Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
In this topsy-turvy election year, wonders never cease, as Americans Think Again about how to throw the bums out, even unelected bureaucrats.
The willingness to break with long-standing political norms isn’t surprising, considering voter anger, pessimism and spiking anxieties. Recent surveys of Americans show overwhelming majorities believe the country is on the wrong track, the American Dream is unachievable, and our powerful, unaccountable government is America’s biggest threat.
Consequently, political dynasties have been rendered passé, as mega-donor darlings Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton discovered en route to their coronations. Not even their powerful Super PACs (funded by unlimited individual, corporate and union support) can assure their victories.
The standard trump cards aren’t working either, including the gender card, played recently by former Secretary of State and Hillary-backer Madeleine Albright who admonished, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
For Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, the normally formidable race card trumps nothing. But a blustering and incoherent Donald Trump trumps everything, thanks to the limitless free airtime the ratings-hungry media grant him. ”I’m winning by a lot,” the self-funder boasts, but “I spent almost nothing.”
Meanwhile, the media leaves unexamined Trump’s assertion that his wealth is a scorecard of his abilities. Some analysts calculate the present value of Trump’s inheritance would approximate his current net worth, if he’d simply invested it in the S&P 500.
Undermining Trump’s inevitability, the self-described winner’s first electoral outing was a loss to Cruz and near-upset by Rubio, as 76 percent of Iowa caucus-goers voted not-Trump. His New Hampshire victory was impressive, capturing all demographic groups, but two-thirds still voted not-Trump.
As under-performing contenders like Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina exit the crowded field, the eventual consolidation – and Trump’s record-breaking unfavorability in the general population – bode poorly for his candidacy.
Nevertheless, the ratings-magnet is well positioned to parlay popularity into a Trump network, like the media platform that made Michael Bloomberg – who’s contemplating his own self-funded presidential campaign – one of the world’s richest.
Another surprising result was Cruz’s defeat of King Corn in Iowa. The anti-Washington agitator won record numbers of votes in a historic GOP turnout while arguing that farmers are hurt by government ethanol mandates – not helped, as powerful agribusiness lobbyists allege.
Most extraordinary is Bernie Sander’s durability. Polls show the septuagenarian-socialist tied with Clinton nationally, after narrowly losing Iowa but routing her in New Hampshire where 93 percent of Democrats prioritizing honesty preferred Sanders.
Are voters drawn to Sanders’ socialism, or is he the beneficiary of a “no more Clintons” mindset, especially after reports the Clintons “earned” $153 million in speaking fees since leaving the White House?
It’s probably both, since Sanders’ support skews young. Thirsty for trustworthy leadership, “Sandernistas” have witnessed government bailouts and rampant cronyism, while suffering through the feeblest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
According to Pew Research, this generation is “the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty, and unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income.”
No wonder they find political revolution tempting. But they should study the American Revolution before accepting Sanders’ plan to concentrate ever-growing government power in the name of “social justice.”
As founder James Madison explained, “The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” Concerned that a government would eventually encroach on rights and liberties, Thomas Jefferson forecast “debt, corruption and rottenness,” absent constitutional guardrails.
That’s why, after overthrowing King George’s arbitrary and unfair rule, America’s founders established a government with limited powers to protect the equal rights of the people, believing the boundless potential of individuals operating in a free society would “make America great” – and they were right.
Yet as government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, corrupting our founders’ liberty-preserving system with cronyism that rewards political connections over competitive excellence.
Using massive powers to legislate, tax, spend and regulate, policymakers have rigged the economy and undermined the principles on which freedom, fairness and opportunity rely – equality under the law, property rights and sound money.
Given America’s heritage and Big Government’s dismal track record, it’s stunning that Sanders and Trump -- both advocates of using unprecedented government power to centrally plan and control economic life – could win New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” state. Have its freedom-loving voters forgotten the national purpose their state helped found – the democratic self-rule of a free people?
Hopefully, America is in revolt and casting about for outsiders not because they want more government, but because of the failures of our hyper-politicized, unaccountable government: contaminated water, terrorist attacks, dying vets, IRS harassment, illegal immigration, health care chaos, and murdered U.S. diplomats and border guards.
Think Again – in this anti-conventional wisdom year, may our founders’ wisdom about the dangers of Big Government ultimately prevail.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“All the great inspiring leaders and organizations…think, act and communicate the exact same way… opposite to everyone else,” Simon Sinek revealed in his famous TED talk. They “start with why they do what they do.”
Consider how these transformational Whys moved masses to Think Again: “All men are created equal,” declared America’s founders; “I have a dream” – not a five-point plan – proclaimed Martin Luther King; “Think different” and “Just do it” urged Apple and Nike en route to brand domination.
In 2008, Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” mantra quenched a thirst to challenge the status quo, helping him become the political equivalent of an iPad whose novelty rendered Hillary Clinton a vintage desktop.
