Entries from August 2009

Why is the Club for Growth Attacking Senator Bennett?

David Frum August 31st, 2009 at 11:30 pm 77 Comments

The Club for Growth has released a new ad attacking Utah Sen. Robert Bennett’s sponsorship of the Healthy Americans Act. View it here.

Among the complaints the club lodges against Bennett’s plan: “job-killing tax increases on employers.” They’re referring of course to the Act’s termination of the present exclusion of health benefits from income tax.

But notice something: These same “job-killing tax increases on employers” are also imposed by the Republican alternative to the president’s health plans, ambulance the Coburn-Ryan bill.

The ad warns that Sen. Bennett is offering a plan that “pushes you out of your current plan.” Coburn-Ryan would have exactly the same effect and for the same reason – as the tax exclusion ended, employers would tend to drop health coverage and individuals would shift to buying it for themselves.

Both Coburn-Ryan and the Healthy Americans Act would substitute new tax advantages for the old exclusion: Coburn-Ryan would offer a refundable tax credit of more than $5700, Healthy Americans a tax deduction up to $19,000 plus direct subsidies to families earning up to 400% of the poverty level.

Like Bennett-Wyden, Coburn-Ryan would impose significant new regulations on health insurers, to put an end to some of their most complained-of practices.

So why is one bill Republican orthodoxy while the other is beyond the pale?

Here are three important differences between Coburn-Ryan and Bennett-Wyden.

1) While both plans would overthrow the existing system of health insurance, only Bennett-Wyden takes action to ensure that a new system is ready and waiting to fill the void. Bennett-Wyden would require individuals to buy health insurance, would organize state buying pools to ensure that this insurance is affordable, and would regulate insurance to ensure that coverage is adequate. Coburn-Ryan would trust to the market to provide. That’s normally a good impulse. The trouble is that today’s healthcare market has been so twisted and distorted by state governments that it does not in fact provide – and Coburn-Ryan offers precious few remedies to correct these state-imposed malfunctions.

2) While both plans offer government aid to replace the former tax exemption, Bennett-Wyden’s math adds up and Coburn-Ryan’s does not. A health insurance policy for a typical family costs north of $13,000 and rising. Under Coburn-Ryan, families would pay more in income tax – and recoup not even half the cost of a typical plan. Bennett-Wyden costs more, but that is because it is adequate to the job it sets itself.

3) Bennett-Wyden has won Democratic support and cosponsorship. It could conceivably become law. Coburn-Ryan cannot.

If your priority is to preserve a competitive private-sector health insurance system in the United States, while extending coverage and restraining costs, Bennett-Wyden is thus far literally the only game in town. That does not mean everybody must favor it, or approve all its details. Only that when a group like the Club for Growth dive-bombs Bennett-Wyden, and denounces Sen. Bennett, for helping to draft it, it opens the question: Do you guys have any solutions to offer at all to the practical problems facing Americans?

Don’t Despair Yet, Mr. Bartlett!

August 31st, 2009 at 4:25 pm 16 Comments

In a recent post, former Reagan aide Bruce Bartlett has correctly noted the sad position of the Republican party these days and gives a somewhat good reason for why he is “anti-Republican.”

He notes that in the eighties, the grown-ups in the Democratic Party created the Democratic Leadership Council to try to steer the party back to the center. Bartlett then notes that there is no such counterpart in the GOP and that has allowed talk show hosts like Glenn Beck to run the party and drive away moderates and independents.

Well, he is partially correct. Talk show hosts have in some way become de facto leaders in the GOP, but unbeknownst to Mr. Bartlett there are grown-ups still in the GOP who are trying to steer the party towards the center. There are several organizations that are dedicated to this task, but they have little name recognition and are ignored by the mainstream media as well as the blogosphere.

Mr. Bartlett might want to check out the Republican Leadership Council. It’s not as well known as its Democratic counterpart, but it is trying to get the GOP to welcome centrists again. Led by former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and former Senator John Danforth, this group is willing to speak up and has done a good job of getting people involved at the state and national level.

He might also want to look at Republicans for Environmental Protection, a grassroots organization that is trying to preserve the environmental heritage of the GOP. They work hard at getting “green” Republicans elected to office and are not afraid to call out those who do not respect the environment.

Let’s not forget the Log Cabin Republicans, the national association of gay and lesbian Republicans who are working towards the full inclusion in the party and the nation of gay and lesbian Americans. The organization is always looking for straight allies to work with us.

Mr. Bartlett, I think all of these organizations would be pleased to have you join them in trying to make the GOP a sane political party again.

