Michael Barone - Free stuff can turn out to be a bad buy

Free college! That's what the Democratic candidates were offering in their presidential debate. And it's likely that, if the subject had come up, they would have offered something like free home mortgages as well, to judge from Hillary Clinton's statement that she had urged Wall Street to stop mortgage foreclosures. Sounds a lot like free houses!

Free stuff sounds good to many people, and it's not just Democrats who promise it. Republican candidates have been talking about reducing college costs, too, and George W. Bush was as passionate a supporter as Bill Clinton of encouraging home ownership for blacks and Hispanics.

Such policies are not necessarily examples of political demagoguery, though some are. They are based on observations of undisputed facts. College graduates over the years tend to make more money than non-graduates. Homeowners over the years tend to accumulate wealth and to build communities more than renters.

From these observations policymakers have drawn the following conclusion. If we just get more people — especially minorities — into college, they will make more money. If we just get more people — especially minorities — to become homebuyers, they will accumulate more wealth. And what easier way to do that than to make these things free, or close to that?

This argument has special appeal to those oldsters born in the 1940s — Bernie Sanders, Bill and Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Donald Trump. Back then most Americans did not own homes, and only a small minority graduated from college.

These politicians saw how public policies such as the FHA and VA home loans and the GI Bill of Rights, together with unexpected postwar prosperity, changed that. By 1960 more than 60 percent of Americans were homeowners. By the 1970s most high school graduates were going on to some form of higher education. If old public policies could increase college attendance and homeownership, shouldn't new public policies be able to increase them still more?

Over the last quarter-century we have had such policies, with some unhappy results. By 2007, 69 percent of American adults were homeowners. In 2009, 70 percent of young Americans went on to some form of higher education. But those numbers have slipped down since.

Government grants and subsidized loans have enabled many people to afford higher ed. But they haven't guaranteed that recipients graduate or that graduates find satisfactorily remunerative work. The availability of government subsidy has prompted colleges and universities to raise tuitions far more rapidly than inflation, with much of the proceeds going into administrative bloat. That has left many borrowers with enormous debts that they cannot shed in bankruptcy.
Government policies, aided and abetted by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, promoted low- or no-down-payment mortgages for buyers, especially Hispanics and blacks, previously considered not credit-worthy. Policymakers, lenders and buyers all assumed that housing prices would always rise so that homeowners could always refinance any money problems away.

Oops. Housing prices fell sharply starting in 2006, and financial firms ended up with mortgage-backed securities that regulators classified as safe but for which they suddenly could find no buyers — and the economy crashed. Mortgage foreclosures soared, and by my estimate about one-third of those foreclosed on were Hispanics in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida, whose recent low- or no-down-payment mortgages left them deep underwater when prices plummeted.

In response, many politicians, mainly Democrats, are calling for iatrogenic policies: more of the medicine that caused the malady. Free college (actually, just free tuition) falls in this category, giving colleges and universities a more direct pipeline to government funds but not guaranteeing better results for students. Junior college is already largely free, but most enrollees don't graduate.

And the Obama administration is seeking to reinstate Clinton and Bush administration policies providing low- and no-down-payment mortgages to blacks and Hispanics who do not meet traditional credit standards. What could go wrong?

Recent experience should tell us that college and homeownership are not for everyone. Many people lack the cognitive skills for higher education but have other abilities that can make them productive and successful adults. Many people, like those who move frequently, are better off renting than paying the transaction costs of buying a home.

Maybe policymakers got causation backwards. Increased college and homeownership, they thought, would upgrade people, and for a long while it did. But we seem to have reached the point of diminishing returns, when making things free will hurt the intended beneficiaries more than help.

(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

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Susan Estrich - Hillary expertly plays the gender card

Here's the setup. Hillary Clinton has been pointing out that her opponent Bernie Sanders, the darling of the left, has actually opposed gun control. I've been pointing that same fact out to folks for some time, and it's quite compelling. It's clearly had an effect on polls.

It's apparent that Sen. Sanders is feeling the heat. His recent response was to criticize Clinton for "shouting" about guns.

Presidential politics are never easy. And with his remark, Sanders fed a softball over home plate to an experienced politician. As she has done repeatedly over the last two weeks, Hillary Clinton showed what a formidable candidate she is. "I'm not shouting," Clinton replied calmly. "It's just that when women talk, some people think we're shouting."

