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

Countering Evil in Gaza -- If Not Now, When?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 07/31/2014

 

Asked by a convert to distill the Torah’s essence, Rabbi Hillel -- Judaism’s great sage -- taught, “What is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor.” 

 

Like the Golden Rule that roots most ethical traditions, Hillel’s first-century precept aimed at inspiring a better society, one that brought order, dignity and peace to an otherwise cruel and warring world.

 

That too much of the world still inhabits a darker moral universe – refusing to Think Again about its preference for violence, hate and death -- is perhaps humanity’s greatest challenge.  

 

As Nazi refugee Albert Einstein understood, defending our collective values is the humane response. “The world is a dangerous place to live in,” he said, “not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

 

Today, the world’s spotlight is on Israel, which is trying to do something about the evil emanating from the Gaza strip, the territory controlled by Hamas, a murderous terrorist organization.

 

As the only democracy in a swamp of Middle East extremism -- and the world’s only Jewish state -- Israel confronts a Nazi-like neighbor whose slogan is “we love death more than Jews love life,” and who pumps hate into its society’s bloodstream. Besides killing Jews, Hamas aims to bait Israel into self-defense actions it abhors, causing Palestinian deaths that elicit international scorn.

 

Hamas’ charter foretold this story. Calling for the destruction of Israel and Jews everywhere, it declares, “leaving the circle of conflict with Israel is a major act of treason.” After years of terror attacks killing nearly 1,300 innocent Israelis, witness Hamas’ relentless rocket assaults and tunnel invasions.

 

Imagine the devastation that could have resulted from Hamas’ massive plot – planned for the Jewish New Year and foiled last week -- to inject terrorists into Israel via its newly discovered tunnel network...Read more

The Era of Intended Adverse Consequences

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 07/17/2014

 

“Too often…we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought,” President Kennedy famously asserted before Yale’s class of 1962.

 

Denouncing political debates that “bear little or no relation to the actual problems the United States faces,” Kennedy urged policymakers to Think Again before engaging in “false dialogues” that “distract our attention and divide our efforts.” 

 

“The very future of freedom depends,” he believed, “upon the sensible and clearheaded management of the domestic affairs of the United States” and a “vigorous economy” -- quaint concerns 52-years hence.

 

Because today’s political discourse is so dishonest and domestic affairs so muddled, we’re living in an era of manufactured social strife. Creating policy impasses, politicians pick unnecessary fights over our constitutional system’s commitment to individual liberty and the rule of law, transforming dissenters into black-hearted villains with sinister agendas.

 

Faux-hysteria and fear mongering – especially in an election year -- are potent tools for squeezing money and outrage from voting blocs whose “rights,” they’re told, are under assault. 

 

Witness the feverish backlash to the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision. The ruling grants the company a religious exemption from the Health & Human Services regulation -- imposed during the 2012 election year without congressional input -- forcing employers to provide 20 types of contraception, including four abortion-inducing methods.

 

...Read more

It's Right Versus Wrong, Not Left Versus Right

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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,...Read more

Leadership: What Difference At This Point Does It Make?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.

 

...Read more

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

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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...Read more

The Importance of Bearing Witness

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 05/08/2014

 

There are childhood memories so penetrating, they run like movie reels in the mind’s eye, molding our character.

 

My vintage 8mm features my European-born grandmother turning tearful and tongue-tied upon mention of her family, lost in the Holocaust.  Her heartbreak, and the gruesome photos I ogled in my parents’ edition of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” were literally mind-boggling.

 

When I was thirteen, Holocaust survivor Gerda Klein appeared in my biopic, helping me Think Again about the unfathomable.

 

Like a narrator, she recounted her death-defying odyssey from an idyllic childhood through ghettos, slave-labor camps, and a three-month “death march” en route to liberation by the American officer who became her husband. 

 

Her story teaches that hope is powerful and morality is a choice – even in the face of monstrous evil. Most importantly, bearing witness to good and evil is the way a moral people deliver a better world to our children because, as fellow survivor Elie Wiesel stresses, “Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”

 

Without memory, there would also be no freedom, as Klein movingly reminded the star-studded audience upon winning the Oscar for her documentary “One Survivor Remembers.”

 

Recalling that in the camps “winning meant a crust of bread and to live another day,” she urged the glamorous crowd to honor the memory of “those who never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home,” by returning home aware that those “who know the joy of freedom are winners.”

 

Boredom was a luxury in Nazi Germany, where a door knock could herald a Gestapo arrest. That was German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s fate after promoting truth to power, and trying to hold the powerful accountable to truth. Executed near war’s end, his famous exhortation endures: “Silence in the face of evil is evil…. Not to act is to act.”

 

Despite the efforts of humanitarians like...Read more

The Truth About Lying's Consequences

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 04/24/2014

 

“You can’t handle the truth!” Jack Nicholson shouted at Tom Cruise during the climactic court-martial scene in the movie “A Few Good Men.”

 

Caught in a lie that exposed his “above-the-law” mentality, Nicholson’s character, Col. Nathan Jessep, justifies his lawlessness, declaring, “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it!”

           

It’s a riveting scene, pitting security against the rule of law. But before agreeing with Jessup that lawfulness conflicts with freedom, Think Again.


In fact, both truthfulness and equality under the law are essential to freedom, justice and the trust that binds civil society.

 

Because humans are inclined to believe their ends are virtuous enough to justify immoral means, America’s founders designed a liberty-preserving system to thwart excessive government power.

 

Their revolutionary principles included limited government, popular consent and human equality, meaning no one – not a president, congressman, IRS official or Bureau of Land Management agent -- can be the ruler over another because the government’s power is citizen-derived.

 

If this sounds quaint and obsolete, it’s because the federal executive branch bureaucracy has grown huge and unaccountable. Dwarfing the other two branches, its 15 departments, 452 agencies and 2,721,000 administrators generate 26,000-plus pages of new regulations annually.

 

This hydra-headed bureaucracy can be deployed against any citizen with virtual impunity. When weaponized to target and stifle divergent opinions, its capacity to wreak havoc should terrify every American, for where equality under the law goes, so goes freedom.

 

Whereas half of Americans viewed the government as a protector of individual liberty in December 2012, an April 2014...Read more

Who's Imposing Their Values On Whom?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 04/10/2014

 

Shouldn’t college students know as much American civics as they do pop culture?

 

MRCTV went to American University to find out, discovering few who could name a single US senator or the number of senators from each state, though most knew the Oscar-winning song “Let It Go.”

 

Equally surprising are polls showing that only one-quarter of Americans can identify Joe Biden as the vice president or name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (religion, speech, press, assembly, petition), though over half knew at least two Simpson cartoon characters.

 

Before suggesting Americans’ ignorance is bliss, Think Again. “Fear always springs from ignorance,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, which is why fear mongering and placating assurances have enabled a ruling elite to wield enormous power over the people – our founders’ worst nightmare.

 

False promises and controversial payoffs enabled the narrow passage of Obamacare, which grants unelected bureaucrats control over 16 percent of the economy, empowering them to impose costly and freedom-infringing regulations.

 

Perhaps their most liberty-assaulting decree – and cunning given its election-year timing  -- was the unprecedented Health & Human Services (HHS) mandate forcing employers to provide free contraception, including abortion-inducing methods, or face a $100 per day/per employee fine.  

 

That amounts to $47 million annually for arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby, whose devoutly Christian owners, the Green family, oppose the mandate with pilgrim-like fervor.

 

Just because they started a business, the Greens argue, doesn’t mean they must leave their religion in the pews. The First Amendment guarantees their right to live and work by their faith, and they won’t give it up without a fight.

 

For 44 years, the Greens have operated Hobby Lobby as they do their lives, in accordance with Biblical principles. They close on Sunday to honor the Sabbath, pay justly by starting full-time employees at nearly twice the minimum-wage, maintain a free health clinic at their Oklahoma headquarters, and offer Cadillac-level health benefits for 13,000 employees, covering 16 out of the 20...Read more

Opposing Lawlessness, At Home and Abroad

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Sun, 03/23/2014

 

Since Teddy Roosevelt counseled, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” U.S. presidents have mostly followed his advice, cautioning adversaries to resolve conflicts peacefully or suffer consequences. 

 

Even President Carter brandished America’s big stick upon learning that bad things happen when you’re not respected, prompting him to Think Again about deterrence given “the Soviets’ ultimate goals.” 

 

But today, after unilaterally “resetting” relations with repressive regimes including Iran and Russia -- whose Ukraine incursion is “the gravest threat to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War',” proclaimed NATO’s chief – America’s posture is more akin to “speak imprudently and carry a toothpick.”  

 

By not anticipating and mitigating gathering threats or adhering to our peace-through-strength tradition, America now “leads from behind.” We neither back good actors nor punish bad, nor are we perceived as tough and reliable enough to deter menacing behavior, rendering us “harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend,” as Princeton scholar Bernard Lewis feared.

 

Conversely, on the domestic front, President Obama speaks powerfully and wields a bludgeon – a pen, a phone and a pledge to circumvent Congress by unilaterally re-writing, ignoring or negating laws he is constitutionally bound to “faithfully execute.”

 

Testifying before Congress on accumulating separation of powers violations, constitutional law professor and Obama voter Jonathan Turley warned that Obama is “not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system, he’s becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid -- the concentration of power in any single branch.”

 

To assert its branch’s authority, the House passed legislation providing legal recourse when the Executive Branch disregards the law, provoking a veto threat despite remedying the power abuses for which then-Senator Obama lambasted President Bush.

 ...Read more

Inequality and A Tale of Two Ukrainians

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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....Read more

Women: Looking For Love In All the Wrong Places?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 02/13/2014

“Life’s greatest happiness,” Victor Hugo wrote, “is to be convinced we are loved.”  As most experienced couples know, love-induced happiness is a year-round triumph, not the outcome of a singular, mass-marketed Valentine’s celebration – the one Jay Leno calls “Extortion Day.”

 

But men ignore this expectation-filled Hallmark holiday at their peril, which is why it’s become a $16 billion industry. More than heart-shaped bling, women savor attention -- a lesson noted by politicians.

 

Just as women beware of transient Romeos, they must Think Again about politicians who whisper sweet nothings into their ears, over-promising before an election and under-delivering after winning their commitment.

                                         

A frequent refrain of President Obama’s -- asserted as earnestly as “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” -- is the claim repeated in his State of the Union address that women “make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.” Promising to close the “embarrassing” gap he declared, “Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”

 

While discrimination can’t be ruled out, should it be the default explanation? Are whites the victims of discrimination because they earn less than Asians? If women do the same work for less, why would anyone hire a man?

 

Playing honest broker and mindful of research studies, feminist Hanna Rosin wrote in Slate, “I’ve heard the line enough times that I feel the need to set the record straight: It’s not true.”

 

Though the rhetoric is as empty as the calories in a box of Valentine’s chocolates, it sells, 51 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act to prohibit gender-based wage discrimination.

 

Equally delicious are Orwellian-named laws like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would increase the risk of costly litigation for employers, discouraging the hiring of women whom the law purports to protect.  That’s because “employers could not use fewer hours, less education, and lower performance to evaluate salary differences,”...Read more

Peyton Manning and Richard Sherman: Profiles in Greatness

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 01/30/2014

 

“It's hard to be humble,” Muhammad Ali rationalized, “when you're as great as I am.”


In Sunday’s contest between number ones, the Super Bowl’s two most visible faces – Bronco’s Peyton Manning and Seahawk’s Richard Sherman – are case studies of Ali’s theory.


Manning is football’s undisputed heavyweight champion whose aww-shucks humility belies – and explains – his unrivaled ownership of five NFL MVP awards. Quick to credit his teammates, even after a 7-touchdown performance, the 13-time Pro-Bowler and comeback king leaves it to others to laud his game.


With his legacy on the line in his third Super Bowl, Manning is a sentimental favorite, even in Las Vegas where bettors pushed Manning’s Broncos from underdogs to favored team.


There’s also anti-Seahawk sentiment, fueled by Sherman’s nationally televised Ali-like rant. The breast-beating cornerback’s noise rivals Seattle’s “12th-Man,” and with an NFL-leading 20 interceptions since debuting in 2011, Sherman’s bite is as fierce as his bark.


Moments after his acrobatic championship clinching play in the “Bully Bowl” against San Francisco, Sherman trumpeted, “I’m the best corner in the game,” calling vanquished receiver Michael Crabtree “me-di-o-cre.” His unsportsmanlike conduct sent Twitter aflutter prompting even John McCain to declare for the Broncos “because I don’t like that ‘loudmouth’ from Seattle.”


Before accepting the oft-tweeted critique that Sherman is an overpaid, classless embarrassment to professional sports, Think Again....Read more

On Masculinity and the War on Poverty

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Wed, 01/15/2014

 

As a binge-TV watcher, I’ve relished devouring serial dramas in advertising-free gulps. But “Breaking Bad” -- the story about a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher turned clandestine meth-cooking badass – didn’t appeal.


Then Anthony Hopkins declared it an “epic work” with “the best actors I’ve ever seen.”

 

Midway through Season 2,  I understand why Walter White is heroic. As men increasingly check out of work, marriage, and fatherhood, it’s hard not to root for a man fiercely determined to secure his family’s future before dying – despite his morally abhorrent methods.  

 

That there are dramatically fewer men willing and able to safeguard family prosperity is perhaps America’s greatest – and unrecognized -- problem.

 

Consider Sunday’s “Shattering the Glass Ceiling” discussion on ABC’s “This Week.” Lamenting unrealized opportunities and unsolved problems when “women aren’t fully utilized,” businesswoman Carly Fiorina and co-panelists were oblivious that two times more men than women aged 25-34 languish in their parents’ basement far below the glass ceiling, according to US Census data, and that women now outperform men in nearly every measure of social, academic and vocational well-being.

 

Rather than apply Band-Aids to the cancer of male-underachievement -- like unemployment insurance extensions and minimum wage hikes -- political elites must Think Again. 

 

Focus on the real gender gap: millions of males, especially less-educated, are “unhitched from the engine of growth,” according to a recent Brookings Institution report.  Women gained all 74,000 jobs added to payrolls last month, and among the world’s seven biggest economies, America is now last in the share of “prime age” males working – just behind Italy. Why isn’t widespread male worklessness a priority for policymakers, given the massive economic, fiscal and social costs?

 

Fifty years after President Johnson declared the War on Poverty “to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities,” we’ve spent an inflation-adjusted $20.7 trillion on 80-plus welfare programs -- $916 billion, or $9,000 per beneficiary, in 2012.

 

Yet 2013 ended with rates of...Read more

Spinning White House Yarns and Iranian Nukes

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 12/19/2013

 

Unable to ignore millions of cancellation letters and a rare presidential apology, fact-checkers at PolitiFact and the Washington Post designated “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” as their “Lie of the Year.”

 

Reeling from Obamacare’s deceptive sales tactics, Americans dread its fallout, but know our system allows us to Think Again.  We can repeal and replace bad laws.

 

But we can’t reverse the fall-out from Iranian nukes, which explains President Kennedy’s warning that while “domestic policy can defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.”

 

It also explains the backlash from allies and Congress to the recently signed interim agreement with Iran, the world’s most dangerous regime and self-described deceiver. As Alan Dershowitz suggested, it “could be a cataclysmic error of gigantic proportions.”

 

The secretly negotiated Iranian deal is a painful reminder of a Turkish general’s observation: "The problem with having the Americans as your allies is that you never know when they'll turn around and stab themselves in the back."  

 

The pact departs from our long-standing bi-partisan consensus to prevent -- not contain -- a nuclear Iran, and undercuts our negotiating position before winning proportionate concessions.

