“Peacenik” Ron Paul crowd reminds of SDS

For those of you too young to remember, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was the premier leftist “pro-peace in Vietnam” student group of the 60’s founded by Tom Hayden (famous for disrupting the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago) and like-minded radicals of the “hate America first, last and always” crowd.  Anyone who went to college from the mid 60s to mid 70s could count on the SDS to be burning American flags, campaigning for “peace”, victory for the North Vietnamese Communists and blaming American policy for Soviet imperialism.

I thought I had seen the last of these types until I did some people watching at last weekend’s California GOP convention in downtown Los Angeles.  I can report that the SDS lives, and its spiritual heirs wear “Ron Paul for President” buttons.

California Political Review’s exhibitor table at the convention was directly in front of the line for people participating in the Presidential straw poll, so just about everyone who voted passed in front of our table and my eyes.  It actually made for fun people watching until the Ron Paul great unwashed got off their pre=paid chartered busses and queued up to vote.

Let me say that a goodly portion of Paul supporters seemed like pretty ordinary Republicans.  However a very large minority of them, and perhaps an outright majority, appeared to me to be SDS remnants and complete strangers to the Republican Party. The…uhm…young lady with the mostly shaved head and bright purple Mohawk on top was an attention getter, if not a vote getter. So was the young Paul voter sporting the “Che Lives” button on his belt.

Particularly offensive to me were the signs saying “I’m voting for PEACE – Ron Paul for President”.  Flashback 40 years to my studentship at the nearby University of Southern California, where anti-war and anti-American demonstrations and the protesters’ signs would have been exactly the same, substituting only the name of “peace” candidate for President Eugene McCarthy for Ron Paul’s name. Other Paul signs and stickers were born by folks whose vast majority of exposed skin was covered with tattoos or wearing black berets (perhaps as a tribute to radical Black Panther Leaders Huey Newton or Eldridge Cleaver?).

Okay – so looks can be deceiving, you can’t judge a book by its cover…yada, yada.  Well, it happened that an old friend of mine and GOP activist was among the Paul supporters in line.  We chatted briefly and I asked him if he really thought the U.S. Government had a direct hand in blowing up the twin towers on 9/11.  His response was, “I don’t know”. I was literally speechless for about 30 seconds, then asked him if he really, really thought Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld could be responsible for such an act.  His response was “it didn’t have to be them directly, it could have been other people in the government”.

Cue the theme from “Twilight Zone”. Ron Paul’s economic views largely parallel mine.  His foreign policy views largely parallel those in power in Pyong Yang and Caracas.  The SDS would find little to disagree with. Those views frighten me – and a good slug of his supporters at the convention last weekend, whose registrations were all paid in advance for the sole purpose of boosting Paul’s straw poll vote, should frighten all Republicans.

Citizen’s Redistricting A Lot Better Than Backroom Deal Making

Over the last couple of months, much has been made of the historic Citizen’s Redistricting Commission process in California. This process, established by a majority of California voters when they passed both Proposition 11 and Proposition 20, took the power to draw their own districts out of the hands of the politicians and put it into the hands of a commission of citizens.

Was this process perfect? Anyone paying attention over the past couple of months would tell you “no, it was not” – and truthfully it is unrealistic to expect any process as politicized as redistricting to be. But that is not the question we, especially Republicans, should be asking ourselves. The real question is did this process yield better results than one managed fully and completely by the majority Democrats in the Legislature and Democratic Governor Jerry Brown? I think the answer to that is, “yes.” We have been there, done that 10 years ago when the Legislature and then-Governor Gray Davis drew the lines in a highly politicized and retributive process. Republicans clearly didn’t gain under that scenario; in fact we have lost seats over the last 10 years.

Now, I understand the definition of “better results” clearly is a function of what the very subjective term “better” means to you and furthering your policy and political goals. Certainly the State Senate maps prove problematic from the perspective of Senate Republicans and fortunately, Proposition 11 preserved the right of the people of California to hold the commissioners accountable for their work on those maps through a referendum. That is a good and healthy stopgap that was included in redistricting reform and Republicans are well within their rights to challenge those maps.

But if we pause to think of the nightmare that would be before the Republican Party had the Democrats, who hold firm control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, drawn the lines, it becomes clear that things could be a whole lot worse.

