Monday, January 26, 2015

Cruising the Web

John Fund examines the winners and losers from this past weekend's Iowa Freedom Summit. And Byron York finds 12 keys to the 2016 race. He points out that those who have run before, including Mitt Romney, aren't as in as strong a position as they might think they are. The same might be true for Jeb Bush.

The Washington Post wonders if Rand Paul will be hurt by the wackiness of his father. Ron Paul spent the weekend talking about secession - not exactly a winning message for a potential presidential candidate.
Rand, 52, is contemplating a presidential run — at its heart, an act of optimism. He is moderating some hard-line positions and introducing himself to donors and voters. At the same time, Ron, 79, has embraced a role as libertarianism’s prophet of doom, telling his supporters that the United States is headed for catastrophes — and might actually need catastrophes to get on the right track

Which puts Rand Paul in the unusual position of trying to win over the country while his father says it is going down the tubes.

Sarah Palin might say she's interested in running for 2016, but she's not ready for prime time. Let's see if she drops her position on Fox News and then start talking about her. Otherwise, she's just one more distraction.

Uh, oh - the worst news for Marco Rubio: Eleanor Clift likes his chances.

Obama's presidency "now redolent of a banana republic."
Fact is, the president's priority was the permanent campaign — playing Hollywood celebrity with three D-list Internet stars. They included a green-lipstick-wearing artiste called GloNell Green, whose stunts include sitting in a bathtub filled with Froot Loops and milk and scarfing down junk food to get attention.

As American Thinker's Thomas Lifson pointed out, the "interview" with Green was done from specially constructed sets, signaling a president with a lot of money and time for playthings and not much interest in anything else.

It's not that we haven't seen such unseriousness before. A dead ambassador and burning U.S. consulate in Tripoli were trumped by a fundraising trip to Las Vegas. The beheading of a U.S. journalist by the world's worst terrorist group wasn't reason to cancel a golf outing. And a demonstration by 44 world leaders and 3 million people after a terrorist massacre in a Paris newsroom lost out to a need to watch the football playoffs.

These things pile up and come to define the Obama presidency in all its ennui, cupidity and childishness even as crises build in the rest of the world.

The week also saw the president snub Bibi Netanyahu in a fit of pique after the Israeli leader was invited without White House permission to address the House of Representatives. For good measure, Obama's sophomoric minions leaked there would be payback.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, in the same week as the brazen political assassination of a special prosecutor who had fingered Iran as a terrorist state with vast networks in our hemisphere, Obama named his new envoy: a Hollywood political-donation bundler with no knowledge of that country.

All this continues to suggest a president with no real interest in the job, just a ceaseless appetite for celebrity adulation and high-school backbiting.

Carl M. Cannon explains once again that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Too bad our president doesn't understand that concept.
There are other problems with the president’s “free lunch” approach to governance. Here are three:

First of all, the president doesn’t have this money to spend. He’s borrowing it. The day Obama took office, the national debt was $6.3 trillion. Today, it stands in excess of $13 trillion, which is what happens when you run annual budget deficits averaging $1 trillion a year. The president is happy that the 2014 deficit is “only” $483 billion. I’m happy, too, but that number would still be larger than any other deficit in U.S. history—even adjusting for inflation—except for during George W. Bush’s last year in office.

Yes, Obama inherited a fiscal mess, no doubt. But acting like there’s a pile of found money lying around is disingenuous. Future generations of Americans will foot that bill because voters are being promised more goodies than their politicians are making them pay for.

The second problem is one of federalism. By what rationale should workplace salaries be mandated from Washington? States and counties with traditional manufacturing might mandate time-and-a-half for hourly employees. States and counties with many seasonal agricultural jobs might not. And when it comes to the minimum wage, the folly seems obvious. Do entry-level workers in Lincoln, Nebr. (median housing price $146,000) need to be paid exactly the same as those in San Francisco (median housing price $769,000)?

