the “truth” becomes any story that sticks, allowing them to coast on benevolent intentions, above their policies’ wreckage.
Labeling successive controversies “phony scandals” -- Obamacare chaos, dying veterans, murdered U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, IRS harassment, NSA snooping, Syria’s red-line erasure – they’ve managed to stay atop the responsibility-evading tight rope. Despite overwhelming foreign and domestic concerns, most campaigns refused to discuss Americans real preoccupations, paying dearly.
For too long politicians have played the identity politics trump card to win political advantage at the expense of the public good. Actively fomenting social unrest, they’ve cynically divided Americans into warring camps while short-circuiting the deliberation and debate on which national consensus in a pluralistic democracy depends.
Doubling down on the War on Women shtick, campaigns courted female voters like the Neanderthals they claimed their opponents to be. Consider the menacing Colorado ad about condom shortages because “Cory Gardner banned birth control,” or the contention that “A vote for Tom Cotton is a vote against Arkansas women.” Ironically, even Joni Ernst – now Iowa’s first female senator and a combat veteran -- was accused of waging a war on women.
Of Republicans, Congressman Charlie Rangel declared, they “believe that slavery isn’t over and that they won the Civil War!” Actually, Republicans – the Party of Lincoln -- did win the Civil War and passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments abolishing slavery and granting voting and due process rights to former slaves, though Democrats work hard to convince otherwise.
Reporting on these race-baiting efforts, the New York Times noted “how overtly they play on fears of intimidation and repression... -- invoking Trayvon Martin’s death, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and Jim Crow-era segregation -- to jolt African-Americas into voting.”
The Times was surprised that “the effort is being led by national Democrats and their state party organizations.” In North Carolina, Harry Reid’s “super PAC” ran a radio ad linking senate candidate Thom Tillis to the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, garnering four Pinocchios from the Washington Post. Additionally, incendiary leaflets distributed at black churches featured “a grainy image of a lynching,” foreshadowing a reversion to a pre-civil rights era if Sen. Kay Hagan lost.
To counter the cynical race baiting, Louisiana state senator Elbert Guillory and his Free At Last PAC ran ads across the south noting that while senators Landrieu, Hagan and Mark Pryor promised to be champions of the black community, the white-black gap grew in virtually every socio-economic category -- fatherless homes, high school dropouts, incomes, poverty, incarceration, and joblessness.
Ultimately, Guillory’s message – not Landrieu’s -- resonated. Even deeply red South Carolina re-elected a female Indian governor and a black US senator proving that southern voters judge on character and competence, not skin color or gender. Making America’s promise accessible to every demographic requires honest leaders who hew to their constituents’ concerns, not their own.
Think Again – in Koch’s ironic wisecrack was the insight that American voters punish failing leaders, not vice versa. May this be the lesson our new crop of leaders draw from their victory.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
It’s been an October of surprises. As U.S. health officials’ mistake-riddled handling of the deadly Ebola virus topped newscasts, the Denver Post editorial board captured headlines for its denunciation of Sen. Mark Udall’s campaign tactics, helping subdue the fevered politics that’s plagued us.
Insisting Udall -- dubbed “Mark Uterus” -- Think Again about his fixation on gynecological issues while “a great deal is at stake,” the Post’s endorsement of challenger Cory Gardner injected truth serum into a poisonously dishonest election season.
Noting Udall’s lack of leadership in Washington and his “obnoxious one-issue campaign” in Colorado, the Post contends “Udall is trying to frighten voters rather than inspire them with a hopeful vision.” As if inoculating himself from scrutiny, the Post notes Udall has spent a “shocking amount of energy and money…to convince voters that Gardner seeks to outlaw birth control despite the congressman's call for over-the-counter sales of contraceptives.”
The Post’s rebuke may not be a cure-all for mindless and dispiriting “War on Women” sloganeering, but it’s healthy if it incentivizes politicians like Udall to address constituents’ real preoccupations and priorities.
In addition to war with the Islamic State and Ebola, Americans face serious economic mobility concerns described last week by Federal Reserve Chairwomen Janet Yellen as significant “gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority.”
Unfortunately neither striking an independent pose nor debating and shaping such great issues are allowed in Harry Reid’s Senate, contrary to the two-century history of the world’s most deliberative body.
With the Senate now less open and more partisan, unanimous Democrat votes set an all time high for either chamber, according to a recent study by Congressional Quarterly, with the average Senate Democrat voting the party line 94 percent of the time in 2013.
To maintain this governing conformity, Reid has denied votes on over 350 House-passed measures, many with large bi-partisan majorities, and used parliamentary trickeries to pass controversial measures on narrow party-line votes. Last December he activated the “nuclear option” eliminating the Senate’s two-century-old filibuster tradition (the 60-vote threshold requiring consultation with the minority) on most presidential nominees.
Smash-mouth politics has served the governing elites -- many of whom, like Reid, have parlayed influence into family fortunes -- but not Americans who feel ill served by the institutions they oversee.
Not surprisingly, two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, a recent WSJ/NBC poll reveals. Furthermore, the two most respected federal agencies in a 2013 Pew poll – the Veterans Administration and Center for Disease Control -- are reeling from reports of veterans consigned to death by waiting list and Ebola-infected nurses. Considering presidential security lapses, even the Secret Service is suspect.
The merry-go-round of evasion and unaccountability is well known. First never-ending investigations are launched promising to hold people accountable. Then governing elites blame budget hawks -- even amid increasing budgets -- not misplaced priorities and misspent taxpayer money. Finally, to protect the governing agenda, appointed mouthpieces run interference, rambling incoherently at oversight hearings to run out the clock.
More worrisome than the cavernous competence gap is the politicization of every bureaucracy, even institutions charged with equal enforcement of laws, like the Justice Department and IRS.
Aided and abetted by elected officials who defend the indefensible, the Administration diverts our attention with false assurances: you can keep your health insurance and your doctors; there’s not a smidgeon of corruption at the IRS; al Qaeda is on the run; the border is secure; and a US Ebola outbreak is extremely unlikely.
Unsettled by Ebola’s transmissibility and skeptical the government can track and contain the lethal virus, Americans want travel restrictions from affected African countries. Yet President Obama resists, claiming a ban could lead to more Ebola cases.
Willing to defy public opinion before an election, imagine what controversial policies Obama will pursue afterward. An Iranian nuclear deal that sidesteps Congress and legalization of illegal immigrants are reported, though political allies like Udall studiously avoid these issues.
In a television interview this week, Udall admitted to being “brain-dead,” which isn’t surprising given how dumbed down and non-deliberative the Senate has become. Had Udall and Reid succeeded last month in passing their constitutional amendment to refashion the First Amendment (under the guise of campaign-finance reform), there’d be even less need for politicians to defend themselves in the marketplace of ideas.
Calling the senators’ amendatory efforts “exceedingly dangerous to the democratic processes,” the American Civil Liberties Union warned the amendment “would lead directly to government censorship of political speech… fundamentally break the Constitution and endanger civil rights and civil liberties for generations” -- a contagion our society couldn’t endure.
Think Again – with sunlight being the best disinfectant, Coloradans could have a senator who’ll represent our interests in Washington, not a servant of Washington’s agenda back home.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Archie Bunker-like in frustration, Schendler wants me to stifle myself. If I don’t “dummy up” like Archie’s wife Edith, he suggests Aspen Times editors Think Again before publishing my commentary without peer-reviews -- or risk “being complicit in promoting falsehoods.”
Schendler calls this “ground-truthing of scientific claims,” noting the Los Angeles Times doesn’t publish pieces that “deny established climate science.” Like Robert Kennedy Jr. who recently called for jailing treasonous nonconformists who break with “settled-science” orthodoxy, Schendler insists it’s not censorship when there’s no argument.