Can you imagine simultaneously negotiating a budget and new district lines with the Democrats in full control?  Imagine the added political advantage the Democrats would have had in that situation.  If you think cutting office budgets, like Speaker Perez did to Assemblyman Portantino, is bad, imagine what could have happened if the same politicians were in charge of drawing “competitive” district lines for legislators who refused to vote for a bad budget or tax increase?  I cannot imagine a scenario where that would have netted a better outcome for the GOP.

Ten years ago when the Legislature and Governor controlled this process, the Legislature worked hard to create an aura of a public process by holding a couple of hearings on the maps. After receiving public feedback, the maps weren’t changed.  Why?  Because the hearings were just pro forma; politicians had already come to an agreement without any input from the public. The maps were passed. The districts set. The incumbents safe.

The truth is that as I continue to examine these districts I am seeing that it’s not just that it could have been worse if the Democrats had controlled the redistricting process, but that the districts drawn by the commission actually give Republicans a shot at picking up some seats. For example, Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina carried 31 of the new Assembly seats but there are currently only 28 Republican Assembly members. Carly carried 17 of the new Senate districts while under the current lines there are only 15 Republican Senators. That tells me that with good candidate recruitment and the right messaging and resources, Republicans have the opportunity to gain at least three seats in Assembly and two seats in the Senate.

The new districts might not satisfy everyone.  It’s a compromise approach; there’s an expectation that not everyone would be happy.  But this process was better than the alternative – and could provide Republicans with a path to making some electoral gains, for the first time in 10 years.

 

(Julie Soderlund is a Republican Political Consultant and Partner at Sacramento-based Public Affairs Firm Wilson-Miller Communications, Inc. She served as a communications consultant to the campaign to support Proposition 11.)


Time to End the Post Office

I’m not one to gloat over the misfortunes of other people, but there is some rich justice in the oncoming financial collapse of the U.S. Postal Service. It’s about time for them to have to stand in line and wait for a government bailout, given the collective millions of hours they’ve made Americans stand in line just to buy a stamp.

The post office certainly faces huge problems–the responsibility to deliver mail six times a week to every address in the country, the inability to set its own rates, and the inability to go into other businesses, as do postal services in other countries. But the real problem with the post office isn’t any of these things.  The real problem:  it’s run by the government.

Case in point. A government agency whose name I won’t mention (it rhymes with Liar Mess) was trying to send me a certified letter the week before last. They left a slip in my home mailbox so that I could sign for the letter. I studied the card. Remarkably, there was a forty-digit number assigned to the package–which had been written out in longhand. Don’t they have computers at the post office? What are they, medieval monks?

I thought it would be faster if I sent my assistant to the post office to pick up the letter in person. There’s a space on the form where you can sign for an “agent” to do just that. So she took the signed form to the post office, and they refused to give her the letter, on the grounds that a lot of people discover these notices, perhaps by combing through other people’s mail, come to the post office, and pick up the packages.

What’s the point of having a box that says that an agent can pick up your package if you won’t actually give the package to the agent?

What’s the point of having a tracking system if the tracking numbers are forty digits long and written out by hand, which is a recipe for making errors if there ever was one?

What’s the point of having a post office in an era when 99 percent of mail is either bills or junk mail, which is subsidized by your tax dollars?

As a kid, I was a stamp collector, and experienced the romance of stamps from other countries and other eras. I was fascinated by the evolution of stamp design, the subjects that stamps commemorated, and the stories stamps told about blimps and jets and national parks and presidents and everything else they contained.

But the problem with stamps is that they go on envelopes, and the problem with envelopes is they have to go to the post office, and the problem with the post office is you have to stand on line.

I’m not averse to standing on line once in a while, but the problem with standing on line in the post office is the sense that the people there just don’t care about us at all. They see us as intrusions on their own personal roads to retirement. And now, some of those retirements are about to be rudely interrupted by the fact that the federal government cannot afford to fund the lavish pension schemes that they were counting on.

We live in an era of economic pain, and there’s no reason why government workers, past or present, should be exempt from pain. President Obama’s new jobs initiative takes pains to exempt government workers from the pain that we non-government employees face every day.

This is not fair.

Can we contemplate a world without post offices? Sure, why not? Any time the government gets out of a business, private firms swoop in and compete, on price and quality–two concepts that mean nothing to the government–to grab the business the government has left behind. I’ve never had a problem getting FedEx on the phone when I need them. And UPS, in all my experience of sending and receiving stuff, has never lost a package.

