Archives: 12/2012

Why Chris Christie Vetoed an ObamaCare Exchange

On Thursday’s episode of The Daily Show, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) gave one of the better explanations of why states should say no to an ObamaCare Exchange. (Goes from about 1:10 - 2:50.)

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Is Egypt Molded in Pakistan’s Image?

Last year, in a piece for AOL News titled “Will Egypt Follow Pakistan’s Troubled Path?” I warned that U.S. policymakers must be careful of whatever government follows ousted Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak by not repeating the mistake of giving lavish material support to a distasteful regime, as America did with Pakistan’s General-President, Pervez Musharraf. I had argued that the ample generosity of American taxpayers—in the form of lavish military and economic aid—to a foreign dictator’s all-powerful military hardly produces the desired outcomes, and results in a military that is further entrenched and able to ignore the popular demands of its people.

Sadly, that scenario is playing out in Egypt. An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal picks up on my point from last year, stating, “the result may be a state that is less an Islamist-tinged democracy a la Turkey and more a military-Islamist condominium akin to unstable Pakistan.”

Indeed. The political turmoil in Egypt took yet another disappointing turn yesterday when its Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, decreed that the military will assume responsibility for security during the country’s constitutional referendum, to take place on December 15. Amid protests against the referendum on a constitution hurried through an Islamist-dominated assembly, Morsi made his decrees immune from judicial review and gave the military the power to arrest civilians. As the Journal explains, the Egyptian military is the most powerful institution in the country and has its own reasons—such as maintaining de facto control over much of the economy—for keeping the status quo.

As for America’s role in this unfolding controversy, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes today:

The [Obama] administration’s rejoinder is that this isn’t about America. Egyptians and other Arabs are writing their history now, and they will have to live with the consequences…[B]ut it’s crazy for Washington to appear to take sides against those who want a liberal, tolerant Egypt and for those who favor sharia. Somehow, that’s where the administration has ended up.

Oddly enough, as Ignatius suggests, claiming that “this isn’t about America” is disingenuous. After all, America’s Egypt policy continues to tip the scale on both sides: it backs Egypt’s liberal protesters and the authoritarian government that oppresses them. The world is standing witness to a head-on collision between the Bush freedom agenda and the Cold War relic of U.S. grand strategy in the Middle East, as foreign policy planners in Washington pay lip service to principles of self-determination and political emancipation while simultaneously assisting authoritarian leaders who suppress the popular demands of their people.

In the end, while what is happening in Egypt is unfortunate, come what may. The best way to discredit Islamists is to let their record speak for itself. Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood President should be allowed to fail on his own terms. The Egyptian people voted to bring Islamists to power and it was their prerogative to do so. If Washington truly wants to leave Cairo’s future “to the Egyptian people,” then it should do so by phasing out aid to Egypt completely.

Tennessee Rejects an ObamaCare Exchange

Yet another state seems poised to lure employers away from Mississippi. Excerpts from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s press release:

Tennessee faces a decision this week about health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

I’m not a fan of the law.  The more I know, the more harmful I think it will be for small businesses and costly for state governments and the federal government.  It does nothing to address the cost of health care in our country.  It only expands a broken system…

Since the presidential election, we’ve received 800-plus pages of draft rules from the federal government, some of which actually limit state decisions about running an exchange more than we expected.

The Obama administration has set an aggressive timeline to implement exchanges, while there is still a lot of uncertainty about how the process will actually work.  What has concerned me more and more is that they seem to be making this up as they go.

In weighing all of the information we currently have, I informed the federal government today that Tennessee will not run a state-based exchange.  If conditions warrant in the future and it makes sense at a later date for Tennessee to run the exchange, we would consider that as an option at the appropriate time.

Education Poll Exposes Moochin’ Americans

As we slide towards the “fiscal cliff,” President Obama’s stance seems pretty clear: Americans want lots of stuff but shouldn’t have to pay for it. (It’s a position the GOP has also often taken.) A new education survey suggests the President’s position is politically smart.

According to the poll, commissioned by the pro-spending Committee for Education Funding, 55 percent of respondents thought “education programs” should be spared automatic budget cuts, third behind Medicare (69 percent) and “tax credits for low-income families” (58 percent). That’s not surprising, since most people are rationally ignorant – how many have the time or inclination to delve into the minutiae of health, education, and tax policy?  – and assume that spending on good-sounding things must be, well, good. That rampant rent-seeking and bureaucratic inefficiency squanders the dough probably isn’t something of which many are aware.

