Sunday, March 31, 2013

The protection of President Obama's family shouldn't be political football

Friday, March 29, 2013

North Korea threats..

Apologies for the recent absence of posts, I've been very busy this week. However, I did want to do a quick piece on North Korea. Re- North Korea's continuing threats, it's my opinion that the Obama Administration has intelligence that the North Koreans may be planning a military skirmish - something like this

Why do I hold this opinion? Because over the past couple of weeks, President Obama has ordered B-52 and B-2 'show of force' flights over South Korea. That measure of forcefulness is unusual from this President. It's more reminiscent of President Bush's style. From my perspective, the most likely explanation is that Obama genuinely believes the North Koreans are serious about causing new problems. As a corollary, the President also probably feels that he has little choice but to take aggressive deterrent measures in response. I'd also imagine that there's a lot of behind the scenes work going on at the US Embassy in Beijing.  

Anyway, the US show of force is necessary. North Korea must know America's resolve.

Here's my North Korea piece for The Week from a couple of weeks back. 
And my North Korea piece for The Guardian from a while back.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A plan to solve America's debt crisis

This is an update on a debt reduction plan that I produced before Christmas. It takes into account the political developments that have occurred since that time. It achieves just under $5 billion in trend positive 10yr deficit reduction. 

I'm passionate about addressing the threat posed by America's ballooning debt. Some of my related thoughts can be found in the following links- the potential for a grand bargaindebt crisisstate finances, taxation, austerity.

The proposals that form my plan are targeted at four main objectives. 

1)Finding major savings in the Federal Budget, the pursuit of serious entitlement reform and the achievement of trend stable reductions to health care inflationary pressures.
2) Developing new sources of revenue but in ways that eliminate the tax code's current induced economic distortions and allow for rate reductions. And ultimately, for a debate about the size, nature and purpose of America's Federal Govt. in the 21st century.
3) Creating a foundation for sustained long term economic growth. 
4) The pursuit of a debt reduction plan that can get through Congress. In this sense, I've made many recommendations that are uncomfortable for me as a conservative.

Calculation Sources: The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CFRB), Budget Hero (BR) and my personal research. Where the available calculation values diverge, I've taken an average between them.

= Added Cost 
= Added Savings

Figures are 10 year numbers

Discretionary Spending (TOTAL - $960 Billion)
Cut Regular Discretionary Spending by 15%  -$960B
  • I believe that the Federal Government has become too large and that it currently absorbs too great a % of GDP. It must be reduced in size. States must have greater responsibility and greater power.
Defense, Diplomacy & Security (TOTAL -$450 Billion)

Support President Obama's 10 year defense spending plan - $450B
  • Though I believe that the Sequester defense cuts will be a disaster if allowed to continue indefinitely (please see my guardian op/ed), I support the President's ten year DoD proposals in their provision of a tough but practical approach towards balancing our national security/deficit reduction needs. Let me be clear, I do not accept combined sequester+Obama cuts. These would gut our DoD spending by $1 trillion/ten yr. However, $450 billion is doable.
Social Security (TOTAL -$533 Billion)

Raise the Normal Retirement Age to 68 -$160B
  •  Americans are living longer. If my generation is to access Social Security, the program's eligibility age must rise.
Reduce Benefits for Wealthy Seniors-$80B
  • Social Security should exist for the poorest Americans. Welfare for the wealthy makes little sense.  
Chain inflation measure to CPI -$120B
  • The consumer price index reflects a more appropriate mechanism for determining Social Security benefit payments. After all, Social Security's objective is to assist seniors in their basic necessity purchases.
Reduce Spousal Benefits from 50% to 30% -$23B 
  • This would reduce a problematic Social Security flaw.
Increase 'Years Worked' Benefit Calculation -$50B
  • To tie in with a higher eligibility age, a longer work life calculation is needed. (I am using CFRB's 35-40 age calculation).
Include all New State and Local Workers in Social Security -$100B
  • Again, everyone must pay in.
Healthcare (TOTAL -$720 Billion)
I like the Ryan Medicare plan, but in the interests of finding reforms that can get through Congress, these are some other proposals that I support. I have noted health care related tax reform under the revenue section. For more on my health care thoughts - go here.