As Obama predicted in his autobiography “Audacity of Hope,” he became a human Rorschach test, serving ”as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."
Chanting “yes we can” while staring at Obama’s inkblot, supporters agreed with him that his nomination was “the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless… when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal… when we ended a war, secured our nation and restored our image.”
Obama’s inkblot sent a “thrill up my leg” for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and convinced conservative David Brooks he’d be “a great president.” Newsweek compared the new president to Abraham Lincoln, and 65 percent of voters believed they’d be better off in four years.
Reflecting on the media’s role in creating the Obama phenomenon, CBS’s Bob Schieffer recently acknowledged, “Maybe we were not skeptical enough.”
The same is true of the soaring candidacies of anti-Washington insurgents Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. In their inkblots, supporters see trustworthy leaders whose Whys resonate. To voters hurt by our cronyist political system, and revolted by self-dealing politicians and their special interests, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Sanders’ “A Political Revolution Is Coming” are the “Hope and Change” of 2016.
Hard-working Americans play by the rules and resent politicians who don’t. They’ve watched Wall Street and Washington boom while enduring stagnant wages, job insecurity, rising health-care costs and reduced living standards.
Now, with the economy growing at half its 100-year historic average, small businesses failures exceeding starts, U.S. debt approaching Greek proportions, and national security threats looming, many fear we’re bequeathing our children a less secure and prosperous America.
But on what rational basis do Trump and Sanders merit such unbridled loyalty? Even Trump is amazed, joking recently, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters.”
History shows that when politicians are elevated before winning in the marketplace of ideas, they stop answering questions and being held accountable, and then everybody gets trumped.
Case in point: Trump. The reality-TV star now refuses to appear at the last pre-primary debate, drawing plaudits from minions who celebrate his bullying and bombast. Meanwhile, inquiring minds want him to persuade his way to victory.
How would the self-described insider-dealer dismantle the cronyist system that rewards political connections over competitive excellence? If he’s free of special interests, why not end corporate welfare, such as ethanol subsidies favored in Iowa?
How does Trump reconcile his penchant for unilateral action with the constitution’s separation of powers, never mind America’s founding purpose – democratic self-governance of a free people?
How can Trump defend religious liberty while proposing a blanket ban on Muslims entering the US? How does he justify “eminent domain” whereby government can seize an individual’s property, even for private use, such as a casino parking lot?
Sanders is similarly vague. At CNN’s town hall, he described democratic socialism as “an economy that works for all,” a benign vision -- especially for younger voters -- considering its devastating track record. Socialism is a discredited idea because, Time’s Joe Klein wrote, “it dampens incentives, which dampens creativity, which leads to poverty.”
That’s why the Scandinavian social-democracies Sanders touts reformed their economies, reducing taxes and regulations. Doesn’t Sanders worry that his ideas will disincentive the very entrepreneurialism that transformed America from an agrarian backwater into history’s greatest economic wonder?
Sanders argues “the 1%” will pay for trillions in new government spending, though they rarely do. Instead, they pay lobbyists and lawyers to avoid taxes, and often stop working or move overseas. These are luxuries unavailable to the middle class and debt-saddled future generations who invariably pay when government grows.
America’s founders understood what Sanders doesn’t. Poverty is humanity’s natural state, and free enterprise is the best system for moving people toward productive and prosperous lives. What government-planner can design “an economy that works for all” that's better than the free market, where endless autonomous decisions are made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively?
Think Again – Sanders is right. A few rich people shouldn’t run America. Hopefully, voters willing to look beyond 2016’s inkblots will insist that a handful of politicians shouldn’t run the country either.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” is perhaps the most famous closing argument in American criminal justice history. Decisive in rendering a not-guilty verdict for OJ Simpson, it also summarizes our free society’s reliance on “due process” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
So that no innocent defendant is wrongly convicted, a guilty defendant may occasionally go free – like Simpson, who was later found liable by a civil jury applying a lower standard of proof.
Reflecting on the criminal trial’s not-guilty verdict, several jurors conceded that though they thought Simpson was guilty, the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, hampered by suspicions that police tampered with evidence. To African-Americans, the Simpson verdict leveled the justice system’s playing field; to others, it was a miscarriage of justice.
Two decades later, despite pervasive African-American political power throughout society and into the White House, race relations are tense and perceptions of justice diverge. Fueled by the tragic deaths of young black males after run-ins with law enforcement, protestors proclaim “no justice, no peace” while demanding authorities Think Again about upholding due process.
Like Ferguson, Baltimore raged after last month’s mysterious death of Freddie Gray while in police custody -- not without justification. Baltimore’s corruption and incompetence-plagued police department appears to have denied Gray the presumption of innocence and due process.
