Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.
Weeks later, those who disputed this false narrative because it jeopardized US national security – including Mitt Romney -- were accused by “media mavens” like Meet the Press’ David Gregory of “launch(ing) a political attack even before facts of embassy violence were known.” But wasn’t the administration guilty of politicizing Benghazi by deliberately misleading the world about a deadly terrorist attack they failed to anticipate?
Consider Watergate, another cover-up that preceded a presidential election, though there were no deaths or lost consulates. Imagine Woodward and Bernstein averting their eyes had Richard Nixon deflected responsibility for Watergate by accusing his opponents of “politicizing” the matter or asking, as Hillary Clinton asked about Benghazi, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Good journalists know what difference it makes, as did Abraham Lincoln who said, “If given the truth, [Americans] can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” Yet the media – CBS News notwithstanding – seem to have abandoned their constitutionally protected role to safeguard Americans from the government, inclining instead to protect the government from Americans.
Why else do they show scant interest that no senior administration officials have been held accountable for the four deaths, nor have the terrorists who launched the attack -- although the YouTube filmmaker is in jail. Considering the terrorist-infested region, why didn’t leaders equipped with the world’s strongest military have contingency plans available to rescue the two Navy Seals who lasted seven-hours before succumbing. Sixty-plus years post-conflict, we have military capacity in Germany, Japan and South Korea; why not North Africa?
As Vladimir Lenin understood, government accountability derives from an active media and an informed citizenry. That’s why the Soviet people were subjects, not citizens. As Lenin explained, "Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinion calculated to embarrass the government?”
But America’s Founders guaranteed a free press so we’d be informed citizens -- not helpless subjects. As Thomas Jefferson said, “When the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.” All wasn’t safe for Americans abandoned in Benghazi, which reminds us that as a self-governing people, it’s our duty to be informed enough to safeguard one another’s life and liberty.
This is the answer to Hillary’s question -- “what difference does it make?” When armed with the truth, “We the People” can humble governments, secure justice, frustrate deceit, help the disenfranchised, and know the world that is, not the utopia politicians try to sell us.
Think Again -- Shouldn't all presidential aspirants be able to answer Hillary's question?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 and challenging issues entailing important security versus liberty tradeoffs. Americans need and deserve thoughtful and informed deliberations to derive consensus-driven solutions, not hyper-partisan demagoguery that casts opponents as uncaring and evil. If politicians truly want to prevent the next Newtown, why do they push legislation that, by their own admission, fails this test -- unless they want to sow discord for political gain? If public safety were their paramount concern, why can’t they legislate enhanced school security measures, like those enacted in airplanes after 9/11?
The irony is that while politicians insist on expanded law enforcement capabilities to protect society from gun-wielding law-breakers, they resist enforcing immigration laws, as if we’re not a sovereign nation of laws and legal immigrants -- many with relatives who suffered tragic fates after being denied entry.
Imagine treating gun-law violators, insider-traders or thieves with the same kit gloves we treat those who violate our immigration laws. Would we care that they “live in the shadows” fearful their lawlessness might be exposed? Would we permit “city-sanctuaries” that protect law-breakers from law enforcement, or insist private employers be law-enforcers?
The truth is our immigration system is broken. Those we most want – the millions of law-abiders and entrepreneurial American Dreamers who, like our forefathers, want to come to America to adopt our way-of-life -- must wait years to earn an American visa. Meanwhile, according to official US immigration data since 1970, significantly larger percentages of immigrants possess lower skill levels, live in poverty and rely on public assistance, as compared to non-immigrant Americans. Consequently, low-skilled Americans suffer $402 billion in wage losses annually, according to Harvard economist George Borjas, while taxpayers bear the cost of welfare benefits.
These statistics belie the fact that, as the most multi-ethic nation on earth, America possesses unique cultural and economic strengths that underlie our unity and prosperity. Unfortunately, for the last 50 years, we’ve migrated away from the secret sauce that accounts for our success -- “e pluribus unum” (out of many one) -- toward a “separate but equal” hyphenated Americanism. As the Tsarnaev brothers demonstrate, it’s not in America’s interest to import foreigners who remain foreign and lost outsiders.
Tocqueville said “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” If we’re to avoid the “Balkanization” that triggers disaffection and ethic strife elsewhere, and preserve the vitality that’s historically attracted new Americans, we must resume acculturating immigrants to American values so they can integrate into American society.
Think Again – For this definition of “coexist” to prevail in America, our politicians must coexist better.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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,” despite wishing “everybody who’s living with one other person the best of luck in the world, because it’s fantastic.”
Though distracted by ham-fisted arguments and irrespective of one’s view on same-sex marriage, abortion or any other hot-button issue, Americans must resist diversity-champions and tolerance-enforcers who dictate homogeneity -- as if there’s one cosmically correct policy that can be expressed without offending anyone. Name-calling and social ostracism not only destroy reputations and careers, they suffocate the debate a free, pluralistic and informed society needs to assure its government has the “consent of the governed.”
Throughout American history, we’ve navigated changes in cultural and legal landscapes while accommodating divergent views, values, and (lawful) practices. In America’s melting pot, prejudices dissolve through exposure to disparate voices and moral suasion, while legitimate differences are respected. America is the freest and most decent opportunity-giving society on earth because we’ve been a refuge for the persecuted since the Puritans left the Church of England to establish Plymouth Colony in 1620.
Embedded in our founding documents are uniquely American and revolutionary principles to protect our inalienable rights – including free speech and the free exercise of religion -- and “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The barring of state-sponsored religion and the guaranteeing of religious liberty is what “the wall of separation between church and state” means – not a demand for the separation of religion and politics.
In his best-selling book “America the Beautiful,” Carson recounts how this “American Way” helped him overcame poverty, poor role models, racism and anger. Born in a land of opportunity, and cultivated morally by religion, intellectually by a solid public education, and behaviorally by a wise though functionally illiterate Mom who never made excuses (nor allowed him to), he reached the pinnacle of success.
Fearing America won’t bequeath the same opportunity-society to future generations, Carson entreats Americans to recover our founding values, “set aside political correctness…apply logic to solving our problems and add the godly principles of loving our fellow man, caring about our neighbors, and developing our God-given talents.” This will assure America remains “a pinnacle nation, … ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’”
Think Again – for students whose heads need examining to assure they still think, a brain surgeon is the perfect commencement speaker.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.”
Its pivotal scene is of McAleer questioning Fox at a 2011 screening of “Gasland” about his famous flaming faucets. “Isn’t it true,” McAleer asks, “there’s reports, decades before fracking started, that there was methane in the water there?” Aware of these scientific studies, and galled by the question’s ethical implications, Fox declares contradictory evidence “not relevant,” as if documentarians enjoy the same dramatic license as fictional filmmakers.
But if facts and scientific proof aren’t relevant, what is? Are Fox and Damon intent on reverse-engineering arguments from pre-ordained conclusions, or informing the public? As with all types of energy production, fracking involves legitimate risks; why not focus on assuring regulatory best practices?
