The First Amendment and Corporations: ——— The Supreme Court Speaks Again

“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peacefully to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance” (First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States).

Those seemingly clear words were not in the U.S. Constitution when it was signed on September 17,1787. Debate on the rights of citizens continued after the signing, and what is now known as the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to our original charter were adopted and went into effect in 1791 when the State of Virginia ratified them.

The importance of the protections afforded by the First Amendment is demonstrated by its lead placement in the Bill of Rights. However interpreted in many different situations, it is the central requirement of a free society and a democratic participatory government. Without its free speech provision (there are other protections in the First Amendment as well, i.e., the prohibition on the establishment of a religion, a free press and the right of peaceable assembly) Congress could prohibit criticism of the government and its elected representatives. Our framers knew that elected officials would be tempted, as their European predecessors were, to use the power of the law to suppress even loyal opposition. They recognized that free speech was the underpinning of a society based on the rule of law.

Nevertheless despite the apparent clarity of language which states “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, Congress has many times enacted restrictions on some forms of speech and many of these limits have been upheld as Constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. On January 23, 2010 the Court issued its latest ruling on speech in the case of Citizens United v Federal Election Commission where it struck down specific provisions of the campaign finance “reform” legislation enacted in 2002 … what is commonly known as the McCain‑Feingold Act. In short, McCain‑Feingold imposed new and stringent regulations on the raising of campaign contributions and the use thereof.

Some quick trip through the history of legislation “abridging” free speech and the Supreme Court’s rulings thereon is appropriate (perhaps essential) to understanding the Citizens United ruling in context. Despite the “shall make no law abridging” language of the First Amendment, the Court has permitted certain exceptions … libel, child pornography, “clear and present danger” rulings, and earlier iterations of congressional enactments dealing with the financing of elections. Free speech cases do not necessarily involve liberal vs. conservative political thinking aligned against one another. Citizens United is no exception. Corporate interests and unions, the ACLU and the National Rifle Association, strange bedfellows indeed, filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs opposing the campaign finance limits imposed by McCain‑Feingold while most major newspapers editorialized in favor of the defendant, the Federal Election Commission. What is apparent is that positions among interest groups and politicians shift on the subject of free speech depending on whose “ox is being gored,” which seems to us to cry out for enforcing unlimited free political speech. Once again, it appears that the Founding Fathers anticipated this very issue and wanted to protect against exceptions to unbridled free speech when political power shifted.

In 1971, prior to McCain‑Feingold, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act and amended it in the aftermath of Watergate in 1974. This Act as amended established the concept of public financing of elections, created various election regulations and created the Federal Election Commission as the enforcement agency. Strict limits on contributions and expenditures were part of this law. However in January 1976, in the case of Buckley v Valeo, the Supreme Court struck down parts of the 1974 law but upheld others. In brief, the Court upheld limits on contributions but ruled against limits on political expenditures.

In 1990, in the case of Austin v Michigan Chamber of Commerce the Court upheld, as not in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act, which prohibited corporations from using treasury money to support or oppose candidates for political office.

Which brings us to the Citizens United case. One of the provisions of McCain‑Feingold bans the use of corporate or union money to pay for “electioneering communication,” which is defined as broadcast advertising that identifies a federal candidate within 60 days of a general election. Prior to the 2008 elections, Citizens United produced a film extremely critical of Hillary Clinton but the Federal Elections Commission ruled that Citizens United could not broadcast the film. The lower courts upheld the FEC. The Supreme Court, however, in its very recent 5 to 4 decision overturned the lower courts and found much of McCain‑Feingold to be unconstitutional. In so doing, it also overturned its prior decision in the Austin case. The breadth of this recent decision will be discussed endlessly and challenged legislatively through attempts by Congress to legislate around this ruling.

Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for the Court, and Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia issued concurring opinions. Justice Kennedy found that “political speech is so ingrained in our culture that speakers find ways to circumvent campaign finance laws.” But the linchpin of the three opinions comprising the majority is that the First Amendment deals with speech and not the speaker. No distinctions are made between individuals or corporations, nor are certain media singled out. Justice Kennedy explained the majority reasoning in stating “no sufficient government interest justifies limits on the political speech of … corporations.”

Justice Scalia challenged the reasoning of Justice Stevens dissenting opinion which was premised on the notion that corporations were despised at the end of the eighteenth century and that therefore the Founders didn’t intend to protect them. Justice Scalia however noted that even if this were true, corporations at that time were granted monopoly privileges. Moreover, there were many small, unincorporated business associations, which, he stated, were the true progenitor of today’s corporations. Also colleges, towns, religious institutions and guilds “had long been organized as corporations at common law. “Surely they weren’t despised. This left, he said, only the question of whether the speech at issue is speech covered by the First Amendment.

Chief Justice Roberts’ concurring opinion seems to answer that question quite succinctly: “A documentary film critical of a potential Presidential candidate’s core political speech and its nature as such, does not change simply because it was funded by a corporation. Nor does the character of that funding produce any reduction whatever in the “inherent worth of the speech” and its capacity “for informing the public.” First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 777 (1978). “Indeed, to exclude or impede corporate speech is to muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy. We should celebrate rather than condemn the addition of this speech to the public debate.”

The reaction to Citizens United was swift by both opponents and supporters of the decision. President Obama, in his new full-throated populist mode, called the decision a victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and other powerful interests. Of course he failed to mention big labor, an interest group so powerful that in the Senate health insurance negotiations he gave union labor an exception from the proposed tax on so called “Cadillac” plans at the expense of the 81 percent of American workers who do not belong to unions. Interestingly, this is also the same Barack Obama who, after pledging to finance his 2008 campaign using public financing, turned away from it when he found that he could raise more money privately. Candidate Obama saw nothing particularly evil about the influence of money contributed to him. Ironically, Senator McCain was forced to rely on public financing to his great detriment.

Various opponents of the Court’s decision have cranked out their obligatory talking points, some of which focus on the fear of foreign intervention in our elections by non-U.S. corporate interests. Even the president played this fear card in his State-of-the Union address last Wednesday night which brought the party automatons to their feet cheering, while the Justices who were there as guests of the Congress sat in shocked silence. It would, at first blush, be a reasonable concern to raise except under existing federal election law which the Court’s decision clearly leaves intact, and which the president would surely have known if the White House counsel had vetted his speech, foreign corporations may not spend any money in U.S. elections whatsoever. This, we assume, is to what Justice Alito’s silent not true referred. Ironically, it was Alito’s incredulous mouthing of “not true” that had the talking heads abuzz rather than the inappropriate, gratuitous and inaccurate depiction of the opinion gliding over the teleprompter and, simultaneously, advanced to the nation by the President.

Most newspapers have also railed against the Citizens United opinion. Of course they would. Congress exempted them and their corporate owners from McCain‑Feingold, thereby vastly increasing their influence. Of course, when their interests are at stake (protection of reporters’ sources, libel laws, etc.) they are major supporters of unlimited free speech. This raises an interesting question. McCain‑Feingold exempted the press from its restrictions, but just what is the press? Do “issue-oriented” print journals enjoy the exemption from McCain‑Feingold? What about electronic messages? Does our weekly essay in “Of Thee I Sing 1776” enjoy “press” status? Where would the line be drawn?

