Commentary Magazine


Topic: federal government

Obama’s Poll Troubles Suggest His 2012 Strategy Is Backfiring

The fallout from two major polls yesterday—Washington Post/ABC and New York Times/CBS—finding measurable and significant drops in support for Barack Obama nationwide during the past month has instantly changed the national conversation. Obama is in trouble, and there’s no pretending he isn’t. One poll might have been viewed as an outlier, but two polls taken around the same time with the same sample size of American adults can’t be dismissed as statistical noise. In the New York Post today, in a column written before the release of the NYT/CBS survey, I suggest the media focus on macroeconomic good news is blinding commentators (many of whom wish to be blinded) to facts of American life that can’t be so easily measured. People will not be convinced that they should feel better than they do about their current financial condition and the prospects for the future by assurances about a positive change in the unemployment rate that says nothing about what’s going on with the value of their house and the cost of oil at the pump.

But I want to propose another possibility for Obama’s troubles: His political and tactical strategy for 2012 may be backfiring on him. He has decided, for obvious reasons, to do what he can to highlight the differences between him and the Republicans at every turn, most notably in the recent “contraceptive health” debate. He’s trying to polarize the debate (while making it seem the GOP is doing it), to draw sharp lines of distinction between him and the Republicans; it’s a classic strategy when you can’t run a good-news campaign. And yet this may be the worst possible time for such an effort. Time and again during the past year, Obama has decided to go to the American people with this story to tell: I can’t work with these lunatics. And every time he does—during and after the debt-ceiling debacle in particular—he and his supporters are surprised to find the public assigns him a considerable portion of the blame for the inability to strike deals and move forward.

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The fallout from two major polls yesterday—Washington Post/ABC and New York Times/CBS—finding measurable and significant drops in support for Barack Obama nationwide during the past month has instantly changed the national conversation. Obama is in trouble, and there’s no pretending he isn’t. One poll might have been viewed as an outlier, but two polls taken around the same time with the same sample size of American adults can’t be dismissed as statistical noise. In the New York Post today, in a column written before the release of the NYT/CBS survey, I suggest the media focus on macroeconomic good news is blinding commentators (many of whom wish to be blinded) to facts of American life that can’t be so easily measured. People will not be convinced that they should feel better than they do about their current financial condition and the prospects for the future by assurances about a positive change in the unemployment rate that says nothing about what’s going on with the value of their house and the cost of oil at the pump.

But I want to propose another possibility for Obama’s troubles: His political and tactical strategy for 2012 may be backfiring on him. He has decided, for obvious reasons, to do what he can to highlight the differences between him and the Republicans at every turn, most notably in the recent “contraceptive health” debate. He’s trying to polarize the debate (while making it seem the GOP is doing it), to draw sharp lines of distinction between him and the Republicans; it’s a classic strategy when you can’t run a good-news campaign. And yet this may be the worst possible time for such an effort. Time and again during the past year, Obama has decided to go to the American people with this story to tell: I can’t work with these lunatics. And every time he does—during and after the debt-ceiling debacle in particular—he and his supporters are surprised to find the public assigns him a considerable portion of the blame for the inability to strike deals and move forward.

The president knows the public loathes Washington, and so he has decided to run against Washington. This is usually a Republican strategy and for a good reason—Republican politicians do generally hew to the belief that the federal government is too big and too intrusive and needs to be checked. Barack Obama has presided over the most rapid growth in the size and power of the federal government since the Second World War. He has empowered Washington, and everyone knows it.

He can’t get away with blaming Washington’s ineffectuality and division on the other guys because he is the candidate of Washington. If you want more government—more safety net, more redistribution, more restrictions on the rights of mediating institutions like religious-run charities and hospitals for the purpose of expanding your definition of freedom—Barack Obama is your man. For him to turn around and effectively tell the electorate, “I hate this town like you do, so reelect me because I share your values,” is, to put it mildly, not credible. And there’s this as well: If we’ve spent weeks talking about contraception, which seems to driving everyone bonkers, who’s responsible for that?

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Big Government and the Spectrum Problem

Larry Downes has a remarkable column on CNET news about the shortage of spectrum for use by mobile broadband. It is a catalog of government ineptitude, incompetence, regulatory capture, and short-sightedness. Downes points out the rapid growth of mobile data means it needs access to more bands of useable radio spectrum, but the available inventory is close to zero. He blames a wide range of problems, most if not all of them revolving around the government. For many years, there was the outdated FCC “command and control” licensing system that committed spectrum to technologies that faded away.  There was the FCC’s inability to keep track of the licenses it had awarded.  There was the federal government’s tendency to grab and warehouse spectrum.

When the FCC shifted to an auction model – an important step forward – in the 1990s, it “still has a hard time resisting old temptations . . . . [it] attaches conditions or limits auction eligibility to micromanage emerging markets and industries – or try to . . . . One result of this tinkering has been that several recent auctions failed to meet their reserve price.” Then there is the federal law that – thanks to Congress’s vulnerability to assiduous lobbying – allows local broadcaster to force cable providers to carry their signals, thus reducing incentives for the broadcasters to give up their spectrum. And there is the government’s rejection of the proposed AT&T merger with T-Mobile last year, which “sent an unmistakable signal that [the FCC] will no longer allow market transactions as a work-around to its own plodding and sclerotic mismanagement.”

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Larry Downes has a remarkable column on CNET news about the shortage of spectrum for use by mobile broadband. It is a catalog of government ineptitude, incompetence, regulatory capture, and short-sightedness. Downes points out the rapid growth of mobile data means it needs access to more bands of useable radio spectrum, but the available inventory is close to zero. He blames a wide range of problems, most if not all of them revolving around the government. For many years, there was the outdated FCC “command and control” licensing system that committed spectrum to technologies that faded away.  There was the FCC’s inability to keep track of the licenses it had awarded.  There was the federal government’s tendency to grab and warehouse spectrum.

When the FCC shifted to an auction model – an important step forward – in the 1990s, it “still has a hard time resisting old temptations . . . . [it] attaches conditions or limits auction eligibility to micromanage emerging markets and industries – or try to . . . . One result of this tinkering has been that several recent auctions failed to meet their reserve price.” Then there is the federal law that – thanks to Congress’s vulnerability to assiduous lobbying – allows local broadcaster to force cable providers to carry their signals, thus reducing incentives for the broadcasters to give up their spectrum. And there is the government’s rejection of the proposed AT&T merger with T-Mobile last year, which “sent an unmistakable signal that [the FCC] will no longer allow market transactions as a work-around to its own plodding and sclerotic mismanagement.”

Finally, there are the tremendous delays imposed by local zoning authorities in allowing new or improved towers to be built. Paradoxically, the delays are the worst in areas that need improvement the most, including Washington, D.C., and the Bay Area. The delays appear to stem in part from local government collusion with existing service providers, and in part from the sheer spirit of NIMBY, but the frequency with which Berkeley appears in the list of problematic localities suggests that leftist resentment of business in general, or the mobile phone industry in particular, is also a factor. The result is that, in spite of recent action by Congress, we may have only three years left before the rising tide of mobile data chokes itself into immobility.

Richard Epstein had wise words yesterday about the fallacies of government by expert and the incompatibility of the administrative state with the rule of law, but as I am not an expert on spectrum policy, mobile data, or cell phones, and have no idea how to solve any of these problems, reading Downes provokes for me only two thoughts. First, what a mess. And second, this is the government that is going to run health care fairly, wisely, expertly, and efficiently? God help us all.

 

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Judge Vinson’s Madisonian Vision vs. ObamaCare

I’ve now read through the 78-page decision by Federal Judge Roger Vinson in which he ruled the individual mandate, which is at the heart of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to be unconstitutional and not severable, necessitating that the “entire Act must be declared void.”

The decision itself, as Judge Vinson points out, is not really about our health-care system at all. It is principally about our federalist system, he writes, and “it raises very important issues regarding the Constitutional role of the federal government.”

While Vinson’s decision covers a lot of ground — including Medicaid expansion, the Necessary and Proper Clause, and the evolution of Commerce Clause Jurisprudence — the core purpose of the decision is to set some outer limits on federal action. Because of the novel way the Obama administration is justifying the individual mandate, it would be virtually impossible to argue that there is anything that Congress is without power to regulate.

Judge Vinson’s opinion is laced with quotes from Madison, Hamilton, and the Federalist Papers. And because he believes that the individual mandate exceeds Congress’s commerce power, is without logical limitation, and far exceeds the existing legal boundaries established by Supreme Court precedent — because, Vinson argues, it cannot be reconciled with a limited government of enumerated powers and would remove all limits on federal power — he declared the Act unconstitutional.