The truth is technological innovations like fracking have spawned an energy boom, enabling both economic and environmental improvements including: the substitution of low-carbon gas for coal; cheaper energy (a rebate for the poor); cleaner air; new energy jobs; increased governmental revenues; greater energy independence; a drop in U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions to a 20-year low, outpacing Europe whose expensive renewable-energy strategies have underperformed; and improved energy efficiency -- it takes 50 percent less energy to produce one dollar of economic output than it did in 1980.
Anti-frackers should learn John Meynard Keynes' lesson: “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions.” What’s irrefutably relevant is that fracking has succeeded where renewable-energy subsidies, government stimulus, and climate treaties have failed, potentially enabling cheap American energy to eventually offset China’s cheap labor advantage.
These upside surprises come when entrepreneurial thinkers “dream things that never were and say ‘why not’,” as Robert Kennedy famously said. One dreamer, biologist Allan Savory, spoke at TED2013 of his odyssey to reverse global desertification, which degrades the land’s ability to absorb water and carbon causing famine, war and climate change. Savory described how he challenged his assumptions – ones that led him to mistakenly recommend killing 40,000 African elephants -- and centuries of conventional wisdom, deriving a counter-intuitive low-tech strategy to use grazing livestock to reclaim the land. At first he met bruising academic scorn, then astonishing and indisputable success.
Savory predicts his soil restoration strategy, if employed on half the available land, will enable enough carbon absorption to return to pre-industrial carbon-dioxide levels. Drawing a standing ovation he said, “I can think of almost nothing that offers more hope for our planet, for our children, for their children, and for all of humanity.”
Think Again – Aren’t the real celebrities innovators who solve seemingly intractable problems, not eco-stars who peddle fiction?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.”
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the much-maligned sequester merely slows by 2.4 percent the growth of annual federal spending, which climbs by $2.4 trillion (instead of $2.5 trillion) to $5.9 trillion in 2023. Even after the sequester, the federal government will spend $15 billion more this year than last year and 30 percent more than in 2007. Additionally, after including tax increases agreed to in the “fiscal cliff” deal, the Budget Office projects an $845 billion deficit this year and an $8 trillion accumulated deficit through 2023, by which time national debt will be $26.1 trillion.
Since Americans live in the world’s largest and strongest economy, we’ve tolerated government excess, even agreeing with Will Rogers who said, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” But after hurtling through successive manufactured crises, Americans empathize with Rogers who observed, “Last year we said ‘Things can’t go on like this’, and they didn’t, they got worse.”
That’s because, unlike Americans who are accustomed to making hard choices with “True Grit,” the federal government has operated without a budget since before “Hurt Locker” won best picture. Obama’s last two deficit-laden budgets won zero votes in Congress and the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in four years. Consequently, the default budget process assumes ever-increasing spending levels, “From Here to Eternity.”
But avoiding tough decisions means its easier to criticize others who do, like the House which has passed budgets incorporating reforms Obama once promised and his deficit commission recommended, as well as bills to rationally allocate the sequester’s crude cuts.
Seemingly willing to cause Americans to fear more than “fear itself,” the President is traveling the country – at great expense – to campaign against the sequester he proposed, painting rivals as “Inglourious Basterds”. Wouldn’t the national interest be better-served were Obama to propose priority-driven cuts? Why doesn’t he take a cue from Reagan and Clinton and pursue bi-partisan tax and entitlement reforms to boost the economy, address unsustainable growth in mandatory expenditures and secure vital discretionary programs?
After instituting similar reforms, Sweden achieved a remarkable economic turnaround following the 2008 financial crisis, and so can we. But we’ll need leaders who embody Steven Covey’s “habits of highly effective people” including: accept responsibility for one’s decisions, build cooperative relationships with rivals, take the blame and give the credit. Essentially, the “Silver Linings Playbook” for America requires leaders who are committed to win-win solutions, not merely winning.
Think Again – such a command performance would be a “hot ticket.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“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.
More marriage and family formation is also needed to counter another grave challenge – declining fertility. After decades of deteriorating demographic trends, America needs more babies, asserts Jonathan Last in his new book, “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster.” Since low birthrates are infectious, “there’s no precedent in recorded history of societies experiencing long-term peace and prosperity in the face of declining fertility and shrinking population.”
Low fertility and aging societies are less entrepreneurial, economically dynamic, and secure because risk-averse older people seek to preserve -- not invest -- capital; a shrinking base of workers must support ever-growing retiree expenditures; when older majorities disallow entitlement cuts requiring tax increases on the younger, it makes having babies (future taxpayers) less affordable; entitlements crowd out defense spending.
Notwithstanding the explosion of out-of-wedlock babies in Fishtown, America hasn’t sustained a fertility rate above the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman since the 1960s. In 2011, it hit a record low 1.93. Consequently, America’s median age rose from 29.5 in 1960 to 37 today. Meanwhile, the ratio of workers to retirees shrank from 40 in 1946 to 2.9 today.
Though foreboding, America’s prospects are better than the rapidly aging nations of East Asia and Europe where decades of sub-replacement fertility rates are causing dramatic population contractions. Ironically, fertility decline was already a global phenomenon in 1968 when “The Population Bomb” by Paul Ehrlich predicted overpopulation would trigger imminent mass starvation.
Today, 97 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with declining fertility. To avert “turning into a decaying nation,” and facing a 1.3 fertility rate and devastating population declines, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited the trio Boys II Men to romance Russians into Valentine’s Day baby making.
In Japan -- where the fertility rate has been sub-1.5 since 1995 -- more adult diapers than baby diapers are sold and the economy has been stagnant for decades. With a median age of 45 and 2.6 workers per retiree (falling to 1.2 by 2050), spending on the elderly has exploded Japan’s debt-to-GDP to 229 percent. Last month, Japan’s new Finance Minister made headlines when he told a social security reform committee that the elderly should “hurry up and die.”
To avoid these economic and societal death rattles, America needs more marriages and babies – in that order. With an “ideal fertility rate” of 2.5 (according to Gallup), Americans actually want more babies, and as the Pitt/Jolie children attest, kids prefer married parents.
Think Again -- Wouldn’t it be wonderful to renew these commitments on Valentine’s Day?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.”
In 2010, to demonstrate that his commitment to “deal with these broad structural deficits” wasn’t “just an empty promise,” Obama appointed the bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles commission. It responded to his appeal for “tough choices” by recommending tax and entitlement reforms similar to those enacted by Canada before its remarkable economic and fiscal turnaround.
But instead of pursuing reforms, Obama campaigned for Clinton-era tax-rates on the wealthiest Americans -- though not Clinton-era spending levels, which averaged 19.8 percent of US GDP compared to Obama’s 24.4 percent average – securing in the “fiscal cliff” deal a tax-rate increase from 35 percent to 39.6 percent on incomes over $400,000.