We see any restrictions on contributions or expenditures as arbitrary abridgments of free speech with no discernable public benefit. Money has leaked into political campaigns no matter what restrictions are placed on contributions. Isn’t the real risk of contributed money, the possibility of undisclosed promises of future legislative favor? Wouldn’t it be better, far more effective and clearly more transparent to require that all contributions be posted on the Internet as soon as they are received? More information (the very essence of free speech) assuring immediate public disclosure of the source, the timing and the amount of all contributions strikes us as a far better antidote to political corruption than having Congress enact laws where the only clear result is to provide electoral advantage to their own incumbency.

It is often opined in the process of political discourse, especially on the left, that the framers of the constitution could have never anticipated the complex issues that America would face in the 20th and 21st centuries and, therefore, the courts must be given considerable latitude in their interpretation of constitutional questions. We won’t engage in that debate in this essay. We believe, however, that it would stretch credulity to the extreme to imagine Madison, Hamilton or Jay (those great defenders of the Constitution and the authors of the Federalist Papers) ever postulating that any segment of American society might be denied the absolute and unfettered right to engage in free speech or public political debate.

Year One: Long on Audacity, Short on Hope

The first year of the Obama Administration has not been a very good year for the country. Frequent Flyer Miles aside, the new Administration has been very short on achievement since that cold, crisp winter day one year ago when Barack Obama, newly elected 44th President of the United States, addressed the nation, indeed, the world. His inaugural address was somewhat reminiscent of John F. Kennedy informing the world that the “torch has been passed to a new generation.” It was a time of hope for a nation that was swept up by the rhetoric of the Obama campaign and by an electorate that was fed up with the disappointments of the Bush years. It was also a golden political opportunity for the new Administration, as it was reinforced by the additional gift from the electorate of control of both houses of Congress. So what happened?

Hope, it appears, was quickly overrun by audacity, and the self‑created hubris surrounding the White House team. Over-leveraged citizens were soon to be traumatized by an over-leveraged (and over-reaching) government. As soon as one could say “Seven Hundred Billion Dollar Troubled Asset Relief Program,” with which the Bush Administration bailed out big banks and Wall Street investment bankers, the Obama Administration (not to be outdone) cobbled together a controversial $790 billion stimulus bill, which in hindsight stimulated nothing. Within a matter of weeks the government, in the name of economic rescue, committed a trillion-and- a-half dollars to very questionable effect. Economists and historians will debate the Bush bailout and the Obama stimulus for years to come.

With only half of the bail-out money distributed by the end of President Obama’s first year in office, and with the banking crisis having substantially abated, many now argue that the unspent funds should be returned to the Treasury. Returned to the Treasury? How naïve they must be. Then there’s the matter of the $121 billion that seventy banks have already paid back to the government with interest. Surely those funds would be returned to the Treasury to reduce the burgeoning national deficit as the original Bush enabling legislation required. Returned to the Treasury? How naïve they must be. No, instead, the Obama Administration plans to seize those funds to help pay for a second economic stimulus. One might reasonably ask how successful the first economic stimulus has been to warrant a second stimulus program, especially if TARP payback funds are going to be misdirected for such high purpose and money from the first stimulus remains unspent (remember the term “shovel ready jobs”?). According to a recent Associated Press story, the validity of which was confirmed by a bevy of impartial economists, the $20 billion expended so far for infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges have not produced a single new confirmable job.

As Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal,

“Congress cannot create new purchasing power out of thin air. If it funds new spending with taxes, it is simply redistributing existing purchasing power (while decreasing incentives to produce income and output). If Congress instead borrows the money from domestic investors, those investors will have that much less to invest or to spend in the private economy. If they borrow the money from foreigners, the balance of payments will adjust by equally raising net imports, leaving total demand and output unchanged. Every dollar Congress spends must first come from somewhere else. For example, many lawmakers claim that every $1 billion in highway stimulus can create 47,576 new construction jobs. But Congress must first borrow that $1 billion from the private economy, which will then lose at least as many jobs. Highway spending simply transfers jobs and income from one part of the economy to another. As Heritage Foundation economist Ronald Utt has explained, “The only way that $1 billion of new highway spending can create 47,576 new jobs is if the $1 billion appears out of nowhere as if it were manna from heaven.” This statement has been confirmed by the Department of Transportation and the General Accounting Office yet lawmakers continue to base policy on this economic fallacy. Removing water from one end of a swimming pool and pouring it in the other end will not raise the overall water level. Similarly, taking dollars from one part of the economy and distributing it to another part of the economy will not expand the economy.”

Every recession ends and most indications are that the current recession is ending or has ended as well. The Fed and the Obama Administration have made this point repeatedly. Nonetheless, like the man who can’t take “yes” for an answer, the Obama Administration continues to want to spend money we don’t have in a futile effort to create jobs with money it borrows (or taxes) from the private sector at the expense of jobs that that same money would create in the private sector. The only payrolls that are increasing in America are government payrolls. Meanwhile, private sector jobs continue to contract. Is it any wonder?

Having increased spending by a whopping 24% over the last Administration’s already profligate spending during its last full budget year, (and which was a major cause of its electoral defeat) we expect President Obama to soon make some dramatic gesture promising some new spending discipline or a reduction in spending by his Administration. When, and if that happens, we suspect most Americans will see it as mere sophistry because it would likely permit increased spending if taxes were hiked to pay for it. One thing we have learned during the past year is that no spending restraint is a good spending restraint when there is some way to extract more money from the taxpayer, whether through tax increases, so-called fees or revenue enhancers, or the raising of taxes by stealth through a failure to adjust base costs for CPI increases.

Could any campaign promise have engendered more trust than candidate Obama’s constant drum beat that healthcare reform would be an open, participatory process? He explicitly stated that we were going to have the Congressional healthcare reform negotiations on C‑Span. The point, of course, is that he knew perfectly well that the Congressional healthcare negotiations would never be made public, but it sounded good and probably was worth a lot of votes. The silence from the White House has been deafening now that C-Span has publically called on the Administration and Congress to allow (as the president promised) the taxpayer funded TV channel to cover the negotiations that are currently on-going and will involve hundreds of billions of dollars of cost to the taxpaying public. Not only is C‑Span being stiffed, but also in an unprecedented display of arrogance, Congressional leaders haven’t even appointed a Conference Committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the legislation. Instead, the leadership is negotiating behind closed doors with the President and union leaders to provide their members with a sweetheart deal at the expense of all other American workers.

The most recent and most audacious decision to exempt union members and local and state government employees (think Obama’s base) from the tax on so-called Cadillac healthcare plans until 2018 (at which time one can bet on an extension of the exemption) is almost too numbing to contemplate. Not that such wheeling and dealing on behalf of a politician’s supporters at the cost of everyone else has, heretofore, been unheard of. Quite the contrary, politicians have engaged in such chicanery from time immemorial. And that, of course, is our very point; nothing has changed. Eighty-seven percent of the workers in America do not belong to unions but those among the non-union workers who enjoy the benefits of so-called Cadillac plans will have their plans severely taxed, while workers who belong to unions get a free ride in return for big Labor’s endorsement of the President’s healthcare plan…or as the old-time politicians used to say, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

We need not dwell on the “cash-for-cloture” deal that sold the Landrieu and Nelson votes to Senate Majority-Leader Reid. Yes, as we said above, there have been deals in return for votes in the past, but never in our memory have we seen such “in-your-face” audacity whereby the citizens of every other state are now expected to fund the largess such as that which Louisiana and Nebraska are to receive. We do not remember a case in which the Attorneys General of various states (nine at last count) have filed suit in federal court to object to such blatant vote buying at the expense of the rest of the country. What is particularly disappointing, but perhaps entirely predictable, is that these political deals are nothing less than a blatant tax increase on the middle class, the very group that Candidate Obama assured would never see a tax increase under his plan for the country.