Judge Vinson was certainly right to do so. And the arguments he employed to strike it down are powerful and perfect for this political moment. We are, after all, engaged in a debate about first principles and the role of the Constitution in our lives. Judge Vinson has affirmed in an elegant opinion the vision of James Madison. We can only hope that the Supreme Court eventually does as well.

I’ve now read through the 78-page decision by Federal Judge Roger Vinson in which he ruled the individual mandate, which is at the heart of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to be unconstitutional and not severable, necessitating that the “entire Act must be declared void.”

The decision itself, as Judge Vinson points out, is not really about our health-care system at all. It is principally about our federalist system, he writes, and “it raises very important issues regarding the Constitutional role of the federal government.”

While Vinson’s decision covers a lot of ground — including Medicaid expansion, the Necessary and Proper Clause, and the evolution of Commerce Clause Jurisprudence — the core purpose of the decision is to set some outer limits on federal action. Because of the novel way the Obama administration is justifying the individual mandate, it would be virtually impossible to argue that there is anything that Congress is without power to regulate.

Judge Vinson’s opinion is laced with quotes from Madison, Hamilton, and the Federalist Papers. And because he believes that the individual mandate exceeds Congress’s commerce power, is without logical limitation, and far exceeds the existing legal boundaries established by Supreme Court precedent — because, Vinson argues, it cannot be reconciled with a limited government of enumerated powers and would remove all limits on federal power — he declared the Act unconstitutional.

Judge Vinson was certainly right to do so. And the arguments he employed to strike it down are powerful and perfect for this political moment. We are, after all, engaged in a debate about first principles and the role of the Constitution in our lives. Judge Vinson has affirmed in an elegant opinion the vision of James Madison. We can only hope that the Supreme Court eventually does as well.

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Oh, Man, Not Another Sputnik Moment …

I keep a list of historical analogies — derived from years of grading papers — that tell me that the individual using them is (to be polite) more interested in rhetorical impact than historical accuracy. Before last night, the list began with “we need a Marshall Plan for X,” where X usually equals Africa or the Middle East, and ended with “the United States is a young country.” Both are fallacies: the Marshall Plan was a pump-priming program, not an effort to rebuild the infrastructure and remake the culture of half a continent; and while European settlement of North America is fairly recent, the U.S.’s political institutions have a longer continuous existence than those of any other country except, arguably, the United Kingdom.

Now, thanks to President Obama, I’ve got a third analogy to add to the list: “Sputnik moment.” To be fair, I should have added it years ago. The phrase, according to Google, has popped in and out of the news regularly over the past decade, with the president himself beginning to use it last June, in a speech in North Carolina. The analogy has the advantage of being an example of government spending — we now call it “investment,” I am told — that has not been utterly discredited by succeeding events. But that doesn’t make it correct.

First, as my colleague Jim Carafano pointed out back in September, Ike’s response to Sputnik’s launch wasn’t to pull out the checkbook. That was what the Gaither Report called for, but Eisenhower balked: as I noted recently, Ike was no softie on Communism, but he was also concerned by the threat to American liberties “posed not so much by big government as such, but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not at all it: there was also a risk of becoming ‘the captive of a scientific-technological elite.’ ” A striking phrase, especially in light of President Obama’s desire to expand government for the benefit of that elite.

Second, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant new national-security threat posed by a state with a hostile ideology, which we were already confronting around the world. If the USSR could orbit a satellite, it could launch a nuclear missile and vaporize an American city. If Sputnik had been orbited by, say, Britain, it would not have occasioned nearly as much angst. In other words, you can’t have a Sputnik moment absent a hostile superpower to provide the impetus for concern. I would not categorize the U.S.’s relationship with China or, certainly, India, as particularly similar to the one we had with the USSR — and the president went out of his way last night not to criticize foreign regimes (even ones like Iran, which are hostile and have, in fact, orbited a satellite). So where is the drive that will be necessary to sustain this “moment” going to come from? Certainly not from the White House. Read More

I keep a list of historical analogies — derived from years of grading papers — that tell me that the individual using them is (to be polite) more interested in rhetorical impact than historical accuracy. Before last night, the list began with “we need a Marshall Plan for X,” where X usually equals Africa or the Middle East, and ended with “the United States is a young country.” Both are fallacies: the Marshall Plan was a pump-priming program, not an effort to rebuild the infrastructure and remake the culture of half a continent; and while European settlement of North America is fairly recent, the U.S.’s political institutions have a longer continuous existence than those of any other country except, arguably, the United Kingdom.

Now, thanks to President Obama, I’ve got a third analogy to add to the list: “Sputnik moment.” To be fair, I should have added it years ago. The phrase, according to Google, has popped in and out of the news regularly over the past decade, with the president himself beginning to use it last June, in a speech in North Carolina. The analogy has the advantage of being an example of government spending — we now call it “investment,” I am told — that has not been utterly discredited by succeeding events. But that doesn’t make it correct.

First, as my colleague Jim Carafano pointed out back in September, Ike’s response to Sputnik’s launch wasn’t to pull out the checkbook. That was what the Gaither Report called for, but Eisenhower balked: as I noted recently, Ike was no softie on Communism, but he was also concerned by the threat to American liberties “posed not so much by big government as such, but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not at all it: there was also a risk of becoming ‘the captive of a scientific-technological elite.’ ” A striking phrase, especially in light of President Obama’s desire to expand government for the benefit of that elite.

Second, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant new national-security threat posed by a state with a hostile ideology, which we were already confronting around the world. If the USSR could orbit a satellite, it could launch a nuclear missile and vaporize an American city. If Sputnik had been orbited by, say, Britain, it would not have occasioned nearly as much angst. In other words, you can’t have a Sputnik moment absent a hostile superpower to provide the impetus for concern. I would not categorize the U.S.’s relationship with China or, certainly, India, as particularly similar to the one we had with the USSR — and the president went out of his way last night not to criticize foreign regimes (even ones like Iran, which are hostile and have, in fact, orbited a satellite). So where is the drive that will be necessary to sustain this “moment” going to come from? Certainly not from the White House.

Third, and most basically, I sometimes get the sense that the left doesn’t realize that 1890-2010 has already happened. A rule of life is that you can only do things for the first time once. We’ve tried the Progressive, administrative state, and have been trying it for years: its deficiencies are not going to be fixed by pretending in an “Ah ha!” moment that what we need is more administration. We’ve been trying Keynesianism almost continuously since the 1940s and even before the recession were at levels of government spending that Keynes experienced only during World War II: the idea that Keynes offers some sort of untried miracle cure is, to be nice about it, a fantasy. Since 1970, as Andrew Coulson points out, federal spending adjusted for inflation has increased by 190 percent, with no gains in reading, math, or science scores to show for it. None of these ideas are new. On the contrary: they are very, very old.

Leaving all this aside, I have to ask — does the proclamation of a new “Sputnik moment” work even as rhetoric? It certainly leaves me cold. The reason for that is, partly, because it’s not great history. But, more fundamentally, it’s because it’s so obviously instrumental. The president wants to look like he’s cutting the budget but also wants to spend more money. So he grabs at the NASA argument, the Sputnik analogy, the Internet analogy, and anything else that comes to hand. Rhetoric that’s shaped by this kind of desperation comes across as insincere. It might be more effective for the president to simply state his belief that we need to spend more money on education. He’d be wrong on the merits, but at least he wouldn’t be compounding the error with dubious grab-bag analogies.

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The President’s Speech: An Irresponsible Performance

State of the Union speeches are typically unimpressive and unmemorable. Last night’s address by President Obama was in that tradition. While his delivery was fine, the speech itself was mediocre — flat, undisciplined and unfocused, at times pedestrian and banal, with goals seemingly pulled out of thin air (e.g., by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean-energy sources).

The speech was also oddly uncreative, with Obama dusting off slogans and ideas from past State of the Union speeches. For example, on the campaign trail in 2008 and during the first two years of his presidency, Barack Obama portrayed himself as the great enemy of earmarks. Perhaps the reason he has to keep reminding us of his antipathy for earmarks is because he has repeatedly signed into law legislation that contained thousands of them.

Still, this doesn’t mean the speech was unimportant. It was, in fact, quite significant in terms of highlighting the president’s cast of mind and how he understands, or fails to understand, the moment we’re in.

The State of the Union address reaffirmed that Barack Obama remains a man of the left. He spent most of the speech championing an array of new programs, explaining why he believes we need to expand the size, reach, scope, and cost of the federal government.

