Americans Want Economic Growth Rather Than Income Redistribution

WASHINGTON – Despite all, it would appear that most American still have common sense. This is what I get by reading an interesting WSJ piece by William Galston (America’s Challenge: Growth That Works for All, September 10, 2014).

We want growth

According to recent studies and polls quoted by Galston, it would appear that a sizable majority of Americans (59%) would prefer a candidate who stresses economic growth, as opposed to another who focuses on fairness issues. Even more interesting, a huge majority (80%) would vote for candidate who would push economic growth instead of emphasizing income inequality.

Counterintuitive findings

Now, this is interesting, because these findings, (assuming that they do reflect a national mood), are completely counterintuitive.

Indeed, we know (and we are constantly reminded by the liberal media) about the growing income inequality in America. Yes, it is true that very few people already at the very top are getting most of the additional wealth produced. The rest are lucky if their income stagnates. Millions have been pushed down.

Hence the prevailing political rhetoric that focuses on this “income inequality” crisis. Many suggest that the only remedy for this “injustice” is to redistribute income via taxation, while adding more funds to welfare programs supporting the poor.

Growth first

Well, despite all this, it would appear that most Americans, deep down, do not buy “income redistribution” as the magic solution for their problems.

It would appear that most Americans believe that we need policies that will foster more growth.

All in all, it is certainly true that growth without fairness creates problems. But it is also true that insisting on fairness without making sure that we have growth is even worse.

It seems that most Americans get this. Receiving a larger slice of a shrinking pie is not such a good deal.

But we also need fairness

That said, as Galston points out at the end of his WSJ piece: “Economic growth that benefits everyone is the most important challenge we face, and the American people know it. Will our leaders respond?”

Yes, the perfect mix is to have new leaders who understand that growth is the basic precondition; but who also strongly believe in fairness.

If too many people perceive that some already at the top get “too much” because the system is rigged, they will lose confidence in the basic assumption that the American economy rewards all people who work hard, and they will stop being enthusiastic players. If this happens, we all lose.




Obamacare: The Triumph Of Presumptuous Policy-Makers

WASHINGTON – It will take a long time to fully understand and measure the impact of the Affordable Care Act, universally known as Obamacare. But I believe that it is possible to say now that this attempt at reforming the gigantic US health care insurance system represents the triumph of intellectual arrogance.

Noble goal

The objective of this extremely complicated effort was noble.  President Obama and top administration experts believed that it was highly desirable to transform the US health care insurance system so that millions of uninsured citizens would get covered. And this is fine.

Win-win scenario?

What is not fine, however, is that the same experts also believed that this major transformation would be possible without any significant new public funding, and at no additional costs for all other insured Americans.

This gigantic change was portrayed as a classic win-win scenario. The uninsured win because they get affordable (or subsidized) coverage. The insurance companies win because they get more customers. And those who are already insured have nothing to worry about because they get to keep their insurance just as is.

Fixing a mess

On the face of it, this rosy scenario was and is totally preposterous. And the reason is quite simple. The US health care system these experts wanted to transform was a terrible mess.

Let’s make it clear. Prior to Obamacare, America had an awful, extremely expensive and very inefficient health care system.

America had by far the most expensive health care delivery sector in the developed world, with uneven quality and minimal impact on the overall wellness of the US population.

Its main shortcoming was in the unholy union between private medical practices that make money only when they prescribe and treat, a generally unhealthy population, and bills sent to insurance companies.

Waste

It is obvious that US health care was programmed for waste. Indeed in a system in which doctors have every financial incentive to do “more”, (so that they can get more money), while most patients do not pay much out of pocket, the outcome is that you will have literally millions of (costly) unnecessary surgeries, treatments and procedures.

The fact is that your doctors make a good living only when you are sick. In this system, there is not even a minor incentive to focus on prevention, so that people stay healthy and need less care, this way saving money.

The uninsured

And, yes, we know that in the old system millions of people had no insurance. That large pool of uninsured Americans included relatively healthy young people who believed they could get by without any coverage, and many others who could not afford insurance or who were rejected on account of prior medical conditions.

The primary objective of Obamacare was and is to get millions of Americans covered, so that most people would have insurance. And this is a noble social and economic goal.

Cost free reform?