Now under the spotlight, a once-vibrant and safe Baltimore has become a synonym for mismanagement, catastrophic institutional failure and societal collapse, like much of big-city America. Neither afforded due process or their just due, many residents languish in cesspools of poverty and despair, despite per-pupil educational expenditures and a social safety net that far exceed national averages.
After decades of ever-increasing taxes and spending -- and a cronyist system that rewards the politically connected while blocking public-sector reforms, though claiming to protect the poor -- Baltimore is a tale of two cities where the privileged few are enriched at the expense of the disenfranchised many.
In America’s fifth-most-deadly city, the unemployment rate exceeds the national average by 50 percent and one-in-four Baltimoreans live in poverty -- a rate 250 percent higher than in 1960, before the $20 trillion “War on Poverty.” Gray’s blighted neighborhood suffers even greater poverty, fatherlessness, school dropouts, unemployment, crime, and dependency.
It’s a miscarriage of justice -- and the civil rights struggle of our time -- that the wealthiest and most generous country on earth contains pockets of destitution and immiseration where millions are deprived of the dignity and fulfillment of work.
Sparked by Gray’s death, legitimate frustration morphed into lawless rage, as looters and arsonists became the threat officials are elected to thwart. Yet, rather than uphold her duty to safeguard the equal rights and property of all citizens, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the police to “give those who wished to destroy, space to do that.”
Unfortunately, when rioters believe they can misbehave without consequence, order is lost and job-creating businesses – many black-owned -- flee. To curb the mayhem last week, Chief Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced the arrest of six police officers, including three for manslaughter and one for second-degree murder. “To the youth of this city,” Mosby proclaimed, “I will seek justice on your behalf.”
Famed civil rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz called the indictments “crowd control,” not justice. “Under our constitution,” he explained, “the only people entitled to justice are the defendants,” not the victim or community. Given the abandonment of procedural justice, Dershowitz predicts acquittals -- and more rioting.
However satisfying, OJ-type verdicts won’t solve urban America’s plight, nor will pouring more money into failed government institutions. But kids can overcome the real source of their angst – opportunity and values deficits – by following a three-step plan: graduate high school; get a full-time job; and wait until 21 to marry and have children.
“Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class,” the Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins wrote. They’re also less likely to require due process in criminal court, though there’s no guarantee, considering OJ.
To steer fatherless children toward opportunity’s 3-step Holy Grail will take a village of mentors, and a phalanx of moms – not police. Toya Graham became a national hero after retrieving her rampaging son so he wouldn’t “become another Freddie Gray.”
Graham’s plea is every mother’s hope, one that can’t be realized by government power, but rather through a government that empowers. Politicians could begin by not condemning children to failed schools, and by reforming the unfair system that enslaves innocents so guilty gatekeepers of union and other public-sector privileges reign freely.
Think Again – Human history is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that without equality under the law and due process, there can be no liberty and justice for all.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Aired-out uproariously on Saturday Night Live, “Deflate-gate” has been a national fixation since word broke that the New England Patriots used under-inflated footballs in their Super bowl birth-clinching victory over Indianapolis. The alleged cheating controversy has even pumped up the lovability of the oft-despised Seattle Seahawks.
However, Think Again if you believe Deflate-gate is merely hot air. Though overblown, Americans’ disquiet reflects our fairness instinct and commitment to equality of opportunity – the ideal that all competitors in the race of life, no matter their status, can succeed on a level playing field.
Sensing a slanted NFL field, Seahawk Richard Sherman questioned the close relationship between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriot owner Robert Kraft, calling it a “conflict of interest.”
Sherman’s unease resonates in an America increasingly distrustful of society’s umpires. President Obama spoke to this anxiety in last week’s State of the Union address. “This country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” he declared, labeling this “middle-class economics.”
Yet the story of our five-year-old recovery is how poorly working Americans have fared. With workforce participation at forty-year lows, “America’s wealth gap between middle-income and upper-income families is the widest on record,” Pew Research recently reported. From 2010 to 2013, household incomes fell for all except the most affluent 10 percent, a 2014 Federal Reserve survey revealed, with the bottom 40 percent suffering disproportionately.
So while Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Washington boom, the rest of America suffers crisis levels of job insecurity, economic immobility and government dependency, with a record 50 million living in poverty.
That’s because our economy’s playing field is askew, warped by a cronyist system -- long in the making -- that is neither “middle-class economics” nor Thomas Jefferson’s ideal: “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.”
Free to pursue their individual life objectives, American entrepreneurs -- and immigrants fleeing societies where one’s start pre-determined one’s end -- transformed an agrarian backwater into human history’s greatest economic wonder. Between 1800 and 2007, economic well-being (real GDP per-capita) increased 32-fold in America compared to 14-times in Great Britain and 5-times in India.