President Obama’s campaign promise not to raise taxes on the middle class was neither sincere nor realistic. Perhaps, the biggest tax increase for the middle class will, as noted earlier, be tucked into the so-called healthcare reform measures currently being hatched behind closed doors. The Washington Post reported, “The $829 billion cost would be more than offset by reducing spending on Medicare and other federal health programs by about $400 billion over the next decade, and by imposing a series of fees on insurance companies, drug makers, medical device manufacturers and other sectors of the health industry that stand to gain millions of new customers under the legislation.” Every one of these “fees” will be passed onto the public.

A nice and more soothing sounding word: “fees.” Fees of course, are simply a euphemism for taxes. It is axiomatic that businesses don’t pay taxes; they collect them. Only people pay taxes. When corporation are taxed, those taxes ultimately show up in prices, reduced wages and, often, reduced jobs. The government can tax corporations, the means of production, capital gains, dividends (which have already been taxed once) charge special fees and penalties as the Obama Administration plans to do and pretend that only the wealthy are being taxed but the truth is, and has always been, that the workers, consumers, and investors, people who are wage earners and people who are living on fixed income will actually do the paying.

Milton Friedman’s old adage is as true today as it was when he first said it. There is no free lunch. A good example of the Administration’s “free lunch” program is the idea to subsidize medical care for those without insurance because they lack the wherewithal or because they are already sick, and to force everyone to buy polices with expanded “basic coverage” that includes more services, such as “free” preventive care. But, as Friedman taught, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone will always have to pay, like those who buy insurance or who have it bought for them by their employers. Insurance premiums for everyone obviously must rise to reflect the newly subsidized demand for care. Of course that means the middle class will pay more, one-way or the other, for their insurance. Whether we call that added cost increased premiums or increased taxes is quite irrelevant. Costs to the middle class will soar. And to add insult to injury, anyone who refuses to buy insurance will be fined. Notwithstanding President Obama’s embarrassing quibbling with George Stephanopoulos over the issue, that fine is a tax.

Any government-imposed cost on the people is a tax. One can call it whatever one wants. It is a tax. Currently insurance companies manage risk by not covering conditions that people already have when they apply for insurance. We can certainly forbid insurance companies, by law, from doing that. And we can forbid them from charging more when they do insure someone who applies with a known illness that will be expensive to treat. It may well be good public policy to enact rules to that effect, but let us make sure that everyone understands that all of us will pay higher premiums. Those government-mandated premiums are simply another tax.

Finally, let us touch, just briefly, upon the subject of last week’s essay – – security. Here we believe the President has hoisted himself on his own petard. Political campaign rhetoric, foolish rhetoric we believe, to placate his antiwar wing, academia, and most foolhardy, the rest of the world on the theory that Guantanamo is a stain on our international reputation, has now obligated President Obama to close the military prison at Guantanamo and to try the most vicious of the terrorists, those who have waged war against us and who have murdered thousands of Americans, as common criminals in criminal court in New York City. Now there is talk of other terrorists’ trials in Washington, D.C. Coming soon to a city near you to make jury duty more varied: terrorist trials. What elitist folly. It provides eloquent meaning to William F. Buckley’s quote a generation ago that he would rather be governed by the first one hundred names in the Manhattan telephone directory than the faculty of Harvard.

The word audacity can be defined as action that is “bold or daring,” presumably the meaning author Obama had in mind. It can also be defined as “effrontery, impudence or shamelessness”, apparently what his Administration has in mind. As we have stated in an earlier essay, we should have read the small print.

Meanwhile, a political super nova (an explosion a million times brighter than the sun) took place in Massachusetts last week that showed we are not alone in our evaluation of the president’s first year in office.  Little-known Republican Scott Brown  defeated the “shoe-in” Democratic candidate Martha Coakley for what, arguably, has been the safest liberal seat in the history of the United States Senate, the seat previously held for nearly fifty years by Ted Kennedy. Even before the polls closed, un-named Administration spinners were attributing their reversal of fortune to “poor campaigning,” “poor polling,” “candidate laziness,” “ignorance of who Red-Sox ace-pitcher Curt Shilling is,” and on and on as though there wasn’t a single person in Massachusetts or the rest of the country who didn’t know that the election had become a referendum on Washington’s reckless, heavy-handed and costly governance, especially regarding President Obama’s healthcare program that fewer and fewer people beyond the beltway want.

The election result was nothing less than the governed telling those who govern that their agenda is not the people’s agenda. The people of Massachusetts seem to be echoing the words of John F. Kennedy when he ran in his first primary election for the U.S. House of Representatives so many years ago, “Sometimes, party loyalty demands too much.”

Terrorism, Security and the Resurgence of a Deadly Tenet of Radical Islam… Jihad

No Mr. President, it was more than just a security “screw-up” from a single isolated incident. Rather it was part of a continuum deriving from a failure to understand the historical context of the dangerous and continuing struggle in which we are engaged. To be sure there were a series of security blunders, what the press refers to as a failure to connect the dots. After a decade of reorganizing our Intelligence agencies, they remain uncoordinated, each often operating as if they were working in a vacuum. One would think that on January 21, 2009, President Obama would have instructed Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, as her first order of business to make sure that warning signals like those that were missed before the 9/11 attacks were not again missed because of failures of communication among and between our Intelligence apparatus.

Nevertheless it happened again. Both the Fort Hood attack and the failed effort of the Christmas Day airliner underpants bomber have brought Islamic terrorism back to front and center in the American public’s unbelievably short attention span. These two attacks demonstrate once more that we are in a war unlike any other we have waged, against an enemy essentially unique to the United States in that it is not a nation or coalition of nations, it had no precise commencement date, it is not specifically a battle over disputed territory or treasure and it will not end in a formal surrender.

In his first year in office, President Obama has shown, at least until this month, that he has either not focused on the nature of the enemy or its historic objectives. He seems to see terrorists through the prism of criminal law and not combatants in a war. Only recently did he utter the term “war,” having eschewed its use as if it were his predecessor’s invention and only within the last couple of weeks did he announce that no more Guantanamo prisoners would be released to Yemen where previously released prisoners have joined their terrorist compatriots. And even now he continues to reaffirm his commitment to closing Gitmo because it is a symbol of Islamic grievances against us. It would be funny if it weren’t such foolhardy error but the antiwar left in Congress must be placated after a decade of criticizing the security measures put in place by the previous Administration.

The enemy in this war is radical Islam, a fanatical and growing strain within the Moslem religion, and not a nation. The president for almost his entire first year in office has attempted to appease its adherents by touring the world apologizing for America’s past sins. He has made the mistake of continuing and even expanding so‑called political correctness by labeling Islam a religion of peace and suggesting that its more radical and dangerous adherents have hijacked a great and peaceful religion. Certainly, there have been and continue to be, great men of peace within the Moslem faith, but deadly fanaticism is not some new movement that hijacked Islam during the run-up to 9/11. Violent and deadly fanaticism has been a sad part of Islamic history from its earliest inception. It is that violent fanatical movement within Islam that declared war (a fatwa) on America and all infidels (Christians and Jews). We would be well served to recognize the war that has been declared against us for what it is: a war.

