A RUDE AWAKENING FOR THE HOLIDAYS

What the government is delivering to everyone’s stocking: brand new regulations, tax bills, insurance premiums, penalties, higher federal budgets and deficits. Something for everyone for the holidays from your friendly elected officials in Washington who are steering the country into uncharted statist territory and spending trillions along the way. The extreme left is, for the time being, pushing for everything it can get as so many Barbarians at the Gates.

The Administration and the Congress have, indeed, given us a stark glimpse into the future. It’s not a pretty picture.

Congress has raised the national debt limit by a “mere” few hundred billion dollars above the $12.1 trillion current limit to tide the nation over for a few months so it has time to go through the political theatre of raising the debt limit again in 2010 by another trillion dollars or so. Let’s rephrase that. Our Congress is in the process of raising the burden on all Americans and our children by nearly $2.0 trillion (pardon the rounding, but what’s another $200 billion here or there).

This is the same Congress that has blamed the financial meltdown on easy credit. Of course, when they borrow, they justify it as being to the nation’s benefit. Does Congress even consider our ability to repay this mountain of debt? Actually, no. They cover their tracks by sending the legislation to the Congressional Budget Office to be scored (beltway talk for determining the cost) along with ridiculous assumptions which the CBO must use in analyzing anticipated cost. Compare this to the analysis a prudent lender would make when an average citizen applied for an increase in his or her credit card borrowing limit. In that case, the folks at MasterCard or Visa, or wherever, might approve the request if our income had gone up and our ratio of debt to income had gone down during the past year. However, if our income had gone down and our borrowing had gone up they would say “Sorry, no way.”

Members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, not unlike irresponsible credit-card abusers we have all met from time to time, give us the same excuse to explain why we need to borrow more. “The money has been spent and the bills are due,” they tell us. But they are the irresponsible stewards of the national fisc who overspent in the first place. Moreover, the increase in the borrowing limit is not only to pay the bills that are due, but also because they continue to spend far more than this nation can afford. A startling fact none of the people we have sent to Washington talk about, because they don’t want their constituents talking about it either, is that our nation’s unfunded liabilities (read commitments for which no funding has been provided) now exceeds $100 trillion. Is anyone listening? If this were a family member in this kind of financial shape, we would have what is called a family intervention. Fortunately, democratic republics have family interventions too. They are called elections, like the one we will have in less than a year.

Sadly, tremendous damage will have been done by then. Absent a rip-roaring, soaring, economy over a sustained period and unprecedented spending discipline by our national leaders, the only way our collective family will be able to pay this ever-mounting debt will be to have our own, and our children’s, individual and family income drained through higher taxes to bail out the profligacy of our big-spending, fiscally irresponsible Congress. Of course, government has an alternative. It can print money to send to our creditors, thereby decreasing the value of the money we work thousands of hours each year to accumulate. Happy holidays from your friendly lawmakers. Frankly, we would have preferred a lump of coal.

There are, of course, other unwelcome, gifts that Congress is planning to “buy” and add to the holiday gift pile. They want to give us a whole new health-care system. Never mind that according to the various national polls only 31% to 38% percent of the people favor the impending congressional health-care proposals. In fact, 80% of the people have health insurance, the majority of whom seem to like their policies just fine, thank you very much. Notwithstanding the lack of support by their constituents, this Congress seems determined to force this very expensive and very bitter pill down the throats of the people…like it or not. Where is the wisdom of moderate GOP Senator Olympia Snowe who has stated that major shifts in public policy should only be enacted when there is something close to a national consensus. Let us hope she practices what she preaches.

The something-for-nothing theme being hawked by the party in power hasn’t sold well. The people are much smarter than Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or the White House figured they would be or would like them to be. Notwithstanding the politicians’ twisted and tortured rhetoric about not adding a dime to the deficit, no rationing of health care and no Medicare reduction in benefits for seniors, the people know better. Moreover the provincialism inherent in how Senators have come around to announce support for Sen. Reid’s legislative monstrosity is nothing short of staggering in its short-sightedness. A week ago, Senator Nelson of Nebraska, donning the garb of statesman, talked of his fears about the fiscal impact of this legislation upon the entirety of the nation. That “fear,” however, didn’t stop him from forcing, in return for his support, a 100% exemption in the bill for Nebraska’s share of the state’s Medicade expense. Then, in return for some tighter anti-abortion language his higher minded principles collapsed like a house of cards. It is the equivalent of (figuratively speaking) Senator Faust saying to Majority-Leader Mephistopheles; “eliminate coverage for abortion and I’ll give you the whole damned bill”

Then we have the so-called cap-and-trade gift to America, which also garners little support among the electorate. This, too, is about to be rammed into law one way or another. Fearing Congress might buckle to the wishes of the people, the White House has turned the Environmental Protection Agency into its attack dog to bludgeon into submission the Congress or any public opposition to this poorly conceived, burdensome, financially crippling, job-killing legislative boondoggle.

The Supreme Court decided, back in 2007, that EPA had the authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, if it made “a finding” that CO2 was dangerous to human health. EPA, however, wisely deferred to Congress given the enormous implications of such public policy. Now, with some in Congress having second thoughts about encumbering the country with the unprecedented financial burden of Cap-and-Trade, EPA says it will issue rules regulating carbon dioxide “emissions.” True, EPA’s legislative authority was designed to regulate any emission it “found” was a danger to human health, and having now “found” that carbon dioxide is such a pollutant the agency has, in effect told Congress, “you legislate Cap-and-Trade or we will ‘enact’ it for you.” This is a breathtaking maneuver by the Administration’s bureaucrats, but, come to think of it, breathtaking is also one way to reduce carbon dioxide.

And, failing to get agreement at the so-called climate summit in Copenhagen on such essential elements as verification controls,the conference broke up and the president flew back to Washington so he could land before Andrews AFB was closed by an early Washington blizzard , no doubt attributable to global warming. Meanwhile, our president was pledging to give away tens of billions of dollars in aid to underdeveloped countries to assist them in ameliorating the ravages that Western global warming has caused them. That many of these countries have dissipated countless billions of our past aid through incompetence, graft, theft and corruption seems to go unnoticed.

What we are witnessing is perhaps the most massive shift of wealth from developed to underdeveloped countries in history and it is unfolding before our eyes without the support of the American people who will foot the bill.

And now, just as money loaned to the banks under “TARP ONE” begins to flow back to the government so that the additional deficit these loans caused can be paid down as was promised by the government when the loans were made, we learn that the money isn’t going to be used to pay down the deficit after all. No, the money will be used to fund yet another stimulus program. If at first you don’t succeed (which the first two stimulus bills failed to do) try, try again. Einstein said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again but expect a different result.

Interestingly, the first two stimulus packages required new Congressional appropriations. But the Administration thinks it has found a way to have a third stimulus program without the need to appropriate “new” money. They’ll just take the TARP ONE money the banks have paid back and do with it as they please. Can the government get away with such heavy-handed management of the people’s money? Frankly, we don’t know, but we’ll bet that public-interest suits will be filed to find out. After all, we prosecute white-collar miscreants for such misappropriation of funds, no matter how well intentioned the offenders may be.

We won’t belabor the arrogance of these beltway maneuvers. Arguably, every Administration and most Congresses (controlled by both Democrats and Republicans) have flexed their muscles from time to time to demonstrate just how powerful they are…but then, again, so have the people, as in 1994 when the Republicans gained 54 House seats and 34 Democratic Congressmen were given the boot.

We should pause a moment to ponder why in the world a sitting Congress would engage in such farce as is currently underway in Washington. Nearly seven out of ten Americans polled don’t particularly like what Congress seems determined to do. Not very many people seem impressed with the plans to cover the uninsured by reducing benefits to those who are insured, or the plans to levy new taxes on employer-provided, high-quality, health insurance programs simply because they are, well, high quality, and some people, especially young healthy people, who wish to allocate their income to needs other than health insurance don’t particularly like being fined (that is, after all, what is proposed) for their decision not to buy expensive health insurance.

Similarly, polls also tell us that the American public is not only unconvinced about the reality of man-caused global warming but that a significant majority do not favor additional taxes or other levies to limit carbon emissions. Wait until they really learn the true facts. As reported in the December 12 Wall Street Journal, every ten percent cut in U.S. emissions will be offset by one year of China’s growth. “In the proposed Copenhagen dream scenario, by 2025 China’s emissions will actually surpass those of the U.S. on a per capita basis,” and they have a population approximately three times ours. The eighty-three percent cut in U.S. emissions President Obama is promising will bring our carbon output by 2050 to levels not seen since the 1870’s; which, to quote columnist Brit Stephens, is “a virtual industrial revolution in reverse.” Even though China has the fastest growing economy in the world, we are promising to greatly encumber our economy and subsidize theirs.

Congress was, until last week, also in the process of buying a brand-new holiday present for the family. They wanted to open up Medicare to people who have reached age fifty-five. They still plan to increase the eligibility for Medicaid by redefining upwards the definition of the poverty line. Never mind that the current Medicare program is rushing toward insolvency in just a few years, and Medicaid, a federal mandate that is only partially funded, is already breaking just about every state’s budget. But, then again, what are credit cards for? This holiday present (reducing the age of Medicare eligibility) was simply to pacify so-called progressives in the family, who were, and are, upset over the elimination of a public option for insurance coverage and could have very well been a more direct path to a single payer system than the public option itself.

The Senate is about to pass the Reid monstrosity and move it to a Conference Committee with the already House-passed (and worse) Pelosi version for reconciliation. The cynic in us fears a pre-arranged “fix” is about to be unveiled. Senator Reid could cave in to most of the House version, whereupon the Conference will send that version to both Chambers and a simple majority-vote rule (rather than a 60-vote rule) will be used to complete the process of jamming this sweeping change in American health care down our collective throats.

The out-of-control spender in our hypothetical national family will argue that when the bill comes due, for all this profligacy, we can just send it to our higher earning relatives. Many of our countrymen think Congress’s plans to raise taxes on those who the politicians define as “the wealthy” will not affect them. Rather they see this as taking money from people who have enough and reallocating it to people who don’t. But, wealth transfers by government do not expand our national wealth. Instead, they transfer it from the most to the less productive among us.

This, however, is a very slippery slope. Whet the appetite of government bureaucrats by acquiescing to their schemes to pick the pockets of those who are deemed to be well off and, sooner rather than later, those same bureaucrats may come after you. Just ask those middle income Americans who have been snared by the Alternative Minimum Tax, which also was originally enacted as a tax on the very rich. More and more people will soon be reaching into their own pocket only to shake hands with their Uncle Sam.

Man-Caused Climate Change (and other) Advococracies: A Perversion of Science

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair

The causes, effects and even the certainty of global warming and climate change may be a settled consensus among some politicians, academicians, environmental writers, bureaucratic regulators and even a chorus of scientists, but it is, by no means, settled science. Quite the contrary, and it’s about time those who seem to have staked their careers (not to mention their income) on keeping the “Climate-Change Cash Express” rolling stop acting as though it were settled science. It is not!

In fact, as now seems glaringly apparent, some of the most vociferous players in the man-caused, global-warming imbroglio have been frantically working to keep their gravy train protected from any interference by what is uniformly accepted as authentic scientific process. Scientific process welcomes contrary theories. In fact, it depends on them.

Established scientific theory earns its stripes by ultimately prevailing over challenges that are shown to be less worthy…that are shown to be wrong, not by having competitive theories elbowed out of the contest by self-styled keepers of the faith. That kind of take-no-prisoners orthodoxy was supposed to have died when the keepers of the faith of a long-past, dark era were disgraced by the invention of a simple telescope. The systematic testing of alternate explanations of phenomena in the physical world is the very basis of scientific process and it is through this process, and this process alone, that scientific hypothesis becomes recognized as established settled science. When we have an apparent concerted effort by the establishment to sabotage and belittle alternate scientific views, than science is being perverted and the establishment’s position should be viewed as blatantly suspect.