It’s not a miracle; it’s the free market where rivals meet in open competition, generating a continuous stream of innovation, choice and value. In return for pleasing customers and being good corporate citizens, entrepreneurs earn profits.
As government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, corrupting the free market with corporate cronyism -- the incestuous relationship between Big Government and Big Business that rewards political connections over competitive excellence.
Our tax code is a cronyist masterpiece, allowing well-connected individuals and big companies like GE to lobby for, win and exploit tax breaks, rendering their tax bills negligible and affording lawmakers unending contributions.
Equally distortive are corporate welfare programs sold as economic saviors -- the 2009 stimulus, cash-for-clunkers, farm bill, bailouts, Export-Import Bank loan guarantees and Dodd-Frank “Wall Street reform.” Each benefits well-connected private companies, forcing Americans who “work hard and play by the rules” to subsidize elites who don’t.
Then there’s cronyism’s granddaddy, Obamacare, “the product of an orgy of lobbying and backroom deals,” according to Steven Brill, whose new book “America’s Bitter Pill” details how the $3-trillion-a-year health industry’s largest stakeholders – drug and medical device companies, hospitals, insurers – profited, at taxpayers’ expense.
When profits accrue to those with the most to invest in politics -- and the most to lose in the free market -- wealth and opportunity shift from ordinary people to the government and its friends. That’s why Americans struggling to maintain living standards must contend with ever-increasing prices in government-controlled sectors -- housing, health, and education.
Most worrisome, the small business sector, which generates two-thirds of new jobs, is languishing. Unable to grow in a market that protects large corporations from competition, and disproportionately burdened by an explosion of regulatory red tape, small business deaths now exceed business births for the first time in the Brookings Institution’s thirty-plus-year history of data collection.
So who are the greedy Gordon Gekko’s? Those who prudently risk hard-earned money to continuously deliver life-enhancing benefits – iPhones, 3-D printers, medicines, refrigerators – or cronies who relegate competitors, consumers, employees, and investors to the sidelines of a rigged game?
To protect our freedom and broadly share prosperity, shouldn’t we disperse power away from economic leeches, returning it to economic producers whose raison d'être is the fulfillment of needs and desires?
Think Again – It’s human nature to want competitive advantages -- whether tax breaks or deflated footballs. That’s why a free society needs referees with only enough power to assure fair competition, not so much that they become self-interested players in the game.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
In an ironic twist, the long-awaited sequel to the cult-classic “Dumb and Dumber” opened as Americans discovered that in the eyes of our Political Class, we’re like the film’s low-IQ duo – “stupid voters.”
Caught dropping truth bombs in a series of videos, MIT professor and Obamacare co-architect Jonathan Gruber describes how policymakers hid the Affordable Care Act’s true nature. “Call it the stupidity of the American voter,” Gruber chortled, since “that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”
But who’s the dunce considering Gruber is now persona non grata in capitals where he’s earned millions of taxpayer dollars for his wizardry?
Prior to Obamacare’s enactment, Americans overwhelmingly approved their health insurance plans -- 86 percent, according to Time Magazine’s July 2009 poll. Fearing their health system-upending plan wouldn’t survive public scrutiny, Gruberites launched an operation to obfuscate and deceive.
Without a vote to spare, there wasn’t time to Think Again about Obamacare’s numerous taxes, employment disincentives and cross-subsidies from healthy to sick (including those with unhealthy behaviors) and young to old.
"We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it," Nancy Pelosi insisted, demonstrating how raw political ambition trumped the consent of the governed in passing modern history’s most consequential law.
In our era of secretly negotiated lawmaking, “comprehensive” legislation (Obamacare, Dodd-Frank’s “Wall Street reform” and the Senate’s Immigration bill) means complex enough to hide the special interest-laden truth.
“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber explained, which is why the 2,409-page “bill was written in a tortured way” to game the arcane Congressional Budget Office’s system for measuring legislation impacts. “If CBO scored the [insurance] mandate as taxes, the bill dies,” Gruber admitted.
Armed with CBO’s contorted conclusions, politicians and their media minions wielded them like weapons, including at the Supreme Court, which upheld Obamacare’s constitutionality by deeming the mandate a tax.
To achieve other politically treacherous measures, like limiting tax deductions on employer-provided health benefits, Gruberites designed the “Cadillac Tax” on expensive plans. “Mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people,” was possible, Gruber contends, because “the American people are too stupid to understand the difference.”
In revealing Obamacare’s deceptions, “Grubergate” upsets Thomas Jefferson’s self-government truism -- “whenever the people are well-informed they can be trusted with their own government.” By conspiring to misinform and manipulate, Gruberites have engendered distrust of the institutions they’re empowered to run.
More interested in advancing partisan agendas than assuring government’s legitimacy and durability, Gruberites endanger the constitutional stability that’s enabled America to become the freest and most productive society on earth, deviating from history’s norm – tyranny, instability and stifled human potential.
