Thursday, December 29, 2011

President Obama's "Sputnik Year"

When President Obama gave his State of the Union address over 11 months ago, he referred to America's "Sputnik Moment"--our need to invest massive amounts of money in innovations, particularly green innovations, to keep pace with a changing world (emphasis added):
Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. 
This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.
Following that speech, Governor Palin criticized President Obama's reference to Sputnik, noting how spending so much money on things like Sputnik lead to the eventual demise of the Soviet Union:
That was another one of those "WTF" moments, when he so often repeated this Sputnik moment that he would aspire Americans to celebrate. And he needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist USSR and their victory in that race to space, yes, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union. So I listened to that Sputnik moment talk over and over again, and I think, No, we don’t need one of those. You know what we need is a “spudnut” moment. And here’s where I’m going with this, Greta. And you’re a good one because you’re one of those reporters who actually gets out there in the communities, find these hard-working people and find solutions to the problems that Americans face.
Governor Palin was lambasted by the media for making what they saw as a huge historical gaffe. In reality, it turned out to be a history lesson for the biased media. Peter Schweizer (prior to being hired as an adviser to Governor Palin) wrote at Big Peace following the media mocking that Governor Palin that she was indeed correct:
Palin is right: Sputnik was the typical government solution; symbolism over substance. The Soviets did not really create a satellite, and Washington really wasn’t threatened by it. They “welcomed it.” 
Palin’s other point is that Sputnik was the sort of government bureaucratic program that got the Soviet Union in trouble; it’s an example of what eventually did them in. Citing Wikipedia (what journalistic ingenuity!), Stromberg [Washington Post author] argues that actually the Soviet Union didn’t have a debt problem until some “thirty years after” Sputnik. Perhaps instead of relying on Wikipedia, Stromberg might have consulted Robert Gates’ book From the Shadowswhich chronicles, in part, his career as a Soviet analyst at the CIA. (Just in case they are unaware at the Post, this is the same Robert Gates who is now the Secretary of Defense.) On page 173, he accurately points out that the CIA knew early on of the “Soviet economic crisis. From the late 1950s, CIA had clearly described the chronic weaknesses as well as the formidable military power of the Soviet Union.” Hmmm. Do you think this “chronic weaknesses might have had something to do with excessive bureaucracies and the size of government? Note to Stromberg: you will have to close Wikipedia and actually crack a book for this one.
In a post today, the Heritage Foundation points out that President Obama's pie in the sky promises have done just the opposite of what he promised. Solyndra has become the notorious posterchild for the green cronyism--driven by politics, not policy-- that is so pervasive in this administration:
Of course, central to the story is solar energy company Solyndra, which received a $535 million taxpayer-funded loan guarantee. President Obama spoke at the company’s newly unveiled factory in May of last year, bragging that “[W]e can see the positive impacts [of the stimulus] right here at Solyndra.” Despite the President’s boosterism, Solyndra went bankrupt last summer, leaving 1,100 people out of work. The jobs the President promised didn’t stick around long, and they came at a heavy price.
That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the "Sputnik" investments President Obama made with taxpayer dollars. Four other solar companies that received stimulus money also went bankrupt this year. There is also Brightsource,a failing solar energy company connected to Obama donor Robert Kennedy Jr, who received more than a billion dollars in taxpayer guaranteed loans. In late September, President Obama's Department of Energy extended more green energy loans to companies like Exelon and General Electric whose leadership and employees were also big donors to his campaign.Most recently, President Obama has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the company Solazyme to fuel a Navy ship with algae based biofuels. Solazyme's strategic adviser is non other than T.J.Glauthier who was part of President Obama's transition team and who worked on the energy part of the 2009 stimulus bill. Solazyme is receiving $16 a gallon for this fuel-- 4 times the average price for such a fuel.  Pretty good payback from a friend, huh?

 President Obama's promised to invest in more than just clean energy, though, and that he did investing in both information technology and medicine. Take for example the companies Lightsquared and Siga Technologies.  Lightsquared, which received hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for a broadband project and has ties to both the infamous George Soros and Phillip Falcone (another Obama donor) is another company which has been part of President Obama's "Sputnik Year". President Obama indeed also invested in "information technology" as he promised in his State of the Union address, but such an investment did not help " strengthen our security". In fact, testing showed that Lightsquared internet signals interfered with military GPS signals. In essence, President Obama is willing to compromise the military's technological abilities in order to fill the wallets of his cronies.  President Obama also has extended a hundreds of millions of dollars no bid contract to Siga technologies  a company who manufacture small pox treatments. This company had ties to former SEIU leader and Obama friend, Andy Stern, and to mainly Democratic donor Ronald Perleman.

President Obama indeed chose to invest in those areas that he sees will pave the way for what he sees as America's Sputnik moment, but he has done so at the expense of the American taxpayer and at the cost of our financial future. There's nothing like repaying your campaign donors and cronies with taxpayer money to truly "win the future". Yet again, Governor Palin was right. It was just another "WTF" moment turned into a "WTF" year for our President.

Crossposted here and here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Governor Susana Martinez--the Quiet Reformer

Among the several Republican governors who took office following the 2010 election, three have arguably stood out due to their battles against unions: Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, and Nikki Haley of South Carolina. There is one governor, though, who has quietly begun to  make noticeable reforms and implement conservative policy in her state--Susana Martinez of New Mexico.

Governor Martinez came into office on the heels of corruptocrat governor, former presidential candidate, and former Obama administration commerce secretary nominee, Bill Richardson. Richardson had been charged with pay-to-play schemes involving state bond deals, but those charges just so happened to be dropped by Eric Holder's Department of Justice in August of 2009. Needless to say, New Mexico was in need of reform. As a four term district attorney, Martinez spent a good deal of her time prosecuting corruption cases, so she certainly has experience taking on corruption.

In a state that President Obama won by 15 points in 2008, Governor Martinez has managed to rack up a 50% approval rating through her first year in office--highest among newly elected Republican governors--and is doing well among independents and Democrats as well. Her gubernatorial priorities have been education, balancing the budget, ensuring transparency and ethics in government, and keeping New Mexicans safe. Sounds kind of familiar, huh?

During her first year in office, Governor Martinez has turned a $400 million budget deficit into an estimated $246 million surplus. Under her direction, her cabinets have made changes to their budgets to make roughly $70 million in cuts. She has also saved money for the state by doing simple things like reducing state office space and state employee cell phone use. and At the same time, New Mexico has become the 4th best state for job growth, and their unemployment rate had gone down two percentage points between October of 2010 and October 2011. She also fought against a $128 million tax increase for small business when she vetoed a portion of a bill proposed by her democratically controlled legislature. Unfortunately, the state's supreme court overturned her veto when the legislature sued.

Governor Martinez has also made strides to make government more transparent and ethical.  On her first day in office, she signed an executive order that prohibited any part of the New Mexico state government from hiring or retaining lobbyists. She is also asking the legislature to pass a bill that would disallow anyone serving in public office working as a lobbyist for at least two years after their time in government. She has put the state checkbook online and displays the salaries of all state government employees. Governor Martinez has also sold the state's executive jet, interestingly to a couple from Alaska, and has fired Governor Richardson's cooks as well.

Her educational initiatives are aimed at "reform, not just money" and include ensuring teachers are properly evaluated and students are reading at their appropriate grade level. She is also urging the legislature to pass legislation overturning New Mexico's policy that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licences. They are one of two states that allow such practices.  She argues that this policy allows illegal immigrants to get a licence and use that licence to get documentation in other states.She has also expressed pointed criticism against amnesty.