 

Just as ratcheted-up sanctions were forcing Iran to choose between economic collapse and dismantling its nuclear program to comply with six UN resolutions, we’ve relieved their pain in return for no irreversible concessions, sending $8-10 billion into its beleaguered economy while effectively ratifying what the UN wouldn’t -- Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

 

As with Obamacare, the truth is that if we like what we have – a world in which the planet’s largest exporter of terrorism is denied the most devastating weapons capability – this pact means we can’t keep it, despite breezy assurances from the Obama Administration that painstakingly-conceived coercive sanctions can be flicked on like a light switch.

 

...Read more

If You Like Your Freedom, You Can Keep It

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 12/05/2013

 

In the waiting room of Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s radiation treatment center, I discovered that in the race of life, those running to stay on the track are among the most determined, hopeful, and courageous. They’re also grateful, for it’s in the sanctuary of sympathetic and expert care where cancer patients experience calm and clarity after the storm of diagnosis and decision-making.

 

As if living with cancer-induced anxiety weren’t enough, many Sloan-Kettering patients must Think Again about their treatment since the cancer center is among many prominent hospitals no longer “in network” for most Obamacare-compliant insurance plans.

 

Americans already have the world’s best health care system. The question is how to make it broadly accessible, especially to the most vulnerable.  Claiming a monopoly on moral and political virtue and disparaging as uncompassionate obstructionists those who opposed the 2,700-page Affordable Care Act, lawmakers drove its passage promising increased access, lower costs and, “if you like your doctors, you can keep them, period.”

 

Now it’s broken hearts and spirit -- not just broken promises, websites, and insurance systems -- that plague intrepid patients, to their providers’ frustration. Meanwhile, healthy Americans laboring under stagnant wages are recoiling from sticker and doc-shock, proving CS Lewis’ maxim that “those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” 

 

“Pay more for less” isn’t a winning slogan, but it’s the truth. The collusion of government and insurance companies to limit competition and consumer choice has impaired Americans’ freedom to be value-oriented shoppers and imperiled our property and privacy rights.

 

Americans want patient-centered and patient-owned health care and an array of competitive choices to assure price stability, service quality, and access to all. But rather than consider targeted and less disruptive changes like insurance portability, tort reform, tax credits and high-risk pools, Obamacare proponents further straightjacketed the healthcare system with one-size-fits-all mandates, taxes, and micro-management by an inept bureaucracy.

 

Yet lawmakers won’t wear the straightjacket they designed for Americans. Senator Reid’s staff is exempted from Obamacare and, according to the Los Angeles Times, Congress and staffers enjoy “more generous benefits packages, VIP customer service from insurers and the same government-subsidized premiums they’ve always enjoyed.”

 

...Read more

High Noon Lessons For America's Lawmakers

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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...Read more

"Who Are We To Judge?"

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 09/12/2013

 

On a glorious springtime visit to San Francisco -- where the “if it feels good do it” culture is reflected in the bumper sticker “your body may be a temple, but mine’s an amusement park” -- I was struck by the tattooing trend, as if body art is the modern version of big shoulder pads or mini-skirts, not a sign of rebellion.


Personally, I prefer art on a canvas, not a human chest, though in healthy societies, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

 

Then I encountered a scantily clad, tattoo-festooned woman on whose neck and jaw was emblazoned the ultimate gotcha-question: “Who are you to judge?”


Disarmed and unnerved by her determination to discredit judgmental passers-by, and before I could Think Again, I felt shame. After all, what compassionate, well-meaning person could answer her question without seeming prejudicial? Don’t we judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin – even when it’s variegated dragons or flowers?  

 

Like the branding on her skin, this encounter, though fleeting, stuck with me. Whether wearing a scornful signpost to the world actually makes her feel good, it made me feel bad.  Was this her intention? Why provoke defensiveness and discord in a world that suffers from too much already? Wouldn’t she be happier if passers-by smiled rather than recoiled, and wouldn’t more smiling passers-by make the world a better place?

 

In his book “Living a Life that Matters,” Rabbi Harold Kushner offers answers: “Because we find ourselves in so many settings that proclaim our insignificance…some people do desperate things to reassure themselves that they matter to the world.”


As if anticipating Miley Cyrus’ recent unseemly-televised antics, Kushner wrote, attention-seekers “confuse notoriety with celebrity, and celebrity with importance…. They may come across as pitiable…but their story holds the attention of millions of Americans. They matter.”

 

But what kind of epitaph is: “She desperately wanted to matter?” Wouldn’t a better tombstone read: “She did the right thing, even when no one was looking?”

 ...Read more

Injustice Isn't "Justice for Trayvon"

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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...Read more

Immigration Reform: What Would America's Supermen Think?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 07/04/2013

 

The summer blockbuster “Man of Steel” reveals why Superman is an American icon, like the courageous revolutionaries who declared American independence. They couldn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, but our founders’ steel-like resolve forged an against-all-odds victory over a Kryptonically-powerful British military in pursuit of radical ideas – human liberty and self-government.  

 

Breaking with history’s repressive norms, they declared the uniquely American idea that everyone is born free and equally entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In order to prevent future Lex Luthers from tyrannizing the people, they established a constitutional system whose powers are limited, separated, and checked. The government couldn't act without the people’s consent, nor could the people act except through elected representatives. Like Superman, American government would safeguard individual rights and liberties while defending truth, justice and our American way.

 

Anticipating America’s unprecedented freedoms, prosperity and global influence, James Madison said, “the happy union of these states is a wonder; their constitution a miracle; their example the hope of liberty throughout the world.”  Even during the Civil War’s darkest moments, Abraham Lincoln believed America would “ once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.”

 

Though Americans share Lincoln’s reverence for our inspiring heritage, many have begun to Think Again about whether our  “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” may indeed “perish from the earth.” When surveyed by Rasmussen, only 40 percent agreed that America is “the last best hope of mankind,” down from 51 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, two-thirds majorities believe a too-powerful government is a bigger threat than a weaker one, and consider our government to be a special interest group that looks out primarily for itself.

 

As Americans have endured a decade of economic and wage stagnation and persistently high unemployment, Washington, DC booms with seven of America’s 10 wealthiest counties -- like the capital of “Hunger Games” whose powerful and entitled aristocracy live off the tribute paid by impoverished citizens in the territories.

 

Our 226-year old constitution is exhausted kryptonite to a government that’s abusing its expansive powers. Today, the blob-like public sector consumes nearly half America’s economic output as it browbeats citizens and jeopardizes the American Way.

 

In a comic strip-worthy plot line,...Read more

No Cones of Silence in the Surveillance State

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 06/20/2013

 

In the madcap TV series “Get Smart,” secret agent Maxwell Smart evades surveillance -- and arch-nemesis KAOS – with an array of clandestine gadgets including a shoe phone and the legendary “Cone of Silence.” Americans once laughed at Smart’s privacy-enhancing schemes. But recent revelations about America’s ever-widening surveillance state have stirred many to Think Again about their privacy rights – and pine for their own “Cone of Silence.”

 

Originally designed to spy on foreigners and track the foreign correspondence of suspected terrorists, today the NSA digitally frisks US citizens, capturing and storing their communications data for up to five years. Under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the post-9/11 Patriot Act, the NSA now claims the authority to systematically – and without warrants or court orders -- sweep “metadata” into its dragnet, sourced from private telecom and server companies who enjoy immunity from civil liability or criminal prosecution.

 

The Patriot Act’s author, Jim Sensenbrenner, released a statement saying, “While I believe the Patriot Act appropriately balanced national security concerns and civil rights, I have always worried about potential abuses…. Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American.” Sensenbrenner advocates amending the act to assure the secret FISA court system performs its designed role --  “to put a check on what the government could do.”

 

Under pressure to prove Uncle Sam isn’t a Peeping Tom, NSA and FBI officials pulled the curtain back on the ultra-secret surveillance programs. Testifying before Congress this week, they said the programs helped avert at least 50 threats, citing two specifically -- though it’s unclear whether they were “helped” by conventional surveillance techniques and gumshoe investigative tip-offs, or NSA’s data dragnet. “The encroachment on privacy has been strictly limited by a court-approved process,” President Obama asserted in the NSA’s defense, while stressing that communication content can’t be accessed without a court order.

 

But the sifting and mapping of communications data can actually reveal more about a person than their communications’ content. Newer technologies like cell phones and the Internet serve up seemingly innocuous but clue-rich metadata -- sender and receiver email addresses, times of e-mails, phone numbers dialed and received, and call length -- that can reveal identities, locations and associations, without accessing content.

 

The Washington Post illustrated metadata’s investigative value, explaining how former CIA Director Patraeus’ mistress was identified, despite using anonymous e-mail accounts and hotel WiFi networks. Analysts discovered network IP addresses that traced back to hotels where there was one common guest – Paula...Read more

Tyranny of Bureaucracy

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 06/06/2013

 

In his 1980s comedy routine, Yakov Smirnoff celebrated America’s free society and equality before the law, joking: “In America you can always find a party. In Russia, Party always finds you! In America, you break law. In Soviet Russia, law breaks you!"  

 

In the wake of scandals involving the abuse of governmental power, Americans must Think Again about Smirnoff’s ironic word plays. As we’re learning, the ruling Party can find and break you – despite constitutional protections.

 

Today, our federal government is the nation’s largest spender, debtor, lender, employer, contractor, property owner, insurer, healthcare provider, and pension guarantor. What it doesn’t directly control, its unchecked bureaucracy can ban or mandate.  Moreover, the Justice Department’s wiretapping of journalists and the demotion of Benghazi whistleblower Gregory Hicks at the State Department have impeded the watchdog media’s ability to assure a free flow of information between the people and our government. Even New York Times reporters aren’t getting calls returned.

 

Meanwhile, large swaths of America are in no mood to party -- especially the Tea Party -- after getting trapped in the government’s dragnet and subjected to personally invasive, banana republic-like scrutiny. Along with other conservative, pro-Israel and religious groups, their First Amendment rights -- freedoms of association, speech and religion -- were systematically abridged by the most feared agency of the government, the IRS.

 

After unfairly applying tax-exempt laws and divulging personal files to media site ProPublica, Americans worry the IRS can’t be trusted to impartially and confidentially administer 47 new healthcare provisions and 18 new taxes.  Mistrust spiked after learning the IRS’s Obamacare office is led by the same manager who oversaw and ignored abuse in the tax-exempt entities office. Adding fiscal insult to political injury, revelations about the IRS’s lavish spending culture – especially its $4 million employee boondoggle – prompted Jay Leno to suggest we close the IRS, not Gitmo.

 

Though government officials acknowledge the IRS’s “inexcusable” and “inconsistent” application of the law -- and notwithstanding their apologies for the “unprecedented” abuse of power -- many Americans are gleeful that political groups with which they disagree were muffled, as video-blogger Caleb Bonham discovered when inviting students in Boulder, Colorado to sign his gigantic thank you card to the IRS. Ironically, students in Bonham’s viral video cheerfully endorsed the harassment and intimidation of fellow citizens, unmindful that coercive government could one day crash their party.

...Read more

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Indebted

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 05/23/2013


“Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life,” counseled Faber College’s Dean Wormer in “Animal House.” For the collegiate class of 2013 -- until next year the most indebted ever – add “in hock” to that immortal list. 


Compared to their parents, current graduates are paying four times more in inflation-adjusted terms for their diplomas while suffering substantially inferior job and income prospects. Like Animal House’s witless frat-brothers, those who believe college is a “last hurrah” before plunging into adult reality must Think Again.

For generations, Americans practiced what Benjamin Franklin preached – “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest” – believing a college degree was an affordable yet golden ticket to independence, a satisfying career, financial security and an “open sesame” to American society. Even students without credit histories or clear plans for the future could borrow the necessary sums to pursue impractical majors like ethnic studies, take six years to graduate, and still land jobs with incomes sufficient to pay down debt.

Today however, a college degree is substantially riskier due to mushrooming global supplies, ever-inflating U.S. diploma prices, and a more selective, chaotic and stressful market for college graduates. Though a B.A. carries a certification premium with employers, it conveys little about actual qualifications, especially considering recent studies of higher education outcomes (surveyed in the 2011 book “Academically Adrift”) which show how little knowledge, critical thinking and skills acquisition occur between an undergraduate’s freshman and senior years.

Because its risk/reward ratio is out-of-whack, it’s no longer a truism that you’ll get out of college what you put into it. Among those under 25-years-old, 53 percent are either unemployed or in jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, a high for this demographic since record keeping began in 1948.

As in the housing bubble, easy credit and expectations of ever-increasing returns on education investments buoyed demand for college diplomas. To capture federal money, academic institutions hiked tuition causing students to incur more debt, diminishing the degree’s reward. Since 1978, tuition has grown 7.5 percent annually, far outpacing inflation and family incomes, which increased 3.8 percent and 5.0 percent respectively.

Because many colleges operate like mortgage brokers, even encouraging students who are academic risks to take on debt, two-thirds of freshmen borrow while one-third of those with loans leave degreeless. Consequently, the portfolio of federally guaranteed student loans has grown to $1 trillion -- up 70 percent since 2008, exceeding total credit card debt. Considering government loans aren’t dischargeable, even in bankruptcy, many are sacrificing their dreams including further education, marriage, kids and homeownership.

The biggest victims are those the system was designed to bolster – marginal students. Just as federal lending policies helped inflate the housing bubble undermining the ability of low-income home buyers to ascend into the middle class, federal student loan policies have backfired, consigning indebted and degreeless Americans to the low end of the labor market without incomes sufficient to pay off debts.

Given these sad realities, former Education Secretary Bill Bennett poses a frequently asked question in his book “Is College Worth It?” Students whose lifetime earnings potential comfortably exceeds their debt -- achievable with sought-after degrees like petroleum engineering or prestigious credentials like a Stanford diploma – should go....Read more

The Media: What Difference Does it Make?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 05/09/2013

 

Stretching Oscar Wilde’s adage, “I never put off til tomorrow what I can do the day after,” some in the mainstream media have finally started to Think Again about the Benghazi attack launched last year on the anniversary of 9/11 – thanks to new revelations by high-ranking State Department whistleblowers including experts in security, counter-terrorism, and the number two-ranking diplomat in Libya under slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens.


Contrary to the “spin” that the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam YouTube video, the truth is that American officials knew “from the get-go” it was a premeditated terrorist attack by al Qaeda-linked terrorists. In fact, failures to heed Ambassador Stevens’ calls for increased security due to heightened terrorist threats, and decisions to have Special Forces “stand-down” rather than respond to the attack, proved lethal for four brutally murdered Americans.


While most of the media prefers covering the Jodi Arias murder trial and the coming out of gay basketball player Jason Collins, CBS News elder statesman Bob Schieffer and colleague Sharyl Attkisson aren’t buying Whitehouse Press Secretary Jay Carney’s line that “Benghazi happened a long time ago.”  Last Sunday on Face the Nation, Schieffer probed “whether there was a cover-up” based on “startling new details about the Benghazi attack... totally at variance with what some American officials were saying in public on this broadcast five days after the attack.”


Schieffer cited an investigative report by the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes describing the wholesale rewriting of the CIA’s post-attack talking points, edited to eliminate references to terrorism, Al Qaeda and five previous attacks in Libya. These talking points never mentioned an anti-Islamic YouTube video, providing fresh evidence that “senior Obama officials knowingly misled the country about what had happened in the days following the assaults.”


As if in the Soviet Union where dissidents joked, “the future is known; it’s the past that’s always changing,” the fraudulent narrative about a YouTube video was peddled by Secretary of State Clinton before the victims’ caskets and their grieving families, UN Ambassador Susan Rice on five Sunday news shows, President Obama in his September address to the UN, and consistently by Press Secretary Carney.

