Thursday, May 16, 2019

Budget Discipline Procrastination Already Has Had Its Consequences



In 1993, when Republican House Budget Committee staffers were searching for options to include in the GOP budget alternative “Cutting Spending First”, we opened a book called “CBO Spending and Revenue Options” to find proposals to reduce the rates of growth in federal spending over the next 5 years.

We found $177 billion in savings from projected baselines in Medicare and Medicaid alone. Over 5 years, not 10 years as is custom today. Those proposals just slowed down the rate of growth in both programs ever so slightly. They were not absolute cuts from the year before in any of the 5 years.

They led to balanced budgets from 1998-2001. That is all we need; a slowdown in growth in federal spending, not absolute cuts.

In Medicaid and Medicare in particular.

If Congress passed every proposal put out by CBO back then, we would be swimming in budget surpluses, not deficits. There were trillions of cumulative savings laid out back when the federal budget was only $1.4 trillion to begin with.

The most recent 2019 edition brings tears to the eyes of anyone who was serious about budget discipline 25 years ago. A cursory reading of the options to hold down the rate of growth in entitlement spending shows that most of the options in 2019 are the same as they were in 1993 simply because so few of them have been passed and implemented.

For example, there was a proposal back then to raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 to match the stairstep increase in retirement age eligibility of Social Security by 2024. We are living far longer than life expectancies were in 1935 when Social Security was passed; shouldn’t the retirement age in Medicare be raised to reflect that basic fact of life especially since Social Security has already done so?

Had it been passed into law 26 years ago, as it should have, we would be saving roughly $40 billion annually today, savings that would continue to compound far into the future.

If we had started the process back then to raise the retirement age to 70 by 2024, the annual savings in Medicare would be in excess of $100 billion today and $150 billion in 2024.

Both are still in the CBO Spending Options book as “options to consider”. Both have laid dormant for an entire generation. No elected Democrat or Republican public official has touched that third rail of American politics with a ten-foot pole.

The price of our collective national political cowardice and procrastination for the past 18 years is $15 trillion of new debt. Had substantive action been taken to reform entitlements back then, we could have seen balanced budgets every year beyond the four balanced budgets we saw from 1998 to 2001.

There is only one way to balance the budget now beyond making major programmatic changes in the major mandatory programs, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. To solve our federal budget crisis, we simply have to solve our burgeoning health care cost crisis nationwide. Inflation in federal health programs has averaged 6%+ annual growth for the past decade.

Spending in all federal health programs has to be held under 3% annual growth for us to have any chance of solving our debt crisis. Promising “free health care for all!” as all of the Democrat presidential candidates are proposing is exactly the wrong way to go if we are serious about fiscal responsibility.

Ronald Reagan said: “(T)he trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s that so much they know isn’t so.”

Based on what we have seen when it comes to federal budgeting over the past 18 years now and still counting, apparently this includes our conservative friends as well.


Sadly.

(first published in North State Journal 5/15/19)

Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today


Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Where Is “The Fiscal Sanity Caucus” In Congress Today?

Make This The Senate and House Chicken Caucus

There are 16 caucuses in the US House of Representatives. 

  • Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) – Progressive Democrats
  • Medicare for All Caucus – Progressive Democrats
  • New Democrat Coalition (NDC) – Modern Liberal/Centrist Democrats
  • Blue Dog Coalition (BDC) – Conservative Democrats
  • Blue Collar Caucus – Pro-labor and Alter-globalization Democrats
  • Expand Social Security Caucus (ESSC) – Progressive Democrats
  • Tuesday Group (TG) – Moderate Republicans
  • Republican Main Street Partnership (MSP) – Moderate Republicans
  • Republican Study Committee (RSC) – Conservative Republicans
  • Liberty Caucus (LC) – Libertarian Republicans
  • Freedom Caucus (FC) – Conservative Republicans affiliated with the Tea Party movement
  • The Congressional Black Caucus for African-Americans
  • The Congressional Hispanic Caucus for Hispanic Democrats
  • The Congressional Hispanic Conference for Hispanic Republicans
  • The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
Note none of these caucuses is called “The Fiscal Sanity Caucus”. Or “The Balanced Budget Caucus”. Or the “We Came To Do What Adults Are Supposed To Do Caucus” which is manage our nation’s finances in a responsible mature process.

Not one single caucus named above has done anything to reduce federal spending over the past 18 years. Many have opined or whined about the deficit and blamed “the other side” for not co-operating on reducing the national debt. However, no legislator, committee, party or caucus gets any credit unless legislation passes both the Senate and the House and gets signed into law by the President.

