Washington Merry-Go-Round

Boots on the ground may be the only choice

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 16 January 2015

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Boots on the ground may be the only choice

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – What with the holidays, followed by the terrorist attack in Paris, and the crash of more than 50 percent in oil prices, not much is heard about ISIS fighters, the ultra-extremist Islamic jihadists who control large swaths of Iraq and Syria. That news coverage is about to change.

The American air campaign that began last summer managed to stop ISIS from taking Kobani on the Turkish border, and it has taken out some of the organization’s leadership. Further, the Pentagon claims these strikes have stopped ISIS momentum, which is code for an acknowledgement that the enemy continues to hold the ground it has already taken. Yet, even that assessment is incorrect, because the Pentagon states that more than one million additional Syrians have come under ISIS control.

It must be remembered that ISIS control means ISIS recruits due to the groups’ join-or-die policy. The net result, then, of the air campaign has been a decided gain for ISIS. Clearly, the group has learned how to combat an air campaign that is largely unsupported by motivated ground troops. The key to such tactics is dispersal off the battlefield; concentration on it. In other words, units too small to be rich military targets concentrate in coordination with similar units only at the objective site, usually a fortification, city, or town. The idea is to mass at points where close-in fighting prevents air attacks for fear of firing on friendly troops.

At present, ISIS controls more than a third of Syria and somewhat less of Iraq, and its next move is obvious. ISIS is about to burst upon the headlines once again, this time when it makes plays for Baghdad and Damascus. This is possible because ISIS is far stronger today than it was before the U.S. air campaign began. And even if ISIS fails to gain these objectives through tactical successes, it will achieve a strategic success simply by showing the Iraqis and Syrians the growing strength of its forces. This would be reminiscent of the 1968 Tet Offensive by communist forces in Vietnam. It was a huge tactical failure for them, and a clear strategic victory because it proved they were strong enough to persist in the war. From that moment, the U.S. primarily sought a means of extrication.

Since only limited numbers of U.S. ground troops are in Iraq, and presumably none in Syria, extrication would not be a problem there. It also means that the defense of Baghdad and Damascus is a problem, an immediate problem.

Apparently, the allied ground plan has called for an increased involvement of Iraqi Army and moderate Syrian rebels, joined with troops from Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. So far, this has been nothing more than an unrealistic dream. What is realistic is that one U.S. division could reverse the situation overnight, although in the face of American public opposition, this best-of-all-options is likely to be the last-of-all-options. Is there a middle ground? If so, it has not appeared, leaving America with two bad choices, the ISIS occupation of Syria and Iraq versus the introduction of U.S. boots on the ground.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2015 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

The Keystone to nowhere

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 14 January 2015

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The Keystone to nowhere

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Enough Democrats will join Republicans in voting for the Keystone pipeline that the measure will likely find its way to President Obama’s desk, where the White House has signaled it will face a veto. The 67 votes to override a presidential veto are likely out of reach for the GOP, but setting aside partisan politics, this is no great loss for the country.

Truth be told, this is a pipeline to nowhere. We have an abundance of oil right now; we don’t need more in the system. At some point in time, we will want that Canadian oil, but why spend the money now for oil we don’t need now?

Backers of the pipeline tout the jobs it will create. But with unemployment under 6 percent, the private sector is generating over 200,000 jobs a month. The overwhelming majority of the 42,000 jobs the State Department says will be created by building the pipeline will vanish once construction is complete.

Bottom line, we don’t need a jobs stimulus bill now, and we don’t need more oil. It’s not that companies should stop drilling, but why spend massive amounts of money for oil that’s not needed, and won’t generate much of a financial return. Why not keep it in the ground?

There are some genuine environmental concerns about Canadian tar sands oil, and they are highlighted by the fact that TransCanada, the company that is now the sole owner of the Keystone pipeline, will not be required to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The Fund was created 25 years ago after the Exxon Valdez oil spill to help relieve taxpayers of the burden of clean up. It requires oil companies to pay a tax of eight cents per barrel to clean up any spills.

The State Department has said in a preliminary report that the pipeline would have a negligible impact on the environment, and giving TransCanada a pass on the Fund infuriates environmentalists.

The better argument for opponents to make is that in a world of diminishing resources, policymakers must distinguish between oil that should be pulled from the ground now, and oil that is better left in the ground.

