Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cruising the Web

being a White House press secretary is a thankless job. I can't imagine wanting the job of basically lying or spinning every single day. A new low was reached yesterday by Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz as he tried to perform the gymnastics to explain why the trade of five Gitmo prisoners to the Taliban to get back Bowe Berghdahl to the Jordanians trading for the release of prisoners held by ISIS. First Schultz tried to explain that such exchange of prisoners were typically done when a war was ending and then he differentiated between the Taliban and ISIS by saying that ISIS are terrorists while the Taliban are simply "armed insurgents." Kudos to ABC's Jonathan Karl for calling Schultz on this ridiculous formulation. Noah Rothman scoffs at the idea that the Taliban is not a terrorist group and points out that that is how we've been treating them for well over a decade.
We need not re-litigate the myriad horrors perpetrated by Taliban fighters in order to justify the group’s designation as a terrorist organization. We only need to note the most recent one: December’s atrocity in which Taliban fighters stormed an elementary school in Peshawar, Pakistan where they killed 141, including 132 children, and wounded 121 more....

Rather than call this evil what it is, the White House would prefer to preserve its political position by indulging in lawyerly evasion. That’s so craven that it defies reason, but it’s what the country has come to expect from this administration.

Daniel Henninger excoriates what he calls "Obama's Peter Pan Economics."
How can community college be “free” for everyone? This isn’t middle-class economics. It’s Peter Pan economics. In the story of the boy who never grows up, Peter tells the Darling children they can fly if they “think lovely thoughts.”

In Mr. O’s world, tax revenue is sort of like Tinker Bell’s pixie dust. You just scoop up another handful and spread it wherever you want. As he said Saturday: Middle-class economics “means making it easier to afford childcare, college, paid leave, health care, a home, and retirement.”

Unraveling the Obama belief system is a challenge, so let’s take the lower, simpler road and agree with conventional wisdom that “middle-class economics” is mostly about where the votes are.

Mr. Obama is forcing Republicans to defend themselves against the undefinable progressive murk of “fairness,” and he is writing Hillary Clinton ’s campaign agenda before she starts selling him out. In short, the political class has decided that the middle class is ready for its close-up.

What we are about to learn, though, is that “middle class” is just a phrase, whose human reality is more complex and hard to pin down than the Peter Pans of politics believe.

The first indication that politicizing the American middle class carries peril for pols who claim to be its champion came this week when the White House deserted its plan to tax 529 college-savings accounts.

Across millions of kitchen tables since the plan to tax “upper-income” savers was announced, 30- and 40-something spouses said: “He wants to do what?” Even Nancy Pelosi , grandmother of six, went rogue and reportedly asked the White House to drop the idea.

The one datum driving the middle class into the spotlight of presidential politics is that median, inflation-adjusted household income has fallen, from about $54,000 in 2008 to below $52,000.

A man tries a Jewish Black Like Me by walking through Malmo Sweden wearing a yarmulke. The results are not pretty.
Lindgren, walking with a hidden camera and microphone alongside, recorded every step. The report showed the reporter enduring verbal abuse by a man who called him a “Jewish s***” and told him to “leave.” Another person hit him and shouted “Satan Jew,” at him.

As they approached the the city’s neighborhoods with higher Muslim populations, the threats only increased. Some 20 percent of the 300,000 residents of Sweden’s third-largest city are Muslim, according to statistics.

“Then a whole gang came along to threaten the ‘Jewish’ reporter,” while occupants of neighboring homes shouted abuse at him. The broadcast caused a public storm in Sweden, with reactions by public figures, local Jewish organizations and international groups.

The clip, which was broadcast on Sweden’s national television, examined the degree of threats Malmo’s Jews face. The city is infamous for having the largest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country, many of them perpetrated by members of the Muslim community.
Such a result is scary evidence of what Europe's Jews are regularly facing. And they should spark a lot more attention than the young lady who recorded herself walking in NYC and the catcalls she received. Most of the comments were men complimenting her appearance. The reporter posing as a Jew was threatened with violence and harassed with loud anti-Semitic insults. I just finished covering anti-Semitism in the 19th century in my AP European history class. It is so depressing to find it resurging again Europe.

