Entries from October 2009

Kirk Runs to the Center

October 31st, 2009 at 4:03 pm 2 Comments

By proposing the “centrist” alternative to the Pelosi healthcare bill, House Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) appears to be building the foundation on which to present himself as a “pragmatic” conservative in his upcoming run for Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.

Demonizing Food Corporations Won’t Make America Thin Again

David Frum October 31st, 2009 at 11:26 am Comments Off

If you were born in the 1960s, really it’s amazing you are alive today at all. You grew up in an era of lethally dangerous cars and driving. For every mile driven in 1965, the odds of being killed were almost five times greater than today — even though modern cars are vastly more powerful and spend more time driving at highway speeds than did the cars of 40 years ago.

Facing the toll on the roadways, experts debated an array of solutions. Should cars be redesigned for greater safety? Or the roads? Should we try to alter driver behavior? Or is the answer to be found in more rapid response to accidents and injuries?

In the end, we did a little of everything. We installed shoulder restraints and airbags in cars. Railroad crossings were reduced. Drunk driving was penalized more heavily. Highway departments got medevac helicopters. Result: not perfect success, but great improvement. 2008 was the safest year on record for driving in the United States, with fatalities dropping almost 10% below 2007 levels.

We should think the same way about the public health problems of overweight and obesity. There is no one single solution — and perfect health is not the policy target.

What we can do is implement individual ideas that will generate incremental progress. For example: Researchers at the University of California find that ninth-grade students are 5.2% more likely to become obese if there is a fast food restaurant located within a 10th of a mile of their school. Move the fast food restaurant even a quarter-mile away, however, and there is no effect on student weight. If this work is correct, it suggests a simple zoning ordinance can make a big difference: no fast food within a quarter-mile of a school building.

Or: Food servings have grown dramatically in recent years. The original Swanson’s TV dinner introduced in 1953 (turkey, gravy, buttered peas and sweet potatoes in case you were wondering) contained only 300 calories.

Food companies have increased portions because the small marginal cost of the additional calories can permit a hefty increase in price. The handful of extra potato in a supersized order of fries added more than a dollar to the price of a small package of McDonald’s French fries. That’s good business.

But the small package of fries contained a reasonable 250 calories, while the super-sized package contained over 600. The good news: In response to negative publicity, McDonald’s is eliminating super-sized fries from its menus in the United States. Greater public awareness can lead to changes in behavior by responsible corporations.

Or: Only about 12% of American elementary school children participate in physical education daily. Once or twice per week is normal. Phys ed has been squeezed as schools try to make time for academic subjects.

Now we are learning that phys ed actually enhances academic performance, especially in girls. Elementary-age girls who spend at least 70 minutes per week in phys ed consistently do better on standardized reading and math tests than girls who spend less than 35 minutes. Girls who spend more time in gym do better still.

As schools absorb this data, the tendency to give short shrift to gym will yield to a new policy of reinventing phys ed to make it more appealing to girls — by, for example, shifting away from the traditional emphasis on competitive sport.

But here’s the one thing that won’t work: turning today’s obesity problem into a morality play in which evil corporations are depicted as exploiting hapless victims. The fabulous productivity of modern agriculture and industry have made food more available than ever before in the history of the world. Human beings, who evolved in conditions of food scarcity, are understandably finding it difficult to adapt to these new conditions of abundance. It will be the work of a generation, maybe two, to teach ourselves how to stay fit when we can no longer rely on our instinct to crave fats and sweets or to gorge when we can because tomorrow we may starve.

Instead of blame, we need to learn — just as we had to learn how to cope with motor cars, alcohol and tobacco, and all the other dangerous pleasures discovered by our inventive minds. With all those products the same intelligence that created the temptation eventually discovered a solution. So it will be with the temptations of overabundant calories as well.

Originally published in the National Post.

Demonizing Food Corporations Won’t Make America Thin Again

David Frum October 31st, 2009 at 10:59 am 8 Comments

My new National Post column joins a symposium on Dr. David Kessler’s new book about American obesity.