Unfortunately, by circumventing the debate and consensus on which pluralistic democracies depend, Gruberites prove Jefferson’s observation that “even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”
As America’s constitutional framers understood, process matters to orderly self-government. To constrain Gruberites, the founders designed a liberty-preserving system founded on popular consent, limited government, and equality under the law. To check abuse, they separated political powers among co-equal branches, pitting “ambition against ambition.”
That’s why President Nixon was wrong to tell interviewer David Frost, “When the President does it, that means it isn’t illegal.” Similarly, President Obama is wrong to claim authority for sweeping legal changes – like amnesty-by-fiat for 5 million illegals -- if Congress doesn’t pass laws he likes. Presidents are entitled to discretion in executing, not vacating, the law.
According to Jonathan Turley, constitutional scholar and Obama policy-supporter, the President’s unprecedented separation-of-powers violations render him “the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid -- the concentration of power in any single branch.” If Presidents can enact consequential changes in defiance of Congress, the law and public will, what can’t they do?
Unilaterally legalizing millions of low-wage workers – a magnet for millions more -- to compete with America’s economically distressed working class mirrors the imperial and unfair rule we overthrew in 1776. Absent rapid job growth, it’s also a recipe for poverty and dependency, straining the society to which immigrants are drawn. Americans aren’t stupid or heartless to insist on the right to control whom we admit and in what numbers, no matter what Gruberites say.
Saturday Night Live mocked Obama’s King George-like views and his “go big or go home” immigration overhaul in its Schoolhouse Rock parody: “How a Bill Becomes Law.” First it passes Congress; then the President signs it. Even lame-duck Presidents must operate within constitutional bounds, using the bully pulpit and the legislative process -- not imperial edicts -- to advance policy goals.
Think Again – Ambitious Gruberites are an enduring threat to government of, by and for the people. Wouldn’t it be dumb not to deploy all available checks and balances to curtail them?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
At the tumultuous summer’s close, when throat-slashing, genocidal jihadists and economic malaise dominated headlines and our psyches, Hillary Clinton announced her preoccupation.
"Climate change is the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face," she proclaimed, adding, “no matter what the deniers try to assert” -- thus dismissing from polite society those inclined to Think Again about America’s greatest concerns.
Like Clinton, members of the “Church of Settled Science” invoke the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial to reject those deeming climate change less dangerous than other threats, like the Islamic State, a nuclear Iran, a debt-laden stagnant economy, or record levels of poverty.
Their Church gospel considers it “anti-science” to believe climate change is a naturally reoccurring phenomenon to which mankind has always adapted, and still can. After all, as Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore said before congress, because “frost and ice are the enemies of life…. a warmer temperature than today’s would be far better than a cooler one.”
Nevertheless, it’s an excommunicable sin to oppose tax and regulatory policies that would barely limit global emissions but would increase economy-wide prices, retard economies, and reduce standards of living -- disproportionately among the poor.
According to their dogma, it’s blasphemous to oppose giving unaccountable bureaucrats (in the EPA or internationally) unprecedented power to centrally plan and control economic life, without even a vote of Congress.
That’s because the faithful overlook the stunning failure of their doomsday-predicting models to forecast warming’s nearly 18-year pause (confirmed by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), or Al Gore’s 2007 prediction that polar bears’ Arctic habitat would be ice-free by 2013.
Thankfully for children fearing polar bear extinction, current satellite readings by the US National Snow and Ice Data Center reveal Arctic ice larger than when Gore accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his global warming activism -- an Alaska-sized expansion since 2012.
Clearly scientists don’t yet understand the relationship between rising CO2 levels and global warming -- now conveniently called climate change, rendering all planetary events explainable by a theory whose falsification is impossible.
Unfortunately, the skepticism required for scientific discovery is now punished, as MIT professor of atmospheric physics Richard Lindzen described. “Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse,” he wrote. “Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis.”
Today, skepticism is synonymous with greed and immorality to Church adherents who bask in the influence and profits they derive from sermonizing and policy advocacy. Yet, they ignore the “inconvenient truth” that their policies adversely impact the lifestyles of the budget conscience.
So, who are the heretics?
Are they alarmists intent on circumventing scientific inquiry and the free and open debate on which national consensus in a pluralistic democracy depends, or skeptics “not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead,” as Thomas Jefferson encouraged?
“It is error alone which needs the support of government,” Jefferson believed, because “truth can stand by itself.”
In his Farewell Address noteworthy for military-industrial-complex warnings, President Eisenhower articulated the modern version of Jefferson’s concern. “A government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity,” he said, and “the prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.”
The modern era is awash in government–abetted tragedies precipitated by theories claiming to advance the human condition but which, in fact, involved anti-poor and anti-progress policies. Thomas Malthus’ theory that population would always outstrip resources justified 19th-century British tax and regulatory policies to constrain human aspirations. The result was poverty-induced famine in Ireland and India, and 20 million victims.
