Sunday, July 26, 2015

Happy 50th Birthday to “Junk Silver”

Friday, July 24, 2015

Trump is Correct, John McCain is NOT A Hero

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

John McCain: When "Tokyo Rose" Ran for President

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Logic of Political Elitism

The things that ordinary citizens do politically tend to revolve around the idea of winning elections. In real terms, we vote, assist in campaigns, and donate money to get people who will represent our will into office. When we seek to educate other people politically, it is usually with the unspoken intent that they will see things -- and vote -- our way. Even when we sign petitions or protest we are, in effect, threatening our representatives with electoral consequences. The efficacy of all of this, unfortunately, depends on the democratic institutions of our Republic functioning as designed.
While the framers of the U.S. Constitution didn’t give much forethought to the development of political parties, a political party need not be anathema to our Constitution so long as it abides by what one might call the representative model. A representative party is one in which elected officials carry out some close approximation of the desires of the people they claim to represent. The party serves to aggregate the most articulate individuals from a group of people who share some common interests. Those individuals may be innovative to some degree, but they should not drag their constituents in directions that they would not naturally go. Representative are just that -- representatives. They are not, in principle, the public’s masters. While the framers did set up a system that allowed considerable scope for the talents of individual officeholders, such people were either directly elected by the people or appointed by legislators who were, in turn, subject to elections. Thus, in principle, all decisions made by government were made with the consent of the governed. Of course, the system never quite lived up to this ideal, but as long as the public understood and jealously guarded the broad outlines of the framers’ intent, at least a majority of the people enjoyed some meaningful state of control over the nation’s course. As long as the system itself was seen as sacred, there were limits to the amount of mischief any narrow elite could accomplish.
The representative model is now defunct, destroyed in somewhat different ways by the two political parties. We will start with the inappropriately named Democrats.
The Democratic party of today is not a representative party, but a top-down political machine organized around a reformulation of traditional socialist ideology. They are not a party of the popular will, but a party of a particular set of ideas. The people who adapt these ideas to current needs are not the Democratic base, but a small group of intellectuals drawn almost exclusively from a handful of elite universities. Trusting the public will is a laughable proposition for academics, who consider themselves a superior breed -- like the philosopher kings of Plato’s Republic. They may adapt their rhetoric as required for the sake of harvesting votes from the lowly herd, but the core concept of public sovereignty was dropped from leftist thought long ago -- about the time it passed from the hard hands of embittered revolutionaries into the soft hands of tenured professors. At a practical rather than an ideal level, socialism has never been particularly democratic. The socialist state has always been the instrument of one or another narrow group of planners, not answerable to the public’s will.
Moreover, the actual Democratic Party of today is actually a degenerate socialist party, often mixing crony capitalist practice uncomfortably with socialist rhetoric. Obama’s speeches, and perhaps his self image, aren’t all that different from Fidel Castro’s -- but he does have a far wealthier circle of friends. While incompatible ideologically, socialism and crony capitalism do share in common the centralization of real power -- so perhaps they are not all that different in actual practice. Neither bodes well for what little political sovereignty you and I still have.
The Republican Party, as embodied in its establishment core -- people like Karl Rove and Reince Priebus -- is a different sort of animal from its dingy, pseudo-leftist counterpart, but not really a more attractive or more encouraging one. It has become painfully obvious in the last few election cycles that the Republican establishment despises its conservative base. Most of us have grown tired of watching the GOP bluster and promise to stop ObamaCare, executive amnesty, etc. – only to fold for no apparent reason after a few weeks or months, vowing “this isn’t over!” once again. The truth is that it was over before it started. At the risk of being called racist, the Republican Party seems to function more or less as the nameless team that plays against the Harlem Globetrotters. They provide the illusion of a contest to events that have been carefully choreographed in advance. Their current strategy, assuming for the sake of argument that they are even interested in electoral success, appears to be to trade their traditional base for those lost souls in the political center -- those people who only engaged in politics by tottering into a voting booth once every four years. Perhaps such chronically distracted souls will be charmed by uncle Jeb’s endearing smile -- but that hardly seems to capture the notion of a government of, by, and for the people. New Republican voters ought to take note of how dismissive the party has been toward the old ones. Most Republican politicians, in short, have come to represent no one but themselves.
If the core principle of representative democracy is not restored soon, by whatever methods are required, all of the awareness-raising efforts of forums like this one will count for nothing. When our government becomes powerful enough to ignore the public, it becomes something fundamentally different from what it was. When the law is made up on the fly, the very concept of the law is rendered meaningless. No amount of outrage, or satisfyingly rational arguments, will let us vote our way out of an oligarchy.

