“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Friday, May 20, 2011

Wonderboy & The Jewish Vote

With Wonderboy explicitly calling for Israel to return to pre-167 borders as a condition of any peace talks, is there any American Jewish voter who would seriously support his 2012 re-election bid?

It doesn't really matter what he said about the Palestinians. Instead, he's the first American president since Truman accepted an Israeli at the White House to basically abandon that nation, switch sides and begin to back its Arab neighbors.

While the First Rookie informed Israel that it must be willing to surrender the occupied territories in exchange for nothing, he managed to forgive various Arab nations billions of dollars of loans, and promise more support, all in the cause of the alleged Arab Spring.

Only there's that pesky problem that we don't actually know just who has been or is overthrowing the corrupt Mideast dictators, most of whom we supported. Prior to their being deposed, that is.

So we're undercutting a regional ally while promising financial support to rebels who we know include terrorist elements.

This is progress.

Sounds to me like Glenn Beck's conspiracy theory is beginning to look credible. That Wonderboy really is a Muslim sympathizer, if not just a Muslim. How else to explain such a sudden reversal of so many decades of American foreign policy by presidents of both parties and a new lack of concern regarding the character, nature and identities of the rebels we are now apparently backing across the region?

Trump- An Addendum

As I was discussing this topic last night with a friend, after I wrote the post, another reason for Trump's decision became clearer.

When he announced he wasn't going to run, he mentioned that the network carrying his reality television program had just given him a monetary offer he couldn't refuse, saying the swing between running and not running was something on the order of a net $300MM.

Having said that to my friend, I realized what Trump had probably been doing all along.

By claiming to be interested in a presidential run, Trump probably forced NBC into a maximal offer to dissuade him from running for the White House.

Who knows the exact numbers, but perhaps he squeezed an extra $5-10MM of value out of the television deal in exchange for dropping a bid about which he was never serious.

My guess is, deep down, Trump was always using the campaign option strictly as a stalking horse in his negotiations with NBC.

I'm sure he enjoyed the temporary extra publicity. If it wanes, that's not his problem- he has his new, richer contract with the network.

Trump Fulfills My Prediction

As recently as in this post on May 3 I reiterated my prediction that Donald Trump would not run for the GOP nomination for president.

As of Monday evening, I was proven correct.

Despite his claim that his business career is too important to him, I think Trump was shaken by the rough treatment he received by Wonderboy and the event's host at the White House correspondents' dinner a few weeks ago.

It's no secret that Trump is used to owning the microphone and dictating the nature of his public persona. So being roundly lampooned by talk show hosts and the press must have really stung.

And that was only the beginning. He hadn't even officially announced yet.

Trump probably realizes that his puffed up claims of business genius would evaporate upon close scrutiny. The multiple corporate bankruptcies, the multiple marriages and cheating with the wife-to-be while still married. All things that would become sore points and possible deal-breakers among voters.

As at least one pundit declared, Wonderboy and his handlers must be cursing their bad fortune that Trump didn't actually decide to run.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Vehicle Detonates On The Launch Pad!

No- not that detonation. I was referring to Newt Gingrich detonating his own campaign while it was still on the launch pad this week by calling Paul Ryan's sensible call to convert Medicare to a subsidized insurance plan "radical" and "right wing social engineering."

Charles Krauthammer, the Fox News pundit and a leading conservative eminence, pronounced Newt's candidacy DOA. By undercutting the House Republicans, all but 4 of whom voted for Ryan's plan, Newt has managed to alienate virtually every House GOP member in the country.

In a priceless video on O'Reilly's program, an Iowa conservative Republican walked up to Gingrich and excoriated him for his remarks, then advised him to withdraw now, before causing further damage and embarrassment to GOP presidential hopes.

Gingrich was flummoxed and could only manage a meek,

'Well I'm sorry you feel that way.'

Krauthammer pointed to Newt's comments as evidence of why he's unfit to be president. He isn't a team player and has a massive ego.

Meanwhile, a friend mentioned that while on a long drive that week, listening to Hannity's radio program, the prominent conservative didn't refer to the Newt incident even once. We discussed how Hannity had invited Newt on for an entire hour on his evening Fox News program after the Georgian declared his candidacy. Hannity must just be in shock over Gingrich's gaffe.