He has recently, in two colossally wrong‑headed decisions, decided to treat terrorists who attacked or sought to attack our homeland as criminal defendants entitled to full constitutional rights and not as enemy combatants which will compromise our intelligence sources, through testimony in public trials. He seems to think we can be made safer by imposing even more delaying searches at airports but not, God forbid, insulting any group by profiling passengers. What is it that causes so many of our nation’s leaders to engage in such a vast denial of reality?

If we are ultimately to prevail in this 21st century struggle, we had better step back and take account of what we are up against. This cannot just be an effort to educate those of the Islamic faith about our values … among them tolerance for others, democracy and living together in peace. The major educational effort must begin at home so the American people will stop deluding themselves about the nature and objectives of radical Islam and the phony grievances posited by its apologists. Many myths must be shattered. We must stop whitewashing our sworn enemies.

Let us look back a relatively short time (eighty years) as well as many centuries to better understand that these attacks against us are simply the renewal of old grievances. This is not a new twenty-first century phenomena. Rather, it is the reactivation of Islamic enmity toward non-believers that is part of its basic dogma. Since its inception as a religion Islamic dogma instructs the faithful that all non-Moslems are infidels. Either you accepted the Moslem faith, or agreed to live among Moslems as a second-class citizen, a dhimmi, or you were subject to an Islamic obligation to engage in jihad … armed struggle in the name of God…against you.

It would be impossible to write in a weekly online essay the entire history of the Islamic view of the non-Islamic world. However, certain verities must be mentioned. From inception until the end of World War I, the Islamic world was not divided into traditional nation states. There were no nations called Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Lebanon. There was, for the early Moslems, the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, and a medieval caliphate.

Nor has there ever been a nation of Palestine, an area of the Middle East which has been inhabited through at least four thousand years not only by people of all faiths but also by empires whose subjects did not worship an all-knowing god. But Islam is not schooled in sharing either ideas or territory. As Bernard Lewis noted in a November 21, 2001 New Yorker article, “It is surely significant that the Koranic … encryptions on the Dome of the Rock, one of the earliest Muslim religious structures outside Arabia built in Jerusalem between 691 and 692 AD, include a number of directly anti‑Christian polemics: “Praise be to God, who begets no son and has no partner … He is God, one, eternal. He does not beget nor is he begotten.”

The middle-eastern nations referred to above were the creation of the victorious World War I allies who not only dismantled the Austro-Hungarian Empire but carved up the Ottoman Empire as well. Various potentates, friendly to European interests, were handed control of vast swathes of the defeated empire. Western influence over the vast riches of the region, mainly oil, expanded. The victorious allies assumed that the people of the newly created nations would transfer their loyalties to a new nationalism and that the influence of Islam would wane. What in fact developed was a seething hatred of Britain, France and the United States. For support, as Bernard Lewis has noted, these nations looked to enemies of the hated Western oppressors…first Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the USSR, Islam created a new force for resistance. Hence Al Qaeda and its offshoots.

The new Islamic states never incorporated Western principles of private property rights, democracy or free markets. As Melvin Lee reported in the Winter 2008 edition of the Middle East Quarterly, almost all majority Muslim countries rank in the bottom half of world productivity. It is in this fertile soil that jihadism grows. Muslim clerics preach hatred for western values and western rule of law. They find answers to everything in the Koran and attribute all the poverty and problems of their followers to an ever-changing litany of grievances against the United States, Israel and to a lesser extent, Europe. And, of course, Europe with its terrible legacy of appeasement and the annihilation on its continent of six million Jews, seems only too willing to sacrifice Israeli interests, perhaps even the existence of the Israeli state itself, on the myth that dismantling Israel would satisfy the Islamic appetite and eliminate jihadist attacks. That this sacrificial lamb concept didn’t work when it was Czechoslovakia that was sacrificed to the aggressor seems to have faded from their historic memory.

That is why any long-term solution must lead with education at home and abroad. Our young people need to understand history. Their lack of knowledge of even recent American history is staggering. One survey published in 2008 claimed that half of our high school seniors believed that World War II was a fight between the United States and Germany on one side, and the Soviet Union on the other. Unfortunately in the name of political correctness our students are taught that tolerance and diversity means that we need to tolerate tyranny and make no moral value judgments between freedom and oppression. We fail to teach effectively the reasons America was created and its underlying principles. Our students do not know that America is a refuge from oppression. Rather, they are inculcated with revisionist history rewritten to spotlight our failings and placate various ethnic interest groups.

On the foreign front, America must return to the ideal of supporting freedom, liberty and democratic values and oppose keleptocracies and autocratic regimes. Instead, our current administration seems to have settled into so‑called realpolitik and failed to encourage those who struggle against oppressive regimes. The president’s shameful failure to speak out in a timely fashion in support of the Iranian opposition is the latest in a string of this Administration’s demonstrated unwillingness to criticize regimes that deny their citizens basic human and democratic rights.

It is time to stop repeating clearly erroneous facts about Islam. As Edward Luttwak, a senior advisor at the Washington, D.C. based Center for Strategic and International Studies points out, Muslim assertions that they are not aggressors attacking us, and if we would stop provoking them, all would be well, are clearly false. Bin Laden, when addressing non-Muslims, lists a smorgasbord of Muslim suffering at the hands of the infidels. But when he speaks to his co‑religionists, he claims he was ordered to fight the infidels until they say, “there is no god like Allah and that Mohammed was his prophet.” His candor proves that the real objective is to eradicate the infidels. It makes clear that Islamic hatred will not go away. Moreover Islamic dogma is hardly that of a religion of peace. That notion is the creation of the wishful thinkers of academia. Their myth is blindly followed by those on the left who seem to regard the teaching of patriotism as the equivalent of blind militarism engaged in by warmongers who, of course, they equate with the poster boy for their wrath, former President George W Bush. They will not accept that jihad is the very essence of a call to arms against us.

What does this rather lengthy parade through history show? It provides the context for this terrible religious war being conducted against us and the reason we cannot afford to compromise our way of life to it, or appease an unappeasable enemy.

Which brings us full circle. Yes, there were “screw-ups” as the President admitted. Assuredly, we need to guard against more of them with the sad realization that even with our best efforts, there inevitably will be more “screw ups.” Human beings make mistakes and are sometimes negligent.
But the president is right in that we need to minimize human error and be continuously alert to danger. However, we cannot escape the reality that eliminating this threat will take a strong, concerted, muscular offensive, supported by a patient American public, making full use of our best military assets and taking all necessary measures to eradicate or isolate hostile Islamic radicals who war against us wherever they are located and, when captured, holding them until the danger is over, even if that is a life sentence.

Our American nation has survived 234 years since its founding against unbelievable odds and well-armed aggressive foes along the way. It is the job of this generation to preserve and protect our country against this different kind of adversary. It can be done but only if the defeatists, the academic idealists and the appeasers don’t destroy us from within.

“We Are…Fundamentally Transforming America” — and He Means It!

Pardon the space-saving ellipses (…) in the headline above. What President-elect Obama actually said the week before the 2008 election was, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming America. And as noted above, he meant it, and, as his actions have shown since he assumed office, he intends to do just that; fundamentally change America.

Let’s give the President partial credit for telling the nation what he intended to do, i.e. fundamentally change America, now that we can really scrutinize the early fundamental changes that have ensued with clarity unencumbered by the fog of campaign rhetoric. However we would like to pose the question of whether or not this is really change we can believe in (as the Obama campaign promised) or, more to the point, change we would ever want to believe in.