What if all bills went to the Internet? What if there were no more junk mail? I don’t exactly see that as the end of the world. Pretty environment-friendly, too.  And if some of the postal workers have to take a hit on their pensions, well, welcome to the real world. We’re under-funded and overcommitted.

In fact, once the post office goes bankrupt, let’s not stop there. How about shutting down every area where the government has had a decades-long monopoly, but just can’t drive results? Inner-city schools. Protecting the border. Heck, building and staffing prisons. Let’s privatize everything.

Actually, once you get past defense, regulating pharmaceutical companies, and making sure gas stations aren‘t overcharging you, there isn’t that much need for government at all.

Today the post office, tomorrow…everything else.

 

(New York Times bestselling author Michael Levin runs www.BusinessGhost.com, the nation’s leading provider of ghostwritten business books.)

California Legislators: Gut and Amend is Gutless and Abusive

In civics and government books, you find diagrams summarizing “how a bill becomes law.”  It shows multiple steps during which citizens’ representatives consider bills before they can be enacted.  That imagery of responsible deliberation is also cultivated by candidates on the stump.

Unfortunately, the end of each California legislative session illustrates a much sadder civics lesson by way of “gut and amend”(GANDA) bills.

As legislators race to pass bills before the deadline, the powerful take unrelated bills and replace them with completely different bills. Then, in the last-minute frenzy, they try to rush them through the last steps with minimal scrutiny (e.g., it is not unusual for there to be multiple different committee hearings in one room in an hour).  A sharper contrast with the “good government” civics illustration is hard to imagine. 

2011’s GANDA crop is an impressive addition to a long history of legislative abuses.  Its “highlights” include SB 922, which changed from a measure to add tuberculosis to information that may be disclosed under California’s immunization system to a measure barring local governments from banning project labor agreements. SB 202 also makes the list by morphing a bill to raise the filing fee for ballot initiatives from $200 to $2000 into one that would only allow ballot initiatives at November general elections and explicitly delayed consideration of one (ACA 4) until 2014.  And those are far from the only examples, reflecting little change from last year, when Dan Walters reported that “Dozens of bills were changed, sometimes introducing entirely new pieces of legislation.”

GANDA bills deserve rejection as blatant abuses of the legislative process, designed to escape virtually all scrutiny rather than to enable diligent deliberation.

Bills that command the necessary consensus can pass in the light of day.  Only those without sufficient support need the subterfuge of last-minute GANDA maneuvers that leave too little time for reading, much less evaluation.

Those who benefit from GANDA changes defend the process, but their argument is preposterous.  It amounts to claiming that, despite missing deadlines or failing to get approval, sometimes the legislature “just needs to act.”  But that is not a reason; it simply assumes its conclusion—proponents need to be allowed to circumvent the rules to enact their failed pet projects and special favors for no other reason than that they decided it was necessary.

For a GANDA bill to benefit Californians would require several things to be true.  Unfortunately, they are typically false.

The bill would have to be the legislature’s business.  Although they inject themselves everywhere, in fact there is very little legislation that can advance our general welfare.  Benefiting some at others’ expense is another matter, but Californians’ welfare requires that such bills be stopped, not greased through the process.

Only the legislature must be capable of dealing with the problem.  Where people can work things out for themselves, no legislation is needed. Those whose wisdom politicians laud during campaigns deserve credit for equal intelligence about their own affairs.

The problem must be so urgent that it cannot wait for the next legislative term.  And the sponsor must actually know how to solve the problem efficiently and equitably.

Any bill that met these requirements to actually benefit Californians could navigate the normal legislative process.  So a legitimate GANDA candidate must also come as a sudden surprise.  But it strains credibility to think that a legislator could quickly develop a real solution to some serious problem that was both unrecognized and undisclosed just weeks before, yet need to sneak it through.

Gut and amend survives only because it lets legislative urgency disguise legislators last-minute actions from public accountability.  Proponents may “need” it for their purposes, but those purposes do not advance the welfare of all Californians.  So every gut and amend bill is not only gutless, but deserves rejection as a reprehensible abuse by those who claim to represent us.

