Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cruising the Web

While we focus on important issues like Iran and immigration and spend time perusing the latest meaningless poll ratings, let's not forget the fiscal disasters that our entitlement programs are facing.
The Social Security disability program will run out of money in late 2016, a report issued Wednesday by the Social Security and Medicare trustees warned.

At that point, the 10.9 million beneficiaries of the program face an immediate 19 percent cut in benefits, unless Congress intervenes.

The combined trust fund for the retirement and disability programs is projected to run out by 2034, a slight improvement from last year's estimate.

The trust fund for Medicare hospital insurance will be depleted by 2030, unchanged from last year.
Sure, but that's all down the road, so why should our nation's leaders do anything about it today?

Michael Barone writes that, despite all the attention on splits within the Republican Party, the Democrats are facing some dangerous fissures themselves.
"It would be a terrible mistake for the progressive movement to split into a 'black lives matter' movement and an 'economic justice' movement," laments Clinton administration labor secretary Robert Reich. But the fact is that the different priorities of gentry liberals and black activists, two heavily Democratic constituencies, are sparking heated arguments.

There may be some heated arguments as well over how to respond to the recently released videos of high Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal body parts. The blithe statements that fetus's bodies should be crushed in ways preserving the option of selling livers, hearts and lungs for $30 to $100 strikes many as grisly....

The 2012 Obama campaign appealed to single women by suggesting that without Obamacare's contraception mandate, contraceptives would somehow be unavailable — a favorable way to frame the abortion issue. But the Planned Parenthood videos are, in the words of Democratic columnist Kirsten Powers, "stomach-turning stuff."

....Then there is the issue of sanctuary cities, highlighted by the murder July 1 of Kate Steinle by a five-times-deported illegal immigrant whom the San Francisco sheriff set free rather than turn over to federal authorities.

Democrats have defended sanctuary city policies by arguing that illegal immigrants won't cooperate with law enforcement if they're afraid of being deported. But for some, the San Francisco murder was too much. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, with evident sincerity, decried San Francisco's action. So, perhaps more tactically, did Hillary Clinton.

But some Hispanic leaders and liberal city officials defend sanctuary city policies. And so, as congressional Republicans press the issue, Democrats are likely to be split.

It is natural for a party's wingers — right-wing Republicans or left-wing Democrats — to be restive near the end of their party's president's second term. They take his accomplishments for granted and lament goals not achieved. Barack Obama's increasingly leftward lurch has encouraged the party's left wingers to angrily air their views, often in terms unappealing to those outside their narrow groups.

The result is tension between the party's major constituencies and a highlighting of positions unpopular with the larger general electorate. Shouting down speakers who say "all lives matter" is not popular. Neither is the sale of fetal organs. Nor are sanctuary cities.

Republicans certainly have their problems — not all of them surnamed Trump. But so do the increasingly divided Democrats.

Jeff Jacoby explains why the Planned Parenthood videos are so very troubling.
But it isn’t illegality that makes this video so scandalous. It is amorality. It is the nonchalance with which Planned Parenthood’s senior medical director schmoozes, between swigs of wine and forkfuls of salad, about dismembering a healthy unborn child and selling its parts for “anywhere from $30 to $100” apiece. It is the sheer indifference to the enormity of destroying life in the womb and then “donating” the wreckage for money....

You don’t have to be a pro-life activist to be sickened by such ghoulish banality. Even abortion-rights advocates — especially abortion-rights advocates — should insist that abortion and its aftermath be treated with the gravest dignity and respect. For nothing turns hearts and minds against the culture of abortion than its tendency to dehumanize. And could anything be more dehumanizing than the reduction of an unborn baby to its parts? Well, yes: the sight of abortion providers confirming, over lunch, how much less that baby was worth alive than its parts are now that it’s dead.
I bet that Planned Parenthood is rushing to find out how many more of their employees had lunches discussing selling baby body parts. I suspect that there are quite a few more of such videos. The Center for Medical Progress seems to be adopting a strategy of releasing the videos gradually while allowing Planned Parenthood to keep making denials without knowing what might be in any other videos.