Obama's proposal to tax college savings accounts was withdrawn because Democrats realized that such an attack would hurt their own constituents - the affluent.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, Democrats depend nearly as much on upper-class voters as Republicans do. Democrats represent seven of the 10 wealthiest congressional districts in the country, and Obama also won those districts twice.

In 2008, Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate in decades to win the vote of upper-middle-class Americans (those making a family income of $100,000 or more). Bill Clinton carried just 34 percent of those voters in his successful 1992 campaign; Obama improved on that total by 15 points in 2008.

It's no coincidence, then, that the Democratic leaders who reportedly lobbied Obama to drop the proposal represent two of the most affluent districts in the country. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco seat is the 37th wealthiest in the country, while Budget Committee ranking Democrat Chris Van Hollen's suburban Washington district is in the top 10.

Their districts are filled with constituents—both middle- and upper-class—who have utilized the 529 college accounts to save for their children's tuition. These days, sending a student to a top-tier private university can cost more than $200,000 for four years. Unless you're one of the top 1 percent, that's an economic burden that even the well-off can't afford without help.

"$200,000 in family income is comfortable. But if you're two accountants, or two college professors, the bottom line is if you have to play close to the sticker price for college, that's a tremendous amount of money unless you're so rich nothing is expensive," said Matt Bennett, cofounder of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. "And these are the very people at the heart of the Democratic coalition—highly-educated, fairly well off but not super wealthy."

The decision, and the initial White House response criticizing the tax-free vehicles as tools for the rich, offers a useful peek in the political thinking of the Obama White House. Several Democratic operatives interviewed said that since few of the proposals stood to pass through a Republican Congress, there wasn't the same degree of scrutiny paid to the political impact of all of the budgetary details.

But it also underscores how the White House was wading into dangerous territory by proposing to raise middle-class taxes to pay for preferred government programs. There are only so many ways to generate revenue without hitting political resistance from a key constituency.

As Democrats learned in the 1980s, taxing affluent voters to pay for the benefits of lower-class voters is rarely a smart political strategy. Michael Dukakis won a paltry 32 percent of the vote among upper-class voters in the 1988 presidential election, which prompted a messy intra-party battle for years. It took Bill Clinton's brand of centrism to broaden the party's appeal to the suburban voters who had abandoned Democrats en masse.

When Pelosi and Van Hollen are the politicians crying foul, it raises the specter of a president badly disconnected from his party's best interests. The proposal to tax college savings accounts wasn't close to becoming law, and it would hardly have the same impact as the administration's signature domestic reforms on health care and banking. But it was so resonant because it threatened to hit the pocketbooks of many voters that the party has been winning over.

The WSJ notes that the IRS has hired the contractor that built the Obamacare website.
So what does it take to ruin your reputation around Washington these days? The question comes to mind after learning that one of the capitol’s most corrupt bureaucracies has decided to hire one of its most incompetent contractors—and the answer explains a lot about accountability in government.

Only days after the Internal Revenue Service announced that it would throttle back tax-season customer service in retaliation for modest budget cuts, the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee discovered that the agency had an active $4.46 million contract with CGI Federal. You may recall that company as the same outside website-builder-for-hire that was the lead designer for the ObamaCare website rollout fiasco of 2013.

CGI’s ineptitude was too much even for the Health and Human Services Department, which defenestrated CGI in January 2014. Several states followed. In a letter to the IRS on Friday, Illinois Republican Pete Roskam deadpans, “I am concerned that just months after the HHS and Massachusetts firings, the IRS selected the same contractor to provide critical technology services related to the administration of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

Timothy Carney explains how Obama's agenda tilts against stay-at-home moms.