An anonymous whistleblower’s release of outrageous email (what Senator Barbara Boxer unashamedly calls email-theftgate) from Britain’s previously prestigious Climate Research Unit (CRU), lays bare the chicanery behind much of the rush to steamroll the industrialized world into a crash program, at astronomical cost, to save the planet from what may well be a questionable, if not a fictionalized, threat. The tragedy here is that the possibility of man-caused climate change may, in fact, be a very real problem that needs to be vigorously addressed. But the pseudo scientific “pretenders” at the CRU who apparently plotted so clumsily and so brazenly to sandbag alternate scientific points of view have forfeited, at the altar of expediency, their right to be taken seriously.

The apologia from the usual cast of elitists on behalf of the, now unmasked, pseudo-scientific climate-change miscreants has been predictably breathtaking. Economist Paul Krugman assured George Stephanopoulos’s “This Week” audience on ABC that boys will be boys and all the talk about cooking the climate-change books is just the way intellectual academicians talk among themselves. Senator Barbara Boxer laments what she calls the theft of the climate-change conspirator’s emails — the apparent conspiracy be damned. EPA’s go-to person on climate change, tells us no matter what we learn about the integrity of the data coming from the CRU at Britain’s University of East Anglia, “the established consensus won’t change.” White House Science Advisor, John Holdren testifies that the apparent conspiracy to fudge data, manipulate information and freeze out contrary scientific information regarding global warming won’t change man’s responsibility for causing this climate change. Man’s guilt cannot be challenged, he seems to opine. Really?

Just what is going on here? What are these folks so afraid of that they would conspire to marginalize those with differing views, ban them from publication, and even discuss ways to manipulate their own data to establish the supremacy of their own conclusions? What would lead a so-called scientific researcher to suggest, “We can make the results come out the way we want by throwing in enough garbage”? Well, that brings us back to the profundity of Upton Sinclair, whose perceptive observation we noted at the top of this essay.

While we are not presuming to judge the science on either side of the climate-change controversy, we find Sinclair’s wisdom quite timely. There is a treasure trove of funding available for those who have hitched their wagon to the man-caused, global-warming school. Through President Obama’s recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act alone, $42 billion is being invested in climate change mitigation and research. Much of this money will directly pay salaries and, indirectly, pay rent, put food on the table, straighten kid’s teeth, send youngsters to camp and provide the security that comes from steady employment.

We have absolutely no problem with anyone being well paid for doing their job, and that certainly includes working to solve any of the serious problems facing mankind, including the possibility of climate change. But when individuals conspire to shut down opposing points of view in the name of science, their work cannot be called science. It is, in fact, the antithesis of science. Such behavior at least suggests a very vested interest in making sure the funding continues. If we may paraphrase what Upton Sinclair articulated a generation ago, it is hard to change the mind of someone whose livelihood depends on his or her mind not changing.

We shouldn’t be surprised that such featherbedding goes on when so much is at stake. Whether it is to protect one’s livelihood or to perpetuate a movement, information is, at all costs, going to be managed by individuals and organizations that have staked their futures on a predetermined outcome. That’s when self-interest deteriorates into a type of fanaticism. The one place, however, where there should be zero tolerance of such chicanery is in the citadels of science or other so-called institutions of higher learning where the quest for truth should be all that matters. These are, or should be, the last refuges of honest, unadulterated inquiry, where getting it right should be all that matters.

Fanaticism can and does proliferate in almost all areas of “winner-takes-all” public policy or political warfare. How else to explain the absolutely unyielding position of so many so-called environmentalists (and the elected officials who are beholden to them) in opposition to securing for America the oil that lies beneath the frozen tundra of Anwar or under the coastal waters just off our shores?

The green movement has a whole host of similar positions that are informed by an anti-growth, anti-free-market, anti-corporate mentality that tolerates no compromise based on reason, logic or sound public policy. They coalesce around a litany of “No!” No! to hazardous-waste disposal no matter how safe or how well engineered. No! to nuclear energy, no matter how great the need. No! to genetically engineered food no matter what the benefit to mankind. No! to economic growth no matter the consequences. Even before the emails from the CRU were revealed, the green movement has attempted to vilify those who express doubt about the effects of human activities on the climate, by referring to them as global warming “deniers”, using the term “denier” which is usually reserved for “holocaust deniers” to invidiously suggest that they are as ignorant or evil as that group.

We need no greater example of the green movement’s “culture of No!” than its determination to oppose progress by any means possible, even when one of their own favorite renewable energy programs appears about to succeed. Just last week (December 9th) a Federal District Court judge in Maryland ruled in a case brought by two environmental groups that purport to support wind energy as a substitute for carbons, that a very promising wind-energy project must be shut down because of its negative effect on the habitat of Indiana bats. The project was expected to produce enough energy per year to supply the energy needs of 50,000 homes in neighboring West Virginia. While one might admire the green plaintiff’s concern for Indiana bats (although we have never met one we would adopt as a pet), where was the concern for the well being of the American families who will need some way to heat their homes after the “global warmists” shut down or heavily tax all other alternatives.

The world’s leaders are congregated in Copenhagen to deliberate on how best to save the planet from the threat of carbon dioxide, or as the established lingo says, reduce man’s carbon footprint or the emission of man-caused greenhouse gases in order to roll back the coming disastrous affects climate change will impose on mankind. Oh, if only such an august body of world leaders were around during the run-up to the last great ice age or when the oceans threatened to recede from areas that comprise many of today’s deserts.

And let us not forget that on April 28, 1975, Newsweek magazine wrote about “ominous signs” that the world was facing, citing in particular, drastic declines in food production due to global cooling. Newsweek cited “massively” accumulating evidence of this change. Scientists, they said, are “almost unanimous” in the view that the “trend will reduce agricultural productivity” for the rest of the century . . .and the coming famines would be catastrophic. They pointed out that the amount of sunshine diminished by 1.3 percent in 7 years and that the temperature change had taken us a sixth of the way toward the Ice Age average. The article concluded by noting that climatologists “are pessimistic” that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for or allay the effects of “climate change”. If only our current political leaders had the wisdom to learn from the inaction of their counterparts only 34 years ago. One has to ask how man made global warming can be settled science when 34 years ago, the scientific community was almost unanimous in its conclusion that the planet was cooling.

It is not our purpose to ridicule those who labor on behalf of the great movements of the day. Rather, we wish simply to urge extreme caution when massive economic upheaval is about to be mandated in the cause of this or that movement, particularly a movement that won’t tolerate the kind of peer review studies on which real science is always to be based.

Global warming activists are but one part of the so called “green” movement, which wraps itself in the ridiculous claim that they are saving the planet. Allied with historic preservationists, natural food advocates, who seek to ban preservatives which have made food more widely available in the world, ignorant food purists who rail against the use of pesticides that could greatly reduce the scourge of malaria and other cults who, Cassandra like, warn of terrible consequences resulting from every human advance. The greens have become the equivalent of a religion whose dogma must not be questioned.

Marshall McLuhan, in his 1964 best seller, “Understanding Media,” posited, “the medium is the message,” and that “the content of a medium was as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.” And so it may very well be with the apparent plotting of the conspirators at the CRU or similar conspirators behind a host of other movements. They brook no interference from scientists or others who question the validity of man-caused climate change, or, for that matter, those who seriously question the desirability or the plausibility of trillions of dollars in new health-care entitlements that “won’t add a dime to the deficit.” The conspirators ply their trade well. Regardless of the movement, they follow the same successful formula over and over again…construct a crisis, relentlessly focus on it sufficiently to distract the watchdog of the mind. We would recommend this to be a time to follow the words etched on a plaque at the University of Wisconsin, memorializing that school’s motto: “Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that [we] should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

The Gathering Storm: The Sorrowful State of Education in America

Let’s not kid ourselves. Public education in America is a growing disgrace, breathtakingly so in our major urban areas. It is a disgrace that is going to cost us dearly. In a world rushing toward technological and scientific innovation at warp speed, America has, according to the Council on Competitiveness, declined to 17th place globally in the proportion of its college-age population earning science and engineering degrees. The well-respected Broad Foundation says that our kids rank 25th in math and 21st in science compared to students in thirty industrialized countries and that seventy percent of eighth graders can’t read at their grade level. On average, they are two full years behind in math compared to their peers in other countries. Well over a million high-school students drop out of school every year. That is about 6,000 a day. Barely half of our African-American and Latino students graduate on time, if they graduate at all, and the worst kept secret in the world of education is that a high percentage of those that do finally graduate are not performing at twelfth grade levels. What becomes of them…and what will become of us as a result?

What happens in communities with high dropout rates or vastly undereducated youth? The answer stares us in the face every day –- high unemployment, high crime, and high gang infestation. Sixty-five percent of all convicts are high-school dropouts. High-school dropouts are eight times more likely to wind up in prison than those who finish high school and twenty times more likely to be incarcerated than kids who go on to college. We have, day-by-day, constructed an enormous sub-culture that is unskilled and untrained for anything other than the most menial labor, paying the lowest wages for which few will settle. Instead many of these untrained and unskilled kids are drawn to the big money that can be made illegally on the streets of America. Sadly, of course, that “work” is not only illegal, but also dangerous and almost invariably leads to early and violent death or a life behind bars. But that is exactly the subculture that continues to grow in our nation.

The crisis in education is not just confined to the inner cities. This is a transformative disaster in the making affecting the entire country. We are standing by as spectators to the “duncification” of American youth. We are producing students, at all socio-economic levels, who are woefully behind in virtually every area critical to our competitive standing in the world – language, science, engineering, math, chemistry, physics — all fields of declining American influence. The ramifications for a nation producing a vastly undereducated population will be a nation with a vastly underperforming society, toiling in a vastly underperforming economy. This, we believe, will prove to be a far greater threat to the future of our country than, say; global warming is to the future of our planet.

We are, as Peter Drucker predicted a generation ago, now living in the age of the knowledge worker. That is why unemployment is higher among men than among women in America today. The contest between brawn and brain has long since been decided. The jobs shortage we are facing in America is eclipsed by the skills shortage we are facing. We can create jobs for unskilled or poorly skilled workers, and, perhaps, we have to do that to provide a safety net under those with virtually no earning power. But that, ultimately, is a short-term investment that does little to address the larger and far more critical problem facing the country. We are investing in our own decline.

Google the key words “drug” or “gang” cultures in Rio de Janeiro or in Mexico. The groups that are described are pervasive, terrifying and deadly. Thugs control their own particular enclaves. Five thousand murders take place in Rio every year. What these mostly teenage criminals have in common with our teenage gangs is that they consist almost entirely of school dropouts. That is the way things are there…and the way they are becoming in many of our major cities faster than we want to admit. Washington, DC and Los Angeles are examples of urban centers where the dangers posed by teenage gangs are growing. These gangs are not the singing and dancing Sharks and Jets of the musical West Side Story. Rather, they are dangerous, highly armed and more pervasive.

We Americans like to think that any child can grow up in this country to be whatever he or she wants to be. We say things like that all the time. But what about the youngsters who are already damaged goods by the time they arrive at kindergarten. Kids brought up, perhaps, in loving households, but in households where parents are terribly undereducated or dropouts themselves…households where parents are products of the very broken system about which we are writing…households where children see a mom or dad only on visiting day at the state penitentiary.

A report published just last week by the Education Trust, a Washington nonprofit group, revealed that only 45 percent of low-income and minority students entering college as freshman in 1999 had graduated within the following six years, and only seven percent of minority students who entered community colleges earned bachelor’s degrees within ten years. These data are startling not only because they are indicative of educational inadequacies, but also because they point to the evolution of a growing underclass in America.

How did we get here? It is well beyond the scope of this essay to discuss all of the social factors involved. Suffice it to say, that it is almost entirely a crisis of our own making. There is, as the saying goes, plenty of blame to go around.