Show me a successful woman over 40, and I bet you dollars to donuts she's "difficult" — at least according to some of those who work with and for her. I wager almost every woman has been told, while standing up for herself, to keep her voice down — by her boss or co-workers, her boyfriend or husband, or all of the above. In other words, lots of women could connect with what Clinton was saying. It was a reminder of the historic nature of this election. It will be the first (knock on wood) in which a woman is a major party's nominee for president.

And by the way, have I mentioned that Bernie Sanders is against gun control?

Meanwhile, in an ironic twist, Vice President Biden's decision not to run seems to have sealed Sanders' fate, politically speaking. Conventionally, you'd think that Sanders would be better off with Biden out, leaving Sanders as the only alternative to Clinton. But it isn't working that way, nor should one it expect it to now. With Biden in the race, Sanders would have had two juicy targets who are emblems of a more moderate Democratic party, a nomination that would be viewed as up-for-grabs, and the possibility of carrying the day with 30-40 percent of the vote.

But Biden is not in the race because, as he honestly admitted, it was too late by the time he was ready. In other words, he couldn't beat Clinton at this point. With Biden's departure, sandwiched between two very strong outings for Clinton (in the first debate, and in her marathon Benghazi testimony), the deal was sealed. You could hear the collective sigh of relief. No more stories of donor unrest. No more chatter about "what's wrong with her staff." In 10 days' time, the frontrunner reasserted herself, and her only plausible opponent pulled out.

That doesn't mean Sanders disappears. He has already had an impact on the Clinton campaign. He doesn't need a lot of money to stay in. And under the party rules, if he stays in, he'll collect a proportionate share of delegates. This will at least get him a good speaking part and some bragging rights on the platform. Tad Devine, his top strategist, has been in the business of collecting delegates for presidential candidates since the 1980s, and he's as good at this game as anyone on Clinton's side.

But with not a single vote cast, it certainly feels like the race is over. And the latest polls seem to bear that out. In Iowa, Clinton has opened up a 41-point lead over Sanders in one of the polls out Tuesday. I don't expect 41 points to hold, but I also don't expect Sanders to retain his support in New Hampshire if he crashes in Iowa. Not to mention all the party leaders and elected officials, automatic delegates to the convention, who will be committing to Clinton in droves in the weeks to come. And then the states start falling like dominos.

In the interval, for a striking contrast, turn to the Republican race.

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

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E. Scott Cracraft - Faith, philosophy & science

Unfortunately, 90 years after the Scopes "Monkey Trial," we are still having the same debate. Many sincere people do not get it: academics are not all a bunch of "liberal atheists" out to destroy faith. Some think that things which are matters of faith such as creationism or "intelligent design" should be taught in the "hard" sciences as legitimate "alternative theories" — which they are not. These do not seem to understand the differences between true science, faith and philosophy.
In the Middle Ages, there were universities in Europe. "Scientific" subjects like medicine and astronomy were part of the curriculum but were not studied using the modern "scientific method". The universities were controlled by the Church and the Church had its models already constructed. These models were based not only on the Bible but on the writings of other Christian thinkers as well as Greco-Roman philosophers who had been made "honorary" Christians! Therefore, your data had to fit the Church's model including the idea that the sun orbited the earth (as Galileo found out when visited by the Inquisition). In modern science, you collect data and then create the model.
The scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th Centuries was not "anti-faith". In fact, these breakthroughs in science were, in large part, due to changes in thinking brought about by the Protestant Reformation. If you teach people to read the Scriptures for themselves, the logical conclusion is that people should think for themselves and reach their own conclusions. It is ironic that today, it is most often Protestants who criticize science but this really only began in with the Fundamentalist revivals of the early 20th Century.
Isaac Newton was a man of faith but also of science. He believed God governed the universe through demonstrable physical laws like gravity. If Newton were here today, he might say: "God may love you but if you jump off a building, guess what's going to happen?"
Some writers to The Sun claim that to teach evolution is tantamount to preaching atheism. They say "if you do not believe in the Bible literally, you must be an atheist." That is ridiculous since there are many who believe in both God and evolution. This is the official position of many denominations.
"Intelligent design" only emerged as an attempted end run around court decisions that teaching creation "science" was an unconstitutional intrusion of religion into taxpayer-funded schools. Science can only talk about what is observable, demonstrable, a verifiable. While God may exist, there is no way using the scientifically to verify His (or Her) existence in a laboratory. Thus, such a belief is a matter of faith or philosophy. The origins of the universe and life can be explained without God back to the "Big Bang". Before that it is a matter of faith or philosophy. An Army chaplain once told this writer (when confused by his own "doubts") that even the most religious person is to some degree, an "agnostic" because we are dealing with questions which cannot be empirically proven.
Does religion, religious scriptures, creation myths, or "intelligent design" belong in public schools and colleges? Of course they do. One cannot study history without understanding the role religion has played. One cannot discuss Western Civilization without understanding its Judeo-Christian roots. But, these should be taught in philosophy, humanities, social studies, and literature classes, not as "alternative theories" in biology or geology courses.
As for "intelligent design" this writer may believe there is an overall "plan" but cannot prove it. To use a non-religious analogy: while this writer may think there are intelligent civilizations elsewhere in the universe, he does not know of any "hard" evidence that extraterrestrials regularly visit and abduct people!
Finally there is a common myth that "liberal secularists" (with the collaboration of the U.S Supreme Court) have "banned God" from our public schools. What the courts actually said is that a public school teacher cannot preach a religious viewpoint. But, students retain their Constitutional right to "free exercise". Students are allowed to wear religious symbols, read religious texts, or pray on their own time. Of course, a math teacher may ask a student to close the Bible during math class and to open the math textbook!
(Scott Crafcraft is a citizen, a taxpayer, a veteran, and a resident of Gilford. He is not a theologian or a clergyman.)

