"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson

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.

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?”



Universities and Bureaucracies: Close-Minded Havens -- Are proliferating scandals the consequence?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 14
Publish Date: 
Thu, 06/05/2014


“I’m not young enough to know everything,” Peter Pan’s creator J.M. Barrie observed, as if reflecting on the Great Commencement Speaker Flap of 2014. However Jimi Hendrix was young when he reputedly offered advice heeded by too few students – “knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”


Aware that wisdom comes from asking the right questions, not identifying the wrong answers, Professor Allan Bloom blasted universities in 1987 for exacerbating youthful indiscretion.


In his seminal book “The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Student,” Bloom argued students were graduating into a complex and conflict-riddled world without the insights that come from the clash of opposing viewpoints.


Thirty years hence, are the controversies plaguing America the consequence?


Real advance, Albert Einstein revealed, requires the creative imagination to Think Again, “to raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle.” We can’t solve problems, Einstein believed, by applying the same “thinking we used when we created them.”


Nevertheless, “tolerance enforcers” wielding moral superiority and a heckler’s veto have transformed campuses into close-minded sanctuaries. Cocooned away, students are safe from potential insult, reflective thought, disagreement – and real life.


This year’s commencement castoffs -- victims of a war on accomplished and courageous women -- include: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, human rights activist; Condoleeza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State; and Christian Lagarde, International Monetary Fund Chief.


Couldn’t Brandeis’ class of 2014 have learned something from Ali, a Somali feminist who overcame subjugation, genital circumcision and forced marriage to become a Dutch parliamentarian, Harvard professor, and internationally acclaimed author, while living under death threats?


Wasn’t it worth Rutgers graduates’ time to listen to Rice, an African-American who emerged out of the segregated south to become the most accomplished black woman in American history, whose foreign policy judgments were shared by then-senators Clinton, Biden and Kerry?


Wouldn’t Smith women have derived inspiration from Lagarde, the first woman to become finance minister of a G8 economy (France) and head of the IMF?


At last week’s Harvard commencement, Michael Bloomberg won applause denouncing the left-wing bias that censors unfashionable voices on campus asking, “Isn’t the purpose of a university to stir discussion, not silence it” in order “to teach students how (not what) to think?”


That’s what I assumed while attending Tufts University where I co-founded a student newspaper deemed offensive by the thought police. They branded me -- and my vandalized car -- “fascist” for writing opinions about the nuclear freeze, Reagan’s social security reform, and Jessie Jackson’s “hymie-town” slur.


The problem is not just that “censorship and conformity [are] the mortal enemies of freedom,” as Bloomberg declared. It’s that when “everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking,” as Benjamin Franklin taught, creating a culture that breeds incompetence, indifference, greed, irresponsibility, and corruption – in essence, scandalous behavior.


Consider the latest scandal rocking Washington at the Veterans Administration, the federal government’s largest employer. To meet a patient caseload that’s grown 30 percent since 2003 and address persistent quality-of-care problems, the VA’s budget more than doubled over the period while full-time employees jumped 63 percent to 314,000.


Yet the VA still can’t match the private sector’s standard of care, which is why only 40 percent of veterans are enrolled in the government-run health care system. The just-released VA audit confirms a widespread and “systematic lack of integrity,” as employees prioritized their bonuses over sick and dying veterans.


It’s a story of unaccountability, fraud and potentially criminal conduct that even shocked the now-former VA head, Eric Shinseki.  Unfortunately, unlike the private sector, the Washington Way is: if you like your government job, you can keep it – except for scapegoats like Shinseki.


The truth is, without the disciplining and invigorating influence of an open and competitive intelectual environment, and the innovation and accountability it fosters, otherwise honorable and capable people can be rendered indecent and incompetent. It’s the eco-system -- not the people in it -- that mostly determines human behavior.


In the frantic circumstances of 9/11, people behaved magnificently, as is highlighted at the just-opened 9/11 Memorial Museum. Most remarkable are stories of the rescued – civilians and emergency responders – who returned to the wreckage “to do for others what had been done for us,” explained retired fireman Mickey Cross.


Even amid confusion and devastation, Cross noted “a real sense of caring for one another…” which “is something we should never forget and never stop doing.”


For those caught in the tragedy, there was no script or easy answers, only difficult questions. Yet the improbably heroic did the right thing, even under duress, which is the definition of initiative.  In a more open system, VA employees would likely do the same.


