After seven months, California’s one-hundred-plus-member economic recovery task force has finished its recovery recommendation report. What could have been a game-changing opportunity to reduce the state’s high cost of living, increase efficiency in bureaucracies, and reform tax and regulatory policies never got off the ground.
Just 23 pages long, you will be hard-pressed to find substantive economic recommendations, much less any major new ideas, in a report that somehow took seven months to write. The COVID recovery task force was ingenious political theater to show that the state’s major business leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Disney CEO Bob Iger, were professing buy-in to Governor Gavin Newsom’s economic shutdown. This was never about reforming state economic policies that are among the worst in the country. It was about providing broad-based political cover.
With more than one hundred members appointed by Newsom, you knew that nothing important would ever be accomplished. Granted, the unique problems of COVID meant the task force would include representation from several economic sectors, but creating a committee of over one hundred could have been straight out of the CIA’s 1944 “Simple Sabotage Field Manual,”which recommends creating as large of a committee as possible to ensure that nothing happens.
Labor unions garnered the most task force representation, with 14 members, including two from the politically important Service Employees International Union. And even though the pandemic is a public health problem, the task force included only a handful of members from the health care industry, broadly defined.
The report opens with a discussion of the importance of viral testing and the state’s new, expensive purchases of protective equipment and medical supplies. I wonder how task force member Arnold Schwarzenegger felt, as the substantial investments he made in these important supplies several years ago when he was governor—for just such a pandemic—were given away by the state because they were considered to be too expensive to maintain. Oh well.
After reading the report, you get the uneasy feeling that you were indeed snookered. It reads like a “what I did this summer” back-to-school report. There was much listening to others. Hand-wringing about the impact of COVID, but not too much, lest there be any hint that the report is at all critical of state policies. There are roughly 30 references to diversity, equity, and racism in the report, but only one reference to efficiency. There is much admiration for the governor’s leadership, and considerable self-congratulation, including advocating for the use of electronic signatures on government documents and refurbishing used school computers. Tim Cook and Bob Iger were needed for this?
Not surprisingly, you get the feeling that the task force members ultimately hit their breaking points as they tried to navigate what amounted to a ship without a sail. With California COVID cases rising rapidly, it is strange the task force would disband now, when presumably their input is more important than ever. But after seven months of accomplishing little, task force members probably were done in. Iger resigned even earlier, when the state would not come up with a plan for theme park reopenings.
If something important were to have been accomplished, then problems would first have to be identified and prioritized. But this was never going to happen, because Newsom appointed his chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, as one co-chair, who could be the de facto gatekeeper. The other co-chair was Tom Steyer, the former Democratic presidential candidate who spent $250 million to run for president earlier this year, and who failed to receive any delegates.
Steyer previously made a fortune investing in coal, one of the dirtiest of energy sources. Now a born-again activist for climate and progressive causes, Steyer is willing to spend his and other people’s money to create a carbon-free California as soon as possible, even if the most optimistic assessments of its benefits do not come close to offsetting the costs.
Newsom got what he wanted in Steyer as a well-heeled partner who would support all climate initiatives, including Newsom’s executive order banning the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2035. Because California accounts for less than one percent of global carbon emissions, the state could probably move the climate needle more by paying China to stop using soft coal than by mandating that all new California homes require solar panels, extra insulation, and highly energy-efficient windows and appliances, all of which increase new home construction costs by $30,000 or more.
The O’Leary-Steyer task force report is about as different as it possibly could be from a recovery task force report written in 1992 for then governor Pete Wilson. Chaired by Peter Uberroth, a 17-person committee took just four months to write “California’s Jobs and Future.” This was produced when the California economy had lost 500,000 jobs, about four percent of the state’s employment.
The Uberroth report pulled no punches in identifying the state’s key economic policy shortcomings. In 128 densely written pages, the report described a “government that is no longer working” and a state on “its way to fiscal disaster.” The report describes unaffordable housing. An underperforming school system. A shift to low-wage service-sector jobs. Losing businesses to states and countries with lower costs. Inadequate entrepreneurship. Environmental restrictions that do not pass a sensible cost-benefit assessment. All of this written in 1992.