Here’s the one thing that won’t work: turning today’s obesity problem into a morality play in which evil corporations are depicted as exploiting hapless victims. The fabulous productivity of modern agriculture and industry have made food more available than ever before in the history of the world. Human beings, who evolved in conditions of food scarcity, are understandably finding it difficult to adapt to these new conditions of abundance. It will be the work of a generation, maybe two, to teach ourselves how to stay fit when we can no longer rely on our instinct to crave fats and sweets or to gorge when we can because tomorrow we may starve.

Read the rest here.

Hillary Oversells Honduran Deal

October 30th, 2009 at 3:11 pm 10 Comments

Several major news outlets reported this morning that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was returning to power. “Deal Reached in Honduras to Restore Ousted President”, read a New York Times headline. “Zelaya Set to Return to Power”, said the Washington Post.

However, experts on Honduras dispute this version of events.

“There seems to be plenty of misreporting on this initially… The [Washington] Post and some other places have reported that Clinton has said that the agreement says that Zelaya will return to power, but this is not accurate as far as I can tell,” said Ian Vasquez, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, in an interview with NewMajority.

“They’re reporting that it’s a done deal. My understanding… is that Congress will have to vote [on his return],” agreed Ray Walser, the Heritage Foundation’s Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America.

According to Walser, media outlets are “hastily reporting a deal which is still far more complex and fragile [than is being said].”

While Manuel Zelaya has told a Honduran radio station that “this [accord] signifies my return to power in the coming days,” the reality is that the agreement only concedes that Congress, in consultation with the Supreme Court, will vote on whether he can return.

It would be very surprising if the very Congress and courts which removed Zelaya from office would now vote to see him return. Indeed, Vasquez tells NewMajority that he “would bet against it.”

“There is a potential that this is really a victory for the Micheletti regime,” said Walser.

The United States and the Organization of American States were threatening not to recognize the outcome of Honduras’ coming elections if Micheletti’s interim government and Zelaya didn’t have agreement in place by Election Day. Now that there is an agreement between the two camps, Hondurans will be able to go to the polls on November 29th with a dramatically reduced fear that the international community will condemn the results.

The misreporting seems to stem from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s desperation for any sort of good news. This morning, Clinton announced that Honduras had overcome its “crisis through negotiation and dialogue.”

Clinton “is in Pakistan, with people blowing up bombs, and trying to lecture [Pakistan] on Al-Qaeda – the last thing on her mind is Honduras… there’s not much good news out there, so she wants a snatch at any little piece of [it],”said Walser.

The fact of the matter is that the situation in Honduras is far from resolved. For Zelaya to resume his former duties, the Supreme Court will need to convene and issue a non-binding ruling on the constitutionality of his return. Following this, Congress would embark on a lengthy debate on the matter, with the possibility of filibusters. As of now, there is nothing resembling a timetable for Zelaya to return to the presidential office.

One thing is certain – if Zelaya somehow manages to engineer a return, it will be a terrible blow to democracy in Honduras.

His return would be “a tragedy for the future of Honduran democracy,” said Abe Greenwald, a Policy Advisor at the Foreign Policy Initiative. “Any time that we step in on behalf of anti-democratic forces, it will come back to bite us in the long run… We’re showing people like Hugo Chavez that we have no interest in defending democracy.”

GOP Fights for Foothold in Big Apple

October 30th, 2009 at 1:18 pm 1 Comment

Running as a Republican for the New York City Council is either a very brave or very foolish thing to do, depending on your point of view. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one citywide, and Democrats control 48 of the 51 Council seats. Republican candidates face a steep uphill climb against negative stereotypes, low name recognition, and scarce campaign resources.

This year, however, there are a number of Republicans who have faced down these challenges to become candidates for the City Council. Among them are first-time candidates like Joshua Goldberg.

