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Friday, January 30, 2015

Cruising the Web

Having embarrassed himself and his White House yesterday by claiming that the Taliban is an "armed insurgency," but not a terrorist organization, now Press Secretary Josh Earnest has modified Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz's statement to further obfuscate the ridiculous position of this administration. Now he's claiming that the Taliban is still not a terrorist organization, but they do "pursue terrorist attacks."
Today, [ABC's Jonathan Karl] was back again, asking, "Yesterday it was said that the United States government, that the White House, does not consider the Taliban to be a terrorist organization. I'm just wondering how that is consistent with what I believe is the designation that the Treasury Department has on its list of Specially Designated Terrorist Groups which clearly lists the Taliban. So, does the administration consider the Taliban a terrorist organization or not?"

Earnest responded, "John [sic], the reason that the Taliban is listed on this description that you have put forward here, is for two reasons. One is they do carry out tactics that are akin to terrorism. They do pursue terror attacks in an effort to advance their agenda and by designating them in the way that you have described, does allow the United States to put in place some financial sanctions against the leaders of that organization in a way that has been beneficial to our ongoing efforts against the Taliban."

"Now what is also true though," Earnest continued, "is that it is important to draw a distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban has resorted to terror tactics, but those terror tactics have been principally focused on Afghanistan. ... Al Qaeda is an organization that has aspirations beyond just the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al Qaeda and its affiliates around the globe, have sought to carry out terror attacks against Americans and American interests all around the globe. And that explains the difference between the classification."
Got that? It's just silliness piled upon ridiculousness. As Conn Carroll explains,
As Earnest admits the Taliban does "pursue terror attacks in an effort to advance their agenda" and the Obama administration uses this Treasury list to "place some financial sanctions against the leaders of that organization in a way that has been beneficial to our ongoing efforts against the Taliban."

So if the Taliban carries out terror attacks, and the Obama administration uses those terror attacks as justification to freeze their assets, why aren't the Taliban terrorists?

Earnest says the Taliban are not terrorists because their "terror tactics have been principally focussed on Afghanistan" while al Qaeda attacks American interests around the globe.

But the official State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations is chock-full lot groups that only focus on local grievances. The Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Irish Republican Army are just some of the terrorist groups listed by the State Department that are "principally focussed" on local disputes.

The reality is that Obama does consider the Taliban a terrorist group, but he just can't admit it because then his trade for Bergdahl would violate America's longstanding principle against negotiating with terrorists for hostages.

And now we find out this unsurprising news.
he U.S. military and intelligence community now suspect that one of the five Taliban detainees released from Guantanamo Bay in return for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in May of last year has attempted to return to militant activity from his current location in Qatar, CNN has learned exclusively.

The development has led to an ongoing debate inside the administration about whether there is a new threat from this man, and potentially the other four.

This is the first known suggestion that any of the detainees involved in the exchange may be trying to engage again in militant activity. It comes at a politically sensitive time as the administration has quickened the pace of prisoner release in an effort to encourage the closure of the Guantanamo, and the Army must decide in the coming weeks whether and how to punish Bergdahl for leaving his post.
Ya think?





Charles Krauthammer writes, in the wake of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, that Europe has returned to its norm of anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism has returned to Europe. With a vengeance.
The rise of European anti-Semitism is, in reality, just a return to the norm. For a millennium, virulent Jew-hatred — persecution, expulsions, massacres — was the norm in Europe until the shame of the Holocaust created a temporary anomaly wherein anti-Semitism became socially unacceptable.

The hiatus is over. Jew-hatred is back, recapitulating the past with impressive zeal. Italians protesting Gaza handed out leaflets calling for a boycott of Jewish merchants. As in the 1930s. A widely popular French comedian has introduced a variant of the Nazi salute. In Berlin, Gaza brought out a mob chanting, “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone!” Berlin, mind you.

European anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, however. It’s a European problem, a stain, a disease of which Europe is congenitally unable to rid itself.
We were just discussing the Dreyfus Affair yesterday in my AP European History class and how it led to the birth of the Zionist movement as Theodor Hertzl realized that Jews would never be safe in Europe and recommended that they settle in what would one day become Israel. One of my students made the connection to what is going on in Europe today and how Netanyahu made a speech welcoming Europe's Jews to immigrate to Israel. Though they won't be safe there. As Krauthammer points out, the most dire threat to the world's Jews lies in the Middle East.
The threat to the Jewish future lies not in Europe but in the Muslim Middle East, today the heart of global anti-Semitism, a veritable factory of anti-Jewish literature, films, blood libels and calls for violence, indeed for another genocide.

The founding charter of Hamas calls not just for the eradication of Israel but for the killing of Jews everywhere. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah welcomes Jewish emigration to Israel — because it makes the killing easier: “If Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.’’ And, of course, Iran openly declares as its sacred mission the annihilation of Israel.

For America, Europe and the moderate Arabs, there are powerful reasons having nothing to do with Israel for trying to prevent an apocalyptic, fanatically anti-Western clerical regime in Tehran from getting the bomb: Iranian hegemony, nuclear proliferation (including to terror groups) and elemental national security.

For Israel, however, the threat is of a different order. Direct, immediate and mortal.
And somehow, I don't put much faith in Iran's promises to be good when they're also publicly announcing of their goal to eradicate Israel from the face of the earth. And the Obama administration is trusting their promise not to do what they publicly say they want to do. Krauthammer concludes,
The Iranian bomb is a national security issue, an alliance issue and a regional Middle East issue. But it is also a uniquely Jewish issue because of Israel’s situation as the only state on earth overtly threatened with extinction, facing a potential nuclear power overtly threatening that extinction.

