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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.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Cruising the Web

I must confess that I've been much more interested in Deflategate and Coach K's hunt for his 1000th victory this week than public affairs. As a Patriots fan, I'd been hoping that there would emerge some information clearing the team of malfeasance. Nothing that has happened yet has removed that suspicion. My response from Brady's press conference is the same as Andrew McCarthy's - the NFL doesn't want to find out what happened. It was amazing to hear that they hadn't spoken to Tom Brady yet. What does it mean to say they're conducting an investigation if they haven't talked to him?
This is simply mindboggling. Because of the way footballs are handled pregame, the quarterback would be the most essential source of information in the event irregularities occur. Brady is thus the first person the NFL should have spoken with if the league really wanted to get to the bottom of what happened.

One now has to be suspicious that the league would rather not know at this point. Why? Because we are just ten days from the Super Bowl and there is very strong evidence of cheating. If the league quickly learns who is responsible, it would have to suspend the cheater(s) from the big game or be mercilessly ridiculed for turning a blind eye. The NFL obviously does not want to suspend star players or coaches from its showcase event.

But now, the league will be mercilessly ridiculed anyway. There are very few people who handle the balls or might influence how they are handled between the time they are chosen and the time they are used in a game: the starting QB, the equipment manager, the ball boy(s), the referees, and the coaches. That means a competent investigation to get to the bottom of this growing controversy could be completed in a few hours – meaning, it should have been done by now.
Whatever you might think happened in Deflategate, we can all agree on despising the NFL's leadership this past year.

Here's one scientist's explanation of how deflating the balls could be accomplished without any tampering with the footballs after they were checked. It sounds like a loophole in the NVL's rules and procedures. And guess which NFL coach is very good at exploiting loopholes?

By the way, I was talking before school with my students about this and told them about this physicist's explanation and their reaction was that there should be no penalty if the Patriots were just smarter about physics than the NFL and other teams.

David Adesnik explains how wrong-headed Obama and Hillary's concept of "smart power" is.
Don’t get me wrong — I fully supported the surge in Afghanistan and the intervention in Libya. My problem is with the president’s failure to finish the wars he started. But regardless of whether you were for or against those decisions, you might find it troubling that such a smart president can’t come up with a rationale that can account for his own choices. Or that such a smart president admitted several months ago that he had no strategy for dealing with the Islamic State. For some reason, this president can’t apply his brilliance to the actual challenges in front of him.

The root of the problem may be a persistent misunderstanding of what it means to be smart. For this president, being smart always seems to correlate with withdrawal of American troops, resistance to using force, and attempting reconciliation with the most oppressive and hostile regimes. For some reason, this president couldn’t recognize that it might have been smart to keep enough troops in Iraq to prevent its implosion or to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition before Islamic extremists hijacked the anti-Assad movement.

Ironically, the president’s complete confidence in his own intelligence has made his foreign policy less decisive and less coherent. Despite his determination to avoid conflict, the president has often found himself in situations where getting tough seems to be necessary, whether it is with the Islamic State, Iran, or Vladimir Putin. Under pressure, the president then moves to a stronger position, but hesitates to follow through. Being tough still doesn’t feel smart, so Obama begins to bend.

After promising to destroy the Islamic State, Obama has presided over a lackluster military campaign. Tonight, he patted himself on the back for “stopping ISIL’s advance.”

After a failed reset with Russia, Obama responded to the invasion of Ukraine with a parade of threats. In the end, Obama and his European partners only imposed pinprick sanctions. Tonight, Obama bragged about Russia’s diplomatic isolation, but the Kremlin’s proxy army hasn’t loosened its grip on eastern Ukraine, where thousands have died.

After Ayatollah Khamenei rejected Obama’s friendly overtures in 2009, the White House went along with a congressionally driven strategy of imposing harsh sanctions. With its economy ailing, Tehran agreed to talk about abandoning its drive for nuclear weapons. Even though Tehran is just stalling for time, Obama has threatened to veto bipartisan legislation that threatens to impose new sanctions if Tehran doesn’t negotiate a disarmament deal by July 1. Tonight, the president re-issued his veto threat.

He may be smart, but he just never learns.
Charles Krauthammer explains how Iran is winning in the Middle East, most recently in Yemen where the government that has been working with us against terrorism was just overthrown.
Why should we care about the coup? First, because we depend on Yemen’s government to support our drone war against another local menace, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It’s not clear if we can even maintain our embassy in Yemen, let alone conduct operations against AQAP. And second, because growing Iranian hegemony is a mortal threat to our allies and interests in the entire Middle East.