This time, he's gone too far. I think you can stick a fork in Newt, because he's done now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More Unbelievable Spending On Teachers' Benefits In California

Allysia Finley wrote an editorial in this past weekend's edition of the Wall Street Journal describing the surreal situation in California. A tax revolt for higher rates.
It's an incredible story:

Thousands of California teachers turned out this week to protest potential budget cuts to education and to urge lawmakers to raise taxes. Such activism may be par for the course in Democratic strongholds like Sacramento or Los Angeles, but in conservative Orange County?

Teachers swarmed me, eager to get their message across. "We need to educate our community about the tax extensions," said Elizabeth Hoffman, a member of the California Faculty Association's Board of Directors. "We need a rational budget process, a stable funding source that we can count on," Linda Manion, president of the Placentia-Linda teachers unions, added, only to be cut off by Fola Odebunmi, president of the United Faculty North Orange County Community College District. "We can't take any more!" she said.

These teachers complain that schools are facing a "state of emergency." Perhaps what schools are actually experiencing is a state of withdrawal.

The stock market run-up stuffed state and local coffers—but lawmakers decided not to save any of the surplus cash for a rainy day. Between 2004 and 2007, the state increased K-12 and community college funding to $56 billion from $47 billion. Even as student enrollment declined, schools added 4,000 teaching, 2,100 administrative and 5,200 student-support jobs. Meanwhile, school districts that experienced a boom in property-tax revenue increased teacher benefits and salaries.

Poor fiscal management has resulted in swollen teacher and administrative ranks "even as student enrollment declined." Either the enhanced teaching conditions must be scaled back, or Californians need to admit that they were conned into fueling a rise in teaching labor with no corresponding increase in value or performance.

As Stephen Moore noted in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, if this were a private sector, productivity improvements would be sought, rather than productivity reductions. And if productivity weren't improving, spending on the line-item would be curtailed until problems were addressed.

Lawmakers should have known that it never rains in California. It pours. Months after the 2008 stock market crash, the state had to confront a $40 billion deficit. Democrats proposed raising taxes to help bridge the gap, but they couldn't do it alone since the state's constitution requires a supermajority vote for tax increases. A few Republican state legislators compromised and agreed to raise income, sales and vehicle taxes for two years in order to reduce cuts to education.

Those taxes expire this year. Democrats want to extend them for another five years, insisting that allowing them to expire won't just jeopardize the state's schools, but California's economic recovery. "Five years is what's necessary to bridge our economic recovery," says State Senate Majority Leader Darrell Steinberg.

In a bow to democracy, Gov. Jerry Brown has pledged to put the taxes on a special-election ballot, which also needs a two-thirds vote of the legislature. All of the parents and teachers I spoke with supported this idea.

The California Teachers Association—surprise, surprise—has a different proposal. The union is urging Mr. Brown to extend the taxes without a vote of the people. David Sanchez, the union's president, says he's afraid that voters will reject the taxes if they're put on the ballot after they expire in June. "The people are pretty clear that they don't want new taxes," says Mr. Sanchez.

Amazing, isn't it? When the views of voters don't suit these unions and their boss, they simply appeal to the governor to ignore them, skip a vote, and unilaterally extend the taxes.

A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll shows that nearly two-thirds of likely voters oppose increasing sales and income taxes to maintain school funding. At the same time, 76% of parents say their child's public school has been affected by recent budget cuts and 68% believe that the quality of education will suffer if more cuts are made. Education has already been cut by about $20 billion in the past three years. "We're at a breaking point," Suzanne Gastreich, a mother of two from Mission Viejo, tells me.

You can bet that most of those parents don't know what Finley's editorial reveals about where the money went from the last decade's education spending orgy.

But the reality is that despite recent cuts, education spending and the student-teacher ratio are about the same as they were in 2004. The real problem is that more and more tax dollars are being diverted for teacher benefits. The Los Angeles Unified School District is paying 11% more for teacher health benefits than it did two years ago.

To me, that passage explains the rest of the reason for the problem. It's not education spending, per se, it's benefits for teachers which were increased in the lush real estate boom years.