Goldberg is running in District 6, which encompasses what some Republicans jokingly refer to as the People’s Republic of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Restoring balance to city government is certainly an element of Goldberg’s candidacy, but the issue that motivates his campaign is term limits. Goldberg puts himself in a tough position by standing against Mayor Michael Bloomberg on this issue. Bloomberg backed the City Council’s 2008 vote to repeal a twice-passed voter referendum that limited elected officials to two terms. Bloomberg is likely to win the third term he is seeking, but Goldberg stands firm on the issue.

“There is a definite backlash, whether you’re for term limits or not,” he says, adding that personally he is against term limits. “But the people have spoken. The fact that it was repealed goes against the sense of fair play.”

Bob Capano, Republican city council candidate in Brooklyn, is concerned with the council’s profligate spending and the taxes and fees that hit small businesses and residents in his community.

“My opponent is part of the problem,” Capano says of Democratic incumbent Vincent Gentile. “He’s been in the cocoon of elected office.”

Gentile has a level of name recognition that Capano admits is one of his biggest challenges, but Capano’s race is one of the most competitive City Council races this year. He ran an unsuccessful race for the area’s state assembly seat in 2008, but he won portions of the assembly district that overlap with his current city council district. “That’s how I knew my message would resonate with voters in the city council race.”

Eric Ulrich has further proof that his own message resonates with voters. After all, he is a rarity in New York City, a Republican incumbent. The 24-year-old became the City Council’s youngest member in February by winning a special election to fill the seat vacated by a local Democrat who had moved on to the state senate.

Ulrich has been busy in the short time he has been in elected office. He has helped spearhead a graffiti clean-up effort and he secured $1 million in funding for libraries in his district.

“Very few of the people accomplish what they set out to do. I did,” says Ulrich. “So I’m asking the voters to give me another shot. You saw what I could do in seven months. Imagine what I can do in four years.”

Liam McCabe, Ulrich’s campaign manager, likens the campaign’s strategy to establishing a beachhead. The wartime analogy is apt for all Republican candidates in New York City.

“We’ve got to change our game. We have to go after traditionally non-conservative, non-Republican groups,” says McCabe “Republican candidates always say ‘we’re not going to go campaign there because they won’t vote for us.’ But there’s a flip side. The people of those communities say ‘we’re not going to vote for you because you’re not coming here.’ You have to keep going back. You lose, but then you lose by a little less. And then eventually, you win.”

Lessons for the GOP from Labour

October 30th, 2009 at 10:45 am 39 Comments

You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in… grotesque chaos…

– British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock on the party’s far-left “Militant Tendency” movement


Thirty years ago in Britain, the election of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party signaled not only the defeat of the Labour Party, but also a crisis for the dominant economic and social paradigm of the day, Keynesianism . Keynesian economics had been essential in powering Britain and the world’s post-war economic recovery and in providing answers to the major problems of the time: unemployment, lack of basic education and inequality. Unfortunately, Keynesian social democracy did not have answers to the demands of a new generation: lack of consumer choice, technical competition, economic globalism, inner city crime and stagflation. In the wake of Labour’s 1979 election defeat, the party entered into a period of prolonged crisis, a debilitating conflict between left, right and center that nearly put the party out of business. Don’t look now, but history may be repeating itself across the pond thirty years later…


The Leadership

the_leadership

Labour's Michael Foot and current GOP leaders

Following the Tories’ overwhelming victory in 1979, Labour elected Michael Foot leader. A well-respected and highly regarded MP and former journalist, Foot was an unabashed socialist. Well liked, Foot was thought of as out-of-touch, holding positions that were increasingly irrelevant to the problems of the 1980s and increasingly unable to manage a Labour Party spinning out of control.

* * * * *


The Fifth Columnists

the_fifth_columnists2

Labour's Gang of Four and our Republican RINOs

Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers despaired of the party’s left-wing direction and were hounded by far-left activists inside the party. Criticized for being too far to the right and insufficiently committed to socialism and class conflict, the so-called “Gang of Four” left (or were chased out) of the party in 1981.