...Read more

Coexisting After the Gun and Immigration Debates

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 04/25/2013

 

In his 1831 book celebrating America, Alexis de Tocqueville warned, “In democratic societies, there exists an urge to do something even when the goal is not precise, a sort of permanent fever that turns to innovations…[which] are always costly.”

 

After a spate of traumatic tragedies that impact the gun and immigration debates, feverish politicians are rushing to innovate complex legislation without thoroughly and publicly examining the underlying problems and before “We the People” consent to their solutions. Lawmakers should Think Again considering only four percent of Americans currently “mention guns or immigration as the most important problems facing the nation,” according to Gallup. Americans’ top concerns are the economy, jobs and dissatisfaction with the way government works.

 

If irony is the hygiene of the mind, much about the Boston Marathon Massacre is clarifying, though boggling. Intent on massacring Bostonians on Patriots Day, the immigrant Brothers Tsarnaev received state welfare benefits funded by taxpayers they killed and maimed. Then they murdered a police officer en route to hijacking a car with a “Coexist” bumper sticker. Perhaps inspired by “Coexist” sentimentality, the fugitive sociopaths allowed the car’s owner to live “because he wasn’t American,” assuring their capture and “non-coexistence” in the American community they shunned.

 

Sadly, despite new laws since 9/11 and $50 billion spent annually on robust security precautions, there is little a free and open society can do to prevent Boston-style bombings or public mass shootings by law-breakers. While there are crime-prevention measures that could deter public attacks, civil libertarians and constitutionalists claim they encroach on Americans’ constitutionally protected natural rights to self-defense, due process and free speech. 

 

The ACLU opposes measures that infringe on the First Amendment rights of violent video-game makers and background checks that could lead to the institutionalization of the mentally impaired and the infringement of their privacy rights; psychiatrists resist reporting patients fearing it would deter treatment-seekers; and the NRA opposes measures that inhibit the rights of responsible, law-abiding citizens -- often victims of gun or domestic violence -- to protect their person, family and property. They believe the best response to a criminal trying to kill civilians is a civilian equipped to deter him.

 

These are complex...Read more

Political Correctness: Intolerance Masquerading as Tolerance

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 04/11/2013

 

Last month world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon and up-from-nothing African-American idol Ben Carson expressed his contrarian opinion that marriage is between a man and a woman and no group could change this millennia-old social institution. Appalled medical students at Johns Hopkins University – allegedly a place of intellectual inquiry and diversity and “a forum for the free expression of ideas” -- circulated a petition to remove Carson as commencement speaker.


Having gained widespread media attention for his recent National Prayer Breakfast speech in which he critiqued political correctness, Carson apologized for his off-the-cuff, maladroit and incorrect political critique of same-sex marriage, reiterating his belief that gays must be assured equal civil and legal rights without changing the definition of marriage.


Were Johns Hopkins students more sage, they’d Think Again before dissing this distinguished man of character, accomplishment, and philanthropy for sharing Bill and Hillary Clinton’s marriage definition -- until “evolving” last month -- though not their political dexterity. Before exiting the ivory tower, students could learn from Jimi Hendrix who believed, “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens,” and Benjamin Franklin who taught, “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”


Apparently they don’t think much at Johns Hopkins where the Student Government Association denied the pro-life group “Voices for Life” recognition as an approved organization.  Without alternative voices on campus, how does the university assure the diversity it champions? Might ardent though free-thinking supporters of women’s reproductive rights want to know that a representative of Planned Parenthood (half of whose budget is taxpayer-funded) recently testified before the Florida legislature that the decision of what to do with a baby who survives a failed abortion be left up to the patient and her doctor, begging the question: who’s the patient?


Considering that abortionist Kermit Gosnell is currently on trial in Philadelphia for murdering late-term babies delivered alive by snipping their spines, these aren’t hypothetical questions. If “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” shouldn’t we encourage alternative voices – on and off-campus -- to assure an informed citizenry and a civil society?


Other instances of intolerance masquerading as tolerance are equally disquieting: At George Washington University, two gay students are seeking the removal of a chaplain for teaching Catholic doctrine regarding homosexuality (but apparently not pre-marital sex); the U.S. Army listed Evangelical Christianity, Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and Catholicism as examples of religious extremism (along with Al Qaeda, Hamas and the Ku Klux Klan) in a Pennsylvania reserve unit training manual; and actor Jeremy Irons was labeled anti-gay for worrying that “lawyers are going to have a field day” if marriage is redefined and imagining estate-tax avoidance strategies involving father-son “marriages,”...Read more

In Discerning Frack From Fiction, What's Relevant?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 03/14/2013

 

Last week political, media and celebrity worlds converged to produce headlines worthy of “News of the Weird.” Sean Penn eulogized anti-American strongman Hugo Chavez as “a friend [America] never knew it had,” while Dennis Rodman declared North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un “an awesome guy.” Upon returning from the starving gulag-state, Rodman scored a coveted Sunday interview with George Stephanopoulos and CNN declared him a “diplomatic triumph.”

 

But perhaps the most captivating cause célèbre -- likely to transform advocates into media and campus darlings -- is the crusade to halt the drilling innovation called hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). However, if you expect those aspiring to star in the next “China Syndrome” to possess more scruples than Rodman or Penn, Think Again. Though fracking has opened up vast reserves of clean, cheap, and reliable natural gas in shale-rock deep underground, making America the world’s largest natural gas producer, it’s a bête noire to enviro-stars like Matt Damon.

 

In his new movie “Promised Land,” Damon doubled down on alarming claims made in Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland,” even copying the signature scene of a man lighting tap water on fire. Wanting another environmental blockbuster like “The China Syndrome” -- whose release days before Three Mile Island’s near meltdown devastated the nuclear power industry -- Damon aimed to stoke natural gas fears. However, not only has mass hysteria not materialized, his film is a box-office and financial bust for investors, including oil-rich United Arab Emirates.

 

Damon’s conceit derives from the frenzy generated by “Gasland’s” Fox, who claims fracking causes “toxic streams, ruined aquifers, dying livestock, shocking illnesses and tap water that bursts into flames.” Media jumped on the anti-natural gas bandwagon, including the New York Times, prompting its ombudsman to twice rebuke Times’ editors and staff for biased reporting and questionable ethics.

 

Meanwhile, aware that “natural” gas occurs naturally in water where there’s methane-rich soil (like Burning Springs, New York) and of stories about George Washington lighting water on fire, former Financial Times reporter Phelim McAleer started an 18-month investigation to uncover the truth about fracking and “Gasland’s” startling allegations.

 

His just released documentary ”Fracknation” was financed on-line with donations averaging $64 and has won plaudits for exposing enviro-hucksters while championing their victims: Variety called it “a well-reasoned film…. [that] makes a good case against Fox’s movie,” and the New York Times said it’s “no tossed-off, pro-business pamphlet” but “methodically researched and assembled.” 

...Read more

The Sequester: Drama Even Tarantino Wouldn't Touch

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 02/28/2013

 

This year, Hollywood hit award pay dirt for political dramas inspired by American history. Unlike “The Avengers” -- the top-grossing super-hero movie -- best picture nominees “Argo,” “Lincoln,” and “Zero Dark Thirty” featured authentic, determined and courageous Americans who endured adversity and mortal danger to overcome morally inferior antagonists.


Though we’re living through the umpteenth act of a gory political spectacle involving the US budget, Think Again if you expect that Quentin Tarantino will adapt it for the silver screen.  Devoid of heroes or valiant rescues, the drama serially unfolding in Washington isn’t even telenovela-worthy, particularly the latest installment known as the “sequester.”


The terrifying story-line echoed by media actors playing supporting roles -- draconian spending cuts will trigger airport delays, prisoner releases, uninspected food, heightened risk of terrorist attacks, and Armageddon – is intended to evoke fear and dread, transforming Americans into “Les Miserables.” Taking Harry Truman’s cue, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them,” leading actors willfully neglect to mention that in their parlance, a “cut” means a smaller increase.  Hence, the last time federal spending declined, Marlon Brando and “On the Waterfront” won Oscars. 


As Bob Woodward of “All The President’s Men” fame confirmed, the White House proposed the “sequester” in 2011 during debt-ceiling negotiations in return for raising the limit from $14.3 to $16.3 trillion.  Designed as a “doomsday mechanism” to extract $1.2 trillion from the trajectory of spending growth over the next decade (during which we’re projected to spend $47 trillion), President Obama signed the sequester law in August 2011.


Despite having 18 months to “go line-by-line through the budget,” as Obama frequently promised, and in excess of $120 billion of annual government waste identified by the Government Accountability Office, no agreement was struck to avert this year’s $85 billion in discretionary spending reductions – split equally between defense and domestic programs -- and a 2 percent cut to Medicare providers.  Now, the sky is falling.


ABC White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl chided the hysterics in his column, “Devastating Sequester Spending Cuts? Give Me a Break!” He wrote, “the automatic spending cuts set to go into effect on March 1 will cause some real pain and many economists believe they would hurt the economy. But all the dire warnings give the impression the cuts are much larger than they actually are.”


...Read more

A Valentine Wish: Repair the State of Our Unions

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 02/14/2013

 

“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage,” goes the rhyme.  Unfortunately, in large swaths of American society, this rhyme is playing in reverse, with dire consequences for lower-income Americans.

 

Given five decades of deteriorating marriage trends, it appears Americans concur with H.L. Menken who joked, “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who’d want to live in an institution?” Since 1960, the percentage of married Americans plunged from 72 percent to 51 percent last year, a record low. Meanwhile, babies born to unwed mothers skyrocketed from 4 percent in 1960 to 41 percent in 2011, another ominous record considering out-of-wedlock children are 82 percent more likely to suffer poverty and other social ills. 

 

However, Think Again before assuming Americans, like Menken, believe “The longest sentence you can form with two words is ‘I do’.”

 

A 2010 Pew Research/Time Magazine survey concluded that the institution of marriage “remains revered and desired.” Though marriage isn’t “as necessary as it used to be,” the study reveals: married people are significantly happier with their family lives; seven-in-ten 18 to 29-year olds want to marry; and 77 percent of Americans believe marriage makes raising a family easier, which remains a “very important” reason to marry.  If marriage is so revered, why aren’t more Americans marrying and having in-wedlock children?

 

The Pew study confirms what Charles Murray chronicles in his best-selling book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” American society is becoming as socially stratified as the vintage English world of “Downton Abbey.” Whereas in 1960, Americans shared bedrock moral values, behaviors and even neighborhoods, irrespective of class and education, today we’re separated into cultural and income enclaves with profoundly differing values and practices — upper-class “Belmont” neighborhoods where college-educated white-collar elites reside, and “Fishtown” where less-educated working-classes live.

 

“It’s not the existence of classes that is new,” Murray contends, “but the emergence of classes that diverge on core behaviors and values.” As Fishtown’s civil society atrophied, its residents suffered joblessness, family instability, poverty, government-dependency, crime and unhappiness. Meanwhile, cocooned Belmonters work, invest, marry, raise children, volunteer in the community, practice a religion – they prosper. To recover, Fishtown needs a civic Great Awakening to revive America’s original foundations of family, vocation, community, and faith. 

 

...Read more

History Doesn't Reward Bullies

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 01/31/2013

 

Considered a cancer surviving “badass on a bike,” it turns out Lance Armstrong is just a badass -- and a fraud. 


Armstrong’s admission that he doped his way to seven Tour de France titles even prompted CBS News CEO Jeffrey Fager to Think Again about his network’s role in the “Miracle Man’s” narrative.  “We helped create the myth,” he acknowledged, because “we wanted to believe this absolutely inspirational story. But we were duped.” 


Unearned moral superiority and blazing self-righteousness hastened Armstrong’s rise, as he slandered and sued whistleblowers into submission. “I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative,” the master-manipulator told Oprah, “and if I didn’t like what someone said, I turned on them.” Hence, the narrative (not the truth) is the message, to paraphrase media maven Marshall McLuhan.


Consider how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struggled to control her narrative during last week’s congressional hearings on the Benghazi terrorist attacks that claimed four American lives, including the first US ambassador murdered since 1979. To deflect responsibility and shape public opinion, Clinton hollered self-righteously, “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”


But if the deaths were caused by a premeditated attack launched on the anniversary of 9/11 by anti-American Islamic terrorists – not a protest turned violent over a YouTube video, as originally asserted by US officials including President Obama – shouldn’t that inform how we prevent future American deaths from terrorist attacks? Isn’t it misleading to suggest anything other than the facts?


President Obama worked hard to promote the narrative that he’s determined to resolve America’s mounting fiscal threats and cut his predecesor's record $459 billion deficit. In February 2009 -- just days after signing his $833 billion economic stimulus bill -- he convened a fiscal responsibility summit at which he pledged, “to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term.”  He acknowledged, “It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we’ve long neglected.” ...Read more

Thanks for Visiting!

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Tue, 01/15/2013

 


Dear Reader,

 

I’ve taken a hiatus from writing to pursue another project but expect to resume by month’s end.  Stay tuned!

 

As my goal is to bust myths and counter false narratives, please consider sending me your ideas for future column topics or any other feedback.


Meanwhile, thanks for visiting my website!

 

Best,


Melanie Sturm

.
Read more

The Truth About Playing the Liar Card

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 12/06/2012

 

Believing a free press to be a vital safeguard of liberty, Thomas Jefferson said, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Many believe the inverse of Jefferson’s maxim – the people are uninformed, therefore the government can’t be trusted.  After all, what well-informed American would knowingly allow politicians to lead us to the monumental economic and budgetary “cliffs” we face? 

 

Despite a proliferation of new media, it’s increasingly difficult to separate fact from narrative. Combined with rancorous political discourse in which opponents are demonized in order to delegitimize competing arguments and render unnecessary the defense of one’s own, demoralized Americans struggle to discern the truth.

 

When invited by the Aspen Times to help diversify their opinion page, I proposed my Think Again column as a fact-based, issue-oriented commentary that would challenge conventional wisdom and remind readers of the values that made America the freest and most prosperous nation in world history. Like “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not,” I attempt to expose readers to easily certifiable facts and perspectives they may not otherwise consider (see columns at www.thinkagainusa.com).  The goal of Think Again is not to change minds, but to open them; for civil discourse requires being informed and thoughtful, which is the essence of citizenship.

 

Last month, a community member targeted me in letters-to-the-editor with an unusual level of hostility and mean-spiritedness – he accused me of being an egregious, bald-faced liar and an embarrassment to Americans. Declaring me guilty without any possibility of innocence (or trial), my accuser and those who defended him from criticism believe their claims are objectively true and mine are lies.  

 

Calling someone a liar is the ultimate character assassination. It means truth doesn’t matter to that person and that lying is not only habitual, it’s an indelible mark of a deceitful and immoral character. According to ethicist Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of “Words That Hurt, Words That...Read more

Restoring the Last Best Hope of Earth

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 10/25/2012

 

During the Civil War when the union’s preservation and slavery’s abolition were in doubt, President Lincoln roused the nation with his dream “of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” In rekindling our Founders’ vision, Lincoln helped assure that America would become the freest and most prosperous nation on earth, a status successive US presidents have dutifully maintained, or they were cast aside by voters.

 

As Americans Think Again about President Obama, consider that no president has won re-election amid such economic stagnation, declining incomes, high gas prices and business pessimism.  Living astonishingly beyond our means and more indebted than any other nation in world history, Americans face a reduced standard of living, diminished opportunities for our children, and a weakened capacity to secure our national interests in a menacing world.

 

After trillions in fiscal and monetary stimulus, the 39-month old economic recovery has one-seventh the GDP growth rate of the Reagan recovery in which double-digit inflation and interest rates were also slain. With 261,000 fewer jobs today than January 2009 (despite population growth of 9 million), exploding poverty, government dependency, and income inequality imperil Lincoln’s dream.

