Tag Archives: deficit

Path to the Presidency: Principle Over Personality

Five debates down, ten to go. Deciding on the best candidate to match up against President Obama will continue to be a long, winding road over the next several months. It’s an exciting time, when all manner of center-right ideologies are jockeying for position.

Yet debates are inherently problematic, as the Nixon/Kennedy face-off famously proved; looking good on TV is all about style, not substance. It’s part of our civic duty to look past the personalities and one-liners, instead searching for signals of how this man or woman will set priorities, make decisions and lead our nation.

Year after year, certain issues emerge as debate fodder: stuff too complex to fully explain in two minutes, but easy to throw rhetorical bombs at if your opponent has clearly defined a position. Now I’m a simple guy, so this will only be a fly-over view of one such issue. The goal here is to distinguish between a grand vision for America, and just grandstanding.

New Candidate Tackles an Old Problem

Since joining the field of candidates in the past month, the Governor of Texas has ignited peoples’ passions—both for and against him. While the left sees another George Bush, the right finds his nuanced immigration views challenging… and some corporate connections troubling. Yet what’s undeniable about Governor Rick Perry is his penchant for putting the national debt in stark terms while other candidates are, by and large, spouting talking points.

Our nation’s $14 trillion debt is actually easy to understand. President Obama recently proposed a budget for 2012 that has one category eating up 58% of the total amount: entitlement programs, known popularly as Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

The first two I listed are the biggies, offering health care and retirement benefits to seniors who have paid into the system. Because Americans are living a lot longer than in the 1930’s when Social Security was started, the finances of that program simply do not add up today.

“We have not had the courage to stand up and look Americans in the face, young mid-career professionals or kids that are my children’s age, and say, ‘Listen, this is a broken system,'” says Perry. “It has been called a Ponzi scheme by many people long before me. We’re going to fix it so that young Americans going out into the workforce today will know without a doubt that there were some people who came along that didn’t lie to them and told them the truth.”

By the way, that 58% for entitlement programs contrasts rather starkly with the national defense spending category (19%) and foreign aid (2%). When anyone asserts we can fix the debt and avoid a fiscal crisis like Greece without dealing extensively with entitlement reform, ask to see the numbers. Because they don’t exist.

It’s true that seniors are a powerful voting bloc and it scares some of them to hear we must reform these programs. But we can do it and still ensure a strong safety net for those who need the vital support these programs offer. For a real plan with real numbers behind it, check out SavingTheDream.org

Perry v. Romney

Lately Perry has clashed with Governor Mitt Romney. Admittedly the former Governor of Massachusetts has strengths as a candidate, notably his private and public sector management experience.

On this issue he tries to use Perry’s boldness against him. “The term ‘Ponzi scheme’ I think is over the top, unnecessary and frightful to many people,” Romney says. He then proceeds to insinuate that Perry’s reform proposals for these programs will hurt seniors.

Truth is, it will take strong words and even stronger political courage to make real changes to the drivers of our national debt. Which makes this an ideal way to determine if a candidate is a pathfinder on the biggest factor weighing down our economy, or if one is just posturing.

Cross-posted on ORU Oracle

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How 9/11 Changed Our World Forever

I was late. In only my third week as a freshman at ORU, here I was in a mad rush from my dorm room on Michael 12 to make it to American History. A strange sight in the fishbowl commons area slowed my speed-walking: a dozen students gathered around the big-screen TV watching images of a burning New York skyscraper.

My frame of reference led me to one thought: Why is everyone watching Armageddon so early in the morning? Arriving at class, I learned the images on TV were real. Classes were called off, the Chapel hosted an intense prayer and worship service a few hours later… and by day’s end, that American history textbook we discussed on September 11, 2001 was outdated.

Be Alert, not Afraid

A homemaker I met recently introduced me to her “9/11 TV” as she called it. “Oh, after 9/11 happened, I realized I knew almost nothing about what was happening in the world. So I installed a large TV in my bathroom – my 9/11 TV – and watch the news every morning as I put on my face.”

She reflects a much larger trend: we’ve become more aware of how complex and interconnected our world is. In the process, we’ve become more fearful at times. 24/7 media is complicit; thanks to much larger potential audiences following 9/11, cable news networks ratchet up the drama—with Red Alerts often interrupted by sirens-blazing Breaking News.

In the wake of 9/11, the clips on repeat were indeed scary. These terrorists could legitimately be feared. Their methods flipped Washington’s accepted security doctrines on their head: a group not acting officially under a state government launched a suicide mission that killed three thousand Americans. Even with overwhelming military might, that’s a difficult threat to overcome.

