Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cruising the Web

It's time to go back to Thomas Jefferson's practice of just sending a written message to Congress rather than the speech before Congress with all its pomp and political maneuvering. It should return to being a report on the actual state of a nation instead of being a laundry list of, as Obama said last night, doing what he believes is best for America. Everyone knows that the list is irrelevant. Indeed, you can watch this video from Grabien of 112 of Obama's unfulfilled promises from past State of the Union speeches. Obama can just promise us lots of free stuff that no one has to pay for, except a few rich folks, but we all recognize that this list is DOA as far as actual policies being enacted. The SOTU is now all about political positioning rather than the actual enactment of policies, except for those for which Obama intends to ignore Congress and do by executive action.

Philip Bump writes in the Washington Post about how unnecessary and anachronistic the State of the Union is.
By now, President Obama knows there’s no utility to it. His poll numbers haven’t been helped by the speech; on average, his approval as measured by Gallup has been a point lower the week after his addresses compared with the week before. That’s not only a function of decreased viewership, since poll numbers have long been immune to State of the Union boosts. But viewership is down over the past two decades. In 1994, Bill Clinton’s speech appeared on four networks and was watched by 45.8 million people, according to Nielsen. In 2014, Obama was on 13 networks and seen by 33.3 million — even though the country had added more than 50 million people in the interim.

The world has changed since 1994. Obama is so eager for his ideas to be heard by the public that he has embraced the fragmentation of the media, announcing his community-college proposal on Vine and his immigration plan on Facebook. After Tuesday’s speech, he’ll take questions from a category of people known as “YouTube stars,” one of whom is fond of green lipstick and whose 2012 video of herself choking on cinnamon has been viewed 42 million times. (If you don’t feel like doing the math, that’s 126 percent of Obama’s live 2014 State of the Union audience.)

A bigger problem, though, is that Americans simply are no longer that impressed by the pageantry of the presidency. Everyone wants to meet Obama, sure; everyone wanted to get a beer with George W. Bush in the famous formulation. Confidence in the presidency at large, as measured by Gallup last year, was down from 1991 by more than 40 points. Trust in government dropped precipitously and then flattened. It’s easy to dismiss Obama’s YouTube outreach as diminishing the status of the office, but only officeholders and those on Capitol Hill who seek it seem to offer it much status anymore.

That’s why we continue with the State of the Union address. It gives the president an excuse to talk about his policy priorities, but he certainly doesn’t need to gather everyone together in the Capitol to do that. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows (and has likely dismissed) Obama’s key policy goals, without the big address. We have the speech because it is Tradition, and that Tradition reflects the Importance of the Office. So Obama walks onto the House floor, passing through an effusive crowd of legislators as they imagine themselves making that same walk, and the Great Spectacle of Washington is upheld.
And then there are those who don't watch the SOTU or pay any attention to politics. Jimmy Kimmel can always find such people. This week he found people who were willing to praise a speech that MLK gave today and comment on the weight that MLK had presumably gained.
These guys get as many votes as you and I do.

Fred Barnes ridicules Obama's version of "middle class economics." Obama is just "blowing smoke."
On this subject and many others in his address, Obama is blowing smoke. He claims wonderful things have happened in his presidency, now entering its seventh year. But most of his claims are false or weren’t the result of his policies. He touts the boom in oil and gas, which he sought to prevent.

He boasts of an economy that’s experiencing “the fastest economic growth in over a decade.” He’s referring, I suspect, to the impressive five percent growth in the third quarter of 2014. Yes, one quarter. But it took six years of slow-as-molasses growth for the Obama economy to get to this point, though the so-called Great Recession ended in June 2009. What took so long? President Reagan’s recession was just as severe, but the economy was booming again in three years. And Reagan knew what had caused this – deep cuts in income tax rates.

Obama fails to come clean on the tax hikes he wants to impose on Americans. It’s not just the richest of the rich who would be hit. So would parents saving for their kids’ college in 529 funds. Obama would tax the money taken from the funds to pay college costs. And he would cap how much workers could put in 401(k) funds for retirement, thus making more of their income subject to yearly taxes.

And jobs? Don’t ask. The president wants to raise taxes on investments and inheritances. It would reduce the amount of private capital available to invest in start-ups and new jobs. This would not be an unexpected consequence. As Jack Kemp used to say, when you tax something, you get less of it.
And his claims on foreign policy were just lies.
On foreign policy, Obama seems to think he has stopped Vladimir Putin’s invasions in their tracks. “We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small – by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies,” he declared. The principle is a worthy one, but it hasn’t stopped Putin. Despite Obama, Putin went ahead and annexed Crimea and seized a chunk of eastern Ukraine.

