Sunday, October 6, 2013

Can Advocates of Fiscal Responsibility Overcome the Combined Forces of Obama, Lobbyists, and the Media?

Daniel J. Mitchell / Townhall Finance Columnist

I’m not overly optimistic about the outcome of the government shutdown fight. In part this is because our system of government, based on separation of powers, means it is very difficult to change the status quo.

This system, by the way, generally has been good for the country. It probably helps to explain why the United States has not traveled as rapidly in the wrong direction as other industrialized nations.

Simply stated, the left didn’t have easy opportunities to impose bad policies such as a VAT or single-payer government-run healthcare.

But it also means it isn’t easy for supporters of small government to undo expensive policy mistakes such as Obamacare.

But I’m glad some people are trying to do the right thing, even though they not only have to fight Obama, but they also need to overcome a biased media that is serving as an echo chamber for the left’s talking points.

I deal with some of that bias in this interview on Canadian TV. The hosts were very polite and gave me plenty of time to make my points, but all their questions could have been written in the White House communications office.

Here are a few takeaways from that interview.

The fact that Obamacare is the law today does not mean it must be enshrined forever. A lot of folks in the media are regurgitating this White House talking point. I pointed out that the Continuing Resolution also is the law, but maybe I should have pointed out that politicians change the tax code all the time.

As hinted at above, this fight is not a sign of dysfunctional government, but rather is an example of how our Founding Fathers expected Washington to function.

Media Bias ShutdownMedia bias is covering up angst and division on the Democratic side of the aisle. My Democrat friends on the Hill have told me they are worried about being forced to cast votes in favor of provisions such as the special Obamacare exemption for politicians. But as this Glenn McCoy cartoon implies, the press is pushing the left’s narrative rather than reporting the news.

Republicans won a policy victory as a result of the 1995 shutdown fight and they at least fought to a draw in the 1996 elections.

This is a fight to save America from turning into a bankrupt European-style welfare state. Even if that’s an uphill battle, that’s a fight worth having.

Using the example of corrupt agriculture subsidies, I explain that Obamacare won’t work very well, but that doesn’t mean it won’t lure more people into government dependency.

I like to think I did a decent job in this interview, but now it’s time to confess that this isn’t just a battle against Obama and the media.

If we want to shrink the size and scope of government, we also need to prevail against the lobbyist community. This is especially the case in the shutdown fight.

These excerpts from a Politico article reveal how Washington really works.

Though President Barack Obama often blames special interests and Washington lobbyists for the dysfunction and paralysis that plagues Beltway politics, most of the working K Street — and their clients — would like nothing better than for Congress to start working again on the routine business of drafting, debating and passing legislation. 
…“When Congress doesn’t do things and when Congress is not productive, people who are trying to influence Congress are not productive,” said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who was a top adviser to former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt. 
…Urban, who was a top staffer to former Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), said the latest fight over spending are throwing a wrench in K Street’s bread and butter work of tweaking legislation and attracting new client business. “The wide variety of client business — interests that come to Washington lobby — is now interrupted,” Urban said about the shutdown. …no major pieces of new legislation have moved since the takeover of the House by the GOP in 2010 —putting a big damper on new business development and existing client work. …”Not that we should be doing policymaking on K Street’s behalf,” Gold added. “But that’s the reality.”
In other words, the parasite class in DC wants “business as usual.” They want the government open so they can strike their backroom deals.

This is a perfect illustration of my “First Theorem of Government.” Washington insiders benefit from activist government. It means more money and power for the political class.

And notice how the lobbyists are complaining about less business ever since the 2010 elections.

That’s because fewer laws mean fewer opportunities for graft and redistribution, so lobbyists suffer. Which is why I had to correct a massive typo when USA Today wrote that the Tea Party Congress was “unproductive.”

That “unproductive” Congress, by the way, reduced the burden of federal government spending from more than 24 percent of GDP to about 21.5 percent of economic output.

We should all be hoping that the current Congress is equally “unproductive” and we further shrink the burden of government spending and further curtail opportunities for political corruption.

Obama surely 'owns' this...

Editor's Note: This column was coauthored by Bob Morrison. 

If United States is ever to be eclipsed as a major power, defeat might begin with foreign “leaders”—all dictators, actually—having ready access to the American people via our own mass media.

Recently, Russian strong man Vladimir Putin was welcomed to the editorial pages of that “newspaper of record,” The New York Times.