 

During the economic turmoil of 2008, Obama sounded Lincoln-esque, promising to “provide good jobs to the jobless…secure our nation and restore our image as the last best hope on Earth.”  But unlike Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton who understood the benefits of economic growth policies – more and better jobs, larger paychecks, growing tax revenues without tax rate increases, and deficit and debt mitigation -- Obama doubled down on government-centric and budget-busting policies. 

 

Having inherited a government moving in the wrong direction on bailouts, spending, deficits and debt accumulation, Obama floored the gas. Though critical of Bush’s $4 trillion in accumulated debt and vowing to halve the annual deficit by now, Obama has run four successive trillion-dollar deficits – each nearly triple Bush’s average -- while increasing debt nearly $6 trillion to a sum ($16.1 trillion) that exceeds the US economy.  Historically, America’s economy has grown faster than its debt -- until Obama, under whom debt is growing $2.50 for every dollar of GDP growth.

 

With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, manditory expenditures for Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid are exploding, consuming more annually than the combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and TARP bailouts.  Rather than address the looming entitlement crisis, Obama’s budget projects massive deficits and $20 trillion in debt by the end of his second term. So fiscally irresponsible, not one member of Congress --...Read more

In the Twilight Zone, It's Not the Economy, Stupid

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 10/11/2012

 

Beyond the realm of inconvenient truths, there’s a dimension to which Bill Clinton occasionally retreats.  It’s a dimension of fertile imaginations, sound bites and mind games whose boundaries the gullible determine. In this wondrous land, tokes aren’t inhaled, sex with interns isn’t sex, and the meaning of “is” isn’t always is. When Clinton wags his finger to punctuate a claim, like “no president – not me or any of my predecessors -- could have repaired all the damage in just four years,” it’s his poker “tell.” Next stop: the Twilight Zone.

 

Ironically, the president who rode to victory in 1992 on the theme “it’s the economy, stupid,” now suggests it’s stupid to examine the 39-month old economic recovery which, we were promised, would yield 4 percent gross-domestic-product growth and 5.6 percent unemployment -- not the current 1.6 percent and 7.8 percent, respectively. Before crossing over to the land of suspended disbelief, Think Again.


In fact, until now, all presidents over the last 75 years have performed better. As Milton Friedman observed, and a November 2011 Federal Reserve study verified, the worse the recession – even when caused by a financial crisis -- the stronger the recovery, absent bad government policies like those that prolonged and deepened the Great Depression.

 

Despite record levels of stimulation that exploded government spending to 25 percent of GDP (up from a 60-year 18 percent average) and four consecutive years of trillion-dollar deficits, an Associated Press study concluded “that by just about any measure”…this is “the feeblest economic recovery since the Great Depression. More than any other …people who have jobs are hurting: Their paychecks have fallen behind inflation.”  Consequently, income inequality has materially worsened and, as Vice President Biden noted last week, “the middle class has been buried the last four years.”

 

The annals of post World War II economic recoveries show Biden is right. Never before have Americans suffered such poor prospects nor sought such refuge in safety net programs.  When counting the millions of discouraged Americans no longer in the labor force, true unemployment is 14.7 percent. Meanwhile median household income has dropped nearly 5 percent, amidst exploding gas and food prices.  Not surprisingly, a record number of Americans now claim federal disability checks and food stamps, up nearly 20 and 44 percent, respectively.

 

President Reagan inherited the other “worst” post WW II recession and, unlike the most recent, had to contend with double-digit inflation and interest...Read more

Peace Through Strength, Not Hope and Change

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 09/27/2012

 

American revolutionary Patrick Henry famously declared, “Give me liberty or give me death!” This month, furious mobs throughout the Islamic world decree death, a sentence they imposed on four Americans in Libya, including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens – the first U.S. ambassador murdered in the line of duty since 1979. Before buying the spin that the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam video, Think Again.

 

According to Libyan President Mohamed Magarief, the video had “nothing to do with” the premeditated terrorist attack. Conducted on the anniversary of 9/11 in order to “carry a certain message,” the Benghazi attack and violent anti-American rioting elsewhere, reflect the ascendency of radical Islam in the wake of the Arab Spring. By attributing unrest to false pretexts -- not violent jihadists seeking to impose their totalitarian ideology – we incentivize further cycles of violence and legitimize the Islamists’ tactics.

 

As former Pakistani Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani explains, “protests orchestrated on the pretext of slights and offenses against Islam have been part of Islamist strategy for decades.” Rather than condemn real victimization and powerlessness – like the Assad regime’s slaughter of 20,000 Syrians; Saudi persecution of women, homosexuals and religious minorities; or the Taliban who spray school-going Afghani girls with acid – Islamists stoke anti-Americanism and spread anti-Jewish and Christian hate speech to consolidate power and distract “from societal, political and economic failures.”

 

But if these failures are the root cause of Islamic rage, shouldn’t we encourage the Islamic world to adopt the civil and economic liberties that are prerequisites for a humane society? If mutual respect is the goal, shouldn’t American leaders denounce Islamic intolerance and stop bragging about Osama bin Laden’s assassination?

 

Despite recent foreign policies designed to promote American popularity and mutual respect – engagement, “resets,” and “leading from behind” – America is still the “Great Satan” to Israel’s “Little Satan,” and contradictions and questions abound.  Yes, bin Laden is dead, but so is Ambassador Stevens, whose diary reveals worries about diplomatic security and assassination. As the 9/11 anniversary approached, why weren’t extraordinary precautions taken?

 ...Read more

Elizabeth Warren is Right -- The System is Rigged

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 09/13/2012

 

Mark Twain famously remarked, “No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” So when Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren proclaimed “the system is rigged” in her prime-time speech at the democratic convention -- Bill Clinton’s warm-up act – it appeared she agreed with Twain and 69 percent of Americans who believe “politicians break the rules to help people who give them money,” according to an August Rasmussen poll.

 

Before assuming Warren blames politicians for rigging the system, Think Again. In fact, as an advocate of an assertive and growing federal government run by benevolent and enlightened policymakers, Warren is out of sync with Mark Twain, public opinion, and America’s founders who feared a system rigged by powerful elites, like the British one they overturned.

 

When Thomas Jefferson asked if a “man cannot be trusted with the government of himself, can he then be trusted with the government of others,” he expressed our founders’ concern that future politicians would encroach on our newly declared natural rights and liberties, leading America into “debt, corruption and rottenness.” Hence, our founders designed a government with limited powers to serve -- not rule -- the people, and to protect our inalienable rights, not confer privileges to special interests. 

 

Today, our founders’ worst nightmares are reality -- the system is indeed rigged. The government’s share of the economy has exploded to 25 percent, dampening the private sector as powerful politicians allow favored beneficiaries to feed at the federal trough. The negative returns from these policies Warren calls “investments” have pushed America down the “global competitiveness” rankings -- from number one in 2008 to number seven today -- according to the newly released World Economic Forum report that blames unsustainable debt, cronyism, regulation, and economic stagnation for the fall.

 

Politicians promised that “investments” like the 2009 Stimulus would revive our economy and reduce unemployment, yet $830 billion later we’re worse off. Even since the official start of the “recovery” in June 2009: economic growth is 40 percent of the historic average for post-recession rebounds; the percentage of Americans with a job is the lowest in decades and the real unemployment rate is 19 percent as four times more workers left the workforce last month than entered it; median household income is down sharply while food stamp usage and federal disability checks have skyrocketed; and poverty rates are near a 50-year high.

 

As she laments the suffering middle class, why doesn’t Warren evaluate whether the activist government policies she advocates actually underlie this despair? Shouldn’t she query why the president’s 2013 Federal Budget garnered no votes in Congress and why...Read more

Right Stuff Needed for Fiscal Moonshot

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 08/30/2012

 

Last Saturday, as Americans debated whether Lance Armstrong was a genuine hero after dropping his fight with the US Anti-Doping Agency, another Armstrong – an undisputable American hero -- died. Were Webster’s to pair Neil Armstrong with hero in its dictionary, one needn’t Think Again to fathom the bravery, achievement, and nobility implied by the word.

 

By fulfilling President Kennedy’s audacious goal to have an American walk on the moon within the decade, Neil Armstrong is remembered for the skill, courage, grace under pressure, and innate humility necessary to achieve “one giant leap for mankind,” while crediting legions of dedicated others for the “one small step for man” he took on July 20, 1969.  Upon fulfilling his mission, he didn’t spike the football or parlay fame into power or fortune.  He receded into dignified private life to teach and inspire future generations.

 

In breaking the sad news, NBC’s Brian Williams asserted, “we have lost the last American hero,” as if surrendering America’s heroic destiny to our era’s chaos and controversy. Yet throughout our tumultuous history, Americans have proven “where there’s a will, there’s a way”  -- starting with George Washington, who summoned heroism in his beleaguered troops by crossing the icy Delaware River enroute to American independence.

 

Though Thomas Jefferson warned “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground,” our founders established “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” knowing it was a precondition to a dynamic, prosperous and free society. We fought the Civil War so this American ideal wouldn’t perish from the earth. Now, with our faith in the American Dream rattled, we face another great challenge.

 

Today we suffer unprecedented levels of economic stagnation, long-term unemployment, and government dependency. Despite a record $830 billion stimulus enacted in February 2009, this recovery (which technically began in June 2009) is the weakest of the 11 tracked since World War II. Stimulus advocates promising the unemployment rate wouldn’t exceed 8 percent (though it has for 42 consecutive months), were also wrong in forecasting a 5.5 percent rate by now.

 

Even since the “recovery’s” start, economic trends have deteriorated: the ranks of the long-term unemployed grew by 800,000; those no longer in...Read more

The War on Women -- Just a Fluke?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 08/16/2012

 

Comedian Steve Martin once quipped, “I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy.”  Sadly, combatants in the “War on Women” seem to agree with Martin, except they want others to pay for their sex – at least the contraception.

 

Last week, Georgetown law student and contraception activist Sandra Fluke led the battle cry at a presidential campaign rally in Denver. She argued that without the controversial government mandate requiring employers to provide free contraceptive services, women would lose control over their healthcare choices. In post-rally interviews videotaped by Caleb Bonham of RevealingPolitics.com, Fluke’s warriors insisted government stay out of their bedrooms.  When asked why government should pay for what goes on in their bedrooms, the flummoxed women had to Think Again.

 

On the warpath to secure women’s healthcare rights, Fluke should recall what most women already know.  Contraceptive services are as cheap ($9 per month at Target) and ubiquitous as routine oil changes are for cars.  Nevertheless, Medicaid and most insurance companies already cover contraception, and for the uninsured, Planned Parenthood and the government spend $700 million annually.

 

If women-warriors are battling to control their own healthcare decisions, why aren’t they concerned that unelected and unaccountable governmental bureaucrats – not their doctors – are empowered by the Affordable Care Act to determine which health services are (or aren’t) medically necessary, cost-effective and insurable? The Affordable Care Act gives the Health and Human Services Secretary (currently Katherine Sebilius) sole discretion to determine standards for both government and private health insurance coverage.

 

As a women’s health advocate, Fluke likes Sebilius’ acceptance of the government’s US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation to provide free contraceptive services. But why isn’t she rallying to block acceptance of changes the task force made recently to mammogram guidelines -- from annually after 40 (as endorsed by the American Cancer Society) to biennially after 50? Will Fluke’s compassion compel her to protest task force guidelines that no longer recommend PSA prostate cancer screening for healthy men?

 

Being insured doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality and timely care, as the New York Times reported recently. The Association of American Medical Colleges anticipates a 90,000-doctor shortage this decade, a crisis exacerbated by the Affordable Care Act. Where is Fluke’s outrage at the two-tier system expected to emerge as doctors increasingly allocate their limited time away from the insured whose plans...Read more

The Welfare State -- You Didn't Build That

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 08/02/2012

 

Last week, amidst the firestorm over the words “you didn’t build that,” actor Sherman Hemsley passed away. Americans remember Hemsley for playing George Jefferson, TV’s popular upwardly mobile black businessman.  Known for “movin’ on up to the east side” out of Archie Bunker’s neighborhood, we cheered George as he strutted triumphantly into his “deluxe apartment in the sky,” having “finally got a piece of the pie.”

 

Imagine George’s reaction were anyone to tell him that government was integral to his success, or that he didn’t build his business on his own -- he’d slam the door while hollering “Think Again!” 

 

Considering half of small businesses fail within five years, entrepreneurs like George deserve credit for more than “a whole lotta tryin’ just to get up that hill.”  Despite the risks of failure, George made it “in the big leagues” because he possessed unique entrepreneurial traits: business acumen, self-sacrifice, leadership and a willingness to hurdle government obstacles. 

 

Personal fulfillment derived from “odds-beating” industriousness is why America’s founders enshrined the right to pursue happiness in our national creed.  Earned success is both materially enriching and spiritually uplifting – and the source of America’s extraordinary prosperity.

 

Now in the midst of what CBS News labeled “the worst economic recovery America has ever had,” risk-takers like George deserve encouragement, not derision -- nor the toxic cocktail of tax hikes and increased regulations they face. Since 1993, their small businesses have created two-thirds of private sector jobs.  Furthermore, they and their employees are among a shrinking percentage of Americans who pay taxes to a government whose current annual deficit is the size of President Clinton’s first budget.

 

When tax-hike proponents justify expansive...Read more

French vs American Revolutions — Vive La Différence!

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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,...Read more

What's Love Got to Do With Health Care?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 07/05/2012

 

Tamara Shayne Kagel made waves recently when she wrote a column in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles titled “I Don’t Want to Date a Republican.” Clarifying her fears, she pondered with horror: “What if I have Republican babies?” Now smitten, she’s had to Think Again.

 

Having crossed the partisan Rubicon from insularity to open-mindedness, Kagel says she now respects and admires her boyfriend who, she acknowledges, “values helping the poor as much as I do -- just in a different way.”

 

To arrive at this tolerant Zen state, Kagel recalibrated her moral compass, the antidote social psychologist Jonathan Haidt advocates in “The Righteous Mind -- Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.”  Haidt cautions, “Beware of anyone who insists there is one true morality for all people, times, and places.” Comedian Steven Colbert didn’t buy Haidt’s thesis insisting “not just that I’m right; almost more importantly is that you are wrong.“

 

Last week, as if aping Colbert, many media, academic and political elites insisted opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were villainous and treacherous, including Supreme Court justices who might rule the law unconstitutional. Hardball’s Chris Matthews compared Chief Justice Roberts to the judge who upheld the Fugitive Slave Act, but after Roberts became the swing vote, he seemed to morph from Darth Vader into Luke Skywalker.

 

Disturbed by this Star Wars mentality, polls show public confidence in media and government at record lows. This week’s Rasmussen survey of Supreme Court perceptions confirmed the widening gap between the political class and mainstream voters -- the Court’s favorability doubled from 27 to 55 percent among the political class but dropped from 34 to 22 percent among mainstream voters.

 

Every American wants our health care system to be more efficient, affordable and accessible. As world-class consumers, we expect cost containment, improved quality and more choices -- we get that in our cell phones, why not our healthcare? We’ve watched Apple compete by continuously innovating, creating new markets and must-have products at prices unimaginable a decade ago. Meanwhile, market entrants like Android offer choices to consumers for whom a phone (never mind an iPhone) was previously unaffordable. 