We are, to a great extent, reaping a sad harvest from what we ourselves have sown. We continue to pay a terrible price for the years of job, housing and social discrimination, Jim Crow laws, school segregation and systematic political and social marginalization of African Americans. We built a second-class citizenry, which we made little effort to rectify before finally enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1968, more than 100 years following the Civil War and the end of slavery in the United States.

Public education, in our republican form of government, is a state and local responsibility and it is largely funded throughout most of the country through local property taxes, which assure that communities with high-value housing enjoy a much higher largess than communities with low-value housing. Under such a system, the wealthy communities get lavish funding and the poorer communities go begging.

Teachers’ unions have become extremely powerful political forces, and have successfully instituted work rules, seniority protection and tenure provisions that serve their members’ interests, often to the extreme detriment of the students they are there to serve. These unions have systematically fought merit-pay initiatives for teachers, the establishment of charter schools and the provision of vouchers designed to enable low-income families to send their children to higher-performing private schools. School choice and competition are anathema to the unions.

Finally, education has become terribly politicized in America. Throwing dollars at problems, the politician’s panacea for every dilemma has not produced great improvement in the state of education in America. In fact, there is surprisingly little correlation between what states spend per student and quality education. Some school systems that have the highest expenditures per student are among the poorest achievers (Washington, D.C.) while other school systems that spend the least per student have the highest achieving students (Utah). Clearly, we are doing something terribly wrong.

What to do? To start with, we have to take account of the fact that this is a national problem but it is not solvable by the federal government. Public education is a local responsibility here. Reform must be accomplished in the thousands of counties, cities and school districts that make up our geography. Some guidance, national standards and block and demonstration grants directly to local, county and city school districts would have to be provided by Washington, but implementation should be local.

Here are a few modest ideas.

• First, let’s stop pouring money into systems that are failures and begin seriously funding alternatives that are full of promise. Providing vouchers to enable low-income families to send their children to better schools has been a spectacular success in most areas where it has been tried. Washington, D.C. is a good example. In its annual evaluation of the D.C. program, the Department of Education found that the voucher program’s earliest participants are 19 months ahead of public school peers in reading after only three years.

Nationwide, black 12th graders as a group score lower on reading tests than white 8th graders. The D.C. voucher program has proven that we can close or greatly narrow this achievement gap. But, since the teachers’ unions are vehemently opposed to vouchers, Congress, turning a deaf ear to the parents of Washington’s inner-city students who are great supporters of the program has, disgracefully, taken steps to kill the very promising voucher program in our nation’s capital even for those students already enrolled.

• Second, we need to centralize local control of the public schools in qualified administrators appointed by the executive branch of local government as has been done in New York and Washington and give these administrative professionals the authority, free from meddling, grandstanding politicians, to hire and fire principals and teachers.

• Third, let us also fund a concerted effort to provide community-based development centers for children in which youngsters are exposed to regular, positive stimulation from infancy. The Israeli Kibbutz system, through which an illiterate generation of immigrants was transformed into a citizenry that went on to produce one of the best educated, most innovative and productive societies in the world, cannot be transposed into our inner cities for a whole host of reasons. Nonetheless, there are valuable lessons to be learned from what they were able to accomplish. Severely, undereducated youngsters can, over time, be brought up to grade level in educational environments that are geared to deal with socially, culturally and economically disadvantaged student populations.

• Fourth, we also need to establish, on a crash basis, specialized magnet school academies for students who show special promise in mathematics, science and language skills. One size does not fit all and some young people simply have aptitudes others do not possess. It is far past time that we focus on those core studies and begin to de-emphasize (albeit not eliminate) touchy-feely subjects that concentrate on matters such as racial, gender, sexual orientation and other divisive societal differences that have crept into almost every aspect of our national consciousness.

• Last, but surely not least, we should end tenure and seniority provisions for public-school teachers and instead pay teachers on a merit basis for better performance. There are many thousands of hard working, dedicated, high-performing teachers in America. They should be rewarded accordingly. As Candidate Obama, much to his credit, stated in the run-up to his presidency, teachers who do not serve the best interests of their students should seek work in some other field.

The socio-economic level of the ultimate beneficiaries cannot determine the level of funding to be provided. Investment per student should not be a function of the value of the homes in which students live.

In previous essays, we have concentrated our focus on certain issues of immediate consequence such as health care, the struggling economy or Afghanistan. Not only are those issues important but also they are very controversial. Education, however, is a stealth issue. It isn’t a headline maker and the problems with the system have evolved slowly over time. But the quality of our educational system, while often overlooked, also very much affects our national security.

No matter their political persuasion most Americans agree that our nation is being economically challenged, not only by traditional competitors (Western Europe, Japan), but also by newly emerging economic powerhouses (China, India, Indonesia) whose economies have moved in a short span of years from agrarian to highly industrial and high tech. As newly developed powers, their plant and equipment is often newer and more modern than our own. Moreover, because of more centralized (statist) governments, these nations can channel their education and training programs toward the industries they favor. A well-educated workforce will be required if we are to maintain our position in the world and continue to enhance our productivity and grow both our traditional industries and the new high-tech industries that continue to emerge and grow. Unfortunately, we are not producing the caliber of public-school graduates that will compete well with their European and Asian counterparts, and certainly not in the numbers that will be necessary to provide strong wages for a workforce of our size.

Too many politicians at all levels, Democrat and Republican, talk during their election campaigns of the critical importance of providing every youngster with a reasonable chance of success. But their talk is cheap. Once in office, campaign rhetoric must be translated into concrete action. If that means funding early childhood intervention programs in which parents can enroll their children or some of the other ideas mentioned above (and there is no shortage of other ideas as well), then money should be redirected to that purpose. In short, our educational system needs an overhaul. If we, as a nation, forfeit (to the growing number of countries whose children outperform ours) our ability to provide the highest quality of education to our children we will forfeit America’s leadership position in the world.

Afghanistan: A decision long overdue

At long last, President Obama plans to make the much-awaited announcement on his Afghanistan policy decision in a prime-time televised address to the nation. Perhaps we are a “day late and a dollar short,” as they say, writing about his delay at this late stage, but his procrastination, we call it dithering, has reached the point of unintended negative consequences.

Let us recall Afghanistan is what our president, even as a candidate referred to as a “war of necessity.” It was the real war while Iraq was, to him, an unnecessary war. For a war to be waged successfully the Commander-in-Chief must lead not just the military, but also the people. Wars take sustained effort. There is a high cost in blood and treasure. There is no substitute for moral clarity. President Roosevelt sounded the clarion call after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor when this country was unprepared for war. Winston Churchill almost single-handedly rallied his nation in the dark days after the retreat at Dunkirk. In a few short days in October 1962 President Kennedy rallied the nation to the risk of confronting the Soviets regarding nuclear missiles in Cuba. Somehow President Obama has instead given the impression of engaging in a process of weighing the worth of the Afghanistan endeavor. Not exactly how we would frame a “war of necessity” and certainly not a clarion call to arms.

Perhaps, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs provided some insight into what will be included in the President’s message to the nation when he explained at last week’s press briefing that “it is important to fully examine not just how we’re going to get folks in but how we’re going to get folks out.” Well Mr. Gibbs, we get our folks out by winning; or we get our folks out by losing. Given that losing is not, we presume, an option, discussing or even alluding to an exit strategy in an address that will be followed closely by friend and foe alike throughout the world will send a terribly wrong message to our enemies in Afghanistan and elsewhere. But, then again, sadly, Mr Gibbs’ briefing has already sent that message.

Our President was inaugurated on January 20, 2009 and inherited, as he frequently reminds us, a financial and foreign policy mess. Given his views that we were engaged in a war of necessity and that the war effort was being undermined by the Iraq war, one would have expected that any policy review would have begun right then. But it seems not to have then begun. It became secondary to the liberal wish list made famous by Rahm Emanuel’s exhortation “never waste a crisis.”

Shortly after inauguration day, the Administration rolled out its plan to remake health care in the country and since then the President has traveled the length and breadth of the country using his bully pulpit to rally support. He even took the unique step of addressing a joint session of Congress. So where was this Administration since January 20 on the vital issue of Afghanistan? How does the issue of the nation’s security fit into its priorities?

It took five months for the President to have a new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to lead our forces. Shortly after his appointment in June the general wrote a lengthy report to Defense Secretary Gates recommending what was essentially the same surge strategy (30,000 to 40,000 more troops) that worked in Iraq if we were to be successful. This report became public in September at which time President Obama, with great fanfare, commenced a bottoms-up policy review. Every option was “on the table.” Reporters were allowed “photo-ops” showing the president and his advisors gathered around a conference table deliberating the choices before them.

The period between Gen. McChrystal’s appointment and the present became a very public display of presidential indecision. What does that tell the troops on the ground or our allies about the importance of this “war of necessity”? What does it demonstrate to our foes in this world about America’s resolve when its national security is at stake? During this period of delay there was an attack on Ft. Hood, which the Administration took great pains not to label as motivated by Islamic radicals. Also, during this period, the Attorney General announced that Khalid Sheik Mohammed would be tried in federal court in New York so the whole world could see the fairness of our system of justice. In our view, what the whole world really sees is a half hearted effort to keep our nation safe, prevent further attacks on it and punish those responsible for acts of war against it.

We need to put all of this in context and review why we went to Afghanistan in the first place, and what our stated objectives were and should still be. Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, in February 1989, nine years after they first invaded the country, there was an absolute power vacuum for the next five years. There was no central government worthy of the name. The Taliban (literally: “Students”) filled that vacuum between 1994 and 1996 when they captured Kandahar and Kabul respectively. They quickly established the most orthodox, fundamentalist and rigid theocracy in the world. By 2000, only three governments on the planet were still willing to recognize this extreme regime, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and The United Arab Emirates. Islamic law, or Sharia, became the governing law of Afghanistan and, to the Taliban; Sharia was entirely unambiguous in its tenets. The Taliban quickly plunged the country into what, by western standards, could only be described as a new Dark Age, especially in their treatment of women. America, and American values were anathema to the Taliban. We will be anathema to them should they ever return to power, which, at the present time, does not seem so farfetched.

While the Taliban may have had no designs on territory outside of its own borders, Al Qaeda presented a much different picture. A basic premise of Al Qaeda thinking was, and is, an obligation to not only rid “Muslim lands” of the influence of infidels (think Americans and other westerners) but also to depose those Muslim leaders who had strayed from orthodox Islam and, especially, those Muslims who were hosts to American or other Western forces and who were, otherwise, receptive to American culture and influence. Al Qaeda is as much at war with Muslims who have strayed from Islamic law and Islamic culture as they are against the west. In this regard, Al Qaeda has no more qualms about killing or maiming Muslims than they do about murdering westerners.

For Al Qaeda to mount their trademark, well coordinated, well-planned, attacks using remarkably well-disciplined and well-trained foot soldiers, they have needed host counties that would accord them freedom of movement, money transfer capability, availability of training facilities and sufficient cover and infrastructure to allow them to operate rather openly. When they became persona non grata in Sudan in 1996, Afghanistan was under Taliban control and happy to have them.

Many intelligence experts believe that Al Qaeda has morphed into an entirely decentralized entity as a result of the Bush Administration’s successful destruction of their senior field command, and that Al Qaeda provides little more than inspiration to a multitude of self-professed terrorists, operating out of numerous countries, apparently, including the United States. Others believe Al Qaeda remains a lethal force and continues to plan attacks and issue directives to their operatives throughout the world. More than likely, there are elements of truth to both suppositions. What is most assuredly true, however, is that we can never allow Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organizations that threaten our interests to secure sanctuary in Afghanistan or any other country.