 

(Gary Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University)

Tea Party GOP Debate: More Lame Attacks on Social Security

Monday night’s  GOP Presidential Debate hosted by CNN and the Tea Party express following a similar theme to last weeks debate was an indictment of the record of the newest entrant (and front-runner) in the Republican presidential primary: Gov. Rick Perry. This time though, criticisms were leveled more harshly centering mostly around the Texas governor’s harsh criticism of Social Security and am Executive Order in the Lone Star state that required young girls to be vaccinated for HPV. Not only did Mitt Romney continue his assault on Perry, but Rep. Michele Bachmann, coming off of a lackluster performance at the previous debate, took aim at Perry as well.

As a perceived leader in the Tea Party movement, Bachmann had to perform during last nights debate especially because she was little more than an ornament at the previous debate at the Reagan Presidential Library. Bachmann, in her Tea Party element, came out swinging focusing a great deal of her energy towards Perry who some argue is the reason Bachmann has lost so much momentum in the polls.

Even with the focused assault on Perry’s record though and the more memorable performance by Bachmann, the debate still lacked a “gotcha” moment that would change the game or even move the polls significantly. Perry came out of the debate more bruised than round one but hardly enough to deter a Republican electorate looking for a candidate with a record on job creation that has a chance of defeating President Obama. What the debate did probably better than anything else was to give the Obama campaign some fodder for the general election and talking points for the campaign trail.

That is not to say however Perry doesn’t have anything to worry about. The Social Security criticisms levied against him should not hurt him too much in a Republican primary, especially amongst Tea Party and hard right voters who might support drastic, if not, radical changes to the public retirement system. What he will however have to answer for–carefully–is the HPV vaccination order.

On face, the HPV vaccination order is disturbing because it involves the rights of one’s own body, but what Bachmann very astutely alluded to in her indictment was the way in which the Executive Order came about. Of course the implication is whether or not Perry’s administration went along with the vaccination because he was lobbying to do so, a charge that could be more damming especially when voters are increasingly skeptical about the power of special interests in Washington.

Most frustratingly though, last night’s debate  illustrated a willingness by some of the Republican candidates, including Romney and Bachmann, to use the same scare tactics about Social Security that the left often uses to attack conservative candidates, showing a lack of seriousness from both the former Massachusetts governor and the congresswoman when it comes to fundamentally altering the trajectory of entitlement spending if elected to the White House. It would be a travesty if the next elected president, especially if he or she is a Republican, did not honestly, thoroughly and decisively alter the Social Security system in the United States. It is dishonest to pretend minor tweaks will fix the failed system and to suggest, simply for political gain, that Perry is unfit to hold office because he has been blunt about the entitlement.

If a Republican will not get tough on entitlement spending, particularly social security, is it even worth sending he or she to the Oval Office? Probably not.

California to Regulate Babysitters?

Everything in California turns into a Hollywood movie. This one is a sequel to the 1991 teen farce, “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.”

In this case, the babysitter is regulated to death.

AB 889 is by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. It would force you to follow complex state regulations every time you hired domestic help, including a babysitter. Absurdly, your babysitter would have to get a break every two hours. From what, writing on Facebook while your kids are asleep?

That would mean, if you and your spouse want to take in a dinner and movie, you’d have to hire two babysitters so one could spell the other very two hours.

In the bill’s summary, “AB 889 would regulate the wages, hours, and working conditions of domestic work employees, provide a private right of action for domestic work employees, including liquidated damages, and would provide an overtime compensation rate for domestic work employees.”

Obviously, the bill isn’t intended to regulate only babysitters. But it would hit them hardest.

The bill passed the Assembly in June, backed by the usual Soviet Democrats. It’s currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

There’s also a good question whether “the wages, hours, and working conditions of domestic work employees” include impregnating the maid, the way ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did with Mildred Patricia Baena. No doubt the matter will have to be sorted out by the California Supreme Court.

“This is government stepping in and distorting the private sector,” Paulo Sibaja, director of legislation at the Capitol Resource Institute, told me. “This further extends government’s tentacles all over the home. It’s just intrusive altogether.”

It’s also another anti-family bill being pushed through the Legislature. I wrote yesterday about AB 499, by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. It authorizes a government school to inject the dangerous Gardasil vaccine into children as young as 12 years old — without their parents’ consent.

Fines and Lawsuits

Back to AB 889, the Nanny State regulation of nannies.

Among its other provisions, it mandates, “A domestic work employee required to be on duty for 24 hours or more shall have a minimum of eight hours of uninterrupted sleep except in an emergency.”