Economic realities are overtaking Obama’s “Fiscally Responsible” narrative: the economy surprisingly contracted last quarter; US debt ($16.4 trillion and growing nearly $4 billion every day) exceeds the size of the US economy; Medicare and Social Security actuaries say underfunding of the programs exceeds $60 trillion, and the Congressional Budget Office projected a fifth consecutive trillion-dollar deficit this year.
Absent rapid economic growth to bring debt-to-GDP levels down to manageable norms, Americans aren’t confident in a future that holds only unacceptable alternatives – massive middle-class tax increases and/or rapid inflation. Yet when Republicans urge enactment of reforms Obama once promised and his fiscal commission recommended, he calls them heartless and “out of the mainstream” and questions their morality by suggesting they “have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat.” Yesterday he blamed them for the US economic contraction.
As Obama discards his “fiscal prudence” narrative in favor of a “benign government” narrative, consider that our bloated government sector is not only crushing the private economy, it’s handicapping Americans’ opportunity to earn the success from which achievement and happiness derive. Obama may favor “collective action,” but it’s the freedom to determine one’s life “profit,” however defined, that our Founders meant by “the pursuit of happiness” -- America’s moral promise.
Americans are aspirational and self-reliant, so it’s heart-wrenching to note that after spending $15 trillion in the “War on Poverty,” America’s poverty rate hasn’t budged, the number of Americans dependent on government checks is at a record high, and the percentage of Americans in the work force is near a record low.
Rather than denigrate policymakers who want to reverse these trends by reverting to our Founders’ limited government design, President Obama should summon the magnanimity to collaborate. It’s how our best presidents have served the national interest – by promoting unifying narratives, not divisive ones.
At the Civil War’s end, President Lincoln (whose pro-slavery opponents indeed were morally inferior) proclaimed, “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.”
Think Again – history rewards “unifiers” like Lincoln, not self-righteous bullies like Lance Armstrong.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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!
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 Heal,” the most grievous violation of ethical speech is “giving another a bad name,” for words are like bullets whose damage is mortal. To fight fairly, he writes, “you have the right to state your case, express your opinion, explain why you think the other party is wrong, even make clear how passionately you feel…You do not have a moral right to undercut your adversary’s position by invalidating him personally.”
In my columns, I’ve made the case that our undisciplined, indebted and special interest-oriented government is a bipartisan problem that subverts everybody’s interests. I’ve quoted Senator Tom Coburn, member of the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, who said, “Our economy is on the brink of collapse not because politicians can’t agree, but because they have agreed for decades…to borrow and spend far beyond our means… to create or expand nearly forty entitlement programs, carve out tax advantages for special interests, build bridges to nowhere and earmark tens of thousands of other pork projects.”
I believe it is a moral travesty that we’ve mortgaged our children’s futures because we’re unable to live within our means and are more indebted than any other nation in world history. Mandatory spending on “entitlements” (like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) is the single biggest financial problem we face, consuming 60 percent of our annual budget -- up from 21 percent in 1955. As baby boomers retire and live longer, the current spending trajectory is unsustainable. Without reforms, it’s unlikely these vital programs will be available for people who need them in the future.
One fact in particular irritated my accusers: we’ve spent less cumulatively on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars plus the 2008 TARP bailouts than we spend annually on mandatory programs. In contending I’m a liar, and without citing sources, they claim the wars’ total costs will exceed $5.8 trillion and that TARP exposure exceeds $15 trillion.
It’s not my goal to disprove their claims, only certify mine. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) -- created by Congress in 1974 to “provide objective, impartial information about budgetary and economic issues” -- federal spending (excluding interest expense) totaled $3.3 trillion in FY2012, of which $2.1 trillion were mandatory expenditures for entitlements. Meanwhile, CBO reports that through October 2012, a total of $1.4 trillion was spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, while TARP has cost a net of $24 billion, after repayments.
My accusers argue that “true” costs must project a decade’s worth of related and longer-term expenses. Therefore, we’ll have spent $29 trillion on mandatory expenditures through 2022, according to the President’s FY2013 budget, while unfunded liabilities exceed $60 trillion, according to the Trustees of Social Security and Medicare. To put these numbers in perspective, consider that one trillion hours ago dinosaurs roamed the earth.
No doubt, fighting fairly is difficult, especially given the personal narratives that inform how we see the world. But as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Unfortunately, the one thing on which die-hard partisans seem to agree is that only one party is at fault - and it isn't theirs. Unable to hold competing facts simultaneously in mind, it’s not surprising that inconvenient truths are considered lies.
But embedded within our First Amendment’s right to free speech is a responsibility not merely to tolerate others’ perspectives, but to listen. Imagine if my accusers and I were to summon the mutual respect necessary to listen to each other’s concerns. I’m confident we’d discover that despite our differences, we’re equally committed to a “more perfect union.”
Think Again – instead of playing the Liar Card, we might each learn something new, informing us enough to elect leaders who can be "trusted with our government."
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 -- not even a single Democrat -- has voted to approve either of Obama’s last two annual budgets.
Meanwhile, with Democrats in complete control of Congress through January 2011, Obama’s signature legislative “reforms” – Obamacare and Dodd-Frank – ignored Republican solutions, and imposed thousands of complex regulations and new taxes on the private economy, nearly paralyzing job creation and economic growth.
Though sold as “Wall Street reform”, Dodd-Frank makes bailouts more likely by designating selected banks “too-big-to-fail” and failing to reform the financial crisis’ real culprits -- housing-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. With smaller banks competitively disadvantaged, lending is down, consumer prices are up, and expensive consultants, like the former chiefs-of-staff to both Dodd and Frank, are in demand.
Neither is Obamacare meeting its promises. Insurance premiums are up $2,500 and according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Obamacare will cost nearly twice its original estimate, leave 30 million Americans uninsured, and cause 20 million people to lose their employer-provided health insurance. Additionally, it imposes 20 new taxes on families and small businesses and incentivizes employers to hire part-time instead of full-time workers.
Thanks to recent technological breakthroughs, America is now the most energy-endowed nation in the world. Allowing the responsible development of our resources would generate millions of jobs while turbo-charging the economy and revitalizing distressed communities. Yet despite promising an “all-of-the-above” energy policy while investing $90 billion in uncompetitive green energy companies, Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline and reduced drilling permits on public lands by 36 percent, compared to increases of 116 and 58 percent under Bush and Clinton, respectively.
Meanwhile, GDP growth slumped to 1.3 percent in the second quarter, but Obama proposes to increase tax rates on “millionaires and billionaires” (individuals and small businesses making over $250,000) to promote fairness, after opposing them in 2010 when the economy was growing at twice its current rate. But how can it be fair to implement a policy that the CBO considers economically injurious and would yield only enough revenue to fund 8.5 days of government spending? Given Obama’s track record, how could another four years of the same policies result in enough economic growth to overcome our economic challenges?
