Entitlements Now 72% of Federal Spending

In the early 2000s America had become a bona-fide welfare state. More than 60 percent of U.S. federal government spending consisted of transfer payments. That’s right: nearly two-thirds of government went toward redistribution.

Call it what you will – wealth transfer, entitlements, government benefits, welfare, unearned income, handouts. The government became one big redistribution machine. Spending on entitlements was crowding out spending on essential government activities – national defense, law enforcement, foreign affairs, transportation infrastructure, environmental clean-up, NASA, and the like.

So did we finally get our act together and start to tame the redistribution Leviathan?

After eight years of Obama, you guessed it. We just piled it on.

Now, nearly three-quarters – 72 percent – of U.S. federal government spending consists of transfer payments.

These are the Obama White House’s own statistics. The Office of Management and Budget historical table “Composition of Outlays: 1940–2021” tells the story. Transfer payments, expressed as “payments for individuals”, comprised about 20 percent of government outlays in the 1950s. By 1992 they had surpassed 50 percent.

Barack “spread-the-wealth-around” Obama, true to his word, ballooned redistribution from 60 of government spending at the start of his presidency to 72 percent now.

The biggest entitlements are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid plus an alphabet soup of programs including Obamacare subsidies, Section 8 housing, civil service retirement, and refugee assistance.

The infamous budget sequestration that began in 2013 has exacerbated the crowding out. It slowed spending on essential government services across the board, but deliberately barely touched entitlements.

National defense as a percentage of total government outlays fell from 45 percent in the 1960s to less than 16 percent now. OMB projects that to fall to 12 percent in 2020.

With 72 percent of federal spending allocated to transfer payments and 6 percent to interest payments on the national debt, only roughly 6 percent of the U.S. federal budget is available for non-entitlement, non-defense government functions. Interest rates’ inevitable rise combined with continually expanding entitlements will squeeze these government functions even more.

Is it any wonder why our transportation infrastructure is crumbling, our national parks are suffering, our space program is faltering, and our military readiness is in jeopardy? We’re a wealthy country that easily could finance those activities, were we fiscally responsible. But too many Americans and the politicians who cater to them have drunk the Kool-Aid of free government stuff be it in the form of money, goods or services.

We could have remedied our predicament by converting major spending programs into savings programs, but the last time anyone tried that was George W. Bush vis-à-vis Social Security. Amid the blowback he dropped that effort like a hot potato.

We’ve reached the “tipping point” where more voters receive free money from the government than there are voters earning that money. Just try proposing cutting back someone’s free stuff and see the outcry that ensues.

Only clever and courageous leadership can get us out of this predicament. While President-elect Trump said he plans to reform Obamacare, it remains to be seen whether he’ll attempt the same with the big entitlement programs.

What will happen as redistribution’s share of government spending continues to swell? Deteriorating military readiness and the degrading of traditional government functions will continue to take their toll. Another consequence is anemic economic growth, as government handouts and higher taxes sap people’s motivation to work and invest. Growth has averaged just 2.1 percent over the past five years, versus 3.2 percent average growth of preceding decades. This is manifested in lower overall wages and greater poverty than would otherwise be the case.

The dire situation is contributing to America’s waning influence in world affairs. More welfare spending means less taxpayer money available for our military, embassies, foreign aid, and cultural outreach. A less-vibrant economy further diminishes our influence abroad.

Absent reform, America’s economic dynamism will continue to ebb as the entitlement culture permeates society.

But we’ll muddle through – until we get a rude awakening. One day, some foreign enemy will be at our doorstep. And we won’t be able to adequately defend ourselves because for far too long we used our tax money to expand welfare rather than stave off warfare. That’s when the bill will come due in a big way.

 

(Originally published in Newsmax.com)

Inequality

It is worthwhile to take a closer look at the oft-expressed desire to reduce inequality.

If by inequality one means the existence of poverty among riches, would it not be more prudent to work toward a reduction of poverty rather than of inequality? Reducing inequality won’t necessarily reduce poverty. In fact it could exacerbate poverty.

