Democratic Pickpockets and Purse-Snatchers


Like walking in a neighborhood full of pickpockets and purse snatchers, living under the Obama administration should leave all Americans worried about what will be pilfered from them next.

In one of the most hypocritical moves yet — and that’s saying something — by a man who exhaled a lot of hot air in recent weeks, including during the State of the Union speech, talking about the importance of a college education, President Obama is now proposing to end tax-free withdrawals from 529 college savings accounts, diminishing (or perhaps even eliminating) their attractiveness as savings vehicles and thereby reducing incentives for millions of American families to create a college nest egg for their children.

Contributions to 529 plans are not deductible for federal income tax purposes but are deductible in 34 states and the District of Columbia. (Since seven states have no state income tax, 529 plans receive favorable tax treatment in all but nine states.) The income earned within a 529 plan can be withdrawn tax free when used for “qualified higher education expenses.”

The most recent study of the 529 program by the College Savings Plan Network says that “total assets and total number of open accounts have reached new record levels of more than $244 billion and 11.8 million, respectively.” The number of 529 accounts grew by six percent in the first half of 2014 alone.

President Obama is one of those 11.8 million, having contributed a stunning $240,000 to his daughters’ 529 plans in 2007. Since the president’s proposal would impact new contributions rather than those already made, it would leave his daughters’ college savings in good shape; he had the financial wherewithal to drop a quarter million dollars into those accounts all at once. But for those of us (including me) who make modest monthly or annual contributions to our children’s futures, we’re out of luck.

Please read the rest of my article for the American Spectator here:
http://spectator.org/articles/61579/democratic-pickpockets-and-purse-snatchers

 

Delayed Reaction (to SOTU)

It took me a couple of days to summon the strength to watch President Obama’s seventh State of the Union Address (the sixth if you don’t count his 2009 address to a joint session of Congress); the speech was an hour-long exercise in deception, hypocrisy, and narcissism — which is to say it was more of the same from the most insular and self-absorbed politician of our generation, a man who never stops campaigning.

Within the first seconds of his long-winded address, the president, missing only a cone-shaped hat and a magic wand in his attempt to recast reality, said that while the first part of the 21st century was replete with terrorism and economic turmoil, “tonight, we turn the page.”

Yes, the man who told us that his election would cause the end of rising seas now suggests that the thrilling chapter of history in which The One, outdoing even Moses, saved his people and perhaps the world, has come to an blissful close and we are now to enter a new gilded age of pax Americana in which everyone can have everything for free. Apparently our president studied at the Big Rock Candy Mountain School of Public Policy.

He also hopes — perhaps with good reason — that Americans are ignorant of some basic facts.

Obama noted that the economy is growing but neglected that this is the slowest economic recovery in modern American history. He pointed out the declining unemployment rate but neglected that much of the drop is due to people simply leaving the workforce. He cheered our declining dependence on foreign oil but neglected to mention that he has opposed increased domestic energy production at every turn and (in)famously said “you know we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices.” (Actually, we can. And the Energy Minister of the United Arab Emirates made clear last week that OPEC’s decision not to try to prop up prices is because they want to force American shale oil producers out of business.)

Perhaps the most galling line of the speech — and that’s saying something — was the president’s claim that “the shadow of crisis has passed,” a remarkable assertion as ISIS (which the president, nearly alone, insists on calling ISIL to avoid reminding people of his failure in Syria) is seizing territory in Iraq, Syria, and now “gaining ground in Yemen, competing with al Qaeda.”

How stupid does Obama think we are? (Don’t answer that question.)

Please read the rest of my article for The American Spectator here:
http://spectator.org/articles/61568/delayed-reaction

Can’t We Do Better?

I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist — and I certainly have nothing on Paul Craig Roberts whose most recent article, helpfully disseminated by the Ron Paul Institute, claims the Charlie Hebdo attacks to be a “false flag” operation — but I can’t help but wonder if the “mainstream media” is playing up the potential presidential candidacies of Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum simply to depress Republican voters.

Or, going the full tin-foil-hat route, maybe these guys are themselves double agents, part of a MoveOn.org (does it still exist?) sleeper cell which was just activated (by someone who doesn’t get that Americans don’t want to talk about the 2016 election in January of 2015). Their goal: To make the GOP look so ridiculous, so full of unappealing candidates, that independent voters scoff and Republicans begin considering staying home in 2016 the same way they did in 2012, handing an eminently winnable election to a living national nightmare in a pants suit.

To be sure, some press coverage of Mitt Romney is skeptical, with recent articles describing Republican ambivalence (to put it kindly) about his potential candidacy. Other pieces, though, including in liberal outlets such as the Boston Globe (an outfit that knows Romney better than most), seem to be trying to help Romney push an explanation for his “stunning change of heart.”

