Monday, September 01, 2014

Cruising the Web

Victor Davis Hanson details Obama's weak knowledge of history. He just doesn't seem to know very much and keeps getting details wrong. But that doesn't matter to him since he has a progressive view of historic forces leading inexorably towards better, more civilized times. That's why he keeps saying that those he disapproves of are "on the wrong side of history," or that Putin or ISIS are not behaving as one should in the 21st century and that is why they are doomed to failure.
A Pollyannaish belief in historical predetermination seems to substitute for action. If Obama believes that evil should be absent in the 21st century, or that the arc of the moral universe must always bend toward justice, or that being on the wrong side of history has consequences, then he may think inanimate forces can take care of things as we need merely watch.

In truth, history is messier. Unfortunately, only force will stop seventh-century monsters like the Islamic State from killing thousands more innocents. Obama may think that reminding Putin that he is now in the 21st century will so embarrass the dictator that he will back off from Ukraine. But the brutish Putin may think that not being labeled a 21st-century civilized sophisticate is a compliment.

In 1935, French foreign minister Pierre Laval warned Joseph Stalin that the Pope would admonish him to go easy on Catholics — as if such moral lectures worked in the supposedly civilized 20th century. Stalin quickly disabused Laval of that naiveté. “The Pope?” Stalin asked, “How many divisions has he got?”

There is little evidence that human nature has changed over the centuries, despite massive government efforts to make us think and act nicer. What drives Putin, Boko Haram, or ISIS are the same age-old passions, fears, and sense of honor that over the centuries also moved Genghis Khan, the Sudanese Mahdists, and the Barbary pirates.

Obama’s naive belief in predetermined history — especially when his facts are often wrong — is a poor substitute for concrete moral action.
But, in Obama's view, history must be leaning in the right way. After all, he got elected didn't he?

Meanwhile, Jay Cost argues that Obama doesn't really have a vision. Or at least, the only vision he's had was getting elected. After that, he's basically had a bunch of contradictory positions or totally abdicated his responsibility to lead and left it all up to others.
n the sixth year of his presidency, it is clear that Obama does not have much of a vision at all. Sure, he is a man of the left and possesses a commitment to its goals; he thinks government should grow larger and taxes should increase. Beyond that, he does not seem to have a firm sense of the reforms he should implement, how to implement them, how he fits into the constitutional schema, what a sensible U.S. foreign policy should be or how to execute it.

This is not to say that the White House does not offer positions on the issues. We are inundated with Obama positions. We are also treated periodically to longer “think pieces” from sycophantic authors granted extraordinary access to reinforce the point that this is a president deeply engaged in the issues of the day, struggling to bring order from chaos.

Yet the constant positioning and propagandizing belie deep-rooted ambiguities in this administration, which​—​it must be noted​—​has taken flak from left and right for years. Radical academic Cornel West recently suggested that Obama is a corporatist stooge, while Rand Paul fretted about the “socialist nightmare” the president is creating. Some might think these critiques accidentally demonstrate that the president is down-the-center. More likely they point to the absence of “the vision thing.” Sometimes he’s a corporate crony, sometimes a socialist; it all depends on what side of the bed he wakes up on.

Consider health care. If any issue might suggest an Obama vision, this would be it. But what, really, is Obamacare? It is quite unlike Medicare or Social Security. Both programs​—​despite their shortcomings​—​are conscientious mixes of policy ideals and political realities, crafted by men with clear visions. Look carefully at both programs, and you can see that vision, not only of what the proper policy is, but how to get it through Congress and build public support.

Obamacare exhibits none of these qualities. It is a bizarre Rube Goldberg contraption with no clear idea at its core. The exchanges are intended to promote competition while the Medicaid expansion doubles down on single payer. It reins in the insurance companies while the risk corridor program shovels billions to them in bailout cash. It expands coverage for prescription drugs for seniors while simultaneously granting drug companies some exceedingly generous rents.

t is almost as if it were written with no White House input except, “Get me a bill to sign!” The historical record suggests that was more or less the case; apart from tasking his aides to run interference with industry insiders, the president was notably aloof from the proceedings on Capitol Hill. For instance, in a summer 2009 conference call with left-wing bloggers, the president was asked if people would be able to keep their existing insurance. His answer: “You know, I have to say that I am not familiar with the provision you are talking about.” Exactly.
Cost goes on to detail issue after issue where Obama has been on both sides and ends up advocating something that he used to criticize. And then he explains how much of the lack of achievements in Washington are due, not to Republican intransigence, but to Obama's insouciance. Or perhaps his reluctance to work together with those he despises. He may be willing to negotiate with Iran, but not House Republicans.
The current thinking is that common ground has given way to the vile partisanship of House Republicans, but this view withers under scrutiny. Both sides agree on the need for tax reform, and are not that far apart on a framework. Virtually no disinterested observer likes the vast array of farm subsidies; these could be reformed, as they were in 1996 under divided government. Conservative Republicans have recently turned their attention to corporate welfare, which has long been a bane of the left. Further, members of Congress are always bashful about their ties to special interests; a little presidential pressure on this front might yield some long-overdue reforms of the legislative process.

Why couldn’t Obama take the lead on any of these issues? If the country is stalemated on whether the government should grow or shrink, there is still an opportunity to build coalitions on reforming it. This would be good for the liberal project that Obama generally supports. One reason people do not want larger government is that they believe it does a bad job with its current assignments. If Obama spearheaded a campaign to improve various functions of government, people might become amenable to a larger federal presence. Why not go for it?