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Pat Buchanan - Is America out of world causes?

"If the Cold War is over, what's the point of being an American?" said Rabbit Angstrom, the protagonist of the John Updike novels. A haunting remark, since, for 40 years, America was largely united on the proposition that our survival depended upon our victory over communism in the Cold War.

We had a cause then. By and large, we stood together through the crises in the first decades of that Cold War — the Berlin blockade, Stalin's atom bomb and the fall of China to Mao, the Korean War, the Hungarian revolution, the Cuban missile crisis, and on into Vietnam. We accepted the conscription of our young men. We accepted wars in Asia, and, if need be, in Europe, to check the Soviet Empire.

Vietnam sundered that unity.

By 1967, the Gene McCarthy-Robert Kennedy wing of the Democratic Party had broken with the Cold War consensus. "We have gotten over our inordinate fear of communism," said Jimmy Carter. The Reagan Republicans and George H. W. Bush would pick up the torch and lead the nation to victory in the last decade of that Cold War that had been a defining cause of the American nation. But when it was over in 1990, America was suddenly at a loss for a new cause to live for, fight for and, if need be, see its sons die for.

Bush 1, after leading a coalition that drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, declared that America's cause would be the building of a "New World Order." But few Americans bought in. Sixteen months after his victory parade up Constitution Avenue, after Bush had reached 90 percent approval, 62 percent of his country's electorate voted to replace him with Bill Clinton or Ross Perot.

Clinton pursued liberal interventionism in the Balkans, leading to 78 days of bombing Serbia, and he regretted not intervening in Rwanda to halt the genocide.

George W. Bush promised a "humble" foreign policy. But 9/11 put an end to that. After driving the Taliban from power and Osama Bin Laden out of Afghanistan, he declared that America's new goal was preventing an "axis of evil" — Iraq, Iran, North Korea — from acquiring nuclear weapons. Then, Bush marched us up to Baghdad. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq lasted years longer and cost far more in blood and treasure than Bush had anticipated. At the peak of his prestige, like Pope Urban II, Bush declared a global crusade for democracy. This ended like many of the crusades. Democratic elections were won by Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and, after the Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Barack Obama promised to end the Bush wars and bring the troops home. And he was rewarded with two terms by a country that has shown minimal enthusiasm for more wars in the Middle East.

Obama is now openly mocking the McCainiacs. "Right now, if I was taking the advice of some of the members of Congress who holler all the time, we'd be in, like, seven wars right now," he told a group of veterans and Gold Star mothers of slain U.S. soldiers.

This reluctance to begin wars or intervene in wars — be it in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Ukraine — seems to comport with the wishes of the country. And this new reality raises serious questions.

What is America's cause today? What is our mission in the world? For what end, other than defending our citizens, vital interests and crucial allies, would we be willing to send a great army to fight — as we did in Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan?

Are all the global causes of Bush I, Clinton, Bush II over?

Where is the coherence, the consistency, of U.S. policy in the Middle East that should cause us to draw red lines, and fight if they are crossed?

If our belief in democracy demands the ouster of the dictator Assad in Damascus, how can we ally with the theocratic monarchy in Riyadh, the Sunni king sitting atop a Shiite majority in Bahrain, and the Egyptian general on his throne in Cairo, who took power in a military coup against a democratically elected Muslim government?