On the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz, mourning dead Jews is easy. And, forgive me, cheap. Want to truly honor the dead? Show solidarity with the living — Israel and its 6 million Jews. Make “never again” more than an empty phrase. It took Nazi Germany seven years to kill 6 million Jews. It would take a nuclear Iran one day.

It has become routine. If the kosher-grocery massacre in Paris hadn’t happened in conjunction with Charlie Hebdo, how much worldwide notice would it have received? As little as did the murder of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse. As little as did the terror attack that killed four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.

Of course, we're used to hypocrisy among our nation's political leaders, but Harry Reid really takes the prize. Now he's babbling about how valuable the filibuster rule is to protect the minority. Please. Just stop.

Hugh Hewitt has put forth a strategy for the Republicans to use in this period before the 2016 campaign produces a GOP nominee for attacking Hillary Clinton. Republicans have the advantage of knowing who the nominee will be and can start the efforts to clarify her image for the American electorate.

The CBO has some grim projections for our national debt.




The Obama administration has just decided that perhaps they do indeed an authorization for the use of military force to fight ISIS.

This is no surprise from a country government by Vladimir Putin who called the break-up of the Soviet Union as the "greatest geopolitical disaster of the last century."
Russian lawmakers will consider a new statement that would condemn an event that happened 25 years ago – the reunification of Germany.

According to Russian news agency Tass, State Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin has asked the Duma's Committee on Foreign Affairs to look into condemning the "annexation" of East Germany by West Germany in 1989.
Laugh now, but who would have predicted that Russia would take over the Crimea this past year.

Ian Tuttle notes that the Castros are not showing much love to the U.S. in response to the Obama administration's pledge to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. Tuttle titles his post, "If you give a dictator a cookie..." Exactly.



The new Republican governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, is taking on government unions for the way they've been raking in money and benefits while bankrupting the state's treasury. Good luck to him.

Stella Morabito writes in The Federalist to draw the connection between over-anxious, helicopter parents who are reducing children's ability to be self-reliant and those who argue that we need government to provide more and more for what we used to rely on ourselves to achieve.



Obama's budget proposal reveals what Obama is like when he's unleashed from concerns about being reelected.
The president has already proposed — and had to drop — a plan to tax college savings accounts. He’s writing for The Huffington Post. He declared war on “mindless austerity” while pledging fresh tax hikes on banks and the rich to pay for free community college and other goodies. Remember those budget caps put in place in 2011? Obama wants to blast right through them.

It’s a progressive’s dream version of Obama, untethered from earlier centrist leanings and flirtations with “grand bargains” with Republicans on entitlement reform. But the approach also carries significant risks, analysts and some Democrats say.
Obama could wind up alienating moderate swing voters who still tend to worry about debt and deficits, generally oppose higher taxes and fear the economy the president is now celebrating is not really all that great. And the president could wind up bequeathing to nominee-in-waiting Hillary Clinton a Democratic Party that is oriented well to the left of her traditional comfort zone, making an eventual general election campaign more challenging.

Congressional Democrats miss the Clintons.
Congressional Democrats for the past six years have lamented their chilly relationship with President Barack Obama. He doesn’t schmooze enough, they say. He is missing the glad-handing gene that makes politics fun. He just doesn’t get it.

But they are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel: the prospect of a Clinton back in the White House.

Hillary Clinton’s all-but-certain 2016 bid has perked up Democrats, as they once again dream of invites to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, rowdy late-night dinners, overnights in the Lincoln Bedroom and, not least, consultation on policy and politics.
Ah, yes. Those were the days...

Here are some good questions for Hillary Clinton. For example,
How would you explain to a normal American why you insist on charging a public university $300,000 to hear you speak?

-If your first instinct is to point out that $300,000 is a “special university rate,” do you realize how ridiculous that sounds?
-You’ve been in politics long enough to know how poor these optics are, how potentially damaging it could be to one’s political ambitions, so why run that risk for an extra $300,000?
-That may be about six times the U.S. median income, but it’s not a life-changing amount for a someone like you, is it?
-President Obama, who you have praised for his approach to helping the middle class, has said: “At a certain point, you’ve made enough money.” Do you agree or disagree? -How would you define “enough” money? Is it more or less than your current net worth?
-What is the point of demanding $300,000 from a taxpayer-funded university? Why not do it for free, when it’s so easy to make that money elsewhere, by giving a one-hour speech to a group of Goldman Sachs executives, for example, and when doing so would make you look good politically? Is there something about your current financial situation that we don’t know that would explain your voracious quest for cash?
-Will you be able to maintain your current lifestyle requirements on a presidential salary of only $400,000 a year?
On the same note, what would liberals say about a Republican who got so many free rides on privately-owned jets?
Hillary Clinton took more than 200 privately chartered flights at taxpayer expense during her eight years in the U.S. Senate, sometimes using the jets of corporations and major campaign donors as she racked up $225,756 in flight costs.

Clinton, 67, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, reported the travel in official filings with the Senate. The records were provided to Bloomberg News by a Republican operative.

Some of the companies whose planes she used included Coca-Cola Co., Citigroup Inc. and Saban Capital Group Inc.