The answer is “the vision thing.” It includes a mix of traits that Obama does not seem to possess: taking ownership of a public problem, holding fast to core principles, guiding experts toward a solution, making the most of one’s legitimate role in the constitutional system, and building a legislative coalition to transform rhetoric into law. In six years as president, has Obama ever once done that, start to finish?

In the final analysis, Obama’s vision seems to have been for Barack Obama to be in the White House, which he accomplished more than five years ago. No wonder he has so much time to go golfing these days.

Obama felt so strongly about immigration reform that he and the Democrats did nothing about it when they controlled Congress in the first two years of his presidency. Now he keeps making noises about how he's going to take executive action because Congress has not put together a bill. But now the trial balloon is for him to postpone action until after the election so he doesn't hurt red-state Democrats.

So Obama has figured out the world. He explained to his fund-raiser audinence that "the world has always been messy." Not a news flash. But he's sossed out why things seem bad now. It's all the fault of social media. Gosh, just imagine how bad things would have seemed if we'd had Facebook and Twitter during the Civil War. Then things might have seemed truly messy. Ugh. What a patronizing comment from the President. I guess that's why he can seem so disengaged to all the foreign policies setbacks during his presidency. He just figures that it's only social media that is making them seem bad. After all, he is some sort of expert given how his presidential campaign took such advantage of social media. Maybe it's convinced him that, since the excitement ginned up by such media about his candidacy was not based on reality that any excitement over ISIS or Ukraine or Syria or Libya is also not based on reality.

One Canadian writes that we're seeing a modern version of "It's a Wonderful Life," except it's what the world would be like without the United States.

Yup, there are a lot of college professors who are fans of Hamas. I wonder if the parents of students at these universities are aware that they're paying for their kids to hear anti-Israeli rhetoric and praise for Hamas.

It must really anger all those who hate Israel to read a story like this about how Israel's economy has been booming despite the terrorism and war that they constantly face. It's nice that all those sanctimonious boycott Israel movements haven't dented its economy.

A fresh setback for labor on the eve of Labor Day as California farmers decided that they don't want to be represented by the United Farm Workers. So, of course, the California government is doing its best to help the union out by refusing to count the vote and trying to force a UFW contract down their throats.

The Energy Department is getting ready to issue new efficiency standards for household appliances. Of course, these new standards are going to drive the prices of appliances up and low-income consumers will be the ones most severely hurt despite the department's claim that people will save money over the long run from the energy savings.
Miller suggests that both sides could be right. She said the new efficiency standards will save wealthy consumers money in the long run, because they can afford to pay the higher costs for new household appliances.

Lower-income consumers, however, will be at a disadvantage, she said. They will have a tough time paying for the more expensive appliances, and are likely to keep using older ones.

She also said that could defeat the environmental reasons for pushing the new rules.

“If you can’t afford a dishwasher, you’re stuck washing your dishes by hand,” Miller said, “which actually uses more water.”
In a post entitled "Having solved all other problems, Obama to fix your dishwasher," jazz Shaw comments,
For some reason which I can’t quite put my finger on, this sounds awfully familiar. Changing regulations for everyone’s benefit without taking into account the real world fallout and secondary costs which would inevitably be passed on to the consumer? Give me a minute. I’m sure it will come to me.

And what a coincidence that the Obama administration's edicts on appliances parallel similar EU regulations.
Bosses in Brussels have made a provisional list of 30 household appliances which could be restricted next year.

They want to cut the power of hairdryers by nearly a third in a bid to be a greener Europe, with other every day household items facing the cull including kettles, toasters and lawnmowers.

The move has sparked outrage among the UK with Ukip saying the decision by "nannying Eurocrats" was another reason to leave Europe.

From Monday some of the country's best vacuum cleaners will be among those to be banned because they have motors above the new EU limit of 1,600 watts.
This has led to a rush by people to buy up the older stock so that they won't be stuck with the new appliances that won't work as well.

Jeffrey H. Joseph, a professor at GWU's School of Business details how Eric Holder's Justice Department is trying, without any due proces, to force manufacturers of goods that they don't approve of out of busines in what they call "Operation Choke Point."

The non-response rate problem that is plaguing modern pollsters is also affecting unemployment statistics which are based on surveying people.
A new academic paper suggests that the unemployment rate appears to have become less accurate over the last two decades, in part because of this rise in nonresponse. In particular, there seems to have been an increase in the number of people who once would have qualified as officially unemployed and today are considered out of the labor force, neither working nor looking for work.

The trend obviously matters for its own sake: It suggests that the official unemployment rate – 6.2 percent in July – understates the extent of economic pain in the country today. That makes intuitive sense. Wage growth is weak, and Americans are pretty dissatisfied with the economy, according to other surveys. The new paper is a reminder that the unemployment rate deserves less attention than it often receives.

Yet the research also relates to a larger phenomenon. The declining response rate to surveys of almost all kinds is among the biggest problems in the social sciences. It’s complicating our ability to understand how people live and what they believe. “It’s a huge issue,” says Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist and one of the new paper’s three authors.
And since the people aren't responding, we don't know who they are and what they would say. This problem has been developing for quite a while and it makes all sorts of government statistics as well as polling data quite suspect.

If you have your hopes set on renewable energy, you might want to rethink that bit of idealism.

For some reason the NYT didn't want its readers to see a picture of an ISIS executioner holding a knife while preparing to execute James Foley.

And, contrary to the doomsday warnings from Al Gore and John Kerry, the Arctic ice cap has expanded for the second year in a row. So now the alarmists are just moving their predictions for when the polar ice cap will disappear to next year.