As reported in the Washington Post, the poor actually enjoy higher life expectancies (and thus higher standards of living) in cities where inequality is highest. San Francisco has gross inequalities due to the tremendous number of tech millionaires and billionaires, yet relatively low poverty rates. One reason is that wealthy people put their money towards starting businesses (and thereby employ poor and middle class people); towards charitable causes; towards savings where the money in turn is used to provide car loans, student loans and home loans for poor and middle class people; and/or towards consumption which in turn keeps businesses afloat and employees employed.

Perhaps one could justify wanting to curtail inequality because of the danger of envy and resentment among the less fortunate toward the more fortunate (this even includes millionaires toward billionaires). But in that case, why not just work toward a curtailment of envy and resentment? Envy and resentment are actual moral failures. Inequality is not, provided one earns one’s money honestly and justly, and gives substantially to charitiable causes. Moreover almost all agree that a brain surgeon should be paid significantly more than a janitor. Were they paid the same, there would be a shortage of brain surgeons; few would devote the time and expense necessary to become one. So pay differentiation is not a moral failure.

In fact, excessive focus on inequality actually could have the perverse effect of stirring up envy and resentment. To combat this, when one talks about inequality, one should always admonish one’s audience not to harbor ill will toward the more fortunate.

So in this humble observer’s opinion it is much more effective to work toward an end to poverty and envy.

The Economist Breaks Silence on Obamacare

Big news at The Economist magazine: it finally broke its silience on the tribulations of Obamacare.

Back when the big insurers started pulling out of the Obamacare exchanges, there was not a peep from The Economist, not even in its business section. Upon subsequent pull-outs and premium increases, continued silence. Being an early cheerleader for Obamacare, it may have wanted to avoid embarassing news.

Finally, now that the news is splattered everywhere else, The Economist is forced to follow suit. What it described in the above-linked article is a consequence of Obamacare that any economist worth his or her salt could have predicted.

Why didn’t you, Economist?

Obama Gave Rise to Trump

You know the times are abnormal when a flamboyant businessman who has never held political office beats out over a dozen seasoned politicians in the Republican primaries. On the Democratic side, an unkempt socialist long associated with the leftist fringe garnered the votes of millions.

It’s a wake-up call, signaling the profound level of desperation and anxiety throughout the American electorate. After eight years of Barack Obama, people are hurting.

They’re hurting economically. Economic growth is an anemic 1 percent. The national debt has grown from $10 trillion to $19 trillion under Obama’s watch. The debt-to-GDP ratio has surpassed 100 percent. Median household income is down. The poverty rate is up. For the first time since records have been kept on this, there are more business failures than start-ups.

It’s what happens when you elect the most left-leaning president in history. There’s a trade-off between redistribution and growth, and Obama’s priority is the former. He has raised taxes and dramatically expanded regulations, resulting in fewer businesses, fewer jobs, and lower wages compared to what the situation would be had he focused on easing burdens on businesses.

They’re hurting physically. Since 2012 (through 2014, the latest year for which data is available), average life expectancy in America has stagnated – a first since the Great Depression. Murder rates in big cities are up, reflecting less proactive policing in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and Obama’s support for it. Terrorist attacks are up, reflecting Obama’s support for open borders. Our healthcare system is even more messed up than it was before, reflecting Obamacare.

There’s worry over world events. Wars rage and terrorist armies rise in the Middle East, reflecting Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and refusal to intervene elsewhere in that region. A war rages in the Ukraine and the potential for war looms in North Korea and the South China Sea, as foreign powers are emboldened by Obama’s timidity in foreign policy.

From Latin America to Africa to the Middle East, we’re in the midst of the worst refugee crisis since World War II, reflecting the above-mentioned foreign policy failures and/or Obama’s obsession to flood the U.S. with future left-leaning voters.

People hardly recognize their country anymore. Obama and the left have imposed or are seeking to impose radical changes to long-established social norms, from transgender bathrooms to euthanasia to state-sponsored gay unions to taxpayer-financed abortion to the removal of religion from the public square – and the ostracism or prosecution of those who refuse to accept.