While the flights fell within congressional rules and were not out of the ordinary for senators at the time, they could play into the emerging Republican line of attack that Clinton’s wealth and years in government office have left her out of touch with the voters she’ll court on the campaign trail.
I'm sure there are a lot of Democrats who are unenthusiastic about the notion of Hillary Clinton as their party's prohibitive nominee. Probably about as unexcited Republicans were about Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. But that's the way politics often works out - we end up with having to choose the least bad candidate. And, as Jay Cost writes, the Democrats have a "shockingly weak" bench.
At this point, the only three other candidates seriously considering the race are: Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor who is decidedly lackluster; Jim Webb, the quirky one-term senator who -- oh by the way! -- used to work in the Reagan Administration (Democratic voters will love that); and Bernie Sanders, who does not even call himself a Democrat (he’s a socialist).

Why are the only three challengers such fourth-raters? Peruse the sitting governors who are Democrats. Don’t worry, it won’t take you very long. You’ll see that none of them could be serious contenders. They either hail from small states, were just recently elected, were barely reelected, or are quirky/problematic.

Now take a gander at the party’s Senate caucus. If you squint really hard you might imagine some of them could be presidential material, but not really. The overwhelming majority are too old, too dull, too new, or barely won reelection. Elizabeth Warren is the only exception out of these 45 senators, and she looks like she is not going to run.

The media, in their relentless focus on the micro-political cycle (not to mention their eager cheerleading for the Democrats), are representing the party as being in a strong position. “Obama is up in the polls (a little bit)! Hillary is going to raise lots of money! They’re back!”

But look past those two, and you see precious little in terms of quality would-be candidates. On an aggregate level -- combining House, Senate, state governments -- the Democrats have not been so weak since 1928.



Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cruising the Web

being a White House press secretary is a thankless job. I can't imagine wanting the job of basically lying or spinning every single day. A new low was reached yesterday by Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz as he tried to perform the gymnastics to explain why the trade of five Gitmo prisoners to the Taliban to get back Bowe Berghdahl to the Jordanians trading for the release of prisoners held by ISIS. First Schultz tried to explain that such exchange of prisoners were typically done when a war was ending and then he differentiated between the Taliban and ISIS by saying that ISIS are terrorists while the Taliban are simply "armed insurgents." Kudos to ABC's Jonathan Karl for calling Schultz on this ridiculous formulation. Noah Rothman scoffs at the idea that the Taliban is not a terrorist group and points out that that is how we've been treating them for well over a decade.
We need not re-litigate the myriad horrors perpetrated by Taliban fighters in order to justify the group’s designation as a terrorist organization. We only need to note the most recent one: December’s atrocity in which Taliban fighters stormed an elementary school in Peshawar, Pakistan where they killed 141, including 132 children, and wounded 121 more....

Rather than call this evil what it is, the White House would prefer to preserve its political position by indulging in lawyerly evasion. That’s so craven that it defies reason, but it’s what the country has come to expect from this administration.

Daniel Henninger excoriates what he calls "Obama's Peter Pan Economics."
How can community college be “free” for everyone? This isn’t middle-class economics. It’s Peter Pan economics. In the story of the boy who never grows up, Peter tells the Darling children they can fly if they “think lovely thoughts.”

In Mr. O’s world, tax revenue is sort of like Tinker Bell’s pixie dust. You just scoop up another handful and spread it wherever you want. As he said Saturday: Middle-class economics “means making it easier to afford childcare, college, paid leave, health care, a home, and retirement.”

Unraveling the Obama belief system is a challenge, so let’s take the lower, simpler road and agree with conventional wisdom that “middle-class economics” is mostly about where the votes are.

Mr. Obama is forcing Republicans to defend themselves against the undefinable progressive murk of “fairness,” and he is writing Hillary Clinton ’s campaign agenda before she starts selling him out. In short, the political class has decided that the middle class is ready for its close-up.

What we are about to learn, though, is that “middle class” is just a phrase, whose human reality is more complex and hard to pin down than the Peter Pans of politics believe.

The first indication that politicizing the American middle class carries peril for pols who claim to be its champion came this week when the White House deserted its plan to tax 529 college-savings accounts.

Across millions of kitchen tables since the plan to tax “upper-income” savers was announced, 30- and 40-something spouses said: “He wants to do what?” Even Nancy Pelosi , grandmother of six, went rogue and reportedly asked the White House to drop the idea.

The one datum driving the middle class into the spotlight of presidential politics is that median, inflation-adjusted household income has fallen, from about $54,000 in 2008 to below $52,000.




A man tries a Jewish Black Like Me by walking through Malmo Sweden wearing a yarmulke. The results are not pretty.
Lindgren, walking with a hidden camera and microphone alongside, recorded every step. The report showed the reporter enduring verbal abuse by a man who called him a “Jewish s***” and told him to “leave.” Another person hit him and shouted “Satan Jew,” at him.

As they approached the the city’s neighborhoods with higher Muslim populations, the threats only increased. Some 20 percent of the 300,000 residents of Sweden’s third-largest city are Muslim, according to statistics.

“Then a whole gang came along to threaten the ‘Jewish’ reporter,” while occupants of neighboring homes shouted abuse at him. The broadcast caused a public storm in Sweden, with reactions by public figures, local Jewish organizations and international groups.

The clip, which was broadcast on Sweden’s national television, examined the degree of threats Malmo’s Jews face. The city is infamous for having the largest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country, many of them perpetrated by members of the Muslim community.
Such a result is scary evidence of what Europe's Jews are regularly facing. And they should spark a lot more attention than the young lady who recorded herself walking in NYC and the catcalls she received. Most of the comments were men complimenting her appearance. The reporter posing as a Jew was threatened with violence and harassed with loud anti-Semitic insults. I just finished covering anti-Semitism in the 19th century in my AP European history class. It is so depressing to find it resurging again Europe.

