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Over the Top
Over the Top

The Part of the Deal

Blog From
May 24th, 2018

As we know, President Trump cancelled his summit with Kim Jong-un today because of the North’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric and silence on setup logistics. The President’s letter calling off the summit is posted on the Internet for everyone to read. Mr. Trump did leave the meeting door open if NOKO cleans up its act.

A lot of commentators see the cancellation as part of the negotiation process rather than an end to it. Those commentators do not, of course, include any of the Democrats in Washington D.C., which is hardly surprising. No matter what Trump does in any setting the Democrats practice their three R’s religiously: ridicule, resist and ruin.

In bombast that has grown increasingly absurd over the months, Nancy Pelosi claimed that Kim got the better of the cancellation. She stated with a straight face that he must be having a “giggle fit” over it. Giggle fit? That’s more of a coffee klatch sound effect. It’s certainly not suitable from a leader on the world stage, unless he’s around the sanity bend, in which case deals don’t ever get done.

The Dictator released our prisoners and blew up what he claimed was NOKO’s only nuclear testing facility. (That blow up claim may be overblown since expert observers were banned from the show.) We, of course, have given up exactly zero.

Commentators that see the cancellation as a negotiating step are right. Trump is a master in deal making, which is something that Pelosi and her posse will never acknowledge. But, then, again, advanced negotiating techniques may be the part of the deal they simply can’t grasp.

Either way, here’s a better R: reject, as in repudiate the Dems foolish strategy to retake Congress.

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Over the Top

A Tale Of Two Strategies

Blog From
February 8th, 2015

LFU_OverTop_BrokenBody_vFBack in 2008, campaigner Barack Obama was full of promises of the glories to come if he were elected President of the United States. He would usher in the next utopia on the domestic front. He vowed to increase respect for America on the world stage. According to a Gallup poll taken the week after the election, 76% of the responders believed his global assurance. The international crowd was much less easy to convince, except the Nobel Committee, which gave him the Peace Prize for saying all the right things.



But, big promises are difficult to fulfill. By mid-October 2014, only 31% of U.S. voters gave Obama’s actual foreign policy the thumbs up. In fact, the approval of his handling of ISIS and Syria ranks last among crises dealt with during the last three decades by sitting Presidents.



Obama’s admission in late August 2014 that he had no strategy for dealing with ISIS in Syria didn’t help his ratings. Or the fact that on September 4 he stated more generally that he did not have any ISIS strategy. Or the fact that the next day his administration began using the meaningless “degrade and ultimately destroy” slogan as its response to the strategy question.

If Obama does have an ISIS strategy, no one in the know is willing to talk about it. He did emphasize in October that the campaign against ISIS will be a “long-term effort”. How long? At least until he can hand it off to the next President.

 

Not all strategies are illusive. We do know the President has at least one strategy in the ISIS fight. It is meant to meet the goal of insolating Islam from the atrocities committed by ISIS.

 

Obama’s first, and preferred, version of his defense of Islam strategy, pressed for many months, was to deny any religious motivation for the ISIS actions. This transparent falsehood accomplished something that had eluded the President for six years. It unified criticism across the political spectrum both here and abroad fulfilling, if briefly, his 2008 campaign promise to end bi-partisan bickering. Probably not what he had in mind when he made the promise.

 

Learning from this failure, Obama trotted out a new and improved strategy version last Thursday. It claims that ISIS behavior is predicated on an utter perversion of Islam. As Obama put it at the National Prayer Breakfast,

 

“[W]e have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism… and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.”

 

The President should have used the perversion-of-religion strategy from the outset. While nothing is universally accepted, it’s an easy sell to the rational mind. He also should have stopped at that point. But, not content with a better argument, he went on to admonish,

 

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

 

His persistent practice of lecturing people on the shortcomings of predecessors in order to shame them into accepting his views is one of his biggest strategy failures. He’s not likely to learn from it.