It is easy to complain about the current state of the GOP. I’ve done it myself. But when there are groups out there working hard, like the RLC, Republicans for Environmental Protection and Log Cabin Republicans, they need our help and support now more than ever.

Mr. Bartlett you don’t have to call yourself a Republican, but you should try to help the adults that are working for change.

Can Obama Save His Presidency?

August 31st, 2009 at 1:48 pm 25 Comments

As cold fear rises in the mainstream media that President Obama may be in over his head, my thoughts go back to a dinner I attended in New York last December. Obama had just been elected and the Right was deeply fearful that he might indeed live up to his hype and be a new FDR. One of the attendees at this dinner happened to be one of the very, very few right-of-center people who can legitimately claim to know Barack Obama well on both the personal and professional levels. (I cannot give his name because his comments were off the record, but I have provided it to the editor of New Majority.) Naturally, we were all curious about his assessment of the new president-elect. He was reluctant to speak to the subject initially, but gave in after some good-natured urging.

“Two observations,” he said. “First, I have never known him to change his mind on any issue of any significance, even when provided with new facts and new information.”

As we digested that rather disturbing bit of information, he added the second.

“And I don’t think he has the foggiest notion of how an economy works.”

When you think about it, though, neither observation ought to be terribly surprising. Unlike Bill Clinton, who had to survive in a culturally conservative state like Arkansas for two decades before becoming president, Barack Obama has lived his entire life in a left-liberal bubble. When he wasn’t living in Indonesia, he was living in Hawaii, the most culturally atypical (and one of the most politically liberal) states in the Union. From everything I’ve read about them, the grandparents who raised him would not have felt out of place at a Communist Party USA meeting. Then there was Columbia and Harvard. He cut his political teeth in Chicago, and there can be little doubt he views the private sector the way any liberal, urban politician views the private sector: as a cow to be milked. He doesn’t want the cow to die, of course. But it’s not the politician’s job to feed the cow, care for the cow, or see to it that the cow is healthy. That is somebody else’s job. All the urban liberal politician wants to hear when he gets up in the morning is that the cow is giving milk, and will give more tomorrow. The mechanics of how that actually gets done is simply not his concern. He was elected to redistribute wealth, not create it. That is what Obama was getting at in his unscripted moment with Joe the Plumber last fall.

So, for those out there who think the president is inclined – or even able – to “pull a Clinton” and tack to the political center, someone who has known him for over a decade doesn’t think it’s in his DNA. And there isn’t much evidence to the contrary. We have a president whose beliefs are rigid and who is ignorant of basic economics. Maybe all this will still work out, but any such belief has to be based more on faith than on evidence.

A Worthy Cause

August 31st, 2009 at 11:15 am 1 Comment

I don’t know if you are aware of Michael Yon.

Michael Yon

Michael Yon

He’s fearless… provides a candid, soldier’s-eye view… from the very unique perspective of being there with them for weeks and months at a time… delving deep into the human component.
-General David H. Petraeus
Commanding General
Multi-National Force, Iraq

Michael Yon is ex-SF, and he brings honor to the Regiment with his heroic work covering the wars going on out there, reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004. Read his creds here:

No other reporter has spent as much time with combat troops in these two wars. Michael’s dispatches from the frontlines have earned him the reputation as the premier independent combat journalist of his generation. His work has been featured on “Good Morning America,” The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, ABC, FOX, as well as hundreds of other major media outlets all around the world.

Michael Yon is the 2008 Weblog Awards Winner for Best Military Blog.

As early as February 2005, Michael described the violence in Iraq as a civil war. In 2006, he said we were losing in Afghanistan. In 2007, he was the first reporter to claim the success of “the Surge” in Iraq. When he first voiced these opinions, they were extremely controversial. Now they are conventional wisdom.

Now Michael needs your help. He obviously does what he does for little or no pay:

I cannot operate in the war without your support. If support does not substantially increase, I will be forced to abandon war reporting in September. There has seldom been much interest in the Afghanistan war. True interest has been starkly reflected in the support for this mission. Each journey into Afghanistan, since 2006, has bled out resources from my operations. Reporting from Afghanistan is not sustainable at this rate.

In his blog there is a fascinating story about helicopters in the war zone, specifically the static that lights up in the rotors (I’ve often observed this phenomena myself). Yon has coined it the Kopp-Etchells Effect, in memory of two KIA corporals; one American & one British.