In Syria, Iran’s power is similarly rising. The mullahs rescued the reeling regime of Bashar al-Assad by sending in weapons, money, and Iranian revolutionary guards, as well as by ordering their Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, to join the fight. They succeeded. The moderate rebels are in disarray, even as Assad lives in de facto coexistence with the Islamic State, which controls a large part of his country.

Iran’s domination of Syria was further illustrated by a strange occurrence last Sunday in the Golan Heights. An Israeli helicopter attacked a convoy on the Syrian side of the armistice line. Those killed were not Syrian, however, but five Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon and several Iranian officials, including a brigadier general.

What were they doing in the Syrian Golan Heights? Giving “crucial advice,” announced the Iranian government. On what? Well, three days earlier, Hezbollah’s leader had threatened an attack on Israel’s Galilee. Tehran appears to be using its control of Syria and Hezbollah to create its very own front against Israel.

The Israelis can defeat any conventional attack. Not so the Gulf Arabs. To the north and west, they see Iran creating a satellite “Shiite Crescent” stretching to the Mediterranean and consisting of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. To their south and west, they see Iran gaining proxy control of Yemen. And they are caught in the pincer.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is pulling out all the stops to block a Congressional effort to impose economic sanctions if Iran doesn't agree to give up its nuclear program.
Which makes all the more incomprehensible President Obama’s fierce opposition to Congress’s offer to strengthen the American negotiating hand by passing sanctions to be triggered if Iran fails to agree to give up its nuclear program. After all, that was the understanding Obama gave Congress when he began these last-ditch negotiations in the first place.

Why are you parroting Tehran’s talking points, Mr. President? asks Democratic senator Bob Menendez. Indeed, why are we endorsing Iran’s claim that sanctions relief is the new norm? Obama assured the nation that sanctions relief was but a temporary concession to give last-minute, time-limited negotiations a chance.

Twice the deadline has come. Twice no new sanctions, just unconditional negotiating extensions.

Our regional allies — Saudi Arabia, the other five Gulf states, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel — are deeply worried. Tehran is visibly on the march on the ground and openly on the march to nuclear status. And their one great ally, their strategic anchor for two generations, is acquiescing to both.

And Hillary Clinton is going to have a tough time defending her time as Secretary of State.
She stupidly scorned the foreign policy wisdom in the long-headed Farewell Addresses of Presidents George Washington and Dwight D. Eisenhower. They warned against entanglements abroad and the influence of the military-industrial complex towards objectless wars.

Clinton, however, championed a virtually lunatic “humanitarian” conflict against Libya’s Col. Muammar Gaddafi, and a military entanglement to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that would strenghthen the Islamic State or the equally terrorist-minded Al-Nusra Front.

In pre-war years, Libya’s Gaddafi had renounced support for international terrorism, abandoned weapons of mass destruction, and paid compensation for the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. He was an ally in opposing al- Qaeda and radical Islam. He was unthreatening to the United States. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified that Libya was not a “vital interest.”

Even a school child could see that to overthrow Gaddafi would steel Iran and North Korea against renouncing their nuclear ambitions; would open his stockpile of conventional weapons to Islamic radicals throughout the Middle East; and, would cause chaos and strife to ensue among tribal, ethnic, sectarian, or secular militias enabling penetration of Libya by al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.

Clinton’s memoir Hard Choices shows that she was clueless as to the Pandora’s Box that would be opened by overthrowing Gaddafi, like a child ignorant of the dangers of a Kalashnikov rifle. The multiple adversities that should have been foreseen have come home to roost.

Iran has refused to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for a relaxation of economic sanctions. North Korea has enhanced its nuclear arsenal and delivery vehicles. Gaddafi’s conventional arms have fallen into the hands of our enemies. Libya splintered into hundreds of ethnic or tribal-based militias or terrorist groups and was left without a functioning government.
Just where in the catalog of Hillary Clinton's record on foreign affairs do we see an argument that this woman should again be the leader of our nation's foreign policy?

As usual, despite the rhetoric about taxing only the rich, Obama's proposed tax changes would hit middle-class savings plans for college.
President Obama is pitching his new tax plan as a way to help the middle class at the expense of the rich. But middle-class savers are bound to notice if he achieves two of the White House’s stated goals—to “roll back” tax benefits of 529 college savings plans and “repeal tax incentives going forward” for Coverdell Education Savings Accounts.

