Thanks To Sam

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Grenada is known as the Island of Spices — famous for its nutmeg and cinnamon and cloves, among others — but many Americans associate it with the American invasion in the early ’80s to rescue medical students.

When we landed here and took a bus tour, I was afraid there might still be some hard feelings from that military action during the Reagan Administration. Far from it! Our driver and signage showed great gratitude to Uncle Sam for toppling a government that itself was the product of a coup. The date of the American invasion is still celebrated here. It’s nice to think that we helped these people.

President Reagan’s D-Day Speeches

Ronald Reagan died 10 years ago today.  Some thought he was a great President, others had the opposite view.  But almost everyone agrees — whatever you thought of his politics, the man could deliver a great speech.

Two of Reagan’s finest speeches were given on the same day:  June 6, 1984, as the President, many surviving soldiers, and a host of others commemorated the 40th anniversary of D-Day.  Many people remember the terrific speech about the boys of Pointe du Hoc, the Rangers who scaled the sheer cliffs of Normandy to begin the process of liberating the European continent.  Fewer are aware of the equally moving speech Reagan gave later that day, about one daughter’s promise to a father who survived D-Day but was unable to return to the battlefields to place flowers at the graves of his fallen comrades.

The Wall Street Journal has republished both speeches here, to mark the anniversary of Reagan’s death.  At a time when we seem in search of heroes, they are worth a read.

Viewer Preparation For That First Presidential Debate

President Obama and Mitt Romney are busy preparing for their first debate, set for October 3 at the University of Denver.  With the first debate less than a week away, that means the rest of us need to prepare, too.

For all of their build-up, the debates usually are a yawner.  We’d like to see something shocking, spontaneous, hilarious, or intensely revealing, but it never happens.  Wouldn’t you love to see a candidate take a chance and do something to shake things up, like Mitt Romney coming onstage wearing a top hat and monocle in a humorous bid to deflate the “out-of-touch rich guy” mantra?  Of course, no candidate wants to take the risk that a bold effort or answer might backfire, so they play everything close to the vest.

As a result, for every memorable debate moment — like President Reagan, in response to a question about age, promising not to hold Walter Mondale’s “youth and inexperience” against him, Mike Dukakis’ robotic answer to a question about his wife getting raped, or Al Gore invading George Bush’s personal space — there are countless hours of tedious blather.  Adding “new” formats, like a “town hall” where “ordinary citizens” ask screwball questions, hasn’t changed the dullness quotient.  Does anyone remember anything about the Dole-Clinton debates in 1996, the Bush-Kerry debates in 2004, or the Obama-McCain debates in 2008?

What do viewers need to do to get themselves ready for the debates?  First, go to the grocery store and buy the biggest grain of salt you can find.  You’re going to need it for the silly pre-debate expectations management game and the post-debate spin and posturing.  Second, and speaking of the post-debate spin cycle, every viewer should do some preparatory eye muscle exercises, so they don’t harm themselves by uncontrolled eye-rolling in response to an outlandish claim that one candidate or the other committed the most awful gaffe in the history of politics.  Third, laying in heavy supplies of Five-Hour Energy, coffee, and Jolt Cola is a good idea, to help you make it through the droning “serious” question about education policy by a camera-hungry member of the panel of reporters and the equally droning answers of the candidates.

And during the first debate I predict every viewer will check their TV for mechanical failure at least once, because moderator Jim Lehrer’s sober visage will not have changed.  No need for that:  Lehrer, who pursuant to federal law has moderated every president debate since the Hoover administration, isn’t actually alive, but instead was manufactured decades ago when animatronics hadn’t progressed to the point of allowing nuanced facial expressions.

Time to get ready, America!

Are You Better Off Now Than You Were Four Years Ago?

Anyone who lived through the 1980 presidential election remembers the very basic question:  “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”  Ronald Reagan used that question — and the anticipated answer of most Americans — to devastating effect against incumbent President Jimmy Carter.

President Obama had better hope voters don’t ask themselves that question this year, because new economic data analyzed by former Census Department statisticians at the Sentier Research firm reveals that the answers of most Americans are not going to be favorable.  The data shows that, amazingly, median household income fell more during the “recovery” from June 2009 to June 2012 than it did during the preceding recession.  What’s more, the drop in median household income happened across the board, in virtually every demographic group.

For example, family households lost 4.7 percent; people who live alone lost 7.5 percent. Households headed by African-Americans lost 11.1 percent. The income in married-couple households dropped 3.6 percent. Households headed by full-time workers lost 5.1 percent. People with “some college, no degree” lost 9.3 percent, people with associate’s degrees lost 8.6 percent, high school grads lost 6.9 percent, and people with bachelor’s degrees or more lost 5.9 percent.

The only group that came our ahead during the period from June 2009 to June 2012 was senior citizens.   The incomes of those between the ages of 65 to 74 grew by 6.5 percent, and the incomes of those over 75 increased by 2.8 percent.