Kopp-Etchells Effect

Kopp-Etchells Effect

Today is pay day – every G.I. out there is a millionaire. Go to Michael’s site and crack the code on the PayPal thing. I am going to lead by example on this thing and scratch out a check for $25; if every one of my regular readers contributes the same, this will equal six months pay for Michael.

Originally posted at STORMBRINGER.

New School Year, Same Frustrations

August 31st, 2009 at 12:52 am 18 Comments

Driving up Eight Street into town on the first day of school in my Wisconsin home town, click it would only be a matter of time before we saw the yellow school buses driving into the middle and high schools. My brothers and I knew the school year was beginning because our mother would start crying as soon as she saw them. Once we saw the tears, we knew it was official – summer was over.

Today, the start of another school year doesn’t bring me anywhere near nostalgic tears. It brings me rage and frustration. Knowing what is about to happen in Baltimore city schools and in Washington D.C. schools just down the interstate from where I live is infuriating. Another year in America’s big city schools is about to be lost to disruptions that go beyond any complex intellectual, philosophical or political discussion.  The chaos of urban high schools, a product of poverty, violence, high incarceration rates, joblessness and more, joined with the incompetence and apathy of the teachers and administrators who know just what’s coming to them the first minute the bell rings to signal the new year, will be too much for anyone to overcome.

As long as no one dies or any major crimes happen throughout the merciless seven-hour school day in our worst city high schools, the staff of these schools will go out to their cars knowing that the day could have been much worse.

New teachers stepping into inner city high school chaos for the first time will be rudely awakened by kids who cuss at them, run in and out of class, pick up cell phones with loud ring-tones, throw books on the floor and refuse to do anything. The new teacher will be shocked at the behaviors witnessed and will attempt to discipline the student(s). The new teacher will fail and lose control of the classroom. Lesson plans will go out the window for the day, week, maybe forever – it all depends on if this new person is really committed to the chaos they’ve signed on for. The new teacher will soon learn that he or she has a choice: survive the school day and make it a personal struggle, or dig and claw and try hard to teach in the face of relentless rudeness, misbehavior and demeaning frustration.

Administrators will have been told by the likes of Michelle Rhee, the over-hyped crusading leader of the D.C. Public School System, that they aren’t allowed to suspend kids this year; suspensions, they will have been told, will only lead to more kids out on the streets, higher incarceration rates, children out of wedlock, and on and on.

So every school will have something like a “timeout room” for disruptive students. Kids who roam the halls for hours on end will run in and out of the timeout room as hall monitors try and chase them down, playing on walkie-talkies like it’s a more important game of hide and seek. Kids who cuss teachers out or threaten them will be sent to the timeout room – not home. The assumption here must be that the children have no real home to go to.

The news today is that SAT scores for American high schoolers dropped to new lows last year. Asian-American students and whites increased a growing achievement gap over lower performing minority students. Experts tell you it’s because No Child Left Behind has failed, but that’s not true. School systems have failed, and they have failed in the same places year after year for decades now. And they will continue to fail as long as schools are out of control, unsafe and without discipline. Every administrator has a beginning of the year speech to their staff; inevitably, the speech will be something along the lines of this being a “new day,” or “out with the old, in with the new.”

But it’s not a new day in our worst urban high schools. Last year’s colossal problems had three months off. As soon as the bell rings and the buses roll in, the embarrassing reality of “education” in inner city high schools will resume. The problems of last year will have snowballed; a new crop of students will be sadly left behind.

Being the Angry Party Will Keep GOP Out of Power

August 31st, 2009 at 12:47 am 42 Comments

Bruce Bartlett, as always, is a fascinating read, and we should all be thankful for both his service and his clarity of thought.  He actually makes for a pretty good example of a modern day Mugwump, and thus he is an example of the sort of former Republican that we ought to want back in the fold.

I share one of his concerns, particularly about the party’s greater level of partisanship, and the changing face of conservative media.  But understand; there is a perception among conservatives of a partisan edge to the Democrats’ victories in 2006 and 2008 that we did not see in the ’90s (even in Democratic years like 1998).  The way many conservatives see it, the way to win is not by emulating the no-drama strategy of the Obama campaign, but rather the hard-nosed, foul-mouthed Chicago tactics of Rahm Emanuel circa 2005 and 2006I don’t share that view, and here’s why: we can’t count on the media cover that Democrats get.  We take maximum damage for our transgressions against taste and decorum.  They don’t.  Still, I understand the other side, and I try to heed the words of Reagan: they accept our agenda, not the other way around, and if you’re ever happy with everyone inside the party, then it’s probably too small to win.