 

Not surprisingly, Americans rejected government-centric solutions that interposed Washington bureaucrats between doctors and patients and did little to address the healthcare cost explosion. Nevertheless, à la Colbert, lawmakers insisted they were right and opponents weren’t merely wrong, but evil. Despite public outrage, Congress passed...Read more

Dislike Soda Bans? Then Restore the Constitution

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 06/21/2012

 

Last month, the day before National Donut Day, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to tackle obesity by banning the sale of sugary drinks larger than sixteen ounces. Eager for the newly nicknamed “Soda Jerk” to Think Again, comedian Jon Stewart joked that Bloomberg’s proposal “combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect.”

 

The website “Renegade Chicks” reflected citywide disapproval in asking, “aren’t there bigger issues at hand (like)…. say the declining economy and rising unemployment rates? If this soda ban is passed, what’s next?”  Apparently, milk drinks and popcorn, which goes to show there’s nothing so bad that politicians can’t make worse.  At least New Yorkers can move to a different city.

 

Not so for Americans wishing to escape the interventionist sweep of the Affordable Care Act whose constitutionality we’ll soon know. Perhaps more important than whether the law stands, is whether the Supreme Court decision will enable the steady mission and power creep of the federal government beyond the boundaries set by our constitutional framers.

 

Those who advocate such creep believe in a “living Constitution” that allows government to concentrate power in order to meet societal challenges, a noble goal. The ends justify the means for such advocates like UC-Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky who asserts, “Congress can force economic transactions” and “in theory…. use its commerce power to require people to buy cars. Power can be used in silly ways and the Constitution isn’t our protector against undesirable government actions.”

 

One needn’t be a constitutional scholar to know unlimited and unchecked federal government power was the evil our Founders wanted to prevent. They designed the government to limit federal authority to enumerated purposes, leaving remaining powers to sovereign states and individuals.  As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor explained, “The Constitution protects us from our own best intentions:  It divides power among sovereigns and among branches of government precisely so that we may resist the temptation to concentrate power in one location as an expedient solution to the crisis of the day.”

 

Embedded in our founding documents is a uniquely American and revolutionary set of governing principles designed to protect our natural rights and liberties, not create man-made ones. This philosophy created the freest and most prosperous society on earth by proclaiming that every human being is born free, equal, and independent with inalienable rights that are permanent parts of our nature. Because we’re equal, no one – not a king, a neighbor or a mayor -- can be the ruler of any other human being, and each of us is equal in our natural rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

...Read more

Scott Walker: Wisconsin's True Progressive

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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)....Read more

Julia's War on Feminism

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 05/24/2012

 

 

When Gloria Steinem popularized the saying “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, I wasn’t old enough to wear a bra, never mind burn it. However, thanks to that feminist credo and its infiltration of 1970s popular culture, women of my generation grew up believing we could make it on our own, like Mary Tyler Moore.  While her theme song cautioned, “this world is awfully big, girl,” our confidence rose with Mary’s cap, tossed triumphantly to “you’re going to make it after all.”

 

Indeed, we did make it, though presidential campaign operatives peddling the “War on Women” narrative want you to Think Again. They insist it’s a war on women when it’s actually a war for women’s votes.  This month’s political ad, “The Life of Julia,” occasions the question: which voter are they after, Georgia in Greece or Mary in Minneapolis?

 

Julia is a single, faceless cartoon – evidently an American everywoman – who depends on European-like, cradle-to-grave government assistance from pre-school through retirement. As if being tethered to a dependency-inducing nanny-state were attractive to American women  (or plausible given mounting debt) Julia, like her entitled European cousin, is the anti-Mary -- she can’t make it on her own.

                        

Sadly, this government-centered and soul-deadening narrative is as false and harmful to women as the notion that we should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Both beget a toxic cocktail of subservience, loss of identity and worthlessness -- the antithesis of feminism.  Franklin Roosevelt cautioned that dependence “induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber”…and “the human spirit.”  

 

The antidote to “learned helplessness” and its corollary unhappiness is “earned success”, according to economist Arthur Brooks, President of American Enterprise Institute and happiness authority. In his new book “The Road to Freedom,” Brooks explains, “people crave earned success, which comes from achievement, not a check. It’s the freedom to be an individual and to delineate your life’s ‘profit’”…whether measured in money, “making beautiful art, saving people’s souls, or pulling kids out of poverty.”

 

Earned success is what our Founders meant by “the pursuit of happiness” which is America’s “moral promise” to its citizens. Brooks praises the Founders’ visionary insight because “allowing us to earn our success is precisely what gives each of us the best chance at achieving real happiness,” and his data proves it. 

 

...Read more

The Green Wizard: Natural Gas Not Renewables

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 05/10/2012

 

As if accompanying Dorothy en route to the Emerald City of Oz, Americans seek a green wizard to fulfill our hearts’ desires -- a world powered by renewable energies like solar, wind and bio-fuels.  Bedazzled by Glenda the Good Witch’s solar-powered ruby slippers, we want the green-brick-road to lead us to a cleaner energy future. 


However, without Auntie Em to awaken us to reality, Americans must Think Again. Though cast as the Wicked Witch of the West, over the last decade the conventional energy industry has revolutionized America’s energy outlook.  Today we’re the most energy-endowed nation in the world, with enough clean, reliable, abundant, and cheap natural gas to last for generations. 


It’s “like adding another Venezuela or Kuwait by 2020”, according to Pulitzer-prize winning energy expert Daniel Yergin who believes the world energy map now centers on North America, not the Middle East. Energy consultant Wood Mackenzie estimates that tapping new reserves would generate one million jobs by 2018 and generate $803 billion in governmental revenue through 2030. Additionally, these new extraction technologies require far fewer wells, though they present fresh environmental challenges that several states (including Colorado) have addressed with new regulations to protect the environment and secure water supplies. 


Thus, rather than crucify the conventional energy industry, we should celebrate the entrepreneurialism and technological ingenuity that’s enabled the US to become a net energy exporter for the first time since 1949. The government need only permit development of new reserves -- not subsidize -- to further American energy independence, fuel our vehicles, lower energy costs and reap economic gains.


Meanwhile, promoters of green energy policies continue to argue that “investments” in renewable energies are environmental and job-creation boons for America, though our journey along the green-brick-road proves otherwise. Whether evaluating wind power in tornado-swept Kansas or solar energy in sunny California, renewable technologies are woefully uneconomical, wickedly unreliable and surprisingly unsound environmentally.


It’s understandable Americans dream green, considering we were told in 2008 that by investing $150 billion over the next decade in renewable energies, we’d reap five million new jobs.  But as former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers noted, “The government is a crappy venture capitalist”.  That’s because lobbying prowess and political viability outweigh economic viability when government picks winners and losers. 


After “investing” $110 billion since 2009, the sector is littered with taxpayer backed, bankrupt companies like Solyndra, Beacon Power, and Ener1, all of which paid bonuses before going under. Reuters reported last month “the wind industry… has...Read more

Sex, Lies and Videotaped Government Scandals

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 04/26/2012

 

What do you get when you cross George Orwell’s Animal Farm with John Belushi’s Animal House? Government Gone Wild! 

 

If you assume that’s the title of a porn movie about U.S. secret service agents cavorting with prostitutes in foreign countries, or employees of the U.S. Government Services Administration (the GSA manages federally-owned property) whooping it up in Las Vegas at taxpayers’ expense, Think Again.

 

The hard truth is that the larger government grows, the more Orwellian and “Animal House” its conduct. Belushi’s character “Bluto” exercised no greater restraint around free beer than did GSA Regional Director Neely and his employees, whose exploits at their $823,000 Las Vegas “team-building” soirée were videotaped, only to dominate newscasts this month. Bluto couldn’t have carpe diem-ed on his parents’ allowance better than Neely who wrote in an invitation to personal friends: “We’ll pick up the room tab…. I know I’m bad, but…why not enjoy it while we have it….Ain’t gonna last forever.”  


Since government depends on resources drawn from the real economy, consider these facts: after the GSA’s Inspector-General reported Neely’s misconduct, Neely still received a 2011 bonus; the average GSA salary is nearly $92,000, $40,000 more than median household income; and the GSA’s budget rose 119 percent in 2011.  Furthermore, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported this January that federal employees enjoy greater job security and earn significantly higher compensation compared to private-sector workers.

 

Having worked in a large bureaucracy (the World Bank), I believe most public servants are decent, skilled, and dedicated, though rarely are “per diem” allowances unspent, or self-justifications un-uttered. It’s a truism that people won’t spend other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own. Unlike household budgets that strive to boost savings by minimizing expenses, government bureaucracies spend what they’re given while justifying more for next year.  They also lack the expertise and market discipline to “invest” wisely, evidenced by “green investments” in now-bankrupt companies like Solyndra.

 

Here's the ultimate question: why transfer more money from the real economy to those who are intrinsically more wasteful, negligent and indifferent to its ultimate good? To curb Bluto-like behavior, voters mustn’t allow irresponsible conduct they wouldn’t otherwise tolerate.  If your child spent irresponsibly while racking up credit-card debts, wouldn’t you confiscate his card?  Good governance, like good parenting, means establishing and enforcing reasonable limits.

 

Yet, politicians charged with stewarding America’s finances have acted like the pigs in Animal Farm who pronounced “all animals are equal, except some are more equal than others.”  Exempted from the self-discipline and frugality associated with...Read more

Titanic Icebergs In Way of Healthcare Reform

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 04/12/2012

 

Prior to its maiden voyage 100 years ago this week, the Titanic’s captain proclaimed, “I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel.”  Yet hubris, misaligned priorities and bad planning conspired to sink the Titanic.

 

The same mismanagement and arrogance afflicts the Titanic-like healthcare law (“Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”) that passed through icy Congressional waters in 2010.  Given lethal icebergs en route, both Captain Smith and America’s lawmakers would undoubtedly Think Again before declaring “Full Speed Ahead”.

 

If polled, Titanic’s passengers would’ve preferred slower navigation (and more lifeboats) to the record-breaking speed favored by Titanic’s ownership. Americans were polled on the healthcare law and registered consistent and overwhelming disapproval. Polling like CNN’s March 2010 survey -- 19 percent believed they’d be better off with the legislation -- led pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen to write, “Most voters believe the current plan will harm the economy, cost more than projected, raise the cost of care, and lead to higher middle-class taxes.“ 

 

Nevertheless, without reading, understanding, or considering its constitutionality, lawmakers hurtled the unpopular 2,700-page bill toward passage. Though approved on a party-line vote, controversial political payoffs and parliamentary shenanigans never before deployed for legislation of such magnitude led voters to reject incumbents in the historic 2010-midterm elections.

 

Since the law’s passage, strong majorities of Americans support its repeal. Meanwhile, recent polls show two-thirds of Americans believe the Supreme Court should either strike the law entirely, or the individual mandate which forces every American to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. If upheld, Americans fear losing the constitutional limits our founders believed necessary to curb coercive federal government power. With the IRS to enforce, what Constitutional principle prevents government from forcing individuals into other purchases?

 

Politically diverse commentators agree that the government failed to substantiate the law’s constitutionality in oral arguments before the Supreme Court, though some believe the Court must defer to Congress by upholding its law.  However, doesn’t our system of checks and balances mean the judiciary must declare unconstitutionality when another branch acts unconstitutionally? The Supreme Court struck down President Bush’s military tribunals, why not the healthcare law?

 

In his latest book, “The People’s Money,” Rasmussen argues that America is divided between...Read more

What if Iran Means It?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 03/15/2012

 


One needn’t be a Holocaust survivor to know that when threatened with annihilation, believe it.
 
Yet as the world confronts the violent and stunningly ruthless Iranian theocracy in its quest to entrench itself and secure control over its oil-rich region, there are still leaders who appear willing to allow the world’s most dangerous regime to possess the world’s most devastating weapons capability.  Preoccupied with the costs of stopping Iran, leaders who haven’t learned the historical consequences of inaction must Think Again, for the only thing worse than military action is a nuclear-capable Iran.
 
Unfortunately, as writer Aldous Huxley concluded, "That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history."  When the world last faced a villainous regime intent on genocide and global hegemony, it too was war weary. Hopeful that Germany would abide by international law and treaties, Western powers didn’t assert their overwhelming military advantage to prevent a rearmed Germany from igniting World War II, causing Winston Churchill to lament,  "There never was in all history a war easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe."
 
Today, Iran poses even graver challenges.  Since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian theocracy has been an implacable foe of freedom, peace, human rights, and international law.  Its stated enemies are America (“Great Satan”), Israel (“Little Satan”) and domestic opponents, and its operating methods include brutal domestic suppression, terrorist proxies (Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon), global terrorist networks and dictatorial allies like Syria and Venezuela.
 
Iran is responsible for hundreds of suicide bombers, thousands of roadside bombings, and tens of thousands of missiles fired at civilians. To support Assad’s violent suppression of Syria’s protest movement, Iran is exporting the barbarous tactics used to quash its own 2009 Green Movement -- sexual abuse, torture and public executions.
 
The question before us is, would this Iranian regime be weaker or stronger, containable or more aggressive if it possessed nuclear capability?  Furthermore, how much more emboldened would Iran’s allies and terrorist proxies be under Iran’s nuclear umbrella?  Given their barbarity, political theology and hegemonic goals, isn’t it rational to assume Iran would deploy a nuclear-equipped suicide bomb to devastate Miami, Mumbai or Malmo, never mind Tel Aviv?
 
Consider what successive Iranian leaders say.  They deny the last Holocaust while boasting of plans to cause the next one by “wiping Israel off the map” -- accomplishable, they assert, with only one nuclear bomb.  Upon facing more severe sanctions in January, the self-described revolutionary state threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most strategic oil transit thoroughfare, knowing oil prices would spike.
 
After the Holocaust, and after 9/11, are these genocidal and belligerent threats just impassioned speachmaking, or genuine intentions?
 
Despite a decade of diplomacy, binding UN Security Council resolutions, nuclear non-proliferation treaty obligations and crippling international sanctions, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the logical application of Iran’s ongoing nuclear program is a weapon, and that production of enriched uranium is accelerating at its underground and fortified nuclear plant in Qom....Read more

Buffett Rule: Tax Fairness or Farce?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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...Read more

Pro-choice Means Free to Choose, Even for Komen

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 02/16/2012

 

“Give Boobs a Chance,” read the sign at the pink “Boob Camp” desk where I registered for my first Susan G. Komen race. As I crossed the finish line to the applause of grateful survivors, I sensed the praise of my mother and grandmother, in whose honor I ran. I return to Komen events, impeccably managed by flocks of dedicated volunteers, for the sense of community and because I feel like Rocky in a fight to reorder global karma — to help Komen realize its goal “to end breast cancer forever,” the disease that kills more women worldwide than any other cancer.

Imagine my dismay as Facebook exploded with denunciations and contempt for the iconic breast-cancer advocate who'd just announced that it would cease funding Planned Parenthood, creating a bitter rift involving the abortion debate. The most shocking Facebook censure came from a cancer survivor who wrote, “I have ripped my pink ribbon off of my jacket. … It is sad that I have to tell my daughters someday that this was my decision …. politics SUCKS!” Incredibly, this comment garnered 37 “likes.” As the “Komen betrayal of women's health” narrative went viral, I tried to Think Again.

My first thought was how negligent Komen board trustees (charged with keeping Komen out of controversies) were to have allowed the nation's largest and most prestigious breast-cancer advocate to get embroiled in the no-win abortion debate. Since Americans are split evenly on abortion rights and even trending pro-life according to Gallup, Pew, Marist and Rasmussen surveys, why would Komen have jeopardized its mission, donor base and ability to appeal to all Americans, irrespective of their abortion views? I wanted to damn them were they not already damned — if they do or if they don't.