Think Again – We don’t need crises to bring out the best of humanity, just a better environment to produce decent, motivated and wise people.

High Noon Lessons For America's Lawmakers

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 12
Publish Date: 
Thu, 09/26/2013


With several political climaxes looming, it serves to recall “High Noon” starring Gary Cooper as Will Kane, the beleaguered marshal who single-handedly confronts paroled murderer Frank Miller and his gang. As civil society’s elected protector, Kane is a reluctant hero, abandoned by his cowering and self-interested townsfolk. Improbably victorious, he departs town, flinging his badge with contempt for the citizens who wouldn’t defend the rule of law on which their freedom, prosperity and security depend.


Though protagonists in our national Kabuki Theater claim to care about us, Think Again before allowing them to join Kane on the moral high ground. In verbal shootouts over Obamacare, the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling and Syria, our lawmen resemble Kane’s fair-weather constituents for whom self-interest trumps the common good. By failing to anticipate and resolve America’s imminent threats before they reach High Noon climaxes, politicians undermine America’s interests and squander their legitimacy. 


There’s a Kane-like resentment smoldering in far-flung territories for lawmakers who trade political favors for donations; pass incomprehensible, lobbyist-written, and unread laws; and grant ever-increasing authority to the intrusive and unelected bureaucracy.  Lawmakers may arrive in Washington believing it’s a cesspool, but after harnessing governmental power and dispensing billions, they discover it’s a hot tub made inviting by the collusion of big government, big business and big special interests.


Yet while Washington booms, Americans endure depressed wages, economic stagnation, and high unemployment. To stimulate the sluggish economy, the Federal Reserve is continuing it’s near-zero interest-rate policy, cushioning the accounts of stock-market investors and bankers, while crushing the financial plans of ordinary Americans, imperiling retirement savings, and exacerbating income-inequality.   


Though Washington manufactures little beyond economically injurious legislation, regulations, and bills for taxpayers to fund, it enjoys the nation’s highest median household income, up 23 percent since 2000, compared to a 7 percent decline nationally.  That’s because federal spending ($3.5 trillion) now absorbs nearly one-quarter of the economy, up from 18 percent ($1.76 trillion) in 2000, causing a tripling of the national debt – a growth rate the Congressional Budget Office says is unsustainable. Furthermore, with unfunded liabilities exceeding $75 trillion and without reforms, Social Security and Medicare won’t exist for younger Americans.


Given this fiscal picture, and with tax revenues hitting a record high, can we trust politicians like Nancy Pelosi who now assert “the cupboard is bare; there’s no more cuts to make?” How can lawmakers claim to be for hardworking families and younger Americans without addressing the unsustainability of our growing debt and entitlement obligations, knowing these taxpayers must pay the bills?


Lawmakers’ rank hypocrisy and lawlessness were exposed this month when the White House agreed to grant Congress and its staffers a special exemption from Obamacare – the 2,700-page law they imposed on the citizenry – by continuing special taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies. This Washington self-dealing comes after granting over 2,000 waivers to political allies and illegally suspending major parts of the law, including the employer mandate and subsidy verification requirements -- fiats that invite rampant fraud at taxpayer expense.


So concerned with the law’s unintended consequences, the AFL-CIO declared it “will lead to the destruction of the 40-hour work week” while devastating “the health and wellbeing of our members along with millions of other hardworking Americans.” As the New York Times reported last week, "having an insurance card does not guarantee access to specialists or other providers." Furthermore, as businesses skirt Obamacare’s expensive provisions by eliminating jobs and reducing hours, what difference does coverage for pre-existing conditions and 25-year old children make to those who lose their plans and doctors?


You know something's wrong with a healthcare law that results in fewer doctors, nurses, and hospital beds, but more IRS enforcers. And for those who insist the government stay out of your bedroom, steel yourselves to answer intrusive questions about your private life for data mining purposes -- or pay hefty fines.


As the country churns from Obamacare’s impacts, the clock approaches High Noon on budget and debt ceiling decisions to which escalating health care costs are central. Yet, the President declared Washington a negotiation-free zone, a curiosity since real outlaws like Russia’s Putin and Syria’s Assad are now negotiating partners.


Will President Rouhani of Iran, the planet’s largest exporter of terrorism, be next? Assad may now avoid using chemical weapons, but how many more innocents will die conventionally because two-years of American calls for Assad’s ouster -- and other saber rattling -- were empty cowboy rhetoric? 


