Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Breaking News: A new Washington blockbuster is set to debut Friday

From the people who raised your moral outrage with "Fast and Furious," drove your anger to fever pitch with "Negligence in Benghazi," and left you scratching your head with "Wasting Billions Again in Green Energyville," comes a new, even-bigger blockbuster that threatens to unleash mass chaos across the land: "The Attack of Sequestration!"

Sequestration is a predetermined set of mandatory cuts to defense and domestic spending totaling $965 billion over the next 10 years. The first round of $85 billon automatically takes effect March 1, unless our elected leaders, the stewards of our government, get busy this week.

There is a great deal of political Tomfoolery associated with this looming event, such as the myth that sequestration represents actual cuts to federal spending — it doesn't. The $965 billion total and the $85 billion for this year represent reductions only in budget increases, not cuts in spending. And even if Congress does not stop sequestration, the federal government will spend $2.14 trillion more in 2022 than it does today.

Then the idea that something so tiny in a federal budget so bloated as ours will be calamitous is just silly. The spending for 2013 is estimated at $3.55 trillion — which is $3,550 billion — and $85 billion is just pocket change. In fact, since the fiscal year is already nearly half over, the damage will be less than that.

And then there's President Obama's idiotic scare tactic that teachers, first responders and other important workers will be laid off. As all informed Americans know, school teachers, fire fighters and police officers are state and local employees, not federal workers, so their jobs won't be directly affected by the sequestration, although cutbacks in programs sending money to the states might have an impact.

Over a 10-year period sequestration would reduce proposed spending increases by about 2.5 percent. In practical terms, that means instead of having $100 to spend, government would only have $97.50, a tough situation, perhaps, but certainly not a catastrophe. And given the enormous and dangerous national debt facing us, it's a sacrifice our public servants will just have to cope with.

The president would have us believe that not only was sequestration the idea of Congressional Republicans, but that he was totally against its development. Both assertions are false. According to author Bob Woodward in his recent book "The Price of Politics," the origins of sequestration rest comfortably with then-White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew (he’s the guy Mr. Obama has nominated to run the economy at the Treasury Department) assisted by then-White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors, and was approved for presentation to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by President Obama on July 27, 2011. Mr. Woodward referred to Lew and Nabors as "probably the foremost experts on budget issues in the senior ranks of the federal government," which explains a lot about why we are where we are.

This is no small point. The president has a penchant for laying the blame for his failures on the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress. He cannot run away from this one.

As for the president's strong opposition to the immensely flawed concept, here is what he said on the subject in November of 2011: “Already, some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts – domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one.”

President Obama either has one of the worst memories of anyone to inhabit the office, or simply does not like the truth.

Clearly, even though the "cuts" the Obama sequestration imposes are too small, given the scope of our fiscal crisis, it is a clumsy tool that cuts spending indiscriminately. Typical of the administration's planning, it was poorly thought out, and was designed as a mechanism to bludgeon Republicans to agreeing to even more tax increases than they agreed to last year.

Because it is a rip saw where a surgical laser is needed, sequestration can do serious damage, but it does not have to. Department heads and military service chiefs should have full discretion to apply cuts where they will do the least harm, something that should not be difficult to accomplish by people dedicated to working to sensibly reduce over-spending.

Vast areas of waste and duplication have been well documented, and total at least twice the amount of this year's cuts. And there are truckloads of failed government programs and projects – like Head Start, putting a muzzle on the Environmental Protection Agency, and doing away with SWAT teams carrying out the work of the Department of Education, the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies that have no business using that kind of force.

Of course, this solution assumes that the elected leaders of our government start doing what is good for the country instead of what benefits them politically. And now is the time for the President of the United States to stop campaigning and finally show some real leadership.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bizarre ideas on the left do nothing to straighten out the country

Harry Belafonte is an African-American entertainer best known for the 1956 Calypso hit "The Banana Boat Song"; who in more recent years has been known for his civil rights activism, left-wing activism and his admiration of Third World dictators; and who has now voiced his opinion on gun control, claiming that “white Americans” who support the 2nd Amendment's protection of gun rights are ignoring the black “river of blood that washes the streets of our nation.”

"America has the largest prison population in the world," he noted. "And of the over 2 million men, women and children who make up the incarcerated, the overwhelming majority is black. We are the most unemployed, the most caught in the unjust systems of justice, and in the gun game, we are the most hunted.”

He continued: “The river of blood that washes the streets of our nation flows mostly from the bodies of our black children. Yet, as the great debate emerges on the question of the gun, white America discusses the constitutional issue of ownership, while no one speaks of the consequences of our racial carnage.”

Columnist Walter Williams notes that, "though blacks are 13 percent of the nation’s population, they account for more than 50 percent of homicide victims. Nationally, the black homicide victimization rate is six times that of whites, and in some cities, it’s 22 times that of whites. Each year, roughly 7,000 blacks are murdered. Ninety-four percent of the time, the murderer is another black person."

