Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
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
“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
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
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
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?