Ladies and Gentlemen, My Fellow Americans,
We’ve been along a perilous path for 30 years now. After the end of the first World War, our Nation entered a new period in history. Historians have dubbed it “The American Century.” Five generations of Americans survived the Great Depression, defeated the forces of fascism in the Second World War, created the most prosperous period ever experienced by any nation at any time in history, and held the forces of communism at bay until the final victory at the end of the 1980’s.
Ever since the Berlin Wall crumbled to dust on a cold night in 1989, a winter’s night warmed by the glow of freedom, our nation has been adrift. The fight against communism which had defined our purpose for 45 years was suddenly over, exposing for all our underlying tensions and divisions. That common foe had allowed us to paper over those divisions with a thin veneer of comity. But just as ripping a scab from an old wound will cause an infection to grow unabated, so too the collapse of the Soviet Union has caused the cultural divisions that have always been unique to us to rise anew.
I say these things not to fill with you a longing for the past or fear of the future. I do not believe the end of the American Century means the end of the American Experiment. I believe we have the ability to bind our differences in a more lasting, permanent way; a way that relies not as much on agreeing to disagree as discovering why our disagreements arose in the first place.
Let me highlight just one such example.
Whether we are a banker or truck driver, farmer or doctor, we all know, we all can sense that the modern marvels of technology are changing the nature of work. Whether your fingers are calloused from years of manual labor or manicured for life in an office, we all can see the ways in which we earn our livings have changed. More than that, we know these changes will not end, no matter what we might wish.
This is not the first time our nation has faced such a dramatic change in the very nature of what it means to work. At the dawn of the Industrial Age, we moved, often in fits and starts, from a society of farmers to one of factory labor. Some of the same challenges we faced then, we face today.
One of those challenges was immigration. The new, industrial America needed labor and we found it overseas. Many of us can trace our origins in the United States to the great wave of immigrants that crashed across our shores in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As much as it might pain us to remember it, those immigrants – Italian, Irish, Poles, Croats, Hungarians, Germans and so forth – were not readily accepted into their new country. So it is today; we are not always welcoming to those who look to make their lives among us from foreign lands. Yet at the same time, much as we funneled those newcomers through inspection 150 years ago, we should reserve the right to do so today.
Likewise, another lesson we can learn from our forebears is also rooted in the Industrial Age. Prior to the need of an educated workforce to run the great machines that powered industry, most children finished school after 5th or 6th grade. Indeed, most high schools were privately funded and beyond the financial reach of those children’s parents. Yet, by the advent of the 1920’s, publicly funded high schools were the norm. By the 1960’s, the vast majority of American citizens were high school graduates and able to earn a solid living at a multitude of trades.
Now, we are told our children need more than a high school education can provide. We see our children graduating from college and working the sorts of jobs we might have expected to start with as a high school graduate a generation ago. But while we acknowledge with our minds that some post-secondary training is required in the new economy, our actions belie our words. We make entry difficult for all but the most affluent. Once our children are ensconced on a university campus, their heads are filled with values and ideas that most of us can barely identify, much less relate to.
I see some heads nodding out there. We know these are the problems. We may disagree on the solutions, but we can agree that these problems will not solve themselves.
Friends, this is a discussion we’ve needed for some time. As in the Festivus celebration of Seinfeld fame, an airing of grievances is good for the soul – but only if it leads to a reconciliation. After a generation of airing our grievances, we should be ready for that reconciliation. Let us resolve, here and now, to lay aside any embitterment we harbor towards our fellow Americans. It doesn’t matter if your forebears arrived on the Mayflower, a slave trader, a tramp steamer from Italy or in the Mariel boatlift. We are united in this simple fact: that as a reward for their trouble in getting to this country, they were met with hardships, ridicule, scorn, derision, and trouble but they persevered, they overcame, they thrived. And they gave this wonderful nation to us.
We understand that America is the sum of what those who came before created and what we create for ourselves and those who follow. We understand that the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness” are not mere ink on dusty old parchment. They define the American creed.
I am a conservative. Some in the audience call themselves liberals. Others may identify as libertarians or greens or some other political ideology. But regardless of politics, we need to agree on what the real problems facing our nation and our society are before we can debate -vigorously and strongly, as is right – what the solutions should be. I mentioned earlier that we seem to be stuck in a funk, a profound disagreement over what the very nature of our problems are and what type of society we are.
For our sakes, the sakes of our progeny and the good of not only the United States but the world, we must make this our mission. We must seek not only to confront but to learn. We must not only listen but understand. Compassion for your fellow American is not weakness. Compassion also does not mean that you throw them to the merciless care of the government. Yes! I said that we must address this cancer, we must excise it, not only for the good of the Nation but for the world.
For the United States is still the greatest nation our planet has ever known. Despite what may seem our torturous present, I truly believe our best days are ahead of us – but only if all 350 million plus of us are willing to do the things that are difficult. As a Nation, we have overcome far greater challenges throughout our history. Solving seemingly intractable problems is in our DNA. Why should our modern difficulties prove any more strenuous?
