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
“I often long for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood,” joked Sen. Fred Thompson, the “Law & Order” star who died recently. A real-life prosecutor and Watergate counsel, Thompson formulated the famous question that hastened Richard Nixon’s downfall: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
If you believe this question still delivers political accountability, Think Again. Alas, the Watergate era’s bipartisan commitment to equal and impartial justice has been rendered obsolete by lawmakers who often operate lawlessly. Capturing the hypocrisy, comedian Bill Murray tweeted “So, if we lie to the government, it’s a felony. But if they lie to us its politics…”
Bernie Sanders is right. A few rich people shouldn’t run the country. But neither should entitled politicians, as America’s founders understood. That’s because “even good people do bad things,” Thompson lamented, observing, “Some of our folks went to Washington to drain the swamp and made partnership with the alligators instead.”
Designed to limit and restrain power-hungry alligators, our liberty-preserving system reflected our founders’ insight that “men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious,” as Alexander Hamilton put it. “Let no more be heard of confidence in man,” Thomas Jefferson argued, “but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
Yet so politicized is Washington, even institutions charged with equal enforcement of laws (the Justice Department and the IRS) ride a merry-go-round of evasion and unaccountability, abetted by politicians who defend the indefensible, and a political media whose untrustworthiness rivals that of Congress.
Not surprisingly, Americans are searching for “anti-politicians” and rejecting the herd-like media’s monopoly. Witness Ben Carson’s recent $4-million fundraising haul from small donors. Viewing the media as more interested in discrediting than investigating, the concern isn’t media scrutiny but its unequal application.
Comparing the IRS and Benghazi scandals to Watergate, journalistic sleuths Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have criticized the media for abandoning its role to safeguard the people from the government, appearing instead to protect government officials from Americans.
Unlike Watergate, both controversies were dismissed as political witch-hunts. Virtually unnoticed was last month’s Justice Department decision to drop charges against IRS officials – notably Lois Lerner – for abuses of power. Will the FBI criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s classified information violations also be whitewashed, unlike the cases of two former CIA directors who were held accountable for similar violations?
Also headed for history’s dustbin is the Benghazi tragedy that resulted in four American deaths. After Clinton testified before the House Select Committee on Benghazi last month, reporters marveled at her lawyerly obfuscations, calling her testimony a “political victory.”
Though the hearings established what Clinton knew and when she knew it, reporters noted instead her calm demeanor under questioning. Imagine Woodward and Bernstein covering Nixon’s burglars as if they were Broadway performers.
Her never-before-seen emails confirmed that she intentionally lied when she publicly blamed an anti-Muslim video for what she simultaneously told her family was a premeditated al-Qaeda-like attack on our consulate.
But as Clinton once asked, “What difference at this point does it make?” Do the incompetence, avoidable deaths, lied-to victims’ families, stonewalling, covert server, and unaccountability really not matter?
National Journal pundit Ron Fournier, a longtime Clinton-fan, thinks “it makes all the difference” to an electorate that’s lost trust in government and politics. About Clinton – whose honesty rating in the Quinnipiac poll is the lowest among presidential candidates – Fournier wrote, “Only the most blindly loyal and partisan voters will accept her word and ignore the serial deception.”
Voters also feel deceived by Congress, especially after former House Speaker John Boehner’s last official act – the secretly negotiated, accounting gimmick-laden budget bill that passed in the dead of night, without review or debate.
Suspending the debt ceiling and painstakingly negotiated spending caps, this deal means that by 2017, Congress will have authorized an additional $15 trillion in debt since George W. Bush’s 2001 inauguration. That’s three times more debt in 16 years than was accumulated the prior 200 years.
Touted as bipartisan, the irresponsible budget deal confirms retired Sen. Tom Coburn’s insight: the problem isn’t that politicians can’t agree, it’s that they’ve agreed for decades “to borrow and spend far beyond our means” and the Constitution’s boundaries. It’s “the very problem our founders sought to avoid – a deeply indebted government that’s threatening the survival of our republic.”
Absent Constitutional guardrails, a shared belief that no one is above the law, and a watchdog media that enforces accountability, Nixon-like alligators now rule Washington. Thompson was onto the solution when he joked that should scientists ever learn to resurrect extinct species, we “might want to start with the Founding Fathers.”