Introduce Cost-Sharing Uniformity for Medicare -$100B
  • This will help increase efficiency and reduce wasteful costs.
Raise Medicare Premiums to 30% of Costs -$120B
  •  This is a tough one, but if we are going to restrain health care costs we must force people to take more personal responsibility.
Enact Medical Malpractice Reform -$80B
  •  Ambulance chasers won't like it, but this is necessary. Frivolous law suits are out of control and we all pay more because of them. They also encourage unnecessary medical tests.
Increase the Medicare Retirement Age to 67 -$120B
  • As with Social Security, we are living longer and working longer. If it's going to exist into the future, Medicare must reflect our changing demographics.
 Increase Drug Payment Costs for Higher Income Seniors-$280B
  • Specific calculations according to BR. Seniors earning over $85,000 would pay higher drug payment costs.
Modify Federal Medicaid Funding to States by Reducing Match-Payment Baseline-$300B
  •  The states must take greater responsibility for the health of their residents. The Federal Government must support these efforts, but by requiring greater state responsibility we can lower costs, increase efficiency and improve outcomes over the long term.
Adopt the Bowles-Simpson suggestion for Medicare SGR payments to Doctors +1% 2014 cut (Doc Fix)-$250B
  • An effective 'Doc-Fix' ensuring that Doctors are willing to treat Seniors into the future requires money. This proposal will balance the imperative of finding lower trend costs with the maintenance of the Medicare moral guarantee.
Other Spending (TOTAL -$185 Billion)

Freeze Federal Civilian Pay for Four Years -$120B
  •  Federal workers are well compensated. There must be shared sacrifice.
Reform TRICARE Payments as Proposed by former Defense Secretary Gates -$50B
  • This would effect a small increase in TRICARE payments. TRICARE is on the path to bankruptcy if it doesn't receive reform.
Reduce Farm Subsidies -$80B
  • Pork. It needs to go.
Cut All Earmarks -$30B (Accounting for some Earmarks Inevitably Remaining)
  • The Federal Government should exist to provide for the basic welfare of all Americans. Congressional service should not be a conduit to the construction of a power-patronage network.
Increase NASA funding and reconstitute Mars mission- $95B
  • Amidst all the cuts, it's important that we are able to inspire and to pursue the opportunities of science. Going to Mars would help make Maths and Science 'cool'. We would encourage greater academic success and a corollary gain in our national competitive economic strength. And... of course, we'd be advancing the frontiers of science! $95 billion seems a lot, but for what we would gain, it's a small price to pay.

Revenue/Subsidy Reform (TOTAL - $1.585 trillion)