Tar sands oil is hard to extract and more expensive to refine than liquid oil because of its thick, sticky viscous nature. It makes economic and environmental sense to leave it in the ground now, and extract it later when and if it becomes more viable economically.

A powerful ad running on cable news outlets proclaims the virtues of the Keystone pipeline, and says that President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, and even respected financier Warren Buffett all say the pipeline should be built.

It’s not surprising that Bush would support the pipeline. He’s an oil man from Texas, and he’s a Republican. His party is behind the big push for Keystone. As for Clinton, he was a pro-business president, and it’s fair to say that in his eight years in office, he cultivated a very positive climate for economic growth. Yet if Clinton were asked today whether he would support the pipeline, his answer might be very different than it was two years ago when he endorsed the project.

Ditto for Warren Buffett, who when asked early last year if he would support the pipeline, said yes. A year ago, oil was over a hundred dollars a barrel; today it’s under $50 a barrel with no sign of slowing in its downward trajectory.  Anything that happens in Washington has a political angle. But taxpayers should weigh the likely outcome of the Keystone fight as a matter of economics, not politics.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2015 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Freedom to live

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 9 January 2015

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Freedom to live

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – With the terrorist attacks in Paris as the latest manifestation of our new world disorder, it is time for governments to acknowledge their primary duty: public safety. History has repeatedly shown that people will choose safety over rights and liberty every time, whether it is safety from foreign powers or domestic assailants, yet it is not a choice we should be forced to make. Other means are at hand.

The new reality is that weapons and explosives are ubiquitous; police and soldiers are not. And, no, we do not want soldiers patrolling our streets, but they certainly can patrol the borders and entry points, such as ports and airports.

What we need most of all are police – trained police. We need them on foot. We need them in schools and places of public gatherings. We need them visible. We need them in mutual supporting distance. And if this means allocating budgets to triple or quadruple the number of police, so be it, because nothing in government budgets is more important.

Interestingly, a substantial police presence would undoubtedly increase government revenue because it would make neighborhoods safe for commerce. How many neighborhoods in America are no-go places, those areas that are unsafe in daylight and battlegrounds at night? But millions of people live in such neighborhoods. Their children grow up in them, learning the ways of street, the creed of criminals. Their childhoods are stolen as are too many of their lives.

Still, we seem to concentrate on the wrong things. What is the cause of crime? How is religious zealotry changing the landscape of safety? How do we identify those most likely to commit the horrendous outrages that shock us over and over, in schools and elsewhere? The fact is there will always be homicidal fanatics, religious zealots, advocates of odd causes, and ordinary malcontents, and of course they should be identified if possible. Meanwhile, who is protecting us from the ones not identified?

Each time another one of these gross events occurs, whether at Sandy Hook or Paris, we express outrage and lament and move on, which is tantamount to acceptance, as if we are members of a herd, who know some of us will always be picked off by predators. But we are not such. We are human beings capable of protecting one another, and are simply failing to do it.

It is time to step up and acknowledge the real problem: money. We are not spending enough to provide ourselves with that most basic right of all: freedom to live.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2015 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Politics as unusual or not

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 8 January 2015

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Politics as unusual or not

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell told the judge who sentenced him Tuesday to two years in prison that he is a “heartbroken and humbled man.” He asked that mercy be shown his wife, Maureen, who will be sentenced next in the corruption scandal that destroyed McDonnell’s political career along with the couple’s marriage.

Two years is not a long time to spend behind bars when federal sentencing guidelines call for a minimum of 10 years for the crimes that a jury found McDonnell guilty of committing. The disconnect is that what McDonnell did is not that different, except perhaps in degree, from what happens in politics every day when money is given and a favor is rendered.

There is so much money in the political system today as a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago that politicians have to be careful about whom they hang around with, and who they accept money from. Money is fungible, and with candidates trolling for contributions to support not only political campaigns but also lifestyles suitable for the rich and famous, the McDonnells serve as a cautionary tale.

As long as politicians need money and favor-seekers are willing to give it, there will be ample opportunity for transactions that give the appearance if not the reality of wrongdoing. There will be selective prosecution, and politicians should know that in today’s hyper-partisan climate, someone is always watching.

Generally, the way the law has been interpreted is that unless there is evidence of a direct quid pro quo, a transaction that could be called a bribe, anything goes. McDonnell’s lawyers have filed an appeal that says the trial judge issued orders to the jury that were overly broad, and prompted the jury’s verdict.