You know her conservative message has to be making an impact and getting under the skin of the Left, as scurrilous statements have been made about her family's immigration status in order to try to undermine her plans to overturn New Mexico's drivers' license policy. Additionally, fellow minority, but liberal politicians  are using racial slurs against her . To be sure, Governor Martinez only has one year under her belt now and time will tell if she will continue to implement further reforms and have continued success in frugal budgeting, but she's definitely off to quite a start. Besides, how can you not love someone who re-qualifies for her "conceal and carry" license like this?

Cross posted here and here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cronyism in Healthcare Goes Viral!-Updated

More cronyism emerged from the Obama administration today in the form of a no-bid $433 million contract for the production of a small pox vaccine by a company with ties to former SEIU head, debt commission panel member, and Obama crony Andy Stern and Obama friend Ronald Perleman. As CNN shares:
Ronald Perelman is controlling shareholder of Siga Technologies and a longtime Democratic Party activist and fundraiser. He's also a large contributor to Republicans, but has been a particular friend of the Obama White House. 
Also on Siga's board of directors is Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, who has had close relations with the Obama administration and who has supported President Barack Obama's health care initiatives. 
In May 2011, Health and Human Services awarded Siga a no-bid contract worth nearly $433 million to develop and produce 1.7 million doses of an anti-viral smallpox drug called STS-246. The drug would augment the existing supply of smallpox vaccine now in U.S. control.
Never mind that we spent close to a billion dollars for smallpox vaccines following the 9/11 attacks. The emails CNN obtained suggest that the Siga was poised to gain triple digit percentage profits and considering that the only customer was the US government, the contract was a direct infusion of nearly a half billion dollars from the American taxpayer to President Obama's cronies. This is par for the course in American politics though when it comes to healthcare. Politicians seem to care little about the actual health of the American people and more about the healthcare of Americans. The distinction is important. Improved health means that the people are themselves healthier. Improved healthcare means that people have greater access to healthcare to make them healthier, but increased government intervention allows for greater personal gain for politicians and their buddies. To be sure, access to healthcare--be it affordable care or drugs--is needed, but the government always couches intervention in terms of health related entities such as health insurance or medication. That is, if they themselves do not want to directly control healthcare via a completely universal system, they will legislate to their own personal benefit. GE, one of Obama's favorites (CEO Jeff Immelt heads up Obama's jobs board), is one of the largest producers of health information technology. In fact, they just launched a new venture with Google today. The health care reform bill signed into law by President Obama included $27 billion in "incentives" for physicians to implement and use electronic health record systems. Likely "incentivizing"providers to purchase such technology will only help GE's coffers. So in addition to a net gain of $3.2 billion (without paying taxes) from the American taxpayer, GE stands to continue to gain from their relationship with President Obama. That's not too say that there isn't merit to electronic health records; they do indeed help prevent medical errors. At the same time though, it provides an opportunity for further cronyism. The bigger government becomes, the more opportunities politicians have to pay back their friends.

This is sadly commonplace in politics though-- both for Democrats and Republicans-- as I've written before in reference to personal mandates specifically:
What might make supposedly "conservative" politicians want to have government mandate that individuals purchase a certain product such as health insurance, even under the guise of "personal responsibility"? Doesn't that conflict with the idea of personal liberty that conservatives espouse? Peter Schweizer just published a book, Throw Them All Out, where he spent a whole chapter discussing the relationship between Congressional stock trades and legislation. He discussed how Congressmen purchased stocks in drug companies just before the Medicare Part D legislation was passed in 2003, knowing that the stock prices would rise after the bill was signed into law and they would reap the profits. During Obamacare deliberations, Congressmen purchased stock in health insurance companies once they new the "public option" would be nixed, and insurance stock prices would go up. While neither of these situations focused on a personal mandate, they do suggest that politicians are willing to add layers of bureaucracy and create new government programs for their personal benefit. Speaker Gingrich has expressed support for a personal mandate on multiple occasions, as early as 1993 and as recently as this past May. Why? While Gingrich is indeed opposed to Obamacare and has expressed disapproval of its mandate, he also consulted for drug companies and health insurance companies as part of  his healthcare think tank, which supported insurance mandates, to the tune of millions of dollars. Governor Perry also supported a health care mandate of sorts with his (thankfully overturned) Gardasil mandate, which was essentially political payback for Merck's donations to his campaign and to the RGA. Politicians, even self-proclaimed conservatives, will often advocate for greater government control over healthcare if it helps their pocketbook or their political career.
No bid contracts that go directly to one's friends is the epitome of crony capitalism. This most recent example with Siga is more blatant than most as it's a direct line from the taxpayer to President Obama's friends. Even Solyndra had a few (rare) customers buy their solar panels. With this, the taxpayer is the just that the payer, and as is far too often the case, the government is the consumer. Cronyism has gone viral yet again, but as always, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Update: SIGA has released a statement to answer these charges explaining the importance of the drug, why it was a sole bid contract, and why the funding they received was appropriate. While no doubt small pox remains a potential method of bioterrorism (or perhaps this administration would call it a virus caused disaster), there are still a few more issues that SIGA and the Obama administration needs to address. While SIGA claims that the price was "fair and reasonable", the fact that emails exist that address the optics of such a large sum of money and the profit and price of the vaccine indicate that this was indeed a negotiated "deal". SIGA even phrases it that way--a deal. SIGA also notes, " HHS also determined in written findings that failure to award a contract to SIGA might cause permanent damage to SIGA’s capacity to supply ST-246 in the future when needed." This is indeed a unique case, as the drug is used to treat a virus that has essentially been eradicated with the exception of the potential use as a bioterrorism method. However, a nearly half a billion sudden infusion of funding is suspect when that cash goes to Obama cronies, even if no "lobbying" was done on behalf of SIGA. As I mentioned earlier billions of healthcare reform dollars have been designated for electronic health records. While this may be helpful in reducing medical errors, it also happens to throw taxpayer money into the coffers of the politically connected. It becomes another display of politicians finding problems that only their friends and donors can solve and thus, they become the beneficiary of taxpayer dollars.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Throw Them All Out--Read It with a Pair of Sunglasses!

Last week, I read Peter Schweizer's insightful book, Throw Them All Out. I found it to be very well researched and well written. It is a fascinatingly frustrating read, in a righteous indignation kind of way. The book is a reminder that we need to evaluate politics vertically (top to bottom) a lot more often rather than just approaching politics on the horizontal spectrum of left to right ideology. Schweizer further reveals that those at the top of the political food chain are politicians themselves and their cronies, and we everyday Americans are subject to the rules these individual craft for everyone but themselves.  Unlike intellectually dishonest researchers who often "forget" that correlation does not equal causation, Schweizer lays out the facts--the legislation, stock trades, associations, and timing-- of the unethical behavior of Congress, the White House, and their cronies and allows the reader to make the judgement for himself or herself. He's the prosecutor; the reader is the juror.