Republicans have offered to help "save schools" by extending the tax increases for 18 months in return for pension reforms and a hard spending cap. But Democrats have refused to negotiate on those points. Union chief Mr. Sanchez tells me that pension reform "isn't going to help anything."

Democrats say that ideally they'd like to make the extensions permanent, but know they can't get the votes to do so. A five-year extension would give them two election cycles to win four more legislative seats and achieve a supermajority. Then they could make the taxes permanent—and raise whichever other taxes they want.

So Democrats have decided to take schools hostage in the budget showdown in order to rally public support for higher taxes. Judging by the crowd and the car horns, their strategy has a chance of working.

Being California, you can't make this stuff up, can you? After having looted higher educational spending for their own larger staffs, salaries and benefits, the union and its teacher members now tell voters that the core educational services, which didn't actually receive the extra funding, will be cut if taxes don't remain high. Because, as the union boss claims, pension reform and inquiry into union members' pay and benefits "isn't going to help anything."

I suspect that what the teachers' unions don't yet understand is that people and businesses can leave states- and their union pension liabilities- for cheaper, saner right-to-work states. And, ultimately, the states that don't fix these teachers' union problems will simply lose the tax base to pay promised benefits, resulting in larger problems than now exist.

As one example of how teachers are beginning to understand the situation, my New Jersey public school teacher friend recently told me he no longer wants to have his pension contribution deducted from his compensation. He correctly reasons that his money is funding currently-retired teachers, while shrinking teacher ranks and pay-and-benefits wrangling will not provide him with the same assurances. So he'd like to keep his money, rather than pay for the retirement of teachers he doesn't even know, and find his own promised benefits missing when he retires.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Defending Fiscal & Social Conservatism in 2012

Kim Strassel wrote another of her typically excellent pieces on Friday discussing the challenges facing Republicans in the special election for New York's US 26th district seat.

Once more, as in the last such New York special election, the state's rules prohibited a primary, so discontented Tea Partiers felt snubbed by the party's officials who were responsible for choosing a candidate. There's more chicanery than that going on, as well.

But the interesting element which Strassel highlighted was the GOP's candidate, Jane Corwin's lack of sensible defense of the Ryan budget.

Strassel warns,

"This is the lesson of NY 26 for Republicans. Having boldly jumped into the entitlement defbate, the party had better be willing and able to define its reform- or the other side will do it for them. The risk was never Mr. Ryan or other veteran Republicans, who capably explained the plan at recent town halls and came away with largely positive experiences. The risk was always the hundreds of less-seasoned Republican members and candidates, who may be eager but who remain unequipped to have a rousing Medicare debate.

The GOP should thank Democrats for spotlighting this problem, so Republicans can think through the political challenges."

Well put. Given how sobering the truth of the Ryan budget is, it will take more than your average local political hack/wannabe Congressman to convincingly defend it. That's because, as I've written before, the existing so-called options are not sustainable, nor real options at all. But that has to be driven home with conviction, or the average Republican candidate will appear to be simply mean-spirited and cheap, rather than refreshingly candid and prudent.

As with so many social situations, including politics, better people/candidates make a difference. Ideas count, but the more articulate and passionate candidate is likely to win over one supporting better ideas with less passion and knowledge.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The GOP Presidential Field

The Wall Street Journal pulled no punches in its criticism of Mitt Romney in its May 12 lead staff editorial. With a title like Obama's Running Mate, you knew it wouldn't be kind. Romney replied with a letter to the editor a day later, the details of which caused me to wonder if the two were even referring to some of the same data. For example, the Journal claimed that RomneyCare is soaking up 40% of the Massachusetts state budget, while Romney alleged it's less than 5%.

Meanwhile, the aging and progressively less-relevant one-time Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan devoted her weekend Journal column to discussing Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich. Then veered off into a largely unrelated tangent concerning presidents or candidates who cheat on their wives now, rather than in the past.

However, with the recent South Carolina GOP candidates debate now recent history, it's probably time for the first of a running series of my personal views on and handicapping of the GOP presidential race.

As of last night, possibly on his Fox News program, Mike Huckabee formally announced he won't seek the nomination. Gingrich, earlier in the week, announced he will.

Thus we have, at this point, the following:

Declared: Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Jon Hunstman

Undeclared: Mitch Daniels, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman

Not Running: Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie

The way I choose to classify these candidates is along these lines:

Who is electable?
Who do I prefer?