Ensuing in the 20th-century were even more deadly policies – derived from Malthusian-based eugenics and resource depletion theories -- proving Jefferson’s observation that “even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”
Malthus’ theories are as wrong as they are immoral. Since his time, world population grew seven-fold as well-being (world GDP per capita) grew 50-fold, thanks to human ingenuity and economic freedom.
Today, life-enhancing devices unimaginable to Malthus – refrigerators, phones, air-conditioning, cars, and televisions -- are commonplace, except among the poorest. Why decrease their affordability by increasing the cost of the energy required to make, distribute and run them?
The truth is, affordable energy and the economic growth and well-being it enables are the keys to addressing our greatest concerns, including the environment, joblessness, poverty, and indebtedness – even terrorism.
Think Again – To pass a secure, prosperous and clean world to future generations, shouldn’t we encourage – not constrain -- the scientific inquiry that informs and unleashes boundless human creativity?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Imagine a 4th of July tradition like Hollywood’s where each year the Oscars pay homage to fallen stars. Liberty-loving Americans would fete public servants who’ve honored Thomas Jefferson’s rule to “leave no authority existing not responsible to the people.”
Might celebrating trustworthy stewards inspire Americans to Think Again about our founders’ insights, ingraining a culture that prizes democratic accountability and lawful government, the one that transformed our risky political experiment into history’s freest and most prosperous society?
We’d be celebrating two recently passed stalwarts who put country and constitutional order before party: Senator Howard Baker, the Senate Watergate Committee’s ranking Republican who famously asked “what did the President know and when did he know it,” and Johnnie Walters, President Nixon’s IRS commissioner, who refused to target his “enemies list.”
Like our Founders, Baker and Walters understood that where equality under the law goes, so goes freedom. Therefore, the greatest threat to civil society and human potential is a powerful, deceitful and unaccountable government where the few rule the many.
That’s why the Founders designed a liberty-preserving system that fragmented and checked government power among equal, competing branches, conferring ultimate authority upon the people -- not our representatives.
Respectful of Jefferson’s rule, unlike many in today’s “Ruling Elite,” it’s doubtful Baker or Walters would stomach the IRS targeting Americans for their political beliefs, or the evaporation of email evidence critical to congress’ investigation -- called “a conspiracy theory” by the White House.
Journalistic sleuths Woodward and Bernstein know that government accountability derives from an active media and an informed citizenry. In comparing the IRS and Benghazi scandals to Watergate, they criticized the media for abandoning its constitutionally protected watchdog role, appearing instead to protect the government from Americans.
Public servants may arrive eager to drain Washington’s cesspool, but after harnessing governmental power and dispensing money and favors, they discover it’s a hot tub made inviting by politicians, bureaucrats, public-sector unions, lobbyists, donors, and the media.
Our greatest challenge -- and the biggest threat to the world’s oldest (and shortest) constitution -- isn’t a left versus right tug-of-war, but a struggle to wrest power away from those who collude at the citizens’ expense.
Incentivized to invest in influence instead of innovation, Big Business (currently enjoying record profits) can buy access to trillions in spending, tax and regulatory favors. The result is a heavily indebted citizenry and a stagnant economy warped by cronyism, as evidenced by the 2.9 percent plunge in first-quarter U.S. GDP -- the worst non-recession contraction in over 40 years.
Not surprisingly, the small business sector that accounts for two-thirds of net new job creation is suffering as “business deaths now exceed business births for the first time in the thirty-plus-year history of our data,” according to a new Brookings Institution report on declining business dynamism.
While Wall Street and Washington boom, the rest of America suffers crisis levels of income stagnation, underemployment, economic immobility and government dependency, with a record 50 million living in poverty.
Yet as the American Dream slips beyond reach for ordinary citizens, those who oppose the Ruling Elite are labeled extremists, proving George Orwell’s adage that “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”
Consider last month’s Mississippi Senate run-off that spoilsman Thad Cochran narrowly won, thanks to crony donations and promises to keep the gravy train running, unlike his “extremist” opponent.
But who are the extremists? Those who advocate free markets, equality under the law, fiscal responsibility, constitutional adherence, in God we trust, and peace through strength – the campaign platform of David Brat, Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s vanquisher – or the Ruling Elite who subvert these guiding principles?
Though distressed Americans clamor for law, order and security on our southern border, slack immigration-law enforcement has accelerated unlawful migration. Exacerbating the lawlessness are lawmakers like Nancy Pelosi who called the deluge of illegal immigrants an “opportunity.”
Unfortunately, the opportunity is at the expense of working Americans, considering all employment growth since 2000 went to immigrants (legal and illegal), the Center for Immigration Studies reported.