Kirsten Powers notes how silent Planned Parenthood's usual defenders have been.
It’s a measure of how damning the video is that Planned Parenthood’s usual defenders were nowhere to be found. There was total silence from The New York Times editorial board and their 10 (out of 11) pro-abortion rights columnists. Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi — both recipients of Planned Parenthood’s highest honor, the Margaret Sanger Award — have been mum. But a few loyalists took up the cause, including Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak, whose column was headlined: “Planned Parenthood deserves to be supported, not attacked.” Actually, it's fetuses who are under attack. By Planned Parenthood.

Dvorak invoked a common defense against the barbarism of late-term abortion: “The details are gruesome, as are many medical procedures and how doctors and nurses tell stories about the operating room.” But nobody is morally repulsed by stories of heart transplants.

Mississippi abortion doctor Willie Parker — who was lauded by Esquire for his “abortion ministry” — ran with the trope that direct quotes from a Planned Parenthood doctor constitute a vicious attack, but went a step further: He compared Nucatola to Jesus. “It's no secret that my frame of reference for the work that I do and in terms of generating compassion is related to my religious understanding and, in particular, my Christian religious understanding,” Parker told Cosmopolitan magazine. “I'm thinking about a strong parallel between what's happening to my colleague (Nucatola) and the trial week of Jesus before he was crucified (as) he was marched from place to place, asked to answer allegations.”

When abortion doctors are elevated to gods who may not be questioned or held accountable, society has officially gone off the rails.
I predict that Democrats will keep using as their defense that they haven't seen the videos so can't comment. And they'll use this deniability until the media stop asking questions. And based on prior scandals like Dr. Gosnell, the media will quite quickly lose interest.

But some Democrats have found one aspect of these videos that merit legal investigation.

With the five-year anniversary of Dodd-Frank, we now know the results of that bill.
First, Dodd-Frank may have chipped away at the Too Big to Fail problem, reducing the subsidy banks enjoy in the form of lower borrowing costs (from lenders who expect a bailout).

More concretely, Dodd-Frank has stimulated the economy of Washington, D.C., creating a lucrative industry for bank lawyers, consultants, and the revolving-door lobbyists who helped write the complex legislation and ever-changing rules.
It's been a real boon for the law's supporters moving through the revolving door.
Barney Frank, the "Frank" of Dodd-Frank, now sits on the board of a bank, thanks to Dodd-Frank. Signature Bank's CEO complained in 2010 that the law would make him "have to hire compliance experts and lawyers and other cost-generating personnel." This year, Frank joined Signature's board, extolling his "32-year career devoted to government and his distinguished expertise in financial services

When Amy Friend, Dodd's chief counsel, joined financial consulting firm Promontory, the firm explained that she would help clients with "the regulatory implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which, at 2,300 pages, is one of the most complex and wide-ranging overhauls of the financial regulatory framework in decades."

Frank's chief counsel, Daniel Meade, went to K Street giant Hogan Lovells. The firm bragged that he was "a principal draftsperson of substantial portions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform."

These are some of the most prominent Dodd-Frank cash-outs, but there are dozens of others. Lawmakers, congressional staffers and federal regulators who wrote, passed and implemented the law are now getting rich helping the regulated live with — and profit from — the law.
And, of course, the law has done the exact opposite of stopping the whole "Too Big To Fail" problem.
For years after the 2008 bailout, the biggest banks explicitly enjoyed a Too Big To Fail subsidy. They could borrow at lower rates because lenders assumed they would be bailed out if the bank failed.

Credit ratings agencies, however, have cut the big banks' ratings in recent years, as they have seen "presumed government support" trickle away. Scholars on the Left and the Right have produced studies suggesting that the TBTF borrowing discount has shrunk (though this conclusion isn't unanimous).

Texas keeps prospering and it is not all due to oil.
A funny thing has happened to the economic miracle in Texas that liberals predicted would go bust along with oil prices. America’s foremost state job creator of the past decade continues to produce opportunity and employment.

Last week’s “beige book” release from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas shows that despite the struggling oil and gas industry, the Texas economy is still enjoying moderate growth. Since prices in the oil patch began sliding a year ago, pundits on the political left have been waiting for evidence to declare the Texas model a failure. They’re still waiting.

Last month the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that in 2014 the Texas economy grew by a sizzling 5.2%, second fastest in the country after North Dakota’s 6.3% and more than twice the U.S. average. That followed 5.5% growth in 2013 and 6.2% in 2012. And 2014 was the year oil prices fell to $53 a barrel in December from more than $107 in June. The Texas rig count in May was down 58% from a year ago.
So what excuse will blue state politicians use now to pooh pooh Texas's economy.