Who is electable? This is, for me, the more important question. When Bill Clinton was president, it was hard to claim he was really screwing things up. Gifted with a recovering economy, thanks to George H.W. Bush, Clinton didn't have to do much to get re-elected. Even his affairs weren't enough to sink him.

This time, though, we have a president who has actually messed up every single thing he's touched. I don't count the killing of Bin Laden, because that was a one-off mission that Wonderboy didn't actually "touch," but on which he simply gave the go-ahead. In economics, health care, the budget/deficit and foreign policy, the First Rookie has failed miserably.

Thus, for any sensible conservative, whether Republican or not, the most important task is to nominate a GOP candidate who has the best chance of winning, and isn't Obama, because literally anyone will be better than our incumbent.

That means the Republican who is most appealing to independent voters should be nominated, in order to earn as many of that 40% block of voters as possible.

Karl Rove does a great job analyzing the details of the election. He recently wrote a column in the Journal identifying which states are the key few in the electoral college to win the election. That's certainly one way to analyze 2012.

Another is to consider this. McCain ran a terrible campaign, nearly every black voted for Wonderboy, as did millions of upscale Yuppy whites who felt guilty about the country's segregationist past. Even so, Obama only won by 6 percentage points.

A younger, less grumpy, appealing GOP candidate should be able to sweep Obama out with some ease. Many of the wealthier whites now realize their mistake and won't repeat it. Independents who worry about ObamaCare and the deficit should be easy to pick up, too.

So, if I had omniscience, I'd simply choose the GOP candidate for whom the most independents would vote. Short of that, I'd use the latest Rasmussen poll with those results.

Since I don't have those numbers at hand, and it's still early, here are my personal view of who is electable in the general election.

Electable: Gingrich, Daniels

Unelectable: Ron Paul, Hunstman, Johnson, Cain, Bachman, Santorum, Palin, Romney

Here are my reasons for the latter group's unelectability.

Ron Paul- Too cranky and quirky. Too little executive experience. Good ideas and values, but just out of step on too many fronts. Too libertarian to grab the center of the independents.

Johnson, Santorum- Too little name recognition and too narrow a base of appeal.

Palin- Too shallow, too little time as governor and she left the job. Too quirky and undisciplined to remain trustworthy by independents. Too much of an outsider for most Republicans.

Romney- RomneyCare. And he has nothing new to offer since the last time he lost.

Bachman- Too little experience. Just too shallow on experience at this point in her life to run successfully against a sitting president.

So that leaves Ginrich and Daniels.

When I read the story regarding Daniels' wife in the Wall Street Journal, my first reaction was that he is unelectable. And I sort of think he is, but, if that personal detail can be overcome, he's got the right ideological and experiential credentials. But it's just bizarre that his wife left him and their four daughters in Indiana, divorced him, married someone in California for two years, divorced him, moved back and remarried Daniels. And neither will talk about it.

Very weird.

Gingrich, if he could avoid primaries and debates, would probably win a general election against Wonderboy. The debates would be great, and Newt would eat the president alive because he's smarter and more knowledgeable, plus he held the only Congressional post of national rank and importance- Speaker of the House.

Of course, Newt's fondness for the ethanol lobby, his large ego, and his appalling treatment of two ex-wives, on whom he cheated while married to them, isn't going to inspire confidence and trust in his actual personal values.

My personal preference? Probably Newt Gingrich, followed by Mitch Daniels. Herman Cain, by virtue of his candor and business experience, would be third.

I think Gingrich would actually be a pretty effective president for at least one term. It would be the completion of his House agenda of nearly 20 years ago.

Daniels is also pretty appealing to me. He has so many of the ideal credentials, but that divorce by his wife seems odd. And his offer to table social issues is misguided and may spell an unrealistic view of the genuine federal-level problems which intertwine spending and social programs.

But, in the final analysis, we only need someone who won't be Wonderboy for just four years. After that, other Republicans will emerge, perhaps other problems, too.

With all their warts and weaknesses, either Gingrich or Daniels could likely last for four years while doing a good job on the budget, reforming badly-designed entitlement programs, and repairing foreign policy.