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Over the Top

The Real Fuss Over An Imperious Presidency

Blog From
November 23rd, 2014

LFU_OverTop_BrokenBody_vFPresident Obama finally did what he said about two dozens times before that he couldn’t do. He is “shielding” four million more illegal immigrants from deportation and granting them social services funded by American taxpayers. What Obama once characterized as only possible if he were an emperor, he now justifies because it’s just. Like, just after the election when voters can’t take it out on Dems because the Donkey Party has already been done in. Timing takes the harm out of this foul.

 

As expected, there is a huge hue and cry over the executive action. The President detonated a political nuke less than three weeks after his Party was handed a historical drubbing at the polls. His move screams to all who will listen that the bipartisan lights on the White House porch will not be lit. The President has made his political choice of two more years of acrimony and deadlock in the Nation’s capital.

 

Just in case the Republicans missed it, the President drove the point home when he said during his speech:

 

“Meanwhile, don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a deal-breaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this. Americans are tired of gridlock. What our country needs from us right now is a common purpose –- a higher purpose.”

 

The comment was nothing more than a very sharp stick in the Elephant’s eye. “Don’t even think of going your own way as I do. Voters will punish you.” This is a transparent reference to the fact that Republicans usually pay the political price for gridlock on the Hill. The comment is not intended to, nor will it, bring bipartisan rapprochement.

 

But is any of this the fuss that should be made over the President’s solo act? Not really. It’s hardly a shocker that the fiber of his being is made of partisan stuff. That he fibbed in this speech about how different his action is now than what he once said was lawful can’t be surprising, either.

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, everyone knows the President lies. The several Jonathan Gruber videos nail that. But, we already knew that Obama intentionally makes false statements. No one can forget the 37 times that he claimed, “if you like your doctor”.

 

Still, the revelation in the Gruber videos is several orders of magnitude greater than the simple keep-your-doctor lie. The Gruber videos show the depth and breadth of the President’s deception. The more he wants a certain end, the more intense and persistent his deceit.

 

Obama’s pathetic attempt to distance himself from the MIT economist only underscores the lesson we should learn. That the President can even show his face at a microphone at this point means two things. He is shameless about his conduct and he fails to realize that his credibility is in tatters.

 

Nevertheless, the real fuss is over the rancor of the Republican response in Congress. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy called Obama’s move “a brazen power grab” and promised a fight in the New Year. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Tx., advocates blocking all Obama executive branch and judicial appointments. Other representatives talked of government shutdown, a foolish move that generally backfires on the GOP.

 

The Texas Governor-elect plans to sue Obama over the immigration dust-up. That is the road to take. Let the third Branch tell the other two what their roles are. Meanwhile, the Republicans should not rise to Obama’s bait. Leave him where the election put him – on the cold edge of irrelevancy – and get down to the serious business of governing.

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Over the Top

Obama’s Indecisiveness: Not The Transparency We Can Believe In

Blog From
September 1st, 2014

LFU_OverTop_BrokenBody_vFYesterday, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stated that President Obama may be “too cautious”. She was referring to his inability to make a decision about how to handle ISIS in Syria. She was also being polite to the leader of her political party. Obama isn’t too cautious. He’s paralyzed. He’s also way too open about his paralytic condition.

 

Early in Obama’s first term, one of his most-often repeated promises was transparency in government. He’s gotten failing marks for breaking that promise almost from the outset. Turns out, the failing marks were undeserved. We just didn’t understand the type of transparency Obama had in mind.

 

The President wasn’t referring to transparent government operations. He wasn’t describing open government deliberations or accountable decision-making processes. The C-SPAN assurances weren’t about any of that. The five-day public review before bills are signed had to do with something else entirely.

 

To this President, transparency has to do with making sure his inability to be decisive is visible to everyone in the world. And he has kept that promise with a vengeance. If you watch T.V. or listen to any type of broadcast or simply read a newspaper, his indecisiveness is on full display. It’s not just a matter of being way behind the decisiveness curve. The man simply talks too much.