Freedom of speech is under attack, notably on college campuses as viewpoints anathema to the left are suppressed – in some cases with the backing of Obama’s Education Department. There’s the criminalization of policy differences and the Obama Justice Department’s support thereof, notably vis-à-vis global warming skeptics. His IRS took the unprecedented and highly corrupt step of treating advocacy groups unequally based on their political leanings, thus infringing on their free speech rights.

Americans also are alarmed by the erosion of the rule of law. The main function of the executive branch is to implement and enforced laws passed by Congress. Yet as head of the executive branch, Obama has explicitly refused to enforce many laws. These include immigration statutes, the Defense of Marriage Act, and certain Obamacare laws that he found inconvenient.

In these strange and disquieting times ushered in by Obama, you see corresponding effects. One such effect is the rise of an “outsider” as a leading presidential contender. In past election cycles there always has been a small subset of the electorate championing such anti-establishment candidates. But things have worsened so much under Obama that demand for an outsider has ballooned.

Trump’s and Sanders’ rise during the primaries in defiance of all expectations is a manifestation of economic hardship and general anxiety throughout America. Frustrated with “insider” politicians whom the populace perceives to be icons of the status quo, millions of people threw their support behind the real estate developer and the socialist.

On the Democratic side the status quo candidate prevailed in the end, and as of this writing is favored to win in the general election. She pledges to double down on Obama’s policies. In that scenario expect conditions to deteriorate further, and the electorate’s love affair with anti-establishment candidates to grow stronger.

(Originally published in Newsmax.com)

When Will Dems Reclaim “Red State”?

Democrats are embracing socialism. Multitudes of them spurn capitalism. They gave us our most leftist president in history. Their current front-runner presidential candidate is running even to the left of him, and hot on her heals is a self-declared socialist.

What’s next – taking back “red state”?

That thought is half in jest, but things are getting so crazy – with millions of folks flocking to the failed socialist ideas of the past – that it’s within the realm of possibility.

When displaying their electoral maps, the media at some point could very well transition back to red states for Democrats and blue states for Republicans.

Prior to 2000, the U.S. media usually depicted red states as Democrat and blue states as Republican. That was in line with the rest of the world; in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, red was and still is associated with parties of the left, ranging from social democrat and labor parties, to communist parties. The U.K.’s Labour party’s color is red, as is Canada’s Liberal Party.

Likewise blue is associated with conservative parties, including the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.

It’s only in the United States where those colors are reversed.

The adoption of red for leftist parties originated during the French Revolution and the failed European revolutions of 1848, in the form of the red flag. Red symbolized the blood of those who died in the struggle against capitalism.

Until recently in the United States, socialism was a dirty word for most Democrats as well as for Republicans. When socialism and communism were totally discredited after the fall of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Democrats must have hated it when the media depicted Democrat-leaning states as red and Republican-leaning ones as blue. They didn’t want to be associated in any way with Messrs. Marx and Engels.

So the mainstream media (who, of course, are overwhelmingly Democrats) reversed the color coding.

According to Wikipedia, it began in 2000 when MSNBC and NBC started showing electoral maps with blue states as Democratic, and red states as Republican. The David Letterman show followed suit, and the practice then caught on everywhere.

“Perhaps the most brazen language diktat has been the mischievous switch of political colors,” wrote Mark Helprin in the Wall Street Journal. “The change came in 2000 courtesy of MSNBC and NBC’s “Today” show. …Saddling your political rivals with a symbol to which they have been historically opposed is an even better and naughtier joke. Either it was that or numbing cluelessness.”

The red-blue switch initially somewhat bothered me but I got over it. If usurping blue freed the media and their Democratic allies from the insecurity of thinking that people would associate them with socialism and communism, then so what. Let them have their fun. And even though Republicans were unceremoniously slapped with red, no one is going to associate Republicans with the hammer and sickle because of it.

Plus, the use of “red” and “blue” is so much more common now in general discourse than it was pre-2000. Using the terms “Democrat” and “Republican” all the time can get boring, so why not liven things up a bit – add some color to the conversation – by throwing “red” and “blue” into the mix?