There, the Kremlin chief held forth on his vision for Mideast peace, a solution to Syria’s ongoing civil war, and, for good measure, lectured us on how dangerous it was for any nation to think of itself as “exceptional.” Amerika, you’re no more exceptional, he seemed to be saying, than Russia, Belarus, or even Chechnya.

Following Putin’s debut as an ex-KGB agent turned Timesman, both Iran’s new “president,” Hassan Rouhani and Syria’s boss Bashar al-Assad were captured by American journalists for what was breathlessly billed as “exclusive” interviews.

Rouhani’s session was conducted by The Washington Post’s veteran deep thinker, David Ignatius, while Assad parried light jabs from FOX News questioners, the serious and sonorous Greg Palkot (sans helmet) and the always entertaining Dennis Kucinich.

Because President Obama has a known aversion to dealing with foreign crises, this shaping of American public opinion by foreign dictators is a dangerous trend. If all men are created equal, why shouldn’t all opinions by all “leaders” be treated equally? We have our view of world events. The world has different views. Let’s hear from them about their view. Let’s be broad-minded. It can’t hurt to talk, after all.

Except that the people in those “leaders’” countries who disagree with the views expressed by their leaders have an alarming tendency to wind up dead. Pesky journalists in Moscow have been warned by shooting those who asked too many impertinent questions. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died in the ongoing civil war there. And Hassan Rouhani—that self-described “moderate”—never uttered a peep of protest when Iran’s mullahs were shooting down opposition voters in the streets of Tehran in 2009.

We admit we are not doing Google or Lexis/Nexis searches on Rouhani then, but we can be assured of this much: If he had protested the killing of opponents by the mullahs' regime, he would never have been permitted to run for president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

We Americans seem to have been lulled into a stupor. It’s strangely like those years the locusts ate in the mid-seventies. That’s when Jimmy Carter urged us to get over our “inordinate fear of Communism.” Taking Carter’s University of Notre Dame speech as a starter gun, the Soviets and their cat’s paws ran freely in Africa and Latin America.

During the Cold War, there were occasional efforts to alert Americans to their peril. A few rock `em, sock `em movies such as Red Dawn and The Hunt for Red Oktober were screened. But those tended to be independent efforts.

The mainstream liberal view was represented by the novels of John LeCarré. To illustrate this point, Mark Steyn once described his lunch with the late conservative paladin Bill Buckley:
Bill was talking of how he’d created Blackie [CIA agent Blackford Oakes] as an antidote to the John Le Carre ethos, in which there’s no good, between east and west, and thus between their respective warriors at the KGB and in the western intelligence agencies. And once you accept this view the conflict is necessarily trivial: it’s just a game between opposing bureaucracies whose machinations and manoeuvres are their own justification. Le Carre was profoundly wrong but a good enough writer that his became the default there’s no bad, there’s just shades of gray and total moral equivalence template of spy fiction, and, because life imitates art, of far too many real intelligence types at the CIA and MI6 toward the end of the Cold War.

President Obama was schooled in moral equivalence of East and West. We’ve never asked to see his grades at Columbia or Harvard, but it would be instructive to know at least which courses he took at those Ivy League liberal bastions. He has acknowledged attending Marxist scholars' conferences as a college student, but how many of the actual courses he took would have equipped him to understand American Exceptionalism?

He has expressed decidedly mixed views himself about American Exceptionalism. At his first G-20 Summit, he said he did believe in American Exceptionalism—but quickly added that the Brits and the Greeks doubtless believed their own nations exceptional. More recently, he took to the airwaves to tell us American Exceptionalism might require us to intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war.

It would have been nice if our own president had defended this country’s good name from the contemptuous jabs of Vladimir Putin. Mr. Obama might have said that Russia’s culture has enriched the world, but Russian rule has always been despotic.

Our president might have offered the Kremlin’s boss this challenge: If you don’t think America is exceptional, then tell us: When the Berlin Wall fell, which way did your captive people run?
While the U.S. government shuts down national parks and cemeteries, it ramps up covert training for "moderate" Syrian rebels
From Jihad Watch / Posted by Robert Spencer

Thumbnail image for KavkazUSAid.jpgJihadis in USAID tent show off their captured U.S. weaponry

"Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of" -- New York Times, April 28, 2013

Syrian rebels pledge loyalty to al-Qaeda -- USA Today, April 11, 2013

So who exactly are the "moderates" that the CIA is training? The Supreme Military Council. And how is that going? The Blaze reported on September 27 that "terrorist fighters with an Al Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria seized weapons and other supplies meant for the secular Syrian Supreme Military Council, U.S. State Department and other western officials confirmed to TheBlaze."

