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

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.



Inequality and A Tale of Two Ukrainians

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 7
Publish Date: 
Thu, 02/27/2014


Last week, as Ukrainian émigré-turned-tech tycoon Jan Koum prepared to cash a multi-billion dollar check from Facebook -- acquirer of his start-up “WhatsApp” -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was checking-out of his Gatsby-esque estate where he’d cached his stolen plunder.

That the two Ukrainians derived their riches under diametrically opposed systems – free enterprise versus banana republic – Illustrates why all income inequalities are not created equal.  

Most don’t resent the rich -- only the undeservedly rich – as a recent Venezuelan protest sign conveyed: “These Castro-Chavistas speak like Marx, govern like Stalin, and live like Rockefeller, while the people suffer!”

Koum’s affluence springs from a free society in which everyone has a God-given right to go as far as their work and talent will take them. Yanukovich’s hijacked wealth is exploitive, depriving others of dignity, opportunity, and economic mobility. One system disperses power as it champions an individual’s right to pursue happiness; the other concentrates it while stifling human potential.

There will always be a top 1%. The question is: will they be hardworking and productive people whose value creation benefits society – think Steve Jobs and JK Rowling -- or cronies living off perks extracted from the labor of the little people? 

In America, we have increasing numbers of both which is why we must Think Again before allowing policymakers to concentrate more power in the name of social justice. In fact, economic liberalization is the real cure.

Economically freer countries enjoy greater growth, opportunity, civil rights and health, as evident in the yawning gap between North and South Korea, and in Asia where hundreds of millions have escaped grinding poverty.

To secure their freedoms, Ukrainian protestors resemble Koum’s mother. She fled Kiev for California in 1992 with 16-year-old Jan in search of religious liberty, privacy from Ukraine’s surveillance state and the opportunity to realize a better life.

Though they struggled upon arrival, relying on public assistance, Jan’s climb from food stamps to Facebook fortune was jagged and improbable -- a journey he honored by signing the $19 billion sale agreement outside the building that once housed the food stamp office.

The Koum tale is a triumph made possible by America’s system of free enterprise and limited government, which produced human history’s most dynamic and decent society.

Today the American Dream is increasingly out-of-reach for those stuck in government dependency or struggling to survive amidst stagnant wages, declining job mobility, and ever-increasing health care, food and energy costs. 

Confusing the symptom with the disease, President Obama rails against income inequality, pronouncing it “the defining challenge of our time.” But he has it backwards -- economic stagnation causes income inequality, not vice versa.

Obama also ignores the social mobility-impairing trend of single motherhood, which exploded from 4 percent in 1960 to 42 percent currently, accounting for 50 percent of chronic poverty.

Instead of targeted policies to eradicate poverty – eliminating welfare’s marriage penalty and allowing parents to choose the school that’s best for their child --- Obama’s proposed minimum wage hike and unemployment-insurance extension are mere Band-Aids on the cancer of opportunity inequality.

Five years of Obama’s trickle-down-government policies have buoyed Wall Street, corporate America and Washington, DC where seven of America’s wealthiest counties reside – like the capital of “Hunger Games” whose powerful aristocracy lives off the tribute paid by impoverished citizens in the territories.

Despite trillions of stimulus and War on Poverty spending -- causing debt to swell 63 percent -- the nearly five-year economic recovery has one-quarter the GDP growth rate of the Reagan recovery. Though the stock market has doubled, median household income fell 6 percent, labor force participation hit a 35-year low, and a record 47 million Americans now live in poverty.

While not Yanukovich-style graft, our government transfers hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the affluent, thanks to cronyism, corporate welfare and entitlement programs that don’t distinguish between ordinary Americans and corporate jet owners.

Last year, America’s richest 10% captured the greatest share of pre-tax income growth since the Roaring 20’s, according to University of California-Berkeley economist Emanuel Saez.  He also showed the top 1% capturing 95 percent of income gains during the Obama Recovery (2009-present), compared to 65 percent during the Bush expansion (2002-2007).

That so many Americans have fallen behind is both appalling and avoidable, and a reflection of America’s deteriorating freedoms.  Formerly second in the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Index of Economic Freedom behind Hong Kong, America is now twelfth -- below Estonia.

Bequeathing our children an economically stagnant America is a choice, not a destiny.  Our real “defining challenge” is to restore the growth that creates jobs, opportunity, social mobility and future Jan Koum’s.