Nevertheless, as Helprin writes, “Red is the mobile color of passion and engagement, and blue the staid color of reason and detachment.” That characterization must tug at the hearts of bleeding-heart liberals, who thrive on passion (at the expense of reason). Surely there have got to be many of them who’d be more than happy reclaim the color red.

In spite of the evils of socialism so prominently on display today in Venezuela, the rapidity at which folks are moving left is dizzying.

A survey conducted by the right-leaning advocacy group American Action Network found that nearly six in ten Democratic primary voters think socialism has a “positive impact on society.” Forty-six percent of respondents under age 45 consider socialism the best form of government versus only 19 percent who prefer capitalism. A Bloomberg/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll found that 43 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers said they would use the word “socialist” to describe themselves.

That helps explain why the self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders, once considered to be on the lunatic fringe in politics, ran such a competitive primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. What used to be the loony left is now nearly mainstream among Democrats. Hillary Clinton has tacked hard to the left, with speculation that she is even considering arch-leftist Elizabeth Warren as her running mate.

From there it’s not much of a step to proudly waive the red flag in solidarity with like-minded political parties the world over, followed by a take-back of the “red state” mantle.

 

(Originally published in Newsmax.com)

Fact-Checking PolitiFact

PolitiFact.com, a project of the Tampa Bay Times, is a self-proclaimed fact checking operation. I know this won’t surprise anyone, given that it’s affiliated with the “mainstream” media, but it has a decidedly leftward bias. A quick look at past columns shows that it has a preference for “fact checking” statements made by people who lean right. Not surprisingly, it tends to deem their statements as untrue, and when it “fact checks” statements of those who lean left, it tends to deem their statements as true. This is highly subjective stuff, laden with cherry-picking.

Also not surprisingly, PolitiFact leaves out crucial facts in its reporting (mistakenly, or dare I ask, deliberately?), prompting it to give erroneous assessments. A case in point: when it attempted to evaluate whether something that commentator Reza Aslan said was true. Azlan responded to an insinuation made by comedian and commentator Bill Maher that female genital mutilation is an Islamic problem. Azlan said that it’s actually “a central African problem.”

Who was right – Maher, or Azlan?

PolitiFact deputy editor Katie Sanders claimed that “Azlan’s larger point – that this is not a problem in only Muslim countries – is valid. Countries with majority-Christian populations also carry out this practice, while Islamic-majority countries like Iraq and Yemen have rates on the lower side. We rate Aslan’s claim Mostly True.”

In her research, did Ms. Sanders not come across the report, “FGM in Ethiopia”? It’s one of the first things that comes up when one does a Google search using the keywords “female genital mutilation Muslim Christian Ethiopia.”

The report states:

“FGM is practiced by both of the main religions in Ethiopia – Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity and Islam. Muslim groups are more likely to practice FGM than Christian groups, with the prevalence among Muslim communities being 65.1% and that among Orthodox Christians being 45%. The prevalence of FGM among Muslims is not only higher but is also changing more slowly.”

That’s a crucial point, indicating that while FGM exists among both Muslim and Christian populations in Africa, it’s more common among Muslim populations. This means that within countries where FGM is practiced, there could be something about the Muslim religion that either encourages the practice, or that prompts people to tolerate it to a greater extent. (Or, there could be something about the Muslim religion that causes economic development to occur more slowly compared with areas where other religions predominate, resulting in more widespread practice of primitive and repulsive customs such as FGM.)

Maher only implied that FGM is an Islamic problem, and didn’t directly characterize it as exclusively an Islamic problem. As FGM is more common among Muslim populations, Maher’s claim was mostly true. Hence Aslan’s claim was mostly untrue. So PolitiFact was mostly wrong.

 

Taking Abortion to its Logical Conclusion

1984There is an additional reason why legalized abortion is such a horrifying phenomenon. It’s not just a matter involving unborn humans, although that’s horrifying enough. It’s the foundation of a slippery slope that is being used to justify the killing of born humans. Someday, somewhere in the world, it could be used to justify genocide.