Obama's proposal to tax college savings accounts was withdrawn because Democrats realized that such an attack would hurt their own constituents - the affluent.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, Democrats depend nearly as much on upper-class voters as Republicans do. Democrats represent seven of the 10 wealthiest congressional districts in the country, and Obama also won those districts twice.

In 2008, Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate in decades to win the vote of upper-middle-class Americans (those making a family income of $100,000 or more). Bill Clinton carried just 34 percent of those voters in his successful 1992 campaign; Obama improved on that total by 15 points in 2008.

It's no coincidence, then, that the Democratic leaders who reportedly lobbied Obama to drop the proposal represent two of the most affluent districts in the country. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco seat is the 37th wealthiest in the country, while Budget Committee ranking Democrat Chris Van Hollen's suburban Washington district is in the top 10.

Their districts are filled with constituents—both middle- and upper-class—who have utilized the 529 college accounts to save for their children's tuition. These days, sending a student to a top-tier private university can cost more than $200,000 for four years. Unless you're one of the top 1 percent, that's an economic burden that even the well-off can't afford without help.

"$200,000 in family income is comfortable. But if you're two accountants, or two college professors, the bottom line is if you have to play close to the sticker price for college, that's a tremendous amount of money unless you're so rich nothing is expensive," said Matt Bennett, cofounder of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. "And these are the very people at the heart of the Democratic coalition—highly-educated, fairly well off but not super wealthy."

The decision, and the initial White House response criticizing the tax-free vehicles as tools for the rich, offers a useful peek in the political thinking of the Obama White House. Several Democratic operatives interviewed said that since few of the proposals stood to pass through a Republican Congress, there wasn't the same degree of scrutiny paid to the political impact of all of the budgetary details.

But it also underscores how the White House was wading into dangerous territory by proposing to raise middle-class taxes to pay for preferred government programs. There are only so many ways to generate revenue without hitting political resistance from a key constituency.

As Democrats learned in the 1980s, taxing affluent voters to pay for the benefits of lower-class voters is rarely a smart political strategy. Michael Dukakis won a paltry 32 percent of the vote among upper-class voters in the 1988 presidential election, which prompted a messy intra-party battle for years. It took Bill Clinton's brand of centrism to broaden the party's appeal to the suburban voters who had abandoned Democrats en masse.

When Pelosi and Van Hollen are the politicians crying foul, it raises the specter of a president badly disconnected from his party's best interests. The proposal to tax college savings accounts wasn't close to becoming law, and it would hardly have the same impact as the administration's signature domestic reforms on health care and banking. But it was so resonant because it threatened to hit the pocketbooks of many voters that the party has been winning over.




The WSJ notes that the IRS has hired the contractor that built the Obamacare website.
So what does it take to ruin your reputation around Washington these days? The question comes to mind after learning that one of the capitol’s most corrupt bureaucracies has decided to hire one of its most incompetent contractors—and the answer explains a lot about accountability in government.

Only days after the Internal Revenue Service announced that it would throttle back tax-season customer service in retaliation for modest budget cuts, the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee discovered that the agency had an active $4.46 million contract with CGI Federal. You may recall that company as the same outside website-builder-for-hire that was the lead designer for the ObamaCare website rollout fiasco of 2013.

CGI’s ineptitude was too much even for the Health and Human Services Department, which defenestrated CGI in January 2014. Several states followed. In a letter to the IRS on Friday, Illinois Republican Pete Roskam deadpans, “I am concerned that just months after the HHS and Massachusetts firings, the IRS selected the same contractor to provide critical technology services related to the administration of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

Timothy Carney explains how Obama's agenda tilts against stay-at-home moms.

Reuters has done a study and determined that the Obama administration has steered funding to blue and swing states at the expense of red states.
Red, purple and blue states have all shouldered steep spending cuts after a 2011 budget deal, the analysis found. But those cuts have not been doled out evenly.

Discretionary grant funding to red states like Mississippi fell by 40 percent to $15 billion between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2013, the most recent year for which reliable figures are available. Purple states like Ohio and North Carolina saw a smaller drop of 27 percent, to $19.8 billion, and blue states saw a yet-smaller drop of 22.5 percent, to $27.6 billion. (The tally does not include disaster aid handed out after Hurricane Sandy, which went largely to blue states like New Jersey.)

The disparity doesn't show up in payments like Medicaid that are distributed through pre-set formulas. It also does not appear in Obama's 2009 recession-fighting Recovery Act. It only shows up in federal aid that is most directly controlled by the administration: "project grants," which are doled out on a competitive basis by career civil servants and political appointees.

Of course, many factors other than politics come into play. Some states aren't good at writing grant proposals - researchers at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, for example, found that poor planning has hurt that state's ability to compete for federal dollars. A governor from an oil-producing state may be less inclined to pursue green-energy grants.

But the disparity can't be fully explained by these factors. At Reuters' request, Hudak ran a statistical analysis of spending over this period, controlling for differences in population, economy, percentage of elderly residents, miles of federal highway and the number of research universities and hospitals.

Red states still came up short. After 2011, the average red state got 15 percent fewer grants and 1.3 percent fewer grant dollars than the average swing state. That comes out to roughly 500 grants and $15 million for an average-sized red state like Tennessee - enough to pay for 115 additional police officers or upgrade a rural airport to handle larger planes.
This is not a new tactic for a president. FDR's administration steered New Deal money away from the Southern states he was guaranteed to win and towards swing states.
For defenders of the New Deal, perhaps the most embarrassing revelation about New Deal spending programs is they channeled money AWAY from the South, the poorest region in the United States. The largest share of New Deal spending and loan programs went to political “swing” states in the West and East - where incomes were at least 60% higher than in the South. As an incumbent, FDR didn’t see any point giving much money to the South where voters were already overwhelmingly on his side.