Meanwhile, with Congress requiring border security prior to any amnesty, President Obama intends to act alone, as he did in 2012 when he indefinitely suspended deportations of 550,000 alien youths, granting them work permits.
Commenting on Obama’s intentions following his twelfth unanimous Supreme Court rebuke for federal power over-reach, constitutional law professor and Obama-voter Jonathan Turley explained, the President “can’t say the solution to gridlock is you simply have to resolve it on my terms.”
Having overthrown King George’s unfair and arbitrary rule, our Founders established an America of, by, and for the people – not Ruling Elites -- stipulating that presidents “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
Think Again – wouldn’t a shared allegiance to our constitutional order be the best way to realize a more perfect union, for “ourselves and our posterity?”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“You can’t handle the truth!” Jack Nicholson shouted at Tom Cruise during the climactic court-martial scene in the movie “A Few Good Men.”
Caught in a lie that exposed his “above-the-law” mentality, Nicholson’s character, Col. Nathan Jessep, justifies his lawlessness, declaring, “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it!”
It’s a riveting scene, pitting security against the rule of law. But before agreeing with Jessup that lawfulness conflicts with freedom, Think Again.
In fact, both truthfulness and equality under the law are essential to freedom, justice and the trust that binds civil society.
Because humans are inclined to believe their ends are virtuous enough to justify immoral means, America’s founders designed a liberty-preserving system to thwart excessive government power.
Their revolutionary principles included limited government, popular consent and human equality, meaning no one – not a president, congressman, IRS official or Bureau of Land Management agent -- can be the ruler over another because the government’s power is citizen-derived.
If this sounds quaint and obsolete, it’s because the federal executive branch bureaucracy has grown huge and unaccountable. Dwarfing the other two branches, its 15 departments, 452 agencies and 2,721,000 administrators generate 26,000-plus pages of new regulations annually.
This hydra-headed bureaucracy can be deployed against any citizen with virtual impunity. When weaponized to target and stifle divergent opinions, its capacity to wreak havoc should terrify every American, for where equality under the law goes, so goes freedom.
Whereas half of Americans viewed the government as a protector of individual liberty in December 2012, an April 2014 Rasmussen poll found only one-in-five do now, while nearly three-in-five believe government threatens liberty.
Much blame goes to a politicized and unaccountable IRS -- the omnipresent and invasive agency charged with tax collection and Obamacare enforcement. This week, the IRS is reeling from reports it gave bonuses to 1,100 employees who didn’t pay their taxes, meaning taxpayers are rewarding tax collectors who are tax-cheats.
This revelation comes amid the ongoing congressional investigation of the IRS, which apologized last year for unfairly applying tax-exemption laws and abusing its power.
Documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act prompted Watergate sleuth Bob Woodward to opine that “there’s obviously something there” at the IRS, adding, it’s “very unusual… for the president to…. say there is not a smidgeon of evidence [of corruption] here.”
Despite stonewalled congressional investigations, we know the ex-chief of the IRS tax-exempt unit, Lois Lerner, was the lynchpin in a multi-agency effort to use the machinery of government to silence advocates of limited government.
After twice refusing to answer congressional questions, Lerner will likely be found in contempt of Congress. Nevertheless, her emails reveal that the day before apologizing for the IRS’s “inexcusable” targeting of conservative groups, she was coordinating with Justice Department officials to criminally prosecute the same improperly targeted organizations.
We also know elected Democrats encouraged the discrimination, including Rep. Elijah Cummings, the House Oversight and Government Reform committee’s ranking member.
Calling the congressional investigation a witch-hunt, Cummings wants the case closed, an outcome virtually assured by the appointment of long-time Democrat-donor Barbara Bosserman to a key role in the Justice Department's IRS inquiry.
Among the scores of organizations trapped in the government’s dragnet was “True the Vote,” an anti-vote fraud watchdog group founded by Catherine Engelbrecht that trains poll workers, registers voters, and supports a voter-ID requirement. In 2010, it applied to the IRS for the same non-profit status that similar social welfare organizations readily obtained.
Since then, Engelbrecht, her business, nonprofit organizations and family have endured an administrative Star Chamber, suffering time-consuming, expensive, high-pressure scrutiny by a syndicate of government agencies -- including the FBI and the IRS -- and by Cummings.
In her congressional testimony, Engelbrecht evoked Patrick Henry’s “liberty or death” oration, declaring, “I will not ask for permission to exercise my Constitutional rights.” Refusing to rest until justice is served, she’s filed an ethics complaint against Cummings and a lawsuit against the IRS.
As Col. Jessup learned upon his arrest, justice requires accountability, which depends on an active and independent media, an informed citizenry and a shared belief that the truth and the rule of law matter.
All were present during Watergate, though not today. Instead we depend on embattled citizens like Engelbrecht to fight for the truth in a system that decrees the law must apply equally to everyone, even government officials.