Why So Many People Regard Obama Positively

After studying public opinion for many years, I think I have a fairly good understanding of what shapes the typical American’s political views.  There is, however, one topic that has me flummoxed:  why so many Americans still hold rosy opinions about Barack Obama as the president and as a person. posted the latest polls by about a dozen organizations plumbing Americans’ recent opinions about Obama’s job performance.  Most major poll results showed approval of his job performance averaged 45-46%.  Disapproval averaged two or three percentage points higher.  A CNN/ORC poll conducted June 26-28, however, showed his job approval at 50% while 47% disapproved.  The Gallup poll’s daily tracking report for July 14, 2015 showed Obama’s job performance rating at 46% approval vs. 49% disapproval.   (Approval of Obama’s job performance will probably increase following the deal with Iran.) 
The same organizations’ recent polls showed positive perceptions of Obama as a person frequently exceed 50%.  (His reputation for honesty dipped when it was revealed that he lied to sell Obamacare, but has since recovered.)
What’s difficult to understand about this is that when the same organizations plumb opinions about topics -- such as the country’s direction, perceptions of economic conditions, views of U.S. influence abroad, etc. -- that correlate robustly with presidential job approval, the results are usually abysmal, and ought negatively to affect dispositions about Obama.  (When George W. Bush was president, for example, abysmal opinions on these issues drove his job approval ratings into the gutter.)
This essay attempts to comprehend why, despite his policy failures at home and abroad, scandals, and lies, many Americans continue to approve of Obama’s job performance and regard him favorably as a person.  At least five major factors seem to play a part:  (1) Americans’ views of the presidency; (2) Obama’s racial make-up; (3) his party affiliation; (4) the mainstream media’s (MSM’s) bias on his behalf; and (5) Americans’ tendency to accord very low priority to politics.
No one can fully appreciate opinions about Obama unless he/she understands Americans’ perceptions of the presidential office.  Given the topic’s importance, it is not surprising that a large body of research (by scholars, journalists, politicians, and lay-persons) exists detailing the public’s views of the presidency.  One could easily get lost in the minutiae these studies have produced.
An excellent assessment of public opinion about the presidency can be found in a slim volume by the late Thomas Langston, With Reverence and Contempt (1997).  Looking at public perceptions of the presidency from George Washington to Bill Clinton, Langston argued that the public conceptualizes every president as a democratic priest-king.  As a priest, the president is supposed to “make meaningful the lives of the people.”  As king, the president is expected to exercise power for “the public good.”  As a democratic office, the president is supposed to represent all the people, be one of the people.  Langston’s review of Americans’ perceptions of presidents suggests that a combination of “unrealistic expectations, false hopes, and willful misunderstandings” produces a “dysfunctional relationship” between ordinary Americans and their Chief Executive.  The implication of Langston’s book is that most people expect more of their president than he -- so far -- can accomplish, but they continue to hold him -- so far -- in high regard, and adamantly refuse to acknowledge that he -- so far -- can dislike the nation.  (On this, Rush Limbaugh is absolutely right.)
This complex relationship between the American people and the president has the potential to induce negative feelings about the Chief Executive.  But, usually it doesn’t.  Why?  As Langston wrote, “[t]he American public is excessively passive before its presidents.”  Most people are predisposed, in short, to give a president the benefit of the doubt.  That is one reason Obama’s public image tends to somewhat inflated. 
Race is likely another factor keeping views of Obama more positive than they might otherwise be.  As the first African American to be elected and re-elected president, Obama has enjoyed overwhelming backing from blacks.  As the Gallup Poll’s president Frank Newport reported last October, blacks’ approval of Obama’s job performance has averaged 40 percentage points higher than the rest of the public throughout his presidency.  The late October 2014 Gallup poll, for example, found more than 85% of blacks approved of Obama’s job, compared with 41% of the public as a whole.  (A more recent poll would also probably show a sizable racial gap in opinions about Obama’s job performance.)
Blacks comprise roughly 13% of America’s population.  Nevertheless, their overwhelming approval of Obama very likely keeps poll data on his job performance and personality higher than they otherwise would be.
Partisanship also influences views of Obama.   As Jeffrey Jones reports, Gallup’s latest poll shows that in the second quarter of 2015, Democrats have regained an edge over the GOP among the American public (46% vs. 41%). 
Partisanship plays an important role in views of a president’s job performance.  Republicans are typically a great deal more likely than Democrats to say they approve of a Republican president’s job performance, and vice versa when the POTUS is a Democrat.
Gallup polls tapping opinions about Obama’s job performance, for example, typically reveal that approximately 80% of Democrats say they approve of his job as president, compared with roughly 46% of Independents, and about 17% of Republicans.
Recall Jones’ report that Democrats now slightly out-number Republicans in the public.  All other things being equal, the more people who think of themselves as Democrats, the higher will be Obama’s approval ratings.
Partisanship and race probably influence the MSM’s “slobbering love affair” with Obama.  MSM denizens are overwhelmingly left-wing Democrats, which this site’s readers know very well.  Left-wing Democrats in the MSM likely accept the belief that racism motivates any criticism of Obama.  Since they are loath to express any sentiment that could be so construed, they sing his praises and refuse to report anything that could be considered critical of him.  (Expect the MSM to laud Obama’s deal with Iran.)
Given the MSM’s infatuation with Obama and the fact that many Americans still rely on the MSM for the news, is there any wonder that polls show public approval of his job performance, and especially that perceptions of him as a person, remain higher than they might otherwise be?
Other facets of public opinion probably keep Obama’s poll ratings higher than a large corpus of public opinion research would suggest.  First, most of the time, most Americans don’t care very much about or pay much attention to public affairs.  Personal matters -- such as family, work, play, entertainment, health, etc. -- are far more important to the average person than is politics.  Second, since Americans aren’t very interested in politics, they don’t know much about public affairs.
Political indifference and ignorance, coupled with Americans’ refusal to believe their country’s Chief Executive harbors ill will toward the nation -- which has already been noted -- seem to enhance many people’s responses when queried about a president’s job performance and personality.
The factors detailed above help me comprehend an otherwise vexing phenomenon.  The American Thinker’s readers undoubtedly will mention other factors shaping perceptions of Obama.  I remain open to suggestions.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ranking the States by Fiscal Condition

