Thursday, February 28, 2013

Too Much Obama

By Alan Caruba

It’s taken since 2008 and two elections, but as Obama moves into his second term he is beginning to lose traction with Americans, including those who have supported him and who give him approval ratings in the fifty percent bracket.

Previous second term presidents have enjoyed comparable ratings, but they tend to plummet as events and policies overtake reality. Obama’s current poll numbers are the same as Bill Clinton’s and Ronald Reagan’s at this point in their presidencies.

Obama’s biggest problem these days is sequestration which takes effect on March 1. It is not so much the across-the-board reductions as the scare tactics the President and his surrogates have been using to get Congress to put the kibosh on it.

Democrats are afraid the cuts will eventually redound to them and Republicans are afraid they will be blamed, but, if the mainstream media begins to report more widely (and truthfully) that sequestration was an Obama proposal, his popularity will suffer. It’s a big “if”.

Think of it this way. The President and his cabinet members are shouting about Armageddon regarding a 5% cut to the rate of spending that has increased more than 17% on average during the Obama presidency.

Closing down government services as a tactic will backfire. Americans rightfully expect the meat to be inspected, the borders protected, passports to be provided, and all the other functions of government to continue. Even with sequestration, there is no reason why they should not. It is a miniscule reduction stretched out over a decade’s time. Meanwhile the cost of entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will grow, eating into the funds available for all other domestic and defense programs.

Peggy Noonan, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, put her finger on Obama’s growing problems. “It’s always cliffs, ceilings and looming catastrophes with Barack Obama. It is always government by freakout.” After a while, even his supporters grow weary of that and, more importantly, it creates an image in their minds that he is incompetent and either unable or unwilling to govern.

Golfing with Tiger Woods and Big Oil buddies while sequestration loomed did nothing to enhance his image. A wife that is forever hectoring Americans about every bite they eat doesn’t help either.

“Mr. Obama thrives in chaos,” wrote Noonan in a recent commentary, but noted that “so far this seems to be working fine for him”, citing a recent USA Today/Pew Research Center poll that half the respondents said it will be the Republican’s fault if the sequester went through, but rising gasoline and food prices hit people where they feel it the most and the sequester has nothing to do with either.

“Government by freakout carries a price,” said Noonan. It wears people down. It doesn’t inject a sense of energy, purpose or confidence in those who do business in America, it does the opposite.”

The mainstream media have been Obama’s lapdogs, an adoring mob, since he began to campaign for his first term and throughout it, but we are beginning to see cracks in that. Even the late night television hosts are beginning to take shots at Obama and if Saturday Night Live, along with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, turns on him he’s toast among his youngest (and least informed) fans. A lot of them are already unhappy with their employment prospects.

One might expect The Washington Post’s designated conservative columnist, George F. Will, to express doubts as he did recently in “The Manufactured Crisis of Sequester”, but when Bob Woodward, an associate editor of the Post, writing about “Obama’s Sequester Deal-Changer” points out that Obama has been lying through his teeth about it, that is a signal to the inside-the-beltway crowd that Obama is not to be trusted.

As Woodward pointed out, “the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House of Jack Lew and congressional relations chief Rob Nabors…Obama personally approved the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. They did so at 2:30 p.m., July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved.” Lew’s recent testimony before the Senate committee considering his nomination to be the Secretary of the Treasury was deemed “inaccurate” by Woodward. That’s a polite way of saying he lied. In a recent radio interview,

Woodward described Obama’s claim that he would be unable to defend the nation as the result of the sequestration cuts as “madness.”

Obama “owns” sequestration despite all the lies that poured out of the White House. It is the direct result of his failure of leadership when the special 2011 congressional, bipartisan committee offered recommendations on how to reduce the debt and deficit.

I predict his appointment of John Kerry to be his new Secretary of State will prove disappointing to Americans as will his selection of Chuck Hagel to be the Secretary of Defense, Jack Lew as Secretary of the Treasury, and the potential approval of John Brennan to be the CIA Director will be disappointing, too. Hagel’s testimony revealed a level of incompetency rarely seen on Capitol Hill. Kerry thinks climate change is the biggest threat to the nation.

It took months for Nixon’s Watergate scandal to unravel in the 1970s and this well may be the case of the failure to take any action during the 2012 attack in Benghazi that killed an American ambassador and three others. The lies that followed are now exposed. Washington may begin to leak other details in the weeks and months ahead.

Another issue that will affect the President’s popularity is his attack on the Second Amendment; eighty million Americans, conservatives and liberals alike, own guns. None are willing to give them up, submit to national registration, and other schemes. In the past week, Alaska, Montana and Kentucky legislatures all passed a Second Amendment Preservation Act; a nullification law to reject any executive orders or proposed laws affecting gun ownership.

The Keystone XL pipeline has been under “review” for five years and all the obstacles except the President’s refusal to allow its construction have been cleared. It is a dramatic example of his administration’s opposition to any energy development except for solar and wind.

In the end, all Presidents rise and fall on the basis of events in which they have been a participant or over which they are seen to have exercised an inadequate effort to shape.  

Obama’s forthcoming trip to Israel is an effort to project a support that he has not demonstrated during his first term and a likely discussion of combined efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The “Arab Spring” has become an unmitigated disaster, particularly in Egypt. Syria is in its second year of civil war, Iraq is wracked with bombings, and the president of Afghanistan just ordered Special Forces out of a key province.

There’s another factor. People are growing tired of Obama’s continuous “campaigning.” They have heard all his standard rhetoric about rich people, fairness, and the need for more taxes. As his second term barely begins, it is all very stale. It is all too much Obama.

© Alan Caruba, 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Every Horrid Thing You Need to Know About How Healthcare is Paid For Today

By Alan Caruba

“Despite more than sixty years of government efforts—representing the work of both political parties—we are moving further and further away from what we want. Prices are higher, more people are excluded from needed care, more excess treatments are performed, and more people die from preventable errors. Why?”