So, you and your spouse take a day off to drive to the Wine Country for some needed relaxation with fermented grapes. You obviusly don’t want to drive back. So you hire your faithful babysitter, a 67-year-old retired school teacher. She puts your young kids to bed early and goes to sleep herself. At 2 a.m., she wakes up because the kids are playing video games. It’s obviously not an emergency. The babysitter gives them milk and cookies. Everybody goes back to sleep and gets up at the regular time.

Because the babysitter’s didn’t get “a minimum of eight hours of uninterrupted sleep except in an emergency,” you have violated the law.

According to the bill’s wording:

An employer shall pay $50 to the employee for each day the employer violates these provisions. This bill also provides the domestic work employee the option of enforcing a violation by bringing a civil action.  Filing an administrative or civil complaint may be done up to three years from the time of the violation. Additionally, a domestic work employee who prevails in a civil action shall be entitled to legal or equitable relief including liquidated (punitive) damages. Staff notes that providing for liquidated damage appears to be unique in Labor Code provisions relating to employees.

Isn’t California wonderful? No wonder, as my colleague Wayne Lusvardi details in an article today, California families are fleeing California’s anti-family tyranny.

 

(John Seiler is the managing editor of CalWatchdog.com)

Amazon Deal Smacked Down

Amazon.com, the giant online retailer, is embroiled in a sales-tax mess with the state of California. And it’s under attack from “brick and mortar” retailers, including big-box retailer Wal-Mart.

Amazon has been working to get out from under a new law requiring sales tax on purchases from California residents, sold by in-state affiliates. After the law was passed, a referendum was started to repeal it. Amazon, a Seattle-based company, has contributed $5.25 million toward the initiative. And Amazon quickly collected the 500,000 signatures necessary to qualify the initiative on the June 2012 ballot. Because, after all, California residents would end up paying an additional 7.25 to 9.25 percent sales tax for online purchases.

However, legislative Democrats countered with an urgency bill, a tool not used very often by the Legislature.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has been leading the attack against Amazon for refusing to collect sales taxes on online sales. But it was recently revealed that Wal-Mart doesn’t always collect sales tax on its online sales.

It would appear that both giant retailers are under a tax assault by the California Legislature.

The Amazon sales tax took effect on July 1. It requires sales tax to be charged on online orders made through California-based affiliates. The bill states that if someone has advertisements on California Web sites, then there is a nexus in California, and the business needs to pay taxes on all revenue collected in the state.

But thus far, Amazon has refused to collect the tax on California purchases.

Adding an interesting twist to the situation, last week Amazon offered to put the referendum on hold, but only if California lawmakers and the governor agreed to a deal. The online retailer offered to create two new distribution centers in California, which would employ 7,000 workers, in exchange for a two-year exemption from collecting the sales tax.

With more than two million California residents out of work, Amazon’s offer sounds enticing, and perhaps is just what California needs right now, after enduring the worst economic downturn in state history.

But the state’s Democratic leadership rejected Amazon’s offer, instead opting for anticipated tax revenue from the new tax. Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown are banking on $200 million in tax revenue from the online sales tax to help balance the state’s budget. As the New York Times even recently commented, “The struggling state of California thinks it has found gold in taxing e-commerce. But that money is proving much more elusive than it seemed just a few months ago.”

Talking about taxes instead of jobs is not a very good idea, given that California’s unemployment rate is the second highest in the country. As businesses flee the state in search of tax and regulatory relief, it is all too apparent that our state’s budget problems are directly related to a jobs shortage.

“Amazon’s proposal would repeal the sales tax collection requirement for retailers making capital investments of at least $250 million in California by 2013 or $400 million by 2015 and creating 3,600 full-time jobs with health insurance by 2013 and 7,000 full-time jobs by 2015,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Amazon is also offering to drop the referendum drive and send its California customers an annual statement of their Amazon purchases that might be subject to the state use tax, which is equal to the 7.25 percednt to 9.25 percent sales tax, depending on location,” the Orange County Register reported.

Shunning New Jobs

On Friday, Board of Equalization member George Runner sent a letter to the Governor and legislative leaders asking for their consideration of Amazon’s proposal and that they re-evaluate the projected budget revenue associated with the “Amazon Tax,” AB 28X.

In the letter, Runner described the proposed deal as a “win-win for California” because it would bring both jobs and millions in new tax revenue to the state.