To start, we need to review exactly what transformation or change is taking place. As we have observed in prior essays, America is being transformed into a European-style statist nation. To be fair, we would be the first to acknowledge that other presidents have led significant statist government legislation during their watch, especially since FDR and his New Deal. Social Security is certainly the lasting legacy of that period, Medicare the legacy of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and Medicare Part D the legacy of George W. Bush’s substantial (and irresponsibly unfunded) expansion of Medicare into Prescription Drug entitlements.

Statist initiatives are not Barack Obama invention. Flirtations with statist policies have been commonplace. What we would argue, however, is that President Obama is proving to be the nation’s first truly statist President (although some would argue that FDR deserves that dubious distinction). Obama’s objective is not to have a major statist piece of legislation in place, but rather fundamentally to alter and expand the role of government in our economy and daily private lives and substitute the judgment of appointed bureaucrats for our own, so to leave a statist nation in place as his lasting legacy. And, we believe, that is not what America bargained for when it voted for the change his campaign promised, “that we could believe in.”

To be sure, there is some inherent statism in the very concept of government. The word “statism” is a derivative of the word “state.” Government should supply what individuals cannot, e.g. the common defense, rules for the orderly and enforceable conduct of private contracts between individuals and sensible tax policy to fund the activities assigned to it. There is, however, also a tipping point beyond which the role of government unduly restricts the freedom of choice and ordered liberty of individual law-abiding citizens that has powered this nation to greatness and instead burdens our economy and our lives to no common good. We believe we are in the process of passing that threshold. That is fundamental transformation for which Americans didn’t bargain, but it is the transformation President Obama had in mind, and which he, and his like-minded Congressional majority, is delivering.

America is being aggressively directed into a European-style statist society. That is not what America was intended to be, at least not by that incredible generation that staked their well-being, their fortune and their very lives on establishing a new and remarkably enduring system of governance based on a paradigm of maximum individual liberty and minimal government intrusion into the lives of its citizens.

The chasm between the governance philosophy of our founding fathers and that of the current administration is so wide that it cannot be rationally bridged. Government as an intruder in almost every facet of the lives of citizens is not the vision of Washington, Adams, Jefferson or Madison. Instead, today’s statist philosophy jettisons that vision altogether. That explains why Barack Obama, some years before he became President Obama, complained that the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society. “To that extent,” he lamented in a broadcast interview, “the Warren Court…didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution…that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties — says what the states can’t do to you — says what the Federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the Federal government or State government must do on your behalf (emphasis added).” Well, he got that right. And, all indications are, he wants to change that.

The hints of things to come came early. The very first thing a president must do is assemble his team with people who will advise him and, more importantly, implement his decisions and transform his vision for the nation into the policies and rules and regulations by which we, as a society, will live. First, of course, come the cabinet appointments, usually high-profile men and women who will administer huge federal departments and become the official spokespersons for the Administration with respect to their various areas of responsibility. They will spend a great deal of time delivering public addresses and attending state ceremonial functions.

Then we have the second tier of appointments who often fly under the radar, and while they invariably will be of lower profile then the cabinet secretaries, their power is awesome. Their job is to get the President’s agenda rolling and to put his mark, as indelibly as possible, on the great American landscape. They are the real implementers of the President’s agenda, and as such, provide the best insight into what the President wants the country to look like by the time he leaves office. Most of these people are working as presidential staff and are not subject to the Congressional scrutiny provided by the confirmation process. If Congress wants to delve into their activities, presidents invariably invoke the concept of Executive Privilege to thwart an investigation. These appointees, aptly referred to as “Czars” (derived, quite aptly, from “Caesar”) are confirmed by no one and report to no one other than the President or his cabinet-level appointees. The appointment of these all-powerful Czars is not unique to President Obama. Such presidential appointments have been commonplace since Teddy Roosevelt’s era, although the constitutionality of these unconfirmed appointments has long been questioned, but never seriously challenged.

The speed with which President Obama announced his Czar appointments and the number he announced (over 30 during his first six months in office) is impressive and certainly suggests that considerable thought went into these appointments well before he assumed office. Most of his appointments to these critical positions have one thing in common with the President: no private sector or business experience whatsoever. Most have never managed anything.

Even FDR and President Truman drew half of their high level appointees from the private sector. So has every other president since Eisenhower. President Obama has looked to the private sector for less than 10% of these highest-level officials. Most of these critical appointees come to Washington with new and untested theories but little, if any, practical experience in the real world. No one, therefore, should be surprised that in his first year in office President Obama has increased discretionary domestic spending a whopping 24% over President Bush’s last full year budget and that doesn’t include the more than three-quarters-of-a-trillion dollar stimulus program of which 70% remains undistributed.

A basic premise of our founding fathers was that government should raise no more revenue than was needed to administer the government and that as much as possible of what the people earn should be left with the people. That is what made America unique among the nations of the world, that is what produced the most productive society in human history and that is what lifted tens of millions out of poverty here and abroad with a speed also unprecedented in history. The founders were wary of creating a government with an ever-increasing appetite for whatever wealth might be accumulated by the labor and creativity of the people. Not so with this Administration. They invariably believe that government should take as much as government can get away with taking in order to fund all manner of programs that they decide are in the people’s interest. The current, extraordinarily expensive, healthcare bill that the vast majority of Americans clearly do not want is a perfect example of such statist thinking. As Democrat after Democrat has, in effect said, “trust us, sooner or later, you’ll come to like our healthcare bill.” One could have added, “Once it’s law and we wade through the thicket of its nearly 3,000 pages we might find a nugget we actually like.”

Other steps taken during President Obama’s first year in office abound with additional examples of the government overreach we can now expect. We now have a Diversity Czar, Mark Lloyd, at the Federal Communications Commission. No one seems to know exactly what his responsibilities are, but we do know he has been outspoken about having the government promote, if not force, “more political balance” in the media. He seems clearly perturbed by the popularity of conservative talk radio and appears unimpressed with the idea that listening audiences should determine what they like or do not like to hear. This is quite consistent with a White House that, in effect, blacklisted Fox News because of the network’s conservative tilt. It is also consistent with the urging of members of the Congressional Black Caucus to have the Treasury Department subsidize minority- owned broadcast properties in order to promote diversity. We believe diversity should be promoted too, but not as a function of government muscularity. Programming that appeals to enough people will find an audience. We have an Automotive Czar who has no automotive experience. We have a Regulatory Czar, Cass Sunstein, who is a high-powered and well-respected intellectual theorist from academia whose writing suggests that he believes all individual rights are indulgences granted by government. And, of course, we had the Green Jobs guru, Van Jones, but let’s not even go there.

In what might, perhaps, be the greatest usurpation of power by bureaucrats we need look no further than the recent actions of EPA. Just as we were pondering recently released data that, for the first time, confirms from data-collection points all over the globe that the earth has been in a ten-year cooling trend, the Obama administration’s EPA has announced that it is going to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant to fight global warming (now more frequently called climate change). The rush into this intrusive and outrageously costly regulatory absurdity is about to be imposed on American industry and American consumers because the Administration knows pushing for-cap-and-trade legislation is pushing more than America would or should tolerate. Equating carbon dioxide with pollution and constructing an enormous fee or tax structure for its emission is statism on speed…government run amok. Furthermore, using this regulatory work around amounts to little more than a legislative by-pass in order to extract trillions from the economy to fund an enormously speculative fix to climate change that may well be a naturally occurring phenomenon over which humans may have little if any control.