Note also what is below: "The latest setback came last month, when 11 of the largest armed factions in Syria, including some backed by the United States, announced the formation of an alliance with a goal of creating an Islamic state."

"CIA ramping up covert training program for moderate Syrian rebels," by Greg Miller in the Washington Post, October 2:
The CIA is expanding a clandestine effort to train opposition fighters in Syria amid concern that moderate, U.S.-backed militias are rapidly losing ground in the country’s civil war, U.S. officials said. 
But the CIA program is so minuscule that it is expected to produce only a few hundred trained fighters each month even after it is enlarged, a level that officials said will do little to bolster rebel forces that are being eclipsed by radical Islamists in the fight against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The effort, however, is expected to do little to bolster the fighters, who are being eclipsed by Islamist forces.
The CIA’s mission, officials said, has been defined by the White House’s desire to seek a political settlement, a scenario that relies on an eventual stalemate among the warring factions rather than a clear victor. As a result, officials said, limits on the agency’s authorities enable it to provide enough support to help ensure that politically moderate, U.S.-supported militias don’t lose but not enough for them to win.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the agency has sent additional paramilitary teams to secret bases in Jordan in recent weeks in a push to double the number of rebel fighters getting CIA instruction and weapons before being sent back to Syria.
The agency has trained fewer than 1,000 rebel fighters this year, current and former U.S. officials said. By contrast, U.S. intelligence analysts estimate that more than 20,000 have been trained to fight for government-backed militias by Assad’s ally Iran and the Hezbollah militant network it sponsors.
The CIA effort was described as an urgent bid to bolster moderate Syrian militias, which have been unable to mount a serious challenge to Assad or match the growing strength of rival rebel factions that have hard-line Islamist agendas and, in some cases, ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
The CIA is “ramping up and expanding its effort,” said a U.S. official familiar with operations in Syria, because “it was clear that the opposition was losing, and not only losing tactically but on a more strategic level.”
The CIA declined to comment.
The latest setback came last month, when 11 of the largest armed factions in Syria, including some backed by the United States, announced the formation of an alliance with a goal of creating an Islamic state. The alliance is led by Jabhat al-Nusra, a group that has sworn allegiance to the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.
Operating under constraints.
The descriptions of the CIA training program provide the most detailed account to date of the limited dimensions and daunting objectives of a CIA operation that President Obama secretly authorized in a covert action finding he signed this year....
The program is aimed at shoring up the fighting power of units aligned with the Supreme Military Council, an umbrella organization led by a former Syrian general that is the main recipient of U.S. support....
Kerry says shutdown delaying aid to Israel and Sinai peacekeeper funding
From Jihad Watch / Posted by Robert Spencer

But it hasn't stopped CIA training of jihadists in Syria. Clearly what is shut down during the shutdown -- national monuments, etc. -- is cynically calculated in the White House in order to manipulate popular opinion and intimidate the Republicans (who are so very easily intimidated) into giving in to whatever the Administration wants. This is more of the same. But it is an increasingly risky "damn game," as Boehner said. Actually, he said it wasn't a damn game. But it is.

"Shutdown delaying aid to Israel, Sinai peacekeeper funding," from the Times of Israel, October 6 (thanks to Lookmann):
The ongoing shutdown of the US government could negatively impact israel’s [sic] security, Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday. 
Speaking to reporters, Kerry said the shutdown, which is nearly a week old, would delay payments for Israel’s security and for peacekeepers in the Sinai Peninsula.
“Our security assistance for Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East, is being delayed,” Kerry said. “The new fiscal year started this last week, but because of the shutdown, some entities don’t have the funding that they need, including supporting the peacekeeping mission in the Sinai, at a time of growing unrest in a critical area.”
He did not specify what kind of security assistance was being delayed. The State Department could not be immediately reached for comment.
The US currently gives Israel some $3 billion a year in defense aid, though that number may be slashed by austerity measures enacted by Washington.
America’s commitment to the Multinational Force and Observers, or MFO, in the Sinai is much smaller, totaling some $25 million annually, according to a 2012 report.
Kerry also said that the Treasury Department’s ability to monitor sanctions on Iran was hampered by the furloughs and lack of funding wrought by the shutdown, noting that a recent diplomatic push with Tehran was contingent on tough sanctions remaining in place.
“The opportunity to engage diplomatically with Iran is critical to all of us in the world, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the pressure that has been brought to bear by the sanctions,” he said. “But right now, as a direct result of the shutdown, our Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control has been forced to furlough nearly all of its staff.”...