But the craziness was and is that the Obama policy people believed –and stated– that they could tinker with the old system, stretch here, cut there, adjust some more and –puff, miracle!– make it lean and efficient.

By applying the magic of smart public policy, this veritable health care monster would cover millions of new patients, while becoming modern and cost-effective. They thought that they had it all figured it out. They really believed that this reform would work.

The outcome

Well, it did work, in some ways. There is no question that millions of Americans now have coverage. But many of them have it thanks to (tax payers funded) government subsidies. This means additional costs for the country as a whole. So, let’s forget about the cost-free part of the plan.

In the meantime, all insurance companies had to comply with new mandates. And this meant that millions of self-insured people lost the coverage they had and were faced with new policies with steep policy premiums increases, quite often 100%.

Gaming the system

Beyond that, many small businesses tried to game the system by keeping their employees below numbers that would trigger a mandate to provide insurance for them.

Others opted for keeping their workers below the 30 hours a week threshold, in order to escape from other mandates that oblige business owners to provide health care coverage to full-time  workers. If you work 29 hours, as opposed to 30, you are part-time, and therefore ineligible.

Health care driving business decisions

Which is to say that for many small enterprises business decisions about hiring and firing, and about hiring full-time versus part-time workers, are now driven by health insurance costs concerns. It is very likely that at least some companies will not hire more workers in order to avoid the cost of insuring them.

In other words, we may soon find out that one of the unintended  consequences of Obamacare has been to depress economic activities, and therefore to thwart wealth creation.

New standards?

More broadly, the top-down attempt to promulgate new standards regarding appropriate, cost-effective procedures will most likely result in rationing. If you want to save money, the easiest way is to say that many procedures are not necessary.

As I said before, given the excesses of the old system, (see above about over treatment), this is not necessarily a bad thing. But “one size fits all” standards may result in patients who do not get the treatment they would need simply because some panel decided so.

As I indicated at the beginning, it will take years to find out how Obamacare impacted health care delivery and the American economy.

Foolish idea

But we know for sure that it was foolish to believe that a few targeted policy changes could transform the old monster and make it into a tame and friendly creature.

Before Obamacare, the US health care system was a horrible and super expensive mess. Now, even if we recognize that it is good to have millions of Americans covered by insurance, on balance the system, as “updated” by Obamacare, is more expensive and more cumbersome, while it created an additional financial burden for many medium and small enterprises. Therefore it is not better. In fact, most likely it is worse.

The Obama administration policy wonks (and the President himself), whatever their good intentions, were misled by their hubris.




Most NATO Countries’ Defense Spending Well Below Target

WASHINGTON –  At what point will the gap between NATO’s mission to defend all members and the actual military means at its disposal becomes so wide to allow most observers to conclude that this venerable institution is no longer credible? 

Defense spending?

If we looked at the “delinquency” of most NATO members regarding unmet obligations to contribute to the common defense with national defense budgets amounting to at least 2% of GDP, we are already there.

Only 4 NATO countries, including the United States, are in compliance with this solemn obligation. Please note: this is just 4, out of 28 members. And it gets worse. While most countries are below 2%, (including Germany, Europe’s economic superpower that allocates 1.3% of GDP to defense), some NATO members are actually below 1%.

More with less?

Now, one could argue that goals like “defense spending equal to 2% of GDP” are not meaningful, because what counts is how the money is actually spent. We should look at capabilities actually deployed in the field, and not at percentages. Well, yes and no. After all it was NATO itself that set this goal, after having observed how defense spending in free fall in most NATO countries affected collective military capabilities.

In principle one could argue that it is possible “to do more with less”. One could also argue that, assuming the successful pooling of resources allocated to defense by all members, NATO could still buy significant defense capabilities. May be.

Reduced spending, reduced capabilities

But the truth is that in most cases declining defense spending also signals reduced capabilities. As for the goal of new synergies that could be achieved by effectively pooling resources, well…it has been tried many times. But results are not impressive.

And so, what is NATO going to do? Accept the fact that this alliance, due to systemic under investment, is structurally weak, hoping that no one will notice? Or is there an effort to regain credibility through serious and verifiable commitments to higher defense spending?

Political compromise signals no change

The actual new “commitment” regarding defense spending is a sorry looking political smoke screen that barely disguises the inability to do anything serious. Here is what the NATO members decided on this issue at the end of the NATO Summit in Wales (September 4-5, 2014):

“…The aim [of the NATO countries] is to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade with a view to meeting their NATO Capability Targets and filling NATO’s Capability shortfalls.”