Think Again – while we can’t bring back our Founders, we can restrain Washington’s alligators by being informed and engaged citizens, and by heeding Jefferson’s warning: “The greatest danger to American freedom is a government that ignores the Constitution.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
If only Pope Francis were in my Buenos Aires taxi last Christmas.
I could have used his moral authority (and Argentine-accented Spanish) in negotiating with a driver who’d forgotten the “Golden Rule.” And in witnessing my struggle, the self-described “very allergic to economics” pontiff might have gleaned a moral lesson, helping him Think Again about the free enterprise system he’s criticized.
Perhaps he’d grasp why the life-enhancing innovations that America continuously exports – cars, vaccinations, refrigerators, iPhones, 3-D printers, and the cheap and reliable taxi-alternative Uber, for which I longed – don’t happen in Argentina.
Nor do they spring from other Latin American countries, like Venezuela where a protest sign encapsulated people’s contempt for the social-justice espousing frauds who run many Latin nations: “These Castro-Chavistas speak like Marx, govern like Stalin, and live like Rockefeller, while the people suffer.”
Would His Holiness recognize how Argentina’s corporatism – the unholy alliance between government and conglomerates – corrodes social trust, rendering his countrymen voiceless and crucifying their wellbeing and dignity?
After successive governments eroded the rule of law, property rights, and sound money, replacing free enterprise with central planning and a debt-financed welfare state, Argentina slid toward the bottom of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World Index.
Once the world’s breadbasket and fourth-richest nation per-capita – hence the saying “rich as an Argentine” – the Pope’s native land is now a basket case with economic wellbeing (GDP per-capita) only one-third America’s.
If the Holy Father had heard our cabdriver despair over widespread deprivation, corruption and distrust of everyone except the pontiff, might he agree with fellow rock-star Bono about how to lift up the masses? “In dealing with poverty,” Bono stresses, “welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure.”
The patient is mending, the World Bank reported: For the first time in history, extreme poverty afflicts less than 10 percent of world population. Meanwhile, people in economically freer countries enjoy higher living standards, cleaner environments, longer lives, and better-protected civil rights. They also have less corruption, child labor and unemployment.
In his new book, “The Conservative Heart,” American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks calls the free enterprise system “America’s gift to the world,” enabling more people to pursue their happiness through earned success derived from work.
“It was the free enterprise system that not only attracted millions of the world’s poor to our shores and gave them lives of dignity, but also empowered billions more worldwide to pull themselves out of poverty,” Brooks asserts.
At home, however, America’s asymmetric recovery “has cleaved the country into winners and losers like never before,” he writes. Consequently, Americans fear our free society’s trademarks – opportunity and social mobility – are disappearing, imperiling our children’s security and prosperity.
We may be better off than Argentines, but with median income down 6.5 percent since 2007, record numbers out of the workforce, poverty and government dependency rates at all-time highs, and deaths of small businesses (job creation’s primary engine) exceeding starts for the first time on record, it feels like we’re slouching toward Argentina.
While Wall Street and Silicon Valley have boomed, the richest and most generous nation on earth contains pockets of destitution and immiseration – like Baltimore – where millions are deprived of the dignity and fulfillment of work.
Brooks’ snapshot of the last seven years is “deja-vu all over again,” Argentine-style: “People see corporate cronies getting rich because of their cozy relationship with the government. They see bailouts for huge banks but small businesses going bust. They see government loan guarantees for big companies with friends in high places, but hear ‘No loans for you’ from their local bank.”
Ranked among the world’s most economically free nations for decades, America has fallen to 16 in Fraser’s Index, due to these unfair government policies. Consequently, US annual growth is projected to be half its 3 percent historic average.
That His Holiness is unaware of the relationship between economic freedom and human flourishing is a sin, though not original. After all, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders sins similarly, arguing for greater government control of our lives, even at the expense of economic growth.
“You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants,” Sanders declared, “when children are hungry in this country” – as if narrowing deodorant choice could decrease hunger.
The truth is, poverty is humanity’s natural state, and free enterprise is the most merciful economic system yet designed for moving people toward productive and dignified lives. No central planner exists who’s capable of improving on the endless autonomous decisions made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively in the free market, as if divinely guided.
Think Again – as long as we enjoy the blessings of economic freedom, we have the choice not to attend the Pope Francis & Bernie Sanders School of Economics where the tuition is free, but extraordinarily costly, as my Argentine cabbie would confirm.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
It’s not a Mad Max world into which students are graduating, but it’s a Mad, Mad one, fraught with genocidal fanaticism, proliferating scandals, and morally deficient leadership.