Most states are managing this issue pretty prudently, U.S. Department of Labor data suggests. Only five—all of them in the South—lack a minimum wage law. Fourteen others have laws tying their minimum to the federal standard. A majority of states exceed the federal minimum.

Third, when the president says he wants to mandate sick leave and raise the minimum wage—and underwrite “free” community college by raising capital gains taxes—he continues to send a message of hostility to business. Over the years, many Democrats have exhibited an odd duality about business: they venerate jobs, but not employers. Obama takes this to new levels, while cheerfully spending Other People’s Money.

In his State of the Union, Obama didn’t try to explain why business owners launching a startup or trying to keep a small business afloat should welcome federal laws governing their pay scales. Instead, he taunted Congress: “If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it.”

This was effective theater, but also a reminder how easily Obama’s populism slips into business-bashing. In his 2012 campaign, he said, “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” He meant somebody in government. It was also in 2012 that most Americans learned that the Affordable Care Act included a requirement that employers pay for “free” birth control.

Here, folk wisdom about free lunches comes full circle. “Free Lunch” originally was not a metaphor; it was an advertisement. Saloons, mainly in the American West, offered free lunch with the stipulation that patrons purchase at least one drink. Only the most naïve would deem this lunch truly free, so the extrapolation to government came naturally. The earliest known reference came in a 1938 editorial in an El Paso, Texas, newspaper unearthed by “Yale Book of Quotations” editor Fred Shapiro.

Called “Economics in Eight Words,” it’s a fable about a king who asks his advisers for a brief economic textbook. Instead, they produce 87 volumes of 600 pages each—thicker than Obamacare’s statutory language and regulations—which results in their execution. Finally, the last remaining economist says he can distill the dismal science into eight words: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

One young man tells the story of how Obamacare has punished him.
My experience perfectly highlights the insanity of the Affordable Care Act. It forced me — a paying, insured, well-educated, healthy American — out of the coverage I’d had, then tried to push me into Medicaid.

The program wouldn’t let me pay more when I offered to pay a higher rate to stay out of Medicaid, and it provided only one other option: paying the highest rate available for insurance I didn’t use once in 2014.

Rather than take the easy route and enroll in Medicaid, I paid my own way with a private plan of my choosing. Now, instead of being rewarded for saving taxpayer money, I’m being punished with a fine of at least $95. What a country!

Glenn Reynolds explains how Obama is proposing to come after the savings that millions of Americans have made for their children's education.
Why would the White House even consider such a thing? As McArdle observes: "The very fact that we are discussing taxation of educational savings — redistributing educational subsidies downward — indicates that the administration has started scraping the bottom of the barrel when seeking out money to fund new programs. Why target a tax benefit that goes to a lot of your supporters (and donors), that tickles one of the sweetest spots in American politics (subsidizing higher education), and that will hit a lot of people who make less than the $250,000 a year that has become the administration's de facto definition of 'rich'? Presumably, because you're running out of other places to get the money."

When a government is desperate for cash, it goes after the middle class, because that's where the money is. Yes, the rich are rich, but the middle class is far more numerous. And this has raised other fears. As McArdle also notes, if 529 plans aren't sacrosanct, what about Roth IRAs? People have worried for a while that the government might go after retirement accounts as another source of income — to the point that there have even been calls for Congress to make such grabs explicitly off limits. But, ultimately, no one is safe, as what is enacted by one Congress can be repealed by another.

The truth is, in our redistributionist system politicians make their careers mostly by taking money from one group of citizens that won't vote for them and giving it to another that will. If they run short of money from traditional sources, they'll look for new revenue wherever they can find it. And if that's the homes and savings of the middle class, then that's what they'll target.

For the moment, Americans are safe. With both houses of Congress controlled by the GOP, Obama's proposals are DOA. But over the long term, the appetite for government spending is effectively endless, while the sources of revenue are limited. Keep that in mind as you think about where to invest your money ... and your votes.