 

The reason for the President’s unending monologue about his indecisiveness isn’t clear. His admission last week that he has no strategy for dealing with ISIS in Syria was apparently meant to be a show-stopper. Earlier, both his Secretary of Defense and his Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair had announced that ISIS must be halted. That probably sounded too decisive and too military. So, Obama made it clear that his thinking is still muddled. The sigh of relief heard around the world after his pronouncement wasn’t from our side of the pond, where criticism was immediate and fierce. It was from those who should be the target of U.S. military action.

 

There was also no sigh of relief from our international partners. Dithering by someone who stands in the shoes of former world leaders hardly inspires confidence or even respect. Obama is headed this week to a NATO Summit. Maybe he can get a little backbone from those people because it isn’t happening for him with his advisors here.

 

The White House exposure two weeks ago of a failed operation to rescue James Foley also seemed to have an anti-military motivation. It was as if to say, see military solutions don’t work. That one didn’t work because the intelligence on Foley’s location was bad, meaning it was either never right or it was outdated. Of course, ISIS knows which it was. It also has some idea, if the raid were merely too late, of our intelligence sources. Loose lips sink ships, but revelations from the world stage blow holes in entire fleets.

 

Obama’s public exhibition of ambivalence could also be due his belief that his every thought is so important it should be shared with everyone. He’s wrong, of course, but how do you convince him of that fact? Maybe the best way is through one simple plea. Please, Mr. President, just stop talking.

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Over the Top

When All You Can Do Is Stupid Stuff

Blog From
August 17th, 2014

LFU_OverTop_BrokenBody_vFAs Hillary Clinton said just the other day, “don’t do stupid stuff” is not an organizing principle of great nations. She was taking a jab at President Obama having made, excuse the expression, a dog’s breakfast out of American foreign policy. Last May, in a moment of candor, he did describe his foreign policy as just that. Not a dog’s breakfast, but don’t do stupid stuff.

 

One critic has since claimed that the problem with the statement was simply that it was made in the negative. As if it would have been better to say, “do stupid stuff”. Or maybe the critic meant, “do smart stuff”.

 

Those quasi-bromides don’t seem to be organizing principles, either. But, at this point, it doesn’t really matter because all Obama can seem to do is stupid stuff. We’ve been treated to plenty of examples of it on the international stage in just the last couple of years. The vanishing red line in Syria, the failure to come to the aid of the Syrian resistance, the failure to deal with IS/ISIS/ISIL before it emerged from Syria. How can we forget the Ukraine debacle and other embarrassing encounters with Vladimir Putin? We can’t because they just keep coming.

 

Just last week we learned that the Pentagon had been shipping munitions supplies to Israel without White House or State Department knowledge. The shipments happened at the same time that Obama was trying to limit Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip. The Pentagon simply took advantage of some of the bureaucratic confusion that hangs like a heavy fog over our Nation’s Capital. This support-on-the-sly made the Administration look, well, stupid.

 

Last weekend, as Iraq was rapidly nearing the conflagration point, President Obama denied that he had anything to do with the U.S. troop withdrawal. Instead, he said, the withdrawal was the doing of George W. Bush and the Iraqi government. In a nutshell, Bush turned Iraq over to the Iraqis who then refused to knuckle under to Obama’s conditions for keeping our troops in country.

 

This little fib has been ripped in opinion pieces all across the Internet. Obama is on video and in print on multiple occasions taking credit for the troop withdrawal. So, why deny it at this point? Because it’s the stupid thing to do.

 

Later last week, the President took a time-out from his vacation for a little drumroll and fanfare announcement. He stated that airstrikes had ended the ISIL siege of the religious minorities stranded on the mountaintop.

 

In reality, most of the refugees simply walked off the mountaintop sans any airstrike aid. Oh, and the siege apparently wasn’t as fierce, or the number of stranded refugees nearly as great, as advertised. The latter dropped from the originally estimated 40,000 to about 3,000.

 

Obama may ultimately claim to have been fooled by the Defense Department into acting, although he’s a great actor all by himself. But, it’s more likely that he decided to take the PR heat off his persistent inaction with a twofer – a seemingly grand humanitarian gesture using American military might.