Josh Kraushaar explains how Obama is setting Hillary up to fail. His promise of "free" community college is a prime example.
It's merely a tuition giveaway, one that originally was partly paid for by the very middle- and upper-middle-class families that are saving money for the four-year colleges that Obama has called essential for a successful career. The plan proposed getting rid of the tax exemption on 529 college savings accounts, which have been growing in popularity, to help parents prepare for their childrens' rising education expenses. That provision was so politically tone deaf that the White House withdrew it just one week after the president introduced it.

The proposal smacked of the very redistributive schemes that dogged Democrats throughout the 1980s.

Anytime a politician promises to "lower the cost to zero," as Obama did in his address, it's worth remembering the economic maxim "there's no such thing as a free lunch." And it directly puts a squeeze on the very middle-class constituency that Obama claims to be courting. Hillary Clinton will certainly want to echo a message centered on educational opportunity, but she's probably not eager to alienate a sizable group of voters who will be up for grabs in the next election.

Clinton has been publicly supportive of the president, but he's boxed her into a corner. She can't afford to publicly break with a president whose fortunes align closely with hers. Yet she's undoubtedly aware that her odds of winning the Democratic nomination are very strong, and moving away from the center won't help her in a general election.
Of course, avoiding such future political cul-de-sacs for Hillary would necessitate that Obama actually care and that he has more self-awareness than he he has ever demonstrated.

Sean Davis explains why Jonathan Chait has suddenly come out against political correctness and why we shouldn't believe Chait really is concerned about not attacking people for their speech.

One reporter tried to match a day's worth of drinking what Winston Churchill regularly drank. The results will make you appreciate Churchill even more.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cruising the Web

It's always about him. I used to think that Bill Clinton was our most solipsistic president, but Obama has far out-classed him. The folks at Grabien note how many times that Obama talked about himself in his speech in India this week.
Today in New Delhi, the president of the United States delivered an address to the people of India. Topics ranged from Obama's pride in being the first U.S. president to visit India twice, to the historic nature of his attendance at India's Republic Day Parade, to his grandfather's occupation as a chef, to his graying hair, to his daughters ... to his struggles against political critics back home. If this is starting to sound like the president spoke quite a bit about himself, that's because he did. Somehow in the span of just 33 minutes, Obama referenced himself 118 times. (For those keeping score at home, that's 3.5 Obama references per minute.)

An extraordinary feat, to be sure. (Link via John Hinderaker)
Imagine being a foreign leader listening to Obama rambling on about himself. What must they think? Obama could learn a good lesson by studying his supposed hero, Abraham Lincoln, and how rarely Abraham Lincoln referred to himself in his great speeches.

Of course. The Obama State Department is financing a group which is working to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu. Such interference could actually help Netanyahu in Israel where Obama is so unpopular.

Saudi King Abdullah, whose death our Defense Department is commemorating with an essay contest, has held four of his own daughters in captivity and subjected them to beating. If this is the treatment that princesses receive in Saudi Arabia, think of how ordinary women are treated.




Jonah Goldberg looks at how Oscar Wilde was describing Barack Obama in Wilde's play, Lady Windermere's Fan.
Cecil Graham asks, “What is a cynic?”

Lord Darlington responds, “A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

To which Graham replies, “And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market place of any single thing.”

The phrasing is a bit archaic to the modern ear, but the point is terribly relevant as Obama heads into the home stretch of his presidency. Obama is an ideological sentimentalist; he’s great at identifying things of value, terrible at assessing the costs his esteem brings with it.

He likes community colleges. And he should; they do very important work. But his idea to subsidize them via an expanded federal program is blindingly oblivious to the costs — fiscal and institutional — it would impose, particularly given the fact that, as Reihan Salam notes at National Review Online, “net tuition and fees were $0 for [community college] students from households earning $60,000 or less.” That is probably why Obama wants to let students who keep grades above a C+ use Pell Grants and other aid for living expenses.

But such details don’t matter when weighed against the idea of being in favor of “free” community college.

Over the weekend, the same president who boasted about increased oil and gas production days earlier in the State of the Union address — despite doing nothing to make that possible — announced he wants to designate part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a wilderness, in effect taking billions of barrels of oil off the table. He says it’s worth it because ANWR is “pristine.” His interior secretary compares it to Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, neither of which is pristine because, unlike ANWR, millions of people visit them each year.

A president who believed in negotiating might trade a ban on offshore arctic drilling for opening up ANWR, which would be much safer. He might also consult with Alaska’s political leaders, who passionately oppose Obama’s scheme.

If Obama believed in negotiating, he would have used the Keystone pipeline as a bargaining chip. He would trade the higher taxes he (always) wants for tax reform. He would acknowledge that the GOP won an election in 2014 and that its interests matter.

But negotiating requires acknowledging that people who disagree with you have a legitimate point of view. And such concessions to reality would take Obama out of his comfort zone. And anything outside of that is a no-go zone for this president.

Richard Epstein explains the fallacy lying at the heart of President Obama's approach to foreign policy.
Starting on the foreign policy side, Obama’s policies are driven by the flawed proposition that “smarter” leadership lies in building coalitions that “combine military power with strong diplomacy.” This position, he said in his State of the Union, pays concrete dividends: “In Iraq and Syria, American leadership—including our military power—is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.”