With strategic planning and leadership, these policy cauldrons have solutions, though not when elected officials scurry from their moral duties, like High Noon’s townspeople.  There are scores of courageous Marshal Kane's in every town across America, except the one where the nation needs them most.


Think Again – wouldn’t you rally around this kind of leadership to avoid devolving into the Divided States of America?



Scott Walker: Wisconsin's True Progressive

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 7
Publish Date: 
Thu, 06/07/2012


Last week after his criminal trial ended with a hung jury, John Edwards proclaimed hopefully, “I don’t think God is through with me,” as he planted the seeds for his comeback. Projecting the false modesty and manufactured authenticity that vaulted the one-term Senator toward the Presidency, Edwards personifies Graucho Marx’s maxim that “the secret to life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

In response to Edwards, I imagined a collective uproar: “Think Again, John -- the jig is up!” As Edwards exits stage left, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker takes center stage.  He, along with brave governors in New Jersey, Indiana, South Carolina, Louisiana, and possibly even New York, represent a new breed of leader emboldened to end public sector unions’ stranglehold on our governments and economy.

Putting aside Edwards’ despicable personal conduct, he is emblematic of the corrupt patronage system that Governor Scott Walker ended in Wisconsin -- the one that allows government unions to cement relationships with self-serving politicians, leaving taxpayers unrepresented and rendering many states insolvent.  By voting decisively to retain Walker (the only US governor to survive a recall), Cheeseheads declared the jig is finally up for this brand of special-interest cronyism and the politicians who perpetuate it – at least in Wisconsin.

The truth is, public-sector unions don’t serve a compelling social need since governments don’t exploit labor for profits. Furthermore, as Franklin Roosevelt cautioned, “the process of collective bargaining…. cannot be transplanted into the public service...[without risking] paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it.” Realizing this, President Carter reduced collective-bargaining rights for federal employees by signing the Civil Service Reform Act.

It’s ironic that public sector unions met their match in Wisconsin, the birthplace of American progressivism and public sector unionism where roughly two-thirds of voters either are or are related to union members.  Now, progressive Wisconsin is proof that the crisis of the modern entitlement state being played out worldwide -- from the Eurozone to California -- doesn’t have to be a Greek tragedy.

In Wisconsin, even union sympathizers realize everyone is ill served when the government can't meet its obligations.  They know the promises politicians make far exceed our ability to pay and, watching Europe implode from the same disorder, realize there is only one choice -- reduced yet sustainable government or bankruptcy. Wisconsin voted for balance knowing the essential first step on the path to prosperity and opportunity is for governments to recover fiscal soundness. 

That was Walker’s pledge in 2010. Facing the fourth highest tax burden in the country and determined to reverse Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion deficit without raising taxes or firing workers, Walker’s reforms disallowed collective bargaining for public-employee unions (except police and firefighters).  No longer can unions negotiate their taxpayer-funded benefits with politicians they helped elect using mandatory dues. Additionally, Walker asked government employees to contribute modestly more to their health and retirement benefits. Even after these reforms, Wisconsin workers enjoy “a combined salary-benefits compensation premium of around 22 percent over private sector workers,” according to an American Enterprise Institute study released last month.

Though modest, the unions and their allies reacted ferociously to these reforms, like a mama bear defending her cub. They captured national attention with protests, runaway state senators, legal challenges and state senator recall elections. Despite their efforts, they couldn’t overcome the will of the people -- to keep the reforms.

That’s because Walker’s reforms are succeeding: The budget has a $150 million surplus; property taxes are lower; the unemployment rate is 6.8 percent (the lowest since 2008 and well below the national average); the private sector created 26,000 jobs in 2011; and savings realized by school districts have preserved jobs and educational programming. Most encouraging, according to a Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce survey in May, 73 percent of employers predicted moderate to good business growth and more than half plan to expand operations within two years – the highest rate in a decade.

No wonder one-third of union members voted for Walker, according to exit polls. Seeing union policies drain government finances, endanger vital government services, and undermine their own jobs and benefits, why would union members want to pay their dues? Now that they have the option not to, tens of thousands have opted out. Perhaps this is the best outcome of all, for civil society is healthier when government employees believe they’re on the same side as taxpayers.

As CS Lewis said, “We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

Though it’s too late for Edwards, other self-proclaimed “progressives” must Think Again – good policy makes great politics.

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