 

That circumstances will, at some point, be revealed for what for they actually were has never been a consideration for this President. Doing now and denying later is one of the hallmarks of his time in the White House. Today, we are supporting Kurds with airstrikes to help them retake the Mosul Dam from ISIL. If, for whatever reason, it doesn’t work out, we can expect Obama to say it was done either without his knowledge or full understanding.

 

As Forrest Gump once famously said, stupid is as stupid does. Regardless of how intelligent the President may be, if he does stupid stuff, he’s stupid. And that also solves the mystery of what in the world is the Obama foreign policy. It’s just stupid.

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Over the Top

That Whacky Obamacare Signup Number

Blog From
April 6th, 2014

LFU_OverTop_BrokenBody_vFOn Tuesday, President Obama strolled up to a microphone in the Rose Garden of the White House and declared victory for his signature legislation. He would have made the announcement in prime time but the networks thought better of it, as in better to broadcast their regular line up. So, Mr. Obama was left to pre-empt other afternoon soap operas. When he reached the mic, he claimed that, as of the March 31 non-deadline, 7.1 million people had signed up for Obamacare health coverage.

 

What a fortuitous number 7.1 million is. It slightly surpasses the signup figure predicted by the Congressional Budget Office last May. It gives the highly criticized legislation desperately needed legitimacy. And, best of all, it is a number that can be neither verified nor examined. The fanfare was almost palpable. Drums rolling, trumpets blaring, fireworks exploding.

 

The President took no questions and skipped all details of the signup figure. How many have paid, how many are young invincibles, how may were previously uninsured and how many had their old policies canceled remain mysteries. His claim is simply that the number is, in and of itself, enough.

 

Enough for what? Enough, according to the President, to push his legislation beyond the point of no return. There are now too many people in the Obamacare system to go back. It would create too much of a mess to undo the larger mess. We have no choice but to accept it and move on. In other words, we have reached Obamacare’s event horizon and will be sucked inexorably into that black hole.

 

The Obamacare done-deal claim, without regard to whether the underlying assumptions have been validated or goals reached, is jaw-dropping. It means that the purpose of the law was to make it an entrenched part of American life simply because the President wanted it that way. Otherwise, his announcement would have discussed, not the point of no return, but an assessment of the number of previously uninsured who now have coverage. 

 

The announcement would also have included the number of young invincibles who enrolled. After all, supposedly, 2.7 million of them had to signup for coverage by the March 31 date if the law were to have a chance of success.

 

Now we find out that none of that is important. What is important is to get enough people tied up in the system to prevent its undoing. This is a stunning revelation and it comes very late in the day. But, it does bring everything the President has said and done in the past four years into sharp focus.

 

The blatant and repeated misrepresentations of basic benefits, the administratively created exceptions and delays, the glossing over of critical website flaws. The President explained on Tuesday that it was all a hoax, a mere enticement to get enough signups to go beyond the turn back point. That certainly explains the lack of accountability for the many Sebelius performance failures.

 

To thoughtful listeners, the over-and-done revelation makes the President’s claimed number suspect. There is no way to verify it. 7 million is what was needed and 7 million is what he claimed. Fishy, of course, but convenience is not a reason, by itself, to doubt. However, it does come from a man who repeatedly misrepresented the law’s basic benefits over a period of several years.

 

Even Obama’s claim of having reached the Obamacare event horizon is hype. After all, he’s trying to use the legislation to tear down a long-established system that successfully insured over 250 million people. Certainly, Congress can enact a law that will undo a minor inconvenience that has managed to attract less than 3% of that number.

 

In its full context, the President’s Tuesday announcement seemed like a ploy to ward off anticipated criticism when reality sets in.  When the breakdown in signup demographics is insufficient, when costs are far higher than previously advertised, when healthcare providers and treatment options are curtailed. When these negatives frustrate the once-touted goals or lay bare Obamacare’s inability to reach them, the President’s response will be that it’s too late. He told us so on Tuesday.

 

The President has made so many false claims about his signature legislation that Pinocchio would stand in awe if he could stand on his own. The question is whether the rest of us will stand for it.