Throw Them All Out is comprised of three parts--discussion of Congressional transgressions, the gains made by politicians' cronies, and how Schweizer's feels these problems can best be addressed.   Much of the Congressional behavior Schweizer discusses was highlighted in the recent 60 Minutes segment. Schweizer goes into detail on Congresswoman Pelosi's insider trading on Bank of America IPOs and how earmarks for light rail projects would raise the value of nearby property that she owned. Isn't it interesting that if you had the letters P-E-L-O-S-I, you could spell both "IPO" and "lies" on a Scrabble board? Schweizer hits at both parties--from former Republican Congressman Dennis Hastert and Democrat Heath Shuler on their land deals and the benefit they received from legislation. Schweizer also presents an excellent expose on how Congress trades health insurance and drug company stock based upon early knowledge of whether or not healthcare legislation is posed to pass. Isn't it any wonder how Congress is more concerned with Americans health insurance and drug coverage specifically than they are with Americans health?

Schweizer continues in part two focusing in large part on two of Obama's wealthiest cronies-- George Soros and Warren Buffett. Schweizer highlighted the trend of hedge fund managers' growing closeness with the political arena. Such associations likely contributed to Soros' excellent stock picks that somehow seemed to be many of the same companies who received government grants. Buffett's modus operandi seems to be feigning populist outrage only to greatly gain from legislation like the TARP bailout. Schweizer also highlights how 80% of green energy loans went to companies associated with President Obama's top donors.  In reality, of course, with companies like Solyndra receiving hundreds of millions of dollars, all of this crony capitalism amounts to taxpayer dollars swirling the water efficient "green" toilet?

Schweizer closes the book with a few chapters that seem like a cross between the Federalist Papers and Thomas Sowell's Intellectuals and Society. He mixes both the thoughts and visions from the Founders on ethical government with the anti-Elite message Sowell pounded home in his book. He closes the book by offering some reforms to help solve this massive political problem. These reforms fall right in line with the reforms Governor Palin offered in her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed:
What are the solutions? We need reform that provides real transparency. Congress should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act like everyone else. We need more detailed financial disclosure reports, and members should submit reports much more often than once a year. All stock transactions above $5,000 should be disclosed within five days. 
We need equality under the law. From now on, laws that apply to the private sector must apply to Congress, including whistleblower, conflict-of-interest and insider-trading laws. Trading on nonpublic government information should be illegal both for those who pass on the information and those who trade on it. (This should close the loophole of the blind trusts that aren’t really blind because they’re managed by family members or friends.) 
No more sweetheart land deals with campaign contributors. No gifts of IPO shares. No trading of stocks related to committee assignments. No earmarks where the congressman receives a direct benefit. No accepting campaign contributions while Congress is in session. No lobbyists as family members, and no transitioning into a lobbying career after leaving office. No more revolving door, ever.
Recently, Governor Palin suggested that all presidential candidates read Schweizer's book. It would do us all well to read it also. It provides us with a glimpse into the swamp of Washington inhabited by both parties and offers proposals to drain that swamp.At less than 200 pages complete with references and tables, Schweizer's book is not heavy on opinions or words. It is a concise, yet thorough investigation of the political class. Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. You might want to read Schweizer's book with a pair of sunglasses.

Crossposted here and here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving--God's Grace, the 1%,the Blessings of America, and the History

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year , there is much to be thankful for, among the most important of these is God's grace and His love. Without it, I know I would be nothing. The Bible talks about thankfulness throughout its page from the Israelites in the Old Testament to the Psalms of David to the days of the early church following Christ's resurrection. One of the more well known Scriptures about thanksgiving comes from Psalm 100, written by David:
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
In additions to those blessings from God that are more spiritual in nature, there are the material blessings and the freedoms that we have in America to be thankful for. While there are some who are protesting against the 1% of America, in America a good many of us are really amongst the 1% of the world when it comes to income:
As author Matt Ridley put it, "Today, of Americans officially designated as 'poor,' 99 percent have electricity, running water, flush toilets, and a refrigerator; 95 percent have a television, 88 percent a telephone, 71 percent a car and 70 percent air conditioning. Cornelius Vanderbilt had none of these." Nor does much of the world. Food for thought.

We have been so blessed in America with our physical blessings. While there is high unemployment and homelessness in America, we are generally all well nourished,  have sufficient shelter, and have clothing.(As a side note, if you are looking to help the true 1%, I recommend supporting Christian Relief Fund. 92% of their donations go directly toward helping the truly in need in the world). Those physical provisions are in addition to the luxuries of our technology created by innovators throughout the world and throughout history. Beyond those things though, we live in  a free society. We may not be able to tangibly touch freedom or liberty, but  their blessings are manifested in every aspect of our lives. David Boaz of the Cato Institute shares a nice list of things that we have to be thankful for as Americans:
Rule of law. Perhaps the greatest achievement in history is the subordination of power to law. That is, in modern America we have created structures that limit and control the arbitrary power of government. No longer can one man — a king, a priest, a communist party boss — take another person’s life or property at the ruler’s whim. Citizens can go about their business, generally confident that they won’t be dragged off the streets to disappear forever, and confident that their hard-earned property won’t be confiscated without warning. We may take the rule of law for granted, but immigrants from China, Haiti, Syria, and other parts of the world know how rare it is. 
Equality for women. Throughout much of history women were the property of their fathers or their husbands. They were often barred from owning property, testifying in court, signing contracts, or participating in government. Equality for women took longer than equality for men, but today in America and other civilized parts of the world women have the same legal rights as men. 
Self-government. The Declaration of Independence proclaims that “governments are instituted” to secure the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and that those governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Early governments were often formed in the conquest of one people by another, and the right of the rulers to rule was attributed to God’s will and passed along from father to son. In a few places — Athens, Rome, medieval Germany — there were fitful attempts to create a democratic government. Now, after America’s example, we take it for granted in civilized countries that governments stand or fall on popular consent. 
Freedom of speech. In a world of Michael Moore, Ann Coulter, and cable pornography, it’s hard to imagine just how new and how rare free speech is. Lots of people died for the right to say what they believed. In China and Africa and the Arab world, they still do. Fortunately, we’ve realized that while free speech may irritate each of us at some point, we’re all better off for it.
You can read his whole post here.

Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving here in America? There is indeed the stories of the pilgrims celebrating with the native Americans early in our Colonial history. There are the proclamations of Thanksgiving from Presidents Washington throughout our history,  but Thanksgiving wasn't an official holiday until President Lincoln officially declared such a day in 1863 in the midst of one of the darker times of our history. What proved to be the impetus for this declaration? A letter from a women named Sarah Hale encouraging him to declare a national holiday. As the Independent Women's Forum shares:
Lincoln was thankful - thankful that the Union had held together after the Civil War. During his time in office, he had received many letters from the editor of Godey's Lady's Book, a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale, encouraging him to adopt a national holiday to thank God. 
But Lincoln was not the first president to receive such letters from Hale. She'd written to four other presidents before him: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. 
According to Davidson historian Anne Blue Wills, Sarah Hale's vision for the national holiday included more than a remembrance of American roots: 
*Americans would travel to their homeland, to be with their families. Hale lived in a time when Americans were increasingly living in places not their birthplace. She wanted Americans to experience the rural countryside and to see God's bountiful blessings as well as taste them. 
*Americans would feast - and not just a little. The near gluttony of today's holiday was a part of Hale's vision. The first dinners shared by the pilgrims were not likely to be very bountiful. The pilgrims actually had a rough time getting enough food! But Hale wanted Americans to feast on big birds - turkeys or chickens. 
*Americans would experience the joys of being at home. As editor of a ladies' magazine, Hale put great emphasis on the decorating and homemaking that were necessary to make Thanksgiving a cozy holiday. She believed in the home as the woman's sphere, where women could display their excellent cooking and decorating skills.
Read the whole post here.