Mindful of these challenges and eager to diffuse the debt bomb while preserving entitlement programs for future generations, Governor Romney proposes to expand the private economy with spending, regulatory, tax and entitlement reforms reminiscent of those enacted by Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton – modern America’s most successful economic stewards. Romney proposes to cut tax rates by 20 percent for all Americans while maintaining the same share of taxes paid by the wealthy. But unlike Bush, he’ll pay for them by eliminating expensive loopholes only accessible to wealthy individuals and companies like GE.
Divided as we were during the Civil War, Americans long to be unified by a leader, like Lincoln, committed to expanding liberty and increasing individual opportunity -- the source of human flourishing and America’s promise.
Think Again – only by restoring these cultural bulwarks can we pass our children a strong America, and remain the last best hope of earth.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 rates, in addition to double-digit unemployment. By this point in his presidency, Reagan’s pro-growth policies had unleashed the economy, resulting in 7.1 percent unemployment, rising median incomes and 11 percent GDP growth.
Most importantly, Reagan’s work with Democratic house leader Tip O’Neill to implement historic tax, social security and immigration reforms -- and Clinton’s collaboration with Republican house leader Newt Gingrich to reduce government spending, lower taxes on investment, implement “consensus deregulation,” and reform welfare -- fueled the greatest economic boom in world history from 1982 to 2007. As business investment grew, so did the job market and the number of Americans paying taxes, confirming what President Kennedy said “is a paradoxical truth that…the soundest way to raise [tax] revenues in the long run is to cut [tax] rates now.”
If the current “recovery” had merely performed as well as the average of all post-World War II recoveries, current US GDP would be $1.2 trillion larger and 7.9 million more Americans would have jobs. Americans have been denied this prosperity because of unprecedented levels of government spending, job-killing regulation, and crony capitalism – partisan policies which large majorities of business leaders in two recent surveys (Business Roundtable and National Federation of Independent Business) say hurt them.
That 55 percent of small business owners surveyed wouldn’t start their business today reflects a lack of confidence in the economy’s future, imperiled as it is by $16 trillion in debt (up 50 percent since January 2009), a sum larger than the US economy. When interest rates increase from historic lows, larger interest payments will necessitate draconian budget cuts and increased taxes. Absent rapid GDP growth to bring debt-to-GDP levels down to manageable norms, Americans can’t be confident in a future that holds only two unacceptable alternatives – substantial tax increases or sustained inflation.
As the president who declared the era of big government over, Clinton understands our perilous fiscal state. Were he to emerge from the Twilight Zone, he’d agree that government spending should be capped at 20 percent of GDP -- the average during his presidency and a Romney campaign promise. He’d be opposed to increasing taxes in a fragile economy, as President Obama proposes. Most importantly, he’d be appalled at the lack of leadership evident in Obama’s budget – no plan to address the looming fiscal crisis and trillion-dollar deficits into oblivion.
Think Again – outside the Twilight Zone, it’s the pro-growth policies, stupid!
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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?
Throughout the “Arab Spring,” America supported rebels in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen – sites of the worst anti-American rioting this month – but didn’t secure power-sharing commitments to prevent Islamist domination. Having supported regime change in these countries, why didn’t America support revolutionaries in Iran or its client Syria, both of which pose graver security threats to U.S. and global interests, never mind Middle East stability?
As Iran’s nuclear weapons program nears completion, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised on Monday that Israel would be “eliminated.” Rather than characterize these existential threats to Israel as mere “noise,” shouldn’t we “affirm America's dedication to blocking Iran's nuclear ambitions through military force if necessary,” as Alan Dershowitz encourages?
Though opposed by our commanders in Afghanistan, America’s military surge was precipitously undermined by a fixed timetable for withdrawal, giving the Taliban and terrorists organizations a date-certain by which they could resume operations. But why commit American forces to a conflict using tactics our military believes will undermine our mission?
Compounding the uncertainty and heightening suspicions were assurances (caught on an open-mic last spring) given to former Russian President Medvedev by President Obama that he’d have “more flexibility” after the election. Being no longer subject to electoral accountability grants flexibility to do what, beyond the already canceled missile-defense system our Polish and Czech allies had agreed to host?
Rarely has America exhibited such uncertainty and equivocation nor diverged so dramatically from the bi-partisan foreign policy consensus forged over the last century. President Reagan called it “peace through strength” and President Kennedy encapsulated it eloquently in his inaugural address: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
America’s capacity to project this authority and secure our interests around the world is predicated on strength at home. Yet unable to live within our means and more indebted than any other nation in the history of the world, we’ve mortgaged our children’s futures and jeopardized control over our destiny. At this critical moment, we must reclaim the America that inspires others to follow our lead.
As a refugee from Nazi Germany, Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live in; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Americans have always been a people willing to do “something about” evil. If we’re to continue, we must stand our ground in defense of our values.
Think Again – without America as a bulwark of liberty, how will the Islamic world ever come to embrace freedom and modernity?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 the Senate has failed for the fourth consecutive year to uphold it’s constitutional duty to pass a budget?
She'd find politicians fearful of endorsing a budget that borrows $1.3 trillion to fund the government, after paying for mandatory expenditures such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the debt. But as federal debt spiked $5.4 trillion since January 2009, topping $16 trillion last week — a sum one-quarter of the combined gross domestic product of every country in the world — why isn't Warren proposing a plan to avert the looming fiscal crisis?
Unless reformed, Social Security and Medicare won’t exist for younger generations. Nevertheless, Warren ignores this tragedy preferring to wax eloquent about “a level playing field where everyone pays a fair share and everyone has a real shot”…. because “the economy doesn’t grow from the top down, but from the middle class out and the bottom up.” But how do we secure a middle class out of government jobs paid for with borrowed dollars? Does our undisciplined, indebted and special interest-oriented government subvert the private economy, undermining the middle class and those who aspire to it?
This is the argument of Senator Tom Coburn’s book “The Debt Bomb,” endorsed by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles on whose fiscal commission he served. Contrary to the narrative that blames lobbyists and gridlock, Coburn contends, “Congress has been an assembly line of new programs and a favor factory for special interests. Our economy is on the brink of collapse not because politicians can’t agree, but because they have agreed for decades…to borrow and spend far beyond our means… to create or expand nearly forty entitlement programs, carve out tax advantages for special interests, build bridges to nowhere and earmark tens of thousands of other pork projects.”
Anxious to prevent an economic calamity worse than 2008, Coburn urges Americans to drain Washington’s stagnant pond, refilling it with public servants committed to un-rigging the system that’s left millions of Americans “on their own,” deprived of jobs and hopes of finding one. Without a plan to solve our economic and fiscal woes, Warren is an accomplice to the rigged system she denounces.
