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Robots Vs. (Illegal) Aliens

With technology destroying jobs for humans, adding tens of millions of new immigrants to America will only deepen inequality and poverty.

Before we talk about immigration, let’s talk about robots.

The next 10 years are expected to see a revolution in the application of Artificial Intelligence to every day tasks. Cars and trucks may soon drive themselves. Just as ATMs replaced bank clerks, so too new checkout machines will hugely reduce the need for retail clerks. The need for human labor in construction, meatpacking, and food preparation seems certain to contract.

Most economists expect that the next decade will see downward pressure upon wages reach into the professions. Much of what junior architects do will be robotized. Ditto bookkeepers and accountants. Ditto pharmacists. Ditto lawyers.

The United States has already traveled far on the road toward a society characterized by extremes of wealth and poverty. From the New York Times, February 3:

Loaded

Myth of the Defensive Gun

At a Florida theater Monday, a retired police officer allegedly killed a man during an argument. The cop probably thought he would prevent a crime with his gun—instead, he caused one.

Another school shooting today. A 13-year-old opened fire at a middle school in Roswell, New Mexico, critically wounding two.

As I write, details on the incident remain scarce. But here’s something we do know. After this shooting, as after so many horrors past, a great number of Americans will insist that the right response to gun violence is more guns in more places. They believe that their guns keep them safe.

One of those who believe that—at least until recently—was Curtis Reeves. The 71-year-old former Tampa police captain had founded the city’s SWAT team. Retired from the force, Reeves still carried a .38 caliber handgun. On Monday, he carried his gun with him to a movie theater in Wesley Chapel, Florida, an exurban community 26 miles north of Tampa. Reeves became annoyed by a man in the row directly ahead of him who texted before the show. Reeves complained first to the man, then to the theater manager. A confrontation erupted. Voices were raised. Popcorn was thrown. And suddenly: a man was dead.

The dead man was named Chad Oulson. You know his story. It was the big gun atrocity of the day for the 24 hours before the Roswell shooting. Gun atrocities occur so thick and fast that few of them gain public attention, and even fewer hold it for long. Yet the Oulson killing broke through, at least for a little while, because it seemed so unusually pointless and stupid. As the sheriff of Pasco County told reporters afterward: “To have a retired police officer—I don’t know what he was thinking at the time. I can tell you, anybody, over a cellphone, to take their life, it’s ridiculous.”

Filibuster Ax

Why I Love the Nuclear Option

Why would the Democrats, who never seem to stop worrying about overweening presidential control, roll back the filibuster—and hand their own power to Obama? They’ll be sorry, and soon.

I’m one of those neocons you used to hear so much about. I want a powerful presidency, able to project American power effectively. My bias is that Congress tends to be parochial, irresponsible, and self-interested. Worse, it’s dangerously easy for Congress to be captured by a minority of a minority of a minority: the Tea Party of today; the ultra-liberal Democrats of the mid-1970s. Under the theory of the Constitution, Congress passes laws and adopts budgets, while the Executive enforces laws and follows budgets. But recent Congresses have stumbled at law-making. The budgeting process has collapsed altogether. Instead, Congress devotes more and more of its energy to blocking Executive appointments and obstructing Executive functions. So that’s why I welcome curtailment of the filibuster. But what I’m left wondering is why the people who forced through the curtailment welcomed it.

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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are seen during a news conference on Capitol Hill, November 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty)

The new Senate rules appear to tilt the balance of institutional power in favor of the Senate majority, which has been Democratic since 2007 and was Republican for 18 of the 26 years between 1981 and 2007. But the true winner is the Executive, not the Senate majority. Senators in the majority have relished the power to deny a president a vote on a nominee—and have often used it, too. In 1997, President Clinton nominated former Massachusetts governor William Weld, a Republican, as ambassador to Mexico. It was a majority senator, Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms, who barred his fellow Republican’s nomination from ever reaching the Senate floor.

From here on, presidential appointees to the Executive branch will get their up-or-down vote. So will presidential appointees to the appellate bench. Senators of both parties have lost a power they once used to extract favors and settle scores.