A line got crossed in 2012 when an academic journal published a paper saying that if abortion is permissible, then killing healthy newborns should be permissible as well. And just last week, The College Fix reported that U.S. college students are increasingly accepting of “post-birth abortion”, i.e. the killing of babies. Even more outrageous, some students reportedly even would accept the killing of children up to 4 or 5 years old, on the grounds they are not yet “self-aware.”

That’s the logic of a materialist, atheistic worldview that sees humans nothing more than molecules that, way back in our evolutionary history, came together by mere chance. The value of a human life is no higher than that of an insect or an amoeba, based on this worldview.

It is chilling to read the dry, matter-of-fact summary of the 2012 paper, written by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, published in the U.K.’s Journal of Medical Ethics:

“Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

With those 90 words, infanticide is given credence, legitimacy and affirmation in polite society.

Princeton professor Peter Singer is infamous for his writings on infanticide, mainly in cases where the infant is disabled. “Characteristics like rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness make a difference,” writes Singer. “Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings.”

Giubilini and Minerva go a step further, saying it is okay to kill healthy babies in addition to disabled ones.

Why not give the baby up for adoption? Because doing so may bring the mother psychological distress, they explain. They cite a source that states “Natural mothers often dream that their child will return to them. This makes it difficult to accept the reality of the loss….” The authors’ solution? Kill the baby.

No, this isn’t satire, science fiction, or excerpts from treatises of some past totalitarian regime. It’s what today’s culture of abortion has wrought. And it’s much more than the theoretical musings of the youthful Giubilini and Minerva. That a well-established peer-reviewed journal, whose editor hails from the Oxford University philosophy department, and whose editorship and board consist of numerous academics from Europe, the United States and elsewhere, would publish such a paper speaks volumes of the degeneration that is pervading aspects of Western academia.

The irony that the paper was written by “ethicists” and accepted by a publication called the Journal of Medical Ethics seems right out of the novel 1984.

The authors simply are taking abortion to its logical conclusion. Apart from the manner in which a newborn gets its oxygen and nourishment, there’s little biological difference between it and a developed fetus.

As the idea of infanticide gains greater acceptance in social and academic circles, it could gain greater acceptance in legal circles as well. A lawyer could argue that a newborn infant differs little from an infant still in the womb, and therefore if abortion is permissible, then infanticide should be permissible.

Once they’ve opened the Pandora’s box by declaring that birth is no longer the dividing line between personhood and non-personhood, then their logic can be applied to anyone. Killing a human of any age is consistent with legalized abortion.

That’s one of the reasons why abortion is so repugnant. Lack of sanctity for unborn human life spills over into lack of sanctity for all human life. Such ideas could help beget a colder, more callous world among ordinary persons, and more violent crime among the amoral. “Let’s go out and perform an after-birth abortion,” a criminal may say.

Another frightening potential application of this mindset involves governments. In the past, National Socialist and Communist governments justified their genocides using arguments by racist and Marxist scholars. In the future, governments of certain countries could engage in forced infanticide, selective homicide, or even genocide using scholarly arguments from publications such as that cited above, arguing that killing (born) humans is no different from abortion.

Typically, in the modern Western world, whenever someone uses media outlets to incite the killing of innocents, they’re quickly relegated to the ash heap of polite society. But that’s not happening with the pro-abortion/infanticide academics of today. Their ideas are gaining momentum.

Now’s the time to bring the issue of abortion to center stage, this time making clear that the stakes don’t involve just pre-born humans, but all of humanity as well.

NatGeo’s Missing Info on China’s Mysterious Mountains

towerkarstNational Geographic magazine has some good articles, but it has some bad articles too – either containing misleading information, or containing a lack thereof. Regarding the latter, the latest issue of NatGeo has an article on the famous and mysterious tower-like mountains of southern China and the associated caves, near the city of Guilin.

The article mainly discusses the authors’ and rock climbers’ experiences there. As always, there are good photographs. And there’s a cool diagram of the caves. But if you want to know how the tower-like mountains were formed, you’re in for a letdown. That should be the first question in any discerning reader’s mind. Apart from a couple of comments about erosion over the eons – just in the captions no less – nary a word is written about how the geology of that region came to be.

