Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What useful purpose does the State of the Union address really serve?

Every January after the new Congressional session has begun, we are treated, or subjected, to a formal statement by the President of the United States in the State of the Union address (SOTU).

It is the only time when all three branches of government gather in a common place, in the House of Representatives chamber, where senators, representatives, Supreme Court justices and cabinet secretaries jointly participate in an event.

Each year, one cabinet secretary is appointed to be at a physically distant, secure, and undisclosed location during the SOTU so that if there was an attack on the Capital during the address killing the president and many of the top officials, someone in the line of succession to the president would survive.

The reason there is a SOTU address is constitutional. Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, states that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” in an “Annual Message.”

According to, through the years the presidential address has gone through a series of changes, both in name and in content. For the first century and a half it was called the “Annual Message,” but in 1947 it became known officially as the State of the Union message/address. Notably, from Thomas Jefferson’s presidency up to Woodrow Wilson’s, the state of the union was a written communication.

In prior incarnations the event “included agency budget requests and general reports on the health of the economy. During the 20th century, Congress required more-specialized reports on these two aspects, separate from the Annual Message.”

Other changes occurred, and with the advent of radio, which first broadcast the SOTU in 1923, then television, which first televised the address in 1965, tells us that these technologies helped “the State of the Union [evolve] into a forum for the President to speak directly to the American people.”

The new technologies allowed the SOTU to be transformed from a vehicle to inform the Congress of the condition of the nation into something very different. What we have today is a grand spectacle staged for the primary benefit of the person who is the President of the United States and the political party to which he belongs. A theatrical coup of proportions only dreamed of by PR folks that is covered on radio, television and the Internet, the State of the Union Show has devolved into a grandiose occasion for advancing the president’s political ideas; essentially a highly over-promoted campaign speech.

In this forum the president can say whatever he or (someday) she wants to without opposition. There’s no truth-detector, as former President Bill Clinton once complained about talk radio.

After the speech is over, we are treated to the predictable fawning by the president’s fans and carping by his political opponents for days, accompanied by pro and con analysis from pundits, dutifully covered by the national media, ad nauseam.

Now, it is true that since 1966 the opposition party has been given the opportunity to respond, but that is for only several minutes to counter the president’s hour-long speech. This year, the opposition response lasted less than 10 minutes. But if the SOTU message really were a non-political assessment of the state of the union, there would be no need for an opposition response.

The fact that there has been an opposition response for nearly 50 years further underscores the heavily political nature of the address, and the pointlessness of it as a vehicle that imparts important information. It is now merely a political event glorifying the sitting president, who in this setting more resembles a monarch than an elected public servant.

The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano, writing for The Daily Signal, commented on the content of this year’s SOTU address, and defended the event as a still useful feature of our country’s government. “The State of the Union address shows not just Americans, but the entire world, that America is still an exceptional nation—one that believes in the rule ‘by the people for the people.’”

That is one perspective. A different perspective is that the many hours, security costs and other assets that are utilized to stage this once-important event would be better spent on some productive endeavor.

It is impossible to completely remove political components and policy disagreements from the SOTU, as at least some of what a president says will necessarily have political implications and will not be agreeable to the opposition party. However, there seems lately to have been little if any effort to provide a politically neutral analysis of the national status, but instead the presidents have focused on scoring political points against an effectively disarmed opponent.

Since the usefulness of the SOTU in the functioning of our government has been reduced to nearly nothing, should it be done away with? Perhaps it can again become relevant and useful if we return to having the president communicate to Congress through a written message. Or at the very least, stop broadcasting it, and restore decorum to the event.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More free stuff! Free community college tuition for everyone!

Earlier this month President Barack Obama issued the latest in his series of bad ideas: free community college for all. "No one with drive and discipline should be denied a college education simply because they can't pay for it," Mr. Obama said. "A college degree is the surest ticket to the middle class." While that assertion may or may not be true anymore, many people may be wondering what’s wrong with the free tuition idea.

First, we have to ask if he is really serious? Or, knowing that this idea has little chance of being approved, is he setting the stage for an issue in the 2016 campaign? But, assuming he is serious, here’s some of what is wrong with this idea.

If every state participated, the White House suggests that Mr. Obama’s proposal could help 9 million students and would save full-time enrollees an average of $3,800 a year. However, using the average cost, state and federal governments would have to pick up the tab of $34.2 billion each year. And, of course, these governments will get this money from … guess who: We, the taxpayers. Nothing is free.

Never having had to pay his own way, perhaps Mr. Obama is unaware that students with “drive and discipline” have in the past managed to pay their own way to a community college, a trade school, or to a four-year institution, through part-time or full-time jobs and/or work-study programs. That is a good process that over time has gotten millions of people through school and given them valuable work experience at the same time.

Giving things away is a slippery slope. An article in the Los Angeles Times has already suggested going farther. Michael Hiltzik writes, But the proposal fails to address one glaring flaw in the nation’s overall system of public higher education: It should all be free.” Really? Why? Will this give-away mentality never end? And, furthermore, what exactly gives the president the authority to take care of kids’ college costs?