Runner said that the projected revenues associated with the “Amazon Tax” will not materialize because Amazon affiliate terminations have already significantly reduced the number of online sellers required to register, the ongoing referendum effort could suspend the law until a vote next year and pending litigation could result in the law being struck down.

Real Taxes Collected

In contrast, the Amazon jobs proposal will lead to the collection of taxes due on sales to California, while creating much needed jobs for Californians. Allowing job creation would go much further in California than the online sales tax on the state’s residents.

Distribution center employees are paid from a low of the minimum wage up to $25.00 per hour, depending on experience. The average hourly wage in warehouse and distribution center jobs is $14.42 per hour. Full-time employees paid $14.42 per hour make $30,000 annually. On average, 7,000 distribution center jobs would total $210 million annually to employees.

For California to get an infusion of $210 million would be a boost to the staggering economy, particularly as the Amazon tax would affect existing California’s residents.  And these 7,000 employees would spend that $210 million in California on housing, groceries, cars, retail outlets, taxes, and yes, at Wal-Mart.

“It would be a terrible mistake to reject thousands of jobs for Californians on a faulty budget estimate,” Runner said in a press statement. “Please re-examine the AB 28X budget estimate to ensure that we do not miss a historic opportunity to help struggling California families get back to work, as well as drawing significant new business investment and tax revenue to our state.”

But the Democrat-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown appear not to be interested in Amazon’s offer.

“The BOE analyses of AB 28X and related bills, however, warned that these budget dollars were always questionable because of ‘probable behavioral changes’ by online retailers,” Runner said in his letter.

Runner said that no additional online retailers that have registered with the BOE to collect sales tax since the Amazon tax was passed. Instead, the total number of out-of-state registrations with BOE in July 2011 was 180. That was 31 lower than 211 in July 2010. It was approximately a 12 percent drop.

Pitting Amazon and Wal-Mart against each other is a bad idea. While each giant retailer is scrambling right now to avoid paying or enforcing additional state sales taxes, they could instead join forces and turn their attention on lawmakers. That could be an assault worth supporting.

(Katy Grimes is a columnist for Calwatchdog.com, the journalism center of the California-based Pacific Research Institute)

Break Up the Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers still have a mathematical chance to win the National League West this season, but only in the sense that I have a mathematical chance to win the National League Batting Crown. I just need a few more at-bats.

Actually, the Dodgers aren’t going anywhere. And at age fifty-three, never having played a day of professional sports in my life, my chances of hitting 300 this season are, well, slim.

I wish I was as slim as my chances.

The reason the Dodgers still have a mathematical sliver of a fraction of a miniscule slice of hope is that the overwhelming majority of teams in the National League are just as mediocre as they are. And those other teams don’t even have the McCourts to blame for their misfortunes. They just stink.

The real story in baseball this year isn’t the question of whether the Yankees can pitch Sabathia on zero days’ rest in every game of the playoffs, or whether the Phillies will even break a collective sweat on their march to the World Series.

The real question goes beyond baseball.  It’s this:   why do we live in an age of absolute mediocrity at the top of pretty much every field?  In baseball, there are no towering figures who transcend the game and are famous throughout the land, like a Willie Mays or a Mickey Mantle. There isn’t one non-baseball fan in the country who could tell you who Albert Pujols is, what he does for a living, or even recognize him in an airport.  Alas, in Presidential politics, same thing.

Our political leadership is mired in mediocrity. Look at the clown show running Washington or Sacramento. We live in an era desperate for heroes, and instead we are stuck with, well, parity.

Parity in that they all stink.

There isn’t a businessperson alive in the United States who doesn’t wish Barack Obama great success in his future career, as long as that future career begins on the afternoon of January 20th, 2013. But it sure is frustrating to look at the clown car pulling up in front of the Republican nomination process and spilling out its passengers. Did Bachmann really have to say that Hurricane Irene, which killed twenty, was an act of God?  Could Mitt Romney be any stiffer as he goes around realizing that Rick Perry has stolen his thunder (and his donors)? Perry may have to defend the so-called Texas miracle from all comers, but at least he, unlike Romney, doesn’t have to fight off the argument that his home state was the cradle of Obamacare.

And then there’s Perry himself, who, a few days after he entered the election, wrote a now-publicized letter to Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, criticizing the Obama administration for not doing enough to stop illegal immigration. Isn’t that the same Rick Perry who signed the Dream Act which diverts taxpayer dollars to fund the education of illegals?