There was also a Middle East whopper. Obama declared: “American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL’s advance” in Iraq and Syria. No, it’s not, especially in Syria, where ISIL continues to gain territory.

Guided by Obama, the U.S. is “assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.” But “extremism” can’t be an ideology. It has to be an extreme version of something, in this case “Islamic jihad.” Obama won’t say those words. You’ll have to figure his reason on your own.
Even Andrea Mitchell acknowledges that the part of his speech on foreign policy is "not close to reality."
"I think that on foreign policy, his projection of success against terrorism and against ISIS, in particular, as I said, is not close to reality," said Mitchell.
Byron York expands on Obama's obliviousness to reality.
"In Iraq and Syria, American leadership -- including our military power -- is stopping ISIL's advance," Obama said, referring to the Islamic State. The claim left some foreign policy observers aghast, since there is a general consensus that the Islamic State is making progress in the face of limited American air attacks. "That just isn't the case, according to military officials I've been speaking to," NBC foreign correspondent Richard Engel said of Obama's statement. "They [the Islamic State] are taking new territory." Of Obama's description of a world in which the Islamic State is retreating, Afghanistan is on the road to peace, and terrorists are on the run from South Asia to North Africa, Engel concluded, "It sounded like the president was outlining a world that he wishes we were all living in."

Obama sounded equally disconnected from reality on some domestic issues. For example, when discussing the nation's veterans, he said, "Already, we've made strides towards ensuring that every veteran has access to the highest quality care." A listener wouldn't know it from Obama's speech, but there has been a huge VA scandal since Obama's last State of the Union; his Secretary of Veterans Affairs had to resign because of it. Veterans died waiting for treatment. All Obama said Wednesday [sic] night was, "We're slashing the backlog that had too many veterans waiting years to get the benefits they need." By "benefits," the president apparently meant "life-saving medical care."

At another point, Obama claimed credit for a "re-energized space program." The remark surely led to some jaws dropping among laid-off National Aeronautics and Space Administration engineers who believe Obama has nearly killed the place.

The president's final disconnect was perhaps the biggest. After a "vicious recession…tonight, we turn the page," Obama said. "With a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, booming energy production, we have risen from recession." For some Americans, that is the case, although even for them, "bustling" might be a bit much. For other Americans, the news is still pretty bad. When a recent Fox News poll asked, "For you and your family, does it feel like the recession is over, or does it feel like the country is still in a recession?" 64 percent of respondents said it feels like there is still a recession. Indeed, it's widely conceded that part of the reason the unemployment rate has fallen is because a core of discouraged workers dropped out of the job search altogether. So for many listeners, Obama's "turn the page" declaration will seem as out of touch as his claim that ISIL's advance has been stopped.

Perhaps Richard Engel found the key to the president's nearly 7,000-word speech: Obama described the world as he wishes it were, not as it actually is. Indeed, in Obama's State of the Union, things are going so well that it's hard to imagine why voters would decisively turn control of Congress over to the opposition party -- not that Obama would acknowledge that, either. Doing so would be a concession that something is still terribly wrong.

The WSJ debunks any idea that Obama's policies are about helping the middle class.
The President has suddenly discovered that middle-class incomes have plunged on his watch, and he’s demanding that Congress address this with more of the same policies that have done so much to reduce middle-class incomes.

White House aides are saying their boss’s plan for $320 billion in new taxes on savings and investment to finance more transfer payments is a bid to be remembered as a Robin Hood. This would be accurate if our hero and his merry men had shaken down Sherwood Forest for the benefit of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Mr. Obama has spent six years trying to redistribute income, but all he’s done is make the income gap between rich and poor wider.
They point out that how the real income of American households grew in the 1990s and started declining during Bush's first term and then rebounded. But they declined at the start of the recession in 2008 and have been declining ever since.
The President has suddenly discovered that middle-class incomes have plunged on his watch, and he’s demanding that Congress address this with more of the same policies that have done so much to reduce middle-class incomes.

White House aides are saying their boss’s plan for $320 billion in new taxes on savings and investment to finance more transfer payments is a bid to be remembered as a Robin Hood. This would be accurate if our hero and his merry men had shaken down Sherwood Forest for the benefit of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Mr. Obama has spent six years trying to redistribute income, but all he’s done is make the income gap between rich and poor wider.