It was as if the president were awakening Leviathan from a two-year slumber rather than two years of hyperactivity.

Beyond that, though, Obama spoke as if he were living in an alternate universe — one where a $14 trillion debt and trillion dollar a year deficit don’t exist; where our entitlement programs are basically solvent and sound, in need of, at most, tweaking around the margins; and where the 2010 midterm election wasn’t a repudiation of the president’s progressive agenda.

The president dealt with our fiscal crisis as if it were a triviality, its importance on par with the need for more solar panels and high-speed rails.

Mr. Obama, I think, is misreading the public mood. Many Americans are unnerved by our fiscal imbalance, which helps explain the rise of the Tea Party movement. But whether or not Obama is out of touch with the public is, in one respect, irrelevant. Facts are stubborn things — and the fact is that we’re facing a crushing entitlement crisis that is getting worse literally by the hour. If we don’t come to grips with it soon, we are likely to experience something similar to the social unrest that is sweeping Europe.

More than mediocre, then, I found the president’s speech to be irresponsible. As the elected leader of the nation — and as one of the architects of our fiscal crisis — Obama has an obligation to address it in a serious, systematic, and intellectually honest manner. Instead, he is eschewing his governing duties. He is living in a world of his own imagination. That might be fine for writers of fiction and fairy tales. But for the president of the United States, it is quite a bad thing indeed.

State of the Union speeches are typically unimpressive and unmemorable. Last night’s address by President Obama was in that tradition. While his delivery was fine, the speech itself was mediocre — flat, undisciplined and unfocused, at times pedestrian and banal, with goals seemingly pulled out of thin air (e.g., by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean-energy sources).

The speech was also oddly uncreative, with Obama dusting off slogans and ideas from past State of the Union speeches. For example, on the campaign trail in 2008 and during the first two years of his presidency, Barack Obama portrayed himself as the great enemy of earmarks. Perhaps the reason he has to keep reminding us of his antipathy for earmarks is because he has repeatedly signed into law legislation that contained thousands of them.

Still, this doesn’t mean the speech was unimportant. It was, in fact, quite significant in terms of highlighting the president’s cast of mind and how he understands, or fails to understand, the moment we’re in.

The State of the Union address reaffirmed that Barack Obama remains a man of the left. He spent most of the speech championing an array of new programs, explaining why he believes we need to expand the size, reach, scope, and cost of the federal government.

It was as if the president were awakening Leviathan from a two-year slumber rather than two years of hyperactivity.

Beyond that, though, Obama spoke as if he were living in an alternate universe — one where a $14 trillion debt and trillion dollar a year deficit don’t exist; where our entitlement programs are basically solvent and sound, in need of, at most, tweaking around the margins; and where the 2010 midterm election wasn’t a repudiation of the president’s progressive agenda.

The president dealt with our fiscal crisis as if it were a triviality, its importance on par with the need for more solar panels and high-speed rails.

Mr. Obama, I think, is misreading the public mood. Many Americans are unnerved by our fiscal imbalance, which helps explain the rise of the Tea Party movement. But whether or not Obama is out of touch with the public is, in one respect, irrelevant. Facts are stubborn things — and the fact is that we’re facing a crushing entitlement crisis that is getting worse literally by the hour. If we don’t come to grips with it soon, we are likely to experience something similar to the social unrest that is sweeping Europe.

More than mediocre, then, I found the president’s speech to be irresponsible. As the elected leader of the nation — and as one of the architects of our fiscal crisis — Obama has an obligation to address it in a serious, systematic, and intellectually honest manner. Instead, he is eschewing his governing duties. He is living in a world of his own imagination. That might be fine for writers of fiction and fairy tales. But for the president of the United States, it is quite a bad thing indeed.

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LIVE BLOG: Uh, Wrong?

“The last major reorganization of the federal government happened in the age of black and white TV?”  Really? What about the Homeland Security Department?

“The last major reorganization of the federal government happened in the age of black and white TV?”  Really? What about the Homeland Security Department?

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Colin Powell: Budget Cutter

On CNN yesterday, in discussing the budget, Colin Powell said that “the real money [is] in the entitlements … and unless we do something about those, you can’t balance the budget.” He added, “You can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn’t do it.” And then, putting on his David Stockman cape, Powell said: “Don’t tell me you’re going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you’re going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem.”

Secretary Powell is quite right that entitlement programs are where the real money is. And Powell is also correct when he says that you can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or the NEA. Of course, the former secretary of state can’t name a single influential Republican figure who has made such a claim.

The case against NPR and the NEA isn’t that they absorb a huge percentage of federal dollars; it is that they are undeserving of taxpayer money. They don’t have a legitimate claim on public funds. Why should NPR get taxpayer subsidies when no other news outlet does? And why should the federal government be subsidizing such a thing in the first place? Does anyone really believe Diane Rehm or Terry Gross are national treasures who merit taxpayer support?

Beyond that, symbolism matters. Having the House cuts its own budget won’t fix our fiscal imbalance either — but it’s still a worthwhile thing to do, both symbolically and on the merits.

Finally, Powell wants to know specifically what Republicans are going to cut. To which I would say: Patience, Mr. Secretary, patience. In just a matter of months, Representative Paul Ryan is going to produce a detailed budget, and his colleagues on the appropriations committee are going to list specific programs they want to cut. This will cause official Washington to shriek in protest, even though those cuts by themselves won’t be nearly enough. But it will be a start.

I hope conservative lawmakers can count on Powell’s support rather than criticism once they gin up the courage and do what Powell is now demanding of them. As this drama unfolds, will he be arguing for fiscal discipline and limited government — or will he try to ward off cuts in his favorite programs?

I would be delighted — and frankly surprised — if Secretary Powell ends up being a strong, visible ally of genuine budget cutters. But here’s to hoping.

On CNN yesterday, in discussing the budget, Colin Powell said that “the real money [is] in the entitlements … and unless we do something about those, you can’t balance the budget.” He added, “You can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn’t do it.” And then, putting on his David Stockman cape, Powell said: “Don’t tell me you’re going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you’re going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem.”

Secretary Powell is quite right that entitlement programs are where the real money is. And Powell is also correct when he says that you can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or the NEA. Of course, the former secretary of state can’t name a single influential Republican figure who has made such a claim.

The case against NPR and the NEA isn’t that they absorb a huge percentage of federal dollars; it is that they are undeserving of taxpayer money. They don’t have a legitimate claim on public funds. Why should NPR get taxpayer subsidies when no other news outlet does? And why should the federal government be subsidizing such a thing in the first place? Does anyone really believe Diane Rehm or Terry Gross are national treasures who merit taxpayer support?

Beyond that, symbolism matters. Having the House cuts its own budget won’t fix our fiscal imbalance either — but it’s still a worthwhile thing to do, both symbolically and on the merits.

Finally, Powell wants to know specifically what Republicans are going to cut. To which I would say: Patience, Mr. Secretary, patience. In just a matter of months, Representative Paul Ryan is going to produce a detailed budget, and his colleagues on the appropriations committee are going to list specific programs they want to cut. This will cause official Washington to shriek in protest, even though those cuts by themselves won’t be nearly enough. But it will be a start.

I hope conservative lawmakers can count on Powell’s support rather than criticism once they gin up the courage and do what Powell is now demanding of them. As this drama unfolds, will he be arguing for fiscal discipline and limited government — or will he try to ward off cuts in his favorite programs?

I would be delighted — and frankly surprised — if Secretary Powell ends up being a strong, visible ally of genuine budget cutters. But here’s to hoping.

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Eisenhower, Washington, Lincoln, and Prudence

As commentators are beginning to note, Monday marks the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, and the following Thursday marks the same anniversary for Kennedy’s inaugural, two classics of American rhetoric that could hardly be further apart and still remain in the same genre. It is a long way from Ike’s measured and noble praise of balance to Kennedy’s inspiring but unrestrained call to “pay any price.” It’s usual to say that the 1960s didn’t really began until Kennedy was assassinated, if not later, but the transition from Eisenhower’s restraint to Kennedy’s rhetorical lack of it may mark the transition more effectively than the murder in Dallas.