So allow me to plug in some of the gaps in the NatGeo article, borrowing from this web page. The type of geologic feature is called tower karst formations. In addition to the southern China region, they’re also found in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Honduras, Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. It forms through the erosion/dissolution of limestone, of which the whole region consists.

The limestone base was formed when the area was at the bottom of the ocean, when calcium carbonate in the water settled to the bottom, building up layer upon layer over millions of years. When the seas recede or when the rock is uplifted, water easily percolates through the limestone and dissolves it, forming caves and other features.

Tower karst only develops in humid, tropical areas with a lot of rainfall. That water reacts with the vegetation to erode the limestone. But at the beginning of the process, certain spots are resistant to erosion. So those spots or mounds remain intact while the area immediately around them erode away. There is much less soil or vegetation on the slopes, which means less acidity on those slopes when it rains, making the slopes also resistant to erosion. They form into steep, erosion-resistant surfaces, while the base of the structure erodes away. So the landscape is peppered with these steep mounds, while the flat area erodes. Over millions of years the flat area keeps eroding to a lower and lower elevation, while relative to the surrounding countryside, the mounds turn into tall, thousand-foot-high towers.

Meanwhile elaborate caves develop within the towers, as the limestone dissolves inside.

John Kerry’s Intention-Paved Road

A frequent criticism of persons who lean left is that they tend to judge themselves based on their intentions rather than on the outcome of whatever policy it is they support. Secretary of State John Kerry just demonstrated that attitude to a T.

At his recent commencement speech at Yale University, he remarked, “In a complicated world full of complicated decisions and close calls that could go either way, what keeps you awake at night isn’t so much whether or not you got the decision right or wrong. It’s whether you made your decision for the right reasons – integrity.”

So if something goes terribly wrong because of an erroneous decision the Secretary made, he doesn’t lose any sleep, so long as he feels he made that decision with integrity. If his intentions were good, he feels fine.

Apparently, giving Syria a pass after crossing Kerry’s and Obama’s own “red line” on chemical weapons,  with the result that it’s again using chemical weapons, doesn’t keep Kerry awake at night, as long as he feels he gave them a pass with integrity.

Washington Post: Shielding You from Embarrassing Obama Aministration News

news shield of the washington postThe reality of media bias particularly stands out when observing which stories the media choose not to cover. When embarrassing information about the Obama administration comes to light, they often ignore it altogether. That characterizes what the Washington Post – and other media outlets – is doing now.

There’s a big story about a “smoking gun” e-mail sent by White House deputy national security director two years ago, in which he urged Obama administration officials to attribute the 2012 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, in which the U.S. ambassador was killed, to a spontaneous uprising stemming from anger over a YouTube video about Mohammed. The blame was misplaced: the terrorist attack actually was a pre-planned, coordinated operation by paramilitary personnel.

Not only was such a strategy wrongheaded at the time, but compounding the wrongdoing, the administration did not disclose the e-mail when Congress asked for such information. It only came to light under a recent Freedom of Information request.

But in yesterday’s and today’s print editions of the Washington Post, the story is nowhere to be found. Not even a mention of it in “news in brief”. The only place I came across it in the Post was in the form of an online blog post by a right-leaning commentator.

That’s doing a real disservice to its readers. The Post shouldn’t be shielding them from important information, even though it may be embarrassing to their beloved administration. A good news organization, of course, should report the good and the bad. To be sure, sometimes when a story gets so big, such a publication is almost forced to cover it, which could happen with this story. But the story is already plenty large enough to warrant is coverage.

Perhaps the Post is catering to the whims of the majority of its readers, who also don’t want to read news embarrassing to the administration. In that case the Post is just aiming to be a pleasure center, not a hard-nosed information center.

In countries where there’s government censorship, there are plenty of stories in the media. What’s notable, though, is the lack of stories embarrassing to or critical of the government. The WaPo example shows that in free societies, the same thing can happen in certain publications – albeit imposed by the employees of those publications, rather than by the government.