The report provided plenty of sensible solutions, built around the ideas of redesigning government so that it was no longer in an adversarial position with businesses and taxpayers, an overhaul of the workers’ compensation system to root out widespread fraud, incentivizing school performance, and streamlining regulations and implementing tax incentives for business investment.
For schools, recommendations included stricter cost accountability; a statewide open-enrollment plan, meaning school choice; an extra hour per school day and a two-hundred-day school year; English comprehension requirements for third graders; and expanded career training for 11th and 12th graders. This would have made a significant difference in the effectiveness of California schools, but little was implemented, largely for political reasons.
Perhaps the most striking difference between the two reports, written nearly 30 years apart, is the tenor of the conclusions. Steyer stated, “We will come back stronger and better than we have ever been.” In sharp contrast, the Uberroth report warned that the state was risking bankruptcy if their policy recommendations were not implemented. For the most part, the recommendations weren’t adopted, and bankruptcy has been averted only by a series of large tax increases that place California among the highest-taxing states in the country.
Viewed over the last 28 years, the Uberroth report has been chillingly accurate. Sadly, its prescience will continue.
Poor Syria. Strategically located at the northern edge of the Middle East on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, with its archeological finds dating back nearly eight thousand years, is perhaps the oldest continually inhabited place of the world. Its two most important cities Aleppo and Damascus had been the capitals of numerous empires dating back at least to the thirtieth century BC. Throughout its history, ancient Syria was blessed with productive agriculture, profitable trade as well as thriving urbanized culture that created religions and philosophies, and invented the very first alphabet. On the other hand, ancient and modern Syria had been also cursed and shaped by never ending cycles of religious and sectarian violence.
The roots of the civil war that started in the beginning of 2011 go back to the mid-9th century when Ibn Nusayr declared himself the “Bab” – the “gateway to truth.” Proclaiming his teachings to be the only true religion, Ibn Nusayr preached the Holy Trinity of Muhammad, his cousin and son in law Husayn ibn Ali, and Salman al-Farisi, a freed Persian slave of Muhammad’s. Ali was also elevated to be the Jesus-like incarnation of divinity. Borrowing further from Christianity, he made the symbolic presentation of bread and wine an integral part of religious services, in which wine represents God himself. Moreover, the Nusayris, also called Alawis or Ansaris, celebrate almost all Christian festivals and holidays, and worship most of the Christian saints. Finally, Ibn Nusayr denied the five pillars of Islam and rejected the Shari’a in its entirety.
by Kenneth Bloomquist
Standing before an audience of college students, President Obama remarked that “As Americans, we can and should be proud of the progress that our country has made over these past six years. This progress has been hard, but it has been steady and it has been real. And it’s the result of the American people’s drive and their determination and their resilience, and it’s also the result of sound decisions made by my administration.” These remarks sound more defensive than confident. The President asserted that Americans should feel proud of the modest economic gains his administration frequently cites, but given that over half of Americans still consider the economy to be meandering through a recession it seems they have overwhelmingly rejected his outlook and chosen to remain humble instead.
Perhaps they’re being overly pessimistic? In the President’s defense, the metrics commonly used to measure the duration of recessions do indeed place the end of the Great Recession in 2009. Since then, GDP has risen slowly, but steadily, at an adjusted rate of just over 2% per year. The unemployment rate has fallen from its 2009 high of just under 10% to just under 6%, and new jobs are being created at a pace which is improving with time. And yet despite the graphs and charts, Americans refuse to be optimistic no matter how often they are told to be. The economy as described in press conferences doesn’t seem to be same one which most Americans live and work in, where family and friends remain unemployed or underpaid, where they have been passed over for raises, and where there just isn’t enough income leftover to save. Americans may not all have advanced economics degrees, but they are intuitively aware when times are good and when times are bad, and they remain skeptical even when bombarded by a steady stream of rose-tinted statistics. Continue reading
Craven American leadership harms the cause of peace and stability, and only benefits the world’s dictators and aggressors.
