Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cruising the Web

Jay Cost (author of the soon-to-be-published intriguing book, A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption) argues that there is actually a lot of areas of policy over which there is a good possibility of compromise between the Republican Congress and Democratic president. However, President Obama was so determined to challenge the Republicans and go on the offensive that he ensured that there would be little chance of compromise. He's more concerned with raising a response that might hurt the Republicans politically than achieving accord on policy.
And this is what we saw with tonight’s speech. Rather than acknowledge the new Republican majorities, and try to find common ground, the president insisted on policies he knows the GOP will never accept. Tax, spend, regulate, then repeat -- as if this is 2009 and Nancy Pelosi, not John Boehner, is sitting behind him.

Why? I think it’s because this president’s number one priority is always to appear unbowed. He must imitate Jake LaMotta taunting Sugar Ray Robinson at the end of Raging Bull: “You never knocked me down, Ray!”

If Obama were to respond to the midterms as Bill Clinton did -- defending liberal values while working on problems with Republicans where the two sides basically agree -- he’d appear to be capitulating. By insisting on ever more government, he’s LaMotta: you never knocked me down, Boehner!

So, we get two more years of no action -- even on issues where there could be agreement -- because God forbid this president appear to lose.

George Will lays out the increase we've been seeing in welfare payments and explains why it has been happening.
More than twice as many households receive “anti-poverty” benefits than receive Social Security or Medicare. Between 1983 and 2012, the population increased by almost 83 million — and people accepting means-tested benefits increased by 67 million. So, for every 100-person increase in the population there was an 80-person increase in the recipients of means-tested payments. Food stamp recipients increased from 19 million to 51 million — more than the combined populations of 24 states.

What has changed? Not the portion of the estimated population below the poverty line (15.2 percent in 1983; 15 percent in 2012). Rather, poverty programs have become untethered from the official designation of poverty: In 2012, more than half the recipients were not classified as poor but accepted being treated as needy. Expanding dependency requires erasing Americans’ traditional distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. This distinction was rooted in this nation’s exceptional sense that poverty is not the unalterable accident of birth and is related to traditions of generosity arising from immigrant and settler experiences....

Eberstadt notes that the structure of U.S. government spending “has been completely overturned within living memory,” resulting in the “remolding of daily life for ordinary Americans under the shadow of the entitlement state.” In two generations, the American family budget has been recast: In 1963, entitlement transfers were less than $1 out of every $15; by 2012, they were more than $1 out of every $6.

Causation works both ways between the rapid increase in family disintegration (from 1964 to 2012, the percentage of children born to unmarried women increased from 7 to 41) and the fact that, Eberstadt says, for many women, children and even working-age men, “the entitlement state is now the breadwinner of the household.” In the past 50 years, the fraction of civilian men ages 25 to 34 who were neither working nor looking for work approximately quadrupled.

Eberstadt believes that the entitlement state poses “character challenges” because it powerfully promotes certain habits, including habits of mind. These include corruption. Since 1970, Americans have become healthier, work has become less physically stressful, the workplace has become safer — and claims from Social Security Disability Insurance have increased almost sixfold. Such claims (including fraudulent ones) are gateways to a plethora of other payments.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a lifelong New Deal liberal and accomplished social scientist, warned that “the issue of welfare is not what it costs those who provide it but what it costs those who receive it.” As a growing portion of the population succumbs to the entitlement state’s ever-expanding menu of temptations, the costs, Eberstadt concludes, include a transformation of the nation’s “political culture, sensibilities, and tradition,” the weakening of America’s distinctive “conceptions of self-reliance, personal responsibility, and self-advancement,” and perhaps a “rending of the national fabric.” As a result, “America today does not look exceptional at all.”

As we watch the news about extremists groups threatening Yemen's capital and the possibility of the government there collapsing, remember that it was only a few months ago in September that Obama was bragging about our success in targeting al Qaeda in Yemen without having to deploy troops there. Well, the success isn't so exemplary now in January. As Paul Mirengoff reminds us, Obama's claims about success in Yemen was bogus back in September.
By September, the U.N. had already expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in northern Yemen. Shiite rebels were on the march and the beleaguered government was less and less in a position to “take the fight” to al Qaeda in Yemen.
President Obama seems to be making a habit of claiming success in fighting extremists when the exact opposite is true. Thing of his bragging in getting us out of Iraq and leaving behind a success. That doesn't look so great now. And we all know what will happen in Afghanistan as soon as we leave. And he tells us that we're working against ISIL in Syria and will destroy them, but instead they are gaining all the time. The same thing with the help we sent to Nigeria to combat Boko Haram.