Think Again Elizabeth Warren — telling the truth and taking responsibility distinguish great leaders from mere politicians.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 the labor force increased 8 million; and food stamp spending doubled to $85 billion. New York Times economics columnist Catherine Rampell reported that median household incomes declined more (4.8 percent) during the “recovery” -- even among the continuously employed -- than they fell (2.8 percent) during the preceding 18-month recession. Consequently, 85 percent of the much-discussed American middle class report that it’s now harder to maintain their standard of living, according to Pew Research.
Humorist PJ O’Rourke said, “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” Refusing to relinquish their intoxicating power to spend and borrow, political leaders have subverted the national interest by causing four consecutive trillion-dollar deficits. With government spending at stratospheric levels, we charge $41,222 to our children’s credit card every second. At $16 trillion, our national debt is up 50 percent since January 2009, exceeding the size of our economy. When added to future Medicare and Social Security claims, it totals $136 trillion -- an incomprehensible, indefensible, and morally reprehensible sum.
Anyone who’s balanced a checkbook -- or watched events unfold in Europe -- understands that red ink turns to blood, particularly when interest rates rise above historic lows. So, how can we trust leaders who won’t see and aren’t planning to avert the fiscal black hole toward which we’re rocketing? Shouldn’t we urge courageous leaders to redirect our perilous trajectory toward a safe landing?
As the cliché goes, “if we can send a man to the moon,” we can restore America’s promise to secure a more stable and prosperous future. After instituting reforms to entitlement programs and its tax code, Canada achieved a remarkable economic turnaround, and so can we. It will require a Kennedy-esque leader to define the challenge as the fiscal equivalent of the moonshot, and to summon the political will for lift-off against fierce gravitational forces.
As a firm believer in Americans, Abraham Lincoln said, “If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” Eager for blast off is a nation of unassuming and reluctant heroes – ordinary Americans. Spoken to like adults, and with the facts in hand, we have the “right stuff” to enable another “giant leap for mankind.” If this isn’t our generation’s most important mission, what is?
Think Again – our children need us to be their heroes.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 pay less?
Thomas Jefferson warned, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” As a woman of conscience and opponent of government interference in her bedroom, it’s vexing that Fluke would tolerate the Affordable Care Act’s imposition of government between Americans and their faith, in violation of constitutionally protected religious liberties. After a German Judge banned circumcision in newborn Jewish and Muslim boys in June, what’s to prevent an American ban, if not the First Amendment?
Faith-based social service agencies have been a bedrock of American civil society since our founding, serving the vulnerable as they serve God. Requiring them to pay for contraceptive, sterilization and abortion-inducing services unjustly forces them to choose between moral beliefs and government dictates, while undermining their good works. As religious institutions prepare to drop insurance coverage for employees and students to avert the dilemma posed by the Affordable Care Act mandate, does Fluke care?
Americans care, favoring the Affordable Care Acts’s repeal by an average of 56 to 38 percent in 100 consecutive Rasmussen Reports polls conducted since its March 2010 passage. Because only three percent of Americans dislike their current insurance plans, we fear being among the 20 million the Congressional Budget Office estimates will be dumped by employers into government plans, contrary to pledges that we could keep our plans and doctors if you like them. Additionally, 81 percent of voters expect the Affordable Care Act will cost more than projected (consistent with Budget Office’s recent $1.2 trillion cost over-run estimate), with majorities anticipating increasing insurance premiums and federal deficits.
The primary reason for which Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act, according to pollster Scott Rasmussen, is it runs contrary to deeply held American values. Preferring free-market solutions and competition, Rasmussen writes, “Americans want to be empowered as health care consumers …not rely on mandates and trusting the government.” Three-quarters of Americans want the right to choose between expensive insurance plans with greater coverage or low deductibles, and low-cost plans with less coverage or higher deductibles. “If the plan they select costs less than the company plan,” he continues, “most believe the worker should get to keep the change.”
As Fluke and her army storm a hill with no enemy, their friendly fire risks harming the cause they purport to serve, and the national interest. Think Again Sandra Fluke. Real women’s liberation and healthcare security depend on free-market choices and competition -- not on getting others to pay for your birth control.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 government by praising its most legitimate and necessary functions, they’re like David Copperfield, expertly distracting us with one hand so we don’t notice the other. The concern isn’t spending on roads, bridges, teachers or fireman; it’s the 60% of the federal budget consumed by our massive welfare state -- a catchall for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and dozens of other “safety net” programs created by vote-hungry politicians.
Because all citizens -- not just the poor -- receive federal benefits, we’re all self-entitled “welfare queens” now. Consequently, welfare state defenders know it’s the proverbial “third rail” – politicians touch it at their peril.
The welfare state is the single biggest financial problem we face, annually consuming more than the combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars plus the TARP bailouts. Like the “blob,” it grows by devouring everything in its path, requiring us to borrow $41,222 per second just to keep government running. At almost $16 trillion, the national debt exceeds the size of our economy and is growing so rapidly, the Congressional Budget Office predicted it could cause a permanent recession by 2025.
Like an overweight jockey riding an emaciated thoroughbred, our bloated government sector is not only crushing the private economy, it’s handicapping our opportunity society. Americans are aspirational and self-reliant people, so it’s heart wrenching to note that after spending $15 trillion in the “War on Poverty,” America’s poverty rate has barely budged, food stamp dependency is at a record high, and the percentage of Americans in the work force is at a record low.
As economist Herb Stein said, “If something can’t go on forever, it will stop.” New York Times columnist Bill Keller called for that last week writing, “We should make a sensible reform of entitlements our generation’s cause.”
But now that we’re in the fourth consecutive year in which the US Senate has abdicated its duty to pass a budget for fear of electoral consequences, where are the courageous leaders willing to discharge this fiscal suicide bomb? How do we secure America as a beacon of opportunity (and preserve benefit programs for the generations of Americans paying for them) unless we insist on the distinction between a welfare program and a welfare state?
Our founders were concerned America would reach this moment. John Adams warned: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Americans are concerned too, according to last week’s Rasmussen survey in which a record low 14 percent expect today’s children to be better off than their parents.
We didn’t build the welfare state, but now that it’s crumbling and imperiling our way of life, we have the opportunity to transform our government so that it will serve us better. Doing so will renew the moral promise inherent in the American Dream while making it accessible to all.
With free markets and limited government, entrepreneurial risk takers like George Jefferson can deliver renewed opportunity and prosperity, just as they took us from a colonial backwater to an economic superpower.
Think Again -- so our children can earn “a piece of the pie.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
The French celebrated Bastille Day last week, 219 years after beheading Marie-Antoinette in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. To this day, she’s the poster-child for upper-class excess, entitlement and insensitivity -- the ultimate “1 Percenter.”
However, Think Again before believing every demonization you hear, especially without factcheck.org. In truth, though a privileged aristocrat, Marie-Antoinette was not only a faithful Good Samaritan, she actually never uttered the notorious catchphrase “Let them eat cake.” Never mind those silly details -- social justice was at stake!
