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Words Without Meaning

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

“I promise you that we hold everybody up and down the line accountable,” President Barack Obama told Bill O’Reilly of Fox News during last Sunday’s Super Bowl interview.

When studies show one in 20 food stamp transactions to be fraudulent; when the GAO finds $120 million a year spent paying federal workers who are deceased; when, well, “name your own favorite absurdly wasteful program here,” how does the word “accountable” pass through the president’s lips without a respondent clap of thunder followed by the sizzle and pop of a lightning bolt?

Yet, Obama claims — no, promises! — that this omnipresent accountability reaches absolutely “everybody” in the federal government.

President O was responding specifically to O’Reilly’s charge that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the official responsible for the disastrous Obamacare rollout, has faced no consequences.

She’s not alone. Only by replacing the word “everybody” with the phrase “virtually no one” would Mr. Obama’s statement be made accurate.

Yesterday, I detailed several different ways the IRS has violated people’s most important and basic political rights — from blocking citizens trying to form non-profit groups for communicating their ideas to trashing privacy rights by handing personal tax information to one’s political opponents to harassing donors to “the other” candidate with multiple unwarranted audits. No one in any of these scandals has been disciplined, let go or in any meaningful way held accountable.

“Political language is designed,” as George Orwell warned, “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Up and down the line.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

One Man Walkout

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

A famous poem ends “‘You lie,’ he cried, And ran on.” One of the better moments of modern televised State of the Union addresses was when a lowly member of Congress had the audacity to shout “You lie!” after a controversial immigration point.

Last night, Representative Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) did not run or shout, but merely walked out of the room.

Months ago, Stockman had handed out a book to each member of the august two-branched body he serves in, a book entitled Impeachable Offenses: The Case for Removing Barack Obama from Office.

What’s his beef with the president?

Tonight I left early after hearing how the President is further abusing his Constitutional powers. I could not bear to watch as he continued to cross the clearly-defined boundaries of the Constitutional separation of powers.

Even worse, Obama has openly vowed to break his oath of office and begin enacting his own brand of law through executive decree. This is a wholesale violation of his oath of office and a disqualifying offense.

Stockman is not alleging that all executive orders are dangerous or unlawful — just that some are indeed unconstitutionally usurping legislative powers.

The Prez certainly did imply that he was going to use them beyond their place in the Executive Branch, that is, instead of legislation from the Legislative Branch. Every Congressman should be concerned.

On the bright side, President Obama may be just blowing smoke. He’s just puttin’ on a show to appear more powerful.

On the dark side, a lot of people applauded. The idea of a leader with unilateral power, the culture of dictatorship, is never far enough away. . . .

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The State of the Union of the States

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Politicians know all about lying with statistics. But it’s more effective to lie with anecdotes — using stories to ignore the biggest Statistic in the Room.

President Barack Obama delivered his constitutionally obligatory State of the Union address to Congress last night. He told a lot of stories, and most of them may have been mostly true, for all I know. But what we do know for sure is that these stories distracted us from the one statistic that matters.

You know, to the actual state of the union.

Which is not sound.

The rising level of debt is putting the finances of the union in grave jeopardy. Politicians have promised too much — delivered too much — courtesy of borrowing from future tax revenues. The current debt is larger than the nation’s annual GDP. (That’s the stat that matters.) The federal government owes more than all of us, together, earn in a year.

This, of course, is unsustainable.

And yet the president is doing precious little to curb this unhappy meeting with destiny. Deficits are down a tad. He took credit for that. He didn’t credit the Republicans, his recalcitrant enemies.

But, in a State of the Union address filled with programs to expand and goals to “guarantee,” he didn’t offer to cut anything, did he? (Other than promise, yet again, to close Guantanamo.)

Indeed, in Obama’s most recent bickering “negotiation” with the House had his bid for extending unemployment benefits met with an ask price of an offsetting cut elsewhere in the budget. The prez balked.

Our “state”? In a deep debt hole, oblivious, and still digging.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Grasping for a Legacy

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Rush Limbaugh recently characterized United States President Barack Obama as a narcissist — and not for the first time.

On the surface, Limbaugh’s complaint about presidential narcissism seems ludicrous: people are thinking about the president “all the time” — the man is in the position to be contemplated by millions every hour, every minute. He’s thought about in Arkansas and Zimbabwe, Alaska and Kenya, Washington, D.C., and every potential drone target in the mid-East.

So, whatever existential crisis runs through the president’s brain should worry us, too. This isn’t narcissism. Or messianism. It’s simply the position of power he’s in, and the position of null-power we’re in.

Nick Gillespie, at Reason, thinks that the prez is going through a major crisis of self-confidence. As nearly everything around Obama has turned to lead, his personal charm has shown to be something less than alchemical. He may be golden tongued, but nothing he touches upgrades to noble. The prez understandably would want a legacy, and Obamacare ain’t going to be it.

Gillespie suggests that Obama begin to end the war on marijuana. That would be a legacy!