Ross Douthat explains how ludicrously western leaders have responded to the death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.
HE Western response to the death of Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, king of Saudi Arabia and custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, followed two paths. Along one, various officials and luminaries offered the gestures — half-mast flags, public obsequies — expected when a great statesman enters the hereafter. John Kerry described the late monarch as “a man of wisdom and vision” and a “revered leader.” Tony Blair called him a “modernizer of his country” and a “staunch advocate of interfaith relations,” who was “loved by his people and will be deeply missed.”

Along the other path, anyone outside Western officialdom was free to tell the fuller truth: that Abdullah presided over one of the world’s most wicked nonpariah states, whose domestic policies are almost cartoonishly repressive and whose international influence has been strikingly malign. His dynasty is founded on gangsterish control over a precious natural resource, sustained by an unholy alliance with a most cruel interpretation of Islam and protected by the United States and its allies out of fear of worse alternatives if it fell.

Was he a “modernizer”? Well, there were gestures, like giving women the vote in elections that don’t particularly matter. But Abdullah’s most important recent legacy has been counterrevolutionary, in his attempts to rally a kind of axis of authoritarianism against the influence of the Arab Spring.

Did he believe in “interfaith relations”? Sure, so long as the other faiths were safely outside Saudi territory, where religious uniformity is enforced by the police and by the lash.
The man ran a dictatorial government that violently punished anyone not deemed to have behaved appropriately as a Muslim and which sponsored some of the more radical imams across the globe.

Michael Goodwin notices the difference in how this administration refers to any leader in the Middle East compared to how they refer to Bibi Netanyahu.
With their gutter sniping failing to stop Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned March speech before Congress, White House aides are unloading their full arsenal of bile.

“He spat in our face publicly, and that’s no way to behave,” one Obama aide told an Israeli newspaper. “Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.”

It is pointless to say petty threats do not become the Oval Office. Trying to instruct this White House on manners recalls what Mark Twain said about trying to teach a pig to sing: It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Still, the fury is telling. It reminds, as if we could forget, that everything is always about Obama.

How dare Israel be more concerned with the existential threat of Iranian nukes than with Obama’s feelings? And what do members of Congress think they are, a separate branch of government or something?

Yes, the presidency deserves respect, even when the president doesn’t. Although Obama routinely ignores lawmakers and their role in our constitutional system of checks and balances, there is an argument afoot that Congress should have taken the high road and consulted him before inviting Netanyahu.

The argument has a point — but not a compelling one. To give Obama veto power over the visit would be to put protocol and his pride before the most important issue in the world.

That is Iran’s march to nuclear weapons, and Obama’s foolish complicity. His claim at the State of the Union that “we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material” would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous. The claim earned him three ­Pinocchios, with four being an outright whopper, by The Washington Post.

Outside the president’s yes-men circle, nobody believes the mad mullahs will voluntarily give up their quest for the bomb. International sanctions made life difficult for the regime, especially with oil prices cratering, but Obama ­relaxed restrictions with nothing to show for it except negotiations where he keeps bidding against himself.

He is desperate for a deal, and the Iranians know it, so they want to keep talking. They are gaining concessions and buying time, which means a reversal of their weapons program becomes much harder to achieve.

The ticking doomsday clock is what led to the remarkable comments by Democrat Robert ­Menendez. After Obama warned that more sanctions, even if they would not take effect unless the talks collapsed, could scare off the Iranians, the New Jersey senator said Obama was repeating talking points that “come straight out of Tehran.”

That’s a zinger for the ages — and has the added advantage of being true.

Any deal that leaves Iran with a capacity to make a nuke in weeks or months will ignite a regional arms race. As I have noted, American military and intelligence officials believe a nuclear-armed Iran will lead to a nuclear exchange with Israel or Arab countries within five years.