Presently, the military consensus appears to be that Taliban forces are gaining strength in many of the tribal areas of Afghanistan where American forces are either absent or only fleetingly represented. General McChrystal’s recommendations to beef up our presence in Afghanistan should have come as a surprise to no one, especially given the successes on the battlefield in those areas where American forces have established relationships with tribal leaders. General McChrystal’s recommendations are simply to provide the support necessary to replicate these successes in other tribal areas in which the Taliban operates. Even The New York Times, generally no great supporter of American war efforts in this part of the world, acknowledged in its lead news story on page one of last Sunday’s edition (Sunday, November 22, 2009), that Afghan militias, with the help of U.S. forces are engaging the Taliban in several parts of the country. This willingness of Afghan militias to take up arms against the Taliban is an extraordinarily positive development that deserves all the encouragement America can provide. One can only imagine how frustrating it must be for those American forces and Afghan militias who are actively, and jointly, pursuing victory against the Taliban to observe the long, drawn-out response to General McChrystal’s request for the additional troops he feels are needed there.

Defeat in Afghanistan, or any outcome that gives the Taliban a foothold anywhere in the country, should not be considered an option. The Taliban were co-conspirators and, therefore, partners with Al Qaeda in the greatest mass murder of Americans in history…in an act of war in which America lost more of its people than in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There are approximately 30,000,000 men, women and children in Afghanistan, millions of whom have staked their destiny on an American commitment to rid their country of extraordinarily oppressive Taliban rule. Anything less than victory against the Taliban forces could well result in a bloodbath of Afghan men and women who cheered the overthrow of the Taliban by voting in the country’s first-ever free election, by joining the new and freely elected government, by men who enlisted in the Afghan security forces, by men and women who dared to enjoy music, by women who chose to throw away their niqabs and their hijabs, who enrolled in schools and took jobs and even dared to venture out of their homes unsupervised by a male relative. We had a reason for going into Afghanistan and it wasn’t merely to punish the Taliban, it was to remove them from power and to make sure that they, and other copycat fundamentalists in the Islamic world, with their dark-ages mentality, never threaten us again.

And so General McChrystal has done what he was sent there to do. He has taken command; he has surveyed the needs with (his own) boots on the ground and he has made his assessment of what is needed to achieve our objectives. We believe that President Obama, after all his deliberations, will approve sending all, or most, of the additional troops General McChrystal has requested. But make no mistake. The delay in making a demonstration of resoluteness (i.e., dithering) has most certainly given rise to the notion among those who would help us and those who would hurt us (think Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Iran, North Korea, etc.) that America does not have the fortitude to stay the course and succeed.

Last week, in another context, our Attorney General, when asked about the possibility of losing the KSM trial in federal court said defeat was not an option. Unfortunately, given the absurd decision he made, the options are no longer his to choose. In Afghanistan, the President has been studying numerous courses of action for a long time and we trust he has chosen one where defeat cannot be the outcome.

Three-Way Tie for Worst Legislation Ever: PelosiReidCare, Smoot-Hawley, Volstead Act

The Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930 and the Volstead Act of 1920 would make almost every historian’s list of really bad legislation. But should Nancy Pelosi’s H.R. 3962, the so called Affordable Health Care for America Act, or the separate Senate version introduced by Majority Leader Reid ever become law it may eclipse those legislative disasters as really, really bad law. As time passed, but only after terrible economic damage to the world economy, the country repealed most of the crushing Smoot-Hawley tariffs and we also repealed the ill-conceived Volstead Act, which prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. The trillions of dollars in entitlements, however, which the Pelosi and Reid so-called reform bills will create and the unprecedented power they will assign to vast new bureaucracies will not, as a practical matter, ever be repealed should they become law. That is simply the nature of entitlements.

Rolling dice with the deficit

Let us try to comprehend what we are talking about when we speak of a 1.2 trillion dollar (and that’s just for starters) entitlement program. A trillion of anything may not sound all that threatening in the abstract, but it is, in fact, a sum larger than the entire national economies of 168 of the 180 national economies measured by the World Bank. And, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, that is the real cost of the House Bill – costs which will add mightily to the nation’s deficit (think debt) with which we and future generations will be saddled should this absurd piece of misnamed and ill-conceived legislation (or anything like it) become law.

Now, we should acknowledge that the leadership in both the House and Senate claim that these massive expenditures will not add one dime to the deficit, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), relying on utterly fantastic assumptions provided by the leadership, has claimed that the Senate version of so-called, health-care reform would actually reduce the deficit by $130 billion over ten years or a fraction over $1 billion a month. Sounds impressive until one stops and recognizes that the federal deficit for last month alone was over $174 billion. So what are the chimerical assumptions provided by the House and Senate leadership on which the CBO analysis rests?

1. The Congress will not fix, the scheduled reduction (21% next year) in fees that doctors and hospitals are to be paid for Medicare and Medicaid patients. These mandated reductions are routinely cancelled every year, as they should be. In fact, on November 19, the House in a brazen act of deception, just as the Senate bill was relying on these reductions, voted to cancel them for 2010.

2. The actual costs will not exceed what the bills’ sponsors anticipate the costs will be. This would be a first for Congress. Even the CBO, in scoring the bill, acknowledges that costs will increase, not decrease.

3. Hundreds of billions will be saved through waste and fraud reduction in the delivery of Medicare and Medicaid services going forward. If that is so easy to accomplish, why hasn’t it been done up to now?

4. Perhaps the cruelest rub of all is that both the Senate and House bills start collecting taxes and fees next year but delay any “benefits” (read costs) until 2014. Thus, deficit reduction is computed based upon ten years of revenue and six years of costs.

New taxes, fees and penalties

Make no mistake about it, Congress is proposing to weave an assortment of new taxes into the fabric of life in America, from levies on high-quality private health-insurance policies, to increased Medicare premiums, to penalties for individuals or families who choose to pay their own medical bills and forego buying health insurance, to annual fees on pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, medical device-makers and clinical laboratories, all of which will pass these costs onto the consumer. Both bills dictate how much of company-provided health insurance premiums will be paid by the employer and how much by the employee. Moreover, for the first time since social security or Medicare was enacted, taxes for these entitlements will be increased for individuals and families earning above a certain income level (unindexed for inflation of course).

The public option: an assault on competition

We believe that anyone who needs health care and cannot afford to pay for insurance, or for the care they need, should have access to the necessary medical personnel, treatment and facilities they require. That, however, isn’t really what H.R. 3962 or its Senate counterpart is all about. It isn’t narrowly aimed at fixing the pre-existing condition or portability issues or the issues of the uninsured that need to be fixed. H.R. 3962 (or any other health-care measure with a so-called public option) is designed primarily to shift to the federal government responsibility for the provision of health care for all Americans. It won’t happen all at once because there is much too much resistance to government control of health care throughout the country. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln’s wise observation 150 years ago, “you can’t fool all the people at one time.”

Any plan that establishes the Government as “a competitor” for the delivery of health-care services will eventually spell doom for privately provided health insurance in the United States. When one “competitor” can write the rules and set the standards for its competition, and then set the prices for service which that competitor alone can subsidize by printing money with which to pay bills that exceed revenue, and which has unlimited capacity to incur debt (that its customers and all American taxpayers must ultimately pay) there won’t be competition very long. That would be the mother of all anti-trust cases if a private company was ever in a position to do that.

Health care in America and in Europe

Proponents of a government provided health-care system tell us that our privately provided health-care is more expensive than European-style, government-provided health care and that the outcomes with our system here in the United States are not as good as in Europe and elsewhere.

They also contend that the government’s administrative costs are much lower than the costs incurred by the private sector. That statistic, however, is entirely misleading, because the care the government provides for the elderly through Medicare is very expensive on a per- patient-served basis compared to the costs incurred by private health insurance providers that provide care to the general population, which includes a much younger and much healthier population. Accordingly, the administrative costs incurred by the government in providing care for the elderly, which are, essentially, the same as the administrative costs incurred in providing care for younger patients, will tend to be much lower as a percentage of total costs, than the administrative costs, as a percentage of total costs, incurred providing care to a younger population with lower costs per patient.

As for outcomes in America versus Europe, there is no case-to-case comparison to support the proposition that outcomes are better in Europe. It is true that we have a somewhat lower life expectancy on average in America than in Europe and a higher infant mortality rate as well. This is not, however, a reflection of the quality of medical skill or technology in the United States. Instead it reflects other factors including ethnic backgrounds and lifestyle. White Americans have the same average life expectancy (78 years for those born in 2005) as Europeans, while African Americans born in the same year have a life expectancy of 74 years. Thus, in the aggregate, we lag behind European countries. This is a serious problem for us involving socioeconomic circumstances (e.g., education, income, occupation) cultural and community environment, crime and social justice, and we need to continue to address all these problems, but a government take over of health care will not solve the problem.

That having been said, we Americans still do run up higher medical costs than our European counterparts. But is the proposed health care legislation aimed at lowering the nation’s health-care bill? Actually, neither the Pelosi or Reid plans do anything of the kind. As Robert Samuelson points out in his op ed article in the November 16 Washington Post:

“Three studies (two by the consulting firm the Lewin Group for the Peterson Foundation and one by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency) conclude that various congressional plans would increase national health spending compared with the effect of no legislation. The studies variously estimate that the extra spending, over the next decade, would be $759 billion, $525 billion and $114 billion. The reasoning: Greater use of the health care system by the newly insured would overwhelm cost saving measures (bundled payments, comparative effectiveness research, tort reform), which are either weak or experimental.”

Also, much of the cost in America arises out of tests ordered by physicians in an excess of caution to guard against malpractice suits. Do either the House or Senate bills address that problem? Of course not. That would be detrimental to the trial lawyers who make a fortune on harassing litigation and who are among the largest contributors to the Democratic Party.

But even more objectionable than the attempt to obfuscate just what is being sold to the American public in the name of “health insurance reform,” is the blatantly dishonest way in which Congress and the Administration have tried to hide the cost of this legislative nightmare. Rather than candor about the real cost of this statist grab of health care in the United States, Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid and the Congressional leadership have resorted to the legislative tomfoolery and deceit described above to hide elsewhere in the federal budget the real costs of their health-care plan.

Currently, we Americans have a wide variety of insurance policies available to us, which provide for a much greater variety of health care choices than in Europe where “one size fits all” is the norm. Most Americans like it that way. For example, we may choose to utilize fairly expensive treatments or procedures to keep an elderly relative with us a few years longer or even a few months longer. That choice, despite what the reformers tell us, will most certainly be vastly curtailed if not eliminated under nationalized health care.

Rationing: the 800 lb. gorilla in the room

No, we won’t have so called death panels, before which we will have to appear and plead our case on behalf of loved ones who might be deemed to be too ill to warrant medical assistance. While the introduction of this allegorical reference to rationing caused a firestorm of controversy, it succeeded in focusing attention where the Administration and Congressional leaders are loath to have the spotlight turned. Whatever you call the obvious effects of limitations on care, you can bet the ranch that there will be rationing of health care under a government-run plan and, in fact, such rationing of health care is both fundamental and essential to making a public option work.

The nation got its first hint of what to expect with respect to rationing of health care when the President’s medical task force recommended, just last week, that women not have mammograms until age fifty or past age 75. The outcry from the nation’s finest and most respected medical institutions and service organizations such as the Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society was so severe that the Administration quickly disavowed the recommendations of its own task force. The statistics accompanying these recommendations proved that they were not about reducing the incidence of disease through better health care. Instead, they were about reducing costs to the government through rationing of health care.

Whatever one’s view is regarding rationing of health care, if we are about to embark on a program leading inexorably to that result, we can at least demand that our government officials be candid with the American public and acknowledge the obvious. Instead, the strategic game plan laid out by the Administration has been to instruct everyone involved in the health-care debate on behalf of either the Pelosi or Reid plans to avoid ever using the term “rationing.” They fear that the American public will dig in its collective heels in opposition to a health-care plan that is predicated on a system of ill-defined, ever-evolving rationing of health care.