* * * * *


The One

Labour's Tony Benn and the GOP's Mike Huckabee

Labour's Tony Benn and the GOP's Mike Huckabee

Tony Benn was known for his oratorical skill, his fatherly and gentlemanly approach to political debate, and his deep commitment to socialism. He was respected and well-liked. If anyone could have turned Labour into a socialist party that could win, it was Tony Benn.

* * * * *


The Rank and File

the_rank_and_file1Grassroots leaders like Arthur Scargill of the National Union of Mineworkers, MPs like future London Mayor Ken Livingston and Eric Heffer and rank-and-file activists from groups like the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, fought tooth and nail against Labour moderates, attacking them at every turn.

* * * * *


The Fire-Breathers

the-fire-breathers

Terry Fields, leader of Labour's Militant Tendency and Glenn Beck

The men and women of the Militant Tendency, co-founded by Terry Fields, did not believe in the Labour Party at all, except insofar as it served as a vehicle to advance their revolutionary Marxist ideology. They used Labour to push revolution, argued for a class war and told followers not to believe the “capitalist media.”

* * * * *


The Results…

the_results

British 1983 electoral map with Labour party wins in red

The 1983 election saw Labour adopt its most left-wing program in decades. The party manifesto, mocked by one Labour MP as “the longest suicide note in history,” called on the Labour Party to implement a socialist program featuring unprecedented government expansion into the economy, reintroduction of planning, nationalization of industry and withdrawal from NATO and the EEC. The far-left got what it wanted and Labour was dealt the worst election defeat in its history. When all was said and done, the left-wing was discredited and the way was paved for the rise of “New Labour,” which was more centrist than anything Fields, Foot or Benn could have ever imagined in 1983.

Obama to Troops: Do More with Less

October 29th, 2009 at 11:04 pm 117 Comments

In his first year in office, President Obama enacted some of the most significant weapons systems cuts since Jimmy Carter was president more than 30 years ago. These cuts included elimination of the Transformational Satellite program as well as elimination of eight new Army combat vehicle types, all of which were integral to modernizing U.S. military capabilities for 21st-century irregular warfare.

And now, in a brazen act of political effrontery, President Obama has let it be known that he’s not yet finished with the defense budget. The U.S. military, the president announced this week, will be forced, yet again, to scale back its modernization efforts.

“There’s still more waste [that] we need to cut,” Obama said during Wednesday’s signing ceremony for the Fiscal Year 2010 defense authorization act. “Changing the culture in Washington will take time and sustained effort. And that’s why Secretary Gates and I will continue waging these battles in the months and years ahead.”

This is stunning and deeply troubling news. America is at war — our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying — in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Our soldiers and marines must confront an adaptive and resourceful enemy who is not standing still.

An enemy who has black market access to a panoply of high-tech gear and equipment. An enemy who has proven that he can destroy, quite literally, our most battle-hardened tanks and weapons systems. Yet, the President is determined to cut the defense budget. He is determined to eliminate advanced weapons systems for our soldiers and marines.

The incongruence between the defense budget and the domestic social-welfare budget is startling. As Charles Krauthammer put it in the Weekly Standard:

At a time when hundreds of billions of dollars are being lavished on stimulus and other appropriations in an endless array of domestic programs, the defense budget is practically frozen. Almost every other department is expanding, and the Defense Department is singled out for making ‘hard choices’ — forced to look everywhere for cuts, to abandon highly advanced weapons systems, to choose between readiness and research, between today’s urgencies and tomorrow’s looming threats.

Yet, the president told sailors and marines in Jacksonville, Florida: “To make sure you can meet the missions we ask of you, we are increasing the defense budget, including spending on the Navy and Marine Corps.”

No one begrudges spending more on the Navy and Marine Corps, but it is the Army that is bearing the brunt of the burden in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is the Army that will continue to bear the brunt of the burden in 21st Century conflicts. Yet, Army procurement accounts are being cut by some 14%, or $3.5 billion.

Moreover, as General David Petraeus has explained, “You can’t commute to this fight.” Winning in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere will require the sustained, long-term presence of U.S. ground forces; and that means a robust and expeditionary Army.