by George C. Landrith & Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi
Vladimir Putin is a gambler. He has a weak hand. But he will bluff, pretending that he holds a good hand, until someone in power calls him on the ruse. While President Barack Obama’s hand is not weak, he behaves as if he holds no cards at all. Thus, Obama plays into the hands of Putin who is pleased at his good fortune to have an anemic and spineless American president unwilling to call Putin’s bluff or reveal his untenable position.
Putin’s willingness to bluff despite his weak hand is at least in the long run quite risky. But given Obama’s consistent and demonstrated weakness, why would Putin do anything else?
Putin is devoid of sentimentality. He is pragmatic in the extreme. Some say he longs for the days of Soviet power and prestige. No doubt power and prestige are of interest to a vain and ambitious poser like Putin. But his main objective is to rescue his rule at home by diverting attention from the near bankrupt Russian economy. By giving his countrymen the impression that he is restoring “Russia’s greatness” abroad, he hopes to neutralize the total failure of his economic policies and the financial pain that Russia is experiencing. Continue reading
If the deal approved, this much is certain — Iran will obtain nuclear weapons, terrorism will increase, an arms race in the Middle East will ensue, and America and our allies will be far less secure.
by George Landrith • President of Frontiers of Freedom
Under the agreement now being celebrated by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Khamenei, and by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, Iran will become a nuclear power in 15 years — perhaps sooner. Even the Obama administration admits that Iran could have nukes within about one year, if it cheats on the agreement. But in any event, the deal paves the way for Iran to have nukes in 15 years — all with the world’s approval and blessings.
If 15 years sounds like a long time, think about your young child, grandchild, niece or nephew and ask if their world will be a safer place if the Islamic Republic of Iran has nuclear weapons when that child is in from high school.
Former Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate and former Senator Joseph Lieberman testified before Congress this week, “The agreement …ultimately allows Iran to become a nuclear weapon state, and indeed legitimizes Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons…. This is a bad deal for America, a bad deal for Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East, and a bad deal for the world.” Continue reading
by Washington Post Editorial Board
If it is reached in the coming days, a nuclear deal with Iran will be, at best, an unsatisfying and risky compromise. Iran’s emergence as a threshold nuclear power, with the ability to produce a weapon quickly, will not be prevented; it will be postponed, by 10 to 15 years. In exchange, Tehran will reap hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief it can use to revive its economy and fund the wars it is waging around the Middle East.
Whether this flawed deal is sustainable will depend on a complex set of verification arrangements and provisions for restoring sanctions in the event of cheating. The schemes may or may not work; the history of the comparable nuclear accord with North Korea in the 1990s is not encouraging. The United States and its allies will have to be aggressive in countering the inevitable Iranian attempts to test the accord and willing to insist on consequences even if it means straining relations with friendly governments or imposing costs on Western companies. Continue reading
There will be no winners in this showdown between Left-wing fantasists and the European project’s true believers.
by Janet Daley • The Telegraph (London)
Which of these do you find more repugnant: an autocratic European Union which is no longer bothering to conceal its intention to displace an elected government, or a shambolic clique of Left-wing fantasists who are propelling a country – and its hapless population – into economic ruin and political chaos?
It’s a tough call, isn’t it? Whatever happens in the Greek referendum on Sunday, it will not be the end of this pantomime. In fact, it is intended not to be the end, in spite of the Greek prime minister’s bizarre assertion last week that he could guarantee a deal would be made with the country’s creditors within 48 hours of a “no” vote – when, in fact, a “no” vote would effectively guarantee the impossibility of making such a deal since the answer “no” is a rejection of meaningful concessions to the creditors. Continue reading
by Editorial Board • U-T San Diego
There is not likely to be any comprehensive reform of this country’s broken immigration system during Obama’s remaining two years. There probably won’t be much of anything else the next two years, either. That is the unfortunate but real import of the executive order President Barack Obama issued last week shielding up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. It represents a monumental failure of national leadership.