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Over the Top

Weeding Out Those Ugly Unintended Consequences

Blog From
March 24th, 2014

LFU_OverTop_BrokenBody_vFUnintended consequences are side effects of actions that were not anticipated. Although most people think of unintended consequences as the negative results of government laws and regulations, the term is neutral. It includes, as well, positive outcomes of both government action and actions of individuals. Unfortunately, big government legislation necessarily contains so many negative, yet unanticipated, outcomes that it puts people at the mercy of unmerciful forces. But all may not be lost.

 

The most famous example of favorable aftereffects of individual conduct is Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”, one of the primary tenets of capitalism. It refers to the fact that the selfish profit motive of individuals drives an economic system that benefits society in general. In an effort to make money, business people provide goods and services that customers need thereby fulfilling that need. To maximize profits, businesses create efficient delivery systems. Workers are employed. They create their own demand for goods and services. More workers are employed, and so on, growing a healthy economy.

 

While individuals, driven by self-serving motives, build large beneficial economies as side effects of their productiveness, the same is not true of governments. Since at least the 17th Century, countries have taken actions that produce negative side effects. In 1692, John Locke argued against a decrease in the interest rate from 6 percent to 4 percent as harmful to “widows and orphans”. Rather than making money cheaper to borrow, the opposite would result as lenders increased other borrowing costs to avoid income loss.

 

Price controls and import tariffs have similar adverse economic consequences. Price controls, which keep prices depressed, are a bar to outside suppliers that would otherwise provide products when local merchants cannot meet demand. Import tariffs effectively bar foreign competition and keep prices artificially high to local customers.

 

The more pervasive the government action, the more adverse the unintended consequences. Lawmakers simply do not understand large, complex pieces of legislation. Nancy Pelosi’s oft-repeated statement about the need to pass Obamacare so voters can find out what’s in it, applied to her as well. Congressional enactments that leave much of the implementation detail to myopic bureaucrats are guaranteed to create widespread problems for those within their reach.

 

ObamaCare is huge program with even larger negative side effects. They’re getting a lot of press lately. The legislation encourages sloth. It reduces the income in all but the lowest 20% of wage earners. It raises the cost of healthcare to union workers. And it has about one hundred other unintended consequences.

 

The 401(k) change in Obama’s proposed budget is another example of a provision with disastrous side effects. The change penalizes the 401(k) contribution of high-income earners. The intent is to force them to spend their money now. The side effect will be fewer 401(k) plans offered to employees, costing them the opportunity to participate in the country’s largest retirement-savings vehicle. Why? High-income earners are also business owners. Obama’s change removes the current incentive for the to-be-penalized owners to set up plans for their employees.

 

Obama’s unintended consequences plaguing the nation stem from his forcing changes without understanding the dynamics of the effected sector, be it the economy or other. The President’s profound, and unwavering, ignorance is wrecking havoc across the national landscape. The more he continues to force his agenda, the greater the damage he leaves behind.

 

Living at the mercy of unintended consequences is a fact of big government life. It is a major result of large programs controlling greater and greater portions of people’s lives. The solution is downsizing the intrusion of government into daily existence by restricting legislation to that with more easily vetted consequences.

 

Even with more manageable legislation, the enactment process should mimic the pre-release testing of a software product. This testing phase is designed to discover and remove software bugs, those nasty code interactions that frustrate proper functionality. Removing bugs is driven by the selfish business motive to sell a lucrative product.

 

Legislation should have a pre-enactment modeling phase during which outcomes not anticipated by its human creators are discovered and corrected. Unfortunately, legislators have no selfish preservation motive for pre-passage scrutiny. The legislation may produce negative outcomes on the populace but they rarely impact Congress.

 

But, there may be another remedy. How about a commercial software product that models legislation to reveal unintended outcomes? If some enterprising business could turn that into a smart phone app, it might just have the direct effect of negatively impacting legislators.

 

Direct effects aimed at side effects may be just the consequence we need.

