Nothing is free in politics, but there is some question when you pay the price.
That's been a saying of mine for many years, though I may have unconsciously plagiarized it from someone else. I think it applies to Obamacare.
My American Enterprise Institute colleague Norman Ornstein has been shellacking Republicans for trying to undercut the implementation of the Obama health care legislation. He calls it "simply unacceptable, even contemptible." He points out that Republicans in the past haven't tried to undercut or derail major legislation of this sort.
That's correct, as a matter of history. You won't find any concerted drive to repeal and replace Social Security after it was enacted in 1935 or Medicare after it was passed in 1965. In contrast, Republicans proclaim they want to repeal and replace Obamacare.
They don't agree on tactics. Some Republicans want to vote to defund Obamacare spending while continuing to fund the government otherwise. Others argue that would be a futile gesture and politically damaging.
The two sides have taken to calling each other names — the suicide caucus and the surrender caucus. But both want to get rid of Obamacare because they think it's bad for the country.
The so-called surrender caucus is surely correct in predicting that Barack Obama and the Democratic-majority Senate will never allow the defunding of Obamacare. The so-called suicide caucus is right to point out that government shutdowns are not fatal to congressional Republicans, who maintained their congressional majorities after the shutdowns in the Clinton years.
Other points are more problematic. The defunders argue that once Obamacare subsidies go out, people will get hooked on them and support for repeal will tank. Their critics argue that there may be so many glitches (Obama's word) in the rollout of the health insurance exchanges that support will fall below the present low levels.
The fact is that no one knows for sure. But whatever happens, there are good reasons for Republicans to regard Obamacare as a legitimate target.
One is that, unlike Social Security and Medicare, the law was passed by Democrats only, with no bipartisan consultation. Democrats could do that only because accidents — like the later overturned prosecution of Alaska Republican Ted Stevens — gave them a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.
That's a contrast with the 2003 Medicare Part D prescription drug bill, which as Ornstein points out Democrats didn't try to undercut after it was passed. But Democrats were widely consulted during the legislative process, and a non-trivial number of them voted for the final version.
A second point is that Obamacare — unlike Social Security, Medicare and Part D — wasn't consistently supported in public opinion polls. Quite the contrary.
Please don't pass this bill, the public pleaded, speaking in January 2010 through the unlikely medium of the voters of the commonwealth of Massachusetts when they elected Republican Scott Brown to the Senate as the 41st vote against Obamacare.
Democrats went ahead anyway, at the urging of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and with the approval of President Barack Obama. They made that decision knowing that, without a 60th vote in the Senate, the only legislative path forward was for the House to pass a bill identical to the one the Senate passed in December 2009.
No one had intended that to be the final version. Democrats expected to hold a conference committee to comb the glitches out of the Senate bill and the version the House passed in November.
Voters had done all they could do to signal that they wanted not a Democratic version of Obamacare but a bipartisan compromise or no legislation at all. Obama and Pelosi ignored that demand.
Under those circumstances, it's not surprising that Republicans — politicians and voters — regard the passage of the law as illegitimate. And that they believe they are morally justified in seeking repeal and replacement of legislation they consider gravely harmful to the nation.
You may or may not agree with those judgments. But it shouldn't be hard to see why Republicans feel that way.
Those feelings have been intensified as glitch after glitch in Obamacare come to light — and as the president indicates, contrary to his constitutional duty, that he will not faithfully execute parts of the law.
When they passed Obamacare, Democrats thought they were achieving a triumph free of any cost. Now, as Obamacare founders, they are paying the price.
(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.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 09:36
During the 2001 assault on the World Trade Center, I was trapped in a train under Manhattan for hours. As news of the collapsing towers, the attack on the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania filtered down to the passengers, the conductor kept telling us this tunnel was the safest place we could be. Meanwhile, the tunnels were being searched for explosives.
I recall thinking, here we are in the commercial capital of the most powerful country on earth, with a zillion-dollar defense budget, and we couldn't see this coming. That's what the National Security Agency's massive data-combing program is supposed to do. See the next thing coming, and stop it.
So hard as I try, I can't fathom the manic outrage over the idea of a government computer raking through the metadata on Americans' phone calls and e-mails. Metadata is about e-mail addresses, numbers called and length of conversation. The computers don't look at content — what I say or what is said to me. Where's the big loss in privacy?