From the spiritual blessings given by God to the blessings of friends and family to the blessings of being an American, there is so much to be thankful for. As President Coolidge, a descendent of those Pilgrims who celebrated the first "Thanksgiving"in America, once said in one of his presidential proclamations of thanksgiving as a challenge and a reminder:
An abundant prosperity has overspread the land. We shall do well to accept all these favors and bounties with a becoming humility, and dedicate them to the service of the righteous cause of the Giver of all good and perfect gifts. As the nation has prospered let all the people show that they are worthy to prosper by rededicating America to the service of God and man.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What the health is wrong with "personal responsibility"?

Discussion of the individual mandate for health insurance has been swirling for quite a long time from debates over healthcare reform at state and federal levels or a point of political criticism by fellow candidates in the upcoming presidential primaries. It's not only that liberals approve of it, such as in the passage of Obamacare or in in candidate Hillary Clinton's plans. Republicans and conservative groups have expressed support for an individual mandate to some degree as well. Governor Romney wrote the book on an individual mandate when he passed a healthcare reform plan as Governor of Massachusetts, despite the fact that he defends his plan using the "federalism" argument. The 10th amendment may give Constitutional support to what states do, but it doesn't make those things a good idea. Yesterday, Mitt Romney continued to defend his plan, but this time re-iterated its merits on the basis of personal responsibility (as he has done previously). Sensing that Speaker Gingrich is his current competition, Romney noted that Gingrich also had supported the concept of health insurance mandates on the basis of "personal responsibility", noting too that the Heritage Foundation had supported the concept of insurance mandates.

What might make supposedly "conservative" politicians want to have government mandate that individuals purchase a certain product such as health insurance, even under the guise of "personal responsibility"? Doesn't that conflict with the idea of personal liberty that conservatives espouse? Peter Schweizer just published a book, Throw Them All Out, where he spent a whole chapter discussing the relationship between Congressional stock trades and legislation. He discussed how Congressmen purchased stocks in drug companies just before the Medicare Part D legislation was passed in 2003, knowing that the stock prices would rise after the bill was signed into law and they would reap the profits. During Obamacare deliberations, Congressmen purchased stock in health insurance companies once they new the "public option" would be nixed, and insurance stock prices would go up. While neither of these situations focused on a personal mandate, they do suggest that politicians are willing to add layers of bureaucracy and create new government programs for their personal benefit. Speaker Gingrich has expressed support for a personal mandate on multiple occasions, as early as 1993 and as recently as this past May. Why? While Gingrich is indeed opposed to Obamacare and has expressed disapproval of its mandate, he also consulted for drug companies and health insurance companies as part of  his healthcare think tank, which supported insurance mandates, to the tune of millions of dollars. Governor Perry also supported a health care mandate of sorts with his (thankfully overturned) Gardasil mandate, which was essentially political payback for Merck's donations to his campaign and to the RGA. Politicians, even self-proclaimed conservatives, will often advocate for greater government control over healthcare if it helps their pocketbook or their political career.

The idea that personal responsibility lies in the purchase of health insurance, even by the Heritage Foundation, is misplaced. Individuals should be responsible for their own health, not mandated to purchase a product. Government can do little to control or mandate health, but they can do a heck of a lot to mandate health insurance purchase,  create greater bureaucracy, and implement larger regulations. However, people are truly responsible for their own health. The most free market, patient centered healthcare ideas center around the fact that the individual is empowered to make his or her own decisions when it comes to health. This is why things like health savings accounts are well supported by conservatives, as they enable individuals to choose how their money is being spent for a portion of their health care needs.

Beyond this, though, is the needed focus on personal responsibility in health choices in eating and exercise, not because of mandated school lunch programs to help curb childhood obesity proposed by fearmongering liberals, but for the sake of one's own health. While cancers and chronic diseases are often linked to genetics and other factors outside one's control, 40% of cancers and 80% of chronic diseases are preventable.  Choices in exercise, smoking, and nutrition will go along way to help keep an individual healthly. This is not to say that people should not purchase health insurance or accept health coverage from their employer, but simply that it not be the subject of the mandates, nor couched in "personal responsibility" language.  Many laughably defend the health insurance mandate by referencing car insurance mandates (never mind that you're not mandated to own a car).However, if we were to take even that irrational argument further, then health insurance should only cover when you get in an accident, not when you go in for a routine physical, which is akin to an oil change and is not covered by car insurance.People with health insurance are generally healthy, but health insurance does not make one healthy. Making healthy personal choices (without government intervention) is the truest form of personal responsibility, but it sure is a lot harder for politicians to make money off of our own personally responsible choices.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Compromise, Capitulation, and Congress

G.K. Chesterton once said,"[c]ompromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf; is better than a whole loaf." That line could easily apply to today's GOP controlled Congress. From budget deals where GOP leadership claimed to cut $38. 5 billion  when the actual cut was a mere $353 million to caving on a raise in the debt ceiling and the creation of a "Supercommittee" to deal with spending and budgeting,  the Republicans in Congress have made a habit out of choosing capitulation over principles and legitimate compromise.

Today, an overwhelming majority of House Republicans voted for a "half loaf" balance budget amendment which did not cap spending and too small of a majority of votes to propose tax increases or to override the balanced budget requirements. Some argue that this would be a start towards fiscal prudence, but should such "compromise" be attempted on a constitutional amendment, especially when a better "full loaf" amendment had been proposed by the Senate? To be sure, deficit reduction is an imperative, but if the deficit reduction and spending reduction aren't concurrent, how is supposed to help our economy in both the short and long term? It's a "half loaf" idea when a "full loaf" proposal is on the table.

An example of a solid "half loaf" compromise of sorts, can be seen in the public sector union reforms of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Governor Walker signed into law a bill that reformed collective bargaining rights of teachers that allowed them to still bargain for pay raises, but not changes to benefits. It also only sought to reform the benefits and bargaining of teachers.  Juxtapose this with the reforms of Ohio Issue 2 which included changes to  all public employee benefits and collective bargain criteria, including that of first responders.To be sure, government employees should have to contribute to their benefits, but the sweeping changes of such a referendum makes it hard to achieve incremental progress that would be necessary for such reforms to be made in a purplish state like Ohio.

Given the choice between principles and capitulation, many in Congress and state governments blur the lines between compromise and capitulation. Principles must be married with pragmatic compromise, but never with capitulation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What if Political "Journalism" Was Held to the Same Standard as Scientific Research?

As I have realized the necessity of being politically and culturally aware in recent years, it has become increasingly clear that the media, in general, hold themselves to a different occupational and ethical standard than the rest of us. Yes, I know this is no breaking news; it's been this way for years. However, I've begun looking at things in the context of my job as a healthcare researcher. The essence of journalism and scientific research of any kind are very similar broadly speaking. You pose a question. You determine your methods of data collection and collect your data, then you report your results. Pretty simple, huh? For the most part, journalism, as we know it today, does not do this. However, what if journalism was held to that same standard--both in process and writing?