The thing is, Mitt, I don’t care why you changed your mind.

Please read the entirety of my article for The American Spectator here:
http://spectator.org/articles/61505/can%E2%80%99t-we-do-better

Obama’s Keystone Confusion

In his appearance last Monday on The Colbert Report, President Obama restated his approach to the Keystone XL pipeline decision, a mindset that can only be described as confused.

The president summarized his strange dilemma as follows: “[Keystone] could create a couple of thousand potential jobs in the initial construction of the pipeline, but we’ve got to measure that against whether or not it is going to contribute to an overall warming of the planet that could be disastrous.”

But this thinking hinges on three key — and false — assumptions.

First, that whatever carbon dioxide or pollution (note that I did not say “or other pollution” since CO2 is plant food, not pollution) would be generated in the building or operation of Keystone will not be generated in whatever other method ends up being used to transport oil from Canada through the United States.

Second, the usual climate alarmist assumptions, namely that humans are having a substantial impact on the climate and that a warming of the planet is likely to be harmful.

Third, and most important, the implicit assumption that climate change — even if you believe the alarmists’ claims — is the only risk worth considering.

Please read the entirety of my article for the American Spectator here:
http://spectator.org/articles/61227/obama%E2%80%99s-keystone-confusion

The one unintended positive of ObamaCare

I, like anybody who appreciates personal and economic liberty and rational policy, oppose ObamaCare. That does not mean, however, that it does not have any beneficial impact or, along with its many ill-conceived taxes and bureaucracies and nanny state regulations (such as the impending annoyance of having to see calorie counts on every menu), offer a useful object lesson to guide future policy.

If Jonathan Gruber, despite his apologies for being rude, is correct that American voters are both stupid and selfish, it will be intellectually difficult as well as politically risky for Republicans to point out such object lessons — not least to each other.

But it's worth a try.

And recent data about the declining growth in total healthcare spending (which doesn't mean total spending is declining, nor does it mean that health insurance premiums are not still rising — quite rapidly in certain categories of plans) are worth talking about.

Please read the entirety of my note for The Hill here:
http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/healthcare/226579-the-one-unintended-positive-of-obamacare

We Can Handle the Truth

What do the recent University of Virginia gang-rape charges made in Rolling Stone magazine, rape implications against an Oberlin College “campus conservative” by talented-but-annoying darling-of-the-left Lena Dunham, and the unending “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “die-in” pantomimes of murder-by-racist-cop regarding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, have in common?

The obvious answer is that all three stories are unsupported by actual evidence. While something tragic certainly happened in Ferguson and something bad may have happened to a young woman in Virginia, the aspects of the stories that made them national sensations were fabrications.

(Given Lena Dunham’s admissions that she was drunk and high on both illegal and prescription drugs, and that she willingly had sex with someone even after he had done something exceptionally inappropriate to her in public, no part of her insinuation of rape seems credible… and further scrutiny demolishes it entirely.)

The more important answer is that in each case liberal activists, whether “feminists” (the true motivation of too many being hatred of men) or race hustlers like Al Sharpton (who needs to raise a few bucks to pay down $4.5 million in tax liens), are telling us that the truth doesn’t matter.

Please read the entirety of my article for The American Spectator here:
http://spectator.org/articles/61190/we-can-handle-truth

Rolling Stone Withdraws Explosive Story of UVA Rape

With a note to readers saying that their trust in the accuser was "misplaced" and that there now seem to be "discrepancies in her account," Rolling Stone magazine has retracted a dramatic "investigative" article claiming that a young woman nicknamed Jackie was gang-raped at a University of Virginia fraternity party in September 2012.

The fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi - which was vandalized after the article was published - has issued a statement rebutting the article, including that there was no party at the frat house on the night in question.

The story, violent and heart-wrenching, played into the worst fears of Americans about the so-called epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses around the country -- something which seems to be manufactured by ludicrous definitions of what qualifies as sexual assault. (This is not to downplay the harm of true sexual assaults.)

Quite a few people, such as Richard Bradley, Robby Soave of Reason, the always-excellent Jonah Goldberg, and to a lesser degree Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, questioned the reliability of reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, particularly after she admitted in an interview that he had not spoken with the young men who were accused of the horrific crime. (Each of the linked articles is worth reading.)

Now, with the fraternity having been suspended - indeed all "Greek" activities suspended until next month, Rolling Stone has much more than egg on its face, and Ms. Erdely has a lot of explaining to do, not least why Erdely did not speak to any of the accused young men.