Think Again -- Shouldn’t our goal be to unleash the dreams and talents of all Americans – especially former food stamp clients – so they can lead fulfilling and happy lives?


Injustice Isn't "Justice for Trayvon"

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 13
Publish Date: 
Thu, 07/18/2013



“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy,” remarked F. Scott Fitzgerald, as if alluding to the fatal confrontation between George Zimmerman, the watch guard of a beleaguered and oft-burglarized neighborhood, and the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin who President Obama said would look like his son, if he had one.


To prevent this painful case from jeopardizing social cohesion, Americans must Think Again before lining up behind their preferred tragic-hero, like rabid fans of opposing sports teams. “All the world’s a stage,” and on the rainy night of their deadly clash, neither Martin nor Zimmerman followed a heroic script. “Merely players” in a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, they each displayed impulsiveness and bad judgment, sealing a heartbreaking fate.


It’s a fate consuming African-American men aged 15 to 34 years, and murder – 90 percent of which is black-on-black – is its number one cause. Though blacks represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 54 percent of U.S. murders between 1976 and 2005, the majority in cities with black mayors and police chiefs. In historical perspective, the Children’s Defense Fund reported that since 1979, 44,038 black children were murdered, or 13 times more than all the black people killed by lynching between 1882 and 1968.


These startling statistics garner little attention, yet Martin’s killing sustains saturation coverage, activating divisions not seen since Rodney King. “Justice for Trayvon” campaigners like Rev. Al Sharpton exclaimed, “we’re tired of going to jail for nothing and others going home for something,” while Zimmerman backers quipped, “if the head is split, you must acquit” -- apparently a key argument for jurors who found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter because prosecutors couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman didn’t act in self-defense.


Martin sympathizers who don’t accept the difference between not guilty and innocent believe that if Martin were white, jurors would have found Zimmerman guilty. Zimmerman backers maintain that were he black, prosecutors wouldn’t have been pressured to charge him, to which Rep. Charlie Rangel countered that if Zimmerman were black, the police “would have beat him to death.”


Conjecture notwithstanding and before outside intervention, law enforcement officials believed there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Zimmerman for murder. Legal experts concurred, including Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz who called it “a classic case of self-defense…. with reasonable doubt written all over it.”


Nobody knows for certain who struck the first blow or called for help during the lethal struggle. Trial evidence suggested Martin was atop Zimmerman, banging his head against concrete, when he was shot. But like any “he-said, he-said” dispute, without instant replay or Martin’s testimony, no one knows what actually happened.


Nevertheless, ratings-hungry media and ideologues discuss the tragedy as if they were there, inflaming passions and prejudicing Americans. They’ve transformed the tragedy into a hate-crime, as if 14-year-old Emmett Till -- whose horrifying 1955 lynching and murder went unsolved -- encountered Bull Connor, the notoriously bigoted and violent Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner.


Spinning a black and white morality tale -- like the Duke lacrosse faux-rape case, the Tawahna Brawley hoax, and Paula Deen’s debacle -- the media slant the news to fit their narrative. Depicted in 5-year-old photos, Martin is youthful innocence embodied, not the school-suspended, pot-smoking teen. Zimmerman, whose mother is Peruvian, is “white Hispanic,” an absurdity akin to calling Obama “white African-American.” Poisoning public opinion further, NBC doctored Zimmerman’s 911 call, portraying him as racist.


Upset by the verdict, the “Justice for Trayvon” mob insist the Justice Department charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations even though an FBI investigation confirmed there’s no evidence Zimmerman was driven by racial animus. If there is an investigation, Dershowitz believes “it ought to be of [Special] Prosecutor Corey… who violated Zimmerman’s civil rights” and whose “conduct bordered on criminal.”


Rather than uphold her duty to safeguard the rights of all citizens – even the accused -- Corey sidestepped the customary Grand Jury investigation, filing a false affidavit that excluded exculpatory evidence to obtain a second-degree “depraved mind” murder charge. After she hindered defense lawyers’ access to evidence, a whistleblower exposed her misconduct, resulting in his firing.


To the “Justice for Trayvon” mob, these injustices appear not to matter. More interested in vengeance, their prescriptions would hurt – not cure – what ails African-Americans. By advocating unequal application of the law and selective civil rights, today’s activists resemble their predecessors’ opponents, not the courageous leaders whose moral claims touched America’s conscience.