Why, indeed! Having had the Affordable Care Act (ACA) forced on us by a Democrat-controlled Congress—some of whom had to be bribed for their vote—Americans are beginning to learn that the cost of healthcare is going to increase, people will be laid off, have their hours reduced, or simply not hired at all as the result of this horrid new law.

A February 25 Rasmussen poll revealed that “Most voters still believe that President Obama’s national health law will cost more than official estimates and expect it to drive up the cost of health care in America.” They’re right!

David Goldhill has performed a national service with his new book, “Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father and How to Fix It.” ($25.95, Alfred A. Knopf) Goldhill is the president and chief executive officer of GSN, which operates a U.S. cable television network seen in more than 75 million homes and is one of the world’s largest digital games companies. He came to the issues of healthcare in the wake of his father’s death.

“Although his death was a deeply personal and unique tragedy for me and my family, my dad was merely one of a hundred thousand Americans who died that year as the result of infections picked up in hospitals. A hundred thousand preventable deaths! That’s more than double the annual number of people killed in car crashes, five times the number murdered, twenty 9/11s. Each and every year!”

“All of the actors in health care want to serve patients well, but understandably most respond rationally to the backward economic incentives baked into the system,” writes Goldhill. “At the heart of these perverse incentives is insurance. Unlike with everything else in the economy we rely on insurance as the sole means of paying for everything in health care—from the most routine to the most urgent.”

Noting that “Our massive and failing Medicare and Medicaid programs are already unsustainable and unfixable”, a fact known to anyone paying any attention, Goldhill gets to the heart of Obamacare, whose “central thrust is for ever more insurance to pay for health care.” The result is that “the underlying insurance-based structure of our health care system drives excess treatment, cost inflation, and medical errors.”

There are many myths about healthcare that have become embedded in our society. Goldhill notes that “The factors that most predict your health are your wealth, education, and lifestyle—not your access to health care.”  This might seem self-evident, but we live in a nation where we are constantly hectored regarding our lifestyle choices; what and how much we eat, whether we exercise sufficiently, and endless articles suggesting that diseases and illness is predicated, not on our genetic liabilities (if you come from a family with a history of heart disease or cancer), but on the literal invention of new ailments driven by pharmaceutical innovations to “cure” them.

“The ACA (Obamacare) is fundamentally a health insurance bill, not a real piece of health care reform legislation, focusing as it does on the wrapper of insurance rather than on the complex and dysfunctional system inside.”

To understand where we are today, we need to understand that so-called health insurance is “a payment mechanism for health care”, not the health care itself. It influences that nature of the actual healthcare being provided.  Moreover, “The U.S. health insurance companies employ over a half a million workers. That’s one worker for every two doctors. The administrative cost of managing our system of health care payments alne is almost $1,000 per American household. For most Americans, their annual share of this administrative cost exceeds the amount of actual health care they use in a typical year.”

“It is estimated that over the next decade the ACA will cost the government at least $1 trillion and the uninsured themselves the same amount,” says Goldhill. It’s worth keeping in mind at this point that the U.S. is $16 trillion in debt already and Medicare is widely understood to be underfunded; in part because $716 billion was taken from it to fund the imposition of ACA on the nation.

“In any given year, the most costly five percent of people account for more than fifty percent of health-care costs, and the top ten percent of people account for seventy percent of costs.” In effect this means that insurance is the mechanism “for moving funds from the many well to the few ill.” As a result, Medicare and the insurance companies become “surrogates” who “negotiate prices and preapprove procedures” and “they increasingly determine your choice of doctors.”

Goldhill notes that “there are plenty of government aid programs—food stamps, welfare, Social Security—in which the government doesn’t determine how we will spend its money, must less the prices of goods and services and from whom we can buy them.”

The kicker is that “health insurers can achieve long term profit growth only if the amount of money spent on health care increases!

Goldhill concludes that “Overall, the surrogates have done a miserable job of regulating the system’s quality, safety, and price.”

That is where we are today and it will get worse in the future. And our lives depend on the present system.

© Alan Caruba, 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Present Threats to Israel

By Alan Caruba

If you take a look at the map of the Middle East and read the daily headlines, you have to wonder what it must be like to be an Israeli—a nation the size of New Jersey—surrounded by Arabs driven insane by Islam, by a succession of brutal dictators, and by the never-ending hate-filled fulminations in the mosques and media against Zionism, Israel, and Jews.

The UN nuclear watchdog released a report last week stating that Iran has installed advanced technology at Natanz, its main site for uranium enhancement. Iran that has relentlessly sought to make its own nuclear weapons and the missiles with which to deliver them. In 2009, Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations—a hotbed of anti-Zionism—and the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, authored “The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Iran Defies the West.”

“It can be reasonably asserted that Iran perceives itself as a natural hegemonic power in its region,” wrote Dore. With roughly one-tenth of the world’s supply of oil and natural gas, Iran had the financial capacity to acquire the military strength it needed to realize its historical ambitions.” The various sanctions that have been applied to it have wreaked havoc on its economy, but have no deterred its intentions.

“Given that the Islamic Republic was the first to systematically employ suicide bombing attacks in the present era, it could very well be immune to deterrence and the threat of full scale retaliation should it employ nuclear weapons,” wrote Dore.

Writing more recently in The Washington Times, columnist Jeffrey T. Kuhner, addressed the “Consequences of a Nuclear Iran.”  He reiterated the history of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s many threats to Israel and its denial of the Holocaust, the deliberate murder of six million of Europe’s Jews during World War II. “What if Mr. Ahmadinejad is not lying” about Iran already being a nuclear power?” asked Kuhner. “Then the West—and especially the United States—faces a major crisis. It means the West’s policies of sanctions and diplomatic engagement have failed.”