That is the way it works in our American constitutional democratic republic. The road to fiscal hell is paved with good intentions…and lack of principled leadership.

The last Congress that oversaw a balanced budget was in 2001—pre-9/11 that is. Four balanced budgets from 1998-2001 was the result of work done starting in 1990, revved up in the House Budget Committee in 1993 and finalized in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.

Since 2001, the national debt has exploded from $5.8 trillion to over $22 trillion today. Tax revenues have increased from $2 trillion to $3.4 trillion since 2000, a 70% increase during a time of historically low inflation.

However, spending has gone up from $1.7 trillion to over $4 trillion, a 135% increase since 2000.

The problem with debt accumulation is spending. Not taxation. We have more debate about taxation, though, than spending.

Why? Because cutting taxes is fun. Cutting spending is painful. Spending more of your money is great fun, especially to those who love more government control of everything.

The problem is manifold. Members always blame everyone else for their inability to lead on cutting spending. Their collective lack of understanding of basic principles of arithmetic coupled with no apparent understanding of economics and accounting is self-evident on a daily basis. They simply do not know how to lead by brokering deals and compromises that produce less-than-perfect solutions but they put the brakes on spending nonetheless.

History will not remember any of them well. There are no “Profiles in Courage” to write about when it comes to fiscal discipline since 2001.

Balancing the budget is not that hard. Even a caveman like me can do it. So can every person reading this opinion piece as long as they know how to subtract.

In 1993, former budget staffer Greg Hampton and I found $177 billion in spending savings over 5 years from the baseline in Medicare and Medicaid alone and helped my boss, former Congressman Alex McMillan of Charlotte, get it into a document supported by 15 GOP House Budget Committee Members called ‘Cutting Spending First’. We were 85 seats in the minority at the time and Republicans had not controlled Congress since 1955.

Republicans took over Congress in 1994. $135 billion of those proposals made their way into the landmark 1997 Budget Act which led to the only balanced budgets we will see in our lifetimes if things don’t change very soon.

If any Member of Congress or Senator wants to start “The Fiscal Sanity Caucus”, call me. You can be an Army of One at least to start.

(first published in North State Journal 5/10/19)

Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today


Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Something’s Happenin’ Here with GDP Growth


"There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear” are the opening lines to the 1966 Buffalo Springfield hit song, “For What It’s Worth”.

For what it is worth, the same can be said about recent economic data in America. “Everyone”, meaning all of the experts and commentators on talk shows, keep predicting a significant slowdown of the American economy and have done so since the night Donald Trump was elected in 2016.

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman proudly wrote in the New York Times in the wee hours after Trump won the electoral college: “If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never”.

Ouch. One has to think Mr. Krugman wished he could have a do-over with that colossal gaffe.

Except apparently he doesn’t. On April 8, 2019, only 23 days ago, he wrote: 'It’s true that U.S. economic growth got a bump for two quarters last year, and Trumpists are still pretending to believe that we’ll have great growth for a decade. But at this point last year’s growth is looking like a brief and rapidly fading sugar high”.

First quarter 2019 GDP growth came in at 3.2% last Friday. The consensus among professional economists and prognosticators was 2%.

What has happened? Has every economist turned into a non-analytical clone of Paul Krugman? Why has the source of this new-found economic growth not been “exactly clear” for everyone to see?

One important factor could be the higher 1-year write-off of the purchase cost of new machinery and equipment for small businesses in the Trump tax bill. Business owners point to this tax change as being an underappreciated aspect of the accelerated economic growth we are seeing in the US economy.

A small business contractor can buy a new truck and expense the whole cost of the vehicle in the first year even though it might take 5-7 years to pay for the loan. If a small business had $45,000 of net profit, they could offset that with the $45,000 cost of the new vehicle and drive their taxable income way down to cite one very simple example. Depending on their tax bracket, the owner could save up to $15,000 in federal taxes and $2000 in state taxes which is money that stays in their pocket, not the government’s.

Economic growth is directly attributable to productivity gains in the economy. Buying new machines that can produce more product at a lower cost is the very definition of “productivity gains”. We all benefit from such productivity gains whether we are employees, owners, investors, stockholders or retired from the workforce.

Former Vice-President-under-President-Barack-Obama Joe Biden entered the presidential race last week ostensibly to “take America back to the golden days” he apparently thought happened while he and President Obama were leading our country.