Then there is the current recession. In addition to the trillions earmarked for stimulating the economy, the financial crisis has also given the Administration great license to overhaul regulation of the financial industry. Besides the substantial cost this is certain to impose on the industry, we can anticipate a new growing bureaucracy to correct the failings of an existing, well-intentioned but seriously misguided bureaucracy. There has been a continuous pontifical litany of how Wall Street greed and lax regulation by the Bush administration nearly upended our entire economy, and, indeed, there is plenty of room for criticism there.

Nonetheless, deafening is the absolute silence regarding the role government played in meticulously and deliberately encouraging, constructing and enforcing policy to direct a substantial portion of the nation’s financing capacity into the hands of very high-risk borrowers so they could purchase and own homes. A worthy goal, at least at first blush. This was, however, a classic attempt to centrally plan (government direct) the allocation of resources into segments of the economy in which the market itself would have never deployed so great of an investment. Banks were directed, and essentially forced, to provide credit to borrowers with no credit history or even to borrowers who, by any rational judgment, would be unable to get credit at Rocky’s Pawn Shop. And while Administration acolytes are quick to chastise the prior Administration for lax regulation and even deregulation, nary a word is uttered about the repeal of the depression-era Glass-Steagall Act at the urging of Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin and (of all people) Larry Summers, both of whom were key advisors to President Clinton when he signed the repeal bill. We hear nothing from the Administration about the failure of the House and Senate banking oversight committees under the chairmanships of Senator Chris Dodd and Representative Barney Frank or about the foolish and frantic policies of the government sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Nothing.

The government provided the federal policy, the federal backing and the federal inducement and the absurdly cheap money to pour into properties that now swell the home foreclosure rolls. And yes, many institutions in the private sector constructed creative institutional means to channel that cheap federal money with that absurd federal mandate into newly concocted, securitized instruments, many of which turned out not to be worth much more than the paper on which they were printed. We hear about private greed and, indeed, we should, but long-standing government policy, government mandates and the availability of cheap money to encourage the extension of credit to people who were simply not creditworthy constituted the stuff of which this bubble was made.

And what is the Administration’s answer to this farce? More federal cheap money, removal of borrowing limits from Fannie and Freddie, and a new generation of regulatory reform. How much simpler it would be to just enforce existing banking regulations that were deliberately ignored by the bank regulators in the service of unrealistic and misguided mandates to extend home ownership to those who could not afford it, and to acknowledge the absolutely phony values on the balance sheets of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But that would be, in the words of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, letting a crisis go to waste.

Today’s statists look at the founding fathers, their philosophy of governance and the constitution they crafted consistent with that philosophy as quaint relics of a by-gone age and of little relevance. They are wrong…and, we believe, most Americans know they are wrong now that they have come face to face with the kind of change and transformation candidate, now President, Obama had in mind. Shame on us. We should have read the small print.

US-Iran Foreign Policy: Fifty-Six Years Of Getting It Wrong

Our current conflict with Iran began thirty years ago on November 4th, 1979 when so-called Iranian “students” stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and took 66 American diplomats hostage. Since the Iranian revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini back to Iran as the supreme spiritual leader was only eight months old, there was initially some confusion over who really was in charge of the Iranian government and whether the embassy invasion and takeover was sanctioned by it. This ambiguity was cleared up within days when the Ayatollah made clear his support for the action, and by of his characterization of the embassy as a den of spies. Thus began a 444-day siege, with its affects, we would contend, having a significant influence on subsequent Iranian behavior and on the actions of Islamic terrorists in the wider Middle East.

We should acknowledge, however, that our tortured relationship with Iran predates the Khomeini government by, yet, an additional quarter century when the United States sided with Great Britain in planning and promoting the overthrow of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, the popular Prime Minister of Iran. With the help of President Dwight Eisenhower, Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles and his younger brother, CIA Director, Allen Dulles, the Westward-leaning, Mohammad Rezā Shah was installed as the supreme ruler of Iran. Many Iranians cheered and, in the years that followed, prospered. Many others were resentful and hated the authoritarian Shah, and, in the years that followed, plotted. These simmering hostilities set the stage for the 1979 revolution, the embassy takeover and the anti-Americanism that spilled out into the open.

Certainly, it would take more than a single essay to review all of the reactions of our government during those 444 days when American embassy personnel were held hostage by Iran. Certain basic elements of American response standout. First of all, and perhaps most damaging to American effectiveness was President Carter’s reaction. There can be no denying that seizure of another country’s embassy, which under international law (if there is such a thing), is an act of war. Foreign embassies are considered to be the territory of the country that has diplomatic relations with the host nation and invading it is akin to invading the sovereign terrain of that country. It is this principle that underlies the ability of an embassy to provide diplomatic protection and asylum.

Carter’s reaction to this unambiguous act of war against the country he led was to try and apply diplomatic pressure and to cut off oil shipments from Iran to the United States. But he never threatened any more widespread sanctions or the use of force. U.S. naval forces, which were preeminent in the world, were not deployed. The Iranian ambassador in the U.S. was not called to the White House or the State Department and issued an ultimatum that unless the hostages were immediately released, America would consider itself at war with Iran and would, immediately, act accordingly – diplomatically, economically and militarily. Nothing was done. Carter eschewed the utilization of American force and hence our best asset in that area of the world was taken out of play.

Instead, in a bewildering journey of twists and turns, Carter and his representatives began a humiliating series of negotiations. While our diplomats were held prisoner and, while some were being tortured, the Administration, acting through various intermediaries, agreed to one Iranian demand after another. The President negotiated an unfreezing of Iranian assets held in the U.S. and agreed to publicly promise not to impose additional sanctions on Iran. Then additional demands were piled on including official American approval of a resolution by Iran’s parliament and a promise not to make hostile statements about the regime. Carter, according to Mark Bowden’s book “Guests of the Ayatollah” also agreed to these further humiliations, but that wasn’t enough for the Ayatollah who had us on the run and who vetoed the deal._

The former Shah was undergoing cancer treatment at the Mayo Clinic and was, at Iran’s insistence, kicked out of the country. He died shortly thereafter in Cairo. This was a real and continuing lesson to friend and foe alike of our steadfastness when the going got tough. Carter’s chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, in disguise (a wig, false mustache and glasses) flew to Paris to meet Iran’s foreign minister. However, this meeting leaked to the press and the negotiations went nowhere. Carter did, however, take some forceful action that most assuredly scared the Iranians to death. He refused to light the White House Christmas tree. Americans were reduced to following the advice of Tony Orlando and Dawn and they hung thousands of yellow ribbons around old oak trees.

Many months after the embassy siege, on April 25th, 1980, President Carter ordered a bold and brave, but operationally plagued, rescue mission. Tragically, everything that could go wrong did go wrong and the mission quickly devolved into what seemed to be a metaphor for the Carter presidency. Eight soldiers were killed; four of eight helicopters crashed into the Iranian desert and a C130 aircraft was lost. Iranians danced in the streets upon hearing of the failed rescue mission. America, referred to as The Great Satan, was depicted as a pitiful, helpless giant. It would not be an understatement to suggest that by comparison this ill-fated venture made the Bay of Pigs look like D-Day.