When a scientific researcher poses a research question, there generally is a null hypothesis and an alternative hypothesis for their question. For example, if a researcher wanted to compare two treatments for the flu, their null hypothesis is that there is no difference between the two treatments. The alternative hypothesis may be that treatment A is more effective than treatment B based upon what the researcher anticipates. However, when a researcher begin their experiment and does their analysis, they do so using the null hypothesis as their statistical standard and draw their conclusions based on the actual results. When journalists do their investigation, they often begin their equivalent to the alternative hypothesis, making their bias the leading factor in all facets of their journalistic process--their data collection technique, the analysis of those data, and the presentation of their results. Ultimately then, their research proves their bias. For example, 60 Minutes has a segment on Sunday looking at insider trading in Washington. Their segment highlighted a handful of Congress members who engaged in insider trading, land deals and the like. However, the segment included four Republicans and only one Democrat. To be sure, Republicans need to be held accountable for their unethical behavior and I most certainly don't want to let them off the hook, but why did CBS choose this unbalanced ratio of examples? Likely it is because this type of behavior among Republicans fit their "alternative hypothesis" based upon their bias. If researchers engaged in this kind of behavior, their research would be considered lacking integrity and would not be published. When "journalists" do it, it's commonplace.

When a researcher sets out to publish their results, the first part of their manuscript is their background/significance section where they describe why the research is significant and share other relevant information. Upon doing this, the researcher is required to cite their sources--whether it be a cancer prevalence statistic or the results of a previously performed study. The need for citing sources appears to be unnecessary for some journalists. Often, they "cite" anonymous sources only (see pretty much any article about the McCain/Palin campaign in October of 2008), where no sources in a story hundreds or thousands of words long is a proper noun. Heck, sometimes the only source they seem to have is a strawman, which seems to feed and perpetuate their bias. 

If a researcher's project gets funded--be at from a non-profit, the government, industry, or their own institution--they are required to note their funding source, and they are also required to report any conflicts of interests that may exist. I remember doing the literature review for my master's thesis which was on caffeine consumption and depression when I ran across an article on the effects of drinking soda where the researchers concluded that soda was a reasonably benign beverage. However, I noticed that the study was funded by Coca-cola. This isn't to say the data and results were biased necessarily to indicate the effects of soda were neutral or benign. The study had been peer-reviewed. However, at least those reading the piece were aware of where the funding came from and that possibly the results could be skewed toward the liking of those funding the research.  If a researcher is a consultant for a drug company, that is known as well. However, in journalism such informational tidbits are not readily known to the average American. The average American may not know that George Stephanapolos once was President Clinton's press secretary, yet he is working as a "journalist", not a commentator. It is not readily known that, although they are managed independently, there are funding ties between federally subsidized GE and MSNBC. If a researcher leaves out their citations, funding source, or conflicts of interest, they don't get published,  yet for "journalists" is just another day at the office.

Striking the balance between idealism and realism while attempting to not become overly cynical is hard when it comes to today's journalism. However, what is required of scientific researchers as a matter of solid research principles, integrity, and ethics, is tossed by the wayside by many journalists. I don't want to lump everyone in that category; there are a rare few who understand the core of real investigative journalism. Scientific research is not without its own faults and failings itself--both in method and ethics. It mush be said though that it would go along way for the reputation of political journalism if they held themselves to the same standards as research scientists do as a matter of both principle and career success.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Drain the Swamp

Outside of Chicago, most of Illinois is generally seen as farmland with small to medium sized cities and small towns dotting the landscape. However, although central Illinois is well known for having some of the richest soil in the world, southern Illinois was not always fertile farmland. In fact, many of the early settlers died from malaria due to the mosquito infestation of the swampland that covered nearly a fourth of the state.  In the 1800s, settlers to Illinois began to install underground tile drains and ditches to drain the swampland. This allowed them to use the land to begin farming to provide for their families, as the once swampy land was now suitable to be settled.

What does this have to with politics? Everything. When Nancy Pelosi took over as Speaker of the House in 2007, she promised to “drain the swamp” and lead the “most honest and open Congress in history”:

 One can only think of Governor Palin's words at her speech in Indianola, Iowa in September when she called out the crony capitalism of the permanent political class:
Yeah, the permanent political class – they’re doing just fine. Ever notice how so many of them arrive in Washington, D.C. of modest means and then miraculously throughout the years they end up becoming very, very wealthy? Well, it’s because they derive power and their wealth from their access to our money – to taxpayer dollars.  They use it to bail out their friends on Wall Street and their corporate cronies, and to reward campaign contributors, and to buy votes via earmarks. There is so much waste. And there is a name for this: It’s called corporate crony capitalism. This is not the capitalism of free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and of risk. No, this is the capitalism of connections and government bailouts and handouts, of waste and influence peddling and corporate welfare. This is the crony capitalism that destroyed Europe’s economies. It’s the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest – to the little guys. It’s a slap in the face to our small business owners – the true entrepreneurs, the job creators accounting for 70% of the jobs in America, it’s you who own these small businesses, you’re the economic engine, but you don’t grease the wheels of government power.
The last week or so has provided us more of peek into what Governor Palin has been mentioning over the past several months—that the crony capitalism of Solyndra is only the “tip of the iceberg”. The 60 Minutes segment that aired on Sunday highlighted the crony capitalism and unethical (but frustratingly not illegal) insider trading done by Congresswoman Pelosi and other member of Congress like Congressman Baucus, whom Andrew Breitbart is calling to resign.  Governor Palin’s adviser, Peter Schweizer has a book out today entitled Throw Them All Out where he writes in depth about the crony capitalism and unethical dealings of members of both parties. Tony Lee at Human Events has a good review of the book here.

Governor Palin has made fighting corruption and crony capitalism the foundation of her time in public service and the last year and a half as well. Whether it was calling out a fellow city council member nearly twenty years ago for trying to steer business to his company through regulation or highlighting the crony capitalism of the Obama administration and the permanent political class as a whole in recent months, Governor Palin has shined a bright light on the corruption and cronyism that is pervasive in government. With her decision not to seek the presidency at this time, many conservatives and clean government advocates feel a bit lost and rudderless. However, it should be noted that the settlers who arrived in Illinois did not start farming until the swamps were drained. The same could be true of the swamp of Washington D.C. Could this proverbial iceberg bring down the Titanic of crony capitalism? Could this swamp draining allow Governor Palin and/ or other reform minded corruption fighters to cultivate a harvest of clean government in the future?  Time will tell, but let us keep vigilant in the meantime. What has become the status quo in Washington, in our state capitals, and in our city halls should not be acceptable. We must hold our leaders to high standards and support those running for office who will be supportive of draining the swamp rather than infesting it.

 Crossposted here and here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

May God Bless America's Finest

I have re-post below a brief post I wrote for Veterans' Day last year on our 9/12 Project website:

When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in the happy hour when the establishment of American Liberty, upon the most firm and solid foundations shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peacefully and happy Country.

-George Washington June 26, 1775

The origins of Veterans' Day reach back nearly 100 years, though today what its remembrance encapsulates extends back more than 230 years. World War I ended on June 28, 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed. However, armistice was agreed upon between the United States and France on November 11, 1918. A year later, President Wilson signed a commemoration of "Armistice Day" stating:
To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…
An official recognition of Armistice Day was acknowledged by Congress on June 4, 1926. In 1938, it was designated a legal holiday, and in 1954, "Armistice Day" became known as "Veterans Day" to commemorate the veterans of all wars. President Eisenhower stated:
In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.
Efforts were made to commemorate Veterans' Day as part of a three day weekend. However, it now remains on November 11th regardless of what day of the week it falls on as a reminder of what day was essentially the end of World War I. Let us take today to remember those American men and women who have fought for our freedoms and defended our liberties across 4 centuries in wars ranging from the War for Independence to the Spanish American War to World War II to the current day action in Afghanistan. Thank you.