In 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed for protesting Connor’s unjust tactics. Writing from his Birmingham cell, King spoke for all Americans, regardless of hyphenated ethnicity: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 


King’s moral and unifying voice prompted President Kennedy to declare, “Race has no place in American life or law,” a principle from which we mustn’t retreat.


Think Again – wouldn’t that be the best way to deliver “Justice for Trayvon?”


French vs American Revolutions — Vive La Différence!

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 4
Publish Date: 
Thu, 07/19/2012


The French celebrated Bastille Day last week, 219 years after beheading Marie-Antoinette in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. To this day, she’s the poster-child for upper-class excess, entitlement and insensitivity -- the ultimate “1 Percenter.”

However, Think Again before believing every demonization you hear, especially without factcheck.org. In truth, though a privileged aristocrat, Marie-Antoinette was not only a faithful Good Samaritan, she actually never uttered the notorious catchphrase “Let them eat cake.” Never mind those silly details -- social justice was at stake!

By portraying Marie-Anoinette as selfish and out-of-touch, the revolutionaries justified their bloodthirsty mob rule and indiscriminate savagery. Declaring “liberty, equality and fraternity,” they ushered in an anti-democratic period of unlimited governmental power, civil strife, and economic despair, though eventually Enlightenment principles transformed France into a vibrant democracy.

Today, France has Europe’s most state-directed economy, and among its most stagnant and indebted. Prioritizing “the collective interest,” the French prefer government to free market solutions spending more on social welfare than any other developed country. Recently, the anti-wealth rhetoric of newly elected President Hollande -- and his plans to hike taxes – made London the sixth largest French city, to its mayor’s delight.

Similarly Enlightenment-inspired, though resentful of strong government, American revolutionaries devised a system to protect individual liberties. James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men… controls on government would (not) be necessary.  In framing a government… you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

While the French were sticking dissenters’ heads on bayonets, Americans enacted a Constitution designed to disperse authority in order to protect the moral promise in our Declaration of Independence: that every individual is born with equal and inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, the American Revolution facilitated the creation of the freest and most prosperous society on earth.

Over the last century, while America’s free economy boomed attracting immigrants to our opportunity society, politicians were busy encumbering it, à la française. They instituted the income tax, asserted extra-constitutional powers to regulate, dabbled in cronyism and created entitlement programs that now consume 65 percent of the federal budget. Once 3 percent of gross domestic product, government spending is now 25 percent, crowding out the private economy and producing daily deficits of $4 billion.


Consequently, we suffer French-size economic stagnation, unemployment, and debt (up 50 percent since January 2009). Poverty rates are the highest since tracking began in 1959; food stamp dependency is exploding; and the percentage of Americans with a job is the lowest in decades. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of Americans say we’re on the wrong track and that there’s too much government power and too little individual freedom.

Meanwhile, clueless that government policies influence economic decisions, politicians now propose increasing taxes. “Taxmageddon” -- the toxic mix of year-end tax increases – is causing businesses to defer hiring and investment. Even if limited to the top two-percent with incomes over $250,000 (which includes small businesses responsible for half of private sector jobs and $720 billion in earnings), tax increases would create serious recessionary headwinds while funding only 8.5 days of federal spending, per the Congressional Budget Office. This is a blueprint to cripple job creation, and 23 million job-seeking Americans.

Though they agreed it was economically injurious to hike taxes in 2010 when the economy was growing at twice its current rate, tax-hikers argue it’s now about fairness while referencing the “roaring 90’s” when rates were higher but before explosions in spending, debt, and stagnation.  What's fair about increasing taxes knowing the vulnerable will suffer disproportionately?

What is fair considering 2009 IRS data shows the top one-percent and top five-percent paid 37 percent and 64 percent respectively of federal income taxes, while the bottom half paid two percent? If the richest aren’t yet paying their fair share, doesn’t that suggest they don’t merit their earned success?  By denying some Americans their earned success, doesn’t that undermine our opportunity society and social cohesion?

Having migrated toward French values, practices and even their anti-wealth rhetoric, its hard to recall our Founders' belief that government’s role is to protect – not grant -- individual rights and property.  To reinvigorate our free society and market economy, we need a true “fairness agenda”: a simpler tax code with fewer special interest loopholes, no more corporate welfare, and reforms that preserve entitlement programs for future generations.