Discretion and Debate

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,” states Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. While it provides Congress an important role in approving all funds spent in military action, our nation’s guiding charter gives the President discretion in waging war to ensure our nation’s safety.

How President George W. Bush and his administration exercised this discretion following that fateful day remains a topic of intense debate. Launching an aggressive attack against Afghanistan, where the terrorists were trained and organized, as well as later Iraq, continues to involve trillions in U.S. taxpayer dollars, overwhelming amounts of data gathered by intelligence agents, millions of foreign nationals affected overseas, and the personal sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of military families.

Then there’s the results. Reasonable evidence exists on both sides; some friends of mine point to how average wages in Iraq have actually decreased since before the conflict, while others emphasize Iraq and Afghanistan’s unprecendented free elections and human rights improvements. “Unmitigated disaster” or “The liberation of oppressed peoples”: the truth likely lies somewhere between these two extremes.

What’s indisputable is the Bush administration’s good sense to reorganize our intelligence programs to stop another large-scale strike from happening. This effort has been a great success. Over 40 attempted terrorist attacks have been thwarted since 9/11. Opening secure channels between CIA, FBI, NSA, OSD and other acronym agencies surely involved a lot of boring internal politics. Yet it’s exactly what was needed to save lives.

United We Stand… Divided We Fall

Of the movies and TV specials produced to date, United 93 gets closest to the heart of 9/11. Telling one story well, it becomes a microcosm of our national decade-long struggle.

Confusion reigns as stewardess and control tower alike have no idea what’s happening. Then shock when we realize what is happening. Followed by impatience when we hatch our own plan but cannot take action right away.

Ultimately, the pivotal moment comes when Todd Beamer rallies other passengers to storm the cockpit and stop United Flight 93 from reaching the U.S. Capitol. Race, income, religious background, occupation: none of this mattered. Pulling together is how these everyday heroes stopped the madness.

America learned from their courage. According to The Economist reporting on a string of recent in-air incidents, “After 9/11, the vast majority of airline passengers are now inclined to resist any attempts to hijack a plane.”

Their example carries through to the larger struggle. Those serving in the US Armed Forces have learned and sacrificed most in this fight. (Full disclosure: my brother Tim, also a former ORU student, is currently deployed to Afghanistan.) Early on in the war, Defense and State Departments alike faced a steep learning curve. Where do we engage this unknown enemy? How do we ensure safety and sanity of people on both sides? And when the fighting stops, how do we spark a national culture shift?

Maybe answers are not so far from our grasp. Imagine a future business graduate in dialogue with social workers, crafting a plan for all to benefit from oil discoveries. Engineering and psych experts have safety and sanity questions to tackle. Teaching children drama and music opens up new directions in their culture. Yes, we even need philosophy majors: Just War Theory may once again be at the forefront of discussion.

This strategy of synergy—pardon the marketing buzzwords—isn’t fantasy. A friend of mine here in DC, who happens to have a theology degree, embeds Old Testament history in his briefing reports to top-ranking officers at the Pentagon. (Like all theologians, he says his greatest struggle is keeping his insights to the standard one page.) Thank God he didn’t dismiss it as a useless degree.

Everyone was late in grasping the enormity of 9/11. How we think and interact must continue to change. Rather than fear and lethargy getting the better of us, let’s roll.

Originally published in The Oracle, Sept. 9 2011 edition

Seven Questions with Bob Moffit, Co-Author of Why Obamacare Is Wrong for America

Released this past Tuesday, the important new book Why Obamacare Is Wrong for America has gotten noticed by Fox News, NPR, Town Hall, National Review, and readers nationwide, who keep it climbing up the Amazon bestseller charts. The Foundry interviewed Heritage’s Bob Moffit—one of the four co-authors—who reveals how the book came together and why it matters.

Josh Shepherd: Other laws passed in the last two years also have their critics. Why devote a whole book to just this one new law?

Bob Moffit: Because the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as “Obamacare”) is historically unique. Never before has Congress enacted a comprehensive overhaul of one-sixth of the American economy, affecting all 300 million Americans, in one giant bill over 2,700 pages in length. Never before has Congress enacted major social legislation on a narrowly partisan basis in the teeth of popular opposition. Never before have 28 regionally diverse states united in challenging Washington in the federal courts. Health policy dominated the last election; it will play a major role in the next election. And the outcome of this national debate will shape the life of every person reading these lines.

JS: When did you, Grace-Marie Turner, and the other co-authors first discuss writing a book together about Obamacare?