We have always been the shining light upon which the world gazes when desiring proof that free people can overcome any test, any difficulty that is thrown their way. From the days when our society amazed a French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville until the present day when a Slovakian emigré became our First Lady, we have been both the envy and hope of mankind. Are we so vain, so caught up in our own disagreements as to throw that legacy away? I propose that is not the case. We shall always remain as we have, the guide towards a more prosperous, more peaceful planet.
None of this is to trivialize the import of the disagreements that are currently tearing at the fabric of our society. The reality is that those quarrels are based on competing ideologies. Yet, it is possible to agree on a path forward. Doing so requires every American put aside their preconceived notions. It means actually practicing the Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It means putting aside our anger and agreeing to meet once again as Americans first. Not as Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, Black and white and Hispanic and Asian, rich and poor, but as Americans. The divisions we have created amongst ourselves need to be retired now. The tired politics of identity have missed the most important identity of all: that of being an American.
So as I leave you, I want all of you to sit back and contemplate what is important to you. More than that, you need to ask yourself why that is important. And then ask yourself, is that thing more important than your standing in a country that has always been and will always be willing to accept anyone who can shed all other labels save one: American? For if we all make a common goal of simply being Americans, there is nothing we cannot achieve, no task that is insurmountable and no aspiration that cannot be obtained.
Thank you. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.
If you spend any time on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve undoubtedly come across the “#Defund” hashtag. If you follow the news even cursorily (and odds are you follow it more closely than that, if you’re reading this) then you also know the House of Representatives voted yesterday to continue funding government operations until December. Everything, that is, except the Affordable Care Act – more popularly known as “Obamacare.”
The President’s reaction? He’s taking the CR personally, certain that the motivation behind it cannot be ideological in nature. “They’re not focused on you. They’re focused on politics. They’re focused on trying to mess with me. They’re not focused on you” he stated during yet another campaign speech yesterday. (As an aside, why is he campaigning? I thought the election was last November.) While my personal dislike for the the man in the Oval Office has grown considerably over the last five years, my disdain for Obamacare hearkens all the way back to its inception. Trust me on this one, Mr. President. My opposition is nothing personal – and neither is it for the people with whom I’ve conversed with on the subject.
I support the defund movement, because it is our last, best hope of getting rid of the “train wreck” (Max Baucus, the guy who helped write the ACA, called it that) and replacing it with something that actually addresses the rising costs and failed delivery of health care in the United States. I support the defund movement, because the economic impact of even a temporary federal shutdown would be far less than realized from your weapon of Mass Economic Destruction. Finally, I support the defund movement because the American people have had about all they can take of Obamacare.
Let’s start with that last point first. That you’ve always a had somewhat regal view of the Presidency is certain. Since early on, you’ve complained that you aren’t a dictator, or king, or emperor, or president of China. The actual concerns of the average American were hardly the thing that kept you awake at night; why else the dozens of “pivots to the economy” over your 5+ years in office? Over the past year, overwhelming evidence was exhumed that you consider yourself above the American people. From the failure in Benghazi, to the IRS crackdown on conservative and libertarian groups, through the revelation that the NSA is spying on everyone, to your recent attempt to force the nation into an ill-conceived war in Syria, said evidence is damning. You really did think for a while there that you are a de facto dictator.
Obamacare was our precursor. Yes, the American people wanted something done about health care. But what we wanted and what we eventually got are two very different things. Instead of reform that lowered costs and made delivery easier, we simply got told we had to go buy health insurance – or else. No matter, we were assured countless times since: once the law rolls out, you’ll love it! Why, didn’t Nancy Pelosi tell us that in order to find out all about the wonderful goodies in the ACA, Congress had to pass it first? The sycophant press quickly dubbed the new law “Obamacare” and you ‘begrudgingly’ accepted the name. FDR had the New Deal, LBJ had the Great Society, BHO had Obamacare.
Never mind that your signature piece of legislation has never been popular with the very people it is supposed to help. Polls show what support existed at passage has slowly slipped away. It’s your signature piece of legislation, by golly! So of course you’re right to be mad at Congress for attempting to undo the damage done, for seeing it as a personal attack and a personal affront. Never mind that the CR defunding Obamacare is actually more popular than the law and never mind that it enjoys popular support (and not just among the Tea Party). Never mind that it’s very passage is regarded is the single most important reason your party lost control of Congress in the 2010 mid-terms. If you refuse to sign that CR, then it’s the Republicans’ fault that the government runs out of operating cash on October 1. Not your own pigheadedness, not your own wanting to be a dictator – or failing that, being seen as the most “transformational” President since FDR.
About that threatened federal shutdown. We’ve been down that path a few times and quite frankly, they aren’t that scary to most Americans. There will be an inconveniences, of course. For instance, I won’t be able to track a flight on the NTSB’s website. I won’t be able to call the IRS with a question about my taxes (which, by the way, I’d probably sit on hold for 20 minutes and then be told to ask my tax professional). But we already know from past experience that essential government functions will continue: the Army won’t be disbanded, the FBI will keep hunting bank robbers, grandma will still get her social security check. Even progressive economists admit the actual economic impact would be minimal, resulting in a reduction of less than 1% of GDP.
