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Another Insider?

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Earlier this week, Jeb Bush, former governor of the State of Florida, announced on Facebook that he is “exploring” a 2016 run for the Republican nomination for the presidency. I have mixed feelings, to say the least.

There’s the whole dynastic problem. Another Bush? Or, is Jeb the cost of finding a candidate to beat Hillary . . . who has her own dynastic baggage?

But the big story, here, is to watch the insiders scramble to keep out the outsiders.

The trouble with both Hillary and Jeb is that they are insiders. They represent where the leadership of both parties wants its representatives and front-men (and -women) to go: to the putative “center.”

By which they really mean: don’t disturb the bailout system in American finance or the Pentagon procurement system for the military-industrial complex.

While it might be fun to contemplate Bill Clinton as the First Gentleman, or pick at the two issues over which Gov. Bush seems not very conservative at all, the truth is that both have access to a lot of entrenched power and loose money. Both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton enjoy incumbent-like advantages.

If the near future does sport a Clinton-Bush battle for the presidency, we can be sure of only one thing: status quo vs. status quo.

Leaving the real work of reform to those of us at the grassroots, with state and local issues our preoccupation. As long as insiders occupy the White House, our choices will be limited.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Aeschylation

Monday, December 15th, 2014

“In war,” the Greek dramatist Aeschylus told us, “truth is the first casualty.”

This came to mind when Secretary of State John Kerry testified in the Senate last week.

The new Iraq War has been pitched exhaustively to the American people as “only air strikes” and “absolutely no boots on the ground” — even as the Obama Administration continues to send additional U.S. military advisors to place their boots on Iraqi sand (and, at least once thus far, to engage ISIS directly via Apache attack helicopters hovering above Iraqi ground.)

Kerry again assured senators that the president “has been crystal clear that his policy is that U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL.”

Strangely, however, the Secretary most adamantly urged Senators not to pass an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that would restrict President O from doing precisely what he has so often and emphatically pledged not to do: put combat boots on the ground in Iraq.

The fact that the Obama Administration has foreclosed any possibility of putting US troops on the ground to fight, according to Sec. Kerry, “doesn’t mean that we should preemptively bind the hands of the commander in chief or our commanders in the field in responding to scenarios and contingencies that are impossible to foresee.”

Impossible to foresee? Yeah, right. The “no boots” promise provides all the stability of leaves in the wind.

Having any trust in this administration is impossible to foresee.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Blast of the Big Spenders

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

The primary populist concern with “money in politics” is conspiratorial: “they” will grab total control because “they” buy the politicians.

The cries on the political left that The Evil Koch Brothers™ spend money, thereby “corrupting OUR democracy,” have become ubiquitous.

The fact that the left has its own billionaires, and that they give far more money to their causes than the Kochs do to theirs? Conveniently left out of the hysteria.

But the real case against money in politics has almost nothing to do with buying politicians.

Which leads us to the biggest problem with money in politics: most of it is a waste.

Binyamin Appelbaum, writing Tuesday in The New York Times, reports on the conclusion of a number of economists that “buying elections is economically inefficient.” Appelbaum quotes a major donor who posits why that’s the case: “politicians don’t stay bought.”

Yes indeed, politicians are a tricky investment.

Still, giving patterns suggest contributions are more often intended to advance one’s beliefs and values, than to purchase or rent the allegiance of (or protection from) an elected official.

When we switch from spending money on politicians to spending money on causes, especially initiative and referendum campaigns, the situation looks a bit different. You don’t buy anyone. You persuade voters. Or not.

I’ve seen many a well-funded initiative fall because citizens just wouldn’t have it. Businesses and lobbyists and unions all hate term limits, and have often outspent supporters. But, barring deception, term limits usually win with voters.

Who can’t be bought even for a while.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Stupid Before Congress

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber has had a big influence on American life, much of it “behind the scenes.” He helped put together RomneyCare in Massachusetts, then Obamacare at the federal level. And he made a curious case for abortion that was picked up by Steven Levitt and made famous in Freakonomics.

But he wasn’t summoned before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee, yesterday, to talk about abortion. His boastings, in public, that the Affordable Care Act had been designed to deceive caught congressional attention.

And referring to voters as “stupid” doesn’t sit well with politicians — maybe because they’re living evidence.

Gruber started with some newfound humility. He had been bragging. In truth, he wasn’t that important to the process.

None of this was very convincing.

His explanations for his too-honest statements? Less than satisfactory: he chalked it all up to a spoken “typo.”

More entertainingly, when repeatedly asked whether he would give the committee his work product relating to his Health and Human Services contracts, he reiterated one simple answer: the committee should “take it up with my council.”