Crossposted here.
On an additional personal note, I'm very proud of the members of my family who have served our country. My Uncle Dean served in the Air Force. My cousin Nikki has served in Iraq as an army nurse. One of my grandpas served in Korea during the Korea War, while also spending decades in the Air Force both as a civilian and an officer working as a flight simulation instructor. My other grandpa, who passed away last month, enlisted in the Army Air Corps at the end of World War II. As a farmer, he was exempt from being drafted, as there was a need for farmers to feed the nation. However, my grandpa felt a desire to serve his country, so he enlisted towards end of the war serving for just over two years as a flight engineer for an officer. He got to travel all across America (below is a photo of his trip to Washington DC), but never was sent overseas, nor did he get to fulfill his dream of actually flying himself. There is most definitely good reason for these men and women to be known as the "greatest generation". They didn't feel entitled to received; they felt compelled to serve.

Thank you isn't enough for the millions of veterans who have served our country. We forever owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women who have fought for our liberties. May God bless  America's finest.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Death Panels--Turning Patients into Algorithms

Over two years ago, in the heated discussions leading up to the passage of Obamacare, Governor Palin rightfully categorized a key aspect of the legislation--the "death panel".  More and more evidence of such rationing continues to become evident day-by-day. In her initial post, Governor Palin rightfully highlighted President Obama's healthcare adviser, Ezekiel Emanuel and his advocacy of a "complete lives system" that would ration care to those who are capable of being productive in society (i.e. those who are disabled, have special needs, or who are elderly would be less likely to receive needed care). Controversial former Medicare commissioner nominee Donald Berwick willingly admitted that he considered rationing to be necessary component of healthcare. Congressional Democrats have even recognized that the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board is an effect a rationing board that essentially redistributes the health of Medicare recipients. The FDA has also skirted the thin line between being a regulatory agency and a rationing board when they took cost into consideration in their approval process for a breast cancer drug, rather than sticking to their role of evaluating safety and efficacy of drugs.

Eyebrows have been raised also with reports released in the past few years from the US Preventative Task Force suggesting changes to the normal breast cancer and prostate cancer screenings. Those who disagree with the task force's findings are critical of the fact that they do not include radiologists and oncologists as part of their group as this may indicate that the appropriate expertise is not being utilized. Supporters of the findings think that this is beneficial as it removes the potential of bias from those who may benefit professionally from the status quo or increased frequency in screening recommendations. Those on both sides of the issue are addressing the wrong problem.

Dr. Richard Ablin,the physician who developed PSA testing for prostate cancer, is now saying that routine testing is "a public health disaster". Yes, PSA screenings can detect cancer when it is treatable, but that also must be weighed against unnecessary treatment and surgery if the test results in a false positive. The psychological effect must also be taken into consideration for those who tested positive, but were actually negative. Sometimes very old patients are treated for cancer with treatment regimens that are very painful and uncomfortable in and of themselves, and some would have likely have died of natural causes prior to the cancer itself killing them. Similar issues can occur with breast cancer. There is a concern that too frequent of mammographies has the potential to cause cancer itself. There's also the psychological concern that arise with the worries of yearly examinations among other problems.

The true problem is the burgeoning influence of the government in these screenings and the shrinking influence of individual patients and physicians. The recommendations of such a government commissioned panel as the US Preventative Task Force has the potential to create a precedence for influencing what both private and public insurers cover and at what ages and frequencies they cover screenings such as mammograms. In the United Kingdom, their universal health care covers mammography for women aged 50-64 years of age every three years. Prior to the most recent US Preventative Task Force recommendations, women in the United States were recommended to receive mammograms on a yearly basis from age 40 and up, which is still what is generally adhered to. In the UK, breast cancer  mortality rate of 26.2 per 100,000 while it was 23.5 per 100,000 in the US for an 11% difference in mortality. Although not all factors can be effectively evaluated, earlier and more frequent screening likely played a role in making survival better for American women than UK women.

In addition to the potential for task force  recommendations to turn into government regulations, the influence of comparative effectiveness research provides a potential threat to the patient-physician relationship. When applied on the micro level, comparative effectiveness research is needed and welcomed. Patients and doctors alike want to ensure they are either receiving or administering the most effective treatment for their condition. No one wants unnecessary, ineffective procedures to be performed. However, when the results of such research is applied on the macro level through government regulations, it has the potential to turn patients into algorithms where a patient's demographics, symptoms, and disease are placed into an equation to spit out what is deemed the appropriate treatment.  This is the kind of healthcare system that has been implemented in England through the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence  (NICE) which has lead to increased rationing of care, increased wait times, and non-coverage of cancer treatments often basing decisions on a quality of life equation. To be sure, quality of life is important and often more favorable than an increased quantity of life of just a short time. However, the problem lies with who makes this determination. Does a government panel make this decision? Does the influence of government applied comparative effectiveness research play too large a role? Two of the key tenets of bioethics are autonomy and beneficience. When decisions are made by government panels and government implemented algorithms rather than by patients and their doctors, it flies in the face of both of these tenets.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Introducing Sarah "John Wooden" Palin

With Governor Palin's decision not to seek the GOP nomination, many want to pigeon hole Governor Palin into the role of "cheerleader", as if there was some false dichotomy between being a player in the game and being a cheerleader.  Perhaps it's my personal former point guard/semi anti-cheerleading bias, but I didn't see a cheerleader giving a speech to the Florida GOP--her first fundraising speech following her decision not to seek the nomination. I saw a coach. To be sure, Governor Palin helped raise more than $900,000 for the state GOP, more than the Democrats did in the entire third quarter.  However, cheerleaders cheer for the players; they don't offer ideas. Coaches offer ideas. Governor Palin offered an articulate discussion of  capitalism vs. crony capitalism and entitlement vs. empowerment. She discussed the relationship between energy independence and the economy. She praised the Tea Party for being among the first to express disgust against the bailout culture in Washington. Here are a few clips from this speech on Thursday:

Even prior to her decision not to run for president, Governor Palin was offering ideas and driving the debate ranging on everything from energy to quantitative easing. Most recently and prominently this was seen in her discussion of crony capitalism, corporate welfare and bailouts, which she focused on heavily in her Tea Party speech in Iowa in September. Two months later, Governor Palin's ideas are at the forefront of the economic discussion. Congressman Paul Ryan, whom many Tea Partiers and Establishment GOPers alike see as the economic golden boy, has made this a key point of his economic message (see the 2:00 mark and following):

Congressman Ryan took a lead from Governor Palin's speech two months ago and continues to articulate the message that Governor Palin has put forth. Some argue that in order for Governor Palin to have an impact, she must run for President, therefore her decision not to run removes her impact. The past month has proven that this is not the case. Ideally, Governor Palin would seek the role of player-coach and drive the debate while playing the game. Her prayerful decision led her a different direction for now. However, she continues to "coach" by presenting the ideas necessary to win the game. Whether it is crony capitalism or quantitative easing, perhaps Governor Palin is becoming the John Wooden (of whom she is very fond) of politics. Wooden's famous quote (often misattributed to President Reagan) of "It's an amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit" sounds a lot like "you don't need a title to make a difference", doesn't it?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Boots on the Ground--Precinct Committeepeople Needed in Illinois