Americans throughout modern history have considered 2% annual real growth “dismal” and “disappointing”. Former President Obama and his Vice-President Joe Biden considered 2% to be the “new normal” for the American economy going forward. Forever.

Annual real GDP growth never exceeded 2% during any of the 8 years the Obama/Biden team was in charge. How odd that as soon as they left office, GDP is now growing almost 60% faster under the pro-free enterprise policies of President Trump as passed by a Republican Congress with zero Democratic votes.

If you want to know one big difference between the Obama and Trump White Houses, consider that in 8 years, the Obama Administration did not add this provision to help spur the economy back to full health.

The difference between 1% GDP annual growth to 3% GDP growth across 35 years, about a generation, would mean the US economy would double from $21.5 trillion to $43 trillion in 2054.

For what it’s worth 3.2% growth is far preferable to 2.0%. Why go backwards into the future?

(first published in North State Journal 5/1/19)



Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today


Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

NC Primaries, Citizens United, IEs and The Rise of Conservative Woman Candidates

Dr. Joan Perry, Candidate for Congress
NC3 Republican Primary
We are witnessing a revolution in modern American politics right before our very eyes here in North Carolina.

North Carolina is home to special elections for Congress to fill two vacant congressional seats almost simultaneously which has never happened before.  NC3, formerly represented by Congressman Walter Jones, runs from the Virginia border down east to north of Wilmington. NC9, which runs from Charlotte to Fayetteville, had to be re-run in the aftermath of the absentee ballot scandal uncovered in Bladen County in the 2018 elections.

State and local parties used to control who could or should run for any election because they held the purse-strings and had the networks that could go door-to-door and get people out to vote for their preferred candidate.

For such a special election in the past, 2, maybe 3 candidates might have filed to run to get the party’s nomination on either side. It made no sense to run without the backing of the party establishment because you wound up beating your head against a stone wall to no avail or good outcome.

Not any longer.  17 Republican candidates filed to run in NC3. 10 filed to run in the Republican primary for NC9.

What has happened to allow such an outbreak of democracy to occur?

One important factor was the McCain-Feingold bill of 2002. More specifically, the much-maligned and misunderstood Citizens United Supreme Court case handed down in 2010 which rendered parts of McCain-Feingold unconstitutional and opened campaign finance to the masses rather than the chosen few.

One of the things Citizens United helped create was the independent expenditure (IE) campaign which could fund issue advocacy and educational efforts through 501 c4 non-profit organizations.

The one major restriction was that IEs could not “coordinate” any explicit campaign activity with the direct campaign organization of the candidate, hence maintaining the “independent” status of both the IE and the campaign.

The NC3 and NC9 primaries are on fast tracks: The primary for NC3 is next Tuesday, April 30 and the primary for NC9 is May 14. If any candidate garners 30% of the primary vote, they win outright and go right to the general election on July 9 and September 10 respectively.

What Citizens United has done in both primaries is make it possible for first-time candidates to have a chance at winning outright on the first primary election night.

3 conservative women are the beneficiaries of such independent support in the two primaries. Dr. Joan Perry of Kinston, a personal friend and a graduate of The Institute for the Public Trust which I run, was the first in either primary to receive such an endorsement from the Susan B. Anthony List, the major pro-life advocacy group in America today, which amounted to $75,000 of support in NC3.

Leigh Brown, a realtor in Huntersville, was endorsed by the Realtors PAC in an independent expenditure effort in NC9 which appears to be in the neighborhood well in excess of $1 million based on public ad buy records.

Celeste Cairns, an accountant in Jacksonville also running in NC3, was endorsed by the Club for Growth which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2016 to help newcomer Ted Budd, another Institute graduate, win the NC13 primary and then the general election.

Without Citizens United, none of these newcomers would have been able to compete and possibly win. Since both special elections are being held at odd times for elections and the turnout is expected to be very low, a candidate who can garner perhaps as few as 6000 votes can win 30% of the primary vote and avoid a runoff.

If you like more democracy and more non-politicians running for election, you can thank the Supreme Court for ruling on the side of freedom of speech and expression in the political world.

Citizens United has opened up the world of election to outsiders and newcomers like never before.

(first published in North State Journal 4/24/19)


Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today


Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Ever-Elusive Goal Of Universal Coverage

(This is a re-publish of an opinion piece that appeared in the North State Journal 4/17/19 that was co-written by a good friend of mine, Jim Capretta.

I thought it was important enough and so full of factual information that I would just forward it to you instead of trying to use his basic information and write a new piece.