So far, my favorite pieces on the Eisenhower anniversary are by my friend and former colleague Will Inboden at Shadow Government and by my current colleague Jim Carafano in the Washington Examiner. I’ve got a piece myself coming out at Heritage’s Foundry on the actual anniversary that explores the rhetorical and substantial similarities between Eisenhower’s Farewell Address and its famous predecessor by George Washington. In writing that piece, I was struck by just how rarely it is that the U.S. elects a president who finds inspiration in prudence. Like Will, I’m not persuaded by Peter Feaver’s argument that Obama is meaningfully similar to Eisenhower: the attitudes of the two presidents toward federal spending, to take just one obvious and vitally important example, could hardly be more different. Read More

As commentators are beginning to note, Monday marks the 50th anniversary of Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, and the following Thursday marks the same anniversary for Kennedy’s inaugural, two classics of American rhetoric that could hardly be further apart and still remain in the same genre. It is a long way from Ike’s measured and noble praise of balance to Kennedy’s inspiring but unrestrained call to “pay any price.” It’s usual to say that the 1960s didn’t really began until Kennedy was assassinated, if not later, but the transition from Eisenhower’s restraint to Kennedy’s rhetorical lack of it may mark the transition more effectively than the murder in Dallas.

So far, my favorite pieces on the Eisenhower anniversary are by my friend and former colleague Will Inboden at Shadow Government and by my current colleague Jim Carafano in the Washington Examiner. I’ve got a piece myself coming out at Heritage’s Foundry on the actual anniversary that explores the rhetorical and substantial similarities between Eisenhower’s Farewell Address and its famous predecessor by George Washington. In writing that piece, I was struck by just how rarely it is that the U.S. elects a president who finds inspiration in prudence. Like Will, I’m not persuaded by Peter Feaver’s argument that Obama is meaningfully similar to Eisenhower: the attitudes of the two presidents toward federal spending, to take just one obvious and vitally important example, could hardly be more different.

Of course, a president doesn’t have to be prudential to be great. Still, the overlap between greatness (or near-greatness, in Eisenhower’s case) and prudentialism is striking. The only other president who has, to my knowledge, been described at length as philosophically prudential is Lincoln, by William Lee Miller in his Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography. Miller’s style takes being casual to a new and to me slightly irritating level, but it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. As Miller puts it: “The mature Abraham Lincoln would exhibit … a combination of the moral clarity and elevation of … the prophet, with the ‘prudence’ and ‘responsibility’ of a worthy politician. … Prudence as a virtue [does not] exclude, as pragmatism tends to do, general moral ideals and larger moral patterns beyond the immediate situation. … Prudence as a moral virtue made a bridge to intellectual virtue.”

But as Eisenhower might have noted, and as Miller does note, the entire tradition of prudence has been devalued, in favor of the more desiccated concept of pragmatism. As a more recent president put it, the question is simple: “What works?” And Eisenhower’s address helps explain why. As he noted, the threat to American liberties was posed not so much by big government as such but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not all of it: there was also a risk of becoming “the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” Such an elite, with its progressive pretensions to expertise and fixing things, is inherently hostile to concepts of prudence and balance, which imply that many problems can at best be managed, not solved.

Perhaps that is why Eisenhower’s Address is now, with the exception of the oft-misunderstood passage about the dangers of the military-industrial complex, much more cited than read: it is based on a philosophy that Eisenhower — like Washington — believed provided the safest foundation for American liberties but that is so profoundly out of tune with the age on which the U.S. embarked after he left office that we can no longer understand what he was saying. If that is so, I view our national need to recover that philosophy as a problem of the first magnitude.

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Morning Commentary

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

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That Debt Ceiling Again

Responding to my post from earlier this week, a reader wrote me this:

This current article has raised questions for me. Why is it assumed that failure to raise the debt ceiling must necessarily result in a default? Is it not feasible that when forced to choose between default and cutting something that the correct choice would be made? It seems to me that until that awful decision is faced, meaningful spending cuts will never occur. Your example of [Senator] DeMint’s inconsistency drives home that point. Even conservatives cower from these painful choices. You must admit that the history of Democrats’ honoring their concessions is not a strong one. I know of nowhere other than government where it would be suggested that the way to cut spending is to borrow more, yet that seems to be what you are suggesting in raising the debt ceiling. As long as it is assumed that the ceiling will be endlessly raised, spending will not decrease.

Here, I think, is the answer to his question. Our debt is not a function of immediate spending decisions but of very-long-term spending trends. That means that in order to pay just the interest on the debt, the government has to roll over some existing debt by borrowing. It is simply not possible to cut spending enough immediately to avert this with some additional borrowing. Spending cuts will reduce the debt in the long term, so that we don’t have to raise the limit again; but they cannot reduce it immediately and could only put off the need to borrow more for a very short time. Raising the debt ceiling is about, as I wrote, existing obligations racked up by Obama and the last Congress.

In his letter to Congress yesterday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner put it this way:

Raising the debt limit is necessary to allow the Treasury to meet obligations of the United States that have been established, authorized, and appropriated by the Congress. It is important to emphasize that changing the debt limit does not alter or increase the obligations we have as a nation; it simply permits the Treasury to fund those obligations Congress has already established. In fact, even if Congress were immediately to adopt the deep cuts in discretionary spending of the magnitude suggested by some Members of Congress, such as reverting to Fiscal Year 2008 spending levels, the need to increase the debt limit would be delayed by no more than two weeks. The limit would still need to be raised to make it possible for the government to avoid default and to meet the other obligations established by Congress.

In this case, Geithner is right. And as I argued in my post, I’m in favor of using an increase in the debt ceiling as a way to win concessions on spending. I only wish Senator DeMint and some of those in the GOP leadership were as inclined to tackle entitlements as I am and as people like Representative Paul Ryan are.

The argument for limiting the size of the federal government and reducing spending is extremely strong; refusing to raise the debt ceiling, however, isn’t the way or the place to do it.

Responding to my post from earlier this week, a reader wrote me this:

This current article has raised questions for me. Why is it assumed that failure to raise the debt ceiling must necessarily result in a default? Is it not feasible that when forced to choose between default and cutting something that the correct choice would be made? It seems to me that until that awful decision is faced, meaningful spending cuts will never occur. Your example of [Senator] DeMint’s inconsistency drives home that point. Even conservatives cower from these painful choices. You must admit that the history of Democrats’ honoring their concessions is not a strong one. I know of nowhere other than government where it would be suggested that the way to cut spending is to borrow more, yet that seems to be what you are suggesting in raising the debt ceiling. As long as it is assumed that the ceiling will be endlessly raised, spending will not decrease.

Here, I think, is the answer to his question. Our debt is not a function of immediate spending decisions but of very-long-term spending trends. That means that in order to pay just the interest on the debt, the government has to roll over some existing debt by borrowing. It is simply not possible to cut spending enough immediately to avert this with some additional borrowing. Spending cuts will reduce the debt in the long term, so that we don’t have to raise the limit again; but they cannot reduce it immediately and could only put off the need to borrow more for a very short time. Raising the debt ceiling is about, as I wrote, existing obligations racked up by Obama and the last Congress.

In his letter to Congress yesterday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner put it this way:

Raising the debt limit is necessary to allow the Treasury to meet obligations of the United States that have been established, authorized, and appropriated by the Congress. It is important to emphasize that changing the debt limit does not alter or increase the obligations we have as a nation; it simply permits the Treasury to fund those obligations Congress has already established. In fact, even if Congress were immediately to adopt the deep cuts in discretionary spending of the magnitude suggested by some Members of Congress, such as reverting to Fiscal Year 2008 spending levels, the need to increase the debt limit would be delayed by no more than two weeks. The limit would still need to be raised to make it possible for the government to avoid default and to meet the other obligations established by Congress.

In this case, Geithner is right. And as I argued in my post, I’m in favor of using an increase in the debt ceiling as a way to win concessions on spending. I only wish Senator DeMint and some of those in the GOP leadership were as inclined to tackle entitlements as I am and as people like Representative Paul Ryan are.

The argument for limiting the size of the federal government and reducing spending is extremely strong; refusing to raise the debt ceiling, however, isn’t the way or the place to do it.

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Why the Constitution — and What It Means — Matters

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter. Read More

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, Republicans plan to begin their political journey by today reading the American Constitution word-for-word. This is simply too much for those on the left.

According to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, it’s a “gimmick.” The Constitution, you see, was written “more than 100 years ago” and is very, very hard to understand.

Mr. Klein’s Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote: “My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the tea party movement. One can imagine that the rule’s primary practical result will be the creation of a small new House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.” (On reconsideration, Dionne says that we “badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows” — so long as we view it as “something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus.”)

Over at Vanity Fair, the mocking continues. “House Republicans will kick-start the 112th Congress tomorrow with a spirited recitation of the Constitution, a document whose recent relevance is due largely to the ideological and sartorial interests of the Tea Party,” writes Juli Weiner.