A thousand channels on TV, and only a couple of shows worth seeing. Parity in the NFL, and no games at all in the NBA. Mediocrity in music. In movies. In just about everything you can think of. And worst of all, where it matters the most…in presidential politics.

Maybe there’s somebody on the Dodgers who’d like to run for president. Matt Kemp? Andre Ethier? I’d vote for them before I’d vote for just about any of the current contenders. That’s why I say break up the Dodgers. This whole mediocrity thing is getting old.

New York Times bestselling author Michael Levin runs www.BusinessGhost.com, America’s leading provider of ghostwritten business books.

Obama’s Worst Enemy

Despite President Obama’s obvious allure in California and other bluish states, his political foes are popping out of the woodwork nationwide as the political season gears up after Labor Day, begging the question:  Who is Obama’s worst enemy? Oddly, it really isn’t the raging ire of the Tea Party. It isn’t the sequential, cool logic of Mitt Romney’s 59-point economic plan, or even Rick Perry’s rampant boasting about job creation. And it certainly isn’t the prospect that Ron Paul will somehow gain speed and run Obama out of the White House on a platform of abolishing the Transportation Security Administration.

Obama’s worst enemy is himself. It is Obama’s role in which he appears to be most comfortable:  that of a community organizer.

We watched him deliver his Labor Day speech before auto workers in Detroit, at an event sponsored by the AFL-CIO, where he confidently paced before union members, striking his community organizer cadence. He empathized with them. He shared their burdens. He told them he was fighting for their economic security. He exclaimed:  “I’m not scared of tough times because I know we’re going to be all marching together and walking together and working together and rebuilding together.” At one point, he even resurrected his old campaign slogan, referring to naysayers:  “…for everybody who keeps going around saying, ‘No, we can’t – for everybody who can always find a reason why we can’t rebuild America, I meet Americans every day who, in the face of impossible odds they’ve got a different belief. They believe we can. You believe we can.” In essence, he gave them, well…hope. He played his base for all it was worth, evoking the “we/they” class warfare dynamic of union workers while vilifying “the CEO in the corner office.” On TV at least, the union crowd seemed to like his message.

But in a time of raging economic fear—replete with a 12 percent unemployment rate in California (and our 9 percent unemployment nationally), a faltering stock market with the worst September start in recent history, and talk of a double dip recession that may extend two more miserable years—it is hard to believe that voters will resort to a “community organizer” to oversee this economic mess.

However rational a political argument may be made, people vote with their emotions. Drew Westen’s book on this subject, “The Political Brain”, uses research from the fields of psychology and political science to demonstrate the dominance of emotion over reason as people vote. Mr. Westen states:  “The political brain is an emotional brain. It is not a dispassionate calculating machine, objectively searching for the right facts, figures, and policies to make a reasoned decision.” The voters who are the subjects of his research were thinking “with their guts.” This emotional thinking applies to political arguments, policies, and leaders: “We are not moved by leaders with whom we do not feel an emotional resonance.”

Even though the unions clearly supported Obama with his Labor Day, “community organizer” speech, the polls are undoubtedly showing an overwhelming lack of emotional resonance between voters and Obama on economic issues and his leadership generally. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday (9/6), 62 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the economy. This week’s Politico-GW poll (9/5) basically tracks that result, reporting 59 percent disapproval. More telling, according to the same poll, 72 percent of those surveyed believed America is on the “wrong track”—that’s almost 3 out of 4 Americans.

If it is true that Americans vote from their guts, and given his dismal poll results for economic leadership, Obama will need to conjure up an entirely new emotionally-relevant message to connect with voters on the economy. This feat, however, poses a host of problems. First, Obama has famously branded himself as a “community organizer” who looks most at home in front of a crowd of union members in Detroit leading a movement of union workers, a brand that might work in different times, but fails to connect with voters trying to survive in the current gloomy economic climate. Second, Obama’s handling of the budget deficit didn’t win him (or Congress) many points, and pretty much destroyed his image as an economic leader.

Most importantly, if all political voting decisions are indeed based on gut, emotional reactions, then what economic rhetoric does Obama have in his arsenal to appeal to the 62 percent of Americans—some of whom are the independents who decide elections and even Democrats who might jump ship—who disapprove of his handling of the economy? The nitty-gritty of economic issues and job creation is unforgiving; a President either succeeds or he doesn’t. The numbers tell the story.