I recommend you read this piece and memorize every fact in it and then forward the article to everyone you know so they can memorize these same facts. They are important in any debate on health care reform)

Talk of universal coverage is in the air. To a person, the Democratic candidates jockeying to take on Donald Trump are pledging allegiance to this seemingly elusive goal.

As Yogi Berra might have put it, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” It was only ten years ago that the country went through a raucous and exhausting national debate over enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Like today’s would-be Democratic candidates, Barack Obama ran on a platform of universal coverage, and he sold the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as making good on his campaign commitment.

After the law passed, Democrats lost control of the House in the 2010 mid-term election. Most Democrats at the time said the political price was worth it because the ACA was the culmination of a decades-long quest.

But that was then. The Census Bureau reports that, in 2017, there were 28 million people in the United States who were not enrolled in health insurance, down from 42 million in 2013. When Democrats say they want universal coverage, they apparently mean that official statistics need to show 100 percent enrollment in some form of health insurance.

It’s certainly within their rights to say the goal must be zero uninsured, but the reasons the ACA couldn’t hit that mark are likely to hinder a new effort too.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, today’s uninsured fall into five categories.

First, 15 million people without coverage — or half of the total — are already eligible for publicly-subsidized insurance, in the form of Medicaid, the children’s health insurance program, or a private plan that would be financed in part with federally-provided premium credits. These “eligible but unenrolled” individuals remain uninsured either because they are unaware of what is available to them, or because they haven’t taken the steps necessary to sign up. It is common and expected for a public program to fall short of 100 percent participation.

Second, 3.8 million people are uninsured because they fail to enroll in the employer-sponsored plan that is offered to them, or their spouses, at work.

Third, 1.9 million people are ineligible for employer coverage and for premium credits under the ACA because their incomes exceed 400 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL), or $103,000 for a family of four in 2019.

Fourth, 4.1 million people are uninsured because they are immigrants residing in the U.S. without proper documentation. The ACA explicitly excluded this population from subsidized coverage.

Finally, 2.5 million people reside in states that have not expanded Medicaid and have incomes that are too high to qualify for that program. They also have incomes below 100 percent of FPL (federal poverty line), which makes them ineligible for premium assistance for private coverage under the ACA.

In summary, about 90 percent of the 323 million people in the U.S. in 2017 had health insurance. Of the 28 million people without coverage, more than 90 percent were eligible to enroll in some kind of plan or had incomes that would seem sufficient to purchase insurance protection.

Only 2.5 million people — or less than 1 percent of the total population — were in the U.S. legally, had low incomes, and did not have ready access to an insurance plan.

There’s also reason to believe the Census survey overstates the problem altogether. Some respondents have coverage under Medicaid but mistakenly identify themselves as uninsured. Improving how the uninsured rate is measured would likely reduce the reported number by a few million people.

Further, many of those deemed uninsured will get coverage automatically if they need extensive medical attention and present themselves at a hospital. States are required to allow hospitals to conduct presumptive eligibility determinations for Medicaid.

Expanding insurance enrollment does not require upending today’s system.

Congress could entice the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid to do so by allowing them to go to 100 percent of FPL instead of 138 percent, as called for in the ACA. Closing this coverage gap would provide insurance to the 2.5 million low-income people who do not have a good coverage option today.

Congress could also make insurance enrollment as automatic as possible for the people who are already eligible for coverage. Automatic enrollment has worked to boost participation in retirement plans, and it could help increase health insurance enrollment too.

Many Democrats would like the U.S. to have a completely different system of insurance.  Perhaps there are good arguments for that point of view. But that would require disrupting coverage for the hundreds of millions of people who are in stable insurance today.

A safer bet is to leave those who have insurance alone and develop a plan focused on expanding coverage to the remaining uninsured. The result would not be as dramatic as Medicare for All, but such a proposal would be far likelier to get the approval of most Americans.

Joseph Antos is the Wilson H. Taylor scholar in retirement and health policy at the American Enterprise Institute. James C. Capretta is a RealClearPolicy Contributor and Resident Fellow at AEI.


(A version of the article was first published by RealClearPolicy)

Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today


Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Gift of Religious Freedom

Thomas Jefferson Letter to Danbury Baptists
The week of Passover and Easter is a good time to reflect on what a gift our founders gave us in America when it comes to freedom of religion.

Before America, people in a nation had to believe the same religion as the ruling authorities or risk being ostracized. Or worse.