The 12 Virginia jurors looked at the evidence of extravagant gifts and sweetheart loans and concluded – not unreasonably – that businessman Johnnie Williams wanted something in return. There were some meetings in the governor’s mansion, and the McDonnells had nice things to say about the nutritional supplement that Williams was marketing.

That might not have attracted the attention of federal prosecutors if Maureen McDonnell hadn’t fired a chef at the mansion who then blew the whistle on the family’s greed, and if Bob McDonnell hadn’t flaunted the gifts he accepted. Photos of him showing off his Rolex watch, and smiling broadly behind the wheel of a Ferrari, didn’t help his case.

Still, public officials across the country must be shivering in their boots when they see how easy it is to cross the line of what is a legal gift, and what constitutes something that might catch the eye of federal prosecutors. Pictures of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie high-fiving Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in his box after Sunday’s Cowboys’ win lit up the social media universe.

Is it legal and/or ethical for Christie to accept a free ride to Arlington Stadium in Texas, and sit in Jones’ box? Apparently yes under New Jersey law if Christie can plausibly argue that his friendship with Jones is longstanding.

The laws vary from state to state, and what passes muster in New Jersey, or in Virginia, could still catch the eye of a federal prosecutor. Attorney General Eric Holder has steered the Justice Department away from pursuing petty drug crimes to cracking down on public corruption.

The conviction of the McDonnells on numerous counts of corruption shocked the legal system. It was so unexpected that McDonnell passed up the opportunity to plead guilty to a single count of bank fraud, which would have let him off the hook for any prison time. Like most analysts who follow white-collar crime, McDonnell expected a wrist slap, not a jail sentence. Ironically, the jury found him innocent of the one count that could have spared him.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2015 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Oil politics

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 31 December 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Oil politics

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Did you know that the United States is on the verge of becoming energy independent? And do you know who should get the credit for this remarkable turn of events?

President Obama gets a share because he has pushed policies to reduce U.S. demand and to promote an “all of the above” attitude toward energy production.

Still, the bulk of the credit goes to an industry that doesn’t top the list of Obama’s favorite corporate citizens, and that’s the oil companies. They did the exploration that led to the advent of shale oil and the invigoration of the domestic oil market.

Without glossing over the environmental concerns with the process to extract shale oil known as fracking, this newly discovered source of oil has revolutionized energy production. Can you guess which country is most upset with America’s new muscle in the global energy market?

The answer of course is the oil kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is threatened by a newly competitive U.S. market. In the past, when demand for oil went down, the Saudis would adjust their output so prices remained stable. They’re responding differently this time, keeping their production at a high level and watching the price of oil tumble from $110 a barrel down to half that.

It doesn’t make sense from a supply-and-demand perspective, but that’s not what the Saudis have in mind. They’re pumping away in order to lower the price of shale oil. It becomes obvious when we do the math. The Saudis can extract oil from the ground for under $10 a barrel. The figure to extract shale is at least four times that, at $40 or $50 a barrel.

How low can Saudi production drive down the price of oil, and at what point will shale oil producers cry uncle?

At a recent OPEC meeting where ministers and others from the major oil producing countries gathered, members were asked to cut back production. The Saudis refused, but so did the Russians, and the Venezuelans. Why? Their economies are tanking, and they are so dependent on oil revenue that they can’t back off.

Improvements in U.S. oil technology, and new oil findings especially in North Dakota have transformed energy markets. Between technology, price, and discovery, American oil production has dramatically increased, and the U.S. is on the verge of declaring itself independent of foreign oil.

There’s another pressure point and that’s China, and its growing thirst for oil. China has turned in a single generation from a bicycle population to an automobile economy, and its demand for oil has kept the price up. In a global economy, it’s like a seesaw, as U.S. demand for foreign oil goes down, China’s goes up.

Can the Saudis drive down the price of oil fast enough to make the U.S. production of shale oil non-competitive, or will China’s needs and demands keep the price up?

In this global chess game, the U.S. with its soaring economy is a dominant player. Because wages have been stagnant, many Americans haven’t felt the impact of an improving economy in their lives. That should change with lower gas prices at the pump.