(Please note that this language is buried at the end of paragraph 14 of a lengthy NATO Communique). So here is another fudge. NATO set as a new goal something that should have already been implemented.

But NATO also added that delinquent members (practically everybody) have another 10 years to meet this (old) obligation. (Again, note the deliberately vague expression “within a decade”, as opposed to establishing a firm date).

Nothing will be done

Translation: “Nothing much will be done regarding significant defense spending increases; and we accept this.”

As I said above, there is a point beyond which carefully nuanced  diplomatic language will be unable to hide NATO’s structural military weakness.

I would argue that we are already there.




Estonian Government: Russians Abducted Senior Security Officer

WASHINGTON – What a coincidence! Only a few days ago President Barack Obama, on his way to the much anticipated NATO Summit in Wales, stopped in Estonia.

Reassure Estonia

The goal was to reassure this small “front line” Baltic state that the US and NATO will be there to protect it, in case Putin has funny ideas about getting back additional territories, (beyond Crimea and pieces of Eastern Ukraine), with large ethnic Russian minorities.

Senior Estonian officer kidnapped by Russian agents

Well, what do you know, shortly thereafter, according to the Estonian government, the Russians abducted a senior Estonian security officer who happened to be close to the Estonia-Russia border. Is Putin perhaps trying to make a point about Estonian sovereignty and how secure it is? What do you think?

Of course, the Russians deny that there was any abduction. They claim that this person was detained while in Russia.

However, if the Estonian account of the events is true, the brazen kidnapping of an Estonian government official, on Estonian soil, combined with the timing of this action, (right after Obama’s high-profile visit to Tallinn), tells us something about Putin’s regard for the sovereignty of former Soviet Republics.

(Let’s be clear: this kidnapping is not an “invasion” of Estonia. But it is in open contravention of international law.)

I do as I please

And here is Putin’s indirect –but quite clear– message to Washington and to all the Western powers that just gathered in Wales for the NATO Summit:

“You can talk as much as you want about tough responses and economic sanctions against Russia. But I do just as I please; even in a NATO country just visited by Obama. None of your threats will stop me.”    




Does The NATO Alliance Still Embody Western Values?

WASHINGTON – The NATO Summit in Wales is sadly yet another tired display of Western countries getting together and essentially going through the motions, without any conviction.

Plenty of words, no real action

There are solemn reaffirmations of solidarity, without any meaningful commitments. Pledges to work together for a strong defense, without any real new money allocated for it. The announcement of a new rapid deployment force –the purpose is to “send a message” to an aggressive Russia– that is so small (4,000 troops) to be frankly negligible, (and as a result laughable).

Ukraine has our sympathy

Plenty of sympathy towards embattled Ukraine, (not a NATO member); but no military help. Announcement of possible additional sanctions against Russia, but an olive branch offered to Putin, so that he can rejoin the community of nations who behave in a civilized way. (Any idea why Russia has chosen not to behave in a civilized way regarding Ukraine?)

A united Western front?

Given all this, what do we make of this Wales NATO Summit? My (rather pessimistic) interpretation is that this display of timid commitments, and half-hearted pledges indicates that there is no longer a united Western World conscious of the values that supposedly inspire it, rightly proud of its heritage, and fully aware of the threats it is facing.

What does NATO stand for?

Since its beginning in 1949, NATO was (and it should remain) a defensive alliance. But the question is: “Beyond our territories, are we defending anything else?”

Ukraine sovereignty?

It is abundantly clear that most Europeans care very little about the sacrosanct, universal principles of international law, when it comes to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a European country now knocking at the door of the EU and NATO. Most Europeans care a lot more about continuing business as usual with law-breaker Russia, no matter how contemptuous Putin is about respecting the territorial integrity of a weaker sovereign state, a most basic  principle of international law.

Our civilization

But it was not supposed to be like this. There was a time in which Western states stood for something. Indeed, if you go back and read the Preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty, (Washington D.C., April 4, 1949), you will see that NATO was not just about protecting territory, but about upholding the values of the Western Civilization:

“The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments. They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.  [Emphasis added]. They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area. They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security. They therefore agree to this North Atlantic Treaty …”

The language is not ornate. But it is clear. We (NATO countries) join forces in order to safeguard a civilization founded on the principles of “democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law’.