The history of the contentious immigration issue over the past six years is instructive to where we are today.
It was in July 2008 that candidate Obama pledged to make comprehensive immigration reform “a top priority in my first year as president.” He broke that promise in 2009, never even attempting immigration reform at the time his popularity and power were at their greatest. Continue reading
by Charles Krauthammer • Washington Post
The president is upset. Very upset. Frustrated and angry. Seething about the government’s handling of Ebola, said the front-page headline in the New York Times last Saturday.
There’s only one problem with this pose, so obligingly transcribed for him by the Times. It’s his government. He’s president. Has been for six years. Yet Barack Obama reflexively insists on playing the shocked outsider when something goes wrong within his own administration.
The IRS? “It’s inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it,” he thundered in May 2013 when the story broke of the agency targeting conservative groups. “I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS.”
Except that within nine months, Obama had grown far more tolerant, retroactively declaring this to be a phony scandal without “a smidgen of corruption.”
Obamacare rollout? “Nobody is more frustrated by that than I am,” said an aggrieved Obama about the botching of the central element of his signature legislative achievement. “Nobody is madder than me.” Continue reading
From domestic politics to foreign policy, Obama and his aides frequently appear overtaken or overwhelmed by events.
by James Oliphant, White House Correspondent • National Journal
A report in The New York Times over the weekend portrayed the president as a frustrated chief executive, directing federal officials to be more “hands on” and to be more on top of events rather than reacting to them.
If this feels familiar, it’s because that has been the go-to White House play for some time when bad news arrives—always unexpectedly—as Obama’s presidency seems overwhelmed by the sense that things aren’t quite under control either within the administration or beyond it, in places overseas such as Iraq and Ukraine.
The president and his staff have seemed flat-footed, reactive, surprised, and at the mercy of outside events rather than in command of them. That has contributed to an abject feeling of powerlessness emanating from the West Wing—one augmented by the administration’s own insistence at times that its reach is limited, that there was little it could to do to ease this summer’s border crisis, or push Vladimir Putin back into Russia, or protect towns under threat from Islamic State forces.
So Obama was “madder than hell” when he learned about the patient backlogs at the Veterans Administration, aides said. He was angry when he was told about the problems with the federal health care website. He was mad when he found out that the Internal Revenue Service was targeting nonprofit political-advocacy groups. [Editor’s Note: Obama later labeled the very IRS scandal that had once made him “mad,” a “phony scandal” when it suited him to do so. Thus, he may also have claimed he was angry when it was politically expedient to do so. This may explain the low trust polling numbers that he has received of late.] Continue reading
The law’s ‘accountable care’ experiment is a bust so far.
by Editorial Board • Wall Street Journal
A major claim of ObamaCare’s political salesmen is that it will reduce U.S. health spending. The heart of this claim is the Accountable Care Organization, or ACO, but already evidence is accumulating that it isn’t working.
That’s the news in the recent Health and Human Services release of the results from the first two years of ACO experience under the Affordable Care Act. The much-delayed data received zero media notice despite a speech from HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell citing “evidence that we have bent the cost curve.” The data show the opposite.
ACOs were supposed to be a new paradigm for health care, with hospitals, primary care physicians and specialists working in teams to be more efficient and coordinate patient treatment across providers. In 2011 HHS introduced this business model as a new federal regulation, so providers that reduce spending according to a formula are paid a bonus that is a portion of the savings. If participants boost spending over this benchmark, they pay a penalty. Continue reading
This time, small-group plans used by small employers are being especially hard hit.
by Tim Phillips • USAToday
Last fall, millions of Americans breathed a sigh of relief when Obamacare didn’t cancel their health care plans. Now they’re holding their breath once again.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans will soon receive cancellation letters affecting their 2015 health care plans — and that number may quickly rise into the millions. This wave of cancellations will fall into two categories. The first group hit will be in the individual market, the same group that suffered through at least 6.3 million cancellation letters last year. They will almost certainly be joined by millions of people in the small-employer market, which has 40 million plans and will be under Obamacare’s control starting next year.