As terrorists claimed swaths of Iraq and Syria for the Islamic State, and “death to America”-seeking Iran crept closer to nuclear weapons capability, recent headlines featured indictments of international soccer officials at FIFA and former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Distrust of civil institutions pervades society.
Meanwhile, the conflicts of interest surrounding Hillary Clinton prompted CNN’s John King to note “you can’t go 20 minutes...without some story…. that gives you a little bit of the creeps.” Will Americans ignore behavior in a presidential candidate that they’d normally deem reprehensible?
The question before graduates is whether they’ll “party on” – accepting a world of imperiled liberties and moral retreat – or whether they’ll Think Again and try to improve it.
Can a generation more informed about Bruce Jenner’s transformation than the Constitution adhere to a founding principle of our democracy, that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom,” as Benjamin Franklin insisted?
Will iPhone-era Americans raised in the freest, richest and most decent society the world has ever known demand the civic trust, honesty, and accountability on which America’s extraordinariness has depended?
Unfortunately, for over half a century, many institutions charged with cultivating civic virtue – family, faith and education – have failed to transmit the moral values vital to healthy societies. Skyrocketing numbers of single households, a struggling middle class and a crisis in higher education have combined to deprive us of citizens with the requisite moral character for self-government.
Author J.D. Salinger captured education’s problem in his 1961 book “Franny and Zooey:” His heroine grumbles, “You never even hear any hints dropped on a campus that wisdom is supposed to be the goal of knowledge. You hardly ever even hear the word ‘wisdom’ mentioned!”
Professor Allan Bloom of the University of Chicago had a more scholarly take in his 1987 bestseller, “The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Student.”
Bemoaning the demotion of the humanities’ “great books” and academia’s “openness” trend, Bloom argued that because education was no longer a quest for wisdom and “truth,” it was eroding the intellectual foundations of liberty and morality. After all, 18-22 years olds don’t just self-actualize morally.
“Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason,” Bloom contended, lamenting, “It now means accepting everything and denying reason’s power” to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, and justice from injustice.
Safe from reflective thought, potential insult or conflicting ideas, and without the ennobling insights and discipline gleaned from studying Aristotle, Shakespeare or Twain, is it surprising that our “best and brightest” converted housing finance into a high-stakes casino, rendered our foreign policy incoherent, and encumbered generations of American taxpayers with more debt than the world has ever known?
Campus horribles reached a zenith with the lauding of Columbia University undergraduate Emma Sulkowicz – aka “Mattress Girl” – who accused a friend of brutally raping her. Though the University and district attorney cleared him, Sulkowicz continued to tote a mattress -- the scene of the alleged crime -- on her back, garnering media plaudits, an invitation from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to the State of the Union address, and a celebratory shout-out at commencement.
To Sulkowicz’s champions, it doesn’t matter that the truth interfered with their popular narrative about "campus rape culture," or that their irresponsible statements increase the scrutiny given to rape victims and irreparably damage the reputations of the truly innocent. Those things are a trifle compared to their political agenda.
As if addressing Sulkowicz, actor Matthew McConaughey told University of Houston graduates “Life’s not fair. It never was, isn’t now and won’t ever be. Do not fall into the entitled trap of feeling like you’re a victim. You’re not.” McConaughey echoed Franklin’s maxim: “The Constitution only guarantees you the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
Last year, Admiral William McRaven, who commanded the Osama bin Laden operation, mined his Navy SEAL training to offer University of Texas graduates tips on how to change “ourselves and the world around us.”
In his widely admired address, he counseled, “Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone…You will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when times are toughest, face down bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up,” then subsequent generations will live in a better world.
In truth, our Mad, Mad world isn’t a safe place and our era’s existential and moral challenges aren’t unprecedented. If graduates haven’t yet grappled with mind-bending questions – what’s a good person, how to make ethical judgments, what are civic duties – they will. As they struggle, may humanity’s wisdom guide them.
Think Again – “The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance,” Franklin said. To recall why, consider Adolf Hitler’s observation: “lucky for governments that people don’t think.”
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
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
Last week, as Ukrainian émigré-turned-tech tycoon Jan Koum prepared to cash a multi-billion dollar check from Facebook -- acquirer of his start-up “WhatsApp” -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was checking-out of his Gatsby-esque estate where he’d cached his stolen plunder.