Moffit: Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, called me during the summer of 2010. After the mass protests and the demonstrations and the backlash from the previous summer’s town hall meetings fresh in their minds, congressional leaders were clearly on the defensive over what they had done in March. Turner pointed out to me that ordinary people, from all walks of life, were desperate to learn as much as they could about what was in the law and how it would affect them, and we needed to make the law accessible to them in plain English, devoid of the jargon that routinely accompanies health policy discussions. She also suggested asking Tom Miller of the American Enterprise Institute and James Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. I agreed that they would be terrific collaborators on a project like this.

JS: Tell us about the writing process. How did you all collaborate and still ensure that the book has one voice?

Moffit: We all shared the same basic approach to the subject, and, despite some differences over the significance of items in the law, we all shared the same approach to health policy. We all agreed to write each chapter in the second person. The target of every thought, every sentence, every paragraph was to be: you. This was to make the narrative appealing to the reader and encourage clarity and simplicity in the language. We agreed among ourselves to write chapters on different areas of the law and its impact on different classes of Americans. The writing started over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and continued non-stop until mid-February. Beyond the assigned chapters, we would each review all the draft chapters. Grace-Marie Turner was the project leader. Not only was she the lead writer, but she and her team at the Galen Institute edited and integrated the authors’ different styles into a seamless book. Our editor, Adam Bellow at HarperCollins/Broadside Books in New York City, really helped shape the book and organize the approach that we took in the book. The authors also had sessions where we would meet in person and go over the chapters, sometimes line by line, making corrections and offering suggestions. All the while, the team at the Galen Institute were proofreading, fact-checking, and working to get the book completed on a very tight deadline.

JS: What strengths does each co-author bring to the table?

Moffit: One of the great advantages of our collaboration is that we have known each other for years, and we were familiar with each other’s work in the media and professional journals. But health care is the domestic policy equivalent of China. While I brought to the table a strong background in Medicare based on my duties at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Reagan Administration, Turner had focused heavily on health insurance, the impact on vulnerable Americans, and federal tax policy governing health insurance. Capretta, a former top official at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget during the Bush Administration, was a nationally recognized expert on health-related tax and budgetary issues. And Miller, a lawyer by training, had closely followed the legal controversies, including the court cases and the regulatory issues flowing from the enactment of the law as well as on the impact of business. All of us worked together on the overview of the law and on what we should do instead.

JS: The book gives the facts in clear language, yet there’s a lot to get through. Why should busy American families care about a complex law passed in far-away Washington?

Moffit: This law guarantees that Washington is not far away at all but deeply involved in your personal life. The law will dictate what kind of health plan you have, what medical benefits and treatments you will have, what you will pay in new taxes, what it will mean for your employer and your compensation, and what it will mean for your doctor in his medical practice. Moreover, many decisions that will affect you and your family will be made not by Members of Congress but by bureaucrats you will never know and never meet.

JS: Since last year, Americans have consistently told pollsters that repealing this law is the best route. But could Obamacare be fixed?

Moffit: Repeal is the only answer. You cannot rebuild a health care system based on personal freedom and market competition on bureaucracy and central planning. The poisonous tree yields bad fruit.

JS: What should we do instead to get health care reform right?

Moffit: We have a chapter in our book about what we should do instead, moving to a system that puts consumers in charge of choices, provides new incentives for a properly-functioning market, and fixes policy flaws at the root of many of the problems in our health sector. Just this week, Nina Owcharenko, director of Heritage’s Center for Health Policy Studies, has recently outlined the roadmap for reform in “Restarting Health Care Reform: A New Agenda.” There are a large number of specific policy changes that need to be made. Broadly speaking, if you want to fix the health care system, you need to make tax policy fair and rational, give individual tax relief to persons to buy the private coverage of their choice, promote competition in the health insurance markets (including the right to buy health coverage anywhere in the country), fix the broken entitlements (Medicare and Medicaid) and introduce market forces into those programs to control cost and secure higher quality of care, and encourage state innovation—including health insurance market reform and medical malpractice reform.

Learn more about Why Obamacare Is Wrong for America (a publication of HarperCollins/Broadside Books) at WrongForAmericaBook.com; you can get your copy today at Amazon.com or in bookstores nationwide.

Cross-posted at The Foundry

President Obama’s Agenda: Two Things I Support

From all indications, President Obama has not been doing a great job endearing himself to conservatives.

Call it reactive, call it partisan, call it whatever (if you’re talking about Cheney’s comments to Politico, you would be correct on both counts – what happened to respecting opponents, Mr. Vice President?)

In the midst of a sea of decisions I disagree with—notably the massive bailout that adds another trillion to our country’s national debt—two recent moves by the Obama Administration give me a small glimmer of hope. Or, at least, convince me to disbelieve the hyperbole on talk radio.