Most importantly, we must recover the private initiative that French historian Alexis de Tocqueville found exceptional in 1830s America: ““In every case at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government ... in America you’re sure to find an association.” 

By renewing our commitment to individual liberties and the ethic that each of us – not government -- is our brother’s keeper, Americans “have it in our power to begin the world all over again,” as American revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote.

Wouldn’t our Founders want us to Think Again?

Buffett Rule: Tax Fairness or Farce?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 5
Publish Date: 
Thu, 03/01/2012


“The higher up in the tree the monkey goes, the more of his backside that shows,” goes the maxim. It would be hard to climb higher than Warren Buffett, the world's most celebrated investor. However, as the namesake of the Buffett Rule that imposes higher tax rates on the wealthy, Buffett and his backside dangle precariously “out on a limb.”

Residing atop Buffett's tree is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, known to deliver the best rhetorical broadside, probably because of his broad backside. Last week, Christie buffeted Buffett, forcing him to Think Again.

After two years of traumatic budget austerity, Christie's 10 percent tax cut for all New Jerseyans is central to his fiscal revival plan. Designed to stimulate economic growth, job creation and entrepreneurialism, Christie expects Jersey's economic pie to grow so more “haves and soon-to-haves” generate more tax revenue. After eschewing Buffett's Tax, Christie challenged Buffett to put up or shut up by writing the government a check, to which Buffett conceded, “It's sort of a touching response to a $1.2 trillion deficit, isn't it? That somehow the American people will just all send in checks and take care of it?”

Perhaps unwittingly, the “Oracle of Omaha” revealed the hard truth: No reasonable amount of taxation can address the catastrophic levels of spending, deficit, debt and doubt that plague Americans.

Even the 49.5 percent of Americans who aren't currently paying federal income taxes — a status for which they're wrongly disparaged since other taxes they pay support government (state, payroll, property, sales, gas) — know that increasing tax rates on high earners won't “take care of it.” Incredibly, confiscating the taxable income of America's millionaires and billionaires would only yield $938 billion, enough to run the government for three months.

Ominously, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation estimates the Buffett Rule could raise $40 billion annually, chicken feed compared with our deficit and bullish considering the United Kingdom's new wealth tax generated less revenue from top earners than before its implementation.

Most insidious, a large majority of America's small businesses, the sector responsible for creating two-thirds of all new jobs since 1996, file individual (not corporate) returns, thus ensnaring them in the Buffett Rule. Imagine the surprise of the technology entrepreneur who wants to expand her business but finds herself in Buffett's tax class!

The dirty little secret is that to reduce the deficit or avoid spending cuts, we'd need a “soak the middle class” strategy. That's because 98 percent of America's taxable income is in households that earn less than $250,000. As Buffett admitted, “The purpose of the Buffett Rule is not to close the deficit gap.”

So why promote the Buffett Rule if it's economically injurious and fiscally imprudent? Because in an election year, budget gimmicks and fairness illusions trump growth, job creation, tax revenue and economic logic. This isn't tax fairness; it's tax farce.

The million-dollar question is, What is fair? Is it fairer to equitably divide a stagnant or shrinking economic pie or to grow the pie so everybody gets more, albeit unevenly?

Since first implementing the income tax a century ago, we've agreed on the latter while operating the industrialized world's most progressive tax system. According to 2009 IRS data, Americans with incomes less than $100,000 paid an average rate of 8 percent while those making more than $500,000 averaged 25 percent. Furthermore, the top “1 percent” currently pay 38 percent of America's income taxes while the top “10 percent” pay 75 percent.

But as Buffett notes, “You can do pretty dumb things when you've got a big checkbook.” The real problem isn't that Americans (rich or not) pay too few taxes; it's that government is so over-extended, it's transferring hundreds of billions of dollars to the affluent. Why should a farmer making $2.5 million be eligible for farm subsidies? Should Buffett be entitled to the same Medicare and Social Security benefits as those without corporate jets? Should wealthy backers of green energy be entitled to billions in below-market loans whether or not they're political donors?

As the president's bipartisan Debt Commission recommended, wealthy Americans shouldn't get benefits they don't need nor tax preferences that distort and undermine our economy. But withdrawing voters' goodies isn't smart politics when you're trying to secure electoral majorities. Conversely, it's politically wise to distract voters from current realities like the following: One in six Americans lives in poverty — the most since tracking began in 1959; government dependency is at an all-time high; and the percentage of Americans with a job is the lowest in decades.