About these responses, I have several thoughts. The first is that yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, swore in members of the 112th Congress. And this is the oath he administered:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

With members of Congress having just sworn to support and defend the Constitution, it’s not at all clear why reading its text should give rise to such ridicule. Except, of course, if you don’t take the Constitution all that seriously; and especially if you consider it to be an obstacle to your ambitions. In that case, the game is to mock and sneer at those who attempt to reconnect American government to its founding charter.

For many modern-day liberals, the Constitution is, at best, a piece of quaint, even irrelevant, parchment. As Jonah Goldberg reminds us in his excellent column:

“Are you serious?” was Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question over the constitutionality of health care reform. Third-ranking House Democrat Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina famously declared that “there’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.” Rep. Phil Hare of Illinois, before he was defeated by a Tea Party–backed candidate, told a town hall meeting, “I don’t worry about the Constitution” on health care reform.

At the core of the differences between contemporary liberals and conservatives, then, is the power of the federal government in our lives. The Constitution was designed as a check on the power of government, done in order to protect individual liberties. The Founders designed a federal government with limited, delegated, and enumerated powers, a theory of government that conservatives embrace and consider paradigmatic. (How that theory works itself out in practice is, of course, not always clear.)

The progressive/liberal disposition, on the other hand, believes that this view of the Constitution is obsolete and unwise; it is constantly, even relentlessly, looking for ways to increase the powers of the federal government (witness the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). In order to achieve this, the Constitution needs to be ignored or, better yet, re-invented as a Living Constitution, constantly evolving, morphing from age to age, interpreted in light of the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

But as Justice Antonin Scalia has written, “Perhaps the most glaring defect of Living Constitutionalism, next to its incompatibility with the whole antievolutionary purpose of a constitution, is that there is no agreement, and no chance of agreement, upon what is to be the guiding principle of the evolution. Panta rei [“all things are in flux”] is not a sufficiently informative principle of constitutional interpretation.”

When determining when and in what direction the evolution should occur, Scalia asks:

Is it the will of the majority, discerned from newspapers, radio talk shows, public opinion polls, and chats at the country club? Is it the philosophy of Hume, or of John Rawls, or of John Stuart Mill, or of Aristotle? As soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I think that is inevitably so, which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy.

For those on the left, the answer to Scalia’s question is: The Constitution means whatever we say it means. And in order for this subjective, ad hoc interpretation to prevail, the left must control the levers of political and judicial power.

There is an effort today to reassert the primacy of the traditional, rather than the Living, Constitution. Liberals understand this, which explains why they are reacting in the manner they are.

The controversy about members of the 112th Congress reading the Constitution is not really about that; it is about something much deeper and more significant. It has to do with how we understand and interpret our charter of government, the product of what John Adams called “the greatest single effort of national deliberations that the world has ever seen.” I suspect that this debate, which conservatives should welcome, will only intensify.

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Taking Responsibility for Inherited Problems, and Other GOP Dilemmas

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way. Read More

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way.

As for Senator DeMint wanting to show that Republicans have a “strong commitment to cut spending and debt”: as I pointed out several months ago, it was DeMint who went on NBC’s Meet the Press to declare, “Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting — I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big ObamaCare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.”

The junior senator from South Carolina has things exactly backward. He wants Republicans to oppose raising the debt ceiling even though that doesn’t involve new spending (it needs to be raised simply to meet our existing obligations). But when it comes to entitlement programs, which is the locus of our fiscal crisis, he is assuring the public that no cuts in benefits are necessary.

It’s not clear to me why Senator DeMint (and Representative Michelle Bachman) is setting up his party up for a fight it cannot possibly win. (The debt ceiling will be raised.) More broadly, the key to success for the GOP (and conservatism) is for it to be seen as principled, reasonable, and prudent. Republicans need to be perceived as people of conviction and competence, not as revolutionaries (see Edmund Burke for more). What Senator DeMint is counseling is exactly the kind of thing that will discredit the GOP and conservatism in a hurry.

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It’s Lucky for the Federal Government That It Isn’t a Corporation

If it were, a lot of people who work for it would be in serious trouble with . . . the federal government.

Corporations are required to have their books audited and certified by independent accountants as being complete and honest.  But the Government Accountability Office, whose job it is to do just that with the government’s books, “said it could not render an opinion on the 2010 consolidated financial statements of the federal government, because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations, ” according to Accounting Today.

The main obstacles to a GAO opinion were: (1) serious  financial management problems at the Department of Defense that made its  financial statements unauditable, (2) the federal government’s inability to  adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances  between federal agencies, and (3) the federal government’s ineffective process  for preparing the consolidated financial statements.

If a corporation failed an audit like this, its credit lines would vanish, the NYSE would suspend trading in its securities, and the SEC would be down on it like a wolf on the fold. The CEO and CFO would be lucky if all they lost were their jobs. But when the government fails, it’s apparently of interest only to the accounting profession.

But the rest of the country had better get interested, and soon, because there’s an avalanche of government fiscal problems on the way. It’s starting at the bottom, but it’s going to very soon involve the top.

If it were, a lot of people who work for it would be in serious trouble with . . . the federal government.

Corporations are required to have their books audited and certified by independent accountants as being complete and honest.  But the Government Accountability Office, whose job it is to do just that with the government’s books, “said it could not render an opinion on the 2010 consolidated financial statements of the federal government, because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations, ” according to Accounting Today.

The main obstacles to a GAO opinion were: (1) serious  financial management problems at the Department of Defense that made its  financial statements unauditable, (2) the federal government’s inability to  adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances  between federal agencies, and (3) the federal government’s ineffective process  for preparing the consolidated financial statements.

If a corporation failed an audit like this, its credit lines would vanish, the NYSE would suspend trading in its securities, and the SEC would be down on it like a wolf on the fold. The CEO and CFO would be lucky if all they lost were their jobs. But when the government fails, it’s apparently of interest only to the accounting profession.

But the rest of the country had better get interested, and soon, because there’s an avalanche of government fiscal problems on the way. It’s starting at the bottom, but it’s going to very soon involve the top.

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Faith in Government Erodes

AEI’s “Political Report” is devoted to attitudes about the federal government. According to the December 2010 issue, five pollsters conducted significant surveys on the role of government this year. Among the conclusions:

[C]ontemporary criticisms of the federal government are broad and deep. Today three in ten have no confidence that when Washington tackles a problem it will be solved. That is the highest response on the question since it was first asked in 1991. Nearly three in ten say the federal government does a poor job running its programs and another 46 percent says it does an “only fair” job. A majority say it needs “very major” reform. Only 3 percent say it doesn’t need much change at all. More than twice as many say its performance is getting worse than getting better. The top criticism of government is that it is wasteful and inefficient. [emphasis added]

About 45 percent think government is a threat to personal liberty. Only 3 percent of those polled said the government did not need major reform. The recession and the cumulative impact of TARP, the auto bailout, the stimulus plan, and the health-care legislation on public psychology have been “substantial.” In one survey, 50 percent now say they would prefer a smaller government with fewer services, and 39 percent a larger government with more services. The number preferring smaller government has risen dramatically since President Obama took office. The belief that government is doing too many things that are better left to individuals and businesses has also risen.

There is one other conclusion worth noting:

The public is deeply skeptical of big powerful institutions with substantial reach and diffuse missions. Big government, big labor, big business, and big media fall into this category, and public criticism of all is significant.

These results track with what others show. According to a survey done earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, for example, “By almost every conceivable measure, Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days.”

There are a number of explanations for this, including our poor-performing economy (when economic times are bad, anger at government rises). In any event, the irony can’t be lost on anyone: the president with the greatest faith in big government since Lyndon Johnson is overseeing a collapse in support for it. More than any single individual, Barack Obama — the avatar of modern liberalism — is responsible for the ascendancy of conservatism in our time.

AEI’s “Political Report” is devoted to attitudes about the federal government. According to the December 2010 issue, five pollsters conducted significant surveys on the role of government this year. Among the conclusions:

[C]ontemporary criticisms of the federal government are broad and deep. Today three in ten have no confidence that when Washington tackles a problem it will be solved. That is the highest response on the question since it was first asked in 1991. Nearly three in ten say the federal government does a poor job running its programs and another 46 percent says it does an “only fair” job. A majority say it needs “very major” reform. Only 3 percent say it doesn’t need much change at all. More than twice as many say its performance is getting worse than getting better. The top criticism of government is that it is wasteful and inefficient. [emphasis added]

About 45 percent think government is a threat to personal liberty. Only 3 percent of those polled said the government did not need major reform. The recession and the cumulative impact of TARP, the auto bailout, the stimulus plan, and the health-care legislation on public psychology have been “substantial.” In one survey, 50 percent now say they would prefer a smaller government with fewer services, and 39 percent a larger government with more services. The number preferring smaller government has risen dramatically since President Obama took office. The belief that government is doing too many things that are better left to individuals and businesses has also risen.