It means that President Obama’s efforts, as executed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, throughout his first term have failed. It does not bode well that the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, in his first major foreign policy speech on February 20, believes that the real threat is climate change, not Iran and the other known enemies of the nation.

Kerry is delusional. He blathered on about “an environment not ravaged by rising seas, deadly superstorms, devastating droughts, and other hallmarks of a dramatically changing climate.” The seas are not dramatically rising, large storms have occurred throughout our history, as have droughts. It is as if Iran, the Middle East, Africa, North Korea, China and Russia aren’t even a problem.

The designate for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, is, if it is possible, an even worse choice so far as Israel is concerned. He is on record repeatedly displaying his antipathy—and worse—towards Israel. Demonstrably incompetent for the job, Hagel will reflect Obama’s reluctance for any combat short of the antiseptic use of drones.

The President has repeatedly stated that he will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran, but the President has spent years saying things that turned out to be empty promises and outright lies. His ties to anti-Semites and stated sympathy for Islam make anything he says suspect.

Kuhner warned that “An attack (on Iran) would have disastrous consequences. Iran is not Iraq. It is a much larger and more populous nation. It has proxies across the region—including Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria’s besieged regime.”

The Israelis know this in ways we never can. It recently had to take military action against Hamas in Gaza to slow the continued rocketing of his towns in its south. It has fought numerous ways since its founding in 1948, and it is threatened on all of its borders with Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza.

The change of power with Egypt, now in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, poses a threat to its peace treaty with Egypt. The civil war that has been raging in Syria for two years poses a present and future threat on its border. Jordan, which has been a stable monarchy and friend, is being challenged by Islamists.

The President is scheduled to visit Israel in March, the first visit since having been elected in 2008. His relations with Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu are chilly at best. Everything he says—and does not say—will be examined. The U.S. has provided a lot of military aid to Israel, but one wonders if that isn’t part of a larger policy to maintain a balance of power in the region.

The Israelis have been a major source of intelligence to the U.S. Even so, one suspects that the Israelis have deep reservations about President Obama and a lack of confidence given his past statements about its borders and settlements.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq says everything you need to know about the failure of its military involvement in both nations and its failed effort at “nation building.” When you add in the U.S. reduction of naval power in the Persian Gulf, you might imagine that the current Iranian regime believes it is triumphing over “the Great Satan” as it pursues its quest to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Dore stated a fundamental truth that continues to be ignored by the Obama regime. “If the West has a choice between negotiating yet again with the regime in Iran or undercutting it further, it should clearly seek to promote a process that leads to its collapse and replacement. Engagement was tried in the past and doesn’t work.”

Meanwhile, our new Secretary of State is wedded to negotiations and to the notion that climate change is the real threat to the West.

© Alan Caruba, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Goodbye to a Very Green Business Week

By Alan Caruba

In late 2010 I let my subscription to The Economist expire and now I am going to do that for Bloomberg Business Week.

In the February 18-24 edition of Business Week, an editorial, “The Right Way Forward on Climate Change”, contained this gem: “Still, the U.S. accounts for about 19 percent of all emissions—emissions that are causing global temperature increases, rising seas, and destructive droughts, floods, and hurricanes, according to a government advisory panel report released last month.”

When a magazine publishes such drivel, you should not read it. There are no rising temperatures worldwide. There is, in fact, a colder world that reflects a cooling cycle that began around sixteen years ago. Glaciers are growing. Snow is falling in increasing amounts and in places one usually does not associate with snow like Arizona. The seas are not rising. Polar bears are not going extinct. Et cetera.

To not know such simple facts betrays either an appalling ignorance or an appalling agenda, the advancement of the global warming—now called climate change—hoax.

The February 25-March 3 edition had an editorial on why the Keystone XL pipeline should be approved. It began “Americans concerned about pollution and climate change have traditionally stood with science, in particular the consensus that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are warming the earth and changing the climate.”  There is so much wrong with this short sentence one hardly knows where to start.

First of all, “climate change” is what the climate has been doing for 4.5 billion years on planet Earth. There have been a number of ice ages which properly can be called climate change . When the last one ended around 11,000 years ago, we entered the Holocene.

Pay attention now to this description of the Holocene: “Most recent of all subdivisions of geologic time, ranging from the present back to the time (c.11,000 years ago) of almost complete withdrawal of the glaciers of the preceding Pleistocene epoch. During the Holocene epoch, the sculpturing of the earth's surface to its present form was completed.”

“Withdrawal of the glacial ice resulted in the development of the present-day drainage basins of the Missouri and Ohio rivers, the development of the Great Lakes, and a global rise in sea level of up to 100 ft (30 m) as the glacial meltwater was returned to the seas. Warming climates resulted in the poleward migration of plants and animals.”

“The most significant development during the Holocene was the rise of modern humans, who are thought to have first appeared in the late Pleistocene.” Those modern humans did not control the climate when they arrived on the scene and they do not control it now. They will never control it no matter how many times Al Gore or the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says so.

We do not sacrifice virgins, tossing them into volcanoes to ensure a good harvest, nor do we do rain dances during a drought any more. Some of us, however, are convinced that we are the first Americans to have ever experienced a drought, a hurricane, or a blizzard.

When a magazine like Business Week employs morons to write its news and opinion, there is no point in subscribing to it in order to have your own intellect reduced by a couple of IQ points.
I am thoroughly sick of hearing that all life on the planet is threatened or going extinct. Been there. Done that.

In his weekly column on science topics, the Wall Street Journal’s Matt Ridley noted that, “When the asteroid slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula 66,038,000 years ago, North America took the brunt of the impact, because the asteroid came in from the southeast like a golf chip shot.” Globally, it wiped out all the dinosaurs, along with many bird and other species. Their relatives, the alligators survived. “Mammals reappeared within 20,000 years in North America, “probably from Asia via an Arctic land bridge.”