But the economic impact of Obamacare is already being felt across the economy. Nobody has a full accounting thus far, but in the past week alone nearly 500,000 people have had their hours cut to 28 or fewer and their existing health coverage terminated. Another 35,000 have lost their jobs completely. Although you love to tout the million jobs created in 2013, you have yet to acknowledge the fact that 1.2 million of those jobs are part-time, without health coverage. Those are real economic impacts directly attributable to your signature legislation. Here’s another impact you may not want to acknowledge: those workers are not only facing a drop in income from reduced pay, they are now going to be hit with a new expense: mandated health coverage. Sure, there’s a subsidy headed their way (provided Obamacare is fully funded) – but those subsidies won’t cover the full cost for health insurance. A government shutdown might reduce GDP by 1%. But Obamacare is easily dropping GDP farther than that and will cause it to crash even further. All this was avoidable, but neither you nor your progressive friends apparently live in the real world, the one in which businesses aren’t going to spend a dime more than necessary. You were warned by everyone from the Chamber of Commerce to (gulp) Donald Trump, but still you refused to listen. The economic mess your signature legislation created is wholly owned by you, as well as the Senators and Congressmen you bought off.
Finally, there is the train wreck. I could list everything that has gone wrong so far with getting this mess in place, but I did that a while back. To that list I add three more fiascos: the doctor shortage, the uninsured and one I’ll keep you guessing about until the end.
The doctor shortage was known and supposedly addressed in the ACA. Simply put, there aren’t enough primary care doctors available to cover everyone. Getting an appointment to see your doctor is already hard enough (and let’s not forget the wait times once you’re in the waiting room). The AMA now anticipates that wait times are going up by about 6% – and nobody anticipates getting an appointment will get easier. Will we see British-type difficulties in getting an appointment, with waits as long as a month? Will they be more like typical waits in the VA system, where it can take up to 6 months to get an appointment? Nobody knows, but the alarm bells should be sounding: in the New York metro area, a recent study found that time to appointment was now ranging from 6 to 61 days, with an average of 24.
The uninsured? When Obamacare was trotted out to the public, we were told that all but a few, perhaps 3 million, of those without insurance wouldn’t be covered. In March, CBO blew that apart with a new estimate: 7.5 million. Last week, that get shattered again, when DHS announced that because of the rollbacks, waivers and deferments, that as many as 30 million people still would be uninsured come January 1, 2015. That would mean we went through all these gyrations over the last 36 months to insure an additional 2 million. Call me what you will, but that amounts to the second biggest load of crap ever handed the American people from Washington DC.
The biggest load of crap ever? Well, here’s the caboose of the Obamacare train wreck. Mr. President, you have promised us that “If you like your health plan, you can keep it.” You’ve pummeled the American people with that line for over four years, even though as far back as June, 2009 you admitted yourself that the statement WAS A LIE. Now millions of Americans are finding out what a monstrous pile of horse manure that line really is. Insurance companies, because of the regulatory morass that this demon child legislation created, are gutting health plans and informing their customers that come January 1, 2014 their current insurance will no longer be available.
In short, I’m supporting the #DEFUND movement because really, what other choice does our country have?
With everything that’s been making headlines this week, there certainly isn’t a shortage of things to write about. Heck, it takes me almost three hours each morning just to get through the barrage of news articles that find their way into my email and the topics cover everything from government malfeasance to the hyper-partisan Congressional environment through miscellaneous popular interest items. But there was one headline of which I’m betting the vast majority of you are unaware.
The other night, the city council in New York City voted to effectively end the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” program. They took this action for three reasons, two of which are political (the Council Speaker, once considered a shoo-in in the upcoming Mayoral election, is suddenly trailing human joke Anthony Weiner and the Justice Department is opening a probe on the practice) and one fiscal (the city just lost a lawsuit from the NYCLU). Current mayor, Michael “Mao” Bloomberg has already threatened to veto the new legislation – but in NYC, the Council can override a mayor’s veto and they have the votes to do so.
The stop-and-frisk program is a wonderful example of what happens when what seems like a reasonable idea at one time can later morph into a heinous overreach of government authority. The roots of the program are found in former Mayor David Dinkins’ “Clean Halls” program. That program aimed to reduce crime in NYC’s infamous public housing projects by giving police expanded to authority to stop anyone found in the buildings or grounds and ask for ID; if the person stopped couldn’t prove they lived there, they were arrested for trespassing and escorted away. It was an admirable effort that worked reasonably well in removing trespassers and also found more than a few fugitives.
It was so successful that Mayor Mike expanded it to all public spaces. That led to the idea that the police could catch even more bad guys and maybe even prevent crimes by allowing the police to not only randomly stop people, but check them for contraband. This was all premised on the idea that the police would have reasonable cause before accosting ordinary folks and searching them.
Has the program actually reduced street crime? The NYPD attest that it has, pointing to the reduction in violent crimes since 2002, when the program began (from about one violent crime per 44 residents) to the present day one per 76. But nationally, there has also been a marked reduction in violent crime during the same period: from one per 320 Americans to one per 480. It’s just a cursory examination of the numbers, but it may be that the national reduction in violence is as much responsible for New York’s drop in crime rate as the stop-and-frisk program.