Socrates of ancient Athens was sentenced for misleading the youth of Athens. He was offered exile or suicide by drinking hemlock poison.

His crime? He believed in a single God which threatened the polytheistic belief in the Olympian Gods by the Athenians.

He chose the hemlock. Leaving the city he loved was worse than death to Socrates.

Martin Luther risked being burned at the stake when he famously hung his “95 Theses” on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church on October 31, 1517.  He questioned the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church and took dead aim at the practice of indulgences whereby people could essentially “purchase” the salvation of loved ones into heaven.

He was brought to trial before the Diet of Worms (pronounced “Varmes”) where he said these famous words in his final defense: “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”

Somehow he avoided the burning stake and the Reformation began.

In England, Henry VIII famously and incongruously took over control of the Catholic Church because they wouldn’t grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. He ordered her head chopped off 3 years later.

The King of England was thereafter the Supreme Authority of the Anglican Church in addition to being monarch.

Talk about the need for a true “separation of church and state”. Can anyone imagine President Barack Obama or Donald Trump also being the “Supreme Authority of All Things Religious in America”?

When English people migrated to colonial Virginia to escape such abuse of power, they reverted to the norm and set up the Anglican Church of Virginia which received support from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Taxpayer money was used to support the Anglican Church of Virginia for much of their colonial era.

Virginia was so Anglican that a Baptist or Methodist could not hold public office. Only Anglicans could file to run for election.

Ever heard of the word “antidisestablishmentarianism”, the longest word in the English language? It came from the debate over whether or not to “dis-establish” the Anglican Church from the government of Virginia.

On the tombstone of Thomas Jefferson is a list of the 3 things for which he wished to be remembered: Author of the Declaration of Independence, Founder of the University of Virginia and Author of the Virginia Statutes of Religious Freedom of 1786.

Those statutes led to the inclusion of freedom of religion in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The Virginia statutes and the First Amendment guarantee your freedom to worship any religious deity you choose. It also guarantees your freedom not to worship anything if you so desire.

Nothing in the First Amendment guarantees the “separation of church and state”. Those words came from a letter President Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist congregation in Connecticut in 1801 who worried that President Jefferson might institute a national government-sponsored religion. 

The First Amendment and Mr. Jefferson guaranteed that the Danbury Baptists had nothing to worry about because it was not going to happen again.

As you celebrate Passover or Easter this week, or Ramadan in May, or nothing every day of the year, give the Founders of this country full credit for freeing us from elected officials with the coercive 
power of government at their disposal telling you what to believe and when to believe it.


Freedom of worship is one of the greatest freedoms mankind has ever had. If we can keep it, that is.

(first published in North State Journal 4/17/19)

Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today


Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Modern Monetary Theory of the Progressive Uber-Left

The Progressive Uber-Left is currently pushing MMT or Modern Monetary Theory which basically says budget deficits don’t matter and are actually beneficial to the economy. 

Therefore, elect them so they can run massive annual deficits and pay for Medicare for All among other centralized government programs they would control from Washington, DC and never worry about balancing budgets or paying down our national debt.

MMT is another name for an early 20th century concept, chartalism, which viewed money as having value solely because the government entity that created it deemed it as having value, not as a spontaneous means of trade to replace basic barter between individuals. It fits the socialist view of governance that all power derives from bureaucrats running government who bestow benefits among the people since they know best how to spend your money, not you.

Since all money is issued by the government, the government has a “monopoly” on all currency. All the government has to do is digitize more money supply through the Fed whenever bureaucrats in charge deem necessary such as when the Fed expanded its balance sheet by $4 trillion during the 2008-09 Crash.

Government can issue more digitized debt at any time to push money into the economy and, through taxation, can take it out of the economy when inflation ticks up.

Deborah Desouza in a February 28, 2019 article explained MMT this way:
“The central idea of MMT is that governments with a fiat currency system can and should print (or create with a few keystrokes in today's digital age) as much money as they need to spend because they cannot go broke or be insolvent unless a political decision to do so is taken.
MMT theorists explain that debt is simply money the government put into the economy and didn't tax back. They also argue that comparing a government's budgets to that of an average household is a mistake”.
If that is the case, why not run a $100 trillion national debt overnight and solve all the world’s ills with a Super Massive Omnibus Government Bill to Obliterate More Bills (SMOGBOMB)? Make every American citizen and non-citizen a billionaire by giving them newly digitized currency and all our troubles will go away forever.

If MMT is such a “great idea” that works, then why hasn’t every nation since 1900 adopted it already?