Right now, countless “environmental” organizations around the world are gearing up to celebrate “Earth Day” on April 22. Is it just a coincidence that it is the birthdate of Communist revolutionary and the former Soviet Union’s first dictator, Vladimir Lenin? I think not.

Business Week, the Economist, Time, Newsweek and countless other elements of the print and broadcast media will have an environmental orgasm, spewing forth the tired, old lies that undergird the greatest hoax of the modern era; one they can no longer call “global warming” because millions of people have concluded the Earth is getting colder, so now they call it “climate change.”

The alleged “consensus” of geoscientists and others that supports the climate change theory barely exists.

As reported in the March edition of The Heartland Institute’s Environmental & Climate News,Global warming alarmists are attacking the integrity of scientists, desperately seeking to minimize the damage presented by a recent survey of geoscientists and engineers regarding global warming.
“A recent survey of more than 1,000 geoscientists and engineers reported in the peer-reviewed Organization Studies found that only 36 percent agree with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assertion that humans are causing a serious global warming problem. By contrast, a majority of scientists in the survey believe that nature is the primary cause of recent global warming and/or that future global warming will not be a very serious problem.”
 Meanwhile, here in America, the current administration will continue to flush billions of dollars we do not have down the environmental drain, “investing” in the most uncompetitive and least productive forms of energy ever invented. It is an administration that declared war on coal—a resource that powered fifty percent of all the electricity we use until they came along. Can we—should we—trust people who cannot reduce the nation’s insane debt and deficit by even one half of one percent?

Should we trust people, journalists, charged with the responsibility to bring us the news about economic and scientific topics when they clearly are clueless? I think not.

© Alan Caruba, 2013

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Memory Span of Fungus

By Alan Caruba

I have been puzzling over what I perceive as the growing loss of public interest in the Benghazi debacle in which an American ambassador and three others lost their lives and the former Secretary of State in a pique of anger over questions about the event said, “What difference does it make?”

It makes a difference if the State Department was derelict or indifferent to the ambassador’s cables that spelled out the security threats that he and his staffed faced or, for that matter, the attacks on other diplomats and humanitarian organizations operating in what was a war zone. African migrant workers had earlier been attacked creating an evacuation crisis, but the September 11, 2012—a noteworthy anniversary—attack simply accelerated the flight from a lawless region controlled by al Qaeda.

It makes a difference if, as we have since learned, the President was entirely detached from the crisis of the attack in Benghazi after initially been informed of it. No one, it seemed, took any action despite the six hours of the attack though it was reportedly seen in real time via satellite drone surveillance.

It makes a difference if the White House, in concert with the State Department, concocted a story that made no mention of al Qaeda, said the attack on the anniversary of 9/11 was “spontaneous”, and was the result of a video that no one had seen.

Now, six months later, with the exception of Fox News, there is little notice taken of what is arguably a major scandal, one of incompetence followed by deception, and which, like “Fast and Furious”, the gun-running scandal to Mexican drug cartels dreamed up and covered up in the Department of Justice, is fading not just from the news, but from the memories of Americans.

My theory is that the cabal in the White House, led by the President, knows well that all they have to do is stall long enough and the initial outrage will go away, if it hasn’t already. Even the Congressional committees and their inquiries will lose momentum. The public is asking “What next?” instead of “What happened?”

Complicating this are the hearings on the President’s choices for cabinet posts. Former Senator John Kerry sailed through to his appointment as the new Secretary of State, but others like former Senator Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense and John Brennan as the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency are foundering briefly over concerns that the former is an incompetent, bigoted fool and the latter may be an Islamic “mole”.

The public, meanwhile, is distracted over the prospect of “sequestration”, blames the Republicans when in fact  it was a proposal made by the President to force Congress to address the growing national debt and annual deficit. As he said during a 2008 election debate, he was sure it would be derailed by some kind of agreement.

His failure or refusal to come to any agreement regarding spending cuts, however, ensures that sequestration will become the law of the land. His outlandish lies about the shutdown of vast elements of the government are ludicrous. They are a part of the way the Obama administration rules from crisis to crisis, spreading widespread fear among Americans.

There are plenty of other distractions as the 24/7 news cycle provides coverage of every new crisis somewhere in the world and here at home of dramatic weather events, fires, murders, sports, and the usual celebrity blather.

I often include references to history when I write, but I have begun to conclude that only the older portion of my readers have any real grasp of those events to which I refer. I am inclined to believe that many under age fifty and many more under thirty have no real grasp of U.S. or world history. Even Vietnam and Watergate are “ancient” history to most as is the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

It is already twelve years since 9/11 in 2001. In that time, our military has been bogged down in Afghanistan and fought a war in Iraq to no effect other than deposing its former dictator, Saddam Hussein. That war, however, may have encouraged the citizens in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt to force out their dictators, but lacking any experience with democracy, they have only exchanged the former dictators for new ones, often allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria is two years into a civil war with 70,000 dead.

I have begun to suspect that the advent of the Internet and the way news is now swiftly packaged and presented has left too many, but particularly the young, living entirely in the present with neither knowledge, nor interest in the past—even the recent past.

With our blogs and our ability to comment on everything as it occurs on Facebook or via Twitter, we are suspicious of the “experts”—people who may actually have the knowledge and experience to comment in a cogent, informed fashion—because we know what we “feel” even if we do not know what we do not know!

Too many of those experts come with an agenda that is intended to keep us frightened and compliant.

That is why this White House feels confident it can tell us the same lies over and over again, secure in the knowledge that we will only remember them, however briefly, and then move on to whatever the latest, the present news may be.