The defense budget may be increasing, but that’s mainly because, as the president himself acknowledges, the Pentagon is spending more on pay, benefits, medical care, and family wellness programs. Weapons systems and modernization, meanwhile, are being cut.

“To make sure we’re spending our defense dollars wisely,” says the president, “we’re cutting tens of billions of dollars in waste and projects that even the military says it doesn’t need — so that the money can be better spent on taking care of you and your families and building the 21st Century military that we do need.”

This is rich. The weapons systems that the president is eliminating were never spurned by “the Pentagon” (which is hardly a monolith); quite the contrary. The Army, for instance, vigorously championed its only top 10 weapons acquisition program, Future Combat Systems (FCS); and the Air Force still believes that it requires more F-22 fighter jets.

Nonetheless, FCS was eliminated; and the Air Force buckled to Pentagon political pressure after being told that if it insisted on more F-22s, then it would have to sacrifice another weapons system.

To be sure, the Pentagon is spending more on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets for current wartime exigencies. But these are relatively small-scale, niche investments, which pale in comparison to the larger-scale system-wide cuts that imperil our soldiers and marines in harm’s way.

All sorts of facile rationales are offered up for cutting the defense budget, but none of these rationales can withstand critical scrutiny. The president, for instance, has repeated the charge (by the Government Accountability Office) that 96 leading weapons systems have experienced cumulative cost overruns of $296 billion and delays of two years on average.

But as I have explained previously on NewMajority, this is highly misleading and simply not true. As former Pentagon acquisition chief John Young observed in a March 31, 2009 memorandum, “$296 billion is a sensational number that is misleading, out-of-date, and irrelevant to the current DoD procurement process.”

For ideological reasons, the president is committed to cutting defense so that he can spend more on domestic social-welfare programs such as healthcare. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, meanwhile, has accepted an artificially constrained defense budget as a political reality, which he must accept and accommodate.

The Congress, however, is under no such obligation. It can and should fight back against further defense cuts; but thus far it has yet to really do so. The problem has been Senator McCain, who understands little about the defense budget, but who wants, nonetheless, to cut defense in the name of fiscal discipline.

One thing’s for certain. The United States will pay for its military. We will either pay now in dollars, or our soldiers and marines will pay later with their lives lost and crippled. Unfortunately, with the budgetary decisions that they are now making, our elected representatives have made clear which is their preferred payment method.

Dead Heat in NY-23

October 29th, 2009 at 7:06 pm 15 Comments

A Daily Kos poll released today showed Conservative Doug Hoffman pulling within one point of Democrat Bill Owens in the tightly contested NY-23 congressional race, well within the four point margin of error.

Hoffman holds the support of 32% of respondents polled, while Owens leads slightly with 33%. Dede Scozzafava, the Republican, trails both by a large margin, with only 21% support.

This is a dramatic change from the last Kos poll, released less than a week ago. In less than a week, Hoffman has jumped by nine points, mirrored by a corresponding drop in Scozzafava’s support.

In terms of favorable/unfavorable ratings, Hoffman leads the pack with a score of +15, followed by Owens at +10, and Scozzafava at a dismal -14.

A driving factor in the unpredictability of this race has been the massive amount of money spent and raised in the district.

“People are listening to us now, we’re raising money faster than we can bring it to the bank… we have the momentum,” said Mike Long, chairman of the New York Conservative Party, in an interview with NewMajority.

Siena pollster Steven Greenberg told NewMajority last week that a Hoffman victory was “probably a long shot”, but left room for a chance for him to win.

Greenberg attributed the volatility in polling numbers to negative advertising. “The tenor of the campaign’s negative commercials is turning voters on to the race… It’s clear that it’s easy to spend money in upstate New York,” said Greenberg.

Eyes now turn to the last major poll that will be released before Election Day, put out by the Siena Research Institute. Siena plans to release its final poll this weekend, which could set the tone for all three campaigns going into November 3rd.