There is one other conclusion worth noting:

The public is deeply skeptical of big powerful institutions with substantial reach and diffuse missions. Big government, big labor, big business, and big media fall into this category, and public criticism of all is significant.

These results track with what others show. According to a survey done earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, for example, “By almost every conceivable measure, Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days.”

There are a number of explanations for this, including our poor-performing economy (when economic times are bad, anger at government rises). In any event, the irony can’t be lost on anyone: the president with the greatest faith in big government since Lyndon Johnson is overseeing a collapse in support for it. More than any single individual, Barack Obama — the avatar of modern liberalism — is responsible for the ascendancy of conservatism in our time.

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WikiLeaks, Treason, and Plot

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime. Read More

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime.

But we should note that the military already has an elaborate set of rules for information security. The problem in this case, if Manning’s own account is valid, is that some of those rules were not being enforced in his work facility in Iraq. There is nothing unusual about junior personnel having access to secret information; intelligence analysts need it to do their jobs. But Manning says he took writable CDs into a secure area and pretended to listen to music from them while copying files to them on a secret-level computer. Everything about this is a breach of sound security policy, and the military is well aware of that.

I signed a dozen oaths in my 20 years in Naval Intelligence to never do — on pain of severe penalties — what Bradley Manning is charged with doing. The rules to prevent it have long been in place. The apparent systemic failures in this case were the poor IT security at Manning’s former command and the inattention of supervisors to the red flags in Manning’s personnel profile, such as his propensity to get into fights with other soldiers. Better application of prudent policy guidelines could well have prevented the whole incident.

Expanding government supervision and control of the Internet, however, would be a disproportionate and mistargeted response. As with gunpowder, the inherent nature of the tool can’t be altered; it can only be made the pretext for restrictions and limitations on the human users. And as with 17th-century England’s prohibitions on the ownership of gunpowder by Catholics, such regulatory prophylaxis invites invidious application.

Criminalizing the role of Julian Assange, meanwhile, could easily carry unintended consequences. We in the liberal nations are not always aligned against the disclosers of government secrets. Should Iran or Cuba be able to demand extradition of a foreigner who publishes their governments’ secrets? Should Russia or China? There is the real danger of a misapplied remedy here. Bluster from our senators is about as close as we need to get to making bad law on the basis of a hard case.

The gunpowder analogy isn’t perfect. But the last two lines of the Gunpowder Plot ditty frame the correct priority for addressing the WikiLeaks Plot:

I see no reason why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

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Krugman in High Dudgeon

Paul Krugman is, as usual, in a state of high dudgeon. Today’s dudgeon generator is the president’s call to freeze the pay of federal employees (other than the military). Krugman writes,

The truth is that America’s long-run deficit problem has nothing at all to do with overpaid federal workers. For one thing, those workers aren’t overpaid. Federal salaries are, on average, somewhat less than those of private-sector workers with equivalent qualifications. And, anyway, employee pay is only a small fraction of federal expenses; even cutting the payroll in half would reduce total spending less than 3 percent.

Typically, he backs up his flat assertion that federal salaries are “somewhat less” than what the private-sector workers get with … nothing. It is a pure ex cathedra statement. It is also contradicted by statistics that come from the federal government itself. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, federal workers’ salaries average 60 percent more than what private-sector workers earn in salary. And notice that Krugman says that “salaries” are lower. If you count the benefits, federal workers earn twice what private-sector workers earn: $123,049 to $61,051.

Perhaps the BEA is wrong. But without some evidence to back him up, why should anyone believe Krugman? Except for the true believers, of course, I’m pretty sure no one does.

Paul Krugman is, as usual, in a state of high dudgeon. Today’s dudgeon generator is the president’s call to freeze the pay of federal employees (other than the military). Krugman writes,

The truth is that America’s long-run deficit problem has nothing at all to do with overpaid federal workers. For one thing, those workers aren’t overpaid. Federal salaries are, on average, somewhat less than those of private-sector workers with equivalent qualifications. And, anyway, employee pay is only a small fraction of federal expenses; even cutting the payroll in half would reduce total spending less than 3 percent.

Typically, he backs up his flat assertion that federal salaries are “somewhat less” than what the private-sector workers get with … nothing. It is a pure ex cathedra statement. It is also contradicted by statistics that come from the federal government itself. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, federal workers’ salaries average 60 percent more than what private-sector workers earn in salary. And notice that Krugman says that “salaries” are lower. If you count the benefits, federal workers earn twice what private-sector workers earn: $123,049 to $61,051.

Perhaps the BEA is wrong. But without some evidence to back him up, why should anyone believe Krugman? Except for the true believers, of course, I’m pretty sure no one does.

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Muslim Leaders Blame FBI for Foiling Portland Bomb Plot

While most around the country breathed a sigh of relief after undercover FBI agents foiled an Islamist extremist bomb plot in Portland, Oregon, this past weekend, apparently some Muslim leaders are unhappy about the bureau’s tactics. A “news analysis” in today’s New York Times details the complaints made by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which described the successful police work as having gone too far. The head of the Los Angeles branch of the group claimed that the agents who monitored Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the man who planned to turn a public Christmas-tree lighting into a scene of mass murder, had somehow pushed the alleged terrorist “over the edge” from mere anti-American rhetoric to terrorism.

Seeking to deflect attention from yet another Islamist terror plot uncovered in the United States, CAIR and other Muslim leaders were quick to blame the firebombing of the mosque Mohamud attended in Corvallis, Oregon, on the FBI. The responsibility for that crime (which thankfully resulted in no loss of life) belongs to the perpetrators, who, we hope, will soon be caught. But it is not the FBI’s fault. If the members of the mosque are unhappy with the publicity that was drawn to their place of worship, the fault lies with their fellow congregant who sought to commit mass murder, not the law-enforcement officials who prevented the planned crime. Also unmentioned in the story is the possibility that he may have been inspired to terrorism by his religious mentors, not the FBI.

While the Muslim groups seem to be implying that the FBI agents acted as agents provocateurs, there is no evidence that this is the case. Left unsaid here is the fact that the alternative to such proactive tactics is a situation where legal authorities simply sit back and wait for the terrorists to do their worse, which reflects a pre-9/11 mentality that is simply unacceptable.

Instead of a legitimate complaint, this appears to be yet another example of how CAIR (which was originally founded as a political front for a Hamas fundraising group that has since been shut down by the federal government) and other allies and fellow-travelers of Islamist ideology have sought to change the subject from the very real issue of home-grown Muslim terrorism to discussion of a “backlash” against Muslims. While crimes such as the attack on the mosque are deplorable, they are the exception that proves the rule of American tolerance for Muslims. Such attacks are, as I noted recently, quite rare and still outnumbered by a factor of eight to one by anti-Semitic hate crimes.

Even more to the point, as the Times article illustrates, most American Muslims are eager to cooperate with the FBI in the very real fight against domestic terrorism and have proved invaluable in preventing many lethal attacks planned by Islamists in the United States. Instead of putting this cooperation in jeopardy, as the Times’s piece alleges, the Portland plot proves the necessity of such cooperation. Rather than continuing to focus on a mythical backlash against Muslims, this story again demonstrates the very real nature of the threat from Islamist terrorists and the need for law-enforcement agencies and patriotic citizens of all faiths to do everything possible to stop them.

While most around the country breathed a sigh of relief after undercover FBI agents foiled an Islamist extremist bomb plot in Portland, Oregon, this past weekend, apparently some Muslim leaders are unhappy about the bureau’s tactics. A “news analysis” in today’s New York Times details the complaints made by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which described the successful police work as having gone too far. The head of the Los Angeles branch of the group claimed that the agents who monitored Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the man who planned to turn a public Christmas-tree lighting into a scene of mass murder, had somehow pushed the alleged terrorist “over the edge” from mere anti-American rhetoric to terrorism.

Seeking to deflect attention from yet another Islamist terror plot uncovered in the United States, CAIR and other Muslim leaders were quick to blame the firebombing of the mosque Mohamud attended in Corvallis, Oregon, on the FBI. The responsibility for that crime (which thankfully resulted in no loss of life) belongs to the perpetrators, who, we hope, will soon be caught. But it is not the FBI’s fault. If the members of the mosque are unhappy with the publicity that was drawn to their place of worship, the fault lies with their fellow congregant who sought to commit mass murder, not the law-enforcement officials who prevented the planned crime. Also unmentioned in the story is the possibility that he may have been inspired to terrorism by his religious mentors, not the FBI.