QALY Scoring: coming to a hospital near you

The European model, which has been largely fashioned after Great Britain’s National Health Service, relies heavily on the “QALY” (quality adjusted life years) scoring system. And make no mistake about it; a U.S. public-health plan will also rely heavily on some type of QALY scoring system. Here is how it would work. QALY points are assigned to various attributes of good health. A young, non- smoker with no history of illness or disease would get a higher QALY score than someone of the same age who smokes, and who has been plagued by illness. Fair enough; insurance companies make those types of actuarial judgments all the time. Those individuals will either be able to get insurance or not, or they may have to pay a higher or “rated” premium that reflects the greater risk the insurance company is taking by insuring them.

The very real concern that thoughtful opponents of a government-run, health-care program have is that expensive treatments could be withheld or refused in the case of a patient with a poor QALY score. Do we really want to see men, women and children appraised as the Kelley Blue Book appraises automobiles? We don’t ever want to hear a public-health official tell us “Sorry, but you (or your loved one) isn’t really worth the cost of repair.” Although that isn’t a “death panel,” if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck—-.

Even more to the point, here’s how QALY scores are used today in Europe to determine whether someone, especially an older someone, is approved for any given procedure. Suppose a person needs a kidney transplant (any expensive procedure would be analyzed the same way) the cost of which is estimated to be $300,000 which includes the cost of harvesting (and perhaps transporting) a healthy kidney and the transplanting of that healthy kidney into a waiting recipient who happens to be 68 years old. The QALY administrator would divide the cost of the procedure by the projected additional quality years the patient would enjoy following the procedure. In the example above, assuming a post-transplant life expectancy of 78 years for our patient, the $300,000 cost of the procedure would be divided by 10 (the number of quality years the 68-year-old patient in our example would be expected to have following the transplant) and a cost per quality-adjusted-life year would be determined to be $30,000.

If government policy (and there will be a government policy) states, for example, that no procedure will be approved with a QALY score greater than $25,000 (that is, a cost of $25,000 for each year of remaining life expectancy following a procedure), the patient in the example above would be denied the transplant. On the other hand, if that same patient were 48 years old and, therefore, had 30 years of remaining life expectancy following the transplant, the QALY score would only be $10,000 (30 years divided into the same $300,000) and that patient would be approved.

The use of QALY scoring is a well-established, integral part of public health programs in place in Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe. QALY scoring, or its equivalent, perhaps under another name, will also be an integral part of any cradle-to-grave American government-run, health-care plan. Key members of President Obama’s health-care advisory team are strong proponents of QALY scoring. One-size-fits-all government-run medical plans require that type of centralized bureaucratic cost control or they simply won’t work. Our point is not, at this time, to debate the efficacy or the morality of QALY scoring, but only to suggest that H.R. 3962 or its Senate counterpart would have been more appropriately named the “American Health Care Limitations Act” than the misleadingly named ”Affordable Health Care for America Act.”

In spite of all of this, Congress and the President are determined to rush headlong into this ill conceived, poorly written, largely unread and unaffordable new health-care entitlement program. It won’t improve health care, but it will further sicken our economy. It won’t reduce costs but it will be an irreversible step toward government control over another major piece of our lives. It will, however, as the Administration claims, be historic…at least as historic as Smoot-Hawley and the Volstead Act.

Another Islamic Attack: Déjà vu All Over Again

The attack at Fort Hood last week was yet another shot across the bow of America and the civilized world warning of the threat facing us now and in the years ahead. Yet again an Islamic fundamentalist, this one an American, not schooled at a radical madrassa, serves as a reminder of just how invidious and widespread this threat is.

It is not as if we had no way of knowing. The evidence has been there for years, not only before 9/11, but actually for centuries. The problem is that we simply don’t want to face the terrible reality that we are at war with an enemy impassioned by a historically recurring mutation in Islam that has as its focus the most extreme, intolerant and murderous tenets of one of the three great Abrahamic faiths.

We should, in the interest of clarity, recognize that there resides in the scripture of all three of these belief systems, passages that do not comport with the values of post-enlightenment, modern man. And while there are many Muslims who choose to embrace modernity and positive contemporary values, and eschew everything about violent jihad, Islam itself is an expansionist faith that demands submission, in fact literally means submission. To Islamic extremists, Islam makes no provision for Muslim values that differ from their interpretation of Islamic values. They see jihad only as a relentless and violent struggle against the infidel…the non-believer…the post-enlightenment western world.

In that sense, and as distasteful as it is to our notion of religious tolerance, we must recognize that our sworn enemy is a violent and growing faction of a religion and not a nation. America, and indeed the West, doesn’t seem to understand this kind of war.

To be sure, religious tyrants and the wars fought under religious banners prevailed for centuries in the western world. We recognize those fanatical and bloody periods as The Dark Ages. We seem reluctant, even determined, not to accept that a large religious movement within Islam seeks to reimpose a new Dark Age upon mankind. It is foreign to our thinking.

Even though religions have and, in some cases, still are responsible for terrible persecution, religion today is more typically associated with the teaching of peace and tolerance among humankind. The Golden Rule has its origins in religion. Radical Islam, however, simply cannot accommodate such thinking.

We seem unable to wrap our minds around the fact that this is not a typical land, sea and air war of the kind America has fought and successfully waged throughout our history. Here we are fighting a war in which the enemy doesn’t have a headquarters or a national capital, wear a uniform or fight under a flag. Instead this enemy is scattered throughout the world. It isn’t just Osama Bin Laden and his followers. If Osama were captured or killed tomorrow, this war would not be over.

Islamic radicals are found in every nook and cranny of the globe because radical Islamists believe that theirs is the only true religion, that everyone else is a heathen or an apostate, and if they cannot be converted to Islam, they are unworthy of life itself.

We do not have the space in a weekly essay, nor do we have the credentials to attempt a comprehensive history lesson on Islam. However, many scholars have studied the history of Islam and its belief system. Michael Cappi, a researcher on Islam and terrorism and the author of the book “A Never Ending War” is one such scholar. In his important book, and in interviews he has given, he points out that the Koran is different from the Old and New Testaments in its preoccupation with forced conversion. The Koran outlines a belief system, which is a blue print for war and subrogation of the nonbelievers. It is filled with endless directives compelling Muslims to convert or kill nonbelievers. Apostasy must be punishable by death. The Koran is unambiguous in stating that the law of Islam is Shari and every country must be governed by Sharia.

Our problem is that, even in the face of never-ending atrocities against us, we simply do not want to face what we are up against. Islamic fundamentalists have been involved in almost every major terrorist atrocity that has occurred in the first nine years of the 21st century, from the carnage of the World Trade Center, to the attacks on the Indian parliament in New Delhi, the rampage in Mumbai, the bombings of synagogues in Tunisia, Turkey and Morocco, and the beheading of Daniel Perl, the Asia bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal which was proudly videotaped by his captors. The Fort Hood incident is only the latest outrage clearly and deliberately perpetrated in the name of Islam.

We Americans are an impatient lot. We have come to believe that our extraordinarily capable military can achieve victories in a short period of time. We don’t want to believe that this is likely to be a war without a clear end point and without unconditional surrender by the enemy. It is not a war over territory or mineral deposits or disputed borders. It is a war being waged against our belief system, our democratic form of government and mostly against the right of people to exercise their own free will.

Jihadists have become comfortable with the notion that we may not have the will to defend our values over an extended period of time and that being weary of endless terrorist attacks we will likely appease and slowly surrender piece by piece our very way of life. That we would not take firm and muscular action, even when the enemy had an address and was a nation that had committed an act of war against us became crystal clear to Islam when the Iranian government took American diplomats hostage, held them for 444 days, and the feckless Carter Administration acted as if we were helpless. That situation called for an immediate and appropriate military response, but President Carter stood by and allowed Iran to thumb its nose at him and us.

Sam Harris, the author of “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason” has opined that a cult of death has formed in the Islamic World for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of doctrines of martyrdom and jihad the extremists embrace. “The truth is,” he states, “that we are not fighting a war on terror, we are fighting a pestilential theology.” Mr. Harris went on to state, “I don’t know how many more engineers and architects need to blow themselves up, fly planes into buildings or saw the heads off of journalists…before we realize what we are up against. The truth is that there is every reason to believe that a terrifying number of the world’s Muslims now view all political and moral questions in terms of their affiliation with Islam… This benighted religious solidarity may be the greatest problem facing civilization, and yet it is regularly misconstrued, ignored or obfuscated…”

Islamic extremism is exacerbated by the political correctness, which inhibits free, open and truthful discussion in the United States and the West. Among other delicate subjects, religions are somewhat sheltered from criticism in our society. It is simply bad manners to deprecate someone else’s religion.

And so today we find ourselves afraid to speak the truth for fear of not being politically correct if we criticize a culture in which, and in the name of religion, women are stoned to death for infidelity and other offenses, gays are hanged from the gallows, and young children are taught the ideal of martyrdom. Instead, in our society, we seem to search for “root causes” as if everything can be blamed on the relative impoverishment of Islamic majority nations even though that impoverishment was brought on by their own refusal to adapt to the modern world. We shape the facts to conform to our own pre‑existing beliefs. We try to understand and explain away Muslims rioting over the insult to Islam of some Danish cartoons depicting the prophet, and we try to be understanding and “reach out” to a barbarian like the President of Iran who denies the Holocaust, the most well documented atrocity in human history.

Almost immediately upon discovering that the perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre, Major Hasan, was an Army psychiatrist, the networks were referring to him as either deranged or disturbed and had lined up a bevy of talking-head mental health specialists to explain in psychobabble the pressure that an American Muslim soldier must have felt under the threat of deployment to Afghanistan. Immediately they began to make Hasan a victim. That kind of reasoning encourages fanatical Muslims to act as if they are victims of Western and especially U.S. oppression. What is worse is that the left-leaning press never challenges such assumptions. They report on terrorist attacks as if they were akin to natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes rather than guerilla style assaults on America or other nations.

After the Fort Hood attack, President Obama urged Americans not to rush to conclusions. To just what conclusions should we not rush? Should we not rush to the conclusion that an American serviceman who was sworn to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic and who murdered in cold blood thirteen fellow Americans while yelling “God is Great,” was not acting out of religious conviction?

What we are witnessing is an unwillingness to confront reality. A portion of worldwide Islam is at war against us. They openly say it and we refuse to accept it. American leaders, its liberal press and academia, are so fearful of stereotyping and offending any group that it pretends this isn’t happening. So we treat Fort Hood as just another crime to be prosecuted by the authorities. We fear being accused of racial profiling. We pretend we are protecting ourselves when we deplete our security resources searching grandmothers in wheelchairs at airport security checkpoints.

We routinely recognize that there are certain risk factors for various threats to our well being. High blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke just as obesity is a risk factor for heart disease. As noted earlier, nearly every terrorist attack, especially against Americans, originates in lands where the dominant culture is Islam or by individuals who, like Major Hasan, demonstrate loyalty to Islam before loyalty to America (or any other nation). Systematic, intelligent profiling or recognition that such risk factors are real and are ever present is not, therefore, synonymous with racial, ethnic or religious discrimination. It is simply synonymous with common sense.

Again and again we taste the bitter fruit of our own naiveté. Sworn enemies attack us. We tire of our efforts. We blame ourselves because it feels nobler than taking actions that might offend the ACLU. The President of the United States takes a world tour apologizing for actions we have taken to defend our nation, its vital interests and the interests of the very allies who seem to have forgotten that it was America that protected their freedom.

Our victory in World War II and our strong determination to prevent Soviet communism from dominating Western Europe and the rest of the world should have taught us that appeasement does not work. Nevertheless, we appear to appease and fall for the misguided notion peddled by the left that we have done something wrong, that we have offended Islam, and, thus, we search for a way to achieve the goal enunciated by that great philosopher Rodney King when he famously asked, “why can’t we all just get along?” The answer is that radical Islamists do not want to get along. Their mission is to establish Islamic dominance over the rest of the world. They foresee an international caliphate. We are the antithesis of what they want. We are a modern liberal democracy and we value the precious freedoms on which our form of government rests.