Tough Talk

Hillary’s Iran Trap

During the 2008 race, Clinton was seen as a better friend to Israel than Obama. But she was also the first top U.S. official to float the nuclear deal idea. So what happens if it fails?

Aside from the tens of millions of Jews and Arabs within missile reach of a future Iranian nuclear bomb, probably nobody on earth is more nervous about the new Iranian nuke deal than Democratic presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton.

The deal is built on an unexpected American concession. Until this month, the U.S. pressed other countries to support and enforce U.N. sanctions that called on Iran to stop enriching uranium. At Geneva, the U.S. abruptly changed policy—and undermined six U.N. Security Council resolutions in the process. 

And who was the first high American official to suggest the U.S. might accept an Iranian uranium enrichment program? None other than Clinton, all the way back in 2010. In an interview with BBC that year, the then-secretary of state said of Iran: “They can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international obligations.”

She made similar statements to other journalists that year, including Time’s Michael Crowley. It was obviously a carefully constructed trial balloon. Clinton tethered the balloon with conditions—“responsible manner,” “international obligations”—but there it was, fluttering beguilingly. “No, absolutely” had just been amended to “Yes, possibly.”

Get Over It

Forget Repeal. Think Reform.

No matter who becomes president in 2016, stripping Medicaid coverage for millions of Americans will not be an option. It’s time to start discussing how to reform—not repeal—Obamacare.

Over the past month, as the Obamacare exchanges have bounced and crashed, some 400,000 Americans have enrolled in Medicaid or S-Chip, the children's health program. The architects of the Affordable Care Act expected that about half the people who would gain coverage under the law would do so through Medicaid; about half through the much more publicized exchanges. Website troubles and high prices have depressed exchange sign up. But Medicaid sign-ups are trundling along in half the states. (In 21 others, governors and state legislatures have refused the ACA's Medicaid expansion and the accompanying federal dollars. Four states have not yet decided one way or the other.)

Here's just some of what this means in human terms:

350,000 new Medicaid enrollments in Arizona. 1.4 million new enrollments in California. 342,000 in Illinois. 78,000 in Nevada. 91,500 in West Virginia.

More states may soon follow, with Pennsylvania and Virginia the most likely next in line. If a "repeal ACA" president takes office in 2017, he or she will face a reality in which repeal means stripping millions of people—potentially up to 10 million—of a government benefit they will by then have enjoyed for more than three years. Such a move would be the most radical reduction in social coverage ever seen in a democratic country. Ronald Reagan never tried anything even close to that.

Future

The Dems’ Fork in the Road

Liberals love Liz Warren and Bill de Blasio. But if Republicans keep imploding, it’s more likely that Dems will fill the power vacuum with the pro-business style of Terry McAuliffe.

For a brief glimmering moment last week, progressive Democrats could imagine Bill de Blasio as the future face of their party. New York's mayor-elect strummed every mystic chord. Tax the rich! Tether the cops! More money for unionized public schools! 

deblasio

In the wake of the de Blasio win, the party’s left wing could let its imagination travel to an exciting future. As Peter Beinart wrote in The Daily Beast: "Bill de Blasio’s mayoral campaign offers a glimpse into what an Occupy-inspired challenge to Clintonism might look like." Could Occupy Wall Street yet prove a harbinger rather than a fizzle? It's no secret that the Obama presidency has badly disappointed progressives in many important ways. It's also no secret that many progressives regard Hillary Clinton with apprehension and mistrust and long instead for an Elizabeth Warren candidacy and a full-throated attack on "Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—[who] still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them." 

Could it be? Could it really be? 

Sick

The Obamacare Death Spiral

For people with high incomes, rising insurance rates are a hassle. But for the struggling young, they’re a real problem. Here’s how the whole thing could come undone.

For me, Obamacare will mean $200 a month in higher premiums and almost a $2,000 higher deductible for my family. I'm not alone. Every day brings a new report by someone in a similar situation. 

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Chris Ryan/Getty

On Friday, Jonathan Chait boldly argued that all this is as it should be. 