And, making significant things too easy deprives people of the ability to control their own lives. How will they ever be able to actually think about their life, develop goals, and work to achieve them? How will they become self-sufficient, and make their way in the world? The ease with which one obtains desired things is directly and inversely correlated with the appreciation one has for that which is obtained.

We can see this concept in action in federal support programs for children and unemployed adults, how dependency becomes a way of life.

Paying unwed mothers generous levels of support for themselves and their children has produced single-parent families where the mother is incentivized to have more children, not because she really wants more children, but because having more kids means getting a bigger support check.

People who have lost their job in the ultra-weak Obama recovery not infrequently turn down a new job because they can collect more in extended unemployment support than they can make at the new job. This is a significant influence in pushing the workforce participation rate to its lowest point in decades. “I can make more on unemployment than I can working one of the jobs that are available, so I’ll just drop out, and stop looking for work,” is how tens of thousands look at the situation.

This is not some unsupported theory. In March of 2013 The Huffington Post reported that the “number of days a job vacancy sits unfulfilled has gone up since the depths of the Great Recession in 2009. It currently takes an average of 23 business days for an employer to fill a job opening, compared to 15 days in 2009, according to an analysis of Labor Department data from economists at the University of Chicago and University of Maryland that was cited by The New York Times.”

In November of 2014, a study conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) reported that in the U.S. “33% of job vacancies remain open for three months or more. The cost of these unfilled jobs reaches $160 billion each year, a significant cost to the nation as a whole, businesses and individuals.”

Just as providing too much comfort through support for families and the unemployed has produced negative economic and social outcomes, so will giving away tuition to community colleges.

The truth is that Barack Obama and the others who share his poisonous ideals don’t want people to think for themselves or to be self-sufficient. Big government liberals want widespread dependency. They decry and oppose free market features and self-sufficiency at every turn, not because it is better for Americans or for the country at large, but because it suits their narrow, selfish ambitions.

Remember, back in late October of 2008, candidate Barack Obama told us he wanted to fundamentally transform the United States of America.

When those who think government is the answer to all problems, great and small, significantly outnumber those who prefer individual liberty and self-reliance, the country will have taken a step from which it will not be able to retreat. We are very near to that point.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Paris attacks again call attention to the problem of radical Islam

Because they ridiculed the Islamic prophet, 12 employees of the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo were killed in an organized military-style attack on its office in Paris by three terrorists with military weapons. In another event, a gunman entered a kosher grocery in the city and took several people hostage. In all, 17 innocent persons were murdered in the violence.

The AP reported the following item on January 9 that was not widely published: “Hundreds of bodies – too many to count – remain strewn in the bush in Nigeria from an Islamic extremist attack that Amnesty International suggested Friday is the ‘deadliest massacre’ in the history of Boko Haram.” One official said most of the victims were children, women and the elderly, who were unable to run fast enough to escape the savage attack.

The U.S. is quite familiar with Islamic terrorism, but over the years since September 11, 2001 the level of violence of subsequent episodes of has blessedly not been on the same large scale as the 9-11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 innocents. Which is not to say it has been a level that we can, or will, accept.

Radical Islamic terrorism is a subject many prefer not to address. To some, it is like whistling past the graveyard; if we ignore it, maybe it will go away. Still others refuse to confront it for the reality that it is. But Islamic terrorism is a growing problem in our world, perhaps the most serious thing we have to face. Certainly, it is an urgent problem.

Muslim terrorists finally have done something that produced a substantial response. A huge group gathered in Paris to commemorate the victims of last week’s terrorist activity at the hands of Islamic radicals and to show solidarity against terrorism. Reports put the total number of participants between 1.5 million and 3 million. Among those attending were 40 world leaders, among whom were French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italy's Matteo Renzi, Mariano Rajoy of Spain, Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey, and Jordan's King Abdullah II and Queen Rania. Notably, both Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were there.

Conspicuously absent was the leader of the free world, President Barack Obama. Instead of joining the other world leaders who were able to make the trip, Mr. Obama stayed home. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris, not for the march, but was meeting with Bernard Cazeneuve, the French Minister of the Interior. U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley did participate in the march. Where were senior cabinet members, like Secretary of State John Kerry, the most senior cabinet officer?

Mr. Obama did find the time to visit the French Embassy in Washington, sign a book of condolences, and speak with diplomats last Thursday, and at a Friday appearance in Knoxville, TN he expressed solidarity with the people of France, and offered assistance.

This behavior is in keeping with Mr. Obama’s proclivity for avoiding any connection to the term “Islamic terrorism,” in either word or deed. While nearly everyone else notes that the terrorists are “radical” Muslims, and that the radical element is only a fraction of the more than 1 billion Muslims wordwide, Mr. Obama refuses to connect these terrorist acts to Islam at all, saying that Islam does not allow such brutality.

It cannot be ignored, however, that those who carry out these savage, cowardly attacks believe themselves to be Muslims, and frequently shout “Allahu Akbar” (God [Allah] is the Greatest) when murdering innocent people, and the terrorists attacking Charlie Hebdo added, “We have avenged the prophet.”