But we will not be able to defeat radical Islam unless the agencies responsible for our security have the necessary surveillance tools to do their job. Ironically, even now, some Congressional leaders are trying to weaken the Patriot Act which expires at the end of 2009. Although Major Hasan will be tried by Court Martial, any future acts of terror against us which can be tied to foreign connections must be treated as acts committed in a war and the perpetrators should be treated as enemy combatants and either held as prisoners until the threat ends, or be tried by military tribunals. Why should we allow ourselves to be killed and maimed by those in league with foreign conspirators and permit them to hide behind our Constitution? We have to educate our own citizens that unless we take the sensible steps that need to be taken when a nation is on a war footing, we will be defeated. That is not incomprehensible. Woe to us if we do not understand that this war could actually be lost.

“Mumbo Jumbo:” Revisiting a Broadway Tune

Inside the beltway it would appear that “Mumbo Jumbo,” Anthony Newley’s extremely amusing song about political blather and doublespeak from the 1961 smash musical “Stop the World, I Want To Get Off,” was introduced nearly fifty years too soon.

In the political environment prevailing early in the 21st century, “Mumbo Jumbo” should be the theme song for governmental political discourse. From President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” fly-in (could that have really been six years ago) to Speaker Pelosi’s teaspoon-of-sugar suggestion that we rename the “Public Option” the “Consumer Option” in an effort to get America to swallow a very bitter pill (one that comes with over 1900 pages of technical legal blather…lawyers call it boilerplate…which we would make book that not one member of Congress has read), we have been treated to almost non stop rhetorical nonsense from the wise men and women we elect to lead our country. However, the Washington style mumbo-jumbo we are getting today is no laughing matter. Consider these examples:

• 97% of the people are going to get cradle-to-grave healthcare coverage with no increase in their taxes or the costs of their medical care;

• the country can add trillions of dollars of bailouts and new federal programs to the budget and reduce the deficit at the same time;

• we can prosper by growing our debt and our expenses faster than we grow our economy;

• we can save the planet by taxing industries that produce carbon dioxide (now officially declared a pollutant) even though the world’s fastest growing economies impose no such restrictions on their industries;

• we can stimulate economic growth, entrepreneurship, and critically needed, creative and constructive capital formation while imposing new regulations on our most efficient industries (think internet);

• we can have the government run the automotive, insurance and financial industries even though it couldn’t manage the SEC, the Fed or the House or Senate Banking or Financial Oversight Committees;

• The US dollar will always be the financial world’s safest harbor and retain its position as the world’s reserve currency even though the world’s fastest growing economies, our largest trading partners and the largest holders of our debt are actively seeking ways to abandon dollar supremacy.

No one knows for sure how many people find all of this fanciful rhetoric too compelling to resist. The mumbo jumbo from the ruling elite is delivered with great certainty and authority and certainly with more polish than, say, Chico Marx’s gem in the early 20th century farce, Duck Soup, when he demanded to know, “Who you gonna believe me, or your own eyes?”

As comedienne Joan Rivers used to famously ask, “Can we talk?”

We, and the rest of the world, have moved to fiat currencies, paper money that is backed by absolutely nothing more than the confidence we, and others, have in the value of the paper we exchange for goods and services. Neither U.S. dollars nor the paper currency of any nation is worth what its government says it is worth although some regimes try and set a peg for it. Rather, it is worth what millions of people, comprising the free market, decide to be its worth. Every monetary and fiscal policy we promulgate should be made with that understanding and with deep respect for the confidence that holders of dollars and dollar-denominated instruments have in the judgment of policy makers. Recklessly abuse that confidence, as we have, and as we are doing, and it can, and will, eventually evaporate.

History tells us that when any society debases its currency, the value of that currency can spiral irretrievably downward, and, especially in today’s global economy, the confidence other sovereign nations have in our currency is vitally important. We are deeply in debt to other countries that must first look out for their own national interests rather than ours. If and when our creditors refuse to roll over the loans they make to us, (primarily through the purchase of U.S. Treasury Bonds) or buy new issuances of our bonds and notes, the consequences would be incalculable.

The Bush years were not confidence builders for the dollar. Excessive spending, protective trade dalliances such as the Bush tariff on steel, the prolonged availability of very cheap money and the initiation of previously unheard of federal bailouts of financial institutions and then other too-big-to-fail auto and insurance companies which the Treasury believed represented systemic threats to the nation’s financial underpinnings, were all body blows to the esteem in which the dollar is held. The dollar lost an estimated forty-one percent of its value against the Euro during the tenure of the Bush Administration.

Now we have a new Administration that came to office with the mantra of “change we can believe in.” Sadly, however, those now at the helm of our ship-of- state seem to be doubling down on some of the worst policies that characterized the last Administration. We are currently spending at twice the rate of the prior Bush government, protectionism seems to be on the rise once again, and new federal bailouts of major failing institutions exceed those of the prior Administration with more ineffective largesse from the taxpayers most certainly coming. To make matters worse we are now suffering through a panoply of new and old regulatory agencies, economic and social overlords (those ubiquitous czars) and new expensive and unproved programs to tame man made climate change (the cause of which, if it exists, is still unproven), remake health care as we know it, buy junk automobiles in order to subsidize purchasers of new automobiles, provide short term assistance to failing industries in return for long term government control and ownership of those industries, adjust mortgages for homeowners who knowingly bit off more than they could chew, and to protect Americans from all manner of threats to their well being except that of an ever expanding government with an insatiable appetite for tax revenues.

Many within the beltway assume these initiatives will, ultimately, shore up long-term confidence in the American economy and the nation’s currency as well. Short term…maybe. Long term, we doubt it unless the law of gravity has been repealed.

According to Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President, Richard Fisher, the sum total of America’s unfunded liabilities (financial commitments for which we have made no provisions for funding) are estimated to have now reached $99 trillion, much of which will begin to become payable during the next ten years as an estimated seventy million baby boomers begin to retire and start receiving their Social Security and Medicare benefits. The terrifying danger, of course, is that the government will monetize these liabilities as they become due by running the mint’s printing presses overtime. If that happens, the value of the dollar will plummet as inflation sucks the purchasing power out of the pockets and bank accounts of just about everyone.

The federal balance sheet is loaded with far more esoteric legerdemain than anything World Com or Enron executives could ever have contemplated. Talk about unabashed hypocrisy. Our lawmakers enact the Sarbanes Oxley law requiring transparency from the leaders of private enterprise, but camouflage the alarming fiscal state of our nation from their own mismanagement. Sooner or later, this will come back to haunt us, and sooner is a better bet than later.

Taxpayers are informed that their Social Security and Medicare tax payments and premiums go into trust funds, suggesting that the money they pay in will be there for them when they need it during their retirement years. This simply isn’t true. With respect to Social Security, no actual money goes into the so-called trust fund. Current social security benefits are paid out of current social security tax receipts and any remaining social security tax balances are shifted into general revenues to pay for, well, anything from Gulfstream jets to fly Congressmen and Senators around, to paying for the $300,000 photo-op of an Air Force One lookalike flying over Manhattan. In other words, as soon as each month’s current social security benefits are paid, any remaining social security tax receipts are spirited out as fast as they come in. What goes into the so-called Social Security Trust Fund are markers or IOU’s, special treasury obligations that are backed by the very taxpayers who think they are protected by the trust fund. When Social Security’s current tax receipts are insufficient to pay current benefits, which is now projected to happen in about six years, taxes will be increased or the government will borrow more money (for which taxpayers will ultimately be responsible) thereby increasing our ever-swelling deficit.

The Medicare trust fund is only in slightly better shape but at least there is a real trust fund into which premiums are paid. Medicare attempts to control costs by mandating what doctors and hospitals can receive in payment for their services. Because Medicare costs are artificially suppressed this way, Medicare can claim it provides health care more efficiently than private providers. Medicare mandates, by formula, annual reductions in what physicians are to be paid for the medical services they provide to their patients as a way of controlling costs. Physicians routinely and understandably complain about these reductions and Congress routinely waives the reductions. The simple fact is that medical costs are rising faster than taxpayers’ incomes and so the Medicare Trust Fund is projected to run short about the same time the non-existent Social Security Trust fund is depleted.

Then, there are the complications of the current deep recession, which has slashed tax receipts for both programs, even though the demands made of those programs are increasing. Not a pretty picture. One of three things has to happen: taxes (or premiums in the case of Medicare) WILL increase to cover these shortfalls, OR our deficit will increase as we borrow more to cover these shortfalls, OR benefits will be slashed. The best bet is probably a combination of the first two alternatives since Congress doesn’t ever seem to have the courage to reduce so called entitlement benefits for fear that their lifetime sinecures might end.

So what is the country to do? The myopic, political short-term answer is to keep increasing taxes and borrowing money. The only sensible solution is, of course, to encourage economic growth by dramatically reducing spending and by lowering, not raising, marginal tax rates. In the short term that would balance the budget and stabilize our debt level. Over the longer term sustained economic growth, not the false dream of revenue from increased tax rates, are what produces the means for reducing the nation’s debt load and liabilities. That is reality…but it is a reality that conflicts with the objectives of lawmakers who promote ever-increasing government encroachment into more and more aspects of our economy and our lives. So long as Washington mumbo jumbo is the language of both Congress and the Executive branch, the American taxpayer will be the loser.

Although the show “Stop The World,” like candor in Washington, has become a fading memory, its signature song lives on, and, we think, poses an appropriate question to all who still believe politicians in our nation’s capital are dispensing free lunches. For those who don’t remember, or who were not around in 1961, it was aptly titled “What Kind Of Fool Am I?”

Crossing the Rubicon:

The Major Push Toward American Statism

The historically famous crossing of the River Rubicon, just north of San Marino in Northern Italy, is not much remembered as the flashpoint where Caesar touched off civil war in 49 B.C. Instead, it is thought of by most people as a point in a course of action from which there is simply no return. We think it is time for America to recognize that such a pivotal point in our American democracy may well be at hand.

President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid apparently believe the time is ripe to deliver to the political left the full-blown statist society that has been the centerpiece of the far left’s agenda for a hundred years. And make no mistake about it, once we arrive at that degree of statist reliance on government, there will be no turning back. We will not be able to escape the trillions of dollars of debt and the many tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities that will be left to posterity and will hobble generations to come. We cannot escape that reality.

Statism is generally defined as reliance on a central government for all, or nearly all, social and economic planning, control and funding. It is the very antithesis of personal freedom and entrepreneurship on which our nation’s economic strength has been built. Extensive interference with individual decision making as well as individual property and contractual rights inexorably sublimates the role of the individual and the family to the role of government. Nothing could be more contrary to the America envisioned by the founding fathers. Such thinking has brought, and is bringing, ruin to many other nations, but never mind that. The simultaneous excesses within the financial industry and the vacant oversight by various federal agencies and, especially the Congress, which brought about the burst bubble of the last decade has given the political left its long awaited opportunity to take unprecedented steps to control vast swaths of the American economy. In the 2008 campaign Democratic candidates talked about sensible regulatory reforms to maximize fair competition. Once elected, however, governing philosophy as enunciated by Rahm Emanuel morphed into the phrase “never waste a crisis.” And they haven’t.

Certainly we have had occasional bouts of statism before. As government continued its relentless and compulsive 20th century expansion to advance this or that program that the left deemed essential to the well being of the people, statism took hold in certain segments of our national life. However, with the exception of some of FDR’s New Deal programs or LBJ’s creation of Medicare, statist encroachments have been narrowly directed (through lavishly funded) toward specific programmatic objectives such as President Johnson’s War on Poverty, or the assortment of President George W. Bush’s initiatives such as No Child Left Behind or Medicare Part D.