True, everyone makes mistakes. However, unlike Roman Polanski, who claimed, “I did not have a reputation to defend,” Komen does. Having been cast as a bedfellow of religious extremists and an enemy combatant on the battlefield of abortion rights, Komen's blue chip, four-star rating and credibility are in tatters. While there are many cancer charities from which to choose, none rivals Komen as a mobilizer of volunteerism and charity — Komen makes it so fun, accessible and meaningful.

Desperate to preserve Komen's reputation, founder and volunteer CEO Nancy Brinker faced the media to explain Komen's need to exit the culture wars by disentangling from injurious and distracting “reproductive issues and debates.” However, Andrea Mitchell, et al, wouldn't hear it, as if channeling “America's anger.”

You'd think Komen was actually redirecting funds toward the “1 percent.” The L.A. Times editorialized that “Komen's name will be connected more with ugly politics than with pink ribbons,” the Yale School of Public Health leaked its reconsideration of Brinker as commencement speaker, and hackers wrote, “Help us run over poor women on our way to the bank” on Komen's website.

Stumbling and stammering through a 72-hour public-relations debacle, Komen finally waved the white flag by apologizing “for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives.” Later, Nancy Pelosi triumphantly declared, “Women's health has a big victory this morning.”

Pelosi should heed Shakespeare's admonition: “Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.” In truth, this unfortunate dust-up between two significant women's health organizations was less one giant leap for womankind and more one small step for abortion. Now in the line of fire from both sides of the abortion debate, Komen is beaten and bloodied, as is its potential “to end breast cancer forever.” Furthermore, women's health advocates undermined their credibility by accusing Komen of hurting women, even though they knew the redirected Komen funds were both...Read more

Rotary: A "spin" on American Virtue and Happiness

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 02/02/2012


If you've ever wanted to be as good a person as your dog thinks you are but feared you'd never reach your dog's standards, Think Again. Recently, when speaking before the Rotary Club of Aspen, one of more than 33,000 Rotary clubs worldwide, I discovered a treasure trove of virtue — they're called Rotarians.

As if powdered slopes beckon, dozens of Aspen's most respected and engaged residents rise early on Thursdays to enjoy breakfast, social networking and a guest speaker. Most important, they uphold a uniquely American ethic — they ask not what their country can do for them but what they can do for their country. United by a commitment to “be beneficial and fair to all concerned,” Aspen Rotarians are as recognizable for their business, civic and other nonprofit leadership as they are for the Ducky Derby, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Rotary proudly stands with the Salvation Army, Boy and Girl Scouts, March of Dimes and the Red Cross (among others) as a pillar of American civil society and one of the world's most philanthropic community-service organizations. All “made in America” though exported globally, these are the grassroots organizations that serve the public good and prove Margaret Meade's assertion that “a small group of thoughtful people (can) change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Because they're so effective in minimizing social problems and catalyzing voluntary action, Americans strongly prefer (by 2-to-1) community-based welfare organizations like Rotary to the federal government. That's why we mustn't let lawmakers undermine Americans' prerogative to allocate our own charitable dollars by reducing the tax deductibility of charitable donations, for volunteer organizations like Rotary possess many advantages.

By engaging the community and youth groups in fundraising and community service, Rotarians raise “social entrepreneurs” who experience philanthropy, volunteerism and the benefits of hard work as they enhance lives at home and beyond. It's a virtuous cycle when Rotary's beneficiaries become healthier, smarter and more secure and when kids follow the footsteps of charitable role models.

This distinctly American impulse to marshal charitable and volunteer resources to realize big projects and shape destinies is in our national DNA — from Ben Franklin, who founded the first volunteer fire department, to Andrew Carnegie, who funded the establishment of public libraries across the country, to Bill Gates, whose philanthropic partnerships (including with Rotary International) are helping eradicate malaria and polio.

The volunteer instinct is also the essence of “American exceptionalism,” which was celebrated by political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1831 book “Democracy in America.” On his extensive tour of America, Tocqueville noted that Americans, unlike Europeans, relied not on the government or local noblemen to solve problems but on community-based voluntary associations formed by like-minded citizens.  “In every case,” he said, “at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government ... in the United States you are sure to find an association.”

Coming from a French society ruled by aristocrats, Tocqueville marveled at the extent to which ordinary citizens participated in public affairs and how the social classes collaborated to support the needy.  “I have seen Americans making great and sincere sacrifices for the key common good and a hundred times I have noticed that, when needed, they almost always gave each other faithful support,” he said.

However, Tocqueville knew it wasn't altruism, but self-interest, that fuels American volunteerism. When Forrest Gump explained, “'Cause I was a gazillionaire, and I liked doin' it so much, I cut that grass for free,” he clarified why Americans “do good” — good deeds inspire self-pride and happiness.

Scientific data prove the relationship between virtue and happiness, according to Arthur Brooks, whose book “Gross National Happiness” reveals several surprising conclusions, including: People who are charitable are 43...Read more

Capitalism's Critics Are Intellectually Bankrupt

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 01/19/2012
 

When Paul Simon sang “Mama don't take my Kodachrome” in 1973, he claimed he'd “read the writing on the wall,” but he couldn't have foreseen how a transformative technology — making photos from digits — would render obsolete his precious color film. The global brand icon that revolutionized photography, making it affordable and convenient for ordinary people, now teeters on the brink of bankruptcy. Unfortunately for Kodak workers and the residents of Rochester, N.Y., consumer choice — not Mama — vaporized Kodachrome.

Because election season coincides with economic stagnation, lost jobs and defunct companies are political hot potatoes, putting capitalism on trial. Before joining free-enterprise bashers who bemoan investors who find opportunity in “the gales of creative destruction,” Think Again. As Kodak's ascent and decline demonstrate, this tenet of capitalism is what sparks entrepreneurship, innovation, growth and continuous progress, improving everyone's standard of living.

Preoccupied as we are with economic hardship, it's hard to appreciate the upending phase of “creative destruction.” But without disruptive transformations and the financial capital they attract, the entrepreneurial innovation that fueled America's economic preeminence — and job-creators like Boeing, Apple, Amazon, FedEx and Intel — couldn't have occurred. To paraphrase labor leader Samuel Gompers, the biggest enemy of the worker is an unprofitable, poorly managed company.

We'd also be saddled with outmoded horseshoes, floppy disks, typewriters and eight-track tapes. By reallocating scarce resources to better businesses such as automobiles, digital memory devices, laptop computers, CDs and online retailers, consumers realize previously unimaginable conveniences and value as obsolete products end up in the dustbin of history.

Capitalism is like cancer surgery — though risky and unpleasant to watch, it's a life-enhancing, regenerative process allowing productive cells to flourish where unhealthy ones once permeated. Since not all practitioners are well-trained surgeons, the process can be messy and imperfect. Sometimes the patient weakens before recovering vitality; sometimes he dies, making room for the healthy.

What's worse is when government subverts free-market capitalism by rescuing the suicidal from the consequences of their own errors. When they connect the nearly dead to life-sustaining “bailout-IVs,” governments play Dr. Frankenstein — creating economic zombies who dwell malodorously in our midst, suck up scarce resources and prolong everyone's suffering. What's protest-worthy are the prolonged and expensive hospital stays as government gets to appear beneficent with other people's money! This is “crony capitalism.”

In free enterprise, companies must reinvent or bear the consequences. Consider Smith Corona, the world's leading typewriter manufacturer, whose consumer breakthroughs included the automatic carriage return, electronic dictionaries, grammar checkers, word processors and the PDA. This reinvention process stopped in 1992 with the classically ironic shortsightedness of its CEO, who dissolved the company's joint venture with Acer Computers, saying, “Many people believe the typewriter and word-processor business is a buggy-whip industry, which is far from true.“ By 1995, Smith Corona was bankrupt, and Acer was the world's fourth-largest computer company.

Smith Corona learned the hard way that maintaining one's practices can be a formula for obsolescence. In contrast, Apple Computer, now the world's most valuable company, faced bankruptcy in 1996 before its reinvention accomplished the greatest turnaround in corporate history. It took rehiring founder Steve Jobs — whose reinvention followed being pink-slipped a decade prior — to reposition the company, its product line and marketing strategy.

Struggling companies whose shortsighted and complacent management fail to reinvent can be attractive to private equity investors who believe their risk capital (not taxpayers) and expertise can enable...Read more

America's New Years Resolution:Fiscal Fitness

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 01/05/2012

 

Politicians are like New Year's revelers whose resolutions to get fit are as habitual as their unhealthy lifestyles. The most undisciplined merrymaker continually ups the weight-loss ante —10 pounds last year, 20 pounds this year — just as undisciplined politicians alleging fiscal prudence have upped their borrowing limit 4,967 percent since 1962, 67 percent since 2009.

If you thought politicians were pummeled into fiscal restraint after last summer's debt-ceiling debacle, which led to America's credit downgrade by S&P, Think Again. In fact, 2011 ended with debt reaching the new limit of $15.22 trillion compelling Treasury to request another $1.2 trillion debt ceiling increase. This time the increase will happen easily because new rules require both House and Senate disapproval to block it — not likely.

Like a long-running soap opera whose actors change though the story line doesn't, we spend $4 billion more than we have every day — and growing. Since 2008, spending skyrocketed past our historical average of 20 percent of gross domestic product to 25 percent.

The problem isn't merely the amount of debt — though as Sen. Obama asserted before voting against the 2006 debt-ceiling increase, “Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren” — it's the size of the debt relative to our economy that reflects poor economic health. With our debt-to-GDP ratio at 100.3 percent versus 69.8 percent in 2008, we're living on “borrowed” time unless politicians stop deluding themselves that a stagnant private sector can finance a growing public sector.

The eurozone crisis offers America a timely warning that the battle of the spending and debt bulge is an existential one. Europe's saga is our “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” except America can avert doom by slashing spending levels and lifting private-sector burdens. If Sweden, Ireland and a new reform-minded Spanish government can do both — the reverse of what we've done during the Great Recession — America should, too.

Americans agree, as 71 percent told a Rasmussen poll last week that Washington should cut spending. Absent the political will to reform entitlements and lower spending to pre-2008 levels, “the country is going through one of its longest sustained periods of unhappiness and pessimism ever,” observed Democratic pollster Mark Penn.

Distracted as we are by domestic matters including the media-hyped Republican primary horse race, Americans aren't focused on the international implications of a downgraded superpower. An America in economic distress undermines our capacity to perform the valuable role we've played since World War II — to promote global economic growth and political stability, especially among the poorest nations.

America is the most important trading partner to the world, inducing countries to adopt economic freedoms that enabled our prosperity, including limited government, property rights, free trade and a stable currency. Economically free countries enjoy greater growth, opportunity, civil rights and life expectancy, as evident on the Korean Peninsula, where South Koreans have dramatically better lives than their northern cousins, and in China, where 450 million people were lifted out of poverty after economic liberalization.

America used to rank second in the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Index of Economic Freedom (behind Hong Kong) but fell to ninth this year (below Canada, Ireland and Denmark), reflecting deteriorating business freedom, increased government spending and a weaker currency...Read more

America’s Tebows await their start

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Tue, 12/13/2011


Back in September when President Obama was arguing for his third stimulus, he pronounced America soft and said we lacked a competitive edge. At the same time, the NFL cognoscenti were declaring Tim Tebow an NFL bust despite being a first-round draft pick. Remarkably, Tim Tebow and the U.S. economy are showing signs of resurgence.

The news that the U.S. unemployment rate fell from 9.0 to 8.6 percent in November (though due largely to job seekers exiting the market) is as surprising as Tebow’s 7-1 record since becoming the Broncos’ starting quarterback. Tebow’s late-fourth-quarter magic and five come-from-behind victories (three in overtime) have rocketed the Broncos from worst to first in their division, earning Tebow the confidence of coaches and teammates, and the adoration of fans.


If only America’s private-sector “quarterbacks” were liberated to call their own plays and scramble like an unleashed Tebow, America could win the economic equivalent of the Super Bowl — GDP growth of 4.5 percent and unemployment of 6 percent.

If politicians were as wise as Tebow’s coach, they’d formulate strategies to get business owners off the sidelines. They could start by reducing excessive regulations that, according to the Small Business Administration, cost the economy $1.75 trillion in 2008, more than individual and corporate income taxes combined — and that’s more than 11,000 regulations ago. In stronger economies, businesses are better equipped to tackle runaway regulators, who often view them as the opponent. Now, the 22.9 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or too discouraged to look for employment are consigned to the injured reserve list.

As politicians play political football with our fate, they demonstrate greater concern for the next election than for the next generation. If politicians were truly interested in growing the economy, creating jobs and paying off the national debt, they wouldn’t propose micro-measures like the temporary extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut. While hardworking taxpayers welcome savings, this temporary cut is minimally pro-growth and further erodes Social Security’s solvency. Furthermore, offering current benefits financed by faux spending cuts or never-to-materialize revenues is the very accounting gimmickry that has undermined America’s fiscal stability and credit worthiness. How many Americans know that the so-called “Budget Control Act of 2011” that raised the debt ceiling actually increases spending by $830 billion over current expenditures?

We know that to recover fiscal stability we must get taxpaying Americans back in the game. Six percent unemployment by 2014 requires an additional 14 million jobs, or 400,000 each month (compared with the 120,000 added last month). This implies an annual growth rate not seen since 1999 and triple this year’s 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, like the Broncos’ fans after the team’s dismal 1-5 start, Americans lack confidence. A recent Rasmussen poll shows that only 18 percent of Americans believe today’s children will be better off than their parents, perhaps because 68 percent of Americans believe government and big business work together against their interests.

This is where the tea party meets Occupy Wall Street — at the intersection of their complaint that the economic game’s officiating is unfair, as though a touchdown counts for more points if you’re from the favored team. Both movements want to reform a system that allows special interests to lobby for politicians to have more power to manage the...Read more

Governing-class warriors misinform and demoralize

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 10/27/2011

 

Like a snuff video, footage of Moammar Gadhafi's final moments saturated our screens last week. Despite revulsion for Libya's depraved and ruthless despot, I cringed at the ingloriousness of a once-powerful man holed up in a filthy drainage pipe begging for mercy. The cowardly dictator screamed “don't shoot” and ironically asked the rebels if they knew right from wrong, before a bullet to the temple ended his 42-year reign.

As thousands filed past his corpse wearing masks to avoid the stench of death, I wondered why Gadhafi hadn't fled with his $200 billion stash. Then again, “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” which is why tyrants like Hitler, Hussein and Gadhafi cling to authority — because they can. Never mind the devastation they leave in their wake.

In democracies, power is no less an aphrodisiac, though acquiring it requires winning votes, not gun battles. Too often, a politician's success depends on what he can get voters to believe, whether or not it bears any resemblance to reality. By engaging in negativity and demagoguery, either through false narratives or by denigrating opponents, politicians cause destructive wakes, including a misinformed and demoralized electorate.

Governing elites who exploit the politics of division to pick winners and losers and to determine our destinies are “governing-class warriors.” When such unscrupulous tactics are deployed, Americans must Think Again — something politicians hope we never do.

Simply follow the trend lines in Michele Bachman and Rick Perry's poll numbers after employing shameless demagoguery. When Bachman raised previously discredited fears about vaccinations while attacking Perry for mandating that girls get HPV inoculations, she undermined her credibility. Similarly, Perry damaged his standing when counter-punching Mitt Romney on illegal immigration, resurrecting the already scrutinized 2006 story about Romney's lawn service employing illegals.

Most unseemly is demagoguery that transcends mere political one-upmanship, transforming opponents into the moral equivalent of wife-beaters and worse. Consider former presidential contender Howard Dean's character assassination: “In contradistinction to Republicans, Democrats don't want children to go to bed hungry at night.” Or Congressman Andre Carson's smear that “some of them in Congress right now of this tea party movement would love to see you and me ... hanging on a tree.”