By portraying Marie-Anoinette as selfish and out-of-touch, the revolutionaries justified their bloodthirsty mob rule and indiscriminate savagery. Declaring “liberty, equality and fraternity,” they ushered in an anti-democratic period of unlimited governmental power, civil strife, and economic despair, though eventually Enlightenment principles transformed France into a vibrant democracy.
Today, France has Europe’s most state-directed economy, and among its most stagnant and indebted. Prioritizing “the collective interest,” the French prefer government to free market solutions spending more on social welfare than any other developed country. Recently, the anti-wealth rhetoric of newly elected President Hollande -- and his plans to hike taxes – made London the sixth largest French city, to its mayor’s delight.
Similarly Enlightenment-inspired, though resentful of strong government, American revolutionaries devised a system to protect individual liberties. James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men… controls on government would (not) be necessary. In framing a government… you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
While the French were sticking dissenters’ heads on bayonets, Americans enacted a Constitution designed to disperse authority in order to protect the moral promise in our Declaration of Independence: that every individual is born with equal and inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, the American Revolution facilitated the creation of the freest and most prosperous society on earth.
Over the last century, while America’s free economy boomed attracting immigrants to our opportunity society, politicians were busy encumbering it, à la française. They instituted the income tax, asserted extra-constitutional powers to regulate, dabbled in cronyism and created entitlement programs that now consume 65 percent of the federal budget. Once 3 percent of gross domestic product, government spending is now 25 percent, crowding out the private economy and producing daily deficits of $4 billion.
Consequently, we suffer French-size economic stagnation, unemployment, and debt (up 50 percent since January 2009). Poverty rates are the highest since tracking began in 1959; food stamp dependency is exploding; and the percentage of Americans with a job is the lowest in decades. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of Americans say we’re on the wrong track and that there’s too much government power and too little individual freedom.
Meanwhile, clueless that government policies influence economic decisions, politicians now propose increasing taxes. “Taxmageddon” -- the toxic mix of year-end tax increases – is causing businesses to defer hiring and investment. Even if limited to the top two-percent with incomes over $250,000 (which includes small businesses responsible for half of private sector jobs and $720 billion in earnings), tax increases would create serious recessionary headwinds while funding only 8.5 days of federal spending, per the Congressional Budget Office. This is a blueprint to cripple job creation, and 23 million job-seeking Americans.
Though they agreed it was economically injurious to hike taxes in 2010 when the economy was growing at twice its current rate, tax-hikers argue it’s now about fairness while referencing the “roaring 90’s” when rates were higher but before explosions in spending, debt, and stagnation. What's fair about increasing taxes knowing the vulnerable will suffer disproportionately?
What is fair considering 2009 IRS data shows the top one-percent and top five-percent paid 37 percent and 64 percent respectively of federal income taxes, while the bottom half paid two percent? If the richest aren’t yet paying their fair share, doesn’t that suggest they don’t merit their earned success? By denying some Americans their earned success, doesn’t that undermine our opportunity society and social cohesion?
Having migrated toward French values, practices and even their anti-wealth rhetoric, its hard to recall our Founders' belief that government’s role is to protect – not grant -- individual rights and property. To reinvigorate our free society and market economy, we need a true “fairness agenda”: a simpler tax code with fewer special interest loopholes, no more corporate welfare, and reforms that preserve entitlement programs for future generations.
Most importantly, we must recover the private initiative that French historian Alexis de Tocqueville found exceptional in 1830s America: ““In every case at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government ... in America you’re sure to find an association.”
By renewing our commitment to individual liberties and the ethic that each of us – not government -- is our brother’s keeper, Americans “have it in our power to begin the world all over again,” as American revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote.
Wouldn’t our Founders want us to Think Again?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 the ACA on a party-line vote aided by political payoffs, accounting gimmicks, deceptive language, and parliamentary trickeries never before used for such far-reaching legislation.
As unsettling is the perception that last week’s Supreme Court ruling -- which rewrote the ACA in order to find it constitutional and used reasoning that politically-diverse legal experts regard as flimsy -- was made to protect the Court’s legitimacy in the eyes of those who define illegitimacy as anything with which they disagree. If political calculations factored into Court deliberations, doesn’t that undermine judicial integrity?
Most importantly, two years into the 2,409 page law and 4,103 pages of associated regulations, we know it’s “dreadful public policy,” as non-partisan Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson wrote: Its “attempt to achieve universal health insurance coverage is a massive feat of social engineering that, by its sweeping nature, weakens the economic recovery and antagonizes millions of people.”
Moreover, its promises are false: health insurance premiums have risen $2,200, not declined by $2,500; official cost estimates nearly doubled with further increases expected, thus increasing the deficit; and millions of Americans will lose their insurance and doctors as companies dump workers into government health exchanges to avoid escalating healthcare expenses.
Now consider the moral travesties. Not only does the law perpetuate the largest transfer of wealth from the young to the older in world history, it promises a quantity and quality of care it can’t deliver while stifling the medical innovation on which the world depends for continuously improving health outcomes.
The story of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year old Medicaid beneficiary, is instructive. Unable to secure appropriate and timely treatment, he died of an infection that started with an abscessed tooth -- not because he was uninsured, but because he was government-insured.
The ACA’s proponents won’t mention these fiscal, economic and moral challenges. Like used car salesmen, they tout loss leaders (universal coverage and 26-year olds on parents’ plans) and free extras (contraception) – all attainable with cheaper and less disruptive policies like tax credits and high-risk pools. How do we separate the facts from the sales pitch, and if the deal is so good, why do the well-connected get waivers?
With so much at stake, lawmakers must recalibrate their moral compasses. Having done so, Kagel personifies Haidt’s message that love and mutual respect engender the willingness to see those with opposing views generously, improving everyone’s outcomes.
If elected leaders won’t love and respect us, we must Think Again in November.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.
Since a just government derives its power from the consent of the governed it must be, as Thomas Jefferson said, a “wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
Nevertheless, the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which empowers Congress to regulate interstate trade, has been used to justify dramatic federal government expansion. Congress wants to stretch this power further to include the regulation of individual choices never before considered commercial or interstate -- like deciding not to purchase health insurance. If Congress can mandate Americans to purchase health insurance simply because we’re alive, what Constitutional principle prevents government from forcing individuals into other purchases?
The debates surrounding this question, and other constitutional issues like executive privileges and orders, are instructive. Not only have Americans learned more about the Constitution, we’ve discovered that many lawmakers neither understand nor respect the document they’re sworn to uphold. Even worse, we have leaders intent on fundamentally transforming the relationship between the citizen and government in a manner the Constitution doesn’t allow.
By allowing these politicians to create and impose solutions better left to sovereign states and individuals, we permit their government-driven agenda to trump our liberties and their Leviathan government to limit our choices and make our decisions. This is not the fulfillment of our Founder’s dream – it’s their nightmare.
Americans must ask: Do we want a government whose role is limited by the sovereign people to certain designated purposes, or an amorphous and unlimited one that can do to us whatever it wants? How long before the federal government deems a 32-ounce soda oversized or worse, a $320,000 salary excessive?