This NATO Treaty Preamble assumes that our shared goal to protect our Western civilization provides the justification and supplies the energy for participating in a military alliance, with all the obligations and costs that this effort entails.

Pledges yes, but only a little money

Well, the very fact that in most NATO countries defense spending, solemn commitments notwithstanding, is in free fall, (in most cases way below the pledge to keep defense spending at least up to 2% of GDP), is an indication that upholding Western values is ok, as along as it does not cost any money. And this frankly means that few care that much about what is included in the NATO Treaty Preamble.

Europe and the US far apart

As to Western political cohesion, the necessary glue provided by shared values, not much there either. As all opinion polls reveal, most Europeans hold negative views of the United States, while most Europeans cannot come up with any meaningful notion as to what “Europe” stands for in the world, except for meaningless notions of “soft power”.

Weak West now under attack 

And yet, fate has it that this tired and confused West today is the identified target and designated mortal enemy for crazy Islamists and for a revanchist Russia that is now really unhappy about the way the Cold War ended. (The West won, Soviet Communism lost).

In other words, like it or not, the West is under attack. Not in the old-fashioned way of Red Army tanks rolling into Western Europe. But it is an attack nonetheless. Putin argues that the West is in decline, and of course its failed model is clearly inapplicable to (culturally superior?) Russia. And in the meantime, he helps himself with pieces of Ukraine, correctly interpreting European “protests” as mostly harmless noise.

The Islamic fundamentalists, now coalescing around the newly formed Islamic State, (established on land that belongs to Syria and Iraq), in their own crazy ways truly believe that they are the wave of the future, and that it is their mission to attack and destroy the West.

Of course intentions and real capabilities to harm are two different things. But, to the extent that the West is indifferent and therefore unprepared, its enemies may get lucky.

Do we have what it takes to face major challenges?

Therefore, as Ezio Mauro, Editor of La Repubblica, a major Italian daily paper, put it in a very well argued editorial, (L’Occidente da Difendere, translation:The West to be Defended, September 5, 2014), this is the moment for the West to look within, and find in its proud heritage the strength that will be necessary to face this challenge. That said, does the West have what it takes? Here is an excerpt of what Mauro writes:

“…But, right at the moment in which two parts of the world [Russia and the Islamic radicals] describe it at the same time as the ultimate enemy and the eternal adversary, has the West a notion and a degree of self-awareness that is equal to the challenge? Does it have at least the awareness that the Islamist dagger is aimed at the throat of the West, while Putin is recreating a political and diplomatic wall that will stop America, recreate a Europe divided into blocks, while limiting the sovereign rights of nations? There is an inconclusive political response to all this, while diplomacy is not going beyond sanctions. We are left with NATO, the Summit in Wales, the polemic about [insufficient military] expenditures, the project of a European Army. But the question is posed again: beyond military measures, can NATO function and have a meaning as a key player in these two crises without the West being a clear political actor?…”

Shared values? Not really

I agree. The Western countries that long ago created the Western Alliance have lost any sense of what they are and what they stand. As a consequences there is no longer any vision about a shared destiny and shared sacrifices in order to face a mounting threat.

Unfortunately, already in the bad old days of the Cold War, by default the NATO Alliance had become an American unilateral security guarantee offered to a perennially weak Europe.

Later on, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the (hoped for, but unexpected) sudden end of the Soviet Union and of the Warsaw Pact allowed the Europeans to essentially disregard defense spending.

Look the other way

And now that there is sustained turmoil, (Russian aggression, ISIL’s Caliphate), the temptation is to pretend that these problems are really small, or not there at all.

Worse yet, many European governments would like to believe that if we just stand still and do not do anything provocative all these troubles will magically melt away.

The truth is that tired Western countries plagued by non performing economies, astronomic debt, armies of pensioners, and chronic fatigue cannot face additional crises.

That said, our enemies are watching. Putin is not going to be impressed with the NATO pledge to field a force of only 4,000 soldiers.

And there is more. Constantly repeating that all NATO countries are “really, really committed” to consider an attack against one an attack against all raises serious doubts about the actual strength of this pledge.

A real commitment should be self-evident to all, friends and foes. If it needs to be constantly repeated, it means that there are doubts about the sincerity of at least some.