[I]t is true that some people actually are getting decent individual health insurance, and have to pay more under Obamacare. Before, insurers could charge them a rate based on their individual likelihood of needing medical care, and some people are lucky enough to present a very low actuarial health risk. Now those people will have to pay a rate averaging in the cost of others who are less medically fortunate.

Conversations

Welcome to My World

This is what happens when you try to explain that you're not a supporter of the president's policies.

Q: What do you think of President Obama?

Me: I think he's a big tax, spend, and over-regulate liberal.

Q: So, he's a communist then?

Me: No, not a communist.

Q: Trying to overthrow the Constitution and deliberately capsize the U.S. economy?

Me: No, he's not trying to do that.

Q: He's motivated by a deep-seated hatred of white people?

Me: Don't be absurd.

Q: His healthcare reform will extinguish all freedom and literally sentence our seniors to death.

Me: Hardly.

Q: You'd agree that he secretly sympathizes with the Muslim Brotherhood and America's enemies?

Me: That's crazy!

Q: Why are you always defending President Obama?

Rebuttal

Getting It Right on Obamacare

I hate to say ‘I told you so,’ but extremist Republicans still don’t understand that their obstruction on health-care reform isn’t helping. Here’s what I have to say to the critics.

I’m only human, and I’ve slipped once or twice. Yet on the whole, I think I’ve done a decent job biting back the “I told you so”s to my fellow Republicans on the subject of Obamacare. I don’t expect any kind of parade of recognition for having predicted the outcome accurately. On the other hand, it is annoying—after having predicted everything accurately—to hear “Ha ha yah boo!” from people who got everything wrong.

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Joe Raedle/Getty

For more than four years, I’ve argued the following about Obamacare and health reform:

1) The Affordable Care Act is a bad law. Among other problems: It doesn’t do enough to control costs. It over-regulates the insurance industry—the people who should have the mission of cost control. It expands Medicaid too much, burdening states with future financial obligations. And it is financed with taxes that will slow economic growth.

It Could Happen

How Ted Cruz Can Win in ‘16

Forget what you think you know about the next presidential election. David Frum details how the junior senator from Texas can take the White House.

Three years out, few bets in U.S. politics looked as sure as Hillary Clinton’s election to the presidency in 2016. Republicans had badly polluted their brand in the debt ceiling standoff. Their coalition seemed to have dwindled to an embittered band of older white Southern men.

BUSH SECOND TERM

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

But it’s never wise to predict the future by projecting forward from the present.

By spring 2014, the U.S. economy had been expanding for almost 60 months, the fifth-longest expansion in U.S. history, but also the weakest and most lop-sided. Through the expansion, poorer Americans failed to raise their consumption to pre-2007 levels, even as richer Americans bid stock prices to record highs.

Don’t Do It!

Obama’s Immigration Folly

Rumor has it the president will pivot to immigration reform next. That’s a bad idea, writes David Frum—it’s a path littered with the same obstacles that nearly brought down Obamacare.

Overreach: nobody’s immune to it. Republicans overreached in the debt ceiling fight. Now, by some reports, President Obama is tempted to do the same.

immigration

Thousands of immigrants marched on the US capital Washington to demand immigration reform on October 8, 2013. (Anadolu Agency/Getty)

Those reports state that Obama intends to proceed from the debt battle to the immigration issue, taking up again his plan to regularize the status of millions of people illegally present in the United States. Let’s leave aside for the moment the policy merits of the president’s immigration proposals. (I think they’re dreadful, but your mileage may vary.) Consider instead the politics of advancing this measure in a polarized Congress and a recession-battered country.

Why is the debate over the Affordable Care Act—Obamacare—so bitter? Yes, it’s a big and expensive new entitlement. But so was Medicare Part D back in 2004, and that program provoked nothing like the controversy of the ACA.

Battle Lines

Calling All Moderates

We know you're out there. David Frum calls upon the GOP's rational caucus to step up before it's too late.

Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce declared in favor of a clean, unconditional vote to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government. The Chamber pledged to support with campaign donations any Republican member of Congress who faced a primary challenge after casting such a vote. The Chamber's decision is not a turn of the tide, but it is a shift in the wind.