If people have more money in their pocket, they’re likely to feel better about their leaders. Obama will be judged on his handling of the economy, and while the recovery has been slow and tepid, it seems finally to be taking hold. If the newly soaring U.S. economy and its strengthening dollar can help pull Europe out of its doldrums, that may get Obama the credit that has so far eluded him.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Watch them run

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 31 December 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Watch them run

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Former First Lady, former senator, former secretary of State Hillary will announce her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination – no surprise here, but then what? Real Clear Politics (RCP) shows an average of major polls give her a 61.7 percent likelihood of nomination victory. However, her negative ratings remain an impediment. The fact remains that many Americans, especially segments of the all-important Independents, simply do not like her. Further, she is fully tied to her husband’s presidential initiatives, including her bungled ramrodding of his failed universal healthcare program, his welfare reform package that appeased conservatives by taking large numbers of needy families off of assistance, and his business-conservative error of gutting the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 that had kept banks and brokerages separated (a move often cited as a major cause of the Great Recession).

Enter Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., whose national standing continues to rise as she takes on the mantle of Progressive, more reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt than George McGovern, the liberal Democratic candidate of 1972. She has made her name by going after the big banks and big corporations, those entities deemed too big to fail. Like Roosevelt, the trust buster, she is exposing the damage done by monopolies and concentrated wealth. Most Americans now know that the wealthiest five percent actually saw their wealth increase during the Great Recession, an event that virtually wiped out the savings of the middle class by destroying their home equities. This all ties into the infamous income disparity now prevalent, another situation harking back to the Roosevelt era and the Robber Barons. But the question is whether or not Warren will run, and, if she does, will her campaign gain critical mass before Clinton sews up the nomination?

Meanwhile, Republicans lack a frontrunner. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., is in the process of throwing his hat in the ring, but the earth has moved since his father and brother ran and won their presidencies. The Tea Party, after badly stumbling with far-out candidates, became more sophisticated. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., a man with impeccable conservative credentials and a member of the House leadership, was recently defeated by a Tea Party favorite, a fact that bolds well for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul, R –Ky. Still, it is difficult to imagine that such non-mainstream senators could win the nomination, when polling shows they would be swamped in the general election. On the other hand, Jeb Bush clearly lacks pure conservative credentials, especially in the realms of immigration and education. He is more in the mold of 2008 nominee former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., who is considering a second try.

The fading man of the Republican Party is Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., whose strength is his weakness. Widely admired for his outspoken, abrasive manner, he has found himself in hot water for being too outspoken and abrasive, which gives him little leeway when things go wrong as with the George Washington Bridge Closing scandal.

Given all this, and not forgetting there are other potential candidates, it is likely that we will see a Clinton-Warren battle and a Bush-Romney battle, the last of these because even Tea Partiers want to win.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Pakistan may finally fight the Taliban

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 26 December 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Pakistan may finally fight the Taliban

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – As a recent episode of the popular television series “Homeland” displayed, elements in Pakistan, including its intelligence service, may be in league with the Taliban, which means the friend of our enemy is our friend. And the fact that Osama bin Laden was found residing in an armed compound in Abbottabad, a short distance from the Pakistan Military Academy, gives credence to the suspicion that our friend has been the enemy’s friend for quite a while.

In fact, Pakistan’s friendships have not changed. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and placed a puppet in charge, its forces were confronted by Mujahedeen rebels, primarily supported by Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, and the United States. Eventually, U.S. support became dominant when President Ronald Reagan vowed to make Afghanistan the Soviet’s Vietnam. By that he referred to the Soviet use of a surrogate, North Vietnam, to wage war against South Vietnam. A safe haven being the key to surrogacy, Soviet ships bearing supplies and munitions anchored in North Vietnamese waters, signaling a U.S. invasion of the North would involve the Soviet Union. Hence, North Vietnam became the safe haven for the North Vietnamese Army.

In like manner, Pakistan, a nuclear power and U.S. ally, became the safe haven for the Mujahedeen, Osama bin Laden among them. And as would be expected in a safe haven surrogate war, the surrogates prevailed. After nine years of fighting, Soviet forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan. Then, in 1992, the Soviet puppet regime of Mohammad Najibullah fell to the Mujahedeen, and in 1996 the Taliban branch of the Mujahedeen, with the aid of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates prevailed in the Afghan Civil War.