Whatever the basis of Mr. Obama’s reluctance to adequately identify these acts as those of radical Muslims – he called the killing of 13 U.S. military personnel at Ft Hood by a Muslim psychiatrist praising Allah “workplace violence” – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, himself a Muslim, has no such reluctance.

As reported by CNN, President el-Sisi has called for a "religious revolution," asking Muslim leaders to help in the fight against extremism when addressing the group during the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muammad. "I say and repeat, again, that we are in need of a religious revolution. You imams are responsible before Allah. The entire world is waiting on you. The entire world is waiting for your word ... because the Islamic world is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost. And it is being lost by our own hands," he said.

If Islam is a religion of peace, if Islam does not endorse the sort of barbarism demonstrated in these and other terrorist attacks perpetrated by people claiming to be Muslims, then Islam has to take the lead in putting an end to it.

The United States must insure that Muslims are treated like everyone else in the U.S., and not give them special treatment, good or bad. We have to take a much more proactive role in wiping this scourge from the face of the Earth by rooting out the terror cells in America and focusing on the hotbeds of Islamist extremism around the world.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The new Congress needs to focus on a few really important issues

Last November’s electoral tide gave Republicans control of both houses of the 114th Congress, which officially began January 3rd.

In the House of Representatives, the GOP increased its majority to nearly 57 percent, holding 247 seats to the Democrat’s 188, and captured the majority in the Senate from the Democrats, and now holds a 54 to 44 edge, with Independents holding the other two seats.

During the 113th Congress President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats called for Republicans to cooperate with them to pass legislation, calling Republicans “the Party of No” because they did not support Democrat legislation, as if the GOP’s job is to do what they want. Republicans didn’t just sit on their hands, however.

What you didn’t hear was much if anything at all about the hundreds of bills that were passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the great majority of which had bi-partisan support, and were forwarded to the Senate where they died of neglect on the desk of Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who refused to bring them before the Senate. Following the reasoning of Congressional Democrats, Sen. Reid therefore must be “the Majority Leader of No.”

Some believe Sen. Reid was preserving the ink in President Obama’s much-advertised veto pen, keeping the bills from passing so the president wouldn’t have to use his pen to veto them.

The notion that opposing parties should cooperate runs counter to the ideals of the Founders, who in the Declaration of Independence stated that the people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The government resulting from their efforts was designed to secure those rights, not to unnecessarily limit them by producing mountains of paper each year that tell the people all of the thousands of things they cannot do.

The Federal Register for 2013 contained 80,000 pages of rules and regulations created by the Democrat administration, and it is disturbingly true that nobody truly knows how many thousands of federal laws exist.

In a country with limited government like the United States, it naturally follows that generally the less the Congress and administrative agencies do in passing laws and generating rules, the better. Looking at the economy-crippling, job-killing, price-raising policies and rules of the EPA, and the gross malfeasance of the IRS, it is clear that limited government has been a forgotten priority in Washington for quite a while.

While most Democrats and too many Republicans encourage more cooperation to pass even more laws, The Hill lamented that “only about 280 bills will have become law in the last two years,” that the 113th Congress sent the fewest bills to a president in 20 years, which is why some call it a “do-nothing Congress.”

In our system, political parties hold a set of ideas about government. Members of the parties advance their ideas in the effort to win election to Congress. Last election America chose Republican ideas overwhelmingly.

Republicans will now put their ideas up against the ideas of Democrats, and those ideas able to attract enough support in both houses of Congress will become law, unless the president exercises his veto power and Congress cannot override it.

There is no compelling reason why Republicans should support the ideas of Democrats, short of there being actual agreement on the value of those ideas.

The Founders understood that in a country based upon liberty it should not be too easy to pass laws, particularly ones that would injudiciously limit that liberty, so they deliberately created a difficult legislative process to prevent tyranny by the majority.

Unfortunately, the majority party sometimes outsmarts the Founders, as the Democrats did in 2010 when they jammed the Affordable Care Act through Congress and down the throats of the people. That 2,700-page bill had no Republican input and got no Republican votes, and nobody actually knew what was in it when they voted on it. Certainly, this was not the proudest moment for lawmaking in American history. And it probably epitomizes why the Founders preferred gridlock to easy law-making.

Therefore, it is not important that Republicans work to support the president’s ideas, it is important that they and the Democrats work in the best interest of all the American people. If those ideas happen to line up with Mr. Obama’s initiatives, so much the better.

Legislators legislate and regulators regulate, but in America the success of those activities is measured not in the number of laws that are passed or rules that are created, but in the benefits that those activities produce for the people who employ the legislators and regulators.

In recent decades our government has failed that test.

There is much work to be done. For starters, the national debt is dangerously high and we spend way too much each year on a government that is far too big and far too powerful. The security of the southern border is a joke, and the immigration system and tax code both need overhauling,

Those problems are more than enough to keep Congress busy for more than two years. Let’s insist that Congress focuses on these issues.