But of course. Robert Redford is going to make a movie about Rathergate, the 60 Minutes story alleging that George W. Bush used connections to evade his National Guard service responsibilities and avoid Vietnam. Of course, the movie, titled "Truth, ignores the actual truth that the documents were unsubstantiated and the reporting had been incredibly shoddy. Bloggers had been able to figure out pretty quickly that the documents were forgeries. According to Dan Rather, it was all a plot by Sumner Redstone to get Bush reelected. Because, you know, CBS has always been a Republican tool.

Redford is going to play Rather so that tell you all you need to know about his approach to the movie. Sounds like a winner, doesn't it? And it also shows how movies can twist history. The average people probably doesn't remember anything about this incident that any conservative paying attention in 2004 remembers quite clearly. So, in the end, most people will remember the Redford take on the incident regardless of the lack of truth in "Truth."

I wonder how young voters like the way that the Democrats work to block "app economy." As William McGurn writes,
It is an axiom of modern American life: Offer a new service that is wildly popular with the public, and sooner or later you will find yourself labeled an enemy of the people.

The latest target is Uber, the app-based ride-sharing service that since its launch in San Francisco just five years ago has expanded to more than 300 cities across the globe. Here in New York, Uber is now locked in combat with the city’s progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio. In a Sunday op-ed for the Daily News, Mr. de Blasio said he aims to freeze Uber’s expansion until his regulators can figure out how best to block any attempts to “skirt vital protections and oversight.”

The mayor’s call to arms comes only days after Hillary Clinton used her big speech on economics to sound a similarly dismal note. Though she didn’t mention Uber by name, the Democratic Party’s leading contender for the 2016 presidential nomination fretted that while the “gig economy” may be “exciting” and “unleashing innovation,” “it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”
Here are exciting new developments that allow people to get a product more cheaply and more conveniently than previously when union donors do the Democratic Party had a monopoly. The people working for Uber have a way to supplement their income on a schedule that fits their lives. When it comes to protecting their union supporters, Democrats like de Blasio and Hillary Clinton are quite happy to block innovation. As McGurn writes, this is one type of choice that Democrats can't tolerate.
However these battles end, the attacks it faces are no accident. They have two chief causes: First, innovative new business models always threaten traditional constituencies, and many of these are Democratic. In New York, for example, Airbnb may be even more disruptive than Uber, because by providing a way for apartment dwellers to make some money by renting out their homes, it is also enabling visitors to make an end run around the high taxes and labor costs (think hotel unions) that help make a hotel room in the Big Apple so pricey.

Perhaps even more important, innovation by its nature challenges the inner-Elizabeth Warren in so much of today’s Democratic Party. However open Democrats may be to revolutionary new definitions of marriage, the thought that there might be some nonsexual for-profit contracts between consenting adults keeps progressives up at night. So when a business like Uber’s prospers because its model doesn’t quite fit the established regulatory categories, the Democratic response is almost always to try to pound these new square pegs into the government’s old round holes.

It’s not just the sharing economy, either. From charter schools to finance to the Internet, the dominant Democratic impulse is to tax or regulate—or, in an ideal world, both.
And de Blasio has ticked off Ashton Kutcher and Kate Upton. Uber is fighting back by pointing out how Uber helps minority communities.
Uber sent a video to its New York City customers last week, urging them to tell Mayor de Blasio that they oppose the proposed legislation, which the company asserts would "strand" underserved minority communities in the city's outer boroughs.

This idea — of Uber as a service that helps minority communities where taxis would otherwise avoid picking them up — has been repeated by a number of people who oppose the proposed legislation, like Ron Busby, the CEO of the US Black Chambers.

Uber is doubling down on fighting the proposed legislation. The company offered free UberPool rides to its New York City customers to attend a pro-Uber protest at New York's City Hall last month.
Thankfully, common sense won out as the New York City Council failed to muster enough votes to implement de Blasio's efforts to help his donors.
The real motivation was taxi interests. The price of New York taxi licenses, known locally as medallions, has dropped nearly a quarter in recent years from a high of $1.3 million in 2013, as more consumers switch to summoning a car on a smartphone instead of hailing a cab. This is called competition, and taxis want to recoup market share by stifling alternatives.