And it would. Alas, Obama may have had some inclination to do this earlier, but likely feared that, just as it was Nixon who had to go to China, it would be best if someone other than an admitted former toker begin the legalization of drugs.

Too bad. Now’s the time.

Though neither Rush nor Nick nor I know the president’s heart, this seems certain: Obama rests most of his hopes for change on massive government programs, not on the repeal of programs. Wrong direction for a progressive!

But the right — responsible — direction for America.

Let’s hope “narcissism” trumps ideology.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Prez States Obvious; News at 11

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

A magazine profile of President Barack Obama has set the commentariat a-talking.

On racism, the president says that “some” folks hate him because he’s black; and others support him because he’s black.

Wow. What was obvious in 2008 seems . . . painfully obvious now.

Similarly, the prez ’fessed up (again) to his past marijuana use — and his long-term tobacco habit. He uttered the word “vice.” He noted that marijuana doesn’t seem any more harmful than alcohol . . . which implies that the prohibition of marijuana makes less sense than the once-prohibited but now-legal hootch.

A reasonable opinion. Held, before President O’s pronouncement, by a clear majority of the public  . . . not as radical, but as obvious.

So why make such a big deal about these statements? Because of previous taboos? It’s not as if Obama took leadership on any of these ideas, moving them from “horrors!-false” to “blah-true.”

Years ago, the movie Bulworth featured Warren Beatty as a senator who, all the sudden, started blurting out things he believed to be true, but which were not usually said in public. It was a comedy. (Your tastes and appraisals may vary.) The prez comes off as nowhere near as outrageous (or straightforward) as the Beatty character, though he, too, has rapped in public.

But perhaps we grade on a curve. A president speaking obvious truths is memorable not because the truths are daring, but because of the novelty: a politician has deigned to acknowledge truth.

File the brouhaha under O, not for Obama but for Obvious.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Equality on the Brain

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

We’re told that “economic inequality” is on the rise.

Ronald Bailey, at Reason’s site, does a pretty good job of setting the record straight. The rich may be getting richer, but the poor aren’t getting poorer.

Further, “the rich” aren’t the same folks one year to the next. There is still income mobility in America. Some poor folks become super-rich; a majority of super-rich “1-percent-ers” will fall out of that 1-percent category.  Over time, most folks move from one quintile to at least the next.

What prevents widespread understanding of this? Intellectual muddles. The difference between income and wealth often get fuzzed up, for example. Take two high-income workers, earning the same pay: The one who saves will wind up with much more wealth than the other who spends it all. And rates of savings vary radically from person to person.

As does everything else.

Making things more complicated? Government policy. Bailouts are now an integral feature to aid some of the rich, to prevent their losses (we’re told) from spreading “financial contagion.”

Considering the moral hazard involved, I’d say “financial contagion” is endemic . . . on a whole different level.

And the same President Obama today decrying income inequality was yesterday bailing out rich folks.

A question for the inequality obsessed: Since the War on Poverty really set in, poverty rates have leveled off and even worsened (that is, the numbers of the officially impoverished have increased, despite increases in after-tax/after-subsidy incomes) — could you be missing the moral hazard that any sort of bailout portends?

Real economic justice, as I suggested in my most recent weekend column, is just that, justice. Establishment of good rules, no special privileges.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.


Graph on this page shows income per household, courtesy Cafe Hayek. Caution: Households changed complexion radically in the 1960s-1980s.

A Too-Clever Prez?

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

“It’s all right in politics to be clever,” said George F. Will last week, “but you don’t want to look like you’re trying to be clever, because that looks tricky and sneaky.”

Will, who has recently jumped ship from ABC to Fox News, was identifying the autocratic nature of current national politics. He did this on his premiere appearance on Fox’s The Kelly File, starring Megyn Kelly.

“And, in fact, as the president continues to waive this and suspend that in the exercise of what he calls ‘enforcement discretion,’ the American people are beginning to feel that the law is in constant flux. And if the law is in constant flux . . . there is no law. . . .”

In a Washington Post column earlier in the week, Will identified the president’s personal flaw at the heart of the tragedy. Obama has always thought of himself as an extremely clever fellow, and as a result of his (perhaps undue) self-esteem, has often been bored. Bored, even, with competence.

For Ms. Kelly’s audience, Will painted the problem in the broader context of Democratic Progressivism. It’s been a hundred years since the disastrous reign of Woodrow Wilson, another clever fellow hailing from the Ivy Leage. Obama’s parallels with Wilson are apparent, and it’s no wonder that “Obamacare is collapsing under the weight of accumulated cleverness,” Will states, perceptively — well, at least echoing what I wrote a few weekends ago on

America doesn’t need super-clever (much less faux-clever) leaders. The country, on the brink of insolvency, needs wise ones.

But Barack Obama, self-diagnosed clever person, seems more interested in appearance than reality, and is, in the end, merely tricky and sneaky.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.