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Over the Top

The Changing Climate of Climate Change

Blog From
February 23rd, 2014

LFU_OverTop_BrokenBody_vF

The Climate

 

After a period of calm, climate change came storming back into the verbiage of Obama Administration officials earlier this month, including the President himself. In a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia, Secretary of State John Kerry labeled climate change as possibly the world’s “most fearsome weapon of mass destruction”. Just two days earlier, Barack Obama blamed historic drought conditions in California’s San Joaquin Valley on the same cause.

 

Both men were referring, of course, to anthropogenic, or man-caused, change. Kerry was trying to motivate restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries. Obama was announcing federal aid for farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods are threatened by the lack of water. Both politicians made dire, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it predictions unless immediate action is taken to remediate the source of the problem.

 

Kerry also used a two-part artifice commonly employed by lay climate change enthusiasts such as the once notable, Al Gore. They claim that the change is an irrefutable fact of science. And they malign those who differ with unscientific epithets ranging from stupid to evil.

 

In Jakarta, Kerry claimed that 97% of scientists agree that humans are the cause of climate change. He also labeled those who disagree as Flat Earthers and/or financially motivated. Al Gore prefers to call them racist and Nazis.

 

Regardless of the choice of disparaging adjective, both men refuse to debate their claims of either a changing climate or its cause. In fact, Gore once derided the press for giving a platform to those who disagree with him. Apparently, freedom of the press ends where Gore’s passions begin.

 

The Change

 

In their refusal to debate, Kerry, Gore and others without scientific credentials take their cue from climatologist, Michael Mann, and others who do hold credentials. In fact, since 1995 when the UN first referenced the notion of anthropogenic climate change, debate has been unscientifically absent. Many scientists jumped on the bandwagon at the outset and the movement snowballed without critical examination, but with plenty of funding.

 

That the train left the station so quickly turned out to be a negative for climate change proponents, scientists and otherwise. Beginning in 2009, the anthropogenic cause of climate change began to lose ground. The downturn was the result of revelations that challenged the integrity of both the science and supporting scientists.

 

In 2009 and 2010, “climategate”, admitted inaccuracies in UN reports and financial conflicts of interest came to light. These problems encouraged a flood of opposing science, so much so that the public has rejected as uncertain the once uncontested theory.

 

Today, climate change remains hotly contested. Michael Mann’s controversial hockey stick graph of global temperatures since 1000 CE has come under renewed fire. It is at odds with the earlier graph of Hubert Lamb. Also a climatologist, Lamb plotted a significant medieval warm period that Mann’s graph ignores. The temperatures during the medieval warm period exceed those of today. Lamb, who died in 1997, also believed that any made-made pollutants contribute insignificantly to global climate change.

 

In 2002, Mann attempted to qualify Lamb’s research. Rather than denying a medieval warming period, Mann claimed that it occurred only in the North Atlantic and neighboring regions rather than globally. The affected locations included Europe, portions of North America and the like. This limitation is contrary to Lamb’s thesis.

 

Mann himself is also a source of climate change controversy. Unlike other scientists, he is thin-skinned to the point of suing colleagues and others who criticize his work. He also rails against media outlets, such as the New York Times, when they provide print space to opposing viewpoints. And, he steadfastly refuses to debate the issue, claiming that to do so would give unwarranted credence to pseudo-science. He forgets, of course, that debates are for the audience, not the participants. His surprisingly childish hissy fits only undermine the credibility of his theories.

 

Lest it be forgotten, climate change has political as well as scientific drivers. The driver that knocked it back on the Administration’s election year agenda is $100 million in campaign funding from wealthy believer Tom Steyer. That much money can turn contests with dim prospects into needed victories. It explains why Obama’s people are now pushing an issue that resides very near the bottom of voter interest polls.

 

It also explains both Obama’s and Kerry’s claim that drought is caused by climate change. The correlation is unsupported by science, even that of Michael Mann. But, there’s nothing as convincing as campaign financing.

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Over the Top

Debt Unlimited: Is It Really All That Bad?