His recent economic speech to Congress notwithstanding, Obama simply may be incapable of connecting to voters on the level required to evoke the emotional response that would lead him to victory. Political rhetoric evoking “hope” and “yes we can” have their place in movement politics and can generate a wide scale appeal to voters at certain times in history. But that old familiar rhetoric from Obama’s Labor Day speech just isn’t going to win it this time. It reeks of yesterday, to gentler economic times, when Obama was new and untested, and Americans had the stomach to see if he could pull off his reforms. Now it evokes nothing more than an unqualified President’s lack of substance whose policies generated zero jobs in August. What kind of economic rhetoric can a self-proclaimed community organizer say from the heart that will speak to all Americans? Probably nothing that stirs the hearts outside his union, “progressive” base. And if he cannot talk to us about the economy as a leader, then he is his own worst enemy, creating a vacuum that even he cannot fill.

Is Rick Perry the one?

For those concerned with a philosophically conservative, free market approach to government and economics in the White House perhaps look no further than Texas Governor Rick Perry who at the Republican Presidential Debate, hit the core principles that ought to be most important to conservative and Republican voters: responsible military policy, free market economics and aggressive entitlement reform.

Going into the GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library the spotlight was hoisted on Rick Perry as the new kid on the block and the frontrunner in the campaign. As a debater in the presidential setting, Perry has far less experience than many of those in the race, especially former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Even if one were to concede that Perry did not carry himself as a slick debater, when examining his debate rhetoric closely, it becomes clear what Perry believes and why he might be the best choice to lead a new movement within the Republican Party, and more importantly, the nation.

Perhaps the most thoughtful insight into the economic philosophy of the Lone Star State chief were his comments during the debate about chastising the use of government spending to stimulate the economy.  President Obama, Perry argued, “has proven for once and for all that government spending will not create one job. Keynesian policy and Keynesian theory is now done. We’ll never have to have that experiment on America again.” Perry appears not to believe in government manipulation of the economic system to spur job creation and activity in the economy. While Perry does not say it outright, he defacto endorses a more Austrian approach or a pure free market approach to economics.

His criticism of government involvement in economic activity is also evident in his beliefs about how jobs are created: “You want to create jobs in America?  You free the American entrepreneur to do what he or she does, which is risk their capital, and I’ll guarantee you, the entrepreneur in America, the small businessman and woman, they’re looking for a president that will say we’re going to lower the tax burden on you and we’re going to lower the regulation impact on you, and free them to do what they do best: create jobs.”

Perry though, is by no means a free market purest—at least on the state level—his use of enterprise to lure businesses to Texas is problematic, but he makes it clear through his rhetoric frequently that states should choose policies that work best locally. One example of this were his debate comments on health care policy, “we understand that if we can get the federal government out of our business in the states when it comes to health care, we’ll come up with ways to deliver more health care to more people cheaper than what the federal government is mandating today with their strings attached, here’s how you do it, one-size-fits-all effort out of Washington, D.C.”

Perry’s harsh rhetoric on Social Security also demonstrates that he will push hard as president for entitlement reform. His comments accurately calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” have been widely publicized and criticized but during the debate he did not back away from his statements even when challenged by Romney: “It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’re paying into a program that’s going to be there. Anybody that’s for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and it’s not right.”

Perry did not go as far to call for changing the Social Security system during the debate like former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain did when he astutely advocated for the Chilean approach to Social Security. “I believe in the Chilean model,” Cain said, “where you give a personal retirement account option so we can move this society from an entitlement society to an empowerment society.” Perry has not demonstrated a willingness to advocate the same approach as Cain perhaps because of the problems it caused the President Bush while in the Oval Office.

As for military policy, Perry advocated a more sensible approach showing a skepticism towards imperialistic approaches to foreign policy. “I don’t think America needs to be in the business of adventurism,” Perry said. “Americans don’t want to see their young men and women going into foreign countries without a clear reason that American interests are at stake. And they want to see not only a clear entrance; they want to see a clear exit strategy, as well.”

Emphasizing differences in foreign policy with the Obama administration Perry said “We should never put our young men and women’s lives at risk when American interests are not clearly defined by the president of the United States, and that’s one of the problems this president is doing today.”

Characterizing Perry’s first debate performance as blockbuster would be a stretch but when dissecting his rhetoric one might be led to believe that Rick Perry is the real deal.