The “only” thing MMT proponents hedge their bets on is the threat of inflation. If the government digitizes too much electronic currency and it chases too few workers or resources, then inflation can be ignited.

They say higher taxation will take care of that by taking money out of a possibly overheating economy.

Has anyone noticed “how easy” it is to tax an already over-taxed populace in America in the last 60 years? Taxpayers will resist and rebel at the ballot box whether there is a gold standard backed-currency or one created by bits and bytes.

800 years of history have shown what happens when sovereign nations have put into practice what MMT or chartalism proposes. The Weimar Republic in Germany and the current socialist government of Venezuela are empirical points of reference refuting the claim that sovereign governments can spend all they want and not suffer the consequences of such massive fiscal mismanagement and financial folly.

Once the Hounds from Inflation Hell are unleashed, they destroy economies and take out the most vulnerable people first: the poor and the retired poor. Inflation in the US was 13.5% in 1980 when many Boomers were in their first job looking to buy their first house with a 18.5% mortgage rate.

It can happen again. It probably will.

Perhaps you would like to take a spin on the President Bernie Sanders Magical Mystery Wheel of Fortune to find out if MMT works or not.


Count us out.

(first published in North State Journal 4/10/19)

Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today


Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

"I Hate For Us To Have The Reputation of Being Stupid"

On January 17, 1984, former Governor and then-Duke President Terry Sanford gave his Duke students a life lesson about their behavior during basketball games that should resonate today for all of us on both sides who engage in public discourse and politics.

Duke always has had raucous fans dating back to the early 1960s. When they were great and going to Final Fours, the fans were secondary to the action on the basketball court.

When Duke’s fortunes went south in the 1970s, so did the nasty vitriol towards the opposition.

Duke returned to the national championship game in 1978 against Goose Givens and Kentucky. In 1980, despite having been ranked #1 for much of the season, Duke lost in the Elite Eight on March 15 to Joe Barry Carroll and the Purdue Boilermakers.

Immediately after the loss, then-head coach Bill Foster bolted for South Carolina, rumor being that Duke AD Tom Butters had refused to pave the dirt parking lot behind Cameron Indoor Stadium as Foster requested among other things.

Three days later, Butters announced the hiring of a head coach from Army, of all places, with the impossible-to-pronounce name of Mike Krzyzewski, to replace Foster.

The Blue Devils were not very good in the first 3 years of Coach K’s reign.  Duke fans thought they were horrible. They lost to Wagner. At home. In Cameron Indoor Stadium.

When people lack talent, they tend to use brute force or anger to lash out at everyone.

Duke students resorted to vulgarity.

After years of steadily deteriorating behavior, the final straw came in a January 1984 game at Cameron when condoms were thrown at Maryland’s Herman Veal who had been charged with sexual assault.

President Sanford sat down to pen what became known as his “Avuncular Letter” which had even Duke students scurrying to their dictionaries to figure out what he was talking about.

His bottom-line message?

"I hate for us to have the reputation of being stupid".

What “Uncle Terry” wrote to his students then should serve as a reproach, a reprimand and an exhortation to all of us who engage in politics today.
“It is generally assumed that a person resorting in conversation to profanity and obscenities is short of an adequate vocabulary. That is doubly true in public utterances.
Resorting to the use of obscenities in cheers and chants at ball games indicates a lack of vocabulary, a lack of cleverness, a lack of ideas, a lack of class, and a lack of respect for other people.

I hope you will discipline yourselves and your fellow students…It should not be up to me to enforce proper behavior that signifies the intelligence of Duke students. You should do it. Reprove those who make us all look bad. Shape up your own language”.

Today’s toxic level of public discourse is just as bad as those Cameron Crazies back then. Or worse.

Have you found yourself thinking out loud or writing that someone is “stupid”? Stop it. Don’t ever do it again. It makes you look “stupid” in the eyes of everyone who sees or hears you say it in public.

It makes your team and your cause look “stupid” as well.

Calling someone “stupid” and expecting them to agree with you is self-defeating and by definition “stupid”. I have never supported anyone who called me “stupid” even if I agreed with them 95% of the time.

Mark Twain is oft-misattributed as saying the following which doesn’t make it any less true: “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”

If calling other people “stupid” makes you feel better about yourself, go ahead and do it. Just know you are making a complete and utter fool of yourself and not making one iota of progress towards winning a political argument.