It packs a punch, especially considering the ease with which smears take root and propagate, as when Piers Morgan blithely asked Herman Cain, “You know there are elements in the tea party who are racist; I don't think it's a trade secret. How do you deal with that as a black man?”

Cain's response was clarifying, and disinfecting: “My experience has been, there is no more a racist element in the tea party than there is in the general population. I have spoken at hundreds of them and they're not racist. To think so, you must never have been.” No wonder Cain is topping the polls. Though the least likely to emerge, Cain's solutions-orientation and optimism appeal to voters who want to be persuaded by can-do leaders, not alienated by negativity.

Americans crave competent leadership as new polls show a sweeping lack of faith in what we've got: CBS/NYT finds 89 percent don't trust the government to do what is right, while The Hill shows 69 percent of voters believe America is in decline.

Americans' pessimism is understandable. Having suffered a...Read more

Wall Street protestors: blame cronyism, not capitalism

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 10/13/2011

 

I didn't “Occupy” Wall Street, though I spent enough hours working there that a sleeping bag could have come in handy. I can attest to one of the protesters' claims about Wall Street bankers: While most are good and ethical people, they are supremely money-oriented, and, like the bear that sniffed out a Payday in my trash, they'll take the path of least resistance to find theirs.

However, the profit motive is not a bad impulse, and countries with economic systems that ignore it suffer worse economies. In our system, the accumulation of profits is an important metric of success, which is why Steve Jobs' pride peaked the day Apple's market value surpassed Microsoft's — his business model won.

So unless protesters want to do away with our capitalist system (as some might), blaming Wall Street bankers for ransacking our economy is like shooting the bear that ransacked my garage. Both merely followed their instincts. Rather than rage at Wall Street and demand that government have a bigger role in our lives, the protesters should Think Again — do an about-face and march to Washington, where the misguided policies that undermined our economy were hatched.

That would be the impulse of protesters if they had read “Reckless Endangerment,” the bestselling book by Gretchen Morgenson, Pulitzer Prize-winning business reporter for The New York Times. Morgenson and her co-author, Joshua Rosner, share the protesters' outrage. They wrote this book to expose “a crowd of self-interested, politically influential, and arrogant people who have not been held accountable for their actions.”

Contrary to the false narrative that Wall Street led the way in subprime lending, the authors place blame squarely on the government sector. The calamitous (though well-meaning) Homeownership Strategy, enacted during the Clinton administration and continued by President Bush, required banks to make loans to lower-income borrowers. Additionally, Fannie Mae (the government-sponsored mortgage finance agency, or GSE) forged partnerships with mortgage originators like Countrywide, from which it bought mortgages, and with Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs, which repackaged and sold them.

According to the authors, “what few have recognized is how the partners in the Clinton program embraced a corrupt corporate model … devised by Fannie Mae.” “Reckless Endangerment” details how “Fannie Mae perfected the art of manipulating lawmakers, eviscerating its regulators and enriching its executives.” It's the story of “how watchdogs who were supposed to protect the country from financial harm were actually complicit in the actions that finally blew up the American economy.”

The chief villain in this story is Fannie Mae, which capitalized on the political cover provided by affordable housing goals (as well as government ties and generous political donations) to “build itself into the largest and most powerful financial institution in the world.” Essentially, taxpayers unwittingly channeled the agency billions of dollars a year to finance a campaign of self-promotion and self-protection, enriching Fannie Mae's executives as well as its political patrons.

Meanwhile, Wall Street banks were drawn to the mortgage market like a bear to trash, seeing Fannie Mae's soaring profits, stock price and executive compensation. Aided by credit agencies' erroneous assumptions that housing values wouldn't decline, the housing bubble continued to inflate. The few brave enough to criticize these government policies were effectively silenced by well-funded, self-interested and sometimes vicious opposition from the “public-private housing machine.”

...Read more

Realizing dreams — if not now, when?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 09/29/2011

 

As I write my column for publication on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, I'm reminded of this joke: Upon hearing his rabbi memorialize soldiers who had died in service, a little boy asked soberly, “Was that a Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur service?”

What this little boy — and indeed myself until adulthood — didn't appreciate about the High Holidays (the 10 days of repentance and renewal between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement) is the wisdom inherent in their practices: We stop to reflect on our lives, seek mutual forgiveness, contemplate priorities for the coming year, reverse course where appropriate — we Think Again.

After undertaking introspection, repentance and renewal (by no means exclusive to Judaism), everyone yearns to be inscribed again in the Book of Life.

Yet as valuable as it is to be awakened annually from our complacency and bad habits, it isn't enough. Too often we regress into the behavior for which we've repented. The hard truth, revealed in the prevalence of destructive addictions and lost (albeit successful) souls like Michael Jackson, is that living a life of purpose, meaning and contentment is not only difficult, it requires daily focus and effort.

As Ron Wolfson points out in his book “The Seven Questions You're Asked in Heaven,” we don't know the moment of our death. Therefore, we must seize every opportunity to live a meaningful life lest we discover that, like the victims of Sept. 11, only desperate final moments remain to put things right, to say I love you one last time, or to lament lost opportunities. Wolfson's advice: Never go to bed angry with a loved one; always ask for forgiveness; and offer forgiveness to those who ask for it, immediately.

So by being there for others, we matter to them. But how do we invest our lives with things that matter so that we matter to ourselves, especially at times of insecurity, fear or hopelessness?

Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and renowned psychiatrist, addressed this question in his seminal book “Man's Search For Meaning.” Having survived concentration camps and the terrifying dread of his own extermination, Frankl discovered that possessing a purpose and a sense of responsibility to others helps one persevere. Also, as Nelson Mandela proved, even a prisoner can decide his mental and spiritual outlook, giving his life meaning and purpose.

Frankl prescribed three avenues to achieve meaning and responsibility in life: (1) creating, working or doing a deed; (2) experiencing virtue — goodness, truth, beauty — or loving someone; and (3) overcoming unavoidable suffering. In the camps, he practiced what he preached. He held tight to the image of his beloved wife; he practiced his profession by helping comrades endure their suffering; and most incredibly, he found decency even in German guards, concluding, “No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.”

I can think of no better exemplar of Wolfson's and Frankl's philosophies than Randy Pauch, popular 46-year-old professor of computer science at Carnegie-Mellon who delivered his “Last Lecture” in 2007 upon learning that he had terminal pancreatic cancer. The video of the lecture — “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” — became a YouTube phenomenon (and book) because it was an uplifting treatise on living, infused with humor, optimism, inspiration and wisdom.

Pauch lectured about the value of overcoming obstacles, and the importance of honesty, humility and gratitude. He...Read more

Green Dream: Red Nightmare for Taxpayers

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 09/15/2011

 

Winston Churchill famously quipped, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” What could be more beautiful, never mind seductive, than the strategy to promote renewable energies and a “green economy,” heralded as cure-alls for America's greatest challenges, most particularly economic stagnation?

But a funny thing happened on the way to green utopia. High-paying, clean-tech jobs were a cornerstone of the 2009 stimulus bill, which appropriated $80 billion to promote the “green economy.” Yet, instead of putting us on the green-brick road to recovery, we've learned that subsidizing industry merely results in red — lost jobs, squandered taxpayer resources, scandalous bankruptcies and diminished prosperity. “Green” proponents whose policies produced these shameful outcomes should be red-faced and prepared to Think Again.

With nearly one in six Americans living in poverty — the largest total since tracking began in 1959 (according to newly released Census data), and persistently high unemployment, Americans desperately want to believe the green-jobs predictions of advocates like Van Jones, who wrote “The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems.”

Yet the reality is that these lofty job creation projections are wrong, as detailed in last month's New York Times story “Number of Green Jobs Fails to Live Up to Promises.” The Times concluded, ”such numbers are a pipe dream” because, as they've previously reported, wind power costs 50 percent more than conventional power, and solar-generated electricity costs up to three times more than wind power. Shifting resources toward less-efficient purposes inevitably results in less prosperity — fewer jobs at lower pay.

Furthermore, in order to compete, renewable energy sources require costly government subsidies, price floors or purchase mandates. Consequently, green policies actually increase energy prices, undermine the economy, destroy jobs and hurt consumers, especially the poorest whose family budgets are consumed by escalating costs for everything. Exacerbating things further, energy prices increase when potential suppliers and energy entrepreneurs redirect scarce capital away from government-manipulated markets.

For these reasons, renewable energies produce only 3 percent of U.S. electricity and remain a fledgling global industry, despite having enjoyed enormous government support in the U.S., Europe and China. Given the industry's small size and inherent unviability, allowing China to subsidize production to remain the lower-cost manufacturer is logical and prudent.

The question remains: Why didn't we examine the troubling European experience with the green-economy strategy before launching our own? After a decade of experimentation and faced with job losses, higher energy prices, economic stagnation and corruption, European governments have cut their green funding. Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute summarizes the findings of research studies conducted across Europe: For every green job created, green programs destroyed 2.2 jobs in Spain and 3.7 jobs in the U.K., while the capital needed for one green job in Italy could create almost five jobs in the general economy. Wind and solar power have raised energy prices by 7.5 percent in Germany, and caused Denmark to have the highest electricity prices in Europe.

Perhaps U.S. policymakers ignored the European experience because they wanted the power and resources to pick winners and losers in the energy sector and to dispense favors to political patrons. But when government presses its massive thumb on the market scale, businesses have huge incentives to win favors...Read more

Slouching toward Europe: US needs rehab

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 09/01/2011


“They tried to make me go to rehab but I said no, no, no,” British singer-sensation Amy Winehouse sang before joining Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in the “Dead at 27” Club. Seeing the media atwitter over the “Euro Crisis” makes me think Winehouse's unfortunate demise is a metaphor for what ails Europe.

Winehouse thought she didn't need treatment; similarly the new head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Largarde, fears “policy makers do not have the conviction” to “go to rehab” at this “dangerous new phase of the debt crisis.” Yet with such high stakes, European politicians must Think Again, as should Americans whose aim is to “Europeanize” America.

Like Winehouse, the eurozone (comprising 17 out of 27 European Union countries now sharing a common currency and mutual economic guarantees) is severely depressed, both economically and socially. It suffers from out-of-control addictions to big government and borrowing, has existential doubts about whether so many dissimilar countries share enough interests to fit into an economic straitjacket, and lacks the political will to address its dysfunction. More ominously, unlike the suicidal Winehouse, Europe's financial crisis threatens to pull down others like a nuclear-armed suicide bomber.

Trend-spotting soothsayers who used to boast that the Eurozone would “end American supremacy” and “run the 21st century” now seem delusional. EU policies actually impede economic growth and vitality, rendering Europe less competitive.

In the second quarter, the eurozone grew 0.7 percent, while Germany (Europe's engine) grew only 0.5 percent. Plunging business and consumer confidence further undermine growth prospects for a region desperate to ease debt burdens in the “PIIGS” countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain). However, despite talk to control spending and balance budgets (mostly through tax increases), nobody in Europe has a genuine growth agenda.

It's hard for Europe to grow when nearly half of Europeans are officially “dependents” and only 64 percent of working-age citizens work. Even worse, Europeans aren't having babies (European fertility rates are one-third lower than both the replacement rate and the U.S. rate), so the ratio of European workers to retirees is expected to collapse from 7-to-1 in 1960 to one-to-one by 2040. With so many 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees, it's no wonder the European welfare state is running out of other people's money — because it has run out of people, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher.

Furthermore, European welfare states not only use taxpayers' money to give “free” benefits to particular groups, they require employers do the same. Not surprisingly, faced with higher labor costs, employers hire fewer workers in Europe.

The New York Times captured the crux of the crisis: Because Europeans “translated higher taxes into a cradle-to-grave safety net … governments with big budgets, falling tax revenues and aging populations are experiencing rising deficits, with more bad news ahead.” Consequently, ballooning unemployment, stagnant economies, catastrophic debt and demographic collapse threaten the European economic model.

Meanwhile, European politicians take piecemeal steps to respond to bond markets and political pressures from those who don't want to bail out their neighbors' excesses. Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer argued, “You can't have a pension at 67 here and 55 in Greece.” Luckily, his...Read more

Class warfare divisive and un-American

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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...Read more

On Israel, Americans aren't Mad Hatters

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 07/21/2011

 

When Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke before Congress in May, some were dismayed by his bipartisan standing ovations — more than any U.S. president since Kennedy. To Europeans who rank Israel with Iran and North Korea as the biggest threats to international peace, Netanyahu's rock-star reception was distressing. That's because many in the international community resemble the Mad Hatter for whom “nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't.”

If it seems curious that Americans are at odds with Europeans on Israel, Think Again. Americans don't see “through the looking glass.” We know that Israel's enemies are our enemies. We see Israel as our only stable and credible ally in the world's most critical and volatile region. So strategically valuable, “Israel equals five CIAs,” according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Congressional support mirrors grassroots support, which is overwhelming and growing. In a May CNN poll, 82 percent of Americans considered Israel a strong ally, up from 72 percent in 2001, and favored Israel (67 percent) over the Palestinian Authority (16 percent).

Those who attribute robust support of Israel to the “Jewish lobby” deny Americans' belief that, despite its ancient history and tininess (.17 percent of the land mass and 2 percent of the population of the Middle East), Israel is like us. Zionism and the Old Testament are rooted in America's founding, and inspired Jefferson and Franklin to propose a national seal featuring the Jewish exodus from Egypt because it reflected the triumph of liberty and religious freedom in the American Promised Land.

Unlike other Middle Eastern countries where women and minorities are often persecuted, Israel is a liberal, free, immigrant-friendly, multiethnic democracy, whose bedrock values resemble our own and where all citizens (regardless of sex, religion or race) possess universal rights. Not the Palestinian territories where homosexuals fear for their lives; not Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen or Egypt where female honor killings are endemic; not Iran whose execution rate is the highest, after China.

Americans identify with Israel's pluck, and admire its transformation from a poor, rural country into an economic powerhouse whose GDP growth has outpaced the developed world's average since 1995. Even without oil, Israel's GDP per capita ($30,000) exceeds that of oil-rich Saudi Arabia ($20,000). Hence, “Many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have a dream: to work or live in Israel,” reported Palestinian journalist Khaled Toameh.

American companies and consumers appreciate the incredible Israeli inventions — microprocessors, voice mail, wireless LAN, search engines, desalination plants, insect control, agricultural technologies, medical treatments — that spring from the human capital, vitality and entrepreneurialism that enabled Israel to exceed its wildest dreams.

However, Israel has one unrealized dream — to be recognized as a legitimate nation-state at peace with its neighbors, including a Palestinian state. That this dream has become an ongoing nightmare for Israel undermines the credibility of the international community. Alan Dershowitz argues, “Those who single out Israel for unique criticism not directed against countries with far worse human rights records are themselves guilty of international bigotry.”

Consider that most countries founded since Israel are failures delivering poverty, chaos, dictatorship and even genocide to their people. Yet nobody asks whether Burma or Zimbabwe have a right to exist or whether Serbia or Rwanda should be...Read more

The last best hope of Earth

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 07/07/2011

 

Is the free market the best system for the world's future? So asked GlobeScan in its annual survey of 25 countries, conducted since 2002. Then, American confidence in the free market topped the poll at 80 percent.

If you assume that Americans are still first, Think Again. The 2010 survey reveals faith in the free market is at a low (59 percent) in the world's biggest economy placing the U.S. fifth behind Germany (68 percent), China and Brazil (both 67 percent), and Italy (62 percent). Intriguingly, American support for free markets dropped 15 points in just the last year resulting in an astonishing nine-point advantage for the Chinese.