While the Muslim groups seem to be implying that the FBI agents acted as agents provocateurs, there is no evidence that this is the case. Left unsaid here is the fact that the alternative to such proactive tactics is a situation where legal authorities simply sit back and wait for the terrorists to do their worse, which reflects a pre-9/11 mentality that is simply unacceptable.

Instead of a legitimate complaint, this appears to be yet another example of how CAIR (which was originally founded as a political front for a Hamas fundraising group that has since been shut down by the federal government) and other allies and fellow-travelers of Islamist ideology have sought to change the subject from the very real issue of home-grown Muslim terrorism to discussion of a “backlash” against Muslims. While crimes such as the attack on the mosque are deplorable, they are the exception that proves the rule of American tolerance for Muslims. Such attacks are, as I noted recently, quite rare and still outnumbered by a factor of eight to one by anti-Semitic hate crimes.

Even more to the point, as the Times article illustrates, most American Muslims are eager to cooperate with the FBI in the very real fight against domestic terrorism and have proved invaluable in preventing many lethal attacks planned by Islamists in the United States. Instead of putting this cooperation in jeopardy, as the Times’s piece alleges, the Portland plot proves the necessity of such cooperation. Rather than continuing to focus on a mythical backlash against Muslims, this story again demonstrates the very real nature of the threat from Islamist terrorists and the need for law-enforcement agencies and patriotic citizens of all faiths to do everything possible to stop them.

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Who Runs the Internet: What Lobbying Is Really All About

You’ll be hearing a lot today and tomorrow about an issue bubbling over in Washington called “net neutrality.” You’re probably aware of the concept of “stickiness” — an idea or concept that stays with you no matter what. “Net neutrality” is an example of an “anti-sticky” idea.  No matter what you do, you can’t remember what the hell it is.

So rather than trying to understand the issue’s confusing contours, you should instead look at the key question: who benefits? The truth is that net neutrality is about who controls broadband — the pipe through which we now connect to the Internet. Internet service providers, who bring us broadband, naturally want to control the pipe. That seems logical; it’s their pipe. But companies providing the content that goes through the pipe don’t want the Internet service providers to exert that control, because they fear the providers could figure out ways to secure an advantage for content the providers own. That also seems like a reasonable concern.

The providers say that a) they don’t know how to do what the companies fear they will do, and b) there’s so much competition in the field that it wouldn’t matter anyway, because if they were to restrict access to their pipe, a consumer could just go elsewhere for his service. The first point smacks of disingenuousness because, of course, there are ways to privilege certain kinds of content and block others, even now. The second, competitive point is the most important one. Free-market theory says plainly that we should not expect any one provider of a good to act in service of the broader public interest; his goal is to maximize his own profit. The force that disciplines him, controls his appetite, and compels him to behave in responsible ways is competition — that’s what guides the “invisible hand,” in Adam Smith’s Olympian image.

So what case do the content providers have? Their case is that the Internet is not a marketplace but a combination of a Wild West in which nobody is making the rules and an oligarchy in which a few powerful behemoths have managed to secure unlimited control. This is an illogical argument — a system can’t simultaneously be anarchic and authoritarian — but it is a powerful one, in the sense that the only thing we care about when it comes to the Internet is the content. We don’t care about the pipe; we care about the water that comes through the pipe. Any force that limits our access to the water is a force that cannot be tolerated. Read More

You’ll be hearing a lot today and tomorrow about an issue bubbling over in Washington called “net neutrality.” You’re probably aware of the concept of “stickiness” — an idea or concept that stays with you no matter what. “Net neutrality” is an example of an “anti-sticky” idea.  No matter what you do, you can’t remember what the hell it is.

So rather than trying to understand the issue’s confusing contours, you should instead look at the key question: who benefits? The truth is that net neutrality is about who controls broadband — the pipe through which we now connect to the Internet. Internet service providers, who bring us broadband, naturally want to control the pipe. That seems logical; it’s their pipe. But companies providing the content that goes through the pipe don’t want the Internet service providers to exert that control, because they fear the providers could figure out ways to secure an advantage for content the providers own. That also seems like a reasonable concern.

The providers say that a) they don’t know how to do what the companies fear they will do, and b) there’s so much competition in the field that it wouldn’t matter anyway, because if they were to restrict access to their pipe, a consumer could just go elsewhere for his service. The first point smacks of disingenuousness because, of course, there are ways to privilege certain kinds of content and block others, even now. The second, competitive point is the most important one. Free-market theory says plainly that we should not expect any one provider of a good to act in service of the broader public interest; his goal is to maximize his own profit. The force that disciplines him, controls his appetite, and compels him to behave in responsible ways is competition — that’s what guides the “invisible hand,” in Adam Smith’s Olympian image.

So what case do the content providers have? Their case is that the Internet is not a marketplace but a combination of a Wild West in which nobody is making the rules and an oligarchy in which a few powerful behemoths have managed to secure unlimited control. This is an illogical argument — a system can’t simultaneously be anarchic and authoritarian — but it is a powerful one, in the sense that the only thing we care about when it comes to the Internet is the content. We don’t care about the pipe; we care about the water that comes through the pipe. Any force that limits our access to the water is a force that cannot be tolerated.

The Obama FCC, led by Julius Genachowski, has come down on the side of the Web companies. They are the ones who are demanding “net neutrality.” The FCC is about to declare itself the regulator of the Internet pipe, a role it now says it has the constitutional right to assume despite earlier Court rulings suggesting otherwise. Conservatives, viewing this as a huge power grab by the federal government, have tended to lean in the other direction.

The truth is, it could have gone either way. Conservatives could have viewed the providers as uncompetitive players whose positions are due in some part to the fact (especially in the case of cable companies) that they were granted monopoly roles by state and local governments, giving them unfair  access to 100 million homes. Liberals could have viewed the Web companies as greedy businesses seeking to use the leverage of state power to seek mercantilist advantage over rival greedy businesses.

But they didn’t. The sorts of businesses most keenly interested in net neutrality in the early 2000s ended up being liberals and Obama supporters, while the old lions were doing business in a Washington dominated by Republicans and saw that the best way for them to get leverage was to push the conservative competition argument while throwing dollars all over the place.

In the end, then, there’s a reason it’s impossible to listen to arguments over net neutrality without falling asleep. This is simply an act of corporate gamesmanship in which one player wishes to use the leverage of the federal government to secure an advantage over another player. The reason it has traction now is that there is an administration eager to play as direct a role in the economy as it can. What was intellectually seductive for Republicans was the idea that competition was working in the world of broadband and government shouldn’t interfere. What is intellectually seductive for Democrats like Genachowski is the idea that government has to step in to make sure everything is fair.

So in the end, how you feel about this issue gets to whether you think government should, on balance, do more or should, on balance, do less. It’s the fundamental divide between right and left. And that’s why net neutrality, despite how unbelievably boring it is, matters, and why it should not be imposed, and why the courts should not stand by while the FCC widens its authority over private industry.

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WikiLeaks Has Succeeded Only in Reinforcing a Culture of Secrecy

Regrettably, Pete, it looks like the answer is never (as Jennifer has noted). This, just in from the Guardian — a veritable barometer of the liberal mindset, at least as far as Europe goes. The best of the liberal crowd from the UK — a pro-Iranian campaigner, a leading voice of Bolshevik nostalgia who is also a dedicated promoter of Islamic radicalism, Juan Cole, and several other colorful opinion makers — weigh in on the significance of the WikiLeaks data dump on the Middle East.

For anyone harboring optimism about the ability of ideologues to change their minds, this is compulsory reading. I detect no mea culpa, no concession on the liberal animus toward Israel and America, no recoiling from the morbid sympathy for Iran and its nuclear ambitions, no hint of doubt.

Who knows, by the time all WikiLeaks documents have made their way into the public domain, perhaps even the die-hard Guardian ideologues will see the light. I am not holding my breath.

Colleagues may understandably dismiss the Guardian’s collection as a largely fringe phenomenon, but another reason I do not think the leaks will significantly affect people’s mindset one way or another is that the current U.S. administration, and many other liberals in Congress, the State Department, and various other agencies of the federal government, were privy to some, if not all, the content of the leaks before the public was — and that did not change their worldview or the policies they pursued.

Anyone who thinks that the WikiLeaks silver lining is in the “moment of truth” value should remember that WikiLeaks was irrelevant for the bigger picture — it revealed nothing we did not either instinctively or advisedly know about the world already. The information was entertaining in a tabloid way (as Max has said) — but again, gossip about Berlusconi’s lifestyle and Qaddafi’s erratic behavior were already available before this event. What value did we get out of this exposure that we had not already gotten out of a subscription to Hello! magazine?