Pakistan remained the common thread, protecting and supplying the hardliners, and as hardline as the fanatical Taliban was, al-Qaeda was worse, and the Taliban was providing that group with sanctuaries where they trained Islamic militants to export terror, all of which led to the Osama bin Laden directed al-Qaeda attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. The U.S. responded with aerial and covert support of the Afghan Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban and hound Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters out of the country. Most of them slipped across the border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, the U.S. found itself in league with its long-time adversary, Iran, the other nation then supporting the Northern Alliance.

Since that period, the Taliban, based in Pakistan, has carried on an ongoing war with the United States and its allies in Afghanistan.

While the U.S. has switched sides from the Mujahedeen to the Northern Alliance and the U.S.-allied Afghan government, Pakistan has remained the constant supporter of the Islamic fundamentalists who made up the Mujahedeen, including the Taliban, though apparently not al-Qaeda.

Now all that may have changed. Just as the Taliban appeared to be on the brink of success in Afghanistan as U.S. forces are rapidly withdrawing, a Taliban attack on a Pakistani school resulted in the slaughter of 149 students and teachers. Pakistan’s army swung into action and began hunting down the perpetrators. The heinous crime delivered a gruesome reminder of who and what the Taliban are, and maybe, just maybe, Pakistan will finally realize it has been supporting a rogue organization that they must now thwart.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

The duck that roared

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 24 December 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The duck that roared

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The White House says President Obama had a “milestone year,” and that’s true if your calendar starts after the November election. Republicans scored big in the midterms, and Obama was written off as a lame duck. Now he’s the duck that roared.

In the last week, his approval rating shot up 7 points to 48 percent, just shy of the 50 percent tipping point to ward off lame duckery.  The economy is beginning to show real strength with third quarter growth at an annualized 5 percent rivaling China’s growth rate.

Gas prices are way down, and analysts predict an energy independent future for the U.S., which would shift the politics of the Middle East away from the oil barons and potentially toward a more stable future for the region.

The Ebola crisis has been contained, and ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic state, hasn’t made any new gains. It’s way too early to declare victory in any of these areas, but No-Drama Obama’s cautious approach appears to be paying off in his foreign policy.

Even Russian President Putin isn’t looking like a winner anymore. Sanctions have taken their toll on the Russian economy. The ruble has collapsed while the dollar climbs, an apt metaphor for the two leaders’ standing.

If the midterms were held now instead of when ISIS and Ebola were raging, there might have been a different result. The GOP would have been left with its lame promise to repeal Obamacare, which is helping millions of people receive health care insurance for the first time. The rate of spending on medical care has slowed, and premiums are not increasing at the rate critics predicted in large part because more competition has been introduced, something Republicans should favor.

The stock market broke 18,000 this week, a historic high highlighting both a recovering economy and the disparity between the haves at the upper end of the income scale and the have-nots in the middle class, whose wages have been stagnant for at least the last two decades.

It’s that disparity that prevents Obama from taking a full victory lap. And it’s that disparity that will frame the 2016 Democratic primaries, and the presidential election. Obama has given his potential successor on the Democratic side a valuable lesson in leadership.

There’s no political payoff for standing on the sidelines and letting your critics and even your friends pummel you for lack of leadership. The losses in 2014 sent Obama a message, and that message was to start acting like a leader, remember why you were elected, and take some risks to fulfill your agenda.

The deal with China to limit greenhouse gases, achieved after the November election, is the first time China has agreed to allow any outside power set environmental standards. It’s a start to combatting what scientists believe is an existential threat to the planet.

Obama’s executive order on immigration has the Republicans reeling. They don’t like what he did, but can’t figure out how to roll back a policy that begins to solve a longstanding problem of 11 million people in the country illegally, who aren’t going to leave, and who contribute to the economy.

The new Republican Congress hasn’t yet been sworn in, and they’ve got a full plate. Do they really want to spend the time rolling back Obama’s policies?

Climate change policy and immigration are hot-button issues on the Republican side. They may decide to leave well enough alone. An early test case will be Cuba. Republicans threaten to withhold money for an embassy in Havana, and to block confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba. Most Americans think the embargo should have been lifted a long time ago, and Obama in the fourth quarter of his presidency has the country with him, and not only on Cuba.

Some duck; some roar.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

The Other Bush

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 18 December 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The Other Bush

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Until President Obama shook things up with his announcement on normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, the big news of the week was Jeb Bush’s declaration on Twitter that he is “actively exploring” a presidential run, the first serious effort by a 2016 contender to get out in front of the pack.