It is all wishful thinking. Militarily, it is never enough to stop an advance if it allows the enemy to use the breathing space to entrench itself further in the places that are under occupation. Obama’s word choice of “ultimately” allows for endless equivocation and delay. The odds of putting together an effective coalition without demonstrable leadership are slim to none, for the President’s only firm commitment—not to use ground troops ever against ISIL—signals to our allies that they too can discharge their obligations by flying the occasional sortie against ISIL positions.

The President may think that it has been an accomplishment to reduce over the past six years the number of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from close to 180,000 to under 15,000. But to everyone else, the civil disorder attributable to American disengagement signals that America is not an ally to be trusted.

The President therefore grossly miscalculates when he concludes that “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.” Unfortunately, the facts on the ground show the opposite. Right now the President is bogged down in negotiations with the Iranians over their deployment of nuclear weapons. Little visible progress has been made to date.

Charlie Cooke sets up his bracket challenge for the GOP nomination.

The NYT publishes a surprisingly complimentary profile of Megyn Kelly, saying that the "Kelly Moment" has arrived.

Apparently, we've been deriving our statistics on global temperatures from faulty sources that slant the results.
In recent years, these two very different ways of measuring global temperature have increasingly been showing quite different results. The surface-based record has shown a temperature trend rising up to 2014 as “the hottest years since records began”. RSS and UAH have, meanwhile, for 18 years been recording no rise in the trend, with 2014 ranking as low as only the sixth warmest since 1997.

One surprise is that the three surface records, all run by passionate believers in man-made warming, in fact derive most of their land surface data from a single source. This is the Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN), managed by the US National Climate Data Center under NOAA, which in turn comes under the US Department of Commerce.

But two aspects of this system for measuring surface temperatures have long been worrying a growing array of statisticians, meteorologists and expert science bloggers. One is that the supposedly worldwide network of stations from which GHCN draws its data is flawed. Up to 80 per cent or more of the Earth’s surface is not reliably covered at all. Furthermore, around 1990, the number of stations more than halved, from 12,000 to less than 6,000 – and most of those remaining are concentrated in urban areas or places where studies have shown that, thanks to the “urban heat island effect”, readings can be up to 2 degrees higher than in those rural areas where thousands of stations were lost.

Ah, good to know what I should be upset about. The newest front in feminism is fighting the Man about...T-shirts.




Stephen Moore explains why the improvement in the economy is really illusory.
Still, if things are as good as the White House says they are, why do we feel so bad? Why are we collectively so worried about the fragile future of our nation?

One answer is that the conventional statistics of economic conditions for families aren’t measuring the real hardships families are facing today. Is there anyone on this continent, who really thinks that the unemployment rate is 5.6 percent?

But here are a dirty bunch of hidden indicators pointing to an American economy that may be in a lot worse shape than Washington is telling us:

The $1 trillion growth gap. This economic recovery is the slowest in 50 years. If we had had the same pace of improvement since June 2009 when the recession ended as in an average recovery, national output and incomes would be more than $1 trillion larger today. In other words, we would have about $10,000 more income per family than we do.

The raiseless recovery. It’s been 10 years since Americans in the middle class got a pay raise that kept pace with inflation. Median income households today make $1,500 less than they did even since the recession officially ended. The recession really hasn’t ended for half of all families.

The myth that inflation is dead. By looking at what middle-income families have to buy — food, energy, tuition and health care — prices have been running two to three times the official rate. Low gas prices recently are helping, but health costs are rising again — despite the Obamacare promise to bend the cost curve down. Oops.

Inequality is worse. President Obama has made closing the gap between rich and poor his highest priority. Guess what? The Gini coefficient (as measured by the Census Bureau), the left’s favorite measure of income inequality, rose each of Mr. Obama’s first four years in office, breaking all-time highs in both 2011 and 2012, and it remains high.

Where are the new small businesses? According to an analysis by the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, the rate of business creation dipped to just 0.28 percent of all adults in 2013. It’s been since 2001 that business creation rates were this low. The latest available data from the Census Bureau (2012) shows business creation only slightly rebounding from the recession lows.

The American dream goes bust. A 2014 Pew Research Poll found only 34 percent of Americans think their children will be better off than they are. This pessimism contrasts sharply with Mr. Obama’s rosy scenario.

Economists have found that the employment boom we're seeing today is mostly due to ending the unemployment benefits. And, of course, Obama wants to renew extensions of those benefits.
About 60 percent of the job creation in 2014, 1.8 million jobs, they find, can be attributed to the end of the extended-benefits program. That’s a huge amount, and suggests that long-term unemployment benefits, while there’s a good charitable case for them, could have played a big role in the ongoing lassitude of our labor market. (Indeed, an earlier working paper from a few of the same authors argued that extended benefits raised the unemployment rate during the Great Recession by three percentage points; see a summary of that paper here.)

John McWhorter wishes that civil rights leaders would worry about real problems, not phony racism such as worrying about how many Oscar nominations black performers receive.
It isn’t, for example, that Selma got no nominations: It was nominated for Best Picture. But because no actors in the film were nominated, nor was its director Ava DuVernay, racism is ever with us? But for the past 16 years, a person of color has always been nominated for an acting award. Plus, just last year, 12 Years a Slave, produced and directed by a black man, won Best Picture. In recent years, the Academy has granted Oscars to Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker, Halle Berry, Lou Gossett, Cuba Gooding, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer and Lupita Nyong’o. Try explaining to a child how that body of voters qualifies as “racist.”