Kevin Williams explains how making community colleges supposedly "free" will destroy them.
I don’t suppose it has occurred to very many of those “free” community college enthusiasts that much of what community colleges do would be beside the point if we had properly functioning high schools and a proper system of higher learning that distinguished between education as such and job training. And now the same people who brought you the Cleveland and Washington public schools are going to apply their wisdom to the community colleges.

The cynicism of this ploy is remarkable. Those working at “free” community colleges presumably will not be working for free, in buildings that spring forth out of the ground at no expense, with texts delivered by the book fairy. It’s simply a matter of putting the federal government in control of resources directed at community colleges, rather than leaving the consumers largely in control—i.e., eliminating the thing that makes community colleges work.

But that’s the Democrats. Community colleges are, among other things, host organisms for parasitic unions of the sort that dominate Democratic politics and sustain Democrats’ campaigns. (And thus the hilarious phenomenon of the community-college strike.) For Democrats, the answer to every social problem is to ensure that lovely healthy streams of government money are directed at institutions that employ lots of Democrats. As with every other aspect of the welfare state, the problem here is not really the people receiving the benefit, but the people who are employed administering it. The Democrats did not build their machine simply by offering people free stuff, but by creating vast and powerful bureaucracies to administer those free-stuff programs.

It is difficult to miss the fact that the public schools are plainly designed for the benefit of the people who work there, not for the students, and you can see the same dynamic at work in any parole office or government-run job-training center. That is not the dynamic you want to encourage in the community colleges.

Steven Malanga demonstrates that quite a bit of the economic growth that President Obama bragged about is actually coming about due to Republican policies in the states they're governing.
Take manufacturing. The president noted that, since 2010, the sector has added 800,000 jobs (though official Bureau of Labor figures put the increase at 614,000 jobs). That represents a gain of somewhere between 5.3 percent and 6.9 percent, depending on which numbers you accept. Yet in truth, manufacturing job growth has been highly concentrated in a few states; many others have seen little or no gains, and a few continue to lose industrial jobs.

The biggest winners have been states that emphasize a pro-growth agenda, not a redistributionist one like the president preaches. Michigan, with a 19 percent increase in industrial jobs, and Indiana, with a 14 percent gain, have seen the greatest manufacturing job growth (on a percentage basis). Texas, meanwhile, with 71,000 new jobs, has led the way in creating the largest number of new industrial positions.

Employment in Michigan and Indiana got a boost in 2012 when both states passed right-to-work laws letting individuals decide whether or not to join a union. Obama opposed those laws, declaring in Michigan that, “These so-called right-to-work laws, they don’t have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.” But since adopting right-to-work, Michigan and Indiana have each added about 28,000 industrial jobs, some of them coming back from overseas in a process known as reshoring. The jobs wind up in right-to-work states, because they allow American companies to be competitive on labor costs with goods made overseas.

Still, labor law alone doesn’t account for all the industrial growth in Indiana and Michigan. Both states have emphasized keeping taxes low and reforming corporate levies to make them fairer. Michigan governor Rick Snyder eliminated the state’s ineffective Michigan Business Tax and replaced it with a flat corporate tax. This year, the state voted to kill a tax on business equipment. Indiana, ranked by the trade magazine Area Development as the seventh-best state for doing business (and the best in the Midwest), has kept its corporate taxes among the lowest in the nation.

Texas, meanwhile, retains one of the most favorable business climates—with low taxes, a sensible state regulatory regime, and access to decent affordable housing for workers. For ten years in a row, business leaders in Chief Executive Magazine’s annual poll have voted the Lone Star State the nation’s best place to do business. As one executive told the magazine, “The education and quality of eligible employees is excellent right now. Business is booming and growing quicker and more rapidly in 2014 than any other year. It’s an exciting time in Texas.”
And, of course, a lot of the economic growth we're seeing is due to lower prices for energy due to policies that Obama has opposed, not the money he has wasted in subsidizing his favored green energy.
Instead, America has achieved remarkable gains—cutting its dependence on foreign oil from 60 percent of American consumption to just 28 percent since 2006—thanks to a technological breakthrough that was largely unanticipated and unheralded until a few years ago: hydraulic fracturing. America is consequently becoming the world’s largest energy producer—poised soon to be a net exporter of energy to the rest of the world. The gains can also be seen in terms of new investment and jobs created. After decades of declining oil and gas employment, which hit a low point in 2003, the industry rebounded, thanks to fracking. Since 2005, America has added some 300,000 new jobs in energy production. Last year alone, energy companies invested $60 billion in the U.S., according to a study by the Progressive Policy Institute.