Bush’s announcement had the desired effect, freezing the race, sidelining major donors from making commitments, and launching a debate about whether Bush, lauded by the Establishment as a moderate, and derided by the Right as not conservative enough, can maneuver his way through a primary process where the Right rules.

If he decides to enter the race, Bush would do so knowing he cannot win any of the early contests, except maybe New Hampshire, which doesn’t carry the clout it once did in determining a nominee. He would have a plurality strategy, and it would work only to the extent he faces a fractured opposition, and there is no credible candidate on the Far Right.

Secondly, Bush would have to be mindful that in his manner, demeanor, attitude and policy pronouncements, he reminds voters more of his father than his brother. Though George W. Bush has repaired his reputation to some extent through the passage of time, he remains one of the lowest ranking and divisive presidents, largely because of the invasion of Iraq, which was premised on faulty intelligence.

The senior President Bush was a one-term president, but he retains the respect of the political elites in both parties. The public remembers him as a patrician leader who took the prudent approach in the Middle East, stopping short of trying to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein when he had the opportunity, knowing the consequences of plunging into the ethnic divisions in that part of the world.

All of this will be re-litigated again if another Bush wants to occupy the White House. There is no doubt among those who know Jeb that he is his own man, smarter than his older brother and with policy chops that neither his brother nor his father can claim. Jeb has been a leader on education reform, and is one of the architects of the common core, a curriculum designed for the 21st century and pushed by Republican governors and President Obama.

Conservatives are opposed to the common core, viewing it as a federal and liberal takeover of the schools. Bush has said that he will not abandon the positions he has taken on common core, or on immigration reform. He said in a recent interview that a Republican who wants to be president has to risk losing the primaries in order to win the general election.

Of course, if he loses the primary, he doesn’t get the nomination. What he meant is his willingness to stand up for what he believes and settle for the same plurality vote that Mitt Romney got in 2012. Romney sold his soul to get that vote. Can Bush stay true to himself and win enough voters to get the nomination?

Republicans haven’t won the presidency without a Bush on the ticket since 1980, when George H.W. Bush was Ronald Reagan’s running mate. Bush then won election on his own in 1988, only to lose to Bill Clinton in 1992. The sting of that defeat eased when George W. won the White House in 2000, and brought his father and his predecessor to the White House to do humanitarian work together.

They hit it off so well that Clinton became like a member of the family. Asked what it will be like if his brother Jeb runs against Hillary in 2016, President Bush said it would be like Jeb running against his sister-in-law. Could he do it? Yep, Bush replied, and he will beat her.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

The great budget mistake

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 17 December 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The great budget mistake

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The great mistake of the federal budget presentation is that it does not distinguish between outlays for services and outlays for capital assets. In other words, it treats Congressional salaries the same as infrastructure projects and improvements. Whereas the funds going for salaries are gone when spent, the funds going for roads and bridges provide benefits for 20, 40, or more years. This is the reason why corporations are only allowed to write off capital expenditures over the depreciable life of the building, machine, etc. Were the federal government to do likewise, our actual budget deficits would be substantially lower.

Let us say that for every $100 spent by the government $70 is covered by tax and fee revenues and the balance by borrowing, creating a $30 deficit. But if $15 of the spending went toward capital projects with average usable lives of 30 years, the only portion to affect current spending would be $.5 a year based upon straight-line depreciation ($15/30 years), thereby reducing the budget deficit by $14.5. Of course, the same $30 of borrowing would still take place, but only $15.5 of it would go toward the true deficit. The balance would be treated as long term debt, just as a mortgage on a building is.

This brings us to the source and cost of government borrowing. With interest rates at historic lows, the cost of borrowing through U.S. treasury auctions of 30-year T-bills is currently 2.74 percent. And at that rate we should be borrowing almost as much as we can get from the Chinese and other nations and private investors or corporations.  Roads and bridges could be initiated or repaired, high speed rail lines could be constructed, and military assets built. Research and development could be accelerated in fields from medicine to munitions because such expenditures are investments, not expenses.

By making use of the nation’s credit rating and the resultant demand for its T-bills, America could address our crumbling infrastructure by embarking upon a long-overdue building binge that would create millions of high-paying jobs – jobs that would simultaneously restore the middle class and increase federal tax revenues. This virtuous circle would then eliminate that real deficit.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND