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Trump, Sanders and Our Rorschach Elections

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 17
Publish Date: 
Thu, 01/28/2016

 

 

“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.

 

 

 

The Pope and Bernie Sanders: Misguided Economic Missionaries

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 17
Publish Date: 
Thu, 10/08/2015

 

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.

 

Baltimore and Our New Civil Rights Struggle

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 10
Publish Date: 
Thu, 05/07/2015

 

“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.

The Real Deflate-gate: The Depressed State of Our Union

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 14
Publish Date: 
Thu, 01/29/2015

 

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.

 

 

The Stupidity of Gruberism and Executive Amnesty

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 7
Publish Date: 
Thu, 12/04/2014

 

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?

 

 

Midterm Message: Respect, don't dis, the People

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 3
Publish Date: 
Thu, 11/06/2014

 

“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.

What's Scarier Than Ebola? A Brain-dead Polity

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 3
Publish Date: 
Thu, 10/23/2014

 

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.

 

The Archie Bunkers of Settled Science

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 18
Publish Date: 
Thu, 10/09/2014

 

As if on cue, settled-science believer Auden Schendler delivered a punishing retort in the Aspen Times to my recent column, “Inconvenient Truths Denied By Climate Faithful.”

 

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.

 

It's Right Versus Wrong, Not Left Versus Right

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 14
Publish Date: 
Thu, 07/03/2014

 

Imagine a 4th of July tradition like Hollywood’s where each year the Oscars pay homage to fallen stars.  Liberty-loving Americans would fete public servants who’ve honored Thomas Jefferson’s rule to “leave no authority existing not responsible to the people.”

 

Might celebrating trustworthy stewards inspire Americans to Think Again about our founders’ insights, ingraining a culture that prizes democratic accountability and lawful government, the one that transformed our risky political experiment into history’s freest and most prosperous society?

 

We’d be celebrating two recently passed stalwarts who put country and constitutional order before party: Senator Howard Baker, the Senate Watergate Committee’s ranking Republican who famously asked “what did the President know and when did he know it,” and Johnnie Walters, President Nixon’s IRS commissioner, who refused to target his “enemies list.”

 

Like our Founders, Baker and Walters understood that where equality under the law goes, so goes freedom. Therefore, the greatest threat to civil society and human potential is a powerful, deceitful and unaccountable government where the few rule the many.

 

That’s why the Founders designed a liberty-preserving system that fragmented and checked government power among equal, competing branches, conferring ultimate authority upon the people -- not our representatives.

 

Respectful of Jefferson’s rule, unlike many in today’s “Ruling Elite,” it’s doubtful Baker or Walters would stomach the IRS targeting Americans for their political beliefs, or the evaporation of email evidence critical to congress’ investigation -- called “a conspiracy theory” by the White House. 

 

Journalistic sleuths Woodward and Bernstein know that government accountability derives from an active media and an informed citizenry.  In comparing the IRS and Benghazi scandals to Watergate, they criticized the media for abandoning its constitutionally protected watchdog role, appearing instead to protect the government from Americans.

 

Public servants may arrive eager to drain Washington’s cesspool, but after harnessing governmental power and dispensing money and favors, they discover it’s a hot tub made inviting by politicians, bureaucrats, public-sector unions, lobbyists, donors, and the media.

 

Our greatest challenge -- and the biggest threat to the world’s oldest (and shortest) constitution -- isn’t a left versus right tug-of-war, but a struggle to wrest power away from those who collude at the citizens’ expense.  

 

Incentivized to invest in influence instead of innovation, Big Business (currently enjoying record profits) can buy access to trillions in spending, tax and regulatory favors. The result is a heavily indebted citizenry and a stagnant economy warped by cronyism, as evidenced by the 2.9 percent plunge in first-quarter U.S. GDP -- the worst non-recession contraction in over 40 years.

 

Not surprisingly, the small business sector that accounts for two-thirds of net new job creation is suffering as “business deaths now exceed business births for the first time in the thirty-plus-year history of our data,” according to a new Brookings Institution report on declining business dynamism.

 

While Wall Street and Washington boom, the rest of America suffers crisis levels of income stagnation, underemployment, economic immobility and government dependency, with a record 50 million living in poverty.

 

Yet as the American Dream slips beyond reach for ordinary citizens, those who oppose the Ruling Elite are labeled extremists, proving George Orwell’s adage that “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”

 

Consider last month’s Mississippi Senate run-off that spoilsman Thad Cochran narrowly won, thanks to crony donations and promises to keep the gravy train running, unlike his “extremist” opponent.

 

But who are the extremists? Those who advocate free markets, equality under the law, fiscal responsibility, constitutional adherence, in God we trust, and peace through strength – the campaign platform of David Brat, Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s vanquisher – or the Ruling Elite who subvert these guiding principles?

 

Though distressed Americans clamor for law, order and security on our southern border, slack immigration-law enforcement has accelerated unlawful migration. Exacerbating the lawlessness are lawmakers like Nancy Pelosi who called the deluge of illegal immigrants an “opportunity.”

 

Unfortunately, the opportunity is at the expense of working Americans, considering all employment growth since 2000 went to immigrants (legal and illegal), the Center for Immigration Studies reported.

 

Meanwhile, with Congress requiring border security prior to any amnesty, President Obama intends to act alone, as he did in 2012 when he indefinitely suspended deportations of 550,000 alien youths, granting them work permits. 

 

Commenting on Obama’s intentions following his twelfth unanimous Supreme Court rebuke for federal power over-reach, constitutional law professor and Obama-voter Jonathan Turley explained, the President “can’t say the solution to gridlock is you simply have to resolve it on my terms.”

 

Having overthrown King George’s unfair and arbitrary rule, our Founders established an America of, by, and for the people – not Ruling Elites -- stipulating that presidents “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

 

Think Again – wouldn’t a shared allegiance to our constitutional order be the best way to realize a more perfect union, for “ourselves and our posterity?”

 

 

Leadership: What Difference At This Point Does It Make?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 9
Publish Date: 
Thu, 06/19/2014

 

If character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking, WWII General Dwight Eisenhower radiated it on D-Day’s eve, writing ”any blame … is mine alone” in never-delivered remarks known as “In Case of Failure.”

 

In making one of history’s toughest and most consequential decisions -- unlike those chronicled in Hillary Clinton’s new memoir “Hard Choices” -- Eisenhower prepared for the worst as 150,000 men readied for a veritable suicide mission 70 years ago this month.

 

Willing to shoulder failure’s blame, even without knowing its reason, Eisenhower publicly attributed the anticipated victory to liberty’s cause and the Allied troops’ “courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle.”

 

Trusting him to put the national interest before his own, Americans liked Ike, twice electing him president, assuring America’s reliability as a guarantor of peace, prosperity, stability and freedom.

 

Unfortunately, as a parade of disturbing scandals and glaring incompetence engulf Washington and our national psyche, one thing is certain – Eisenhower’s style of servant-leadership is in short supply today. 

 

More prevalent are self-serving leaders who routinely do the wrong (yet politically advantageous) thing – even in the Rose Garden when everybody’s looking -- while refusing to Think Again about their misdeeds, never mind assume responsibility or apologize.

 

As if in the Soviet Union where dissidents joked, “The future is known; it’s the past that’s always changing,” today’s national leaders promise the unattainable, spin the news cycle with false narratives, stonewall investigations, smear adversaries, and label self-inflicted controversies “phony scandals.” Absent honest disagreement or accountability, the “truth” becomes any story that sticks as they coast on benevolent intentions, above the devastation.

 

Through successive controversies – Fast and Furious, Benghazi, IRS, NSA, Syria’s red-line, Obamacare, and the Veterans Administration -- this responsibility-evading strategy has worked, thanks to a mythologizing media who “censor or block stories that don’t fall in line with the message they want sent,” as former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson described.

 

Now comes the Bergdahl Swap in which the Obama Administration – perennially unwilling to negotiate with Republicans they’ve called “hostage-takers” – struck a deal with hostage-taking terrorists to trade five Taliban commanders for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl.  

 

Presidential author Bob Woodward called the decision “nefarious and stupid” because it ignored military and intelligence recommendations and flouted federal law requiring congressional notification. Like Benghazi, administration Svengalis crafted and “bull horned” fraudulent talking points, this time to cast a likely deserter as a war hero who “served with honor and distinction.”

 

But unlike Benghazi, the story didn’t stick and a bi-partisan uprising ensued. Without a YouTube hate-video to blame for the spontaneous demonstration, President Obama dismissed it as “a controversy whipped up in Washington” for which he’ll “make no apologies.”

 

Clinton also dislikes questions and apologies. Asked on her book tour if she’ll turn over her Benghazi-related notes to the congressional committee charged with investigating the murders of four Americans at the U.S. Consulate, Clinton instead suggested they read her memoir – called “a newsless snore” by Politico’s Mike Allen.

 

With genocidal insurgents overtaking Iraq and beyond, Clinton may regret her flippant response to a question about the swap. “These five guys are not a threat to the United States,” she asserted, as if 9/11 wasn’t hatched in the very petri dish to which the jihadists are returning.

 

With such out-of-touch and unaccountable leadership, it’s no surprise nearly two-thirds of Americans say we’re headed in the wrong direction, a new Bloomberg poll revealed. 

 

But as Clinton might ask, what difference at this point does it make?

 

A decisive one, as the trouncing of Eric Cantor – the first Majority Leader ever to lose a primary – testifies. Fellow special-interest crony, Senator Thad Cochran, will likely be next.

 

Cantor got caught in a perfect storm of anti-Washington fever, economic unease and resentment over serial controversies including the refugee crisis on our southern border caused by derelict enforcement of immigration laws. Even a 25-to-1-money advantage couldn’t overcome the perception that Cantor favors Wall Street and K-Street over his Main Street constituents.

 

That his campaign donors support immigration policies that are magnets for low-income workers suggests Cantor doesn’t care about depressing the wages and job prospects of Americans already devastated by economic stagnation. Politicians who discuss immigration in terms of how we can assist those who break our laws are largely responsible for our illegal immigrant problem.  

 

The reality is democracy doesn’t work without the right leadership, which accounts for other crises menacing Americans -- dying vets, released terrorists, refugee children, IRS harassment, NSA snooping, health care chaos, and murdered U.S. diplomats and border guards.

 

Amid so much failure, Americans must deny politicians amnesty for their incompetence, selfishness, dishonesty, and abuse of power. 

 

Think Again -- To preserve liberty for successive generations, don’t we need leaders who are prepared to declare “any blame is mine alone?”


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