Increase Federal User Fees -$40B
  • I believe that it makes greater sense to tax consumption rather than income.
Sell Certain Government Assets -$80B
  • We have too many under-utilized facilities that are expensive to operate.
Gradually Increase Gas Tax by 15 Cents per Gallon (with a $4/gallon total gas price ceiling) -$150B
  • Please see my Guardian Op-Ed on this (please also note re-this article - my comment on Iraq concerns Iranian sponsored terrorism in Iraq and is not an anti-war statement- click the relevant hyperlink).
Introduce a soft drink 'sugar tax' of 1 cent per ounce  -$125B
  •  As with cigarette taxes, it's important that people make a contribution to the corollary costs they impose on society in the health care arena. I don't support the NYC ban, but neither do I believe we should subsidize poor choices. This is an effective half-way option.
Simplify and Reduce Corporate Tax Rate to 23% - Neutral but long term savings/economic growth.
  • If the corporate tax code is reformed so that all companies pay a baseline % without being able to 'loophole' jump their way into avoidance, the rate can be reduced and economic growth greatly stimulated.
 Improve Tax Collection -$20B
  • By hiring more IRS investigators we can clamp down on those who think others should pay their taxes for them. Contrary to the attitude of some anti-tax folks, 'free riding' is not a conservative value.
Tax Fringe Benefits as Regular Income -$70B
  • Value assessable gains which are received in the course of employment should be taxable.
Eliminate State and Local Tax Deduction -$550B
  • Federal tax payments should be rooted in equalized income bracket/source considerations. A citizen in New York should not have his or her local/federal services subsidized by a citizen in Florida. If you want to live in a high tax state, then that's your prerogative and your financial responsibility.
Eliminate Subsidies for Bio-fuels -$100B
  • These subsidies are neither economically nor environmentally logical. They exist as a form of deluded pork.
Replace Employer Health Care Exclusion with a Flat Credit (In Place of Excise Tax) -$400B
  • Reducing health care costs by encouraging personal responsibility. Improving the fairness of the tax code by creating a level playing field for those who don't receive health care from their employer.
Reform Tax Code and Reduce Rates - Neutral
  • Using the proposals above, Congress should work to reduce tax rates.
Including the January 2013 tax increase on higher-income Americans (which CBO scores at $600 bn/10 yr), my approach would produce (forward trend stable - especially important for health care reforms!) debt reduction of $4.983 trillionConsiderably more than the $4 trillion conventional wisdom target number.
 Photo Credit: CBS News

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Senate Democrats and the politics of Clownsville

In a vote late last night, Senate Democrats passed their first budget for four years. Reading the details, it's become abundantly clear that they're living in Clownsville.
You might think that the word budget suggests at least some degree of consideration for fiscal reality. An expectation many Americans would probably share. Unfortunately, when it comes to this budget, fiscal reality is nowhere to be found.

Let's consider the details. The Democratic budget increases taxes by $1 trillion - and does so by reinforcing the Democrats deluded and mathematically unsustainable obsession with taxing the rich. Further, the budget does so little to restrain the growth of entitlements that it's truly laughable. Instead, it plays around the edges of Federal spending and finds a pathetic $900 billion in discretionary cuts - primarily by allowing 50% of the DoD sequester to go into effect. Thus we see it's essence. A hyper-partisan morass of mathematically absurd and strategically defective political delusions. It would gut the military in order to continue our national zombie walk into the fiscal abyss. This budget represents not just the willful ignorance of fiscal reality, but the absolute rejection of any semblance of fiscal reality. In short, it's a joke.

It's true, the GOP budget which passed the House last week is also highly partisan. But there's one major, foundational difference between the Democratic and Republican budgets. The GOP budget actually addresses our national deficit and our debt. And it does so in a trend stable way. For me, those two factors are the crucial litmus test for any budget. At a basic level, they illustrate a serious acceptance of fiscal reality. In terms of specific savings - where the Democrats find about $2 trillion in 10yr savings, Ryan's GOP budget finds $4.3 trillion. And for all the liberal whining that Republicans won't negotiate - Ryan has stood alone in his evident willingness to entertain serious compromise. (Beyond Congress, the President deserves some credit for his recent outreach to Senate Republicans. We'll see if he's serious or if he's playing more games). 
For my personal budget plan - Go here.

 Video which illustrates scale of debt crisis. Strangely, the production of a left wing group.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Iraq. In remembrance.

Yesterday I wrote about the politics of the Iraq War. 

However today, the day after the anniversary, it's time to remember. No politics, just solemn remembrance. These men and women gave everything for our country. They must never be forgotten. And their comrades must always be supported.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Federal Assault Weapons Ban

I'm glad to see that Senate Democrats have dropped their attempt at a Federal assault weapons ban. The reasoning for my satisfaction is simple. Local democracy knows best. Nothing stops New Yorkers from electing politicians who will restrict assault weapons in their state. But Washington DC should not create a one size fits all model of restriction. In addition, Feinstein's assault weapons ban included unconstitutional (in my opinion) magazine capacity limits. That was an excessive and unjustifiable encroachment onto second amendment rights. I've consistently said that I would support common sense gun reform. But common sense is not decided by Senate Democrats, it's decided by a bi-partisan collection of Senators and members of the House.