But President Obama has had little to do with America’s energy success and has often gotten in the way of it. In a recent open letter to the president, Brookings Institution energy expert Charles K. Ebinger noted that the country is indeed experiencing energy abundance, but complained that President Obama was hampering even greater gains. He criticized the administration for failing to allow permits for the construction of new natural gas facilities, blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, and failing to lift bans on exporting U.S. crude oil. “You have allowed your environmental constituency to guide your inaction,” noted Ebinger. “I am a lifelong Democrat who voted for you twice, but I join a growing group of those who are tired of protectionist policies that keep this nation from moving our energy strategy forward.”

Fortunately, leaders in states like Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oklahoma have allowed sensible exploration and extraction of oil and gas. Meanwhile, solidly Democratic states like New York and California, sitting on vast energy reserves, have declined to allow fracking—resulting in lost jobs and production. America’s economic fortunes would look far different right now had the country followed the path outlined by those two states.

President Obama ended his State of the Union address by observing, “We have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America.” A lot of that work, however, is being led by people who don’t share the president’s views.

Jonah Goldberg notes a little detail in a NYT profile of Obama's speechwriter, Cody Keenan in which it's mentioned that Ben Rhodes is reading To Kill a Mockingbird to his four-week-old baby daughter. From the article, it's clear that Rhodes told the NYT that little detail since the only other adult in the room, Keenan, didn't speak to the NYT.
In other words, it was Rhodes who told the Times he was reading To Kill a Mockingbird to his one-month old daughter — at least until weighty affairs of state (and a few single malts) intervened. Look, maybe he was reading it to her. Maybe it’s the most important book in his life. Good for him, it’s a great book. Maybe it makes her fall asleep. I used to sing the old Good and Plenty theme song to my daughter (“. . . choo-choo-Charlie was his name I hear . . .”). Whatever works. But it takes a special kind of pomposity to want the Times and her readers to know this — or at least think this — about you.

In fact, it takes exactly the kind of pomposity that would make these guys right at home in this White House.

AP's fact-checker is not kind to Obama's claims in his SOTU speech.
By many measures, the economy is still recovering from the deep scars left by the Great Recession.

Job growth has been healthy, but fueled in part by lower-paying jobs in areas such as retail and restaurants, which have replaced many higher-paying positions in manufacturing and construction. Part-time jobs also remain elevated: There are still 1.7 million fewer workers with full-time jobs than when the recession began in December 2007.

And the faster hiring hasn't pushed up wages much. They have been growing at a tepid pace of about 2 percent a year since the recession ended 5 1/2 years ago. That's barely ahead of inflation and below the annual pace of about 3.5 percent to 4 percent that is typical of a fully healthy economy.

That has left the income of the typical household below its pre-recession level. Inflation-adjusted median household income reached $53,880 in November 2014, according to an analysis of government data by Sentier Research. That is about 4 percent higher than when it bottomed out in 2011. But it is still 4.5 percent lower than the $56,447 median income in December 2007, the month the recession began.

Booming energy production is indeed a reality, but that's a phenomenon many years in the making, with the development of cost-effective extraction from fracking and other means playing into the rise of the U.S. as an energy production giant.
Oh, and free community college isn't free. And his claim about setting aside more public lands and waters than any other administration in history is a bit shady also.
Waters is the key word here. Before expanding the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument last year from almost 87,000 square miles to more than 490,000 square miles, Obama had protected far fewer acres than his four predecessors, including President George W. Bush.

Expansion of the massive Pacific islands monument puts Obama on top. It's nearly all water, however, and the move has limited practical implications. While it bans commercial fishing, deep-sea mining and other extraction of underwater resources, little fishing or drilling occur in the mid-ocean region now.
The corrections go on and on. It's easy to make a lot of self-congratulatory claims in a basically political speech. Making true claims is more difficult.

Hillary Clinton is George Costanza.

The KGB was behind the 1980 Miracle on Ice.

Politico explains how the Republicans in the Senate outfoxed the Democrats on proposed amendments about climate change to the Keystone XL bill.