“You’ve been paid by the American taxpayer,” stated Rep. Jason Chaffetz, with escalating frustration. “Will you or will you not provide that information to this committee?”

But what was the Utah representative expecting?

Full disclosure?

Transparency?

Responsibility?

A straight answer?

Yeah, yeah, I know . . . talk to Gruber’s lawyer.

Even with the stonewalling, I think we’ve already seen enough of Mr. Gruber’s “work product.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Rewarding Gruber

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Revealing to all the world the contempt for the American people that Washington insiders possess might garner for Prof. Gruber a future Medal of Freedom.

Perhaps by a president elected by the Irony Party.

What Gruber is unlikely to get, however, is a Nobel Prize for Economics.

Benjamin Zycher, writing at The Hill, questions Gruber’s astuteness as an economist. The MIT professor surely has the wit to sucker those representing American taxpayers out of six million bucks for his consulting, but, otherwise, reveals some blind spots about where incentives should be figured in.

“Economists may disagree about many things,” writes Zycher, “but absent among them is the central role of incentives as determinants of behavior,” a principle that “applies fully to government.”

To reward one constituency at the expense of others, health care bureaucrats will quickly come to regard limits to spending as a kind of “savings.”

From this type of rationing, Zycher suggests, there will be “a reduction in the flow of research and development investments in new and improved medical technologies, yielding fewer new medicines, devices and equipment.”

This means that the most negative effects will be seen down the road. While the easier-to-publicize positive effects of more people covered by insurance can be pointed to right now, as a “benefit.”

However, even that upfront goody isn’t what we might pretend it is. “Gruber seems actually to believe that an expansion of insurance ‘coverage’ is the same as an expansion of actual healthcare,” Zycher notes, with apt incredulity.

By ignoring negative effects of his convoluted program, and concentrating on a few dubious upfront benefits, Gruber proves himself more con artist than economist.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Mike Lee’s Fix of Congress

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

“What too few in Washington appreciate — and what the new Republican Congress must if we hope to succeed — is that the American people’s current distrust of their public institutions is totally justified.”

So wrote Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in The Federalist shortly after the big election earlier this month. “Americans are fed up with Washington, and they have every right to be.”

Lee starts off with the need to earn trust. Will many readers simply shrug? His notion of a “more open-source strategy development model that includes everyone” sure sounds nice. But after Obama’s promise of the most “transparent” presidency in history, and delivery of one of the least, skepticism is natural.

At least Lee knows his challenges: “Republicans in fact can’t ‘govern’ from the House and Senate alone — especially without a Senate supermajority.” He sees the necessity of working with Democrats, but insists that the congressional majority not compromise away the whole enchilada.

“Anti-cronyism legislation is win-win for the GOP,” he writes, and views “taking on crony capitalism” as a test of the GOP’s “political will and wisdom.” Fighting the corrupt Washington culture of insider deals is sure to test Democratic lawmakers, too.

“[A] new Republican majority must also make clear that our support for free enterprise cuts both ways,” argues the Senator. “To prove that point, we must target the crony capitalist policies that rig our economy for large corporations and special interests at the expense of everyone else— especially small and new businesses.”

Echoes of Ralph Nader, but with deep free-market rumblings. Not discord, but harmony. Music to my ears.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

As Stupid Does

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

“Stupid is as stupid does,” said the great American prophet, Forrest Gump.

Meanwhile, Obamacare maestro and MIT professor, the illustrious Dr. Jonathan Gruber, has declared in not one but a multitude of videos that the American people are, well, “stupid.”

You see, when the elites wielding political power lie to us, trick us, cheat us — as with Obamacare — they think that proves that “We, the People,” aka their victims, are all morons. I’m not a fan of fraud or fraudsters; I don’t think it forms the basis for a very happy, healthy society.

Still, I do get their perverted logic. Problem is that, even as far as it goes, the American people didn’t fall for the deceit at the heart of the Affordable Care Act. Poll after poll leading up to Congress passing the ACA demonstrated that most folks opposed it, disbelieving Gruber’s and Obama’s distortions.

Barely a majority of the clueless Congress even fell for the lies! All of them were Democrats.

No, stupid would do something like rake in $6 million from government contracts obtained from politicians with a direct probe into every American’s pocketbook and then call all those Americans paying his lavish tab names. Indeed, Gruber does make a cogent argument about the wisdom of purchasing his services.

Stupid also does stuff like deny even knowing that Dr. What’s-His-Name fellow . . . though previously raving, on camera, about what a wizard the stupid-slinging Prof. Gruber is.

Right, Mr. Obama, Mrs. Pelosi?

Goodness, the American people seem brilliant in comparison. But it’s a low bar.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.