That’s why President Lincoln believed, “If given the truth, (Americans) can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”
Think Again – Though we can’t vote out bureaucrats, shouldn’t we insist politicians stop granting ever more power to those, like Col. Jessup, who believe they’re above the law?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
With several political climaxes looming, it serves to recall “High Noon” starring Gary Cooper as Will Kane, the beleaguered marshal who single-handedly confronts paroled murderer Frank Miller and his gang. As civil society’s elected protector, Kane is a reluctant hero, abandoned by his cowering and self-interested townsfolk. Improbably victorious, he departs town, flinging his badge with contempt for the citizens who wouldn’t defend the rule of law on which their freedom, prosperity and security depend.
Though protagonists in our national Kabuki Theater claim to care about us, Think Again before allowing them to join Kane on the moral high ground. In verbal shootouts over Obamacare, the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling and Syria, our lawmen resemble Kane’s fair-weather constituents for whom self-interest trumps the common good. By failing to anticipate and resolve America’s imminent threats before they reach High Noon climaxes, politicians undermine America’s interests and squander their legitimacy.
There’s a Kane-like resentment smoldering in far-flung territories for lawmakers who trade political favors for donations; pass incomprehensible, lobbyist-written, and unread laws; and grant ever-increasing authority to the intrusive and unelected bureaucracy. Lawmakers may arrive in Washington believing it’s a cesspool, but after harnessing governmental power and dispensing billions, they discover it’s a hot tub made inviting by the collusion of big government, big business and big special interests.
Yet while Washington booms, Americans endure depressed wages, economic stagnation, and high unemployment. To stimulate the sluggish economy, the Federal Reserve is continuing it’s near-zero interest-rate policy, cushioning the accounts of stock-market investors and bankers, while crushing the financial plans of ordinary Americans, imperiling retirement savings, and exacerbating income-inequality.
Though Washington manufactures little beyond economically injurious legislation, regulations, and bills for taxpayers to fund, it enjoys the nation’s highest median household income, up 23 percent since 2000, compared to a 7 percent decline nationally. That’s because federal spending ($3.5 trillion) now absorbs nearly one-quarter of the economy, up from 18 percent ($1.76 trillion) in 2000, causing a tripling of the national debt – a growth rate the Congressional Budget Office says is unsustainable. Furthermore, with unfunded liabilities exceeding $75 trillion and without reforms, Social Security and Medicare won’t exist for younger Americans.
Given this fiscal picture, and with tax revenues hitting a record high, can we trust politicians like Nancy Pelosi who now assert “the cupboard is bare; there’s no more cuts to make?” How can lawmakers claim to be for hardworking families and younger Americans without addressing the unsustainability of our growing debt and entitlement obligations, knowing these taxpayers must pay the bills?
Lawmakers’ rank hypocrisy and lawlessness were exposed this month when the White House agreed to grant Congress and its staffers a special exemption from Obamacare – the 2,700-page law they imposed on the citizenry – by continuing special taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies. This Washington self-dealing comes after granting over 2,000 waivers to political allies and illegally suspending major parts of the law, including the employer mandate and subsidy verification requirements -- fiats that invite rampant fraud at taxpayer expense.
So concerned with the law’s unintended consequences, the AFL-CIO declared it “will lead to the destruction of the 40-hour work week” while devastating “the health and wellbeing of our members along with millions of other hardworking Americans.” As the New York Times reported last week, "having an insurance card does not guarantee access to specialists or other providers." Furthermore, as businesses skirt Obamacare’s expensive provisions by eliminating jobs and reducing hours, what difference does coverage for pre-existing conditions and 25-year old children make to those who lose their plans and doctors?
You know something's wrong with a healthcare law that results in fewer doctors, nurses, and hospital beds, but more IRS enforcers. And for those who insist the government stay out of your bedroom, steel yourselves to answer intrusive questions about your private life for data mining purposes -- or pay hefty fines.
As the country churns from Obamacare’s impacts, the clock approaches High Noon on budget and debt ceiling decisions to which escalating health care costs are central. Yet, the President declared Washington a negotiation-free zone, a curiosity since real outlaws like Russia’s Putin and Syria’s Assad are now negotiating partners.
Will President Rouhani of Iran, the planet’s largest exporter of terrorism, be next? Assad may now avoid using chemical weapons, but how many more innocents will die conventionally because two-years of American calls for Assad’s ouster -- and other saber rattling -- were empty cowboy rhetoric?
With strategic planning and leadership, these policy cauldrons have solutions, though not when elected officials scurry from their moral duties, like High Noon’s townspeople. There are scores of courageous Marshal Kane's in every town across America, except the one where the nation needs them most.
Think Again – wouldn’t you rally around this kind of leadership to avoid devolving into the Divided States of America?
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.”