“It will come down to the wire,” said Greenberg.

Hoffman Comes Clean

October 29th, 2009 at 3:57 pm 7 Comments

Apparently bad teeth turn voters off – especially in New York’s 23rd congressional district.

Recognizing this, Doug Hoffman has decided to take a page from Ralph Lauren by digitally editing away a physical imperfection. Who needs Crest Whitening Strips when you can photoshop-bleach your teeth?

The difference is obvious when you compare this picture from a recently released campaign ad to the campaign’s official photo of Hoffman:


hoffmanteeth


Also evident is the photoshop magic that reduced some of the redness on his face. Maybe he also used the “blur” function to soften those harsh Republican edges?

One thing is certain – when it comes to his teeth, he’s not coming clean with the voters of New York’s fightin’ 23rd!

Fewer Attacks on ACORN, More Attention to Affordable Housing

October 29th, 2009 at 3:56 pm 13 Comments

The recent scandals plaguing the community organization ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) have paralyzed the organization and emboldened Republicans to attempt to tie the Democrats to the group in order to score political points.  Just last week, on the House Financial Services Committee, Republicans and Democrats again battled over ACORN.  In a bill to establish a new consumer regulatory agency, Rep. Michelle Bachmann attempted to insert an amendment that would bar ACORN from a role in the proposed agency’s advisory board.  Bachmann’s amendment was approved, but Democrats also outmaneuvered her and had the committee approve an amendment which would allow ACORN representatives to sit on another far more important oversight board in the agency. But while Republicans and Democrats in Washington continue scoring political points over ACORN, the problems the organization was created to address still remain.

An recent article in the New York Times suggests ACORN’s power and influence may have deep roots in the urban crisis and beyond. According to the article, ACORN’s relationship with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Sean Donovan dates back to his days as Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner in New York City.  There, as they did nationally, ACORN has been highly active in community housing programs since the 1980s.  The New York Acorn Housing Company, under the leadership of Ismene Speliotis, became a nationally recognized player in the affordable housing business, receiving over $40 million from the Bush Administration and building relationships with everyone from Adolfo Carrion to Rudy Giuliani.

Affordable housing deals are hugely complex and can involve literally dozens of investors including the state, local and federal government, private investors, pension funds, nonprofit trusts and community organizations.  Tax incentives for affordable housing construction are often plentiful but accompanied by stiff regulations.  Since the advent of HOPE VI and Moving To Opportunity and other programs designed to encourage mixed-income housing, developers and community organizations have had to balance competing pressures of affordable housing activists and the desire to attract higher-income clientele who can pay higher rents or fees.  At the same time, as the Clinton and Bush Administrations encouraged home ownership as an alternative to renting or to public housing, groups like ACORN were active in helping members of the community avoid predatory lenders and in pressuring banks and mortgage companies to offer fair loans in poor and minority communities (NeighborWorks America and the Federal Reserve have both shown that African Americans were substantially more likely than whites to be given ARMs and to have ARMs in higher rates regardless of income.

As American political and policy leaders came to terms with some of the failures of New Deal and Great Society urban development programs, most specifically the failure of the “Tower in the Park” housing projects excoriated by Jane Jacobs, they responded by de-funding urban development programs and public housing.  It was not until the Clinton era that a new approach to housing, emphasizing smaller units, mixed-income developments and public-private partnerships, came into existence and the “ownership society” led to a huge market in subprime loans.  In cities like New York , politicians cooperated with community organizations like ACORN to move into the vacuum left by the departure of the federal government and to attempt to spread some level of financial literacy.

It is more than appropriate to excoriate ACORN for its wrongdoing, and it makes political sense to attack ACORN as a way of attacking Democrats.  But attacking ACORN will not solve the problem of affordable housing for poor and middle class people in American cities, it will not increase financial literacy and it will not lead us toward a housing policy that works. Although it is not only tempting but also right to attack ACORN for its apparently gross improprieties, we must also remember that the rise of ACORN is intimately linked to a problem that remains for us to solve.