Blog From
February 3rd, 2014

LFU_OverTop_BrokenBody_vFWe’re about to run up against yet another national debt ceiling. According to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, we’ll hit it on Friday. But, thanks to “emergency measures”, which he’s using, we actually have to the end of the month before we begin defaulting on our payment obligations. Lew urges “quick action” in increasing the permissible amount of public debt.

 

It seems like only yesterday when Secretary Lew was making the same pitch – debt ceiling precariously close, emergency measures almost exhausted, quick action required. Actually, yesterday was last OctoberBefore that was in May 2013 and the one before that was February of the same year and before that January 2012 and so forth.

 

Lew has very little to worry about. Congress has never missed an opportunity to raise, suspend or otherwise skirt the debt ceiling. Since 1960, it has avoided the limit 78 times, 49 of them during Republican presidencies and 29 during Democrat White House terms. This month’s increase will make it an even 30 for the Dems.

 

During the same period, the debt has increased from a puny $50 billion to over $17 trillion, a 340-fold increase. It is projected to hit $21 trillion by the end of 2016. Last year, just the interest payments on the debt exceeded $415 billion. This year, interest payments are on pace to top $508 billion. It wasn’t until 1975 that the debt itself surpassed $508 billion.

 

Some of the time, the GOP has made a fuss about increasing the debt. But, the Grand Old Party always comes out on the bottom of these tete-a-tetes. If there were a “Most Easily Flummoxed” category at the Academy Awards, Republicans would claim the Oscar every year.

 

Then again, they’ve got such a huge ‘L’ branded on their foreheads that you have to wonder if losing is really winning for them. They get to claim fiscal responsibility without ever having to act responsibly. Maybe they deserve the Oscar for more than meets the eye.

 

But, is acting responsibly with the national debt less that it’s cracked up to be? How bad for the U.S. is a huge negative on the balance sheet? Some claim it’s the biggest national security threat facing the Country, Edward Snowden included. Others just yawn and go back to sleep undisturbed by the mounting pile of IOUs.

 

Those whose sleep is very disturbed include such notables as former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair, Admiral Mike Mullen, now retired. Mullen claims that high debt is bad for the military because it will inevitably lead to spending cuts and a weaker fighting force. A weaker force means a less secure America.

 

Then there are people like Ben Stein who believe that humongous debt is no threat. Or as he put it, “[T]here’s never been an example in the entire history of mankind of a large civilization that went under because of its debt being excessive.” Of course, in the entire history of mankind there haven’t been civilizations with debts as huge as ours owed to other, large countries. So, Ben’s observation is meaningless.

 

As if to confirm, Stein also says that we cannot allow the debt to reach $20 trillion and leave our grandchildren a defaulted, bankrupt America.

 

Is there something special about the nature of national and international finance that protects it from the rules of ordinary prudence? If individuals and businesses bore the same proportion of indebtedness as the U.S. Government, creditors would have shut them down long ago. Yet, the U.S. goes on decade after decade wading deeper and deeper into red ink. Its creditors not only do nothing to stop it, they facilitate it by buying more U.S. paper.

 

If national and international finance do have special protections, they don’t extend to those living in heavily indebted countries. The U.S. will eventually run out of payment options. As the debt rises, the proportionate amount of interest paid will increase in order to attract more investment. Put another way, the higher the debt, the riskier the investment, the greater the yield the paper must have.

 

Higher interest rates on treasuries have a ripple effect throughout the economy. Less money is available for government programs. The cost of goods and services goes up. Interest rates on home mortgages increase. Business investment becomes less attractive which tends to grow government and shrink the private sector. Least attractive of all, the greater the debt, the larger the specter of default, reducing the political power of the nation.

 

If you’re in the lower-the-debt-now camp, what can you do to make that happen? One writer actually suggests complaining to your U.S. Senator or House representative. He must be kidding, of course, since those objections have always fallen on deaf ears. He also suggests channeling your protests into a coalition that will act on your behalf. That’s an obvious dead end, too, for exactly the same reason. 

 

The only effective thing to do is to vote the debt hikers out of office. To do that, you need a lot of your neighbors to get on board. 