1) Priorities announced for the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

As the White House press release clearly states, a primary aim of this revamped office will be to “reduce the need for abortion.”

I understand from a person closer to the situation that this office’s priorities really boil down to a) reducing the number of abortions in America and b) supporting a broad-based fatherhood initiative. All I can say is: Bravo, amazing goals.

Now this may be empty rhetoric compared to the reinstatement of funding for overseas abortions, as the entire pro-life cause has been up in arms about. And rightfully so. I just wanted to point out a positive…

2) In the midst of a press corps on-his-side, a conservative stance still gets a mention.

Now it didn’t take a right-wing sleuth to tell that this scripted press conference wasn’t going to reveal much. “Next question, NBC… uh, NPR… Huffington Post…” Even Fox News wasted their question on something about Biden. Clowns all around.

Worth watching? Sure, everyone likes a good show:

Back to my point… it’s a rare Democrat who—in the midst of such a supportive crowd—would go out of his way to mention a somewhat hot-button issue for liberals: charter schools. Supporting school choice is a conservative position, empowering parents and local school boards to decide how education dollars are spent.

That one offhand remark in the dog-and-pony show (“…we should experiment with things like charter schools that are innovating in the classroom…”) surprised me. And his Education agenda online backs this up.

There you have it, two recent observations. I better keep quiet for awhile, don’t want to spoil the forthcoming analysis of The President’s First 100 Days.

Your thoughts?

Breakdown of Legitimacy: How the Disastrous Bailout Passed

I do not profess to know much on economics, especially not an economy as complex as our nation’s. But I do have a brain, along with a few years in business school. And for the past two weeks since this “financial crisis” has been looming, I’ve devoted many hours to researching this plan. Neither the mainstream nor conservative media has been much help.

Americans must realize what role the 24/7 news cycle has played in this debacle. For the past year or so, the words “credit”, “housing” and “financial” could not be said on-air without being followed by the word “crisis.”

Is that really an accurate way to view the world? Or have all these sectors gone up-and-down over the past many decades? Does the market inevitably have cycles?

We live in a world where TV commentators report on a story one day, then in the “follow-up” tomorrow want the issue solved. It’s more entertaining that way, and today the news industry plays the ratings race perhaps more so than dramatic TV.

TV is not alone in thinking only short-term, ultimately trying to build public support for this big-government solution. Here’s my recent letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Examining the role of media in the recent $700 billion bailout provides a missing understanding of how the events transpired. Though I have long been an avid reader of The Wall Street Journal, it is apparent that this “big tent” of conservative thought has excluded other viewpoints on this risky, highly controversial handout to Wall Street.

On any issue of the day–regarding education, government regulation, corporate policies, technology, health care, military, climate change, gun rights, and many others–I have counted on WSJ for robust debate and a discovery of facts that other media missed. So it was that I visited WSJ.com’s Wall Street in Crisis section trying to understand the pros and cons of the bailout.

Story after story, blog after blog, op-ed after op-ed in this section preached only the benefits and urgency of the bailout. This perspective even seeped into front page news stories. On Monday, September 29, as more Americans than ever were reading The Wall Street Journal trying to understand what was going on, the paper referred to Lehman Brothers as a “158 year-old” financial institution whose collapse meant certain “crisis.”

“Wow, Honey, maybe this financial stuff really is serious if a bank that old is going down?” The problem is, this article said nothing about Lehman Bros. being essentially a shingle for American Express, which spun off this unit in 1994. It said nothing about the 2003 investigation into the company’s shady investment practices.

We were just supposed to think that Lehman was as legitimate a bank as say Wells Fargo, backed with solid collateral but now going under. This was simply not true. Clearly The Wall Street Journal had a dog in this fight, and the editors made sure it ended up winning.

Not only has the financial sector suffered a breakdown of legitimacy in the past weeks–so has the media, even conservative-leaning media previously thought to be trustworthy. Media junkies beware: no news outlet is, in fact, “fair and balanced.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The last reference is, of course, to Fox News. It’s notable that Bill O’Reilly bought the Treasury’s arguments early on, and espoused those views for the two-week public debate on the bailout.

From what I could tell, O’Reilly’s stand with President Bush convinced Sean Hannity and others to back down on their hard line against the bailout. Interesting audio clip from Bill here:

Bill O\’Reilly audio clip from The Laura Ingraham Show

So where do we go from here?

For starters, don’t buy the pointless commentary espoused on TV: “We’re concerned about what the market’s going to do tomorrow.” The markets will go up and down. It would’ve gone down if the bailout failed, and that’s natural. We’re likely looking at a worse crash in 2009 due to this bailout; watch Cato.org for the best analysis I’ve seen.