Other than supporting Israel, maintaining access to Gulf oil and resisting ISIS and al-Qaida, upon what do Americans agree?

Henry Kissinger seeks a restoration of the crumbling strategic architecture. Neocons and interventionist liberals want to confront Russia and Iran. Reluctant interventionists like Obama, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders think we should stay out of other wars there.

"When a people is divided within itself about the conduct of its foreign relations, it is unable to agree on the determination of its true interests," wrote Walter Lippmann at the climax of World War II: "Thus, its course in foreign policy depends, in Hamilton's words, not on reflection and choice but on accident and force."

America is a nation divided, not only upon the means we should use to attain our ends in the world, but upon the ends themselves.

(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

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Michell Malkin - Obamacare making a mess of medical records 'reform'

Hey, who's up for a stiff dose of "See, I told you so?"

For the past several years, medical professionals have warned that the federal electronic medical records mandate — buried in the trillion-dollar Obama stimulus of 2009 — would do more harm than good. Their diagnosis, unfortunately, is on the nose.

The Quack-in-Chief peddled his tech-centric elixir as a cost-saving miracle. "This will cut waste, eliminate red tape, and reduce the need to repeat expensive medical tests," he crowed at the time. In theory, of course, modernizing record-collection is a good idea, which many private health care providers had already adopted before the Healer of All Things took office.

But in the clumsy, power-grabbing hands of Washington bureaucrats, Obama's one-size-fits-all EMR regulations have morphed into what one expert called "healthcare information technology's version of cash-for-clunkers."

I reported in 2012 how my own primary care physician quit her regular practice and converted to "concierge care" because of the meddlesome EMR burden. Untold numbers of docs across the country have done the same.

In 2013, health care analysts at the RAND Corporation admitted that their cost-savings predictions of $81 billion a year were vastly inflated.

In 2014, RAND researchers interviewed doctors who spotlighted "important negative effects" of the EMR mandate on "their professional lives and, in some troubling ways, on patient care. They described poor EHR usability that did not match clinical workflows, time-consuming data entry, interference with face-to-face patient care, and overwhelming numbers of electronic messages and alerts."

And the hits keep coming.

Robert Wachter, author of the recently published "The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine's Computer Age," chronicled the damage he's witnessed: "Physicians retiring early. Small practices bankrupted by up-front expenses or locked into ineffective systems by the prohibitive cost of switching. Hours consumed by onerous data entry unrelated to patient care. Workflow disruptions. And above all, massive intrusions on our patient relationships."

The American Medical Association, which foolishly backed Obamacare, is now balking at top-down government intrusion into their profession. Better late than never. The group launched a campaign called "Break the Red Tape" this summer to pressure D.C. to pause the new medical-record rules as an estimated 250,000 physicians face fines totaling $200 million a year for failing to comply with "meaningful use" EMR requirements.
In Massachusetts last month, physicians decried the failure to achieve true "interoperability" between EMR systems despite a $30 billion federal investment through the Obama stimulus. Dr. Dennis Dimitri, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, noted at a rancor-filled town hall that the mandate has "added significant time to the daily life of most physicians in their practices," WBUR reported. "It has not necessarily lived up to expectations in terms of its ability to provide cues to physicians to make sure that necessary treatments are not being missed. It has certainly not been able to swiftly disseminate information from one clinical setting to another."

That's in no small part due to the cronyism embedded in the federal stimulus "incentives" — a massive chunk of which the White House doled out to behemoth EMR company Epic Systems, headed by Obama crony Judith Faulkner. As I've noted repeatedly in this column the past three years, Epic continues to be plagued by both industry and provider complaints about its creaky, closed-end system and exorbitant fee structure to enable the very kind of interoperability the Obama EMR mandate was supposed to ensure.

Now, even left-wing Mother Jones magazine reports this week that "instead of ushering in a new age of secure and easily accessible medical files, Epic has helped create a fragmented system that leaves doctors unable to trade information across practices or hospitals. That hurts patients who can't be assured that their records — drug allergies, test results, X-rays — will be available to the doctors who need to see them. This is especially important for patients with lengthy and complicated health histories."

The Obama White House has responded by doubling down on its destructive EMR rules that punish both patients and providers. Congress must intervene. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced a bill Thursday to repeal the draconian penalties "so that providers can get back to the business they are uniquely trained to do — utilizing their skills and knowledge to heal the sick and support the continued vitality of the healthy."

Prescription: Butt out, Washington. Primum non nocere.

(Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.)


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