Mr. Belafonte tries to hang the responsibility for black-on-black murder around the necks of white America because they want to honor the U.S. Constitution, an argument that wildly misses the mark. Black youths dying in the streets is indeed a tragedy, but it is not because white people defend the Constitution.

Mr. Belafonte is also confused about the results of the 2012 election, believing that President Obama's thin victory in the popular vote constitutes a mandate from the people to do whatever he wants. But the margin of victory was only 3.84 percent. That constitutes a win, but it’s far from a mandate. This win was just over half the margin in 2008, which means that American voters are less in love with Mr. Obama and his agenda after seeing it in action for four years.

He also does not understand the American system of government, which in his mind enables President Obama to jail those that disagree with him. “The only thing left for Barack Obama to do is to work like a Third World dictator and just put all of these [white] guys in jail. You’re violating the American desire,” he said on the Al Sharpton TV program.

Perhaps Mr. Belafonte should review the founding principles of the country that was so good to him before he fell into the irrelevance that mediocrity brings. Maybe a better idea is for him to move on from what he believes is a horrible country to one of the paradises he so admires, like Cuba or Venezuela.

Harry Belafonte's racist and communist ideas are grossly un-American and are blessedly shared by only a small minority.  Others on the left, however, are also confused about what is going on.

Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader from California, also harbors some nutty ideas. Despite consistent budget deficits exceeding a trillion dollars a year throughout Barack Obama's tenure and a $16 trillion national debt that has increased by about 50 percent over that same period, Ms. Pelosi not only says with a straight face that we don't have a spending problem, but she is miffed that the pay raise proposed for all federal employees seems destined for the trash heap.

"I think we should respect the work we do,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters. “I think it’s necessary for us to have the dignity of the job....” Just because the nation is drowning in red ink is no reason to fail to show due deference to our employees in the Congress, right?

Congressional Democrats twist themselves into knots trying to convince us that it's okay to spend 40 percent more than the revenue we collect every year. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin commented that “We are now the richest nation in the world. We have the highest per capita income of any major nation. That kind of begs the question, doesn’t it? If we’re so rich, why are we so broke? Is it a spending problem? No.”

Sen. Harkin and Congresswoman Pelosi, and a whole gaggle of others see salvation in taking even more hard-earned money from the citizens, or at least some of them. However, a new poll shows 83 percent of Americans disagree. They have had it with fiscal irresponsibility and piling debt on future generations.

Here's a lesson in good government for public servants from someone who actually understood the concept: “A wise and frugal government … shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” — Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

National Prayer Breakfast speaker attracts attention and criticism

The National Prayer Breakfast is held each year in Washington, D.C., on the first Thursday of February, and is attended by some 3,500 guests. The event is hosted by members of the United States Congress, and this year was co-chaired by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). It is organized by The Fellowship Foundation, a conservative Christian organization and is designed to be a forum for the political, social, and business elite to assemble and build relationships.

Among the speakers this year was President Barack Obama, who told the audience, “We are united in the knowledge of a redeeming savior whose grace is sufficient.” However, he said that even though America’s leaders come together in prayer over national policy and the right direction to lead the country, such talk is often forgotten after the event. “I’d go back to the Oval Office and turn on the cable news networks – and it’s like we didn’t pray!” he said.

Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, delivered the keynote message, which has drawn criticism from the left as being inappropriately political in a decidedly non-political setting.

However, Dr. Carson's comments were fundamentally about empowering the individual rather than the government, and were non-partisan and delivered respectfully. In fact, he claims political independence, being neither a Republican nor a Democrat. "If there were a party called the Logic Party, I would be a member of that," he told Fox News on Sunday.

That said, Dr. Carson is not the first to inject political messages at the Prayer Breakfast. President Obama himself did so last year, discussing public policy issues such as barring health insurance companies from rejecting people with pre-existing conditions and reducing tax breaks for the wealthy, and tying them in with popular Bible verses. “[S]o when I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street … or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren’t taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it will make the economy strong for everybody,” Mr. Obama said on Feb. 2, 2012.

Benjamin Carson's story is one that inspires us all. He grew up in poverty in urban Detroit, but his home was one built on values typical of the 1950s, raised by a single mother with only a third-grade education who worked long hours to support her family, but who understood American values of hard work and determination. He overcame dire poverty, poor grades, a horrible temper, and low self-esteem, all of which worked against his dream of becoming a physician someday. But his mother would not allow him to give up and challenged her two sons to strive for excellence and stressed the importance of education. His mother refused to become a victim, and did not accept excuses for failure.

Today Dr. Carson is a devout Christian, a full professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery, and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and he has directed pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for over a quarter of a century. His brother is an aeronautical and mechanical engineer. "I became the brain surgeon and he became the rocket scientist," he said.

He told radio host Armstrong Williams last Friday that his comments were “directed at the situation that is going on in our nation and how we can solve it. ... It’s not an attack on anybody, but it’s saying there are logical solutions for our problems and there are things that we can all get behind — be we right wing, be we left wing."