We are developing the memory and attention span of fungus.

That changes our relationship with the White House, Congress, the arcane workings of the Federal Reserve, the dizzying ups and downs of Wall Street, the imponderable fact that so many millions of our countrymen are unemployed, and that news of the latest Northeastern blizzard has already replaced the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

“We are the people we have been waiting for,” President Obama said during his 2008 campaign. I hope not. The sheer novelty of electing the first black President was sufficient to get him elected. That was just over four years ago and the novelty is gone. All that remains are the lies and an economy in disrepair.

The reality of Obamacare and other elements of the President’s agenda are beginning to bite, but the bulk of Americans are now conditioned to live in the present, ignore even the recent past, and regard the future as chaos. They only know what is occurring to themselves today. Who can or even will plan for the future when you have credit cards?

© Alan Caruba, 2013

Friday, February 22, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What is a BA Degree Worth Today?

By Alan Caruba

While my high school graduating class of 1955 went off to a variety of prestigious Ivy League colleges and universities, I chose the University of Miami in Florida. I spent four of the happiest years of my life there. The weather was sublime, the girls were pretty, and the Royal Palm trees lined the walk to the library. I eventually became the student governor of the College of Arts and Sciences, wrote for the university newspaper, and received an excellent education thanks to professors who really seemed to enjoy teaching.

I do not know what it cost my parents to send me there, but I do know that the cost of sending a young man or woman to college these days is daunting. For the many students who take loans it can leave them with so much debt that they will spend the next twenty years paying it off.

A recent Rasmussen poll revealed that “Voters don’t think much of the skills acquired by high school graduates attempting to go to college or enter the work force.” Imagine the problems faced by those who drop out of high school?

However, even the current recession has not impacted the decision to send a child to college. In a 2011 article in New York magazine by Daniel H. Smith, “The University Has No Clothes”, he noted that “Fifty years ago, 48 percent of recent high school graduates enrolled in a college or university. In 2009, that number was more than 70 percent.”

How much has the cost increased? “In the past 30 years,” wrote Smith, “college tuition and fees have increased, in constant 2010 dollars, from $9,500 a year to more than $27,000. Public college tuition has increased from $2,100 to $7,600. Fifteen years ago, the average student debt at graduation was around $12,700; in 2009, it was $24,000. Over the past quarter-century, the total cost of higher education has grown by 440 percent.”

Something is very wrong with this inflation of college costs and, in the winter 2013 edition of Cato’s Letter, a quarterly newsletter from the Cato Institute, Charles Murray, a noted scholar and author, warned of “The Coming Collapse of the BA Bubble.”

“The Bachelor of Arts degree,” wrote Murray “wreaks harm on a majority of young people. It is grotesquely inefficient as a source of information for employers. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s implicated in the emergence of a class-riven America.”

“I am not complaining that too many young people are getting an education after high school,” wrote Murray. “On the contrary, I am in favor of education after high school for almost all young people. I am not denying that the possession of a BA is statistically associated with higher income across the life span…” Murray noted that when I graduated in 1959 “an employer…could make some reasonable assumptions about what a BA signified in an applicant.” Only about ten percent of the adult population had BA’s at that time. Now about one third of all adults have a BA.

The key to Murray’s disenchantment with today’s BA degree is that “schools have every incentive to produce as many graduates as possible, but no incentives to improve their product…for the vast majority of undergraduate colleges and universities you don’t even know if that person can write a coherent sentence. You certainly know nothing about the kinds of skills that they bring to the job—skills that you could have been assumed were there some years before.”

This is especially important insofar as almost sixty percent of all jobs in the U.S. require a higher education and the emerging trend is that jobs in the past that only required a BA, now often require a Masters.  As one critic put it, “It’s only a matter of time until you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a certification to mow lawns.”

A 2012 study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, titled “Hard Times: Not All College Majors are Created Equal”, noted that bachelor degree grads have an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent, comparable or higher than the overall unemployment rates, no matter what kind of job is involved. Those graduates leave school with an average debt of $22,000 after their parents have spent 40 percent of their income to put them through college, giving a whole new meaning to “higher” education.

Smith noted that “little more than half of those millions who haul their laptops to campus each fall actually end up with a bachelor’s degree. The United States now has the highest college dropout rate in the industrialized world.”

It gets worse, a 2005 study by sociologists Richard arum and Josip Roksa, using the Collegiate Learning Assessment, concluded that “Nearly half of all students demonstrated…exceedingly small or empirically non-existent gains in the skills, even after two years of full-time schooling.”

Graduates are often unaware that their faculty graded them on a curve so they couldn’t possibly fail and the curriculum they studied had not changed much to reflect changes in the workplace or new technologies that require very specific skills they may not have acquired or even wanted to study.

Increasingly, the cost and end-result of a bachelor’s degree is receiving harsh criticism despite calculations that assert that a degree today is worth $1.3 million in additional lifetime earnings.

Murray believes that “Employers will rely more on direct evidence about what the job candidate knows, and less on where it was learned or how long it took. Our obsession with the BA has created a two-tiered entry to adulthood, anointing some for admission to the club and labeling the rest as second-best.”

What is evident is that the degree I acquired more than a half century ago opened doors for me that today’s BA opens. It certainly did not cost as much, nor did it leave me saddled with debt. The best thing it taught me was how to think more clearly, plus an appreciation for history, the arts and the sciences. It imbued me with a lifelong enjoyment of learning.

It is surely much harder for today’s BA graduates. The job market has shrunk. Depending on their major, they may have useful skills or they may not. They may find themselves “under employed” for years. The mismanagement of the economy by those who graduated after me in the 70s and 80s, has left it in tatters and left today’s graduates believing that the Earth is doomed unless we abandon capitalism and stop using traditional energy sources. That’s a definition of stupidity.