Both plans allow parents, grandparents or anyone looking to help fund a kid’s education to contribute after-tax dollars into accounts that grow tax-free. There is also no tax when the money is withdrawn, provided it is used for qualified educational expenses such as tuition, fees, books, room and board.

Mr. Obama wants to allow the IRS to tax as income any withdrawals from future 529 contributions. This would make them less attractive. The White House goal seems to be to discourage private thrift, and encourage greater use of government benefits, when paying for college.

Alan Abramowitz at Sabato's Crystal Ball analyzes how Obama's approval rating may affect the 2016 presidential election.

Peggy Noonan is quite tired of Obama posing as if he's still concerned only with purple America, not red or blue Americans.
After forgetting to be gracious to the victors of the 2014 election, or even to note there’d been a significant election, he referred to his relations with Congress. “Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different,” he said. “A better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.” It is instead one “where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.” Well, OK, but before this sweet hectoring he had sternly threatened to veto Republican-backed legislation. (CBS News’s Mark Knoller counts nine veto threats since the new Congress was sworn in Jan. 6.) Somehow Mr. Obama’s olive branch always looks like a blunt instrument. He has spent the past six years blaming Republicans when he wasn’t ignoring or dissing them, and despite some nice touches in the speech, his essential disrespect for his political adversaries shone through.

He hates them. They hate him back.

Kevin Williamson writes about liberal protesters have erased the concept of private lives as exhibited by recent protests invading restaurants where people were eating Sunday brunch.
The message these protests send is that there is no private space — and, therefore, no private life — so far as this particular rabble is concerned. It’s the familiar Trotsky conundrum: You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.

That the people at brunch have no real direct connection to the events motivating the protesters is beside the point. They were targeted on racial grounds: These were detestable “white spaces,” and the people there were to be punished for being white — even if they were not, in fact, white, their presence in “white spaces” makes them guilty by association. That the protesters were themselves largely white goes without saying: Protests of this sort are a prestige performance for stupid white college kids, mainly. If you want to see a genuinely “white space,” a protest is your best bet....

Such was the case in San Francisco’s Castro district, a prominent gay neighborhood, when 300 protesters shut down its main street to protest the fact that the neighborhood “is a space dominated by white middle-class men, and is symbolic of the racial divide within the LGBT community and gentrification in San Francisco in general,” as one local dope put it. Their demands were for “all mainstream LGBT organizations to take concrete action in support of black lives,” and they provided a list of organizations to which they would like to see local organizations offering donations.

Which is to say, they’re running a protection racket.

That’s historically been a pretty good business for the Left. Jesse Jackson, surely one of the wealthiest Baptist preachers without a congregation, has had a very successful career at that, and he’s smarter than the “black brunch” gang. He isn’t in New York complaining that Manhattan brunch spots are too white; he’s in Silicon Valley complaining that the C-suites and boardrooms of gazillion-dollar tech companies are too white. You don’t get paid leaning on brunchers; you get paid leaning on Google, a company in which whites are slightly underrepresented but Asian Americans are wildly overrepresented, constituting about 30 percent of its employees. When it comes to “people of color,” you can be sure that the Reverend Jackson has a favorite crayon in his diversity pack. Practically every affirmative-action debate in California, whether on corporate diversity or college admissions, is silently, guiltily concerned with the fact that it is not whites who are overrepresented in positions of prestige but members of a minority group, one whose interests there is not much juice in defending. When it comes to politics, all the money is in dysfunction, and Asian Americans are relatively short on that.
Sensible people would tell these pathetic bullies to mind their own business, but minding your business — and Google’s business — is literally Jesse Jackson’s business. (Literally, Mr. Vice President.)

The Senate under a brief three weeks of Republican leadership has now allowed more votes on amendments to bills than the Democrats allowed all last year. And Democratic senators are quite happy about this.

President Obama inadvertently gave his view of the media a couple of days ago.
"I mean, we have an entire industry that's designed to sort us out," said Obama, as recorded by C-SPAN and officially transcribed by the White House. "Our media is all segmented now so that instead of just watching three stations, we got 600. And everything is market-segmented, and you got the conservative station and the liberal stations. So everybody is only listening to what they already agree with."
599 to 1. That's the ratio that Obama just gave us when he indicated that each station has an ideology and there is only one conservative one. Sounds about right.