Second, it pains me that President Bush’s legacy is The Republican who Stood for Big Government. Even apart from defense spending, you cannot deny that Bush has bloated the government beyond what any true conservative would ever stand for. He may be the strongest Christian evangelical the White House has seen in a long time, but that’s no excuse for his poor economic policies.

It should be noted, though, that the state of the economy isn’t all Bush’s fault–that’s a really dumb view propagated by the far left. A lot of people are at fault.

Third, the election. I’ve noticed an editorial tilt even in the Wall Street Journal that hopes for an Obama administration. Opinion columns are showing both views, sure, but regular coverage is giving more space to pro-Obama voices. Despite the fact that WSJ has traditionally been against big government, which is exactly what Obama/Biden mandate.

Maybe The Wall Street Journal, clearly in the tank for corporate fat cats, is scared that McCain/Palin would deliver on their promise to affect the financial sector in favor of the American people (to the extent that the Executive branch can, which may be negligible). And WSJ wants nothing of it. This is just my view, though, and less fact-based the rest of the commentary presented here.

Your thoughts?

Hatchet vs. Scalpel (Recap of the First 2008 Presidential Debate)

Watch the full video now:

“Build the defense with wisdom and efficiency. We must achieve both security and solvency. In fact, the foundation of military strength is economic strength. A bankrupt America is more the Soviet goal than an America conquered on the field of battle.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

With this quote, the First Presidential Debate between Senators McCain and Obama began. By all appearances there was no clear winner: both stumbled at times, both got the crowd to laugh, neither seemed too bloviating or bold.

If anyone was strange, it was host Jim Lehrer who kept egging the candidates on: “Say that directly to your opponent, Senator… look into his eyes.” Creepy.

Essentially it came down to the two issues Eisenhower raised: the economy and defense.

The economy. This lead-off discussion revealed only a few differences in the two candidates, but they are major. Both expressed support for the bailout, somewhat surprising. Senator Obama said that “$700 billion is potentially a lot of money.” Yeah, potentially it is.

McCain then let loose with his views on earmarks, aka pork or wasteful government spending. He’s been called the Sheriff of the Senate, with little support in fighting “the biggest budget increases since the Great Society” (under Democrat President LBJ, 1964).

Citizens Against Government Waste catalogs the crazy spending happening currently in Congress, I encourage you to read their reports and sign up for CAGW e-mails. You should know where your money is going.

When McCain mentioned the possibility of a federal spending freeze, excepting a few categories, Obama had had enough. “You’re using a hatchet when you need a scalpel.”

Wait… the federal budget is slated to be $1 TRILLION OVER BUDGET; keep in mind that budget itself is $3.2 TRILLION. I don’t think a scalpel–used for arts, crafts and dentistry–is going to do the trick on this budget. It needs a hatchet.

Though pressed for what he would cut, Obama only brought up that he plans to bring government-funded broadband internet to rural areas. Nice use of the “scalpel” there.

Fact check: Obama said that “effectively, the U.S. has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the world.”

False. The accounting firm KPMG analyzed global tax rates in 106 countries, finding that the U.S. is ranked one of the highest — with 40% of corporate funds going towards taxes.

Fact check: McCain said the United States is the largest exporter in the world.

False. Germany is, according to The World Factbook. The U.S. is ranked third.

Defense. To say this was heated is a gross understatement. Both sides scored points along the way, with Obama’s mention of the $600 billion spent in Iraq raising eyebrows while McCain’s stand behind General Petraeus’ strategy showed his military understanding.

Side note: it was around this point that Obama stopped referring to McCain as “John” and began calling him “Senator McCain.” McCain got off a couple zingers here, including “It’s hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left” and “I don’t even have a seal yet” (a reference to Obama’s presidential seal which many find presumptive.)

Fact check: “Admiral Mullen suggests that Senator Obama’s plan is dangerous,” said McCain. “That’s not the case,” Obama interjected.

McCain is correct. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, actually called Obama’s plan “very dangerous” when appearing on Fox News Sunday.

Despite the negativity surrounding Iraq, it was crystal clear that McCain has a much better grasp on foreign affairs. He talked through his 20 years of experience. He knew the current troop counts in Afghanistan from memory. And McCain forced Obama to frequently resort to “Me too” responses on several major policy questions.

Favorite quote, following McCain’s story of a young hero he remembers by wearing the soldier’s bracelet:

“Let me just make a point: I have a bracelet too.”

– Senator Obama, then glances at his wrist to remember the name