© Alan Caruba, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Arming Our Enemies

F-16 Fighter Jets

By Alan Caruba

Why would the Obama administration send twenty F-16 fighter jets to Egypt in the wake of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak with whom the deal was struck in 2010 and in light of the fact that man now in charge, Mohammed Morsi, is a rabid anti-Semite and enemy of Israel?

Wouldn’t a prudent U.S. administration review the earlier deal, part of a $1 billion U.S. foreign aid package, and conclude that a regime now led by a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and man who calls Jews “descendants of apes and pigs” not have its military power increased at a time when much of the Middle East and the Maghreb, northern Africa, is embroiled in turmoil?

Egypt is not threatened by Israel, but it is known that Morsi meets regularly with Mohammed Badi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme leaders, who last year declared that “The jihad for the recovery of Jerusalem is a duty for all Muslims.”

Recently, Dr. Daniel Pipes, the founder and director of the Middle East Forum, editor of its Middle East Quarterly journal, a historian and political commentator, wrote a commentary in which he said, “The persistent belief that training and equipping foreign troops imbues them with American political and ethical values, making them allies of the United States” was “another sign of innocence.” He was being polite. It’s not innocence, it’s stupidity and the U.S. has been repeating it for a long time.

Dr. Pipes cited several cases that are worth recalling.

When U.S. “peacekeeping” troops landed in Lebanon in 1982, “the priority was to train a national army.” Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. The U.S. effort was a failure that included the 1983 suicide bombing of a Marine Corps barracks that killed 220 Marines and 22 other U.S. servicemen. As Dr. Pipes noted, most of those trained and equipped returned to their communal militias. A renewed effort to repeat this stupidity is underway again! It’s worth noting that Lebanon is governed by members of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization and proxy of Iran.

After more than a decade in Afghanistan, U.S. efforts to train a national police force and military often resulted in attacks by its members on coalition service personnel. In the first eight months of 2012, they killed 45 persons; at which point the training stopped. When the U.S. finally leaves later this year and next, those left behind to continue training programs will be sitting ducks. The billions in military gear will eventually become the property of the Taliban and Afghanistan will return swifty to its seventh century mentality.

As Dr. Pipes noted regarding Mali, U.S. efforts to train “the woebegone Malian national army to take on al Qaeda did not exactly work out.” Der Spiegel, a German daily, reported that “American specialists did train four crack units, totaling 600 men, to fight the terrorists. But it backfired: Three of the elite units have defected en masse to the rebel Tuareg.” One of its commanders, “Captain Amadou Sanogo, trained in the U.S. overthrew the government in Bamako and ousted the elected president.”

Perhaps the most egregious idiocy was the result of the U.S. efforts to mediate the discord between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in which the U.S. “has trained over 6,000 Palestinian Authority security personnel in the hope they will become Israel’s partners for peace.” Neither the PA, nor its competitor, Hamas, has ever acknowledged Israel’s right to exist and Dr. Pipes has predicted that “these militiamen will eventually turn their guns against Israel.” Israel continues to intercept arms intended for Hamas and had to wage a short military operation against Hamas, an Iranian proxy, to deter its daily rocketing of southern Israel. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, already has plenty of arms provided by the U.S.

Few allies in the Middle East, with the exception of Israelis and the Jordanian monarchy, are reliable. The Gulf States depend on the U.S. for a defense shield against Iran, as does Saudi Arabia. The U.S. has received cooperation from Yemen, but it is folly to think that Egypt or any of the North African states are friendly to our interests.

Sending Egypt F-16s is idiotic. Egypt already has a fleet of more than 200 comparable jets provided courtesy of the American taxpayer. Continuing the practice of arming nations that are unreliable is a very bad, very stupid one.

© Alan Caruba, 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Witness to the Decline

By Alan Caruba

Listening to Obama deliver his State of the Union speech was painful, considering that he promised that his agenda would “not add a dime to the deficit” while spelling out twenty-nine new programs involving the expansion of government to further extend its tentacles into everyone’s life. And, of course, the only way to pay for this is more taxes.

If one were to try to identify the decline of the American society and system of governance, it would be tempting to say it began with the election of Barack Hussein Obama, but it began much earlier. I am inclined to believe it began in the 1960s when the nation’s educational system was taken over by the teacher’s unions and when education—a word that does not appear in the Constitution—became a federal government department in 1979. The systematic dumbing down and indoctrination of several generations of Americans began in earnest.

One could go back further to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected four times (1933-1945). FDR vastly expanded the federal government, offering many of the same failed programs to “solve” the Great Depression that Obama put forth in his first term. FDR actually prolonged the Depression which ended with the advent of the nation’s entry into World War II. It mobilized America’s manufacturing sector and, after the war ended, was the basis for a booming economy in the 1950s.

Americans, from the days of the pilgrims onward, were always concerned with the moral fiber of their lives and the nation. Despite the nay-sayers, it was and is a Christian nation, though it also offered tolerance to other faiths, incorporating that into the Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers were classic conservatives, expressing a firm belief in the essential role that religion plays in people’s lives and in society.

Morality was a concern during the “Roaring Twenties” in the decade that preceded the Great Depression and gave rise to the changing role of women in society. The “flappers”, young women, were a cause for concern for their parents as they took to smoking, drinking in speakeasies, and embracing their sexuality. In 1919 women gained the right to vote.

The decline of societal norms takes many forms, the latest of which is the approval for women to serve in combat zones alongside men when their traditional role has been to provide support in non-combat functions. The military has been used for societal experimentation and now embraces open service by homosexuals. The integration of both has opened a Pandora’s Box of problems as women service members are vulnerable to rape or become pregnant due to consensual sex.