In case you're interested - why I believe that the second amendment is important. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pollard and Obama's visit to Israel

President Obama is visiting Israel this week. Over the next few days, I will post on why the trip is important. However, in the meantime, I want to drop a quick note concerning the escalating Israeli pressure on Obama to release Jonathan Pollard. These Israeli demands are nothing new. Regardless, for two key reasons they annoy me a great deal.

1) Pollard is a convicted traitor. He betrayed our country in order to provide intelligence to another state. There are few crimes as serious. The fact that Israel is our ally is irrelevant. Pollard swore an oath to the United States. Like Kiriakou, he betrayed that oath. He deserves to be in prison.

2) The Israeli intelligence operation which ran Pollard was an inexcusable act against the United States. The United States is Israel's one enduring ally. I support this relationship - for reasons of morality and historic strategic kinship, Israel deserves American support. I also understand and respect why the Israelis have traditionally adopted an aggressive security strategy. But the United States deserves reciprocal respect. We do not deserve to have the Israelis acting against us in such an aggressive fashion. Especially in reference to HUMINT asset procurement. Certainly not on American soil.

In short, it's an audacious act of disrespect for the Israelis to demand that we release Pollard. Fortunately, it's highly unlikely that Pollard will be released. To do so would produce extreme disquiet in the US intelligence community. Indeed, former CIA Director Tenet once told President Clinton that he would resign if Pollard was released. 

Tenet's position was correct.
 I agree with the Prosecutor.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ryan budget v Democratic games

Paul Ryan has released his new budget. Relying in part on the January tax increases, it nonetheless proposes major but necessary spending reforms. In doing so, Ryan's plan achieves a small Federal Govt. surplus by 2023. Crucially, the budget addresses the imperative of restraining health care inflation in Govt. entitlement programs (the core driver of our national debt). This approach makes the hard choices that are necessary to restore fiscal balance for the post-baby boomer era. Ryan's total savings = $4.3 trillion.

Later today, Senate Democrats will also offer a 'budget'. Their first in four years. Unfortunately however, by considering the pre-released details of their proposal, it's obvious that the Democrats
are messing around. And a sad joke at that, it actually increases 'stimulus' spending by $100 billion! The budget also raises $500 billion via closed tax loopholes (which will almost certainly focus on the man/woman behind the tree aka don't tax me- I want my government for free!) and vague health care savings from providers. Further, it only removes half of the DoD sequester cuts (a policy which would be catastrophic for the US Military). In short, this Democratic budget is about as serious as a Monty Python sketch. All this, for a paltry total savings figure of $1 trillion.

          $1 trillion vs $4.3 trillion. It's apparent that Democrats are utterly disinterested in resolving America's debt crisis.

One final point, Paul Ryan has consistently said that he would be willing to negotiate with Democrats in pursuit of a final budget. In fact, re- his health care reforms, by being open to changes, Ryan was able to win the support of a liberal Democrat. Unfortunately, on the flip side the story is much different. Senior Democrats much prefer slander to dialogue.

Monday, March 11, 2013

North Korea, Afghanistan

US Military Forces Korea are beginning Key Resolve (the annual joint US-RoK major military exercise). While this action is nothing new, it's taking place at a time of escalated tension. The North Koreans are unhappy because of new UN sanctions that were imposed following their latest nuclear test. In a standard manifestation of their dissatisfaction, for the last few days they've been threatening nuclear war. Anyway, in the aftermath of their last test, I argued that the North Koreans must be made to understand that attempts at nuclear blackmail will not succeed. My position is pretty clear - North Korea can be deterred by a US policy of confident strength. Conversely, if you just want a laugh, check out North Korean propaganda reporting the US 'snow/starvation crisis'.