That’s right: President Obama’s now-infamous promise, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” — Politifact’s 2013 “Lie of the Year” — is still being broken, potentially worse than before.
Most of the individual market cancellations will be for plans that were supposed to be canceled last year, when Obamacare first went into effect. After the fallout from last year’s fiasco became too politically toxic, President Obama unilaterally changed the law so that some non-compliant policies could continue for at least another year. That 12-month period is now up. Continue reading
Editorial Board • Investor’s Business Daily
Faced with what the World Health Organization calls the “most severe acute health emergency in modern times,” who gets the job of Ebola Czar? A political hack who signed off on the Solyndra fiasco.
Everything about how the unfolding Ebola crisis is being handled by the Obama administration suggests unseriousness and incompetence — painfully ironic considering that “making government work for the people” was one of President Obama’s original promises.
From refusing to ban travel to and from the West African Ebola hot spots; to the misinformation about medical protocols to isolate any cases of the disease appearing in the U.S. being ready; to the dubious claims that only those with symptoms could pass on the virus; this administration has gotten it wrong.
Challenged by so much confusion and so many dangers, the president canceled several fundraising trips for his party, but who does he then appoint to oversee the U.S. government’s efforts against Ebola? Famed rags-to-riches neurosurgeon Ben Carson perhaps?
No. Ron Klain, a political operative played by Kevin Spacey in a movie about the 2000 Florida recount. Continue reading
It’s time the Obama administration handled the crisis without petty finger-pointing.
by Peter Roff • US News & World Report
Mixing the possibility of a deadly pandemic together with the incompetence of the Washington bureaucracy produces a cocktail that is poisonous to public confidence. No one gets high marks for the way the Obama administration has handled the arrival of Ebola on American soil – especially the president.
It’s times such as these, when little is known and even the slightest misstatement could cause a general panic that the American people look to the president for leadership. Instead, what they are getting is more of the arrogant, self-confident, “smartest guy in the room” pronouncements and hectoring for which President Barack Obama is now famous.
Instead Obama has failed time and again to demonstrate he has a firm grasp on the situation. He’s not taking concrete steps – using his phone and his pen – to prevent the disease from spreading. Instead he’s letting his subordinates – no doubt thoroughly schooled in the Saul Alinsky arts of manufacturing or at least using a crisis to force the political system to give in to your demands – make outrageous statements intended to turn a potential public health catastrophe into a weapon of political leverage in the closing days of the current campaign season.
The worst thing yet said is perhaps the contemptible charge leveled by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins that if it weren’t for budget cuts insisted upon by congressional Republicans, the agencies under his direction might already have come up with a cure for Ebola.
The data contradicts his statement (the National Institutes of Health have had plenty of money since former House Speaker Newt Gingrich decided to plus up its budget back in the 1990s), but was an otherwise effective misdirection. Continue reading
by Joseph Curl • Washington Times
It was only a matter of time.
President Obama, a short-term college professor and failed community organizer who became a mostly absentee state senator and then an all-but-invisible U.S. senator, has Petered out. Per the Peter Principle, he has risen to his level of incompetence — some would argue far beyond it.
The president — and the president alone — let Ebola into America. He could have made one phone call (even on Saturday, when playing his 200th round of golf as president) and said one sentence to protect all Americans from the usually fatal disease: “No one from West Africa gets into the country.”
Done. That single sentence would have kept Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who had carried an Ebola sufferer back into her home after she was turned away at a hospital, out of Dallas. While he lied on an airport questionnaire about whether he had had contact with anyone suffering the disease, and while hospital workers blundered badly even though they knew he has been in Liberia, the bottom line is Duncan would not have been in America had the president banned visitors from Ebola-stricken countries. Simple. Continue reading