Helping Estonia?

Indeed, let’s assume that tomorrow Putin engages in semi-covert subversion (a la Crimea) in Estonia, a NATO country. Will geographically removed NATO members, (say, Portugal), rise to the occasion and immediately dispatch all their troops to the embattled Baltic state?




Poroshenko Accepted Putin Terms – Ukraine Lost, No Help Coming From The West

WASHINGTON – Putin’s latest “peace plan” for Ukraine, now accepted by Kiev, is in fact the prelude to the secession of Eastern Ukraine. Putin wanted and obtained a cease-fire that would freeze the situation on the ground. And we know what that is, and how we got there.

Russian invasion

Moscow-funded ethnic Russian rebels control this territory. When they started losing because of a stronger than expected Ukrainian military response, Moscow sent in its own artillery, tanks and troops.

Note that this open Russian invasion has not changed the Western ultra soft response to this conflict taking place right at Europe’s door step: verbal condemnations followed by mostly symbolic and in the end insignificant responses. So here is the implicit US and European message to Moscow: “Russian covert aggression is ok; open aggression also ok.”

Poroshenko is alone

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko can see all of this. Now he knows that Ukraine is alone. And so he decided to accept Putin’s offer. The only reason for continuing this fight against vastly superior Russian forces would be the hope of getting real help from the US and its NATO Allies. But this not going to happen. And it is also clear that economic sanctions alone will not force Putin to withdraw.

Therefore, here is the unpleasant reality: Kiev is alone in this most unequal fight. Without any real help from the West, Ukraine cannot prevail against a much stronger Russia.

In the meantime, this unwinnable war in the East is costing a fortune. Ukraine is wasting billions of dollars that should be instead devoted to economic reconstruction.

Accept defeat

Defeat is never pleasant. But it is wise for Poroshenko to recognize that Putin has won. Whatever the exact terms of any final settlement, it is clear that Moscow will agree only to an arrangement in which Eastern Ukraine will be granted a degree of “autonomy” that amounts to de facto independence.

Losing yet another piece of the country, after having accepted the secession of Crimea, is not a wonderful prospect. But I do not see a better one, unless Poroshenko and the Ukrainian people really believe that it is a good idea to fight for ever against Russia, so that Ukraine can keep its honor.

This might look good; but it would be crazy and suicidal.




Fighting Climate Change Is Useless – Invest In Adaptation

WASHINGTON – If you want a cogent and well explained argument about the complete uselessness of US carbon restriction laws and regulations aimed at combating climate change, please read the WSJ op-ed piece by economist Edward Lazear, (The Climate Change Agenda Needs to Adapt to Reality, September 3, 2014).

Policies will have no effect

Using very simple language, and with the support of a lot of data, Lazear shows how any US attempt to limit emissions via expensive domestic regulations will have no impact whatsoever on global emissions, simply because China, India –real giants when it comes to emissions– and other emerging countries are not on board.

Even with major national efforts, we shall reduce global emissions only a little, while China and India will keep adding a lot, therefore nullifying the impact of our –expensive– new policies.

No real difference

Indeed, if our goal is to really reduce global emissions, even though America is the second largest contributor, and by far the biggest in terms of per capita emissions, the fact is that forcing 300 million Americans to change behavior (at a high cost) will not stabilize or reverse total greenhouse emissions.

This being the case, it is really insane to insist on this policy course, when we know in advance that the policy objectives will not be achieved.

Invest in adaptation

Lazear argues that it would be a lot smarter to invest in measures focusing on “adaptation”. As temperatures are going to rise anyway, let’s protect ourselves as best we can.

In his WSJ piece he lists the most obvious: dykes to prevent higher water levels from flooding low-lying areas, and planting heat tolerant crops and trees. Indeed, it is a lot smarter to invest limited resources in technologies that will help us adjust to higher temperatures than trying to stop or reverse global warming through imposed restrictions that will not make a dent, simply because the real super emission producers are not on board.

Common sense

Now, this is common sense. But the climate change lobby is driven mostly by ideology dressed up as “science”, not by common sense.

Carbon is “evil”, green is “good”. Therefore, we have to pursue the “good”, no matter how useless this is, and no matter how much it costs.