On a different note, Hamid Karzai is a disgusting weasel. Afghanistan's fragile semi-democracy survives on a transfusion of American/ISAF blood and treasure. Karzai would be dead without the courage and skill of American service personnel (DEVGRU saved his life in 2002). By suggesting that the Taliban and the United States are in cahoots, Karzai dishonors those who have given their lives for his country. Karzai's words also make securing a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghan future that much more difficult. An objective that is additionally complicated by the ongoing strategic deficiency of the Obama Administration.

Friday, March 8, 2013

How conservative women are saving the GOP

My latest column at The Week. How conservative women are saving the GOP.

Abu Ghaith capture

The US Government has captured Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and will put him on trial. In a civilian court. A few observations here. 

1) The suggestion that Abu Ghaith had been detained in Iran should surprise nobody. The Iranians and Al Qa'ida hate each other and like to kill each other. However, they do have two shared affinities - killing civilians and an embedded sympathy for brutal theological authoritarianism.

2) Although the news reports are currently lacking in detail, it seems apparent that Abu Ghaith was the subject of a rendition operation. As the Washington Post put it- Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was initially detained in Turkey but was taken into U.S. custody in Jordan while he was in the process of being deported to Kuwait, according to U.S. officials. Rep. Peter King's congratulatory message to the CIA would seemingly give weight to this theory. If true, I have no problem with this action. In fact, it would be good news. It would indicate that President Obama has retained rendition as a crucial tool of US counter-terrorism efforts (see my piece from yesterday on CIA-Brennan-Rand).

3) Unfortunately, this story isn't entirely positive. If, as reports indicate, the Obama Administration is intending to try Abu Ghaith in New York, they're making a serious mistake. Abu Ghaith is an obvious member of Al Qa'ida core. Under the post 9/11 Congressional AUMF, Al Qa'ida members are recognized as military adversaries of the United States - illegitimate adversaries but also non-civilian. As such, under Federal law they should be tried under military authority. For all it's previous negative PR, Guantanamo Bay should remain open and men (or women) like Abu Ghaith should be tried under US military jurisdiction. By prosecuting Abu Ghaith in civilian court, the President would entertain the false delusion that terrorism is a form of criminality. It isn't. In it's character of action and it's corollary strategic aims, Al Qa'ida's terrorism is a true manifestation of Clausewitz's abiding definition of war - 'the continuation of politics by other means'. A civilian trial would also conflict with the President's March 2011 decision to re-activate the military court system.

On August 7th 1998, Al Qa'ida declared war on the United States. The laws of war and American strategic interest both demand that Al Qa'ida face the consequences of their chosen course.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Of Drones and Men - Rand Paul Filibuster

Senator Rand Paul has strong legs. 12 hours of Filibuster and counting. Senator Paul's concern? The Obama Administration's unwillingness to provide him with clarification over the use of UCAVs (Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicles) on American soil. I respect Rand Paul's passion. He's taking a stand (quite literally) for a cause that is obviously crucial - there are very few issues as important as the civil liberty of the American people. He's also helping the GOP move to a more intellectual position on national security- a realm of complexity demanding of independent thought. And while I'm personally not terribly concerned that the US Government will be unleashing Hellfires on American civilians any time soon, I'm also cognizant of the need to draw scrutiny to the President's aggressive Executive. The President must understand that democracy does not equal blind acquiescence to his will.

On the flip side, I also have a few concerns here.

First, the FOREIGN deployment of UCAVs provides a critical tool for US counter-terrorism efforts. In the absence of boots on the ground (which nowadays has a distinctly weak political constituency) and in the context of a strategic environment in which our foreign partners do not want an overt US footprint in their territory, UCAVs are a major asset. They enable the United States to identify, monitor and defeat our foreign adversaries. They have allowed us to impose devastating physical and psychological losses on Al Qa'ida and its affiliates. In this regard, we should make distinction between using drones abroad and using them at home.