My crime – tantamount to “yelling ‘fire’ in a movie theater” – is considering climate change “a naturally reoccurring phenomenon to which mankind has always adapted, and still can.” Apparently, I can’t acknowledge earth’s warming and ice-age cycles without embracing political agendas that require living standard cuts -- lifestyle sacrifices activists won’t acknowledge and elites like Kennedy, Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio won’t obey.
Resisting cataclysmic theorizers and their “starve the peasants to save the pheasants” thinking, I criticized alarmists who “invoke the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial to reject those deeming climate change less dangerous than other threats.” I did so believing an economically robust and energy-secure America is the ultimate threat-deterrent.
Today I’d add to my threat list the failure of public institutions to protect and serve Americans, considering recent incompetence, corruption and unaccountability in government agencies – those Schendler wants to grant unprecedented powers to centrally plan and control economic life.
Though denounced by climate “groupthinkers,” dissidents like me are troubled by “the stunning failure of…doomsday-predicting models to forecast warming’s nearly 18-year pause (confirmed by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) or Al Gore’s 2007 prediction that polar bears’ Arctic habitat would be ice-free by 2013.”
These irrefutable observations riled Schendler. Accusing me of “cherry-picking data,” he contends I’m “willfully blind or statistically illiterate to claim warming has stopped.” Citing a Politifact article to support his contention, he apparently overlooked the fact-checker’s concession that “over roughly the past 15 years, global surface temperatures have plateaued.”
So who’s the “meathead,” considering widespread acceptance of unexpected global temperature stability, and the existence of more Arctic ice than in 2007 – never mind record Antarctic ice levels?
As if answering this question, President Obama’s former Undersecretary of Energy Steve Koonin wrote a consensus-disrupting op-ed -- “Climate science is not settled.” Lamenting how the settled-science claim “demeans and chills the scientific enterprise” and distorts “policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment,” Koonin argues “we are very far from the knowledge needed to make good climate policy.”
Noting warming’s pause amid rising CO2 emissions, Koonin posits, “natural influences and variability are powerful enough to counteract the present warming influence exerted by human activity.” Despite “different explanations for this [prediction] failure … the whole episode,” he concludes, “continues to highlight the limits of our modeling.”
IPCC lead author Kevin Trenberth admitted this in one of the embarrassing emails leaked in the “Climategate” scandal of 2009. “The fact is,” he wrote, “we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty.”
Probing the disconnect between observed temperatures and predictions, the Economist asked, “Who pressed the pause button?” in a March 2014 global warming article. Because “the models embody the state of climate knowledge,” they concluded, “if they are wrong, the knowledge is probably faulty, too.”
Even the LA Times broke with the climate consensus, reporting last month “naturally occurring changes in winds, not human-caused climate change, are responsible for most of the warming on land and in the sea along the West Coast of North America over the last century.”
Meanwhile, amid calls to stifle climate debates, technological breakthroughs have made America the world’s most energy-endowed nation, possessing more oil than Saudi Arabia and more natural gas than Russia.
In substituting lower-carbon resources for coal, we’ve hit the energy jackpot: cheaper energy (a rebate for the poor and an offset of foreign manufacturers’ cheap labor advantages); cleaner air; new jobs; increased governmental revenues; greater energy independence; and CO2 emissions at a 20-year low, outpacing Europe whose expensive renewable-energy strategies have failed.
Despite these advantages, activists refusing to moderate their climate conclusions – no matter the evidence -- rally to curb the development of our cheapest energy resources, denying citizens who can’t afford Whole Foods environmentalism the benefits of our energy bounty.
Unfortunately, except for the rich, Americans are suffering crisis levels of income stagnation, underemployment, economic immobility and poverty. These truths -- not doomsday predictions -- preoccupy Americans.
Think Again – Climate-mongers intent on squashing free inquiry and expression insist dissenters are “dead from the neck up,” Archie Bunker-style. But being “meatheads” is not our destiny, if we refuse to stifle ourselves.