On July 4th, Americans celebrate the liberty and natural rights for which our Founders fought. They gave us a brilliant political system which, to paraphrase William Gladstone, was the most perfect ever devised in the history of mankind. Now, it’s up to us to reclaim it.
Think Again – your liberty depends on it.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Last week after his criminal trial ended with a hung jury, John Edwards proclaimed hopefully, “I don’t think God is through with me,” as he planted the seeds for his comeback. Projecting the false modesty and manufactured authenticity that vaulted the one-term Senator toward the Presidency, Edwards personifies Graucho Marx’s maxim that “the secret to life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."
In response to Edwards, I imagined a collective uproar: “Think Again, John -- the jig is up!” As Edwards exits stage left, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker takes center stage. He, along with brave governors in New Jersey, Indiana, South Carolina, Louisiana, and possibly even New York, represent a new breed of leader emboldened to end public sector unions’ stranglehold on our governments and economy.
Putting aside Edwards’ despicable personal conduct, he is emblematic of the corrupt patronage system that Governor Scott Walker ended in Wisconsin -- the one that allows government unions to cement relationships with self-serving politicians, leaving taxpayers unrepresented and rendering many states insolvent. By voting decisively to retain Walker (the only US governor to survive a recall), Cheeseheads declared the jig is finally up for this brand of special-interest cronyism and the politicians who perpetuate it – at least in Wisconsin.
The truth is, public-sector unions don’t serve a compelling social need since governments don’t exploit labor for profits. Furthermore, as Franklin Roosevelt cautioned, “the process of collective bargaining…. cannot be transplanted into the public service...[without risking] paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it.” Realizing this, President Carter reduced collective-bargaining rights for federal employees by signing the Civil Service Reform Act.
It’s ironic that public sector unions met their match in Wisconsin, the birthplace of American progressivism and public sector unionism where roughly two-thirds of voters either are or are related to union members. Now, progressive Wisconsin is proof that the crisis of the modern entitlement state being played out worldwide -- from the Eurozone to California -- doesn’t have to be a Greek tragedy.
In Wisconsin, even union sympathizers realize everyone is ill served when the government can't meet its obligations. They know the promises politicians make far exceed our ability to pay and, watching Europe implode from the same disorder, realize there is only one choice -- reduced yet sustainable government or bankruptcy. Wisconsin voted for balance knowing the essential first step on the path to prosperity and opportunity is for governments to recover fiscal soundness.
That was Walker’s pledge in 2010. Facing the fourth highest tax burden in the country and determined to reverse Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion deficit without raising taxes or firing workers, Walker’s reforms disallowed collective bargaining for public-employee unions (except police and firefighters). No longer can unions negotiate their taxpayer-funded benefits with politicians they helped elect using mandatory dues. Additionally, Walker asked government employees to contribute modestly more to their health and retirement benefits. Even after these reforms, Wisconsin workers enjoy “a combined salary-benefits compensation premium of around 22 percent over private sector workers,” according to an American Enterprise Institute study released last month.
Though modest, the unions and their allies reacted ferociously to these reforms, like a mama bear defending her cub. They captured national attention with protests, runaway state senators, legal challenges and state senator recall elections. Despite their efforts, they couldn’t overcome the will of the people -- to keep the reforms.
That’s because Walker’s reforms are succeeding: The budget has a $150 million surplus; property taxes are lower; the unemployment rate is 6.8 percent (the lowest since 2008 and well below the national average); the private sector created 26,000 jobs in 2011; and savings realized by school districts have preserved jobs and educational programming. Most encouraging, according to a Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce survey in May, 73 percent of employers predicted moderate to good business growth and more than half plan to expand operations within two years – the highest rate in a decade.
No wonder one-third of union members voted for Walker, according to exit polls. Seeing union policies drain government finances, endanger vital government services, and undermine their own jobs and benefits, why would union members want to pay their dues? Now that they have the option not to, tens of thousands have opted out. Perhaps this is the best outcome of all, for civil society is healthier when government employees believe they’re on the same side as taxpayers.
As CS Lewis said, “We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”
Though it’s too late for Edwards, other self-proclaimed “progressives” must Think Again – good policy makes great politics.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.
Feminists understood earned success knowing self-reliance and freedom would yield more choices, achievement, self-respect and fulfillment if women had a level playing field. Now, four decades since Helen Reddy sang “I am Woman,” women are “The Richer Sex” -- the book by Liza Mundy documenting women’s economic advancement. The New York Times book review noted: women hold 51 percent of management and professional jobs; wives at least co-earn in two-thirds of marriages; and women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and comprise 60 percent of graduate students.
Meanwhile, according to a March National Journal poll, three-quarters of women believe they can advance as far as their talents take them. Not surprisingly, women account for seven of the top 10 spots on Forbes 2012 World’s Most Powerful Celebrities list including the top two, Jennifer Lopez and Oprah Winfrey.
Despite these spectacular achievements, economic stagnation makes otherwise self-sufficient women – especially single ones -- insecure and uncertain. Preying on this anxiety, ambitious politicians cast themselves as compassionate by promising a lifetime of government benefits to a nation of Julia’s. Considering the tortuous unraveling of the Eurozone, this idea is both fantasy and dangerous.
In Europe, hopelessly large social security and entitlement promises exceed governments’ ability to tax and borrow, crushing those who believed economic security is a basic human right. Yet, as European leaders grapple with resentments caused by austerity measures, American politicians make the same promises that precipitated Europe’s crisis.
Brooks would argue that even Julia knows it’s wrong to make promises you don’t intend to keep. He warns, “Americans today are experiencing a low-grade, virtual servitude to an ever-expanding, unaccountable government that…. has created a protected class of government workers and crony corporations that play by a different set of rules … and has consequently left the nation in hock for generations to come.”
Thankfully, American women are watching and willing to act. According to a Rasmussen poll released this week, nearly two-thirds of women (and men) prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes. So rather than foster dependency, why not encourage the fiercely independent and self-reliant ethic that originally motivated feminists and propelled women’s economic advancement?
The real war on women is the one waged by those whose policies undermine our economy thus limiting everyone’s choices, mobility and independence. As for Julia, she’d be better served by policies that empower her as an individual, not ones that encourage reliance on government.
Think Again, Julia – you can “make it on your own.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 shed 10,000 jobs since 2009 even as the energy capacity of wind farms has nearly doubled”… while the demonized “oil and gas industry added 75,000 jobs.”
The truth is, industries that aren’t economically viable don’t create real jobs, and those that are viable, don’t need subsidies. Plagued by competitive disadvantages like sun and wind intermittency, and expensive land, capital, transmission and backup capacity, these technologies are uncompetitive, small market players and remain subsidy-dependent.