Mayor de Blasio and the far-left City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito went along for the ride despite their supposedly progressive politics. It must be a coincidence, comrade, that the yellow taxi industry has lavished campaign contributions on both of them.
De Blasio's failure is a victory for innovation and consumers.

Rick Wilson has some thoughts for fans of Donald Trump.
I know that Trump fans reserve special scorn and disdain for people in my line of work—card-carrying members of the Republican establishment, that dreaded political consultant class that is so clearly to blame for Barack Obama’s presidency and all that is wrong with the Grand Old Party. It would be just so much easier to have The Donald as president without this messy election business. But Trump supporters need to wake up before they help elect another Clinton.

So excuse me if I speak out of turn. Here, Trump enthusiasts, is what I’m hearing you say, and why you’re Hillary Clinton’s new best friends:

1. You’re angry as Hell, and by God, you’re going to teach the GOP a lesson. Even if it means (and it well may) that Hillary Clinton sits in the White House, names 3 or 4 Supreme Court justices and lets Bill run around the East Wing molesting the help, you’re going to teach the hated Establishment a lesson by becoming Trump Super Fans, even if he runs as a third party candidate and guarantees Her victory....

3. You think we’re dismissing the message, but we’re dismissing the messenger. Yes, opinions in Washington vary widely over immigration. Yes, they aren’t what most of you seem to want: a mile-high wall made of solid steel with auto-firing laser turrets every six feet and mass deportation roundups of 13 million people. Yes, the presence of illegal alien criminals is an outrage. The presence of sanctuary cities is a legal travesty. Donald Trump is not the man to fix these problems. If you think he’s a man of his word, look at the creditors in his multiple “strategic” bankruptcy filings, or the victims of his bogus “Trump U” scam and tell me you think he’ll really deliver on his ludicrous promises.

4. You don’t care about his record. It’s an ideological train-wreck of epic proportions if you care about any conservative values. He’s been pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax hikes, pro-single-payer and is a past master of crony capitalism, to say nothing of his political and financial support for the Clintons and Barack Obama. It’s a mess. You’d never give any other candidate the benefit of the doubt on such a wide portfolio of positions that have changed 180 degrees and back again so many times. And yet, I imagine you can drill into Marco Rubio’s or Jeb Bush’s or even Scott Walker’s record for some sign of apostasy that you can never, ever, ever forgive....

6. You don’t know and don’t care why the professionals want Trump in the rear-view mirror. It’s not because we hate you or look down on you. It’s not because we want to elect RINO X. It’s not because the Evil Establishment wants to turn the Southwest into Aztlan. It’s because Donald Trump is not electable. He is the surest guarantor of Hillary Clinton’s election. If I were working for Hillary, I couldn’t think of a better weapon than Donald Trump to blow up the GOP, damage the conservative movement and put Hillary behind the Resolute Desk. And that’s not even factoring in a 3rd party run on Trump’s part.
He makes a lot of good points. I wish those excited about Trump would pay attention.

Feel comforted by Obama's and Kerry's assurances that a 24-day period is no big deal for inspections of Iranian nuclear sites? Well, don't rest easy. It's all bogus.
A close examination of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action released by the Obama administration reveals that its terms permit Iran to hold inspectors at bay for months, likely three or more.

Paragraphs 74 to 78 govern the International Atomic Energy Agency’s access to suspect sites. First, the IAEA tells Iran “the basis” of its concerns about a particular location, requesting clarification. At this point Iran will know where the IAEA is headed. Iran then provides the IAEA with “explanations” to resolve IAEA concerns. This stage has no time limit.

Opportunities for delay abound. Iran will presumably want to know what prompted the IAEA’s concern. The suspect site identified by the IAEA is likely to be remote, and Iran will no doubt say that it must gather skilled people and equipment to responsibly allay IAEA concerns. Iran may offer explanations in stages, seeking IAEA clarifications before “completing” its response. That could take a while.
The delays can go on and on.
So from the moment the IAEA first tips its hand about what it wants to inspect, likely three or more months may pass. All along, the Joint Commission is required to act in “good faith,” and to make only “minimum necessary” requests limited to verification, not “interference.” Tehran could also cite these terms to challenge particular requests.

The description of this process is based on the English-language text of the nuclear agreement. The text lacks a provision that it is the entire agreement, so Iran may claim support in supposed side agreements or statements during negotiations.
Still feeling confident and comforted by Obama and Kerry's assurances?