Consensual sex is as old as mankind, but handing out condoms in the nation’s schools or permitting underage girls to secure an abortion, often without the knowledge or consent of their parents, only encourages it. The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that half of all new sexually transmitted diseases occur among young people despite years of “sex education” in the nation’s schools. What passes for entertainment, films and television, are rife with the message that there are no limits or consequences to sex outside of marriage.

Though a distinct minority, homosexuals, lesbians, and transsexuals have attacked the central issue of society by insisting on same-sex marriage, a practice that has never existed throughout Western society or any other. In a similar fashion, the Boy Scouts of America, arguably one of the finest organizations for instilling patriotism and many worthy skills, is under pressure to permit gay members and gay leaders. This, too, contributes to the decline of moral standards. A President who now openly advocates same-sex marriage and other measures affecting homosexuals is undermining a central pillar of society.

At one point, Americans in an effort to address widespread alcoholism among the working class accepted Prohibition, lasting from 1920 to 1933, only to discover that a nation cannot change behavior by proscribing it. The Amendment that created it was repealed, but not until it had generated a new class of criminals who understood that Americans would drink, would gamble, and would frequent houses of prostitution, services provided by the likes of Al Capone and his associates. These days the concern is for the widespread use of illegal drugs and in some states the use of marijuana has been decriminalized.

I am a hybrid between conservatism and libertarianism. It has not escaped my attention that the states happily rake in millions from casinos as well as the sale of booze. If we want people to accept responsibility for their choices then that should include their bad choices as well. A million laws and regulations cannot change human nature.

 Even though the Second Amendment ensures that citizens can arm themselves for self-defense and to act as a brake against a tyrannical government efforts to restrict gun ownership and even the purchase of ammunition is yet further evidence of a decline in common sense and an understanding of history in which citizens are vulnerable to a well-armed government. Meanwhile, why the Department of Homeland Security is purchasing millions of rounds of ammunition is a genuine cause for growing concern.

Americans with any common sense know that no amount of law can deter the handful of mentally ill who commit murder. Outlawing gun ownership makes about as much sense as outlawing cars or anything else that causes death. It is also unconstitutional.

The interposition of government between citizens and their personal physicians and the provision of medical services represents the greatest threat to their lives and to the twenty percent of the economy which such services represent. How morally challenged is it for the government to deny medical care based on a patient’s age or condition? That’s what Obamacare will do despite claims to the contrary. How morally challenged is a government that seeks to require religious denominations to abandon their most closely held beliefs?

The failure to reform the “entitlement” programs of the 1930s ignores the changed demographics of a society in which Americans now have an average life expectancy of 78 and who live well beyond that these days. Forty percent of the government’s expenditures are dedicated to these programs before a single dollar is spent on any other domestic and defense programs. That is unsustainable without reforms to these programs.

Lastly, there is the absurd notion that humans have any control over the climate or contribute to natural events such as hurricanes, blizzards, forest fires, and droughts. The criminalization of emissions of carbon dioxide exists only to exert government control over the economy and our lives. It has no basis in science. It is a form of Green tyranny, not much different from Red tyranny.

Many, not all, Americans are experiencing a growing sense of the decline of our society. It is the decline of the nation’s moral standards. It includes the expansion of government in the name of “fairness.” Life is not fair. In the end, your life depends your decisions. The Constitution says you are free to engage in the pursuit of happiness. It does not guarantee happiness.

We are witnessing an expansion of ignorance and of apathy. Those who worry about such things have ample cause.

© Alan Caruba, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Rallying Against Enormous National Wealth

By Alan Caruba

Did anyone notice that the estimated 35,000 who showed up for the anti-Keystone XL pipeline rally outside the White House on Sunday, Feb 17, were all bundled up against the cold? The temperature was about 25 degrees Fahrenheit. The Earth has been cooling—naturally—for sixteen years.

The pipeline which will not cost taxpayers a dime would be part of the existing 1,200 pipelines that traverse the same route. It would enable oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to be refined in America. Failing that, the same oil will be exported to China.

There are already 170,000 miles of pipeline in America, moving oil and natural gas to fuel our cars and trucks, warm our homes and apartments, and, in the case of oil, to be turned in the zillion uses of plastic and other products such as asphalt to pave our streets and highways. 

The people who showed up and shivered through the rally lack sufficient brain cells to make the connection between the warmth to which they retreated and the energy that provided that warmth or the electricity that provided the light by which to read their anti-energy manifestos.

For an hour or two they listened as the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council spokesmen regaled them with an anti-energy, anti-jobs, and anti-wealth message that ignored the 20,000 jobs the Keystone XL pipeline is expected to generate, plus all the other jobs dependent on this source of energy. Not surprisingly, the AFL-CIO’s building and construction trade division has endorsed the pipeline.

In testimony before a House committee, delivery on Feb 13, Daniel Simmons, the Director of Regulatory and State Affairs for the Institute of Energy Research, addressed a hearing on “The Effects of Rising Energy Costs on American Families and Employers.” As far as I can tell there was zero media coverage, but here are a few of the facts he presented.

“The federal estate contains vast energy resources, but the federal government allows energy production on a very small percentage of taxpayer-owned federal lands. The Interior Department has leased just two percent of federal offshore areas and less than six percent of federal onshore lands for oil and gas development.”

“It takes 307 days for the federal government to process a permit to drill, but only 27 days for Colorado and ten days in North Dakota.” Both states are reaping the benefit in terms of jobs and revenue generated while “energy production on federal lands is stagnating.”

In a nation that is $16 trillion in debt with trillion dollar annual deficits this runs counter to anything that makes any sense at all.

Just how much wealth is represented in the energy reserves the Obama administration to which has and will continue to deny access?

“These technically recoverable resources,” Simmons told the committee, “total 1,194 billion barrels of oil and 2,150 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that is owned by the federal taxpayer…the value of the estimated oil resources is $119.4 trillion and the value of the estimated natural gas resources is $8.6 trillion for a grand total of $128 trillion.”