Despite receiving 53.5 percent of federal financial support for the electric power sector, wind and solar supply only four percent of US power at a cost 100-300 percent more than conventional sources, according to the Energy Information Administration. A University of Wyoming study notes that because green policies increase prices, the “economic benefits derived from building renewable energy facilities in the short-run are more than offset by losses in economic output and employment”, thus hurting the poorest and most vulnerable.
Additionally, given renewables’ green patina, many don’t appreciate their adverse environmental impacts beyond the eyesore, noise, water usage, and wildlife destruction. Called “energy sprawl” by the Nature Conservancy, renewable energies require vastly more land while producing significantly less energy than conventional energy. Most disconcerting, their incurable intermittency requires utilities to rely on conventional power to cycle up when there’s no wind or sun, and power down when there is, thus diminishing carbon reduction advantages.
If policymakers weren’t brainless scarecrows, cowardly lions and heartless tin men, they’d adopt Bill Gates’ proposition that cheap energy is “a fantastic vaccine” for the economy. That’s what Americans deserve – a booster shot to deliver authentic solutions, real jobs and genuine economic growth. Moving beyond fossil fuels will happen eventually when superior and affordable energies are scaled for mass use.
Energy development isn’t a zero sum game, as the Wyoming study concludes: “Environmentally responsible development of fossil fuel resources could be complementary with renewable energy development, creating jobs and generating tax revenues to ensure a robust economy capable of creating and funding innovative renewable energy technologies of the future.”
Given our economic straits and the remoteness of the green dream, the underlying question is how much more are Americans willing to pay to harness wind and sun. Isn’t it time to demand that our leaders propose energy solutions based not on ideology but on how to best guarantee prosperity for generations of Americans?
Think Again – a secure, affordable and environmentally sound energy future is not over the rainbow.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 American Exceptionalism and prosperity, they’ve presided over the greatest scandal -- an explosion of government, an avalanche of debt and the mugging of our children’s future.
April 29th marks the third consecutive year in which the Senate hasn’t passed a budget. Vested with the authority to confront and steer America through fiscal problems, the Senators’ inaction reflects the ultimate “piggish” dereliction of duty. It’s also illegal, though conveniently, there’s no penalty for breaking the 1974 Budget Act.
Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said last year, “History is going to judge whether we have the courage, character, and the vision to stand up for America’s future. Those who take a walk, those who turn away, those who don’t have the gumption to stand up, are going to be judged very, very harshly.” Though Conrad intended to pass a budget resolution this month, he was over-ruled by Senate leadership. Believing they can evade electoral consequences by not voting on difficult budget matters, they mirror the corrupt, greedy, and myopic leadership of the pigs in Animal Farm.
Economist Milton Friedman, one of America’s greatest apostles for freedom and free markets, believed politicians are finger-in-the-wind types who can be trained: “The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it’s politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either.”
In other words, the onus is on us. Politicians will concern themselves with our interests only if they think we care. If we don’t care that they’ve violated the law by refusing to adopt a budget, and that they’ve spent us $16 trillion into debt, what do we care about?
Demand accountability and restraint, and don’t allow the word trillion to be normalized, after all, a trillion hours ago dinosaurs roamed the earth! Don’t wait for the right people to get elected; remember, Bluto became a US Senator despite his 0.0 GPA. It’s a basic rule of life -- If we tolerate out-of-control Animal House behavior and indifferent Animal Farm attitudes, we’ll just get more of it.
Think Again. It’s not only a fiscal imperative -- it’s a moral one.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 the “Political Class” -- those who believe “the federal government is the source of all legitimate authority in the nation” -- and the American people who “are the true sovereign authority of the land.” Since only 17 percent of voters believe the government has their consent, Rasmussen warns: “In a nation founded on the belief that governments derive their only just authority from such consent, that’s a devastating assessment.”
It’s hard to trust the Political Class when it misleads, distorting words like “trust fund” and “budget cut” to cover-up increasing spending, deficits and debt. Upon instituting Social Security, Franklin Roosevelt promised it wouldn’t be a “pay-as-you-go” system that channeled taxes from today’s workers to pay today’s retirees. But Presidents Johnson and Nixon broke Roosevelt’s promise, and though “trust funds” are used to reduce deficits, many Americans believe their payroll taxes are segregated to pay for the retirement benefits they’ve earned.
To politicians, the term “budget cut” means spending that increases less than expected. Using this trickery, if Imelda Marcos spent $1000 on shoes last year and decided to spend only $2000 this year instead of her budgeted $3000, her shoe budget suffered a “draconian cut”, though it actually doubled! After decades of this chicanery, Rasmussen warns, “the damage has already been done… the result is a government more than $100 trillion in debt,” counting unfunded future liabilities.
Because healthcare is the largest burden on our country’s finances, public and private, the healthcare law only exacerbates the crisis, as evident in last month’s report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Cost estimates for the Orwellian-titled “Affordable Care Act” nearly doubled and insurance premiums are expected to climb at an even faster rate over the next decade than the past five years. Meanwhile, 20 million Americans could lose employer-provided coverage as companies dump workers into government health exchanges to avoid escalating healthcare expenses.
Though the law has redeeming features, there are better reforms. By shifting decision-making authority away from politicians and unelected bureaucrats to individual citizens, costs are constrained by competition and inventiveness. Why can’t Americans be granted the freedom to operate like the value-oriented consumers we are in purchasing health insurance? If we economize on our plan, we keep the change; if we want “bells and whistles”, we pay more.
The Constitutional framers believed that no one by nature is the ruler of anyone else. Therefore, the Political Class and its Leviathan state are our icebergs. As we navigate around them, Americans steer toward Abraham Lincoln’s vision: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Think Again – with this philosophy, America is unsinkable.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“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.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“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.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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 small and sometimes-troubled companies to profitably reincarnate. Though risky and uncertain, corporate turnarounds involve losing excess weight, consolidation and the injection of new ideas and fresh money. Successful ventures yield returns commensurate with the risk and “smart money” reputations; failure assures the reverse.
When opportunistic politicians cherry-pick failures in order to compare “turnaround capitalists” to rapacious corporate raiders or “vulture capitalists,” they're themselves birdbrains whose intellectual honesty is as compromised as their intellectual capacity. Where is the advantage in stealing from yourself? That's the implication when “turnaround capitalists” are accused of looting the companies they own.
As Mr. Eastman spins in his grave and Kodak struggles with its own death spiral, ambitious politicians prey like vultures on our economic insecurity, luring votes with tales of government-insured utopia. Real leadership involves explaining that in a world characterized by constant change and where status quos lead to obsolescence, Americans have historically prospered, often in the wake of adversity, chaos and even failure. Considering the scores of American companies founded during recessionary times, Americans should be reassured that the free market on which innovation and economic dynamism depend is the key to renewed prosperity.
Unfortunately, expecting intellectually bankrupt politicians to Think Again may be futile since, as Upton Sinclair observed, “It is very difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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?”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“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.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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!”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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!
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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!
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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.