Undoubtedly, the embarrassment from the exposure will eventually subside because, after all, governments made uncomfortable by these leaks must have similar documents in mind that their own diplomats have produced about U.S. leaders. Such is the nature of diplomacy, after all — to offer frank, unadorned assessments under the assumption that they will stay secret until long after they have become irrelevant.

In sum, the only enduring consequences of this affair are negative. First, there is the potential damage caused to sources of information — past, present, and future. Will the likelihood of being exposed as an informant in societies where such activity may be punished with death, loss of face or revenue, or damage to family, help or hinder the future recruitment of sources? Will current sources, seeing how they could easily be exposed, continue or discontinue their cooperation with American (and other) diplomats? Will they have the luxury of this choice, given that being exposed could lead to their death? And will they have continued access to information, given that they have now been exposed?

Then there is the real damage done to the quality of diplomatic communication. WikiLeaks stupidly boasts of serving transparency. The fact of the matter is that its irresponsible and puerile act of exposure will not obviate the need for discretion in the way governments conduct their affairs of state. To the contrary, it will force governments to build more impenetrable firewalls for their vital internal communications — with increased costs to the public coffers and with an increase in the kind of “culture of secrecy” that WikiLeaks so ardently wishes to undermine.

Regrettably, Pete, it looks like the answer is never (as Jennifer has noted). This, just in from the Guardian — a veritable barometer of the liberal mindset, at least as far as Europe goes. The best of the liberal crowd from the UK — a pro-Iranian campaigner, a leading voice of Bolshevik nostalgia who is also a dedicated promoter of Islamic radicalism, Juan Cole, and several other colorful opinion makers — weigh in on the significance of the WikiLeaks data dump on the Middle East.

For anyone harboring optimism about the ability of ideologues to change their minds, this is compulsory reading. I detect no mea culpa, no concession on the liberal animus toward Israel and America, no recoiling from the morbid sympathy for Iran and its nuclear ambitions, no hint of doubt.

Who knows, by the time all WikiLeaks documents have made their way into the public domain, perhaps even the die-hard Guardian ideologues will see the light. I am not holding my breath.

Colleagues may understandably dismiss the Guardian’s collection as a largely fringe phenomenon, but another reason I do not think the leaks will significantly affect people’s mindset one way or another is that the current U.S. administration, and many other liberals in Congress, the State Department, and various other agencies of the federal government, were privy to some, if not all, the content of the leaks before the public was — and that did not change their worldview or the policies they pursued.

Anyone who thinks that the WikiLeaks silver lining is in the “moment of truth” value should remember that WikiLeaks was irrelevant for the bigger picture — it revealed nothing we did not either instinctively or advisedly know about the world already. The information was entertaining in a tabloid way (as Max has said) — but again, gossip about Berlusconi’s lifestyle and Qaddafi’s erratic behavior were already available before this event. What value did we get out of this exposure that we had not already gotten out of a subscription to Hello! magazine?

Undoubtedly, the embarrassment from the exposure will eventually subside because, after all, governments made uncomfortable by these leaks must have similar documents in mind that their own diplomats have produced about U.S. leaders. Such is the nature of diplomacy, after all — to offer frank, unadorned assessments under the assumption that they will stay secret until long after they have become irrelevant.

In sum, the only enduring consequences of this affair are negative. First, there is the potential damage caused to sources of information — past, present, and future. Will the likelihood of being exposed as an informant in societies where such activity may be punished with death, loss of face or revenue, or damage to family, help or hinder the future recruitment of sources? Will current sources, seeing how they could easily be exposed, continue or discontinue their cooperation with American (and other) diplomats? Will they have the luxury of this choice, given that being exposed could lead to their death? And will they have continued access to information, given that they have now been exposed?

Then there is the real damage done to the quality of diplomatic communication. WikiLeaks stupidly boasts of serving transparency. The fact of the matter is that its irresponsible and puerile act of exposure will not obviate the need for discretion in the way governments conduct their affairs of state. To the contrary, it will force governments to build more impenetrable firewalls for their vital internal communications — with increased costs to the public coffers and with an increase in the kind of “culture of secrecy” that WikiLeaks so ardently wishes to undermine.

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Another Good Entitlement-Reform Plan

James Capretta explains why the entitlement-reform proposal put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan and former Fed vice-chairman Alice Rivlin is so important:

In Medicare, the Ryan-Rivlin proposal would be transformative. It picks up on a key feature of Rep. Ryan’s “Roadmap” budget plan, which is that new enrollees in Medicare after 2020 would receive their entitlement in the form of a fixed contribution from the federal government rather than today’s defined benefit program structure. …

For Medicaid, Ryan and Rivlin propose moving toward a fixed block grant payment from the federal government to the states. The block grant payments would be indexed to grow with the size of the Medicaid population as well as per capita GDP growth plus one percentage point. …

Beyond Medicare and Medicaid, the plan would also impose limits on noneconomic and punitive damages in medical liability cases as well as repeal the ill-advised long-term care program (called the “CLASS Act”) that was created in the recently passed health care law.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has already issued a preliminary assessment of the budgetary implications of Ryan-Rivlin, and the results are impressive. Over the next decade, Ryan-Rivlin would cut federal deficit spending by $280 billion, and by 2030, federal spending on the major health entitlement programs would be about 1.75 percent of GDP below a reasonable baseline projection.

But Capretta is right that the importance of the plan is more political — the emergence of a responsible Democratic voice willing to work with the GOP’s guru on entitlements (Ryan) in a productive way. This will diffuse to a degree the alarmist rhetoric coming from the Dem side of the aisle. Moreover, it recognizes that we need to pursue “an across-the-board move toward more fixed federal financial support for coverage.”

In conversations I have had over the past week, Republicans on the Hill seem to recognize that there are important elements in both the debt commission plan and the Ryan-Rivlin plan. Neither is perfect, but parts of both represent some key concessions by the Democrats involved in formulating each. A flatter tax code, a lower corporate tax rate, and market-based entitlement reforms? Some would sign on the dotted line, warts and all. The Democrats? Well, by launching an assault on the debt commission, they risk appearing unserious about deficit control and real fiscal reform.

At the very least, the Ryan-Rivlin and debt commission plans will jump-start a key debate. If Republicans want to prove they are sober and mature lawmakers, they will start crafting proposals that extract the best from both plans.

James Capretta explains why the entitlement-reform proposal put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan and former Fed vice-chairman Alice Rivlin is so important:

In Medicare, the Ryan-Rivlin proposal would be transformative. It picks up on a key feature of Rep. Ryan’s “Roadmap” budget plan, which is that new enrollees in Medicare after 2020 would receive their entitlement in the form of a fixed contribution from the federal government rather than today’s defined benefit program structure. …

For Medicaid, Ryan and Rivlin propose moving toward a fixed block grant payment from the federal government to the states. The block grant payments would be indexed to grow with the size of the Medicaid population as well as per capita GDP growth plus one percentage point. …

Beyond Medicare and Medicaid, the plan would also impose limits on noneconomic and punitive damages in medical liability cases as well as repeal the ill-advised long-term care program (called the “CLASS Act”) that was created in the recently passed health care law.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has already issued a preliminary assessment of the budgetary implications of Ryan-Rivlin, and the results are impressive. Over the next decade, Ryan-Rivlin would cut federal deficit spending by $280 billion, and by 2030, federal spending on the major health entitlement programs would be about 1.75 percent of GDP below a reasonable baseline projection.

But Capretta is right that the importance of the plan is more political — the emergence of a responsible Democratic voice willing to work with the GOP’s guru on entitlements (Ryan) in a productive way. This will diffuse to a degree the alarmist rhetoric coming from the Dem side of the aisle. Moreover, it recognizes that we need to pursue “an across-the-board move toward more fixed federal financial support for coverage.”

In conversations I have had over the past week, Republicans on the Hill seem to recognize that there are important elements in both the debt commission plan and the Ryan-Rivlin plan. Neither is perfect, but parts of both represent some key concessions by the Democrats involved in formulating each. A flatter tax code, a lower corporate tax rate, and market-based entitlement reforms? Some would sign on the dotted line, warts and all. The Democrats? Well, by launching an assault on the debt commission, they risk appearing unserious about deficit control and real fiscal reform.

At the very least, the Ryan-Rivlin and debt commission plans will jump-start a key debate. If Republicans want to prove they are sober and mature lawmakers, they will start crafting proposals that extract the best from both plans.

Read Less




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