(first published in North State Journal 4/3/19)

Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today


Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Independent Counsels Are All Political Now

Step One
Step Two
 (first published in North State Journal 3/27/19)

“Our long national nightmare is over” said President Gerald Ford during his Inaugural Address on August 9, 1974 right after President Richard Nixon resigned because of Watergate.


Little did President Ford know there would be at least 3 other big “national nightmares” to follow.

Watergate set the bar for every independent counsel investigation of a sitting president. After all, investigative journalism prevailed and a crooked president left office.

Since Watergate, however, partisans who lost the last presidential election have sought to use the brass knuckles of independent counsel statutes as “long national nightmares” hopefully to force a sitting President of the other party to resign in shame just like Nixon did.

Democrats really hoped the Walsh Report on Iran-Contra would force President Reagan to resign. Republicans so desperately wanted to force President Bill Clinton out of the White House they passed articles of impeachment based on the Starr Report which focused on the Monica Lewinsky affair, not on any reasonable definition of “treason” or even “high crimes and misdemeanors” such as colluding with a foreign power by selling secret nuclear war plans to Russia or China or something else of that particular order and magnitude.

Hillary Clinton told her advisors on election night to spin her loss on “Russian Collusion” and the willing media complied. Democrats have hoped and prayed ever since that the Mueller Report would force Donald Trump to do the perp walk out of the White House into the Rose Garden in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs with full media coverage.

Using the power of the independent counsel statutes is no way to adjudicate national presidential elections. Special prosecutors have devolved into political hammers in search of a nail.

There have been 29 special prosecutors or “independent counsels” appointed since the founding of the American Democratic Republic. Six occurred in the 184 years before Watergate in 1973.

Since Watergate, we have had 21 special prosecutor investigations. Bill Clinton was the target of 12 special counsels all by himself.

Watergate turned out to be a legitimate investigation that uncovered grave constitutional issues at hand. A sitting President sought to use the power of our government to cover-up his role in the burglary of the headquarters of his political opposition in the previous campaign.

If you are a Democrat who is truly objective and 100% concerned about the abuse of power by any sitting President, you should demand that a special prosecutor now be named to look into the role of the Obama Administration and senior federal law enforcement officials starting Election night, November 2016.

If there was any coordinated effort between the Obama White House, the Hillary Clinton campaign, CIA Director John Brennan, NSA Director James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey and functionaries such as Peter Strzok to prevent the peaceful transition of power from President Obama to President Trump after he duly won, then we have a massive constitutional crisis that out-paces Watergate by a factor of 100.

No Democrat is asking for such an investigation. They are not interested in “good government” when it comes to President Trump. They just want to keep their base core partisan supporters engaged and enraged so they will vote against Republicans in 2020.

The Founders had a brilliant idea for dealing with malefactors in office: elections. If you don’t like the occupant of the White House, you have 4 years to plot, plan and scheme to defeat him at the only place we should be talking about, the ballot box.

Not the court system. Not in Congress. Not with a special prosecutor.

Perhaps this will be the fourth and last “long national nightmare” we will see in our lifetimes. It is time to put the independent counsel option to rest forever.

Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today


Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Another Time For Choosing

“It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers.
This idea? That government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man.
Will we continue to believe in our capacity for self-government or will we abandon the American Revolution and confess that intellectual elites in Washington can plan our lives better than we can plan them ourselves?
We are told we must choose between a left or right. I suggest there is only an up or down.
Up — to man’s age-old dream — the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order, or down —to the ant-heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity and humanitarian motives, those who sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path.
Our liberal friends use terms like the “Green New Deal”.  President Obama told us we must accept greater government activity in the affairs of the people.
They say, “Strife will end through our acceptance of a not undemocratic socialism.” Another voice says, “The profit motive has become outmoded. It must be replaced by the welfare state.” Or, “Our traditional system of individual freedom is incapable of solving the complex problems of the 21st century.”
President Obama said the Constitution is outmoded. His supporters thought of him as “our moral teacher and our leader”. He said he was hobbled in his task by the restrictions of power imposed on him by this antiquated document. He needed to “be freed,” he said, so that he “could do for us” what he knew “was best.”
Liberals define liberalism as “meeting the material needs of the masses through the full power of centralized government.”
“The full power of centralized government” — this was the very thing the Founding Fathers sought to minimize by overthrowing King George III. They knew that governments don’t control things. A government can’t control the economy without controlling people. They know when a government controls people, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose.
We have come to another time for choosing.
Liberals say: “What greater service we could render if only we had a little more money and a little more power.” Outside of its legitimate function, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector.
We need to restate clearly the American Dream that wealth is denied to no one, that each individual has the right to fly as high as his strength and ability will take him…. We can not achieve this Dream when our tax policy is engineered by people who view the income tax as a cudgel to achieve changes in our social structure….
Realize that the doctor’s fight against socialized medicine is your fight. We can’t socialize doctors without socializing patients. Recognize that government invasion of public power is eventually an assault upon your own business.
If you fear taking a stand because you are afraid of reprisals from customers, clients, or government, recognize that you are just feeding the crocodile hoping he’ll eat you last.
Think about what’s at stake. We are faced with the most evil enemies mankind has known in his long climb from the swamp to the stars: forced socialism and fiscal irresponsibility. There can be no security anywhere in the free world if there is no fiscal and economic stability within the United States. Those who ask us to trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state are architects of a policy of accommodation.
They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.
Winston Churchill said that “the destiny of man is not measured by material computation. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits—not animals.” He said, “There is something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here.
We did all that could be done.”
(Adapted abridged version of Ronald Reagan’s October 27, 1964 nationally televised speech in support of GOP Presidential candidate, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona)
(first published in North State Journal 3/20/19)

Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today


Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

When Your Opposition Is In The Process of Destroying Themselves….


(first published in North State Journal 3/13/19

There may still be a few Democrats left who believe they are part of the Old Democratic Party of JFK, RFK and Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

They might want to stop watching the news then.

The daily news coming out of Washington, DC is saturated with the latest pronouncement from freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about how to turn the United States of America into the Socialist State of America.  Freshman Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar regularly spews out blatantly anti-Semitic remarks about Jews and Israel. Erstwhile Democratic-presidential-candidate-but-you-know-he-really-is-a-Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders keeps pushing for another new impossible-to-pay-for-program he wants the government, meaning you, the American taxpayer, to pay for.

If you think JFK, his brother Robert Kennedy or defense hawk Senator Jackson of the state of Washington would be a proud Democrat today, you would be wrong. None of them would be a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party much less ever be a nominee for any high political office.

The Democratic Party of the 1960s through the 90s was based on the solid pillars of anti-communism, free enterprise, capitalism and civil rights. They favored legislation aimed at helping the average working American, the elderly and the poor while they stood up to the Cold War Soviet threat in Eastern Europe and communism around the world.

These young socialist Democratic leaders of today and tomorrow want the $44 trillion Green New Deal; the $33 trillion Medicare for All deal, cancellation of $1.56 trillion in student loan debt before offering free college education to everyone and open borders with no immigration rules whatsoever.

Presidential candidate Senator Cory Booker wants everyone to become vegan instead of meat-eaters for the sake of the environment.

Seriously.

There is no room at the inn for old-line Southern Democrats, JFK or RFK Democrats or even modern-era Blue Dog Democrats.

Before Republican enthusiasts get too excited, however, over the internecine warfare on the Democratic side, they should heed the advice of the late great political strategist Lee Atwater:

“When the opposition is in the process of fighting and destroying each other….let them”.

The biggest problem partisans have when they see the other side fighting among themselves is keeping their mouths shut. Inevitably, when they do enter the fray, they say something impertinent, intemperate or just plain wrong which brings public attention back to their party and their inherent fractious battles and the media loses its focus reporting on the damage being done on the other side.

Chinese general, military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu wrote circa 500 BC: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Napoleon reportedly told his generals: “Never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.”

The Prussian military strategist Clausewitz wrote often about sowing confusion in the mind of the enemy and taking concentrated specific action to capitalize on that confusion.

When the army of Judah under King Jehoshaphat started singing, the Ammonite and Moabite troops were so confused they attacked and completely destroyed the troops from Edom. Then they turned against each other and destroyed themselves.

Gideon took 300 men into battle against the Midianites with only trumpets. “When they blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set every (Midianite) sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled.”

The worst thing any Republican can do right now is divert attention from the dissolution of the modern Democratic Party as it has been known for the past 50 years with an inopportune comment.

Let the Democratic Party become the party of socialism; anti-Semitism, infanticide, anti-capitalism, mandatory gun buybacks and confiscation, less personal freedom and much higher taxes on their own.

Their leaders can’t turn back the tide any more than King Canute could.

The American people can see the unraveling of the Democratic Party themselves. They don’t need any help from a camera-seeking Republican to see the truth. 

Do You Want Better People to Run for Public Office?
Support the Institute for the Public Trust Today


Visit The Institute for the Public Trust to contribute today