To further damn the program, the NYPD’s statistics show that the program may have been more trouble than it was worth. It was found during the NYCLU case that the stop-and-frisk policy is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, despite the city’s claim that officers were only allowed to stop people who presented with a reasonable expectation that they were involved in some type of crime. Yet, the city’s own data show that although some 4.4 million stops were made, only 6.26% resulted in an arrest and another 6.25% resulted in a summons issued. Those are pretty pitiful results, especially when compared with the fact that over 28% of the incidents resulted in police using force to effect the stop.
So why put the program in effect in the first place – and why keep it going for more than a decade, when there is no discernible proof that it served it’s intended purpose? The answer to the first part is simple enough; New Yorker’s love their city – but they hate the high crime rate. To turn on the evening news or pick up a copy of the New York Post is to be bombarded with lurid tales of rape, murder, muggings and general mayhem. Although they’ll never admit it, most live in constant fear of being assaulted and with a reason. Those crime statistics still paint a pretty grim picture; a picture of a city whose crime rate is nearly 6 times worse than the national average. And as I’ve discussed before, where people are afraid, they’re also willing to cede to the government their rights. New Yorkers are especially axiomatic of this “nanny state” mentality. When they feel threatened they demand the government do something, anything, regardless if rights get trampled in the process – because, after all, it’s the other guy’s rights being trampled. It is, in short, the same mentality that allowed dictators like Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin to ruthlessly pursue their bloodthirsty agendas.
As to why it took a class action lawsuit and the threat of federal intervention to bring it to an end, one only has to look at the cottage industries that grew and depend on stop-and-frisk. The mayor, who at one time harbored Presidential aspirations, became synonymous with both this civil rights violation and by crusading against the Second Amendment rights of his subjects (as well as the evils of tobacco, carbonated beverages and trans-fats). He routinely uses the number of weapons seized during the stops-and-frisk as evidence that his anti-gun crusade would work, if only the rest of the country would follow his lead. There is NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, whose career depends on keeping those crime stats dropping and can hardly walk away from the program he most credits for the decline in violent crime. There are the rank-and-file officers, who after decades of ridicule and abuse by the citizenry, have found themselves for the past 12 years in a position of absolute authority. After all, who’s going to argue with a NYC cop who has the ability to stop you, detain you and search you anytime he wants? There are surely others, as well; like all major operations that are rooted in skirting existing law, corruption certainly follows.
The lesson that I wish New Yorkers (and everyone else) would take away from this episode in their history is this: even trying to exchange their freedoms for their safety was an abysmal failure; their crime rate is still far higher than people who live elsewhere. It is proof that liberty is not a currency that can purchase safety.
From the ICYMI file: on Thursday, the House failed to pass a Farm Bill. Why is this significant? Because ordinarily, the Farm Bill passes both chambers easily. For instance, the Senate passed it’s version of the Farm Bill by a 66-27 vote. The last Farm Bill, in 2008, passed 316-117.
So why could this version of what is normally as uncontroversial a piece of legislation as possible garner only 195 “ayes” – and only 24 votes from Democrats? To hear the Democrat House leadership, it was a failure of the Republican leadership to round up their caucus, pointing to the 62 Republicans who voted against the bill. The Republican leadership casts the vote as pure partisan politics by the Democrats, who had promised 40-60 votes for passage and then reneged. According to the political press, the bill failed because it was too draconian in the way it slashed subsidies for everything from direct payments to farmers to the food stamp program.
All of them are wrong.
The problem with all of this prattling is that nobody is paying attention to a new dynamic that is appearing in the legislative process. The legislative institutions are creatures of habit. The rules they play by are built on decades of two-party primacy in American politics. As such, they’ve become a sort of hodge-podge of American Constitutionalism and parliamentary rulings, with very clear delineations of authority. There are majority and minority party leaders, deputies and whips. These party leaders are expected to round up the overwhelming of their party members into voting blocs. In a strict two-party system, these rules have worked well. Both parties have made use of the “Hastert Rule,” even before it was declared by former Speaker Dennis Hastert. (For the politically uninitiated, that particular rule says no bill can come to the floor unless it has support from more than half of the majority party). Likewise, both parties have made use of patronage and privilege to obtain votes and threats of retaliation to punish wayward caucus members.
But the system breaks down and becomes ineffective when there are three or more parties involved in legislating. While there may be only two official parties recognized in Congress, there is a stark reality that isn’t being faced by any of the DC proletariat: when they weren’t looking, a de facto third party stormed the gates. This party is not beholden to established party dictums or the existing rules. In fact, most of these members consider it their sworn duty to upend the apple cart. While most carry the “Republican” label, they are really much more broad than that narrow definition. Moreover, their power may be felt primarily in the House right now, but there are a small number in the Senate who are making life difficult for their caucus leaders.
I’m speaking, of course, about the Tea Party.
It is a loose coalition of libertarians and social conservatives, who ordinarily could not agree on the time of day. But in the current political climate, they do agree on one important point: the federal government is too big, too bloated and too intrusive. They see the issue not as one in which government practices must be reformed, but completely eviscerated. The reason they voted against the Farm Bill was not that it didn’t cut enough (as opined virtually everywhere), but that it spent $940 billion over 5 years – a figure that wasn’t offset anywhere else. For them, it represented further government growth, which is the ultimate sin. Their nays were virtually assured.