For eons, law enforcement has been able to tap the phone records of suspects. You know the line in "Law & Order": "Get me his luds (local usage details)."
John Schindler is an expert on intelligence and terrorism at the U.S. Naval War College. He spent a decade with the NSA. Do I understand the basics? I ask him. Pretty much.
First off, the front end, the collection of metadata, is all automated. The computer flags suspicious activity, but a human can't look further without a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant. FISA warrants are granted for only two reasons: 1. Foreign espionage. 2. Foreign terrorism.
If that human finds that someone has been e-mailing a known terrorist to discuss fine points of religion, that person still wouldn't be a legitimate intelligence target, Schindler says. The conversation has to be about plotting terrorism.
Agencies investigating drug trafficking, cyberattacks and other criminal activity have long complained about being denied access to NSA intelligence data. That's because their searches are not directly connected to terrorism or foreign spying.
Is this how it always works?
"The media want to have a simple NSA," Schindler responded, but intelligence operations can be complex and tricky. Information might be passed to the FBI, CIA or foreign security services. This can be a multination operation. So the answer is no, not always.
"But the idea of 10,000 NSA agents looking at our pictures of cats and pornography is pure fantasy," he remarked.
Schindler has engaged in pointed Twitter exchanges with Glenn Greenwald, the left-wing journalist flogging heated conspiracy theories about the program. Schindler considers Greenwald badly misinformed.
Greenwald routinely hyperventilates against Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats supporting the program, accusing them of "channeling the warped language and mentality of Dick Cheney." He weirdly punctuates his denunciations with you-heard-it-from-me-first bursts of self-promotion.
Unsurprisingly, the paranoia has attracted allies on the far right. FreedomWorks issues dark mutterings, such as, "They (NSA) know you rang your senator and congressman right after taking a call from your local tea party chairman, on the very same day the local tea party started a campaign to stop their state's ObamaCare health care exchange."
Hide the cat pictures.
What holds the hard right-left alliance together is this: They hate Obama.
"It's become very apparent to me," Schindler adds, "that some of the real opponents don't want America to do intelligence at all."
Clearly, the program's been poorly explained to the public. Greater transparency is called for. And, of course, oversight is important.
But the bottom line is, there's no way to find the terrorist needle in the haystack of communications without combing through the haystack. After the next terrorist outrage, we won't be having this discussion. You can be sure of that.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
We've heard the president and his spokesman and other administration officials call all of their broken trusts, "phony scandals".
We watched multiple Sunday morning news shows try to challenge the "phony" claim, only to listen as the Secretary of the Treasury did his best to obfuscate what happened that led to the IRS scandal. He actually had the audacity to try to make a case that the treatment of the "right" and the "left" was evenhanded and equal. Secretary Lew went on to say that supervisors were removed from their positions, and tried to make that the end of the story. He didn't say who. He didn't say they got demoted. He didn't say they got fired. He didn't mention that Lois Lerner, the IRS director of Exempt Organizations and the woman who refused to give sworn testimony to the Congressional Committee and "took the Fifth", has not been demoted, replaced, or fired, she has been given a nice gift in the form of an extended paid leave. A reward for deceit.
This type of action on the part of the Obama administration is not new. It has become commonplace for the Obama team to ignore constitutional restrictions. It has become commonplace for them to selectively decide which laws they will prosecute and which they won't. And, importantly, it has become commonplace for them to challenge the separation of powers called for in our constitution. The Supreme Court was embarrassed by the president during his State of the Union message. They were embarrassed again when, just recently, the Attorney General refused to accept the findings of the court and announced he is going to require the state of Texas to comply with the 60-year-old decision that was overturned by the court's recent decision. Please understand, the separation of powers requires cooperation by the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. It is incumbent of the Executive Branch, through the offices of the Attorney General, to enforce the ruling of the courts . . . but this administration arbitrarily refuses to do so. That's dictatorial!