Second, I genuinely believe that John Brennan would make a strong DCI. He's intelligent, well respected by international intelligence agencies and has an extremely strong resume. For a start, Brennan is fluent in Arabic, an expert on the Middle East and is a former Riyadh station chief. He knows how to fight Al Qa'ida. Yes, he's not perfect. His backtracking on the CIA's interrogation program reeks of supplication to Congressional Democrats- who are desperate to ignore history. But the truth is that the CIA has much important work to do. Whether in facing down AQAP, or restraining AQIM, or continuing to exert pressure on terrorists in Pakistan, or providing accurate assessments on China and Russia, or in addressing the multitude of other concerns that we face, the CIA desperately needs strong leadership and a respected voice in the White House. Compared to Hagel at DoD, Brennan is a good choice.

Finally, I worry about how the White House will try to slander Paul and by association the GOP. If they're able to paint Paul's filibuster as an example of unrepentant GOP intransigence, then the Republican position re-the 2014 midterms will be weakened. Such a portrayal would be unfair - thus far, Obama has lacked a serious willingness to compromise. Sadly however, politics is just as much about perception as it is about reality. To avoid this spin from the White House, GOP Senators must engage Democrats to get behind Paul.
In the end, my position is pretty basic. I hope the President will answer Senator Paul's concerns. But I also hope that Paul recognizes the need for a functioning, well lead Central Intelligence Agency. If the President is willing to get his act together, then over the next four years, America can achieve much around the world. That opportunity is positive. But we also need to recognize the negative - America faces serious threats. Those dangers must be confronted and each day we're absent a CIA Director, our task is made more difficult. President Obama has the ball, he should meet Senator Paul's reasonable requests and then Paul should end his filibuster.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hugo Chavez dead

Contrary to the puerile idiocy of the European liberal intelligentsia, Hugo Chavez was an archetypal ass hole. He ruined his country's economy and without Venezuela's oil bounty to bail him out, his rule would have been an unmitigated disaster. He presided over Venezuela's decline into warlike levels of criminality and murder. He denied freedom to those who dared question the orthodoxy of his rule. He supported tyrants and terrorists. Chavez aka the poached egg also reveled in conspiracy theories that were so absurd, they could only have been the product of mental illness. I don't take pleasure from his death, but I certainly won't miss him.
Hugo Chavez, a terrible clown.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Kajaki Dam stupidity

First, please see my Guardian piece on Afghanistan. It outlines my core approach to the conflict.

USAID (the US Government's foreign development agency) has decided to remove US funding and end major support for the completion of the Kajaki Dam in Afghanistan. This action represents strategic insanity and a betrayal of the men and women (American, British and Afghan) who have given their lives in defense of this crucial initiative. Why am I so angry? Because the dam offers the prospect of bringing electricity to an area of Afghanistan (Helmand) that has long been a hotbed for insurgent activity. And by providing the literal fuel for economic-social development, the dam could achieve a major, sustainable success on the part of ISAF and the Afghan Government. A physical tool to suck support away from the Taliban and help lay the foundation for a more hopeful, peaceful future in Afghanistan's south. However, by terminating US support, US AID will probably end up killing the project. The Afghan Government simply doesn't have the capability and drive to get it done. Lead by Karzai (aka Mr. Moron) and without US leadership, the dam will probably end up being stripped in a corruption feeding frenzy.

From my perspective, this decision represents yet another example of the Obama Administration's policy failure in Afghanistan. An approach that's been defined by the pursuit of a narrow domestic political agenda in preference to the demands of national security. It makes no sense. And it isn't just me saying this, it's also the distinguished scholar, Vali Nasr.

Be under no illusions, as much as some would wish it to be so, the War on Terror will not end with Afghanistan. And Muslims will suffer rather than benefit from our rush to the exit.