While we are no fans of hyperactive government, we acknowledge that to achieve the American objective of opportunity for all, on which a free enterprise system must be based, government has a role in preventing individuals, businesses and industries from gaming the system. However, we have now witnessed in the early months of the Obama Administration, the appointment of three dozen new so called czars, none of whom have been confirmed by the Senate, but who have been given unprecedented powers over vast swaths of the economy. Many of these appointees seem to have no particular expertise or experience with the mandates they have been assigned. Predictably, people throughout the country are beginning to react to the emergence of unchecked and rampant government controls or takeovers that seem to be mushrooming only nine months into this Administration’s tenure. It isn’t a pretty picture. And with the enormous projected costs, now running into the trillions of dollars, many Americans are becoming uneasy and seem to be asking, is this really what we bargained for?

Instead of simply sounding alarms which the political left will scoff at for fear it might impede their march toward socialism, we should examine the statist experiences of other countries. Obviously, the most extreme example is that of the Soviet Union and, for over 40 post-war years, its Eastern European satellites. The premise of so called true socialism was that the state would own the means of production, and everyone would equally share the bounty. In reality there was no such sharing because there was no bounty. Moreover state ownership of vast sectors of the economy often takes repressive regimes to enforce its control (think Cuba, Peron’s Argentina, Putin’s Russia, Chavez’s Venezuela, Iran, Burma, and most of the Arab world).

And of course there’s modern-day Europe and the statist European Union to which each member state surrenders more and more of its sovereignty with each passing year. This is the liberal statist’s model. Over and over again, we hear an assortment of universal healthcare proponents chide the American public that we are the only major industrial country that does not provide national or universal healthcare to its citizens. Never mind that 85% of Americans are covered by health insurance and the vast majority of these families are satisfied with their healthcare plans. We have Medicaid for poorer families and a requirement that every hospital emergency room provide care to anyone seeking it whether they can pay for it or not. Everyone concurs that there is room for substantial improvement in our healthcare delivery system, but to use the European statist model as the blueprint for healthcare in America will create an entitlement that we cannot ever hope to afford. What the left wants us eventually to emulate is, of course, the national healthcare programs first inaugurated by Great Britain and now widely in place throughout Europe and Canada. But when has Europe ever been the model we have chosen to follow?

True, in the European model, everyone has a place to go if they are in need of medical care and no one gets much of a bill, at least not from the clinic or hospital that eventually provides assistance. The bill, however, does come. It arrives everyday through the taxation required to keep these economies afloat. The aura of free medical service creates a significant increase in the demand for medical service without a commensurate increase in supply and, as a result, waiting time for service extends far beyond what we would consider acceptable in America. According to a recent study by the Fraser Institute, as reported on CBS News, wait time in Canada is 18.3 weeks for surgical or therapeutic treatment. Wait time is even longer throughout much of the EU. The quality of care doesn’t stack up well either, at least not for major illness. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, breast cancer mortality is 52% higher in Germany than in the United States and 88% higher in the UK than in America. Prostate cancer mortality is 604% higher in the UK and 457% higher in Norway than it is here. And 70% of German, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and British adults say their health system “needs fundamental change or complete rebuilding.”

The problems with statist controlled societies aren’t limited to healthcare issues. Sooner or later, trade, manufacturing standards, how many hours a man or woman can choose to work, vacation time, sick time, compensatory time, termination rules, hiring rules and every other aspect of commerce and daily life can, and sooner or later will, become the focus of statist scrutiny and control.

Camouflaging state control with soothing sounding programs doesn’t make it any better. To paraphrase a song from the Broadway musical “Mary Poppins,” “a spoonful of sugar” doesn’t make the medicine go down. And yet without any real understanding by the American people that this kind of overreaching would occur, the state is now exercising ownership and control over the banking system, the auto industry and, very possibly, it is about to have enormous control over the healthcare system, and the energy industry (through a preposterous cap and tax system). And the Federal Communications Commission is preparing to encroach into the internet through the cleverly named net-neutrality regulations. Other intrusions are hidden in the nooks and crannies of the ever-expanding regulatory morass. Even light bulbs and toilet paper haven’t escaped the government’s regulatory watch list.

When statist laws take effect, decline might be averted for a short time. But by destroying the free market place, the piper will soon enough be paid. Argentina’s economy collapsed more than once and Brazil also lost its credit standing in the world and created poverty rather than wealth when it flirted with statism. And we need look no further than Mexico to see how statist policies have stifled that country from widespread wealth creation and kept it from reaching the economic potential that its natural resources alone would permit.

The magic of America, since the nation’s inception, has been the internal gyroscopes of the people, free to gravitate toward each individual’s true north. That, to a great extent, is what American Exceptionalism is and has always been. And it is the Administration’s failure to understand this aspect of the American psyche that is perilous to all of us. In its quest to control healthcare, anything that can remotely be packaged as “protecting the environment” (or, with even more grandiosity, “saving the planet”), executive compensation and nearly every other aspect of our national life, we now have all-powerful bureaucracies answerable to no one but the President and his acolytes in the White House.

Faoud Ajami, Professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, predicted in the Wall Street Journal, several months before the election that Barack Obama, if elected, would not merely change the direction of America, but the very fabric of America. Five days before the election, candidate Obama pretty much confirmed Ajami’s assessment when he proclaimed in a stump speech in Ohio, “we are five days away from fundamentally changing America.” Sadly, most Americans didn’t know what “changing America” meant. They were disgusted with the Bush Administration and simply voted to change parties without seriously drilling down on what candidate Obama meant by change. And that, in a nutshell, is why Congressional Democrats are likely to face trouble in next November’s elections. The people may like and admire President Obama but do not want him, the Congress or anyone else, to “fundamentally change America.”

We know two things for sure about statism; (i) It is a seductive but poor form of governance, invariably leading to stagnation, socialism, crushing costs and, ultimately, to economic decline; and (ii) it is the very antithesis of what our founding fathers envisioned as liberty and freedom for the new nation they brought forth.

The founders envisioned a limited role for the national government. They assigned to the federal government those powers that were necessary to secure an orderly and safe society. That is why they moved, very early on, to establish a standing army and navy, to take on the debt of the several states and to issue debt on behalf of the nation. They established a system of tariffs (largely to raise revenue), minted our own coinage and acquired enormous swaths of land consistent with the manifest destiny they believed we were morally obligated to pursue.

One thing, however, the founding fathers were careful to avoid and, in fact, went to great lengths to proscribe was interfering in the lives and the legitimate pursuits of the people. They, to a man, understood that the old model of governance whereby a sovereign would dispense rights to the people, distribute or redistribute wealth by government fiat and impose government directives or enforce papal bulls by which the people would be allowed to organize their lives, enjoy liberty or pursue happiness was not the principle for which they had fought.

Instead in a remarkably new experiment they created a form of government, previously unknown or untried, whereby the people were largely free to pursue their dreams without government direction or interference. Those early decisions unleashed a spirit of industriousness and productivity never before experienced in the history of mankind, and created widespread societal wealth at a level which was unprecedented.

We couldn’t say it better than Francis Cianfrocca did in the June, 2009 online edition of Commentary Magazine:

“The United States is organized on the principle of the consent of the governed. Power and legitimacy do not flow from the state to the people, but the other way around. In this respect, what individuals do is entirely their own business, just so long as they do not violate the law or the sovereignty of other citizens. Generating wealth is therefore no different from any other private human activity; it is and should remain private, outside the reach of government, until the point at which it impinges on others.”

Today, a new paradigm for America is being imposed upon us. New for America, but old, tattered and largely discarded where it has been imposed by repressive regimes elsewhere. Its basic premise is that everyone will produce and contribute to society to their full ability and will accept as the fruit of their labor only the earnings the government allows them to retain. It is, essentially, a redistributive philosophy of governance, whereby the government decides what you can keep of what you earn. Of course, one could argue, correctly, that a progressive income tax, which Americans have long accepted, does exactly that. But in America, when citizens acquiesce to such progressive forms of taxation they do so with the unwritten understanding that government will be responsible in limiting its appetite for funding, and will observe the powers reserved to the states and the people under the Constitution.

When government overreaches and establishes programs that require a modern form of tax farming that makes an art of taxing everything that national, state and local governments think they can get away with in order to impose state mandates to replace the free choice of its citizens, the people get restive and angry. And that state of mind leads them inevitably to use the one weapon that has always been available to them to curb government gluttony…the ballot box. Sadly, by that time, any damage done by this Congress will already be the law of the land.

Federal Intimidation of Opposing Voices

It Has Happened Before.
It Is Happening Again.

Free speech, many would say, is the most precious of all our rights. It is embodied in the very first of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment to the Constitution. Generally, it has been the most widely quoted and understood of all of our rights….generally, but not always. Periodically, when the level of dissent threatens to become too widespread and the stakes are very high, Senators and Congressmen, with the tacit approval of Presidents… and sometimes Presidents acting with the tacit approval of no one, have taken steps to quash dissent as though there were no First Amendment. It is an abuse with a long pedigree.

Recently, Henry Waxman, D-Ca., Chairman of the House, Energy and Commerce Committee, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., Chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees respectively, have tried to intimidate opponents of their party’s major legislative initiative through thinly disguised, heavy-handed threats to silence the nation’s health insurance industry. While their recent tactics to intimidate opponents of Democratic plans to overhaul our health care system (or, as the spinmeisters say, “reform health insurance”) pale compared to the even more heavy-handed and dangerous attempts at stifling dissent practiced by the Nixon White House during the Viet Nam War, (the Nixon Administration being the modern index for measuring presidential abuse of power) or for that matter by Woodrow Wilson during WWI or even John Adams who simply didn’t suffer dissent lightly, their actions are nothing short of outrageous.

When there is enough political currency at stake, or when perceived threats to our security are great enough, the stench of intimidation rises out of Washington like so much marsh gas from the Okefenokie swamp.

During the Adams Administration (and under cover of the then newly passed and odious Sedition Act) well-respected, but highly critical newspaper editors, were arrested like pickpockets at Mardi Gras. Eleven in all were indicted, including Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache, for simply being critical. Thomas Jefferson, who arguably championed free speech above all else, pardoned them all as soon as he was elected President.

The often venerated Woodrow Wilson was not against throwing dissenters in jail whether they were opposed to the country’s entry into World War One or the manner in which the Wilson administration was handling the influenza epidemic of 1918.

Nixon’s coterie of hatchet men (think Colson and Dean) constructed a list of twenty “enemies” of the Nixon Administration which quickly grew to a list of thirty thousand. Their version of “you’re either with us or against us” identified more Americans to be silenced than there are people in Lubbock Texas.

But we digress. Today, we want to comment on the machinations of Congressmen Waxman and Conyers, Senator Leahy and some senior members of the White House staff. Mr. Waxman’s recent epistle fired off to the top fifty two insurance companies demanded an accounting of: all meetings held outside of their corporate headquarters; where employees were lodged; what employees attending these meetings ate and drank; as well as a breakdown of compensation paid to their key management people. This was the Congressman’s way of firing a shot across their bow to discourage those opposed to him from getting out their side of the story.

The recent announcement by Congressman Conyers and Senator Leahy that they were taking steps to repeal the half-century-old McCarran-Ferguson Act, which exempted insurance companies from federal anti-trust laws wherever the industry was (and is) subject to state regulation is nothing more than bald retribution for the recent release of a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers which presents a pretty strong analysis of the projected costs of the government health-care programs currently under consideration by the House and Senate. The PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis presents a far more troubling, and perhaps more realistic, assessment of the costs inherent in the legislation than have the White House or the Democrats in Congress.

Now, our purpose isn’t to defend the long-standing anti-trust exemption. There were, and are, certainly sound reasons for the exemption. Likewise, there may be sound reasons for taking another look at the exemption as Senator Leahy has, indeed, proposed in the past. After all, a half century is a long time. Nevertheless, simple research makes clear that the original purpose of the Act was to allow the states instead of the federal government to regulate the insurance industry and to allow companies to share risk data among themselves so that risk could be managed utilizing the best available information. There have been no charges, of which we are aware, of price fixing or territory allocation among insurance companies, so the motivation to end McCarran-Ferguson certainly appears, to say the least, suspect.