[As of 3:15 PM Eastern Time, despite the retraction having been news for a few hours, Mr. Erdely has posting nothing to her Twitter feed despite having used that feed to try to attract as much attention as possible to her work of at-least-part-fiction.]

Details regarding the night of Jackie's claimed rape as well as key aspects in the description of the then-student she named as the lead perpetrator have not withstood even basic investigation but reporters who actually cared about the truth. What remains unclear is whether "Jackie" was actually raped or gang-raped at all; her friends say there was a major change in her personality around that time and it is possible that she did suffer a sexual assault. Perhaps, although she claims not to have drunk alcohol that night, she instead regretted having done just that and not remembering what she did that night. I don't know. We'll probably never know. In fact, Jackie may not know...which would be the most logical explanation for this whole mess.

But regardless of what Jackie knows or believes, a reporter's job is to do much more than accept the incredibly dramatic story of a young woman when the story involved accusing a half-dozen young men of a terrible crime.

If Rolling Stone's cover photograph of the Boston Marathon bomber wasn't enough to turn you away from that publication, this sure should be.

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David Brooks Insults Capitalism

I object to the term “crony capitalism” because it gives a misleading and negative perception of the most beneficial — and moral — economic system ever experienced by man.

I object to New York Times columnist David Brooks for the same reason.

Few things are more harmful to a rational debate over national economic policy than an electorate that is not just uninformed, but misinformed. And when it comes to economics, misinformation almost always has the effect — no doubt intentional — of encouraging voters to mistrust liberty, especially economic liberty, while looking to a feckless, impersonal, self-serving government for care and comfort.

Assailing capitalism is necessary for the election of Democrats. But, outside of liberal enclaves and universities, spreading misinformation and distrust of free enterprise is not a particularly easy task since its benefits are obvious to most Americans: capitalist countries have higher standards of living than non-capitalist countries; capitalism has lifted a billion human beings out of poverty in less than a generation; Americans are congenitally allergic to government meddling in our businesses (though too many are willing to tolerate meddling in other people’s businesses); and our nation was conceived to enable your “pursuit of happiness” — a pursuit that you instinctively know is most compatible with economic freedom.

Therefore, an effective (even if dishonest) critique of capitalism requires attacking its edges rather than its strong heart by focusing on barely relevant tertiary effects (real or, as with Brooks’ claims, fictitious) and demonizing the rich as greedy, heartless, and parasitic. You’ve heard these myths repeated ad nauseam, particularly leftist frothing about income inequality, the rich “buying elections,” the “one percent,” and so on.

Each of these tropes is easily — and often — debunked. But they still have some effect on those whose basic understanding of economics and liberty causes them to forget that no other economic system has done as much good for as many people as capitalism and no other system is compatible with a free people.

Of course, it’s all the better for the left if a “conservative” makes the arguments for them — which is where David Brooks usefully comes in.

Please read the entirety of my article for the American Spectator here:
http://spectator.org/articles/61135/david-brooks-insults-capitalism

Uber Shouldn’t Hire Political Hit Men

While I’ve never been a customer of Uber or, more specifically, of one of their drivers, I’m a big fan of any company that uses technology to allow more efficient and profitable use of individuals’ private assets (in this case, their cars) to benefit consumers (who can’t find a taxi or want something more convenient or comfortable) while challenging the power of regulators and taxi cartels.

In short, Uber is, at least in theory, a capitalist’s dream. Beyond that, it works, or at least it’s perceived to be working by some very successful investors: In June, Uber closed a financing round that valued the company at $18 billion only four years after it began operating. As The New York Times noted, that makes Uber “worth more than Alcoa, Tiffany or Whole Foods. (It’s bigger than Hertz Global Holdings and Avis Budget, too.)”

 

Five months ago, the company was “operating in 128 cities in 37 countries around the world with hundreds of thousands of transportation providers and millions of customers connecting to our platform.” By August, it was up to 170 cities. Just this month, they announced service in Cairo (Egypt, not Illinois), Santa Fe, Chattanooga, four towns in northwestern Oregon, Little Rock, and Budapest. They’ve also rolled out a partnership with online music service Spotify through which an Uber customer can hear music of her choice while waiting for a ride and then have her own playlist continue once she gets in the Uber vehicle.

Uber’s drivers are rated by passengers, and if they do not maintain a high average rating they are removed from the ranks of the Uber-approved. Although not without its controversies (such as riders being pressured to give higher ratings than a driver deserves), Uber is a major part of the “trust economy” being fostered on the Internet where experiences of others guide consumers.

Now Comes the Caveat

Please read the entirety of my article for The Federalist here:
http://thefederalist.com/2014/11/25/uber-shouldnt-hire-political-hit-men/

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