The Sentier Research findings help to illustrate just how bad the performance of our economy has been during recent years.  There have been lots of losers and few winners — not exactly the record that an incumbent President would want to run on.  When almost everyone has taken a big hit to the pocketbook, it’s not easy to convince them that, bad as things are, they would be even worse if you hadn’t been in charge.

Remembering The Boys Of Pointe du Hoc

Today is the 68th anniversary of D-Day — the Allied invasion of Europe as part of the great campaign to wipe the scourge of Nazism off the face of the Earth and restore peace and democracy.  It was a bloody, terrible day, but the beachhead was secured, the invasion went forward, and ultimately the enemy was defeated.

In 1984 President Reagan used the occasion of the 40th anniversary of D-Day to give one of the greatest speeches he ever delivered.  He stood on the soil of Normandy, faced a group of Army Rangers — the “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” — who had acted with unbelievable courage in fulfilling their role in the battle plan on June 6, 1944, and talked about the deeply felt beliefs that motivated those men, and the brave citizens of every participating nation, to endure the sacrifices necessary to rescue the people of Europe from tyranny.  The speech was deeply moving to anyone who felt pride in those sacrifices and profound appreciation for the Boys of Pointe du Hoc and their fellow Allied soldiers.

The RealClearPolitics website reprinted the speech today to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day.  It’s well worth reading, and contemplating.  As with so many great speeches, its meaning remains fresh, even though the Iron Curtain and the challenge to peace that existed in 1984 has passed, to be replaced by the challenges Europe faces today.  It remains important for us to remember what happened 68 years ago, and why, and to ask anew:  “Who were these men?”

Reagan At 100

Today is the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth.  Lots of people are commemorating the occasion, and the celebration will include a tribute video aired before the Super Bowl.

I never met Reagan — although I did watch from the House gallery as he gave one of his State of the Union speeches — and I can’t relate any personal anecdotes about him.  I can say, however, that Reagan, more than any other recent political figure, has demonstrated how the judgments of history and hindsight can be radically different from the viewpoints of the moment.

Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C. during most of the Reagan presidency.  At that time, many of the people in the Nation’s Capital dismissed and despised Reagan.  A considerable portion of the political classes honestly thought he was an amiable but senile idiot, and they were appalled that he was President.  Indeed, many of Reagan’s qualities that are now being celebrated — his unflinching optimism and belief in American exceptionalism, his steadfastness in the face of the challenges posed by the Soviet Union, and his belief in the power of free enterprise and democracy, among others — at that time were cited by his detractors as examples of a feeble, inflexible mind that was incapable of grasping and adapting to the nuances and subtleties of an ever-changing world.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the Reagan legacy is that, only 30 years after he took office, there seems to be an overwhelming consensus that Reagan was a towering historical figure whose presidency was a kind of golden era.  The fact that President Obama, a liberal Democrat, views Reagan as a model of sorts probably says more about what Reagan accomplished than anything else.  For that reason alone, Ronald Reagan’s birthday is well worth celebrating, and his legacy is well worth remembering.

Hard To End

The Washington Post has an editorial today urging Congress to end corn ethanol subsidies.  The subsidies cost $6 billion, and their value in encouraging corn ethanol use is questionable in light of other government requirements.

What the Post editorial does not say is that these kinds of subsidies, and other government programs that seek to encourage or discourage other forms of economic activity, distort the market and have a much broader ripple effect than Congress typically intends.  If government subsidies encourage a farmer to grow corn when he otherwise would grow something else, the result will be an outflow of government money and, because the farmer is not growing the other crop, less competition and therefore higher prices in the market for that other crop.  If the subsidy encourages maximum production of corn, the farmer may use special fertilizers and other forms of chemicals to increase yield that may have an unexpected environmental impact.  The farmer may buy otherwise unnecessary types of equipment and build otherwise unnecessary silos or other structures, thereby making him and his farm economically dependent on the continuation of the subsidy and increasing the risk of an unsustainable debt burden and foreclosure if the subsidy is ended.

Once subsidies are started, they are difficult to end.  The alliances that caused the subsidy to be created in the first place grow stronger as subsidy money flows in and part is then contributed to politicians to encourage them to keep the subsidy in place.  In the case of the corn ethanol subsidy, the alliances presumably would be between farming states, large corporate agricultural concerns, and groups seeking to end our dependence on foreign oil.  Any effort to eliminate the corn ethanol subsidy — or any similar subsidy — therefore would likely face very stiff political opposition.  Occasionally, however, forces coalesce that make the elimination of such programs possible, such as happened when President Reagan was elected and Depression-era farm commodity price support programs were ended.

For anyone serious about deficit reduction, a careful examination of government subsidies, tax breaks, and other methods of interfering with the economy would be a good place to start.  We don’t need the government to pick winners and losers and to waste our tax dollars in doing so.