Speaker of the House John Boehner

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) leaves a meeting of the House Republican caucus at the U.S. Capitol October 8, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty)

I wrote recently about the bad habits among Republicans that have enabled this week's debt crisis, the latest in a long series of crises since 2009. All these crises have had the same fundamental cause: many Republicans have become so radicalized in the Obama years that they are willing to jettison the accustomed rules and norms of politics. Many—but not all.

There has always been a pool of Republicans who have doubted the party's radical turn. Until now, however, these Republicans have been quiet and passive. They came out to vote in 2010, but they did not join Tea Party rallies. They supported Mitt Romney in the primaries because he looked like a potential president, but they did not object when Romney fastened his campaign to the deadweight anchor of the Ryan plan. They look to Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell to fend off the crazies in the caucus, but they did not understand that those leaders' strategy for "fending off" the crazies consisted of abject appeasement of the crazies.

article

The Greatness of a Modest Man

Most who seek the presidency are driven by a need to compensate for something missing in themselves. But George H.W. Bush was missing nothing—and that made him a better president.

George H.W. Bush was that rarest of rarities: a genuinely modest man in the office of the presidency. He was always uncomfortable with the word “I,” to the point where it was difficult for him to campaign on his accomplishments. He could form a genuine post-presidential friendship with Bill Clinton, the man who had defeated him in 1992. He cheerfully accepted that his party made a hero of Ronald Reagan, but not him. And when his own son won the presidency in turn, he preserved absolute silence about the advice (if any) he offered and about the differences (although many) between them.

GEORGE BUSH

AP Photo

So many of the men who have sought the presidency seem impelled by a desire to compensate for something missing in themselves. George H.W. Bush was missing nothing. Born to wealth and position, he gained more by his own efforts. He fought bravely in war, and excelled at sports, scholarship, and business. He’d made a sufficient fortune by age 40—but nothing like the vast accumulations that lead contemporary self-funders to turn to politics as if a governorship or senatorship were one more thing their money could buy. Instead, he seem inspired by a much older American idea: that once a man has enough, it’s indecent to seek more; that a man who has made a success of the first half of his life owes the second half to the service of his community, his state, and his country. 

So many of the men who have gained the presidency were magnificent monsters, craving the cheering of millions but indifferent to personal relationships. In everything except his achievements, the elder Bush was a more normal man. He had friends, not just political allies. He delighted in his family. He found love, comfort, and consolation in a marriage that was as much a marriage at the end as at the joyous and passionate start.

Upside-Down World

Where the Right Is Winning

In the U.K., the ideologically rigid left can’t keep up with David Cameron’s ruling Conservatives. David Frum reports from a party pep rally.

As American conservatives shut down their government, British Conservatives are preparing for a second term running theirs.

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Phil Noble/Reuters

This is the week of the Conservative Party conference in the city of Manchester. In its theme and tone, the conference offers a course correction away from the touchy-feely politics that elected David Cameron back in 2010. Banners proclaim the conference slogan: "For hardworking people." Huge placards bracketing the entrance to the convention center list six principal government achievements, three on each side of the huge gate:

"Taxes cut for 25 million people.

Mayday

Prepare for Shutdown

Uh oh! A House plan to delay Obamacare has put the government on the brink of a shutdown—for real this time. David Frum on why the infighting is sure to backfire on the Republicans.

The federal government swerved toward a shutdown on Saturday when House Republicans demanded to hold a vote to delay Obamacare by one year instead of cooperating with the Senate to pass a “clean” spending bill. It's now practically assured that parts of the government will go dark on Tuesday for the first time in 17 years. 

From a Republican point of view, there are three possible happy endings to the looming catastrophe.

Happy Ending #1: The president blinks. He's blinked before after all—notably when he agreed to sequestration in 2011—and who knows? He might blink again.

Problem with Happy Ending #1: This time, though, "blinking" means blowing up the president's most important legacy: his health-care plan. That's more than a blink. He might as well hand in his resignation after that.

About the Author

Author headshot

David Frum

David Frum is a contributing editor at The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor. He is the author of eight books, including most recently the e-book WHY ROMNEY LOST and his first novel Patriots, published in April 2012.

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