One of Bruce Bartlett’s concerns I do not share, exactly, and that is over the Republican’s new emphasis on defending Medicare.  I know that Medicare needs to be put on sounder fiscal footing, and that Medicare Part D did not do so, but I also know that there’s a huge wave of baby boomers, a large number of whom were the core of Republican support throughout the 80′s, who are going to need decent medical care, and lots of it.  One of the nice things about Republicanism is that we have continually put forward ideas for modernizing Medicare, even when they were utterly rejected: Newt Gingrich’s far-too-soon plans in 1995, Medicare Advantage, Part D, and so forth.  One of the weaknesses of Democrats is that they have not.  I’m on the record in favor of ethical comparative effectiveness, but it’s not the piggy-bank that will fund universal coverage; it’s actually the very basis of how private insurance works, and it hasn’t shown much promise at controlling overall premium costs as new and better medical technology comes online and the population ages.  Otherwise, the Democrats’ ideas for fixing Medicare basically amount to paying less money for everything and to everyone because we’re the government and we can.  That, to me, is a path towards some severe inequalities in the provision of needed care over the next thirty years or so.  Michael Steele’s op-ed on the GOP’s Seniors Health Care Bill of Rights wasn’t perfect, but I think we need to lay down our marker on how a system that isn’t going away will serve our once and future voters.

So I’m not an ex-Republican yet.  I decided never again to say “I’m a conservative, not a Republican!” on the morning of November 8, 2006, and I haven’t looked back, so to a large extent Bruce Bartlett and I will have to agree to disagree.  But on reaching out to former Republicans and minorities who will be aided by our agenda? I think there’s plenty of room for agreement.

The Headlines Review

August 30th, 2009 at 8:10 pm Comments Off

Napoleon Linardatos presents a humorous take on today’s headlines.

“As Internet Booms, the Postal Service Fights Back”

-New York Times, 08.28.09

The U.S. Postal Service plans to start its own email service. The users of the service will be able to send and receive emails every day except Sunday.

* * *

“Bernanke Victimized by Identity Fraud Ring”

-Newsweek, 08.25.09

The Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, became suspicious when his attempted online purchase of Suze Orman’s The Laws of Money was declined.

* * *

“Colorado wildlife experts get aggressive going after smart bears”

-Denver Post, 8.24.09

Bears found in Mensa meetings will be shot at once.

* * *

“GOP Offers Seniors Health Bill of Rights”

-Associated Press, 8.24.09

Article I. Congress shall make no law reducing the massive intergenerational wealth transfers instituted by our political opponents in the years past.

* * *

“Yahoo renews vow to fight Microsoft”

-Financial Times, 8.25.09

Yahoo’s CEO said “We shall fight them on the closed circuits, we shall fight them on the e-commerce platforms, we shall fight them on the copper and fiber lines, we shall never merge.”

* * *

“Anne Fine deplores ‘gritty realism’ of modern children’s books”

-The Times, 8.24.09

J. K. Rowling’s newest book Notes from the Hogwarts Underground will be out this fall.

* * *

“Iran puts leading reformers on trial over unrest”

-Reuters, 8.25.09

The dissidents are charged with disorderly contact and astroturfing.

* * *

“U.S. limits visas in Honduras, stepping up pressure”

-Reuters, 8.25.09

In an effort to improve its relationship with the Obama administration, Honduras plans to turn decidedly anti-American.

* * *

“Italy to Ask Libya for Help in Controlling Migration”

-Wall Street Journal, 8.28.09

If Libya refuses the offer, Italy plans to cut off the head of Gaddafi’s favorite camel and place it in the dictator’s bed.

* * *

“Robbers pretended to sell President Obama health insurance policies to invade Long Island home”

-New York Daily News, 8.29.09

The victims got wary when they were told that the first insurance premium payment would consist of the plasma TV, the kid’s iPod and the “really cute shepherdess lamp.”

Megrahi’s Release: Another Shoe Drops

David Frum August 30th, 2009 at 10:00 am 7 Comments

A story in the Independent on Sunday suggests that while the Obama administration was opposed to the release of the convicted mass murderer, it made clear that it was open to compromise – such as house arrest in Scotland – rather than implacably opposed, period.

US officials had “very reluctantly” backed a proposal to move Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi from Greenock Prison into some kind of high-security accommodation elsewhere in Scotland, senior government sources on both sides of the Atlantic confirmed.

Meanwhile, the U.K. government’s story that the release was a solo adventure of crazed lefties in Edinburgh continues to unravel. The Times reports leaked ministerial letters showing that U.K. Justice Secretary Jack Straw wrote to his Scottish counterpart two years ago to urge Megrahi’s release on national interest grounds, i.e. to accelerate an oil deal with Libya.