That the two Ukrainians derived their riches under diametrically opposed systems – free enterprise versus banana republic – Illustrates why all income inequalities are not created equal.
Most don’t resent the rich -- only the undeservedly rich – as a recent Venezuelan protest sign conveyed: “These Castro-Chavistas speak like Marx, govern like Stalin, and live like Rockefeller, while the people suffer!”
Koum’s affluence springs from a free society in which everyone has a God-given right to go as far as their work and talent will take them. Yanukovich’s hijacked wealth is exploitive, depriving others of dignity, opportunity, and economic mobility. One system disperses power as it champions an individual’s right to pursue happiness; the other concentrates it while stifling human potential.
There will always be a top 1%. The question is: will they be hardworking and productive people whose value creation benefits society – think Steve Jobs and JK Rowling -- or cronies living off perks extracted from the labor of the little people?
In America, we have increasing numbers of both which is why we must Think Again before allowing policymakers to concentrate more power in the name of social justice. In fact, economic liberalization is the real cure.
Economically freer countries enjoy greater growth, opportunity, civil rights and health, as evident in the yawning gap between North and South Korea, and in Asia where hundreds of millions have escaped grinding poverty.
To secure their freedoms, Ukrainian protestors resemble Koum’s mother. She fled Kiev for California in 1992 with 16-year-old Jan in search of religious liberty, privacy from Ukraine’s surveillance state and the opportunity to realize a better life.
Though they struggled upon arrival, relying on public assistance, Jan’s climb from food stamps to Facebook fortune was jagged and improbable -- a journey he honored by signing the $19 billion sale agreement outside the building that once housed the food stamp office.
The Koum tale is a triumph made possible by America’s system of free enterprise and limited government, which produced human history’s most dynamic and decent society.
Today the American Dream is increasingly out-of-reach for those stuck in government dependency or struggling to survive amidst stagnant wages, declining job mobility, and ever-increasing health care, food and energy costs.
Confusing the symptom with the disease, President Obama rails against income inequality, pronouncing it “the defining challenge of our time.” But he has it backwards -- economic stagnation causes income inequality, not vice versa.
Obama also ignores the social mobility-impairing trend of single motherhood, which exploded from 4 percent in 1960 to 42 percent currently, accounting for 50 percent of chronic poverty.
Instead of targeted policies to eradicate poverty – eliminating welfare’s marriage penalty and allowing parents to choose the school that’s best for their child --- Obama’s proposed minimum wage hike and unemployment-insurance extension are mere Band-Aids on the cancer of opportunity inequality.
Five years of Obama’s trickle-down-government policies have buoyed Wall Street, corporate America and Washington, DC where seven of America’s wealthiest counties reside – like the capital of “Hunger Games” whose powerful aristocracy lives off the tribute paid by impoverished citizens in the territories.
Despite trillions of stimulus and War on Poverty spending -- causing debt to swell 63 percent -- the nearly five-year economic recovery has one-quarter the GDP growth rate of the Reagan recovery. Though the stock market has doubled, median household income fell 6 percent, labor force participation hit a 35-year low, and a record 47 million Americans now live in poverty.
While not Yanukovich-style graft, our government transfers hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the affluent, thanks to cronyism, corporate welfare and entitlement programs that don’t distinguish between ordinary Americans and corporate jet owners.
Last year, America’s richest 10% captured the greatest share of pre-tax income growth since the Roaring 20’s, according to University of California-Berkeley economist Emanuel Saez. He also showed the top 1% capturing 95 percent of income gains during the Obama Recovery (2009-present), compared to 65 percent during the Bush expansion (2002-2007).
That so many Americans have fallen behind is both appalling and avoidable, and a reflection of America’s deteriorating freedoms. Formerly second in the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Index of Economic Freedom behind Hong Kong, America is now twelfth -- below Estonia.
Bequeathing our children an economically stagnant America is a choice, not a destiny. Our real “defining challenge” is to restore the growth that creates jobs, opportunity, social mobility and future Jan Koum’s.
Think Again -- Shouldn’t our goal be to unleash the dreams and talents of all Americans – especially former food stamp clients – so they can lead fulfilling and happy lives?
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
Compared to their parents, current graduates are paying four times more in inflation-adjusted terms for their diplomas while suffering substantially inferior job and income prospects. Like Animal House’s witless frat-brothers, those who believe college is a “last hurrah” before plunging into adult reality must Think Again.