If you wondering why the U.S. is borrowing trillions from other nations and contemplating the sequestration of funds for both domestic and defense when it sits atop enough energy reserves to wipe out our debt, reduce the importation of oil from nations that do not much care for us, and has millions unemployed when our energy industries alone could employ many of them and encourage manufacturing that would employ even more, you are asking the right questions.

Instead, the Obama administration has wasted billions on the most unreliable and uncompetitive energy producers, wind and solar, while promoting electric cars that no one can afford or wants to purchase. At one point the President was ballyhooing algae—pond scum—as a potential energy source! This lies somewhere between criminal stupidity or deliberate harm to the economy. For the record, in 2011, wind power produced 1.2 percent of the energy used in the United States and solar power produced 0.1 percent. Without subsidies and mandates they would not exist.

What is truly astonishing despite all the lies we’re being told about energy, in 2011 the U.S. produced 23.0 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, making it the world’s largest natural gas producer. Naturally, the federal government is dragging its feet on permissions to build gas export facilities.

In 2011 the United States produced 5.67 million barrels of oil per day. It could be the world’s leading producer if the government would permit access to just those parts of the more than 41 million acres of land it owns in our name under which can be found a treasure of oil, as well as natural gas, and coal.

The federal government currently owns or manages 755 million acres of onshore subsurface mineral assets. Offshore it owns or manages 1.76 billion acres of lands and mineral assets. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that state and national coffers could generate nearly $150 billion over a ten-year period if these resources were immediately opened. 

Instead, the nation is so badly mismanaged that, while the New Depression lingers on, the Institute on Energy Research estimates the worth of the government’s oil and gas technically recoverable resources are worth $128 trillion, about eight times our national debt!

We are all the victims of the most incredibly stupid Congress and the present administration whose single goal seems to be to impoverish as many Americans as possible so that the few remaining job-holders can be taxed enough to pay for their government benefits.

© Alan Caruba, 2013

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Relentless Power of Demography

By Alan Caruba

The President of the United States is routinely referred to as the most powerful man on the Earth. There is a greater power and it is the changing characteristics of population, something that occurs constantly here and around the world.

Laws are powerless against it and, in particular, laws that were passed some eighty to fifty years ago with the best of intentions. I refer, in particular, to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. No one anticipated that Americans would routinely live to their current life expectancy of 78 years, nor that advances in medicine and healthcare would extend their lives into their late 80’s and their 90’s.

Nor could laws anticipate American lifestyles that went from a time when older citizens often lived with and were cared for by their children to a time when retirement communities exist along with facilities that provide care for the elderly afflicted with the illness associated with aging such as the explosion of Alzheimer’s disease. In the 1930s, no one anticipated the emancipation of women and their empowerment in the workplace.

Jonathan Last is a senior writer at the Weekly Standard and the author of a new book, “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: American’s Coming Demographic Disaster.” The Wall Street Journal recently published an article by Last, “America’s Baby Bust.”
Demographics, birth rates, aging, and the movement of populations such as the many Hispanics that crossed our southern border to seek jobs and enjoy the benefits America extends through programs that aid the poor. For the second time since 1986, Congress is attempting to grapple with millions of illegal aliens and their children who call America home.

While the immigration debate rages, Last notes that it has been the immigration of Hispanics that has kept the U.S. from becoming as stagnant as Japan. “While the nation as a whole has a fertility rate of 1.93, the Hispanic-American fertility rate is 2.35.” Even that is beginning to decline.
“Forget the debt ceiling, Forget the fiscal cliff, the sequestration cliff and the entitlement cliff. These are just symptoms. What America really faces is a demographic cliff: The root cause of most of our problems is our declining fertility rate.”

“The fertility rate is the number of children an average woman bears over the course of her life. The replacement rate is 2.1. If the average woman has more children than that, the population grows. Fewer, and it contracts. Today, America’s total fertility rate is 1.93, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; it hasn’t been above the replacement rate in a sustained way since the early 1970s.”

The only blip in our fertility rate followed the end of WWII and that cohort became known as the “baby boomers.” They are now retiring in large numbers daily. That is putting a strain on the Social Security and Medicare programs.

In the “good old days” women were, for the most part, homemakers caring for their families, but not part of the job market. Another factor after WWII was the belief that everyone had to have a college degree to have upward mobility. “Women,” notes Last, “began attending college in equal (and then ever greater) numbers than men.”

This caused young people of both sexes to put off marriage and, as the economy encountered recessions and the present fiscal uncertainties, the cost of college has skyrocketed, and graduation now means a huge debt for many of them before they even enter the job market.

The decrease in the fertility rate is not just an American problem. It is global and we are seeing this in Europe where socialism has been practiced even more briskly than here. As Last points out, “97% of the world’s population now lives in countries where the fertility rate is falling.” It translates into lost productivity and pressures on governments that attempt to prop up and maintain their economies through excessive borrowing. The U.S. government borrows about 40 cents of every dollar it spends.

So the President and Congress face the problem of an aging population, too few new babies being born, and economic policies—increased taxation—that work against the decision to have children. Children are expensive. The “perverse effect of putting government in the business of eldercare has been to reduce the incentives to have children…”

To that we can add putting government in charge of healthcare, education, housing, and energy. It has a track record of ruining these sectors that would thrive if they were returned to the free and open marketplace. One can search the Constitution long and hard to find a justification for government intervention or control and plenty of history to demonstrate they do better when addressed at the state and local level.

“In the face of this decline,” says Last, “the only thing that will preserve America’s place in the world is if all Americans—Democrats, Republicans, Hispanics, blacks, Jews, Christians and atheists—decide to have babies.”

© Alan Caruba, 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013