From a moral standpoint this isn’t hugely troubling, though one would hope that people would care much more about effects than intentions. What is quite troubling is that while many Americans think education is crucial and should be spared cuts, it seems they aren’t willing to pay for it themselves. 55 percent of respondents thought education should be protected from sequestration, but only 45 percent said they would “definitely” or “probably” be willing to pay more taxes to do it. And odds are respondents were much more willing to say they would accept higher taxes than they would be to support concrete efforts to actually get them.

So who, if anyone, should pay? While the survey isn’t crystal clear on that – indeed, there is much wiggle room throughout the findings – at least one indication is “the rich.” When given the (false) choice of either cuts to federal programs or tax increases for “those with incomes over $250,00 per year,” 58 percent chose the latter.

It’s hard to fault people for not knowing the depressing outcomes of federal programs that purportedly promote good things.  It is not so difficult to fault them for saying that other people should pay for the initiatives they think are so dandy.

It seems there’s a fair amount of moochin’ goin’ on.

On the Fiscal Cliff Games

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Will the wealthy bite back at the GOP?

My response:

The “fiscal cliff” debate going on in Washington today has almost nothing to do with the nation’s fiscal problems, which are rooted in too much spending, not too little taxing. Thus far, the debate’s all politics. Do we need any better evidence than Obama’s obsession with taxing the rich, expected to raise all of $1.6 trillion over 10 years (and we know how reliable those long-range static analyses are)? That barely covers the deficit for one year.

So those few Republicans, mostly in the Senate, who are playing this game deserve to be bitten, not simply by those who’ll be hit by the tax but by anyone who recognizes the game for what it is. When Obama and the Democrats, to say nothing of too many Republicans, get serious about reining in federal spending, then maybe they’ll be taken seriously.

In the meantime, the much over-hyped fiscal cliff looks increasingly attractive. Republicans will take the initial hit. But soon enough it’ll be “Obama’s economy.” That may be the jolt we need. Otherwise, we’ll keep borrowing until lenders decide it’s too risky to keep lending.

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Scottish Independence

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, writes in the Washington Post that his country “once was independent and aspires to that status again.” I regret that a major part of his argument with the Post’s editorial board is whether Scotland would remain involved in global military intervention. You’d think the opportunity to extricate your country from quagmires like Iraq would be a great benefit to the Scots. But Salmond denies that an independent Scotland would mind its own business and live in peace.

Still, independence for any country ought to appeal to Americans, especially to those of us with Scottish roots. Some scholars argue that the Act of Union  in 1707 made the Scots part of a larger and more advanced nation and opened the way to the Scottish Enlightenment of David Hume, Adam Smith, and other scholars. And perhaps those modern ideas and the connection with England made possible the achievements of  the inventor James Watt, the architect Robert Adam, the road builder John MacAdam, the bridge builder Thomas Telford and later Scots such as Alexander Graham Bell and Andrew Carnegie.

But whatever the benefits of union might have been in 1707, surely they have been realized by now. And alas, the land of Adam Smith has become one of the poorest and most socialist parts of Great Britain. So maybe a libertarian shouldn’t look forward to Scottish independence. On the contrary, I think it’s easy for Scotland to whine and demand more money from the British central government. An independent Scotland would have to create its own prosperity, and surely the people who produced the Enlightenment are smart enough to discover the failures of socialism pretty quickly if they become free, independent, and responsible for their own future.

The Cato Institute’s late, lamented magazine Inquiry got to the topic of Scottish independence long before the voters did, in 1978. Its article was written by Alexander McCall Smith, a distinguished professor of law at the University of Edinburgh but now much better known as the author of the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series, and independence activist Peter Chiene. They haven’t achieved their goal yet, but the landslide victory in 2011 for the Scottish National Party has made national independence a real possibility.

Senate Hearing Wednesday: The ‘School to Prison Pipeline’

I’ll be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights this Wednesday, at 2:00pm. The hearing will investigate the “school to prison pipeline”—the pattern of flawed disciplinary policies and practices, including “zero tolerance,” that has been widely faulted for unnecessarily pushing students out of school and into the juvenile justice system.

In addition to summarizing some important recent research on the subject, I’ll also be describing an alternative discipline policy that has shown enormous success in one of the most violent, crime-ridden districts in the country, and what Congress can do to encourage the adoption of such policies.

The hearing is open to the public (Dirksen building, room 226), and I’ll be posting my written testimony afterwards.