Imagine the possibilities if Buffett turned his attention to the challenges of income stagnation. He already knows that American prosperity derives from entrepreneurial activity and the incentives that inspire it, having once said, “You can change behavior by incentives, but you can't usually change behavior by sermons, although people try every Sunday.”

Think Again, Warren — that's good advice.

Think Again

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 1
Publish Date: 
Thu, 03/31/2011

When I told my mother that The Aspen Times had offered me this column, she was concerned I would be maligned for expressing my views. After all, elite opinion-makers often paint conservatives as bigots and worse, an unseemly prospect for her nice Jewish daughter.

Notwithstanding my mother's concern, I'm delighted for this opportunity to offer readers perspectives they might not otherwise have considered. Whether readers change their mind is less important than whether they “Think Again.” Hence, the name for this column, because I believe in Mahatma Gandhi's dictum, “In true democracy, every man and woman is taught to think for him or herself.”

What most compels me to write this column is my dismay at the gradual erosion of American values and the simultaneous rise of an entitlement culture. It's tempting to want favorable treatment while expecting someone else to pay for it. But when we displace responsibility and blame others, we stifle the inclinations that made us great. Like the frog that can't detect the source of its gradual demise, Americans must be prodded to jump out of the boiling water.

Throughout our history, we've been the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” and a beacon to the world. Rugged individualism is in our national DNA. Our nation emerged from the unlikely victory of an outmanned army led by a valiant and stoic general, George Washington, who is our greatest American icon. We're all about overcoming adversity and stiff odds to grow, innovate and progress, and it's our hardiness and brazen independence that made us the freest, most creative and most prosperous nation in world history — and the most charitable. It's in our national creed to extend the underprivileged a “hand-up,” though not a “hand-out.”

Immigrants who flocked here did so to parlay pervasive opportunity into the American Dream. I am the lucky descendent of immigrant grandparents who, through tenacity and fortitude, realized their dream of a better life in the melting pot of America.

At the same time, other countries have thrived by adopting our values and practices. In my tenure at the World Bank, I witnessed the turn-around of countries that implemented our American model of limited government and free markets, while those that rejected it were caught in a cycle of dependency, corruption, market distortion and further poverty.

It's because of our unique “American Character” that De Tocqueville coined the term ”American Exceptionalism” in 1831. He observed an America characterized by a strong work ethic, self-reliance, independence, productivity, creativity, entrepreneurialism, charity and personal responsibility. Today, these values are being displaced by a growing sense of entitlement that is not only unsustainable, it has a corrosive effect on our identity as citizens ... it makes us smaller.

As America has moved away from our founding principles (limited government, liberty, and the American work ethic) many of our citizens have become less independent, less self-reliant and more expectant. All the while, special interests have ravaged our political culture and economic viability. Politicians, interested mainly in self-preservation, indulge us by feeding unrealistic expectations for favorable treatment, like parents who don't set boundaries for their children.

But as any parent knows, a sense of entitlement is toxic because it undermines initiative and gratitude and breeds self-centeredness, unhappiness and anger, giving rise to feelings of victimization and resentment when the “toys” are taken away. If we won't tolerate a sense of entitlement in our children, why should we accept it in our fellow citizens?

We shouldn't, because these attitudes undermine everybody's economic security, propelling us toward “Greek Tragedy” — a dead-end where our national debt has grown so large, it's the greatest threat to U.S. national security, according to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Despite the class warfare waged by unprincipled politicians, Americans know we can't simply tax the rich to meet the demands of a burgeoning and unaccountable bureaucracy.

So, I ask you to consider this advice from an old sage: “Everyone should have two pockets, each containing a slip of paper. On one should be written: ‘The world was created for me.' And on the other: ‘I am but a humble servant.' The secret of living comes from knowing when to reach into each pocket.” Currently, too many of us reach only for the paper “The world was created for me.”

President Kennedy discouraged the entitlement mentality and invoked American exceptionalism when he urged, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” As Americans, we should “think again,” revert to the values that made us great, and reach more for the paper in our other pocket, “I am but a humble servant.”