The president and his team have repeatedly talked of bypassing Congress when they don't get what they want. One such example was the president making "recess appointments" when the Congress was in session. Such appointments can only be made when they're not. The Constitution provides two specifics in this area. The first is that the Constitution gives Congress the right to make its own rules. The other issue is that there are certain cabinet level and other appointments that the president can make that must receive "the advice and consent" of the Senate. Brazenly, knowing that he had people he wanted to appoint who would not have received the endorsement of the Senate, he chose to appoint them anyway as "recess appointments" when the Senate was technically in session. That's not upholding the Constitution now, is it?
Perhaps the most disturbing scandal of all is Benghazi. Four brave Americans were brutally murdered. Our ambassador was one of those four and he was raped/sodomized, suffered any number of wounds, his body dragged through the streets, and tossed into a ditch along side a road. We watched as our in-territory diplomats testified that they had people that could have been to Benghazi in an hour. Other sources indicated that significant military might could be have been flown across the Mediterranean from Italy. But all were told to "stand down". That cowardice was followed by words to the effect "We couldn't have gotten there in time." That excuse has two major flaws. The first is, how did the decision maker(s) know how long the battle would rage before our men were killed? The second point is that it appears the killings took place about six hours after the attack began. This tragedy demands answers. Not the "What difference does it make?" from former Secretary of State Clinton. And not the lies about the attacks being caused by some obscure video. Serious answers starting with, Mr. President where were you when the attacks in Benghazi were going on? What could have more importantly occupied your time than the Benghazi raid and the lives of our citizens? (If a soldier leaves his post and goes AWOL while his unit is engaged with the enemy, he can be charged with desertion.) And why have all the survivors of the Benghazi attacks been hidden from Congress? Why haven't their names been released? Why are they prevented from telling their story?
Transparent administration? It's depending on you to be mute and stay uninformed . . . and so far, it's working.
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)
Last Updated on Monday, 05 August 2013 08:41
"Good fences make good neighbors," goes the old adage. That civilizing thought refers to such friendly structures as the beautiful rock walls of New England, elegant split rails in the South, iconic whitewashed pickets of the Midwest and even privacy fences in neighborhoods all across our country.
But the neighborly adage definitely did not contemplate the 700-mile, 20-foot-high, drone-patrolled, electronically monitored fence of steel and razor wire that our government has erected across our nation's border with Mexico, from the tip of Texas to California's Pacific Coast.
This thing is not a fence, but a monstrous wall of hostility, a deliberate affront to our Mexican neighbors. As Sen. John McCain aptly put it in a recent debate on immigration, our Land of the Free has constructed "the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall!"
There are four big flaws with the theory that you can "secure" a border (i.e., keep people from crossing it) by throwing up a big ol' wall. First, it doesn't work. A 20-foot wall quickly begets 22-foot ladders — people are innately inventive, and those determined to get in or out will find many ways to do it.
Second, walls create bigger problems than they resolve, for they are deeply divisive. Our Mexican wall is ugly, both literally and in the unmistakable message of contempt it screams nonstop at the Mexican people. It's generating bitterness toward us — and that turns neighbors into enemies.
Third, that wall has physically ripped healthy relationships apart. For centuries, families, friends, businesses and cities themselves were thoroughly integrated into unified communities across the artificial line drawn on a map.
Fourth, such walls are insanely expensive — so far, Washington has hurled tens of billions of dollars at this one to build, maintain and police it. Enforcement alone costs $18 billion per year. In addition, states have dumped untallied billions into it.
Can these policymakers even spell w-a-s-t-e? Yet the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly in June to waste another $46 billion to build 700 more miles of the hateful wall and double the number of militarized border agents. Is there no other need in our country for that money? Nothing constructive we might do with it?
But I shouldn't be too harsh on Washington, for both Republicans and Democrats are beginning to respond aggressively to economic needs. "It has been a tough time," says one Washington insider, noting with relief that a new spending proposal "could help out."
Unfortunately, he and Congress aren't referring to your tough times or helping out with your needs. No, no — they are rushing to the aid of the multibillion-dollar military-industrial complex. The government, you see, has not been getting our nation into enough wars to satisfy the insatiable appetite that Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and other war profiteers have for government money. But now they've spied a new place they can militarize with their high-tech, high-cost, razzle-dazzle weaponry: yes, that border we share with Mexico.