Israel has the most to lose from an Iranian nuke, and ­Netanyahu can be expected to articulate a forceful argument against Obama’s disastrous course. That’s why House Speaker John Boehner invited him, and it’s why the president is so bent out of shape and refuses to meet with Netanyahu. He doesn’t want Americans to hear the other side.
It is rather difficult to realize which is the leader of a national ally.

Deb Saunders compares two trips: Nancy Pelosi going as Speaker of the House to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during Bush's presidency with Netanyahu's trip to speak before the Congress.
The irony here is that Pelosi was in a similar position in 2007 when she met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi told reporters.

Given that insurgents were crossing from Syria into Iraq to fight U.S. troops, President George W. Bush considered Pelosi’s adventure in diplomacy “counterproductive.” But with public approval of the Iraq war in the toilet, the San Francisco Democrat’s visit was popular with the liberal base. Pelosi’s Damascus sit-down was good politics, if dubious policy.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill finds any analogy between Boehner’s Bibi invite and Pelosi’s Syria trip to be nonsense. Pelosi didn’t blindside Bush. Foggy Bottom helped plan the trip. Besides, the White House failed to criticize three Republicans who went to Damascus a week earlier, which in Hammill’ view makes Pelosi’s detractors “hypocrites.”

Former East Bay congresswoman and Obama Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher agrees with Pelosi’s “hubris” assessment. Kerry is involved in negotiating a “six-handed deal” among world leaders and Iran, Tauscher noted. If there is no deal for the Iran Nuclear Talks by June 30, then tougher sanctions will return. Instead of applying pressure and engaging in “mischief making,” Tauscher believes Boehner should be quiet and give diplomacy a few more months. It is in America’s national-security interest to coax Iran toward the light.

“My criticism of Speaker Boehner is that this smacks of partisan politics and trying to embarrass the White House,” quoth Tauscher. (Sounds like Pelosi’s Syrian trip to me.)

Fly in the ointment: This isn’t right versus left. Some Democrats do not trust Tehran. At a recent hearing, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., scolded Obamaland for spewing out “talking points” that sound like they “come straight out of Tehran.”

Now the politics favor Boehner. Schake believes that a Netanyahu speech could increase the number of senators who, like Menendez, would support a bill to pressure Tehran to stop stalling. If you’re a D.C. pol, do you want to be on the side that believes in the honest intentions of Tehran or on the side that advocates for tough measures à la Bibi? And what are Democrats going to do — flip off pro-Israel constituents by boycotting Netanyahu’s speech? Hammill tells me Pelosi plans to attend.

If a majority in Congress is ready to buck the president on a foreign policy initiative, Schake told me, it’s a sign the administration is pushing a bad policy or has failed to lay the groundwork to sell it.

One more thing: In 2007, Syria was abetting Sunni insurgents. Israel is our ally.

Jack Kelly reflects on how the Obamas and other liberals look for any opportunity to exploit race and gender.
When People magazine asked Michelle Obama last month about her “personal experience” with racism, she cited a 2011 visit to a Target store in Virginia.

“The only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf,” the first lady said. “Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life.”

Why is it “racist” for a short white woman to ask a much taller woman (Ms. Obama is 5 feet, 11 inches) who happens to be black to get a box of detergent for her from a high shelf?

Racism and sexism are nearly as rampant in America today as half a century ago, some liberals suggest. The first lady’s anecdote illustrates how difficult it is to find evidence to support this charge....

The growth and impoverishment of the black underclass in cities governed for decades by Democrats is our greatest domestic tragedy. Blaming it on mostly mythical white racism obscures the real causes, prevents solutions.

But if liberals acknowledged the progress that’s been made, more blacks might wonder why all the “help” they’ve gotten from Democrats has done them so little good. So they pretend every year is 1963.

Half a century ago, career opportunities for women pretty much were limited to nursing, teaching, the secretarial pool. Women today are doctors, lawyers, corporate CEOs, generals and admirals.