There is nothing ambiguous, however, regarding the attack the gentlemen from Michigan and Vermont are mounting. It is sheer federal retribution against an industry exercising its right to make its case during a very public debate about legislation which aims to reform or, may we say, control, every company that provides health insurance in the United States.

And then there is the case of the infamous gag order by Medicare administrators to force Humana to cease advising its Medicare Advantage enrollees that the Administration’s planned spending cuts would result in reduced coverage and, in some cases, the loss of coverage for some participants. This was no secret as the Congressional Budget Office had drawn the same conclusions. It seems, however, that Humana and other insurers were being more transparent than the health-care overhaul proponents were willing to tolerate.

So what exactly caused the congressional assault on the insurance industry? It seems the analysis performed by PricewaterhouseCoopers determined that family health-care premiums would be increased by $1,700 a year in 2013 and another $4,000 a year by 2019 under the recent Senate committee-approved Baucus Bill. This has the government health-care proponents caught on the proverbial horns of a dilemma. Congress can either stay the course by broadly applying the penalty (read tax) for those who choose not to buy health insurance, or, as the Senate Committee has done, greatly scale back the penalty provision. The dilemma, of course, is that compliance (that is, the purchase of health insurance) will be diminished as the penalty for non-compliance is scaled back.

But what excuse could the White House give for its unprecedented assault on the Fox Network? No one denies that its talk show hosts present conservative viewpoints. However, the comments by Anita Dunn, the White House Communications Director, declaring Fox News persona non grata, and parroted thereafter by Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel and Senior Advisor, David Axelrod on Sunday talk shows a week ago that Fox is no longer considered a news network would be laughable if it weren’t so ominous. That these high officials, in concert, have taken such a stand makes clear that they are authorized to do so by the President of the United States

We eschew much of the hysteria some right wing commentators aim at President Obama, but one has to wonder just how dedicated our president is to his soothing talk about “crossing the aisle” and being inclusive if his staff is so totally contemptuous of speech and press freedom. Their actions regarding Fox are more akin to the actions one would expect from the lieutenants of leaders like Putin, Chavez or Ahmadinijad.

What Americans are discovering, hopefully not too late, is that, in a sense, Congress and the Administration are being hoisted on their own petard. They have proposed a health-care plan that represents the largest expansion of government since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the War on Poverty, yet have been loath to present much in the way of detail regarding how it will work, what it will cost and how it will be paid for. The answers that have been given to the questions being raised do not seem to bear much scrutiny, even by the impartial Congressional Budget Office. To make matters worse, any consternation evidenced by the public is chalked up by them to misinformation campaigns, misunderstandings and manipulation of public meetings by opponents of the proposed program. Rather than answer opponents on the merits, they prefer to focus on intimidation.

What we do know about the Baucus Bill, which we assume mirrors the Administration’s wishes, does raise very reasonable questions. Unfortunately, there is more that we don’t know than we do know because the Bill is conceptual, that is, deliberately short on detail. We do know, however, that the Bill imposes a forty percent penalty (actually, an excise tax) on those company-provided policies with premiums valued in excess of $21,000 for families. Fair enough, given that the estimated average premium cost per family is around $19,000. But (and here comes a big “but”) if implementation is deferred, as planned, for three years, won’t premium inflation drive the average cost over $21,000 by the time the program is effective and snag most families into the newly taxed category…sort of like the unindexed AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) snags millions of taxpayers for whom the AMT was never intended? And, on the other hand, if insurance companies price their policies, by whatever means they can, to keep the annual premium under the $21,000 threshold, won’t the government then be denied a huge chunk of the revenue it requires (about 50% of the revenue), to keep the program “deficit neutral” as promised (one of the more astounding promises ever made, even for politicians)?

Then there is the issue of the up to $400 billion that is to be squeezed out of Medicare during the first ten years of the program. According to the Administration, none of this squeezing will involve cuts in benefits, only cuts in fraud and waste (but do we need any legislation to cut out fraud and waste?). There are currently about forty million people enrolled in Medicare which suggests that the government believes it can, on average, squeeze out about $1,000 of waste and fraud per year per Medicare enrollee. Moreover, what is to prevent Congress every year from cancelling any Medicare reductions then planned? That kind of legislative action happens routinely every year and there is no reason to believe Congress will change its habits. And, just last week the White House, Sen. Reid and Speaker Pelosi used a time-worn legislative procedure which shows they know perfectly well that Congress cancels Medicare cuts every year like clockwork. Accordingly, they tried, unsuccessfully, to redesign the health care bill by jettisoning the provision cutting Medicare reimbursements (scheduled to be a 21.5% reduction January 1, 2010) referring to it, instead, as a budgetary issue and not part of the health-care reform package. Voila, any future deficits inevitably arising from this action could not, in the future, be blamed on the health care bill. Small wonder tens of millions of citizens, not to mention the health-insurance industry, don’t exactly identify Congress with candor. It seems the chief tactic Congress has come to rely upon to avoid discussion of their sleight of hand tricks is to silence their critics. Imagine the justifiable outrage if a Republican Congress or Administration had engaged in such legerdemain.

As the industry that is going to be most affected by the so-called reform measures being advanced offers its own estimates of costs to the public, the reaction of the powerful Committee chairmen has been, in the House, to demand company records pertaining to meetings and compensation of executives and, in the Senate (and House) hastily drawn legislation to end the sixty-five-year-old anti-trust exemption accorded the insurance industry by the McCarran Ferguson Act.

What is sadly but abundantly clear is that (i) our lawmakers, by trying to silence their critics, are behaving more like members of a totalitarian government than American lawmakers who operate under a Constitution that incorporates a sacred right to free speech and (ii) the Obama Administration is making early strides up the Nixon index..

Administration about to double down on failed Stimulus Strategies

Last April we predicted in an article published in the “Washington Business Journal” and later republished by the American Enterprise Institute’s on-line journal, “The American,” that the Obama administration’s stimulus bill then about to be passed by Congress, would fail. It has. We argued at that time that there were relatively few so-called shovel-ready projects and that the federal largess would be a long time coming to local communities. And it has been. Most of the funds authorized by the stimulus bill that had to be passed “without a moment to spare,” are still tied up in the federal bureaucracy. It is probably just as well, as this exercise in federal allocation of resources is a clumsy and ineffective way to stimulate the economy. We also wrote that the expensive rebate program first initiated by President Bush and repeated by President Obama would do very little to stimulate the economy because it would be seen as a temporary band aid that would either be largely socked away or used to pay down some consumer debt. Its impact at retail turned out, as predicted, to be negligible.

Then, of course, there was the ridiculous August Cash for Clunkers program whereby over a billion taxpayer dollars were essentially wasted enticing likely September automobile purchasers to buy in August. The historic and highly predictable sharp year-to-year auto sales decline for September 2009 compared to September 2008 illustrates just how lame this congressionally inspired stimulus plan was. Now, with mixed signals about whether the economy might recover, albeit very slowly, without further Congressional action some politicians in Washington are talking about either a new or extended stimulus plan. We believe that with the accumulated deficit and total US debt as another looming crisis it would be better not to double down on a further stimulus plan.

The fact is that the economy can best be stimulated by simply encouraging its various facets to function normally. The marketplace will allocate resources far better than the government. However, if Congress, in an election year, is going to opt for more stimulus we believe our original plan has far more merit.

We proposed last April, and re-propose now, a three year tax credit for consumer spending on durable goods such as furniture, fixtures, and automobiles, the kind of big ticket items that would not only help the nation’s retailers but would pass through to our factories as well.

The happy talk coming out of Washington that the recession ended way back last summer, which may be technically true, does not reflect any improvement in the lives of everyday Americans. It simply tells us that inventories have been slowly whittled down. Production has increased, not to meet surging sales, but to replace inventories that have, over the last year-and-a-half, been slowly depleted. Inventory depletion is a normal phase of every recessionary cycle. That inventories are dropping while the ranks of the unemployed are rising is of little comfort on the streets of America. Furthermore, these inventories would have diminished during the past year with little or no stimulus spending.

Meanwhile, the effect on the economy of continued layoffs month after month depresses both the economy and the American psyche. Last month’s sharp jump in lost jobs to 253,000 was startling. No one, it seems, informed all of the businesses that cut those jobs that things were improving and that the recession was over. It also illustrates that there are limits to how much the economy can be “jawboned” back into robust activity. Real economic growth occurs only when millions of men and women collectively make millions of market-based decisions to engage in economic activity; to assess their needs and desires, to make purchasing decisions and to go into the market place and acquire what they need or desire. That is why we need to create real demand at the consumer level to turn loose a sustainable economic recovery and we believe now, as we believed last Spring, that we can accomplish this quickly and efficiently. Now is the time to encourage the ninety percent of workers who are employed to energize the economy by providing an inducement for them to buy whatever they need wherever they choose. Give Americans the latitude to allocate their purchasing power in the marketplace as their needs dictate.

There is a simple and efficient way to reenergize the consumer. Provide a consumer tax credit for spending on durable goods such as furniture, fixtures, automobiles and other consumer products; the kind of big ticket items that will not only help the nation’s retailers but will pass through to our factories as well.

Here’s how it might work. Retail purchasers would get a dollar-for-dollar matching tax credit on each purchase he or she makes up to a permitted maximum for each taxpayer which, for joint return filers, might be $7,500 in year one, $5,000 in year two, and $2,500 in year three, and half that for individual filers. Upon the purchase of qualifying durable goods the Seller would provide the Purchaser with a special form of receipt which would be submitted to the Internal Revenue Service for an immediate tax rebate for fifty percent of the purchase amount up to the taxpayer’s individual or joint limit for that year. This approach could also be applied to down payments on new home purchases, automobiles, dishwashers or anything for which there is real pent-up demand. Those filers whose taxes due are insufficient to utilize the entire credit in any year of the program would have the credit carried forward in each successive year until the entire tax credit is realized by the taxpayer The rebates and credits would be accounted for on each taxpayer’s annual Form 1040.

We estimate that such a tax rebate or credit would amount to far less, spread over three years, than we’ve spent and are about to spend on stimulus packages even if every taxpayer was able to make full use of the credit, which of course would not be the case. However, this theoretical outflow would be substantially, perhaps totally, offset by the almost immediate influx of business tax payments which would result from the increased commerce and business investment as demand surged, as well as the substantial jump in personal income tax receipts to both the federal and state governments from taxpayers who transfer from the unemployment line to the recruitment line. State and local sales tax revenues would also surge.

We have seen that the current economic crisis which resulted in gigantic federal appropriations gave legislators from both parties a type of cover to quietly enact a grab-bag of their favorite programs and to earmark a substantial portion of the money on the equivalent in their districts of the legendary bridge to nowhere without publicly debating the merits which budgetary restraint and legislative compromise would otherwise require. The beltway speak that a crisis should never be wasted should be seen for what it is…an opportunity to impose new federal programs on a frightened and unsuspecting public. We must guard against such further partisan opportunism. Stimulus programs should be about economic stimulus and nothing else.

A consumer tax credit as we have proposed would have one very strong advantage over government attempts to allocate resources in an effort to stimulate the economy. Every dollar of a consumer tax credit would, by definition, be the result of a one hundred percent, dollar-for-dollar, consumer-driven investment into the economy as taxpayers buy goods to qualify for the credit. Legislative logrolling or earmarks would not be possible if we stick to this simple approach. It is efficient, uncomplicated and relies totally on the people to make decisions about how and where they allocate their economic resources. We realize that efficient and uncomplicated solutions to problems are not de rigueur in Washington, but isn’t this time supposed to be all about change –change we can believe in?

Ideas and commentary with allegiance to neither the left nor the right, but only to this sweet land of liberty.