His condemned political correctness, which he described as dangerous because it interferes with freedom of thought and expression. Americans must stop fearing over-sensitive reactions when they express their thoughts and speak their minds freely, he said, but at the same time respect those with whom they disagree.

“We’ve reached a point where people are actually afraid to talk about what they want to say, because somebody might be offended,” he said, citing the example of people refraining from saying “Merry Christmas.” “We’ve got to get over this sensitivity; it keeps people from saying what they really believe.”

Comparing what is happening in America to history, he said: "I think particularly about ancient Rome. Very powerful — nobody could even challenge them militarily … they destroyed themselves from within,” he said. “Moral decay. Fiscal irresponsibility.”

And he offered suggestions for taxation and health care that require far less government involvement than current systems. Citing religious tithing, he suggested a flat tax where everyone pays the same rate, with no loopholes. And he suggested replacing the Affordable Care Act with health savings accounts opened at birth that could be passed on to surviving family members and could receive contributions other than from the owner of the plan to assist the financially disadvantaged.

These are sensible ideas, but they will not gain the support of the control freaks that run our government because they disenfranchise the special interests that Dr. Carson referred to as the fourth branch of government.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

There is great turmoil in the land as Obama’s second term begins

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) last week insisted that "we are in a recovery," and blasted Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for disparaging the economy's performance. The drop in GDP in the 4th quarter is the Republicans fault, he said, citing their austerity and brinkmanship. “Growth went down in the fourth quarter because of reduced government spending,” he said. “The economy was rejecting the austerity and brinkmanship.”

Well, if Sen. Reid is correct and the economy is recovering, things must be better than when President Barack Obama took office prior to the recession ending. Let's take a look.

On the positive side, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is bumping up against its all-time high mark of 14,164, and has regained the losses from the financial crisis.

However, since January of 2009 until just before the election last November the number of long-term unemployed had risen from 2.7 million to 4.8 million; the price of gasoline had more than doubled; there were 40 states with high unemployment compared to 22 in 2009; median household income was down 7 percent; mortgage delinquencies were up by 60 percent; the Misery Index was up 25 percent; and the National Debt had increased by 53 percent.

Today there are 1.2 million fewer jobs in America than there were then, and the number of Americans on food stamps has increased from 32 million to 46 million. The amount of money that the federal government gives directly to Americans has increased by 32 percent since 2009.

And the most recent economic news in addition to the news that for the first time since 2009 the U.S. GDP was in negative territory in the 4th quarter is that consumer confidence plunged in January to its lowest level in a year, and the unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent for January.

Is this what Sen. Reid thinks a recovery looks like?

Actually, this is what happened to the economy because Barack Obama avoided dealing with the things that really needed attention – the economy, jobs, energy independence, etc.  – and instead wasted all of his four years playing with less-critical issues like health care, killing the coal industry, sending guns to Mexican drug dealers, wasting billions on a failed economic stimulus, and flushing money down the green energy toilet.

As the president's second term begins it is remarkable to observe the high degree of outright revolt among the states and the people over government actions and proposed actions under Mr. Obama's watch, highlighted by the feeling of a majority of Americans in a new poll that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms. Fifty-three percent of 1,502 adults surveyed from January 9-13 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press responded that government is now a threat to their freedom.

Twenty-seven states are balking over the Affordable Care Act on constitutionality and budgetary grounds, and have sued the government. Provisions of the law threaten to blow states' Medicaid expenses through the roof.

Forty-three Catholic groups have sued the government on religious freedom grounds. The Affordable Care Act forces them to provide services to their employees that violate their religious tenets, in contravention of the 1st Amendment's protection of religious freedom.

And perhaps worse, as the details of what was in the bill that no one read before voting on it leak out, we are learning of taxes and increased costs. The measure requires Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the IRS tells us the cheapest plan will cost a family $20,000 a year.

“We found that about three quarters of again, whatever you want to call them — taxes, fines, penalties — about three quarters of those costs will fall on the backs of those who make less than $120,000 a year. It’s a big punch in the stomach to middle class families," economist Steven Moore of The Wall Street Journal said. This is what passes for "affordable" to Democrat leaders.

A more serious revolt against federal initiatives results from talk of imposing a ban on assault weapons. A number of county sheriffs are refusing to assist the feds on banned weapons initiatives from the administration and Congress on constitutional grounds, should a weapons ban be put into effect. Many law enforcement officials have written letters expressing their positions on proposed bans, and one county sheriff noted that not only does every sheriff takes an oath to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution, but federal agents also take that oath, and he believes they won't enforce the bans, either.

Despite the unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act that punishes those it was supposed to help, and the brewing constitutional crisis over banning weapons instead of addressing the root cause of mass killings, the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats go merrily along, trampling on whoever and whatever gets in their way.

We expect our government to be responsive to our wishes, and the unprecedented level of opposition to these two issues ought to command the attention of those in leadership positions, and cause them to re-evaluate the unpopular course they are following.