If progress has been really happening with the Academy and race, then by sheer logic, the year had to come when acknowledging black achievement became so ordinary and accepted that even a black film ended up being sidelined by matters of glitz and chance. That is, one day black films would start occasionally getting ordinary – and thus imperfect – treatment: think Forrest Gump beating out Pulp Fiction. “Occasionally” had to start with a first time: this seems to have been it.
Actually, I would have voted for Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction which seemed way over-rated to me. But McWhorter is smack on when he contrasts the past 100 years ago and notes that the racist Birth of a Nation came out 100 years ago this year and now the concern is that Selma didn't get enough nominations. He sees a parallel in this sort of, what he calls, "Black Tantrum" with the protests over tests on which black children don't do as well as other children.
And that tantrum is a variation on a theme. For example, the NAACP filed a Civil Rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education in 2012, which continued getting news coverage through last year. New York City bases admission to its most competitive three public schools on a test. Seeing that only 33 out of 3281 of these schools’ students were black in the 2013-4 school year, the NAACP has declared the tests “racist.”

So, Civil Rights, 21st century-style: If black kids don’t do well on a test, the solution is not to see how we can teach them to do better on it, as can be done. Rather, the higher wisdom is to call for the authorities to get rid of it, make it easier, make it optional, or at least make it count for much less.

But just imagine the whites who founded the NAACP in 1909 sagely declaring that black schoolchildren shall not be expected to pass tests. They would be gleefully held up as grand old racists today. How is this new vision of black intelligence any different? Try to pass the test or try to get rid of it? Black Power or Black Cower?

After the weekend's showcases for the GOP candidates in 2016, it seems that Scott Walker came out of the weekend with the most buzz. And now Rush Limbaugh has given Walker a full-throated endorsement, his star will rise even more. Marco Rubio also did well for himself as he appeared at a Koch Brothers event to discuss policy on a stage with Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Republicans shouldn't underestimate Marco Rubio.

This Washington Post headline says it all: "Two weeks after Zuckerberg said ‘je suis Charlie,’ Facebook begins censoring images of prophet Muhammad"

Paul Mirengoff explains the extraordinary claim that the Obama administration has made before the Supreme Court denying judicial review to a government agency filing a lawsuit.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cruising the Web

Philip Bump writes in the Washington Post that Hillary has no strategy to get people excited about voting for her.
No, commenters and people on Twitter, the best president is not the one who has the best ability to invigorate voters. But this is, you may have noticed, a key component of how we pick presidents in an age so thoroughly saturated with marketing. And Clinton, although not without vocal supporters, seems continuously unlikely to be the most energizing candidate. "Ready for Hillary" often seemed less like a grass-roots push born of uncontainable excitement than a sharp strategy from some political consultants looking to align with a winning candidate early in the process. At her book-signing in New York last June, the refrain from those who bought "Hard Choices" was commonly, "Well, she might be president." And those who bought the book were in the stark minority.

How will she overcome this? Reinvent herself, a la Romney in 2012 and Romney in 2016? Learn how to say "secretary of state" in other, more interesting-sounding languages? Clinton is what she is, which serves her very well for locking up the Democratic primary. Then what?

The CBO has figured out how much we're going to be paying for Obamacare. It's not quite the something for nothing that President Obama promised us.
It will cost the federal government – taxpayers, that is – $50,000 for every person who gets health insurance under the Obamacare law, the Congressional Budget Office revealed on Monday.
The number comes from figures buried in a 15-page section of the nonpartisan organization's new ten-year budget outlook.
The best-case scenario described by the CBO would result in 'between 24 million and 27 million' fewer Americans being uninsured in 2025, compared to the year before the Affordable Care Act took effect.
Pulling that off will cost Uncle Sam about $1.35 trillion – or $50,000 per head.

How unbelievably dumb are people in this administration? The Pentagon is holding a "research and essay competition to honor Saudi King Abdullah. Are they also going to celebrate the crushing of all criticism and opposition in Saudi Arabia? What about all the Saudi women who are forbidden from traveling, marrying, or gaining a higher education without approval of the male in their family? What about the treatment of the millions of migrant workers in the country? Or how about blogger Raif Badawi who has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes for supposedly insulting Islam? Is this the kind of record on human rights that our Pentagon should be sponsoring essay contests about?




How convenient that Obama's 2012 field manager is running a campaign to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu's reelection.
The Obama White House has aggressively worked to defeat allied leaders it has not liked and to elect or re-elect foreign leaders it does like. As the Times of Israel recently reported, the list of Obama Administration meddling in foreign elections is a long one.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Merkel, an Obama Administration ally, was hosted at the White House prior to recent German elections. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the left wing Labor Party visited 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, not once, but twice prior to British elections. Those were won by Conservative party leader David Cameron, who himself visited Washington last week at Obama’s invitation to lobby the U.S. Congress against adopting a new sanctions measure to help confront Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program. Oddly, that’s the very issue Obama and the mainstream media now roundly condemn John Boehner for involving himself in.
And Clinton hosted prime minister Shimon Peres a month ahead of his 1996 election when Peres's poll numbers were falling.

Thomas Sowell's "Random Thoughts" columns are always interesting. Here are some of this thoughts from today.
Who says President Obama doesn’t promote bipartisanship? His complicity in Iran’s moving toward nuclear bombs has alarmed some top Senate Democrats enough to get them to join Republicans in opposition to the Obama administration’s potentially suicidal foreign policy.....