The pay gap has all but disappeared for women who work in the same fields as men and have done so for just as long. Young women in urban areas earned about 8 percent more than their male peers, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report in 2009.

Holly Lynne, my granddaughter, born Dec. 23, will be able to do pretty much whatever she wants to do and likely will be paid more for doing it than will boys her age.

Workplace equality wouldn’t be on the cusp of achievement were it not for the efforts of early feminists. But feminism died as a civil rights movement when “the sisterhood” embraced President Bill Clinton despite his serial abuse of women.

Hillary Clinton, who got to start at the top because she’s Bill’s wife, is a feminist heroine, despite having orchestrated smear campaigns against the women who accused him of sexual misconduct. So are Elizabeth Warren, who obtained appointment to the faculty of Harvard Law School after claiming, falsely, to be of Native American descent, and Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, fired for incompetence by the family firm (she says she was “downsized”).

But the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, the first female Hispanic governor, the first African-American woman to be secretary of state aren’t feminist heroines because they’re Republicans.

To be a feminist today is to be a dishonest shill for Democrats. To deny progress, they push their definition of “sexism” ever further into the realm of absurdity. Lately, feminists in New York City are having hissy fits over “man-spreading,” the tendency of male subway riders to sit with their knees apart.

Nothing in politics is more despicable than sowing race and gender discord for partisan advantage.

Michael Walsh explains how Obama has conducted a Being There presidency.
There is one thing, and one thing only, to like about him. And that is his complete and utter contempt for his domestic political enemies and the high-handedness with which he treats them. And why shouldn’t he? As the beneficiary of the Being There presidency, he must retire to the family quarters of the White House each night laughing his head off at the electorate and yet at the same time being utterly convinced of his own rightness. After all, he won, didn’t he? Twice! If he’s so dumb… how come he’s president?

As Yuval Levin noted in a post over at NRO after the State of the Union speech, Obama acts as if the electorate had not just delivered his party a crushing rebuke in an election in which he said quite clearly that while he may not have been on the ballot, his policies most certainly were. (Not that he cares about what happens to the Democrats after he retires to a live of Secret Service-protected, taxpayer-supported, think-tank enriched utter indolence.) But he appears to be living in a fantasy land of his own device, one in which he, Barry, remains beloved by the masses who didn’t bother to show up at the polls.

More bad news about how Obamacare is affecting small businesses.
"A key goal of the bill," explained ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber, "was to leave those who are happy with their employer-sponsored insurance alone."

But a survey by Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., adds further evidence that this promise was completely bogus.

The survey focused on companies in the southwestern region of the state that have 50 or fewer full-time employees. Companies this size don't face the ObamaCare employer mandate, but were supposed to be helped by the law's ban on medical underwriting and the competitive small business insurance markets it promised to unleash.

The survey found the opposite. A quarter of firms that that had offered insurance to their employees last year were canceling their health plans this year, and another 25% said they planned to do so next year.

More telling is the fact that 68% of those dropping coverage this year are directing their employees to the website to buy coverage on their own.

In other words, these companies are shifting their health insurance costs onto taxpayers. That's the very outcome ObamaCare architects like Gruber said wouldn't happen.

Wait, there's more.

Nearly half of the firms surveyed say they've limiting or reducing new hires because of the law — presumably to avoid coming up against the employer mandate should they go over 50 workers. And 28% said they are considering cutting back their overall workforce because of the law.

Christina Hoff Sommers has a powerful report at The Daily Beast about how the media has made the rape culture on college campuses seem worse than it is. And the Obama administration has exacerbated the situation by mandating that colleges should become their own investigators into rape and assault allegations rather than the police. In the process, facts become less important than the allegations. She lays out the faulty claims that have led us to this moment. The only question is whether a more responsible administration could eve walk back what the Obama administration has wrought.

Jeff Greenfield tells the stories of the moments when FDR, Eisenhower, and Reagan almost didn't win their party's nomination.