As Palin supporters move forward following the Governor's decision not to seek the presidency at this time, there is still a lot to be done on the local, state, and federal level. Governor Palin knows more than many the importance of getting involved on the local level, as she herself spent 10 years in local government. In addition to being aware and informed on a national and state level,we have opportunity to get involved locally. The smallest unit of elective politics is the precinct. Precincts are drawn up geographically and generally constitute  neighborhoods and small areas.  Each precinct has a GOP and Democratic committeeperson. These individuals have the responsibility and opportunity to help get out the vote on election day and help people in their neighborhoods become informed about all ballot issues from local referenda to presidential candidates. Republican News Watch has more information about what precinct committeemen and women do:
A Republican Precinct Committeeman represents the GOP voters of his or her precinct at the County Republican Party level. 
But most importantly, a Republican Precinct Committeeman is the face of the GOP within the precinct. In many cases, a Republican Precinct Committeeman might be the only party official a voter ever meets in person. 
This volunteer position is really what one makes of it. Some do more than others. But the Republican Precinct Committeeman’s job is in essence all about helping to grow the GOP and working to deliver the maximum number of Republican votes from his or her precinct on Election Day. Precinct Committeemen comprise the core of any grassroots effort and no political campaign can be successful without these front line GOP ambassadors. 
The principle means of doing the job is just an extension of what most people already do – talking to the neighbors. 
By becoming a Republican Precinct Committeeman you can take a leadership role in advancing the Republican Platform principles of lower taxes, smaller government, fiscal responsibility, individual freedom, strong national defense, and traditional family values. 
Many people begin their political involvement by becoming a Precinct Committeeman. It’s the perfect place to get started for anyone interested in building a better Republican Party and advancing our GOP’s values. And many Republicans have remained Precinct Committeemen even years later after being elected to higher public office. For example, it’s not uncommon to find U.S. Congressmen who are also Precinct Committeemen. They maybe more than anyone appreciate the Precinct Committeeman’s role.
Unfortunately, here in Illinois, only 49% of our precincts have GOP committeemen and women. Many conservatives in America and especially in Illinois are frustrated and disappointed with a Republican party that has too often has gotten away from the planks of the Republican party platform, and too frequently, the Democrats beat the Republicans on the ground game. This is a unique opportunity to get involved in locally and have a positive impact on the  GOP. Change and reform often occurs from the bottom up.

 Running for GOP precinct committeeman requires that you be at least 18 years old, a registered voter, and live in the precinct you're running in. You also need to collect at least 10 signatures on your petition from voters in your precinct by December 5th. For more information, please see here. If you live in Cook county, the process and structure are different. Cook county does not have precinct committeemen; they have Ward committeemen. They have the same requirements, but you need a different amount of signatures. You are required to collect signatures from at least 5 % of the GOP electors in your ward, but from no more than 8% of the electors. These are required by December 5th as well. Please see here for more information on the process in Cook county.

 A few of our fellow Illinois Organize4Palin volunteers are precinct committeemen. If you would like to connect with them with questions, please let me know (, and we'll put you in contact. Let's steam ahead.

  Real hope comes from realizing how much God has blessed our exceptional nation, and then doing something about it. Governor Palin Crossposted from Illinois4Palin.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ronald Reagan on Occupy Wall Street

Forty-seven years ago today, Ronald Reagan delivered his famous, timeless " A Time for Choosing" speech in support of Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign (H/T Gary). I listened to the speech again today, and its words were just a relevant today as they were then:

There may not be a Cold War threat that we are facing, but the burgeoning influence of socialism is still present. Liberal policies have lead to excess spending, increases in government programs, and shrinking freedom. Liberal politicians and liberal Americans in general have chosen class warfare as their modus operandi. The president who was touted as a supposed uniter is really a divider--dividing between red and blue states, dividing between conservatives and liberals, and dividing between the wealthy and the rest of America. The Occupy Wall Street crowd has declared class warfare between what they claim as a nebulous 99% against the richest 1%. What about the 53% who pay taxes compared to the 47% who do not? How is fairness defined? Is it based up merit and diligence, or is it "from each according to his ability to each according to his need"?

There were a few excerpts from Reagan's speech that are particularly applicable to this Occupy Wall Street crowd. Reagan spoke of a conversation with a Cuban refugee who had escaped to American from the chains of Communism:
Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, "We don't know how lucky we are." And the Cuban stopped and said, "How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to." And in that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there's no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.
I'm reminded of a clip from a discussion between a man who once lived under the tyranny of the Soviet Union and a few of the Occupy Wall Street protesters (language warning):

The man also discusses the horrible conditions of Communist North Korea, which the Occupiers seem completely unaware of. In fact, conditions in North Korea have gotten so bad, mothers have resorted to eating their children.

Reagan went on to so say in his speech:
And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
The phrase, "power to the people" was first used in the protest of the 1960s, which many on the Left feel is echoed by this Occupy movement. What do conservatives think? It is as simple as a change in preposition--power from the people. Government cannot given power to the people, but it does wrongly take it away.Whether it's encroaching on personal liberties, instituting burdensome regulations or taxes, or even one branch of government unconstitutionally taking power away from another branch of government.  Reagan echoed the sentiments of the Founders--the power is derived from "We the People". The Constitution was written from the perspective of "We the Nation" or "We the States". It was written from the perspective of we the individual people. Government can only exist at the consent of the governed, yet government has taken the power from the people. People like the Occupiers want, in fact they demand, the government to plan their lives for them from $20/hour minimum wage and guaranteed jobs to  student loan forgiveness. Where is the American rugged individualism?  Where is the self-sufficiency? Where is the pride in one's work or the power and opportunity to make their own decisions. Heck, President Obama has already promised to help with student loans to the tune of a whopping $8 per month in loan reductions. What will that buy? Two extra coffees a month? A fourth of a t-shirt on clearance at Anthropologie?

Reagan also spoke of the class warfare mentality and rhetoric that existed nearly fifty years ago and is pervasive as ever today:
We have so many people who can't see a fat man standing beside a thin one without coming to the conclusion the fat man got that way by taking advantage of the thin one. So they're going to solve all the problems of human misery through government and government planning.
The proverbial fat man is the "1 %" to the Occupiers. Do people become wealthy because they took advantage of the poor man? Did the late Steve Jobs, whose iphones are a favorite of the tweeting, occupying Hipsters and who didn't even complete college, become wealthy because he exploited someone with less money? No. He did so because of ingenuity and hard work. Did "musician" Kanye West, who visited the protest in support of it, become a successful, wealthy artist do so by exploiting those with less money? No. He did so because producers saw his talent and people bought his music. The same is true for the very bankers and businesses they are protesting. The Occupiers buy Apple and other electronics products form companies traded on the very Wall Street they are protesting. The CEOs and shareholders of these products are benefiting because of the Occupiers, but not at the expense of them. The Occupiers can tweet, capture video and pictures, and making phone calls using these products. It's a win-win. The 99% and the 1% both benefit. Ronald Reagan knew of poverty himself. He grew up in the "99%". He was talented, hard working, and optimistic. He didn't allow himself to be a victim of his circumstances. He took advantage of his opportunities. He didn't cry outrage over student loans; he worked his way through Eureka College in part by lifeguarding nearby. He realized American exceptionalism in his own life. He saw that America was the world's best hope because of that exceptionalism and because of the free market principles of the Founders. He didn't feel that, in order to progress, that American needed to regress to socialistic policies that were failing the countries of the USSR and Cuba during his administration. As Reagan said in his speech, we have the "right to make our own decisions and determine our on destiny". We are not victims of a 1%. We are part of the 100% who are blessed enough to live in a country where we have a choice.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why Politics Need to Be Looked at Vertically not Horizontally

American politics, and politics throughout the world for that matter, tend to be viewed horizontally--the GOP "right" versus the Democratic "left".  The powers that be like this, as it prevents everyday Americans from viewing politics as they really should be viewed-- vertically-- as a struggle between the political elite and the people. This vertical view of politics isn't a call for class warfare between the wealthy and the middle and lower classes. It's a call to look at who controls politics and what drives policy. It's a matter of money. It's not the capitalism of the "right" versus the socialism of the "left". It's about the reciprocal relationship amongst those in political, financial, and business power. It has becomes about bipartisan power and influence affecting policy decisions, not about politicians representing their constituents.