 




America’s Systemic Economic And Fiscal Problems Undermine US Foreign Policy

WASHINGTON – What’s the connection between President Obama not authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline linking Canadian oil fields to refineries in Texas and America’s ability to deal more effectively with a Middle East in constant turmoil? No direct connection today. But a major one tomorrow.

Creating options

Indeed, by deciding –today– to rely more on Canada, a trusted neighbor, for vital energy imports, America would diminish and eventually stop its reliance on OPEC oil. Improved US “energy security” would give Washington additional room to manoeuvre in the intrinsically messy Middle East.

Sound economic and fiscal policies are the foundation of strength

By the same token, there is no immediate connection between a (hoped for) Washington bipartisan pact aimed at reforming public spending and entitlements, and America’s current ability to deploy forces or help allies –today– in dangerous parts of the world.

However, a serious and credible political agreement that promises to place America on a path to fiscal soundness, (even though rebalancing our books after “bending the spending curve” would take years), would tell the world that America is not declining.

Beyond the huge domestic benefits, this political agreement would send the message that 10 or 20 years from now we will be still here, strong, well armed, and seriously engaged, because we are addressing and taking care –today– of the long-term issues that would otherwise weaken us tomorrow.

Long term issues need to be addressed –today

Smart leaders know how to balance the need to address immediate problems, while at the same time tackling issues that are not urgent, but really important in the long run.

The classic mistake is to get so engaged in reacting to too many small crises that you do not take care of larger, long-term, systemic problems that, if unaddressed, will undermine your future ability to take care of even little issues.

Many crises, limited options

And this is precisely America’s current predicament. Today, the country is confronted with significant but not catastrophic international crises. There is a bloody civil war in Syria, chaos in Iraq, anarchy in Libya, huge political and security problems in Afghanistan, more violence between Palestinians and Israelis, Putin fomenting civil war in Ukraine, China trying to extend its maritime sphere of influence. And then we have ISIS, (or Islamic State), a terror group that has graduated to becoming a political entity that controls territory in Syria and Iraq, while declaring hostility against America.

As David Brooks stated in a NYT piece, none of these ugly developments represents an immediate, existential threat to the US; but America has a responsibility to set the tone of international reaction, now and in the future. There is no doubt that with fewer means at our disposal we will be able to do less and less. We are already feeling the pinch, as the defense budget has been cut, with more cuts coming.

And here we have two problems unfortunately converging. The first one is that President Barack Obama projects an image of an over-cautious, timid America, uncertain about its proper role, and unwilling to do anything at all. And this is bad.

Without adequate means, no credible foreign policy

The second one is actually much more serious. The American economy is too weak, while the national fiscal picture is slowly but surely getting worse.

And it is obvious that, in the long run, there is a clear cause and effect relationship between actual economic resources and the ability to influence international economic relations, while continuing to have state of the art armed forces that can be used around the world without adding to an already severe (and now systemic) fiscal strain.

And this is precisely where we are headed now. (In fact, pessimists would argue that we are already there: no money, good-bye to serious Pentagon funding).

Dwindling resources

Indeed, even if we had a different, more pugnacious President, he or she would have to consider the objective fiscal limits to any assertive US policy.

Simply stated, a country with a $ 17 trillion national debt, (and rising), and a tired, slow-growing economy has far fewer options than a country in good fiscal health with a thriving economy.

And, if today’s options are more limited, without a major economic and fiscal course correction, tomorrow’s options will be even more constrained.

Deal with the issues

Having said that, it should be obvious that America, in order to preserve its own future viability, and for the sake of world stability, beyond the issues of the day would seriously focus on what it takes to restore fiscal stability and more sustained economic growth. These are the preconditions for having first class armed forces and for being a credible actor on the international stage.

No such thing as an “Impoverished Great Power”

Simply stated, if you have no new money, federal budget deficits year after year, a mounting national debt, and (as a result) a shrinking military, who is going to pay attention to what you have to say?

I do not know of any “Impoverished Great Power”. Those countries that lost their ability to create wealth ceased to be Great Powers. Period. America is headed that way.

All intelligent people know that our unresolved fiscal and global competitiveness issues soon enough will have an impact on our resources and therefore on our ability to project force and to be taken seriously by friends and foes alike.

Wasting time

But while each year’s federal budget deficit gets us closer to the moment of truth, we still have some slack. We are not about to fall into the abyss.