This was the beginning of fecklessness in U.S. Iranian policy and it set off the chain of events which has resulted, step by step, in Iran’s outrageous and threatening behavior toward the U.S. Finally, and in a demonstration of their complete disdain for Carter, and some would argue, out of fear that Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan would order more muscular steps, the hostages were released on the first day following President Reagan’s inauguration. The Iranian relationship, however, also vexed President Reagan. Various operatives in the Reagan Administration, without the President’s knowledge, negotiated the sale of arms to Iran (through Israel) in return for the release of Americans held hostage in Beirut. The funds from the weapon sales were, without Congressional approval or knowledge, transferred to the Contras who were fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. The Iran-Contra scandal, which resulted in indictments of high-ranking officials in the Reagan Administration (who were subsequently pardoned by President George HW Bush), almost destroyed Reagan’s presidency.

Fast forward to more current times. In a 2006 report our State Department labeled Iran the most active state sponsor of terrorism on the planet. The report stated that its Revolutionary Guard and its Ministry of Intelligence and Security had been directly involved in planning and supporting terrorist actions in Lebanon and Syria, especially through its Hezbollah proxy. Its support of the rejectionist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, is beyond denial. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the Revolutionary Guard also conducts training activities in Sudan. All of this is background to the most critical threat we face from Iran (itself a signatory to the Nuclear Non‑Proliferation Treaty), the development of nuclear weapons capability.

For many years, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Iran has denied that it is attempting to develop a nuclear bomb. Iran’s efforts to enrich uranium to weapons grade was initially denied until that became an unsustainable lie. They now claim these efforts are for the peaceful use of nuclear energy which, of course, is known to be false. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has tried to have it both ways. It called on Tehran to demonstrate proof of its peaceful intentions but in a separate statement stated that it saw insufficient proof of Iranian efforts to develop a bomb. However in his final address, after three terms as head of IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei stated that he “regretted that Iran has not implemented the measures called for by the IAEA and the United Nations.”

The U.N., not itself easily stirred to take forceful action, has twice (both in 2006 and 2007) adopted sanctions resolutions aimed at Iran. The first resolution banned trade with Iran of all items, materials, equipment, goods and technology which could constitute a uranium enrichment program and listed persons and entities whose actions would be subject to a freeze, while the later resolution banned arm exports from Iran and imposed a freeze on the financial assets of 28 individuals and entities.

It is an understatement to say that these resolutions have been ineffective. In fact, Iran very recently announced a major expansion of its centrifuge development program. Its nuclear facilities, one of which it denied existed, are thought to be deeply deployed underground. It continues to export banned items, including bomb-making parts used by Hamas and Hezbollah. It has recently been caught red-handed trading in banned armaments.

As President Obama is fond of saying, he inherited a mess. And he is correct. But he sought the presidency and the American people entrusted their safety and security to him. He said in his campaign that nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands were “a game changer.” So, what is his program? The president wants to “engage” with Iran. He has said so countless times. He has proposed sending emissaries to meet with them, and he has acknowledged mistakes in past American policy. Famously, he has offered to reach out his hand if Iran would “unclench its fist”…but he has also set a December 31, 2009 deadline for Iran to accept his offer to “engage.” What has Iran done? It has explicitly and repeatedly rejected his offer. Ahmadinejad says Iran’s nuclear program is “a closed issue.”

The president, however, probably still basking in the oratorical skills which were so instrumental in his winning the 2008 election, seems to think that those skills employed in a face to face meeting will convince the Iranians to abandon their nuclear bomb ambitions. What is it about “no” that he fails to understand? Does the president really believe that a man, like Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust or who opines that Israel should be wiped off the map will be bowled over by his powers of persuasion over lunch?

Yes, the President inherited a bad, but certainly not hopeless, situation. He still can move quickly to convene a meeting of leaders of the U.S., France, England, Germany, Russia and China and demand implementation of much stronger sanctions. For starters, all Iranian assets in existing banks from those countries and all of the EU could be frozen. Business could be terminated with any company or country doing business with Iran. All technical assistance to Iran from any of those nations could be ended. Exports of refined gasoline could be cut off. Let’s face the facts: the Iranian nuclear threat is existential, not just to Israel, but to America, Europe and numerous Islamic countries as well.

With or without Russia and China this would be the time for a coalition of the willing to implement those steps. Western banks and commerce denied to Iran would be potent. The president also has one advantage not available to his predecessor. In 2009, Ahmadinejad was declared the winner of clearly fraudulent elections. This has led to widespread street protests by unarmed Iranian citizens. The protestors have been joined by some of Ahmadinejad’s presidential opponents. In the last couple of weeks, since the death of Ayatollah Montazeri, an original ally of Khomeini, (who later criticized the regime’s brutality and who thereafter was marginalized by them), the protests have grown and innocent people have been shot dead at street demonstrations. These protests are the first serious threat to the mullahs since the 1979 revolution and could eventually evolve into regime change in Iran.

So what has our president done? After the Iranian elections, he made clear he continued to want dialogue with Iran and spoke optimistically of favorable signals from the “supreme leader,” (using that honorific) Ayatollah Khamenei. As Charles Krauthammer analyzed it, people were not “dying in the streets because they want a recount of hanging chads in suburban Isfahan. They want to bring down the tyrannical, misogynist, corrupt theocracy that has imposed itself with the …baton wielding goons that … attack the demonstrators.” During his Hawaiian vacation the president was stirred to take 10 minutes before a round of golf to criticize Iranian government actions. How moving this must have been to the Iranian citizens who, at the risk of life and limb, had taken to the streets.

The question that hangs in the air over Tehran is whether the president will seize the opportunity and clearly send the proper signal that America stands firmly for liberty and democracy and supports the desire of Iranians for freedom from tyranny. Will he step up a campaign to get information and truth to a people cutoff by their leaders from news the government fears they will hear? We doubt it. This president seems to be caught up in the hubris that has grown up around him. He seems only to believe in his own power of persuasion to make the world the way he wants it. He imposes, for purely political purposes, an artificial deadline to get his health care bill rushed through Congress, but a dime will get you a dollar, not much will happen when his deadline for “engagement” expires as the ball goes down in Times Square.

Fecklessness has been the cornerstone of US policy from Carter to Obama. We seem unable to put in place consistent results-oriented policy. The terrible consequences of this failure are incalculable. The Iranian leadership is entirely unambiguous regarding its view of the United States. We are, in their words, The Great Satan, the Crusader, the Infidel.

President Obama might want to ponder, carefully, the words of another political leader from Illinois who also faced an implacable foe. “The (enemy) does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to deceive ourselves.”
– -Abraham Lincoln, December 6, 1864.

“I Will Not Sign a Healthcare Bill That Raises The Deficit by One Dime…Not One Dime!”

President Barack Obama, September 9th, 2009

Really? It would appear, then, the historic moment that the left wing of the Democratic Party is awaiting with such anticipation may be remembered as the moment the President of the United States vetoed the healthcare bill when it finally arrived at his desk citing the statement quoted above. Of course, we jest. We know perfectly well that politics always trumps principle in Washington, but then again, this is the season of sugarplums dancing in our heads.

We also know the talking-points emails are ready to flow to all of the healthcare-reform groupies pronouncing that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has scored the Senate bill and has found that the deficit will actually be reduced by around $142 billion during the first ten years and even more, much more, during the second ten years.

Sorry, but that’s not really what the CBO has found. What they have found is that IF the assumptions Senate Majority-Leader Reid required the green eyeshade people over at the CBO to use in calculating costs of the government healthcare program actually hold up, then there will be no increase in the deficit. Now, that’s a big IF and everyone in the House and Senate and the Administration knows it. In fact, it is such a big IF that federal officials would have prosecuted executives in the private sector for putting such misleading input into financial projections (remember Enron and WorldCom?)