Margaret Talev at Bloomberg writes about how the SOTU is more about manipulating social media than talking about the real concerns of people.
Two weeks after the Paris terrorism attacks, in the opening days of a new Congress where Republicans control both chambers and are moving to reshape domestic policy, why has the White House used the lead-up to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address to promote his post-speech interviews with luminaries such as Bethany Mota, a 19-year-old YouTube celebrity who became famous for showing strangers her fashion and beauty buys online?

Why has Obama given away so much about the speech by rolling out proposals weeks ahead of it? What happened to the bully pulpit? What would George Washington think?

....If there was a virtue in Mr. Obama’s speech, it’s that we can now retire the lectures on “responsible governing.” With the exception of trade and the war against Islamic State, the President Tuesday sought no common policy ground with Republicans. He offered a Nancy Pelosi agenda. Imagine if George W. Bush had proposed a $320 billion tax-rate cut in his 2007 State of the Union, following his rout in the 2006 midterm. He would have been hooted out of the chamber, followed by days of wondering if he’d wigged out.

If Mr. Obama won’t make any concession to political reality, then Republicans are under no obligation to take his agenda seriously. For their own peace of mind, they should ignore his gaslighting and prioritize something that really would help the economy.

Ah, good. We've moved from hashtag diplomacy and geezer rock diplomacy to holding up pencils to show solidarity with the victims in the Charlie Hebdo massacre. That will stop terrorism for sure.

Jacob Sullum writes at Reason how the press exaggerated Eric Holder's reform of forfeiture practices. There are just too many exceptions for it to really change forfeiture polices. Too bad. I was ready to give Holder kudos for a necessary change.

Now we can see how liberals regard minorities who dare to be Republicans: Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of, appeared on MSNBC to criticize the speech that Bobby Jindal recently made criticizing no-go zones in Europe and said that Jindal was "trying to scrub some of the brown off his skin as he runs to the right in a presidential bid." Because, of course, Republicans wouldn't vote for a non-white otherwise. Forget how happy some conservatives were to vote for Herman Cain or how South Carolina conservatives happily voted for Tim Scott. Such minorities are just Uncle Toms in the minds of liberals.

Mittmania might already have peaked and declined.

So what's behind Obama's recent jump in the polls? It's probably mostly driven by the drop in gas prices, a development with which Obama has had nothing to do. It's happened despite Obama, not due to Obama.

Well, of course. Liberals created a budgetary mess that has allowed millions to claim disability on Social Security and now they're refusing to fix the mess they created.
Now the political left is melting down over a modest budget change that could require Congress to be honest about the Social Security disability program’s fiscal problems and employment distortions.

Republicans are “inventing a Social Security crisis that will threaten benefits for millions and put our most vulnerable at risk,” wrote Senator Elizabeth Warren , in one of her subtler commentaries. AARP and other left-leaning groups are also war-whooping that a procedural rule the House adopted last week will mean about a 19% cut in disability-insurance benefits.

If only. Social Security payroll taxes finance traditional income transfers for the elderly and disability payments, and an ever-larger share is going to the latter for what amounts to promoting middle-age retirement. What used to be last-resort insurance has come to apply to ailments like back pain or anxiety. More and more workers are leaving the labor force permanently and substituting disability for wages.

In 1990 about one of every 10 Social Security dollars flowed to disability. Now it’s nearly one of five. The disability rolls doubled between 1990 and 2008, and then they spiked 21% in the Obama era to 10.2 million Americans and their dependents. Only about one-third of this growth can be explained by the underlying health, size and demographic composition of the working-age population.

Payments have exploded 32% since 2008 to $140.1 billion. And every year since 2009 disability payments have exceeded the revenues dedicated to disability by a portion of the Social Security payroll tax....

There is one legal catch: When a trust-fund balance reaches zero and current revenue can’t cover current claims, the Treasury isn’t allowed to pay out full benefits. The projected disability shortfall for 2016 is 19% of liabilities, which is how the same liberals who created this shortfall get their figure for phantom cuts.

In practice Congress always protects entitlements for current beneficiaries. Eleven times since 1968, most recently in 2000, Congress has reallocated balances back and forth between the disability fund and the old-age trust fund to disguise Social Security’s financial shortfall. Liberals want to do it again to fill the growing disability hole.

The Washington Examiner list 15 proposals from the SOTU that call for more government spending.

And typical for Obama: in his speech he criticized the constant fundraising for elections and then immediately his supporters received an email from Obama asking for donations.