If not a single policeman killed a single black individual anywhere in the United States for this entire year, that would not reduce the number of black homicide victims by one percent. When the mobs of protesters declare “Black lives matter,” does that mean all black lives matter — or only the less than one percent of black lives lost in conflicts with police?

Scott Conroy explains why we should not pay as much attention to Iowa.
In the 2012 caucuses, for example, only 122,255 of the 614,913 eligible Republican voters participated—good enough for a record turnout but one that amounted to a mere 19.8 percent participation rate.

Only the most passionate and committed Iowa Republicans—who collectively are older, whiter and more devoutly conservative than the national GOP electorate as a whole—are willing to give up an hour or more of their time on a cold January night to take part in the tradition.

Therefore, the easiest way to stand out in a crowded field in courting their support is by doling out heaping portions of the kind of red meat rhetoric that wows the conservative crowds but also fills national Democratic strategists with visions of President Hillary Clinton dancing in their heads.




Ben Stein asks why President Obama doesn't tell the truth. So much of his State of the Union was pure fantasy.
I have been observing President Obama for a few days and a number of questions have occurred to me:

1. In the President’s State of the Union address, he bragged about how U.S. oil production has surged thanks to shale drilling. Question for Mr. Obama: Does he not recall that he and his followers have been fighting and harassing the oil companies that are finding and producing all of that oil? Does he believe he deserves any credit at all for acts and successes done by people against whom he has waged war since he was a child?

2. In his SOTU, Mr. Obama bragged that the USA now has the highest high school graduation rate in its history. Roughly 80 percent of entering high school freshmen now graduate.

Questions: Is Mr. Obama aware that in the city where he gave his speech, Washington, D.C., only about 53 percent of high school students graduate? Is he aware that in this country the high school graduation rate in predominantly black cities is on average roughly twenty percentage points lower than for whites? Is Mr. Obama in possession of any data that shows whether the students who receive those high school diplomas actually know anything useful?

Mr. Obama boasted repeatedly about his successes fighting terrorists, not some of whom, all of whom are Islamists. Questions: Did he at any point use the word “Islamic” or “Islamist” in referring to terrorists in his speech? Why not? Who is he afraid of? Why can’t he tell the truth?

Is he aware of the near takeover of the strategically key nation of Yemen by Islamic fanatics? Is he aware of any major setbacks to date for the Islamist terrorists in the Middle East or in Nigeria? If he is, would he make them known? Is there anything stopping the Boko Haram from dominating Nigeria? Is he doing anything to stop them? The Islamic State is presently in the approaches to Baghdad. In what way does this show success in the fight against them?

Five years ago, there were dictators in power through the Middle East. They were awful people but their countries were fairly calm. Now, from Algeria to Pakistan, with the exceptions of Israel and Egypt, much of the Arab world is in chaos and has returned to primitive times in terms of the absence of law.

Question: In what way does this show success for Mr. Obama?

Mary Katharine Ham explains why cynicism is the proper response to President Obama.

Ed Lasky has a recommendation for Congressional Republicans needing a strategy to deal with President Obama.
No, as usual. It’s you, America, not him.

His self-conception is of a man who is simultaneously nearly all-powerful and utterly stymied at every turn by the very smallest of routine disputes of American politics. Like the ignorant omniscience I’ve written about before, this impotent power absolves him of all responsibility while he congratulates himself for what he could have accomplished if not for you, America.

If indeed a benevolent and intelligent executive like Obama (as he sees himself) is unable to turn the clumsy machine of the federal government to righteous action, if the great uniter is indeed unable to bring about anything close to a new kind of politics, why is he surprised that Americans wonder then how much of their welfare should be put into the hands of this clumsy machine and its inept managers? The vision he proffered was that his presence would change things, and when that visions did not materialize, of course right people lost some faith in him and the institutions he’s constantly pitching as the solutions to our problems. That is how it should work....

This section of Obama’s State of the Union makes it clear this is still the plan for most everything the president would like to accomplish. Announce Plan _____ would be super-keen and make everyone happy, make no plans for accomplishing Plan _____, subjugate success of Plan _____ to day-to-day political considerations, give speeches about how Plan ____’s awesomeness is being foiled by everyone else’s cynicism.

Frankly, I think the American public is far too easy on the federal government and its ability to accomplish anything well. We are a friendly people bent toward optimism even when it’s nearly ridiculous. Despite that, during Obama’s administration, faith in public institutions has fallen to all-time lows.

And, if this is what President Obama is offering in year six of this odyssey, the American people are right to respond with skepticism. That, and its more malevolent cousin, cynicism, are what he deserves.

Along those same lines, Seth Mandel ponders Obama's imaginary world.

The director of the EPA chose the wrong week to warn about global warming could lead to shortages of snow for the sporting industry. Powerline notes that global warming alarmists used to warn us how global warming would lead to decreased snow storms, but now they've changed their analysis to day that global warming is causing increased snow storms.
Only it turned out that–heh–the current decade is the worst ever recorded for major impact snowstorms on the East Coast, with 14, even though it is only half over. So now the alarmists are changing their tune, and blaming snowstorms on global warming. (The same thing is going on in Germany.) This is a perfect illustration of why global warming alarmism is not science. If you are doing science, you come up with a theory and you identify implications of that theory–if the theory is correct, then what facts will be observable? If those facts are not observed, the theory has been proved wrong. When no state of affairs can ever be deemed inconsistent with a theory, then the theory is not a scientific theory at all, but rather a religious or spiritual belief. Or possibly just a hoax.