The CBO scoring charade is akin to asking the CBO to estimate the cost of snow removal in Chicago during the winter of 2009-2010 assuming only two snow days of only two inches each with a strong warming trend immediately following each dusting. If, however, Chicago experienced a repeat of the winter of 1979 with its continuous snow and infamous blizzard, the folks at the CBO would be laughed out of town. An absurd analogy? Not at all. In fact, there would have been some reasonable statistical chance that the two-snow assumptions on which we posited our hypothetical CBO forecast of snow removal in Chicago could be realized. There is absolutely no chance the assumptions Reid gave to the CBO, and on which the rosy outlook for healthcare is predicated, will come to pass. NONE. What is worse is that they know it.

Let’s just look at one, and perhaps, the biggest farce in the Reid instructions to the CBO. Assume no Doc-fix going forward. The Doc-fix is Congresses annual cancelation of the automatic reduction in fees doctors are to be paid for caring for Medicare patients. The so-called deficit reducing Senate healthcare bill required the CBO to assume that henceforth there would be no more waivers of the reductions in fees to doctors and hospitals. Such an assumption is pure legislative chicanery. In fact, a law designed to “control” Medicare costs was enacted during the Clinton Administration in 1997 that required Medicare to slash payments to doctors each year by whatever percentage the increase in medical costs out paces a pre-determined level established by formula. Every year the doctors protest, as they should, and every year, with the single exception of 2002, Congress has waived the reduction in payments. In fact, as we’ve reported previously, Congress cancelled the reductions scheduled to go into effect next week at the very time they were writing legislation, the financing of which, was predicated on enforcing those very same reductions. This was deceit of historical proportions. It would also be insane public policy.

Furthermore, during the next ten years, when an estimated seventy million baby boomers will enter the ranks of the Medicare eligible, the CBO was also required to assume that there would be a half-trillion-dollar reduction in Medicare costs. How is this cost savings going to be realized in the face of such increased demand for medical service? Increased efficiency and reductions in waste and fraud, we are told. If that is so why haven’t we eliminated such vast waste and fraud already? Then there’s the matter of the increased cost of providing care (think additional doctors, clinics, tests, etc.) for the estimated 30 million additional people who will be covered under the new healthcare plan.

So how could the President promise not to a sign a healthcare bill that increased the deficit “by even one dime?” What was he really saying? We don’t think he was saying to Congress, “You have to send me a bill that is so carefully written, with realistic assumptions based on sound data inputted by independent economists and so carefully thought through, and analyzed that it won’t increase the deficit by one dime.” Clearly, this unwieldy, cobbled together, 2000-page monstrosity (closer to 3,000 if we count last hour amendments) meets none of the criteria of being well thought out, carefully drafted or thoroughly analyzed. It seems more the product of a Boris Karloff lab.ORA.tory (as the old horror films depicted them) than the work of the world’s greatest deliberative body. More likely, the President was signaling to Majority-Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi, “You have to write assumptions for the Congressional Budget Office study that appear actually to result in a deficit reduction. And, like the Chicago winter of 1979, whatever will happen…will happen. Of course that particular winter cost the city’s Chief- Executive Officer, Mayor Michael Bilandic his job.

So now we have a Bill with taxes and fees that kick in shortly after enactment, but with benefits deferred until 2014 and with CBO scoring limited to 10 years. Even the CBO analysis based on these faulty assumptions concludes that in 2019 alone taxes will be $100 billion higher and spending will be increased by $200 billion. By then, of course, President Obama will be safely ensconced in his Presidential Library teaching a new generation of community organizers how to make even greater advances into the world of European statism.

Now, the President does have a couple of aces up his sleeve. He can always finance the staggering additional cost of healthcare and prevent it from increasing the deficit by raising taxes (big time) or pay for it by printing whatever money is needed to pay the costs. 
But then, clearly, the bill that just passed the Senate will have, by definition, failed to have “not raised the deficit by one dime.”

So how did Senator Reid get his 60 votes for this legislative behemoth despite such little enthusiasm for it, even from his side of the aisle, and with polls stating that over 60 percent of Americans are against it? So much political capital has been spent by the President and the majority in Congress on passing a health care bill, any bill, that the process became a proverbial sitting duck for what can only be called legislative bribery. Every Senator’s vote was up for sale to get a special deal for his or her state at the expense of any semblance of a truly national interest. Columnist George Will described it “as an almost gorgeous absence of scruples or principles” Not that the Senators cared; they must have rationalized that they were rising above principles. Dana Milbank, writing in the Washington Post called it “Cash for Cloture”.

Take a few well-known examples mentioned by Milbank: Senators Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu secured extra Medicaid money for Nebraska and Louisiana, respectively. Senator Chris Dodd got $100 million for a Medical Center in Connecticut. Other Senators also got goodies for their own states’ parochial interests. So now we seem to have a Senate with one Senator Bayh but many Senators bought.

And why was the bill rushed through the Senate before Christmas? The simple answer is that Senator Reid knows that it will take only a short time for the public to understand the real cost of the this so-called reform legislation and how little the vast majority of people will get for the added cost.

What we have seen at work in the Senate is what we call the Reid Ruse. The Senate Majority-Leader claims the bill would only cost $871 billion during the first ten years, and he may be right because, as we stated above, the bill defers most of the benefits (read costs) until 2014 and so, voila, no deficit. But as the CBO points out, when you look at ten years of actual cost the bill hits the public for a whopping $1.8 trillion for insurance coverage expansions alone, and approximately $700 billion more for various other parts of the bill, bringing the real cost to approximately $2.5 trillion.

As the Weekly Standard points out in its analysis of the bill, “In those real first ten comparative years (2014 to 2023), Americans would have to pay over $1 trillion in additional taxes, over $1 trillion would be siphoned out of Medicare (over $200 billion out of Medicare Advantage alone) and spent on Obamacare, and deficits would rise by over $200 billion. They would rise, that is, unless Congress follows through on the bill’s pledge to cut doctors’ payments under Medicare by 21 percent next year and never raise them back up.” But then, again, as we pointed out above, the reduction in doctor’s fees has already been canceled. And that’s the Reid Ruse, likely soon to bring us the only real medicine this new law will actually deliver… unfortunately, in the form of a large bitter pill to swallow and one that we are likely to choke on for the foreseeable future.

And now, as we go to press, comes word from the CBO that the assumptions they were given by the Majority Leader for analyzing the Reid bill are flawed and involve “double counting,” a phrase rarely used by the non-partisan and non-combative legislative scoring arm of Congress. To be specific, Reid and his colleagues identified an anticipated projected savings they could carve out of Medicare and then used the phantom savings to continue to finance Medicare through 2017 and also used the same savings to fund expanded healthcare coverage. The money just can’t be set aside to pay for future Medicare spending and at the same time be used to pay for current spending. If this sounds confusing, here is a simpler way to think of the impact of the CBO throwing a penalty flag over this particular legislative shell game provision; it converts a projected $132 billion surplus, into a $170 billion deficit.

So, on one hand, we have our September 9th Presidential pledge not to sign a bill “that adds one dime to the deficit…not one dime,” and, on the other hand we find ourselves with a budget-busting, deficit-driving healthcare bill relentlessly working its way to the Oval Office. The difference between what our President says and what our President does when confronted with such a clear dichotomy of rhetoric and reality will be instructive to the entire nation. The odds favoring rhetoric over reality are so high that Vegas oddsmakers would say they are off the charts.


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.