But sadly we use this borrowed time as an excuse to do nothing. And so we waste precious time that could be used to forge serious bipartisan agreements aimed at restoring our economy, the wealth of our people, and our fiscal soundness.

Unfortunately in our political world in which there are national congressional elections every two years, the “long-term” does not exist. Leaders are judged on what they have done today about today’s issue.

Leadership

As I said above, smart leaders know how to balance handling the issues of the day while taking care of long-term problems well before they morph into major crises leading to terminal decline.

Smart leaders would also find ways to communicate the importance of spending time and resources, today, to address and solve major long-term problems.

However, as we can see, smart leaders are in short supply.

 

 




NYT Op-Ed Calls ISIS “A Militant Group” – Talk About Understatement

WASHINGTON – Charles M. Blow, NYT columnist, in an article, (Obama and the Warmongers, August 31, 2014), points out how America may be dragged once more into a Middle East conflict on account of the hysteria generated by ISIS, (the newest and most violent version of Islamic radicalism).

US response?

Well, intelligent people may and will differ on what should be the most appropriate US response (and that may include doing nothing at all) to this new chapter of conflict in the Region. Blow seems to be on the side of caution, although he sees that the “party of war” is gathering strength.

That said, I notice that in his piece there is very little about what ISIS (also known as ISIL and now Islamic State, or IS) has done so far, and what its leaders claim they will do.

Bad definition

In what I would call a most carefully crafted euphemism, Blow calls ISIS “a militant group President Obama described as barbaric”. The significant concession to truth is in reporting that Obama calls ISIS “barbaric”. Blow also clearly mentions the fact that ISIS beheaded James Foley, a US journalist previously kidnapped by them.

Basic facts not mentioned

Other than that, however, not a word in Blow’s piece about the mass executions of both Syrians and Iraqis, the almost daily crucifixions, the beheadings, the open persecution of religious minorities, and finally declaring itself the modern era Caliphate, coupled with  openly aired plans to kill Americans.

A “militant group”?

Sure, Blow reports that President Obama calls ISIS methods “barbaric”; and this should help set a proper context. But the problem is that Blow sets the tone at the very beginning of his article by defining ISIS a mere “militant group”. Therefore a superficially informed reader may get this picture.

“Here we go again. There is yet another small bunch of nuts in the Middle East. And these people apparently do some really crazy stuff. They just killed an American in a ghastly way. But, hey, while this is terrible, this is no reason for getting into another war over there. Let’s stay calm and think this over, before rushing in and getting ourselves into another sectarian mess we cannot control”. 

Just a few people?

While Blow’s piece may appear even-handed, it is not. He implicitly dismisses ISIS’ threat by calling it “a militant group”. The term “group” suggest a few people. Dozens, at most a few hundred members.

“Yes, they use horrible methods. But  they all  do it . Besides, it is all happening “over there”. Sure, they killed an American. This is bad. But, with all due respect, it is only one. And, after all, it is only a group. Are we going to go after all groups of bad guys around the world?”

Nothing about ISIS’ real strength

Not even a hint in his piece about other well-known facts. There are tens of thousands of ISIS fighters. This may not amount to an army, but it is a powerful, well-organized, disciplined fighting force.

Besides, while other terror groups or insurgents are engaged in surprise attacks here and there and then disappear, ISIS holds large portions of territory in Syria and Iraq. It controls large cities like Mosul, (664,000 inhabitants). Now the leaders renamed the territory they control the “Islamic State”. ISIS  has modern weapons and lots of cash.

Obfuscation

Given all this, calling ISIS a “militant group” is rather disingenuous. This toned down definition is aimed at minimizing and obfuscating the extent of a real threat to the Region and to the West represented by a very large number of politically organized Islamic radicals who openly claim to be at war with all non believers.

They are there. They have a state. Worst of all, this Caliphate will become a magnet for many other misguided Islamic radicals from all over the world who will want to join this jihad.

At least let’s define the threat properly

If ISIS is only “a militant group”, then Adolf Hitler was a conservative politicians, Vladimir Lenin was a leftist political organizer, Pol Pot an agrarian reformer, and the Ku Klux Klan was a social club created to uphold cherished American traditions.

As indicated above, reasonable people may differ on what should be done about ISIS.

But at least we should be able to agree on this: we are dealing with something a lot more dangerous than yet another “militant group”.