Reuters has done a study and determined that the Obama administration has steered funding to blue and swing states at the expense of red states.
Red, purple and blue states have all shouldered steep spending cuts after a 2011 budget deal, the analysis found. But those cuts have not been doled out evenly.

Discretionary grant funding to red states like Mississippi fell by 40 percent to $15 billion between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2013, the most recent year for which reliable figures are available. Purple states like Ohio and North Carolina saw a smaller drop of 27 percent, to $19.8 billion, and blue states saw a yet-smaller drop of 22.5 percent, to $27.6 billion. (The tally does not include disaster aid handed out after Hurricane Sandy, which went largely to blue states like New Jersey.)

The disparity doesn't show up in payments like Medicaid that are distributed through pre-set formulas. It also does not appear in Obama's 2009 recession-fighting Recovery Act. It only shows up in federal aid that is most directly controlled by the administration: "project grants," which are doled out on a competitive basis by career civil servants and political appointees.

Of course, many factors other than politics come into play. Some states aren't good at writing grant proposals - researchers at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, for example, found that poor planning has hurt that state's ability to compete for federal dollars. A governor from an oil-producing state may be less inclined to pursue green-energy grants.

But the disparity can't be fully explained by these factors. At Reuters' request, Hudak ran a statistical analysis of spending over this period, controlling for differences in population, economy, percentage of elderly residents, miles of federal highway and the number of research universities and hospitals.

Red states still came up short. After 2011, the average red state got 15 percent fewer grants and 1.3 percent fewer grant dollars than the average swing state. That comes out to roughly 500 grants and $15 million for an average-sized red state like Tennessee - enough to pay for 115 additional police officers or upgrade a rural airport to handle larger planes.
This is not a new tactic for a president. FDR's administration steered New Deal money away from the Southern states he was guaranteed to win and towards swing states.
For defenders of the New Deal, perhaps the most embarrassing revelation about New Deal spending programs is they channeled money AWAY from the South, the poorest region in the United States. The largest share of New Deal spending and loan programs went to political “swing” states in the West and East - where incomes were at least 60% higher than in the South. As an incumbent, FDR didn’t see any point giving much money to the South where voters were already overwhelmingly on his side.

Josh Kraushaar explains how Obama is setting Hillary up to fail. His promise of "free" community college is a prime example.
It's merely a tuition giveaway, one that originally was partly paid for by the very middle- and upper-middle-class families that are saving money for the four-year colleges that Obama has called essential for a successful career. The plan proposed getting rid of the tax exemption on 529 college savings accounts, which have been growing in popularity, to help parents prepare for their childrens' rising education expenses. That provision was so politically tone deaf that the White House withdrew it just one week after the president introduced it.

The proposal smacked of the very redistributive schemes that dogged Democrats throughout the 1980s.

Anytime a politician promises to "lower the cost to zero," as Obama did in his address, it's worth remembering the economic maxim "there's no such thing as a free lunch." And it directly puts a squeeze on the very middle-class constituency that Obama claims to be courting. Hillary Clinton will certainly want to echo a message centered on educational opportunity, but she's probably not eager to alienate a sizable group of voters who will be up for grabs in the next election.

Clinton has been publicly supportive of the president, but he's boxed her into a corner. She can't afford to publicly break with a president whose fortunes align closely with hers. Yet she's undoubtedly aware that her odds of winning the Democratic nomination are very strong, and moving away from the center won't help her in a general election.
Of course, avoiding such future political cul-de-sacs for Hillary would necessitate that Obama actually care and that he has more self-awareness than he he has ever demonstrated.

Sean Davis explains why Jonathan Chait has suddenly come out against political correctness and why we shouldn't believe Chait really is concerned about not attacking people for their speech.

One reporter tried to match a day's worth of drinking what Winston Churchill regularly drank. The results will make you appreciate Churchill even more.