Undoubtedly, Chinese confidence in free markets is high because 450 million Chinese were lifted out of poverty as the government liberalized the economy. However, because the Chinese do not enjoy the inalienable rights accorded Americans, China materially lags behind the U.S. in other living standard metrics including civil liberties, life expectancy, infant mortality, child labor and a clean environment. Meanwhile, according to the World Bank, China's national wealth trails America's in terms of GDP per capita ($7,570 versus $47,020).

The real conundrum is why did American support for the free markets survive the tumultuousness of the early 2000s — the bursting tech bubble, plummeting stock indices and corporate scandals that eliminated companies like WorldCom and Enron — only to drop last year?

Perhaps Americans are frustrated that the private sector isn't pulling the economy out of its doldrums, as with past recessions. We've become accustomed to economic cycles in which demand eventually increases as businesses replenish inventory and new construction replaces old. To meet increasing demand, companies hire employees and invest in equipment — this is the free market at work.

However, as the Chinese economy has grown freer, the U.S. economy has become less free. Most Americans are unaware that over the last decade, the government sector has grown five times faster than the private sector, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Moreover, politicians more interested in political power and rewarding allies from Wall Street to Main Street have undermined the free market with policies (health care, Internet, labor, environment and financial) that drive up costs on businesses and consumers, and create massive uncertainty for investors.

If Americans are down on the free market, they're gradually realizing it was the government that sabotaged it. Thanks to the new book “Reckless Endangerment” by New York Times business reporter Gretchen Morgenson and housing finance analyst Joshua Rosner, Americans are learning the true causes of the financial crisis: Government intervention in the private housing market and influence peddling among political insiders produced the weakest economy since the Great Depression.

The sad truth is that the financial crisis would never have occurred were it not for government policies that encouraged weak underwriting standards resulting in the creation of 27 million risky loans (half of all U.S. mortgages). Furthermore, politicians ignored rampant corruption at the government-sponsored entities (GSEs called Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), wouldn't regulate them even after accounting scandals, and cost taxpayers more than $150 billion so far. Additionally, if politicians had performed their duties, the GSEs couldn't have spawned the seemingly profitable business in loans to people with bad credit that ultimately attracted Wall Street banks.

However, you...Read more

Road to Hell paved with irony and big government

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 06/23/2011


Unlike Jack Nicholson's mother, who never saw the irony in calling Jack a “son of a bitch,” I'm hoping you'll appreciate another delicious irony. In a keynote speech at an international economic forum, a major political leader blamed the state's heavy role in the economy for stagnation. Government, he said, should “protect the choice and property of those who willingly risk their money and reputation.”

If you're guessing the critiqued policies are in Greece, Ireland or the United States, Think Again. In fact the speaker was President Medvedev of Russia, the country whose government excesses inflicted misery and deprivation on its people.

It is poetic irony, then, to hear Medvedev wax Jeffersonian while throwing overboard the Russian autocrats who've concentrated power in the Kremlin. Medvedev knows that “the proposition that the government is always right is manifested either in corruption or benefits to ‘preferred' companies.” Medvedev says, “The Russian economy ought to be dominated by private businesses and private investors.”

That is the definition of “seeing the light!”

As astonishing is the rejection of America's founding principles of limited government and free-enterprise by politicians who've glommed onto a micro-managed government-approved “capitalism.” I'm not claiming the U.S. has morphed into Russia, only a shared lesson. Government officials are too easily captured by special interests, often ones they should be regulating and on which they lavish taxpayer-financed favors. Therefore, trusting government officials to influence the economy is mistaken and dangerous.

The ironic truth is that governmental policies to promote home ownership precipitated the financial crisis by pushing suicidal loans onto low-income people and stimulating taxpayer-backed demand for the bad loans. As a result, the government perverted the free-enterprise system and subverted everyone's economic interest, sticking taxpayers with massive losses, saddling homeowners with unfair mortgages and damaging credit markets. More ironically, we've allowed government officials to deny responsibility, blame others and even benefit personally — sounds like Russia!

Economists say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but seeming to give free lunches elects politicians who claim they can do miraculous things like create economic growth and jobs. The reality is, despite economic models showing government could create wealth by spending (“investing”, in politician-speak), the models don't reflect the complexity of a dynamic market economy where millions of decisions are made simultaneously. While government can invest at the margins in research and activities that spin off useful technologies, spending incurs an opportunity cost as taxation, borrowing and mandates undermine businesses' desire to hire and invest.

Haven't we learned the Great Depression lessons when New Deal policies initially committed these mistakes, thus prolonging economic despair? In 1939, FDR's Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau said, “We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work … After eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started … and an enormous debt to boot!”

Since 2008, we've spent almost $2 trillion on stimulus and recovery programs. We've enacted a too-big-to-fail policy, bailing out bankrupt banks and car companies, making taxpayers liable for reckless decision-making while penalizing...Read more

As economy tanks, leadership runs on empty

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 06/09/2011


Vice President Hubert Humphrey said, “To err is human, to blame it on someone else is politics.” As predictable as the sunrise, when gasoline prices increase, politicians wax indignant, cast blame and threaten U.S. oil companies with increased taxes and investigations into market manipulation.

Gasoline prices have accelerated past $4 per gallon, so denouncing and punishing oil companies for the 35 percent annual increase may feel cathartic. It's instantly gratifying to blame high prices on those who charge them, rather than on those who cause them, especially since higher gas prices disproportionately hurt the poor, dampen consumer spending and weaken the U.S. economy.

However, I urge you to Think Again. The truth is that U.S. oil companies are no more to blame for high gas prices than Zale's is to blame for high gold prices. Americans have the right to know the truth, and our elected leaders must speak the truth — that a weak dollar and supply-and-demand disequilibrium in the global oil markets are principally responsible for increasing gasoline prices.

Instead, lawmakers explain economic misfortune as the consequence not of bad policies, but of evildoers gaming the system, while they identify a group rich and unpopular enough to look the part. Politicians are like magician David Copperfield. They expertly distract with one hand so we don't notice what the other is doing. They've scored political points by accusing “Big Oil” of “price gouging,” reaping “windfall profits,” and not paying their “fair share” of taxes.

However popular, this narrative has no basis in fact or economic logic. With an effective income-tax rate of 43 percent (from 2006-2010), U.S. oil companies were actually the most heavily taxed of all Fortune 500 companies (whose effective tax rates averaged 27 percent). Compare that to the rates paid by GE (9 percent), Pfizer (15 percent), and both Verizon and Coca Cola (21 percent), and the argument that major oil companies are under-taxed evaporates.

If Big Oil's profits were exorbitant, they'd earn more than other U.S. companies, right? In fact, 2010 U.S. oil industry profits per dollar of sales were six cents compared to nine cents for manufacturing companies, 17 cents for computers and 22 cents for beverage and tobacco. Furthermore, U.S. oil majors can't set prices because they only hold a combined 3 percent of the world's reserves. Not surprisingly, the oil industry's return on investment has often lagged the average return for the S&P since 1982.

If policy-makers were responsible, they would stop hunting for villains and focus instead on securing America's fiscal and debt situation to strengthen the dollar. When each dollar buys more oil, gas prices will decline. They would also acknowledge that even as our energy sector necessarily diversifies, oil will continue to be a key element of our national energy portfolio for many decades.

Why spend billions on foreign oil when we could invest those dollars domestically? With the oil-rich Mideast in turmoil and the U.S. importing 63 percent of our oil, lawmakers must re-examine policies that severely restrict access to American oil bounties along the Atlantic coastline, the Gulf of Mexico and the Alaskan tundra.

Yes, there are real though localized risks inherent in drilling. However, just as the tragic loss of Apollo 1 served as a valuable lesson to NASA for subsequent space missions, so too must last-year's Gulf oil spill aid us in the safe and productive development...Read more

Worry about hitting debt wall, not ceiling

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 05/12/2011


Imagine having friends who earn $100,000 per year. They've continually outspent their income, charging $45,000 annually to credit cards. Their debt balance exceeds $700,000 and their interest rate is increasing. Facing two kids in college and retirement without savings, they plan to borrow more — from you!

My hunch is you'd tell them to Think Again. With little prospect of earning more, they must destroy their credit cards, live within their means, pay off their debt and save for retirement.

If this scenario sounds farfetched, please Think Again. It actually parallels the U.S. government's fiscal crisis, from which Americans can't just walk away. Like the parent who confiscates a child's over-spent credit card, Americans must honor our government's obligations, for we back “the Full Faith and Credit of the U.S. Government.”

Those words once implied the gold standard of credit-worthiness, attracting global investment to America. Now, they jeopardize our standard of living since we're collectively responsible for the $14.3 trillion balance on the national credit card.

As treacherous as debt is for individuals, its repercussions are worse for an economy. Countries with excessive debt suffer disproportionately from recessions when credit markets unduly tighten, forcing businesses and consumers to forgo investments and purchases.

Because our debt has grown to a historically high percentage of our economy (it's up $5 trillion, or 54 percent, since January 2008), implications for the next recession are ominous. We've hit another debt ceiling, raised 90 times in 60 years, rendering the concept of “debt ceiling” as meaningless as Social Security “lock-box.”

According to the Bi-Partisan Debt Commission, the national debt is in “unfamiliar territory” heading toward “unsustainable levels” due primarily to mandatory spending, prompting the International Monetary Fund and ratings agencies to downgrade the U.S. fiscal outlook to negative. It's no surprise. Despite perennially promising wise financial stewardship, politicians have overspent every year since Elvis Presley's first record — 1954.

Spending growth is made worse because the eventual costs of mandatory programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare (comprising most of the federal budget) are habitually underestimated in order to win approval. Launched in 1966, Medicare's advocates “conservatively” projected an annual expenditure of $12 billion in 1992, by which time actual costs exceeded $107 billion. Now, Medicare spends $600 billion and rising due to aging baby-boomers and escalating medical expenses.

Restructuring unsustainable spending programs is critical to America's fiscal stability and to protecting the health and retirement security of our citizens. If only it weren't such a political hot potato.

Politicians who win votes by advocating mandatory spending programs knowing (and withholding that) their long-term costs are unsustainable resemble sub-prime mortgage salesmen. Though the mortgage salesmen helped low-income borrowers achieve home ownership dreams by peddling loans with initial low payments, they knew payments would eventually balloon beyond the borrowers' capacity to pay, but they banked origination fees anyway. Ultimately, this deceitful behavior undermines everyone's economic security.

...Read more

The problem isn't GE, it's you and me

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 04/28/2011


Even with Tax Day in the rear-view mirror, many are still agog that General Electric is paying hardly any corporate income taxes, despite reporting a profit of $14.2 billion. As though GE hit the jackpot, many politicians claim to be shocked, shocked that gambling is going on here!

Lest you think Corporate America is at it again, sticking it to the little guy, please Think Again. While it's cathartic to rail against multi-nationals that legally finagle lower tax burdens, doing so misses the real culprits. If you want to censure someone for shipping jobs and capital overseas, blame our elected leaders who made the rules.

The problem isn't that companies exercise their fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder profits through creative tax avoidance. That's the symptom. The cause is the political system that incentivizes GE to conduct its business in a way that is detrimental. One should read the story of GE as a cautionary tale of perverse incentives and adverse consequences caused by intrusive government.

Whenever government intervenes in the economy, it rarely considers the law of unintended consequences, which warns that many of our problems derive from solutions to other problems we face. Well-intended policies can hurt those they were designed to help. Trade protectionism increases prices and weakens economic growth; welfare provokes dependency; and policies that deem banks “too big to fail” lead to moral hazards, and more bail-outs.

So, considering that U.S. corporate tax rates are among the highest in the world, it shouldn't surprise when U.S. corporations move operations, jobs and profits to countries with lower tax rates. Since 2002, GE eliminated 20 percent of its U.S. workforce while increasing accumulated off-shore profits from $15 billion to $92 billion.

California, previously a bastion of entrepreneurialism, opportunity and prosperity, is suffering because of high state tax rates, onerous regulations and adverse labor arrangements. According to Chief Executive Magazine, California is the worst state in America for job and business growth, which is why its unemployment rate is one-third higher than the national average as companies abandon California at a rate of 4.7 per week.

But the biggest reason for GE's negligible income tax bill is its “striking ability to lobby for, win and take advantage of tax breaks,” as noted by The New York Times. Last year alone, GE spent $39 million (that's $73,000 for each U.S. representative and senator) lobbying Congress for billions in tax breaks.

It's “crony capitalism,” not a free market, when government favors the politically connected — whether big business or big labor. This isn't the limited government our Founders crafted to secure our inalienable rights. They purposefully circumscribed (and enumerated) the powers and authority of the federal government in order to reflect the will of the people, not powerful elites. We severed ties with that other type of government on July 4, 1776.

Our Founders would be distressed today, for when our government tinkers, or worse, commands the free market, it creates dangerous conflicts of interest and moral hazards — Petri dishes for adverse consequences. Why did Wall Street banks make and sell synthetic sub-prime loans that ultimately helped precipitate the financial crisis? Because federal housing policies and government-sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac spawned a seemingly profitable market in loans to people with bad credit...Read more

A winning strategy for Charlie Sheen

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Publish Date: Thu, 04/14/2011

 

While many expect and await the imminent melt-down of Charlie Sheen, I'm actually rooting for him. For better or worse, the spotlight is on him and if I had to choose, I prefer his redemption to his self-destruction.

Before dismissing the possibility of Sheen's redemption, please, Think Again. Wouldn't he be a better person, more in control of his life and his productive talents, if he had an ethical guide, like the Golden Rule or the Ten Commandments? Wouldn't society be better off if he could redeem himself, and wouldn't you prefer a society where redemption was a life-affirming value?

I would. Because the way to a better society is through the painstaking and unexciting process of making each person more honest, grateful and responsible. Our highly individualistic culture encourages and celebrates uniqueness, risk-taking and entrepreneurialism. Therefore, people must have a strong moral system in their own lives to avoid becoming absorbed with pursuing self-interest and material well-being.

Living in a profoundly free society is both a blessing and a responsibility. Our founders established a political system to assert and protect man's God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which no king or dictator could take away. But they knew that free will could lead as easily to wickedness as it could to virtue, prompting George Washington to assert that “religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.”

One century later, Abraham Lincoln predicted that “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

But virtuous behavior doesn't come about spontaneously. It must be instilled, practiced and honored. Luckily, I've had moral support in encouraging good values and behavior in my 7-year-old. He believes God imbued him with a sense of right and wrong, but that he has the free will to decide how to behave. When he behaves well, not only is he happy to have earned approval, he is proud of himself. Making virtue habitual is his challenge, as it is for all of us.

This is not to say that we must all become religiously observant nor does it mean that the religiously observant are all virtuous. It doesn't even mean that one can't harbor doubts about God. What it does mean is that, like a muscle, virtue must be continually exercised to stay strong. Imagine living in a community where this was a priority!

That's why Hillel, arguably Judaism's most important rabbinic sage who also influenced Jesus, emphasized ethical behavior when he taught that Judaism can be summarized as, “What is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor.”

It may be hard to avoid gossiping or being jealous of your neighbor, just as it is to run the treadmill every morning, but such ethical behavior unlocks mankind's infinite potential while mitigating our bad side. As statistics show, it also encourages virtuous acts. Values-oriented Americans are 16 percent more likely to donate to non-religious organizations and 54 percent more likely to volunteer for causes like PTAs and blood or food drives. They're also far more likely to return change mistakenly given them.

Those who clamor to secularize America by removing “God” from our money and the Pledge of Allegiance, or prohibiting the public display of the Ten Commandments, not only disown America's Judeo-Christian heritage (making it harder to transmit to our children), they blur the blueprint...Read more

Think Again

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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...Read more


Article List

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