Class warfare divisive and un-American

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 0
Publish Date: 
Thu, 08/04/2011


In a Russian joke, there are two friendly farmers, Boris and Ivan. Both are prosperous, though Boris owns chickens and Ivan doesn't. When a genie offers Ivan anything he desires, he ponders his wish and orders, “Kill Boris' chickens!”

As Americans imbued with entrepreneurial spirit, a tradition of social mobility, and a sense of fairness and morality, we're bemused by this joke. Why didn't Ivan aspire to own chickens himself, or cows? Doesn't Ivan realize he's hurting everyone's standard of living by depriving everybody of eggs and chicken meat? Why deny opportunity to shopkeepers, butchers and restaurants — and all their employees?

By living in a zero-sum world where one can only profit at the expense of others, Ivan can't comprehend (as Americans do) that a neighbor's prosperity can enhance our lives, raise our standard of living and create economic opportunities for more people. Ingenious billionaires who developed the automobile, laptop, Facebook and iPhone were rewarded because they improved society's standard of living, not by clawing a fortune out of society's guts.

If you believe this “beggar-thy-neighbor” mentality doesn't exist in the U.S., Think Again. Economic distress creates fertile ground for “the politics of envy” allowing opportunistic politicians to distract us from real problems by accusing wealthier Americans of not paying their “fair share” and by bashing selected (poll-tested) industries. However, the “soak-the-rich” narrative is dangerously divisive, socially corrosive, economically detrimental — and untrue.

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development studied 24 economies and concluded “Taxation is most progressively distributed in the United States.” Here, the wealthiest 10 percent (individuals and small businesses) making more than $92,400 per year pay three-quarters of the nation's income taxes, while half of Americans pay none and nearly 70 percent receive more government benefits than they've paid in.

Social justice doesn't require such a progressive system, though it allows society to express compassion for its neediest. The question is: At what point does forced redistribution of income as a means of social policy destroy individual initiative, becoming economically detrimental and socially unjust to all strata of society?

Given our economic straits, we're there. According to IRS data and based on current government spending levels, even if the government instituted a 100 percent tax on both corporate profits and incomes above $250,000 per year, it would only yield enough revenue to run the government for six months. That's because government spending has swollen to 24 percent of GDP from 18 percent in 2000.

Despite these facts, politicians promote resentment to create sympathetic voting blocks, pointing to widening income gaps between rich and poor. However, Americans don't begrudge our neighbor's success; we crave it, relying on social mobility to achieve it. While acknowledging the need for a sturdy social safety net, we know instinctively what IRS data proves — the vast majority of “the poor” do not remain poor in America.

Like an elevator, Americans ride the income ladder, from one statistical category to another. Three-quarters of Americans whose incomes were in the bottom quintile in 1975 were also in the top 40 percent during the next 16 years, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. IRS data shows that incomes of taxpayers in the bottom quintile in 1991 rose 91 percent by 2005, compared to those in the top quintile whose incomes rose only 10 percent — those in the top 5 percent actually declined by 26 percent. So much for the “rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.”

Though tax-rates (and loopholes) influence economic behavior, government revenues correlate more with economic growth. One hundred years of IRS data show the wealthy avoided higher tax-rates and supplied less tax revenue when marginal rates were higher. Irrespective of marginal rates (which have ranged between 92-28 percent since 1952) government revenues historically hovered around 18 percent of GDP. Additionally, when rates were lower, GDP growth was higher.

Therefore, America's goal should be to generate economic growth to create more jobs, meaning more taxpayers and more government revenues to pay off our debt. This requires fiscal discipline and comprehensive tax-reform including the elimination of tax loopholes and subsidies for the politically favored, and globally competitive tax-rates. Australia, Canada and Sweden just instituted similar measures resulting in material economic improvements. Why can't America?

Without such measures, the dirty little secret is that the money to pay for our bloated government (and $14.3 trillion in debt) must also come from the middle-class and future generations. That's not only an economic problem, it's a moral one when those without a voice are deprived of economic opportunity.

Abraham Lincoln encapsulated America's notion of fairness saying, “That some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but ... build one for himself.”

Those who practice class warfare (and Ivan) should Think Again.

Article List

Thu, 09/10/2015

Thu, 09/12/2013

Thu, 06/06/2013

Tue, 01/15/2013

Thu, 05/24/2012

Thu, 03/15/2012

Thu, 07/07/2011

Thu, 03/31/2011