So what is the Republican leadership to do? In the Senate, the establishment Republicans are being faced with fierce resistance by the likes of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. These members have already employed their own version of the nuclear option to gum up the works on legislation. In the house, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor are faced with a large bloc (perhaps as much as 35% of their caucus) who simply cannot be cajoled or threatened into following them.
The answer is, the Republican establishment needs to understand that the “party line” no longer exists as they know it. If they really want to survive as a viable party, then they need to reclaim their party – and realize they cannot reclaim the Tea Party caucus. The two groups, currently defined as factions within the media, are in fact two separate parties, pursuing disparate goals.
Legislatively, the “loony birds” (as described establishment figure John McCain) are successful strictly because they can sow havoc within the Republican caucus. While they may not have the power to pursue their own legislative agenda, they do have enough clout to prevent bills they dislike from becoming law. It is the root of the “do-nothing” Congress.
Of course, expelling the Tea Party members from the Republican caucus would present two problems for the establishment part of the party. First, in a practical sense, it would mean losing their majority status in the House and being further diminished in the Senate. Second, while the establishment still represents the majority of the Republican brand, there is little doubt that the real energy in the party is coming from the Tea Party faction – and real fear among Republican leaders that crossing swords with Tea Party candidates would lead to decimating losses for establishment types.
For the Tea Party itself, such an expulsion would have immediate consequences, in that there isn’t a national Tea Party infrastructure. This would mean to survive, it would need to build one immediately. Fundraising (always critical in political campaigns), identifying candidates, getting on state ballots – all of these operations would need to get up-and-running within months, if not weeks. Undoubtedly, groups like FreedomWorks and Heritage would be willing to jump in on their behalf. And a skeletal effort could be gleaned from former Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential campaign organizations. It’s even likely the libertarian Koch brothers, much reviled by the political left, would be willing to switch allegiances.
In the short-term, however, the Republican party is facing a question over how to proceed. It seems likely that the compromises hammered out in the Senate stand virtually no chance of passing the House without significant buy-in from Democrats. On budget matters, the Republican Establishment is still more closely aligned with their Tea Party members than with liberal Democrats – meaning repeats of the Farm Bill fiasco are more likely unless the leadership crafts legislation that reduces overall spending. Think about it: the sequester, reviled publicly by liberals and privately by establishment conservatives, was never supposed to happen. The political calculus was nobody would want to see across the board spending cuts. But none of the main players counted on a strong Tea Party bloc that wanted exactly that outcome. And sequester-type bills are the only thing Tea Party members will approve on appropriations.
So, what happens now? Expelling the Tea Party from the Republican caucus would smooth the passage of legislation that bloc finds offensive. But it would cost the establishment Republicans their power and potentially their seats in 2014 or 2016, an unfathomable idea to the Washington mindset. Moving further to the right on budgetary matters would allow them to preserve their majority, but would likely lead to a legislative stalemate with the Senate. That’s also considered a political loser for the establishment. My bet is on the latter, though, if for no other reason that it leaves battle lines as drawn between Republicans and Democrats. It is a version of kabuki theater with which both parties are familiar.
But looming in the background will be the Tea Party. At the moment, it is much more prominent on the national stage than in local and state government. But if more Tea Party type candidates find themselves in elective office on those levels and the establishment Republicans are perceived to only pay lip-service to Tea Party ideals, then watch out. There may be a sudden explosion of legislators and governors, mayors and council members, displaying a T after their name to show party affiliation.
You may be familiar with Mike Rowe from his show on the Discovery Channel, Dirty Jobs. Even if you’ve never seen the show (in which case I suggest you catch an episode), you’ve probably seen him shilling cars and trucks for Ford or paper towels for Viva. And if you watch ABC’s World News then you hear his voice every night – he’s the announcer during the opening and commercial breaks.
What you may not realize is that he is also a serious advocate for vocational training. His foundation, mikeroweWORKS, is dedicated to making education in skilled trades something other than a remedial course of study. He understands a point I made several weeks back, that a four-year degree is not the best path for every student. Or for our nation’s future.
Before you say that of course our nation still values the skilled trades as highly as a college education, ask yourself how you would react if your son or daughter announced their intention of becoming a truck driver after high school. Or a plumber, electrician, farmer, or welder. Even thought they are among both the highest paying and most consistently sought after trades by employers, I doubt it would be greeted with the same enthusiasm as an announcement they wanted to become an astrophysicist or surgeon.
Therein lies a major problem, both for the current economy and the economy of the future. Already the news is full of accounts of college graduates queuing up for job applications in the unskilled trades (think retail worker), simply because there isn’t demand for their skill set. At the same time, there is a desperate need for mechanics, welders, riggers, electricians, plumbers, HVAC techs – all you need to do is pick up the help wanted section of any metro newspaper.
Mr. Rowe understands this problem is a problem. To that end, he’s written an open letter to Mitt Romney. He wrote a similar one to Barack Obama during the least election cycle, but based on the President’s education initiatives it fell on deaf ears. You can read the full letter here, but I wanted to lift one line that I thought exemplified the problem:
“I always thought there something ill-fated about the promise of three million “shovel ready jobs” made to a society that no longer encourages people to pick up a shovel.“
In a nutshell, THAT is the biggest problem with getting our nation back to work today. Many of my conservative friends are adamant about making welfare and unemployment recipients work for their benefit checks. I don’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment. But in a nation that no longer values physical or skilled labor, how likely is a program akin to Roosevelt’s CCC or WPA to succeed?
I’m pretty sure everyone reading this has experienced a bad hangover after a night of too much partying. You wake up with an oversized cotton ball in your mouth, your head is ringing like a fire bell, you have strange cravings for McDonald’s French fries and you can’t seem to move faster than a poorly fed snail. You want to kick yourself. Yeah, the party was awesome (and you still can’t find that missing lamp shade), but man, the hangover is more price than you wanted to pay.
I get the feeling many on the left are feeling something like that today. First, after the euphoria of Bill Clinton’s speech Wednesday night, they had to deal with a less than impressive performance from Barack Obama last night. Either Obama’s speechwriting team needs a shake-up or the President is out of ideas; most of what we heard last night is best summed up as “Hey, I want a do-over!” Most media outlets, including admittedly left-leaning publications like the NY Times and Politico, panned the speech as not one of his best efforts.
Then, along came this morning’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. No wonder the president wants a do-over.
By now, you probably read all of the doom-and-gloom reporting about it. Make no mistake, this was a pretty lousy report. But worse than the numbers themselves is what it all means when you actually dig into them a little.
First, the headline numbers: the economy only created 96,000 new positions in August, but the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1%. This should be good news for the President, right? The unemployment rate is dropping (if somewhat unsteadily) and may actually get under the magic 8% mark most pundits think is needed if Mr. Obama is to have a real shot at reelection. And 96,000 new positions is better than no new positions, right?
Well, yes, sort of. For a better picture of why the jobs report is foreshadowing a major problem, see figure 1. This is the raw BLS data for the past year. Before your eyes begin to glaze over, there are three numbers to pay particularly close attention to.
The first number is the increase in the working age population over the past year. The second is the number positions created in the past year. That last one? That’s the number of working age Americans who simply gave up looking for a job in the past year. To put it another way, more of your friends, relatives and neighbors gave up the hope of even finding a job than actually found one. Nearly a million more, in fact. That’s one million American’s who are now dependent on some outside source just for survival, be it a friend, relative or the handout machine that’s become the US government.
Most economists say we need between 110,000 and 175,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with population growth. But when you look at the actual increase in working age population, the average number actually needed is around 330,000. This is very bad news for team Obama, otherwise he could point to the average of 150,000 jobs created over the past year and claim that his policies are working, albeit slowly. But the reality is that his policies are, at best, creating jobs at only half the rate needed to bring the US back to full employment.
This is particularly troubling, given that every other indicator says we should have been creating jobs at a much faster pace over the past 24 months. If you look at hourly wages, those increased by an average of 3 cents per month between March 2010 and June 2012. Although not at the level of increase seen during the Reagan, Clinton or Bush recoveries, it is still stronger than historic wage growth. Worker productivity across all sectors is also nearing an all-time high and produced solid gains during the same period. Taken together, high wage growth and productivity gains always produced significant jumps in employment before – but not now. What could possibly be holding back the “jobs engine”?
The BLS publishes an “Employee Cost Index” on a quarterly basis, and a large part of the answer can be found there. While wages and productivity show considerable growth, the ECI is also growing – in fact, it’s grown by nearly 11% since March 2010. Of that, change only 18% is represented by increased wages and a 12% drop in non-cash benefits (things like health coverage and gym memberships) counterbalances that number. So, where is the additional 10.3% in employee cost coming from? The answer is a combination of regulatory costs and taxes, the results of 3 years of this administration’s ceaseless efforts to tie nearly every industry into a Gordian knot of inefficiency. New regulations and business taxes now exceed the productivity gains made by our nation’s workforce by a 4:1 ratio, effectively wiping out the need to hire. Indeed, those costs are probably now the single biggest impediment to real employment growth our nation faces. After all, if you owned a business, you would need to be looking at explosive growth potential, not just modest growth, before bringing that much excess on board.
Many of my friends on the left insist that breakneck pace of regulations passed by the Obama administration are not having a negative effect on the economy. I submit they’re not only negatively impacting the economy, but giving business owners throughout all 57 50 states a hangover of our own.
What’s that you say? You didn’t know there was a user’s guide to the Constitution?
Well, obviously SOMEBODY wasn’t paying attention in Civics class. Either that, or you’re one of the unfortunate millions who never had the opportunity to study civics – but that’s a different post for a different day.
Let’s begin with a little history. Our Constitution didn’t just materialize out of thin air. Neither did it arrive at the National Archives in the same manner that Moses received the Ten Commandments. (I’m only half being tongue-in-cheek about that; one of my younger acquaintances honestly thought that God himself gave the Constitution to George Washington in a burning ring of fire. And we wonder why the country is heading off the rails?) In fact, our current Constitution wasn’t even the first one The United States used. That honor belongs to the Articles of Confederation. It’s in there that some of the quirkier aspects of our national government can be found: the idea of state representation, as opposed to popular representation for instance. It went into effect in 1781 and was quickly realized that it made the federal government too weak to be effective. The principle reason we scrapped it is as old as the fight for American Independence: taxes.