The British government decided it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to make Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, eligible for return to Libya, leaked ministerial letters reveal.

Gordon Brown’s government made the decision after discussions between Libya and B.P. over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had hit difficulties. These were resolved soon afterwards.

The letters were sent two years ago by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, to Kenny MacAskill, his counterpart in Scotland, who has been widely criticised for taking the formal decision to permit Megrahi’s release.

The correspondence makes it plain that the key decision to include Megrahi in a deal with Libya to allow prisoners to return home was, in fact, taken in London for British national interests.

Most of the disgrace in this matter should fall on Britain. Still, the yielding attitude of the Obama administration seems to have contributed to persuading the U.K. and Scottish governments that they had wiggle room to proceed as they wished, without too many consequences to themselves. If so, they look to have been absolutely right about that. London and Edinburgh have sent home a man guilty of the murder of 180 Americans, with so far as anybody can tell, zero negative consequences to U.S.-U.K. relations and only a few faint murmurs of “mistake” from the president and “disappointment” from the Secretary of State.

I think it’s time to stop complaining that the president no longer uses the phrase “war on terror.” Truly: the war is over as far as the U.S. and U.K. governments are concerned. Why pretend otherwise?

Marine War Dog Hero Dies

August 30th, 2009 at 9:40 am 5 Comments

A Marine Corps military working dog recently passed away; please review this touching tribute to a true canine hero:

MWD Flapoor was one of our great military working dogs who was on the front lines with our Marines during Operation Iraqi Freedom. His handler, store Marine LCpl Brown, healing made this tribute video so we can all remember one of our beloved K9 heroes.

MWD Flapoor did two tours in Iraq. During his first tour, in 2005-2006, MWD Flapoor and his handler at the time, Cpl Poelart, were providing security at an Iraqi police recruitment center in Ar Ramadi when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the building. The bomb killed dozens of Iraqis wanting to become police and wounded dozens more.

The bomb set a precedent in that the first military working dog handler, Sgt Adam Cann, was killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom. MWD Flapoor and his handler were both wounded and awarded the Purple Heart. Cpl Poelart was eventually honorably discharged while MWD Flapoor recovered from his wounds and went back for a second successful tour in Iraq. Thank you for making this tribute LCpl Brown so we can all remember this amazing dog for his sacrifice and service to our country.

Originally posted at Stormbringer.

Why I Am Anti-Republican

August 30th, 2009 at 8:44 am 201 Comments

I got an e-mail from a prominent Republican asking why I am so anti-Republican these days. Since many of my friends ask the same thing I thought I would share my reply:

I think the party got seriously on the wrong track during the George W. Bush years, troche as I explained in my Impostor book. In my opinion, remedy it no longer bears any resemblance to the party of Ronald Reagan. I still consider myself to be a Reaganite. But I don’t see any others anywhere in the GOP these days, ed which is why I consider myself to be an independent. Mindless partisanship has replaced principled conservatism. What passes for principle in the party these days is “what can we do to screw the Democrats today.” How else can you explain things like that insane op-ed Michael Steele had in the Washington Post on Monday?

I am not alone. When I talk to old timers from the Reagan years, many express the same concerns I have. But they all work for Republican-oriented think tanks like AEI and Hoover and don’t wish to be fired like I was from NCPA . Or they just don’t want to be bothered or lose friends. As a free agent I am able to say what they can’t or won’t say publicly.

I think the Republican Party is in the same boat the Democrats were in in the early eighties — dominated by extremists unable to see how badly their party was alienating moderates and independents. The party’s adults formed the Democratic Leadership Council to push the party back to the center and it was very successful. But there is no group like that for Republicans. That has left lunatics like Glenn Beck as the party’s de facto leaders. As long as that remains the case, I want nothing to do with the GOP.

I will know that the party is on the path to recovery when someone in a position of influence reaches out to former Republicans like me. We are the most likely group among independents to vote Republican. But I see no effort to do so. All I see is pandering to the party’s crazies like the birthers . In the short run that may be enough to pick up a few congressional seats next year, but I see no way a Republican can retake the White House for the foreseeable future. Both CBO and OMB are predicting better than 4% real growth in 2011 and 2012. If those numbers are even remotely correct Obama will have it in the bag. Also, Republicans have to find a way to win some minority votes because it is not viable as a whites-only party in presidential elections. That’s why I wrote my Wrong on Race book, which no one read.