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.