In recent months, these corporate predators deployed an army of lobbyists to Congress, armed with mass campaign contributions. Targeting the immigration issue, "border security!" is their battle cry. They've already conquered the Senate's bipartisan immigration bill, stuffing it with $46 billion for goosed up militarization of the 2,000-mile border. They've literally turned the immigration bill into a corporate honey pot. More drones! More electronic gadgetry! More agents needing more weapons, night vision goggles and other war toys!
Various corporate lobbyists put their specific wish lists directly in the Senate bill. Rather than calling generally for the purchase of certain categories of hardware, it mandates brand-name purchases. For example, the bill requires the Border Patrol to buy six airborne radar systems from Northrop at $9.3 million each and 15 Black Hawk helicopters from Sikorsky at $17 million apiece.
What we have here is the emergence of a full-fledged monster — a Border-Industrial Complex that literally will tax us with an ever-expanding policy of permanent border war.
How long before they use the cry of "terrorism!" to militarize the Canadian border, too? And what after that? My guess is they'll want to seal off those pesky antiwar radicals in places like Vermont! Ultimately, they can fence all of us in. Or is it out?
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
It's good to be the king ... of class warfare hypocrisy. While he lectures his political opponents about their neglect of middle-class America, President Obama is headed to Martha's Vineyard. Again. Because nothing spells populist like a $7.6 million, 9.5-acre estate owned by one of Chicago's wealthiest corporate financiers.
The sprawling summer manse of David Schulte is actually a downgrade from the Obama family's previous summer digs. The $21 million, 28.5-acre Blue Heron Farm that had hosted Obama and his massive entourage since 2009 isn't available for rental anymore because a British mogul snapped it up.
But don't be bumming. The Obamas won't be slumming. Schulte's Chilmark, Mass., complex boasts pond and ocean views, an infinity pool and a basketball court (natch!). Cell towers were installed around Schulte's home to boost phone service. The Vineyard Gazette reports that the Secret Service has 70 rooms booked nearby.
Homeowner Schulte deserves special attention. If this deep-pocketed donor and private-equity whiz were a Republican, the Occupy hordes and left-wing super-PACs would have made him a household name by now. The SEIU already would have picketed his private residence. Cher, Bette Midler and Chris Rock would be tweeting furiously about this privileged white robber baron in all caps.
Schulte, you see, earned his money in much the same way the demonized Mitt Romney did: through corporate restructuring and rescuing debt-burdened companies. He and his former partner, Sam Zell, have happily embraced the nickname "grave dancers" since the early 1990s. By 1993, their billion-dollar "vulture fund" based in Chicago had purchased all or part of Jacor Communications, the embattled media conglomerate; Sealy Corporation, the mattress empire; and the distressed Schwinn Bicycle Company.
The duo also scooped up Santa Fe Energy Resources (an oil and gas company) through a partnership and refinanced Revco D.S., the drugstore chain. Schulte called his financial playground "the land of broken dreams," according to the Los Angeles Times, which described the partners as "bottom-fishing."
Team Obama had plenty of brutal depictions for GOP private-equity mavens during the 2012 campaign: "Looter." "Corporate raider." "Greedy Gekko." "Heartless profiteer." Liberal media outlets likened Romney's cohorts to mobsters, strip miners and cannibals. "Bain was just like the Donner Party," comedian Stephen Colbert snarked. "They ate the weak."
Super-PAC Priorities USA Action, run by former Obama spokesman Bill Burton, teamed with shameless campaign mouth turned CNN talker Stephanie Cutter to smear Romney's private-equity record. They falsely accused Romney and Bain Capital of allowing laid-off steelworker Joe Soptic's wife to die of cancer — even though she had insurance coverage after he lost his job, Romney was no longer with the company when Soptic's plant closed, and the wife died seven years after Romney's departure.
Like Schulte, Romney's Bain record includes many successful turnarounds that saved workers' jobs, pensions and health benefits — including Staples and Sports Authority. When Democrats do it, it's creative capitalism. But when Republicans do it, it's a criminal enterprise.
The double standards are rich. But Obama's coffers are richer. Democratic demagoguery means never having to say you're sorry for throwing stones at glass houses, while vacationing in the compounds that "vulture capitalism" built.
(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.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00