In new research for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Senior Research Fellow Eileen Norcross ranks each US state’s financial health based on short- and long-term debt and other key fiscal obligations, including unfunded pensions and health care benefits. The study, which builds on previous Mercatus research about state fiscal conditions, provides information from the states’ audited financial reports in an easily accessible format, presenting an accurate snapshot of each state’s fiscal health.
With new spending commitments for Medicaid and growing long-term obligations for pensions and health care benefits, states must be ever vigilant to consider both the short- and long-term consequences of policy decisions. Understanding how each state is performing in regard to a vari­ety of fiscal indicators can help state policymakers as they make these decisions.
A closer analysis of the individual metrics behind the ranking shows how each state’s fiscal condi­tion should be assessed. Notably, nearly all states have unfunded pension liabilities that are large relative to state personal income, indicating that all states need to take a closer look at their unfunded pensions, which represent a significant portion of each state’s economy. Another finan­cial crisis could mean serious trouble for many states that are otherwise fiscally stable.Download Map PDF
The financial health of each state can be analyzed through the states’ own audited financial reports. By looking at states’ basic financial statistics on revenues, expenditures, cash, assets, lia­bilities, and debt, states may be ranked according to how easily they will be able to cover short-term and long-term bills, including pensions.
This ranking of the 50 states is based on their fiscal solvency in five separate categories:
Cash solvency. Does a state have enough cash on hand to cover its short-term bills?Download Map PDF
Budget solvency. Can a state cover its fiscal year spending with current revenues? Or does it have a budget shortfall? Download Map PDF
Long-run solvency. Can a state meet its long-term spending commitments? Will there be enough money to cushion it from economic shocks or other long-term fiscal risks? Download Map PDF
Service-level solvency. How much fiscal “slack” does a state have to increase spending should citizens demand more services? Download Map PDF
Trust fund solvency. How much debt does a state have? How large are its unfunded pen­sion and health care liabilities? Download Map PDF
Top Five States
Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Florida rank in the top five states.
While these states are considered fiscally healthy relative to other states because they have sig­nifi­cant amounts of cash on hand and relatively low short-term debt obligations, each state faces sub­stantial long-term challenges concerning its pension and health care benefits systems.
Bottom Five States
Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York rank in the bottom five states, largely owing to low amounts of cash on hand and large debt obligations.
High deficits and debt obligations in the forms of unfunded pensions and health care benefits con­tinue to drive each state into fiscal peril. Each holds tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dol­lars in unfunded liabilities—constituting a significant risk to taxpayers in both the short and the long term.
How financially healthy is your state? Most states are nearly back to normal since the Great Reces­sion, although there are troubling signs that many states are still ignoring the risks on their books, mainly in underfunded pensions and health care benefits. Even states that appear to be fiscally robust—perhaps owing to large amounts of cash on hand or revenue streams from natural resources—must take stock of their long-term fiscal health before making future public policy decisions.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Two Pictures that Perfectly Capture the Rise and Fall of the Welfare State

In my speeches, especially when talking about the fiscal crisis in Europe (or the future fiscal crisis in America), I often warn that the welfare state reaches a point-of-no-return when the number of people riding in the wagon begins to outnumber the number of people pulling the wagon.
To be more specific, if more than 50 percent of the population is dependent on government (employed in the bureaucracy, living off welfare, receiving pensions, etc), it becomes rather difficult to form a coalition to fix the mess. This may explain why Greek politicians have resisted significant reforms, even though the nation faces a fiscal death spiral.
But you don’t need me to explain this relationship. One of our Cato interns, Silvia Morandotti, used her artistic skills to create two images (click pictures for better resolution) that show what a welfare state looks like when it first begins and what it eventually becomes.
These images are remarkably accurate. The welfare state starts with small programs targeted at a handful of genuinely needy people. But as  politicians figure out the electoral benefits of expanding programs and people figure out the that they can let others work on their behalf, the ratio of producers to consumers begins to worsen.
Eventually, even though the moochers and looters should realize that it is not in their interest to over-burden the people pulling the wagon, the entire system breaks down.
Then things get really interesting. Small nations such as Greece can rely on permanent bailouts from bigger countries and the IMF, but sooner or later, as larger nations begin to go bankrupt, that approach won’t be feasible.
I often conclude my speeches by joking with the audience that it’s time to stock up on canned goods, bottled water, and ammo. Many people, I’m finding, don’t think that line very funny.