A wonderful article published in the American Spectator earlier this week discusses this relationship (emphasis added):
The real problem here is that all of Clark Clifford's friends across the decades have so rooted Big Government in the psychology of Washington that "Republican Elites" have elected to accept the whole premise -- and for reasons having to do with self-preservation simply cannot bring themselves to get seriously Reaganesque or Coolidge-like because to do so gnaws at their own economic vitals and capacity for influence. Both now hopelessly entangled with the concrete boxes of bureaucracy that literally litter the Washington landscape.
The article then goes on to describe a bipartisan lobbying firm of Clark and Weinstock:
Well, C&W has a "bipartisan team." And this "bipartisan team" (translation, ex-GOP and Democrat House or Senate staffers) has "experience and knowledge." But to what purpose? The proverbial Man from Mars is surely reading this and saying, "what the hell do these people do?"
The influence of lobbyists and the pervasive crony capitalism and corporatism of both parties prove that viewing the political system horizontally (right vs. left) is wrong.  Republican elites and insiders only exist to perpetuate their own political existence, under the party platform that, ironically, if truly implemented would nullify their very existence. Washington insiders and the well connected are obsolete when the influence of Washington DC on the rest of the country shrinks. However, in both parties, it's all about sustaining one's power and influence and trading favors. President Obama's crony socialism with Solyndra ranged from essentially paying back campaign funding with "green energy" funds to special IRS tax breaks. Rick Perry has crony capitalistic relationships with Merck when it comes to his own personal campaign funding, RGA funding, and a desired mandate with the drug company's vaccine, Gardasil and with numerous tech companies to whom he gave grant funding  following massive campaign donations. Mitt Romney has a history of receiving campaign funds from entities that he once did business with and also had a history of engaging in and supporting corporatism through various government subsidies. These are just a few of numerous examples. Politicians reward their donors through favorable legislation and/or taxpayer funding. Those at the top of the political food chain have a symbiotic relationship--feeding each other with food stolen from the foundation of the political food chain--the American people.

We are wrong if we continue to look at politics as a battle between the left and the right. When politicians on both sides of the aisle solely reward their cronies, our political system becomes a corporatistic oligarchy, not the republic the Founders established by the consent of "we the people". The socialism of Democratic politicians steals from the foundation of our country--the 53% who pay taxes to fund crony socialism and the social engineering of their own pet projects , but the supposedly "pro-business" (not pro market) of Republican politicians tend to reward their cronies in the name of spurring business growth. Pro market solutions don't discriminate between political donors and  non-political donors. Businesses are neither too influential to fail nor too small to succeed when pro market solutions are implemented. This means no bailouts, no corporate welfare, and no subsidies or tax breaks to the friends of politicians. It means that the GE, whose CEO sits as the head of President Obama's jobs council, doesn't actually pocket money from the federal government due to tax credits, subsidies and the like. The foundation of American society is "we the people", whom the political elite and well connected look down upon as the funders of their failures and their government subsidized psuedo-successes. When we begin to look at the political system vertically, not horizontally, we begin to see that this is not about political party, it's about political payback. We would do well to recognize this distinction and elect people who want to replace the corporatistic oligarchy with politicians who are beholden only to their constituents.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Illinois: A Case Study for Why We Shouldn't Put All Our Political Eggs in the Federal Basket

I watched the GOP presidential debate tonight for the second time following Governor Palin's announcement not to run for the presidency. Since my preferred choice for president is not in the race, I now have several months to figure out how I'm going to plug my nose with both hands and still vote once I get into the booth during the primaries. I suppose a positive byproduct of Governor Palin's decision for me personally is that I've now realized that there needs to be more than just a focus on the presidential race. Congressional and Senatorial races need to be a focus as do races at every level of government including more locally. There is need for conservative ideals to be put into place very locally. This is often missed. However, as Governor Palin often says, "local governments are most responsive".

Here in Springfield, there was a referendum on our ballot in 2010 to create an efficient panel made up of Springfield residents to recommend ways to make government more efficient to the city council. This passed and has since been implemented. Is efficiency a noble goal? Yes. Is creating an additional quasi-bureaucracy? Yes. This is why it is important to have solid conservatives at a city level. Efficiency commissions, aside from being oxy moronic, are unnecessary if government does its job.  Two years ago, a Lincoln era home was to be moved to after a medical clinic purchased some land for their parking lot. The city did not have the proper funding in place to move the house anywhere, so it sat in the middle of the street for nearly a month before it was moved to its new location. Historic preservation at a local level is up to the discretion of  the council, but the foresight to fund the foundation for the new location was lacking. It turned out to be a embarrassing visual for the ineptness of politicians. When we voted in a new mayor that year, the man who won ended trading political positions for endorsements. Cronyism is pervasive at every level of government, which is why it needs to be fought at every level.

 On a state level, even a mediocre Republican candidate, Bill Brady, for governor in 2010 came within a few thousand votes of winning in Illinois. What would this have done? For starters, a gerrymandered plan proposed by the Democratic legislature to re-district Congressional districts after the census would have been vetoed. This is merely political though. On an issue of policy, it likely would have meant there would be a governor more seriously address spending. During the lame duck session, the Democratic legislature and the governor passed a 67% state income tax increase and a 40% + state corporate tax increase. Given this, a GOP governor likely would have still decreased spending to help address the massive deficit facing the state. Instead, the Democratic  governor, Pat Quinn increased the budget while falsely claiming cuts to the budget. We currently have in office an attorney general, Lisa Madigan, who has picked her pet issues to defend. She constantly fights against a 16 year old law on parental notification for a teen abortion while at the same time advocating for all Illinois gun owners' names to be listed publicly. These are just a few of the numerous issues where having strong conservatives in office is imperative.

Getting true conservatives in office in a state like Illinois is a tall order. There are big political machines on both sides of the aisle that need to be defeated, but it can be done. It has been done. Take a look at the political career of the likes of a Sarah Palin. To be sure, having a solid president in office and a competent Congress are important both for the sake of the image portrayed to the world and more importantly because of their approach to handling spending, entitlements, energy, jobs etc. As far as we're concerned, however, the effects of government reach far beyond that in our personal lives. I for one don't appreciate the additional chunk of change taken out of my paycheck due to the tax increase passed by an inept state government. This is why the federal basket should not be our only activist basket. Whether it's the school board, city council, state representative or even as a precinct committeeperson (51% of Illinois precincts don't have GOP committeepeople) or even issue advocacy, local involvement is important.