The USA incurred serious debts while fighting off the British Empire, primarily owed to the French. After the Treaty of Ghent was signed and the US officially became an independent nation, the French – who were near broke themselves (this was the time of “Let them eat cake”, after all) – came looking for their money. The French King was quite accommodating: the new United States could pay up in gold and silver, or could hand over land from the former British Colonies. Not willing to give up the territory we had just fought over for the past 8 years, the Continental Congress passed excise duties in order to pay the debt. Great idea, except under the Articles of Confederation, any state could opt out – and 11 of them did. Just to compound matters, most of the states had individual liabilities resulting from the war, mostly due to the French crown as well. So, they passed taxes and tariffs on each other to pay off those debts. By 1787, the entire country was readying for civil war as each state asserted its rights under the Articles and a hapless Congress could only look on in despair.
Enter the Constitutional Convention. In February of 1787, rather than go to war with one another (thankfully), the states agreed to a redo on how the federal government should operate. Originally, 70 people were selected to attend. Only 55 actually did and of those, only 39 signed on to the new Constitution. It was understandable: most had shown up expecting a sort of massive peace negotiation, not a negotiation about scrapping the current government and replacing it with something entirely different. Rhode Island was so upset by the idea that they recalled all of their representatives. The new Constitution, even after weeks of negotiating, was hardly a hit: as mentioned, 16 representatives refused to sign, including some fairly big names of the day. Imagine if we decided to reboot under a new Constitution today and the current Speaker and Vice-President refused to lend their support to the document. That was the same effect that George Wythe (Virginia) and John Lansing (NY) not signing had in 1787. And that was just the beginning of the trouble getting the Constitution ratified: popular support was anything but forthcoming. Just like today, a document that is amazingly short proved to be incredibly difficult for the populace to comprehend.
That’s where our user guide comes in play. The two principle architects of the Constitution, James Madison of Virginia and Alexander Hamilton of New York engaged in a series of letters that sought to explain how the Constitution affected everyone: from vagabond to Senator; scullery maid to Governor. Today, we know these letters as the Federalist Papers. These 85 letters, most commonly published as essays on what equates to our modern op-ed pages of the popular newspapers of the time, provided the Founding Father’s actual vision for how the Federal government is supposed to act.
It is the quintessential user’s guide. Like any good instruction manual, it lays out – in detail – how each branch of government should interact, not only with one another but also with the states and the general population. So next time you have a question about why something is set up the way it is, hit that link and review the reasons before going off half-cocked.
Ok, color me confused, but I fail to see a problem with the premise that the Republican party is dedicated to ending President Obama’s tenure after four years. This must make me some sort of space alien, since according to the media and my “moderate” friends I should. As for liberals, they’ve already consigned me to a fate worse than a heretic’s during the Spanish Inquisition, so they really don’t get any say here. (Sorry, but you can go back to your corner and wait for your next handout).
For those of you uninitiated, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made the title statement a year ago today. McConnell was immediately excoriated by the press as being an obstructionist – and almost on cue from Team Obama – disparaged as not caring about the real problems facing the nation. I didn’t understand the diatribes then, and I still don’t see the issue now. If the Republican party’s true aim is to fix what’s ailing the country, shouldn’t they start by fixing the biggest problem we have?
I’ve probably lost more than half my readership by this point, but for those who’ve stuck around, let’s look into that mission statement in a little more detail. Why should the singular aim of the Republicans be to make Barack Obama a one-termer?
First, there are unbridgeable policy differences between the liberal (er, progressive) wing of the Democratic party, led by Barack Obama and the conservative wing of the Republican party. In both parties, there are some self-described moderates, but the last two election cycles reduced their ranks and influence considerably. The few moderates left are an endangered species and most are retiring. As a result, the philosophical divide between the two major parties is greater than at any time since Reconstruction. The partisanship currently displayed in Washington and in state houses in everywhere is symptomatic. Now, don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of issues where I do not agree with either party. I’m a Libertarian, so the headlong rush to continue things like the Patriot Act, ratify SOPA and generally undercut our civil liberties I find particularly offensive. But hey, that seems to be the only thing both parties agree on, so whatever. The point is, the Republicans and Democrats agree on almost nothing else. Why should Republicans want to have the person in charge of the Executive Branch be a man who is personally opposed to their policy objectives?
Second, this is a two-way war. Congressional Republicans are not the only ones refusing to co-operate. In the past three years, the White House released executive orders and regulations that undermine the policies conservative Republicans support. From the unilateral decision not to enforce DOMA or immigration statutes to threatening social security payments, the President and his minions have declared war on conservative policies, past and present. Obama signaled his intention to work with Congressional Republicans early in his administration when he announced to Eric Cantor, “Elections have consequences.” Barack Obama claims to be a bible-reading Christian; perhaps he should open to Galatians 6:7 (“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for what a man soweth, that shall he also reap”). He asked for this fight on day 1; that he’s surprised it came is a startling admission of how little he understands.