 

If you don’t think higher and higher debt is an issue, you can keep the same totally addictive personalities in office.

 

It’s your call.

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Over the Top

The Federal Government’s Stock in Trade: Is it More than Grasping at Straws?

Blog From
December 30th, 2013

LFU_OverTop_BrokenBody_vFA standard defense of Mr. Obama’s signature legislation is that something is better than nothing. Trying is better than not trying. Giving it the old college try beats sitting on the sidelines. These are banal bromides, of course, but does their theme nevertheless apply to Obamacare?

Like many old sayings, this one has a surface appeal but its true wisdom, if any, is strictly context dependent. After all, most platitudes have equally convincing flipsides. For something-better-than-nothing there’s the cure is worse than the disease. Or fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Or grasping at straws.

The last cliché is often applied to federal government programs in general. Seemingly, the government never tires of failing anew where it has persistently failed in the past. Futility has become the government’s stock in trade; its favorite commodity. 

Like any unqualified assertion, that one is wrong, too. But, what is the federal government good at doing and is Obamacare on that list? It’s good at doing what states aren’t. Things like national defense, national transportation infrastructure and extending federal constitutional protections where suitable state laws, or their enforcement, are lacking. Whether public safety and environmental protections are a plus with the feds in charge is up for serious debate.

But, what is undebatable is the fact that the federal government is not good at providing financial safety nets except within narrowly defined limits. Actually, no examples of the latter come to mind but there may be some among the more than two thousand federal assistance programs.

Contrarians cite Social Security and Medicare as examples of successful large-scale assistance programs. They’re just kidding, of course. Medicare Part A has been dogged by insolvency projections from its earliest days. The only change in the projections is when nor whether. The latest prediction is 2026. Social Security is on track for insolvency a scant seven years later.

The reason is the lack of even government control over factors that determine the success of the self-funding programs. Of course, contributions into the funds must match or exceed expenditures from the funds. But, absent government tinkering, this depends on the persistent and serendipitous convergence of:

– A growing workforce with wage increases (i.e., a strong economy and an increasing birth rate),

– An optimum number of enrollees and life expectancies that do not tip the solvency scale to insolvency and

– For Medicare, controlling the costs of providing healthcare including inflation.

Predictably, reality has struck a blow on all three counts. Self-funding programs with built-in insolvency guidance systems can hardly be called successful. The current Congress has yet to apply the usual band-aids of increasing individual contributions or decreasing or delaying benefits. Raiding the general tax fund is not on the table, either.

Obamacare is on this too-big-to-succeed list. Why is Obamacare less than nothing? Because it makes healthcare availability and cost much worse, not better, than they were. Because it creates an endless labyrinth of confusion and dead ends. Because it turns a system that worked for more than 250 million Americans into a watershed of chaos. Because it was a sham sold on distortions and outright fabrications except one. It now controls one-sixth of the economy.

Would Clintoncare have been any different? Not in the end, but Hillary may not have tripped so badly along the way. That the President did not have a single private meeting with Sebelius in the three years between Obamacare passage and launch is stupefying. That the website rollout disaster was the product of amateurish ineptitude bred from political fear and insular thinking is worse.

A hopelessly complex law that took control of one-sixth of the economy, a disinterested President and incompetence are not just ingredients for failure. They are ironclad guarantees. Topped off by Obama’s late-in-the-day rule changes and confusing pronouncements, his signature legislation could only be a slo-mo disaster. 

But, even for a federal government fiasco, there are many puzzling aspects of this sorry episode not the least of which is: what was Obama thinking? It makes one wonder if he really is a windup toy kept in a cellophane box somewhere in the White House and brought out for PR appearances.

Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s long-time advisor, has a different explanation. She claims that the President is such a brainiac that he disdains mundane matters leaving them, instead, to ordinary minds. Obama himself says simply, “[T]here’s a laziness in me.”

Whatever it may be, given the wretched mess that the federal government makes of large-scale assistance programs, one wonders whether the President’s thoughts matter.

Posted in Over the Top