Finally, McConnell was not stating that the Republican goal is simply to prevent the President from having any success. He could have phrased it better, probably. But the goal of conservatives everywhere (and of Libertarians) is to prevent the President or his party from growing the government even larger – and to do that, it means getting him out of office. Government currently has a larger share of the economy than at any time in history, accounting for 41% of GDP, a 6% growth rate over the past three years. Once Obamacare fully kicks in (unless repealed), that percentage projects to rise to 69%. And at that point, you can kiss whatever freedoms you had good-bye. Once you’ve lost economic freedom, the civil liberties you take for granted are quick to follow. Don’t think so?
Consider your job. Your boss comes in one day and says you have to stop reading that loony guy over at Political Baseballs because it upsets upper management. Are you going to quit your job or say so long to my little blog? And don’t pretend it doesn’t happen – it happens all the time. He who controls the purse strings eventually controls every aspect of your life – unless you’re willing to follow the example of the Founding Fathers and pledge your fortune and your life to throw off the yoke of slavery.
So, yes. There are some very real reasons that Republicans – and freedom loving Americans – should want to ensure the President is a one-termer. Anyone who finds that offensive is either a sycophant (you can put your hand back down; I don’t give hand outs) or living in a fairy-tale world where nothing bad can ever come of a government program.
I don’t live in a fairy-tale. I live in the world that will be much better off once Barry O is sent back to Chicago.
I’ve read today – far too often today – that Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court John Roberts is a cross between Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate and Benedict Arnold. Or maybe something worse. Although I doubt Chief Justice Roberts needs me to come to his defense (or that he even cares, to be honest), I’m going to give it a shot. Let’s look into what the Supreme Court ruling on the PPACA actually means before passing judgement, shall we?
The Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot compel anyone to buy anything. Ever.
Big? You bet this is huge. We’ve heard for two years from academicians and progressives that under the Commerce Clause, Congress has the ability to force us to buy stuff. Their theory was that because everyone needs health care at some point, we all engage in commerce related to the health industry and the very act of not purchasing health insurance was an action. Well, not so fast.
“The individual mandate, however, does not regulate existing commercial activity. It instead compels individuals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that their failure to do so affects interstate commerce. Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority…The Framers gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it, and for over 200 years both our decisions and Congress’s actions have reflected this understanding. There is no reason to depart from that understanding now.”
So, the Obama administration’s argument (echoed by the same academicians above) got the royal smack-down. Chief Justice Roberts may as well have wrote, “What are you, a bunch of moe-rons?”. The result is the same. Rarely does a published opinion go this far (nearly 16 pages) to explain why an argument is so plainly stupid.
The Supreme Court ruled that ObamaCare is the biggest tax hike in US history.
Yes, they ruled the PPACA can move forward, but that the government can no longer try and hide behind the facade of an individual mandate. No, they ruled: ObamaCare is actually a tax increase. Or more precisely, a combination of 21 different tax increases that total $1.2 trillion in new revenue annually. How big is that? It amounts to new taxes that consume 8% of the nation’s economic output. With only a little over 4 months until the election, I’m not sure how either the President or his minions in Congress feel about running for election on a platform of delivering the biggest tax increase in history. I doubt they’re relishing the chance to find out. Already the cries are being raised about the impending sequestration, with it’s 1.5% tax increase and strong possibility of pulling the economy back into recession. ObamaCare represents a tax increase more than 5 times that impact. By ruling as they did, the Court hand-delivered a gift-wrapped campaign theme for the Republicans this Fall. “If you thought the economy was bad before, just wait until ObamaCare sinks it forever.”
States cannot be forced to participate in ObamaCare.
A big part of how ObamaCare delivers affordable insurance to the masses is through a massive expansion in Medicaid, by enrolling anyone at 133% of the federal poverty line or below in the program. A big part of how the administration covers up the cost of that expansion is by removing federal subsidies for it by 2017, but still compelling the states to pick up the tab. As of right now, 13 states are balking at the idea of pushing their budgets into the red to make good on this mandate. The Supremes issued another smack-down on this, ruling that unfunded mandates are unconstitutional, even if the mandate is to an existing program.
“It is enough for today that wherever that line may be, this statute is surely beyond it. Congress may not simply “conscript state [agencies] into the national bureaucratic army,” and that is what it is attempting to do with the Medicaid expansion.”
Either the administration can relent and pick up the entire tab for the Medicaid expansion, or live with fact that the original goal of covering more than 95% of Americans in some form of health plan is by the boards.
So, is this really a win for Team Obama? Only in Pyrrhic sense. Yes, the PPACA stands for now – but not all of it. The Medicaid smack-down means that a very large part of the administration’s base of support won’t see any benefit from the law. As for the rest of it, Team Obama is now left to campaign on the largest tax hike in history, in the middle of the worst economy in 80 years. It is also already galvanizing support for the Republican challenger as nothing else could have – especially given Mr. Romney’s own dubious record on health reform.
The President may be heading to bed this evening with a smile on his face. But I bet the one on the Chief Justice’s face come November 6th will be a bit bigger.