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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cruising the Web

It's time to go back to Thomas Jefferson's practice of just sending a written message to Congress rather than the speech before Congress with all its pomp and political maneuvering. It should return to being a report on the actual state of a nation instead of being a laundry list of, as Obama said last night, doing what he believes is best for America. Everyone knows that the list is irrelevant. Indeed, you can watch this video from Grabien of 112 of Obama's unfulfilled promises from past State of the Union speeches. Obama can just promise us lots of free stuff that no one has to pay for, except a few rich folks, but we all recognize that this list is DOA as far as actual policies being enacted. The SOTU is now all about political positioning rather than the actual enactment of policies, except for those for which Obama intends to ignore Congress and do by executive action.

Philip Bump writes in the Washington Post about how unnecessary and anachronistic the State of the Union is.
By now, President Obama knows there’s no utility to it. His poll numbers haven’t been helped by the speech; on average, his approval as measured by Gallup has been a point lower the week after his addresses compared with the week before. That’s not only a function of decreased viewership, since poll numbers have long been immune to State of the Union boosts. But viewership is down over the past two decades. In 1994, Bill Clinton’s speech appeared on four networks and was watched by 45.8 million people, according to Nielsen. In 2014, Obama was on 13 networks and seen by 33.3 million — even though the country had added more than 50 million people in the interim.

The world has changed since 1994. Obama is so eager for his ideas to be heard by the public that he has embraced the fragmentation of the media, announcing his community-college proposal on Vine and his immigration plan on Facebook. After Tuesday’s speech, he’ll take questions from a category of people known as “YouTube stars,” one of whom is fond of green lipstick and whose 2012 video of herself choking on cinnamon has been viewed 42 million times. (If you don’t feel like doing the math, that’s 126 percent of Obama’s live 2014 State of the Union audience.)

A bigger problem, though, is that Americans simply are no longer that impressed by the pageantry of the presidency. Everyone wants to meet Obama, sure; everyone wanted to get a beer with George W. Bush in the famous formulation. Confidence in the presidency at large, as measured by Gallup last year, was down from 1991 by more than 40 points. Trust in government dropped precipitously and then flattened. It’s easy to dismiss Obama’s YouTube outreach as diminishing the status of the office, but only officeholders and those on Capitol Hill who seek it seem to offer it much status anymore.

That’s why we continue with the State of the Union address. It gives the president an excuse to talk about his policy priorities, but he certainly doesn’t need to gather everyone together in the Capitol to do that. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows (and has likely dismissed) Obama’s key policy goals, without the big address. We have the speech because it is Tradition, and that Tradition reflects the Importance of the Office. So Obama walks onto the House floor, passing through an effusive crowd of legislators as they imagine themselves making that same walk, and the Great Spectacle of Washington is upheld.
And then there are those who don't watch the SOTU or pay any attention to politics. Jimmy Kimmel can always find such people. This week he found people who were willing to praise a speech that MLK gave today and comment on the weight that MLK had presumably gained.
These guys get as many votes as you and I do.

Fred Barnes ridicules Obama's version of "middle class economics." Obama is just "blowing smoke."
On this subject and many others in his address, Obama is blowing smoke. He claims wonderful things have happened in his presidency, now entering its seventh year. But most of his claims are false or weren’t the result of his policies. He touts the boom in oil and gas, which he sought to prevent.

He boasts of an economy that’s experiencing “the fastest economic growth in over a decade.” He’s referring, I suspect, to the impressive five percent growth in the third quarter of 2014. Yes, one quarter. But it took six years of slow-as-molasses growth for the Obama economy to get to this point, though the so-called Great Recession ended in June 2009. What took so long? President Reagan’s recession was just as severe, but the economy was booming again in three years. And Reagan knew what had caused this – deep cuts in income tax rates.

Obama fails to come clean on the tax hikes he wants to impose on Americans. It’s not just the richest of the rich who would be hit. So would parents saving for their kids’ college in 529 funds. Obama would tax the money taken from the funds to pay college costs. And he would cap how much workers could put in 401(k) funds for retirement, thus making more of their income subject to yearly taxes.

And jobs? Don’t ask. The president wants to raise taxes on investments and inheritances. It would reduce the amount of private capital available to invest in start-ups and new jobs. This would not be an unexpected consequence. As Jack Kemp used to say, when you tax something, you get less of it.
And his claims on foreign policy were just lies.
On foreign policy, Obama seems to think he has stopped Vladimir Putin’s invasions in their tracks. “We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small – by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies,” he declared. The principle is a worthy one, but it hasn’t stopped Putin. Despite Obama, Putin went ahead and annexed Crimea and seized a chunk of eastern Ukraine.

There was also a Middle East whopper. Obama declared: “American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL’s advance” in Iraq and Syria. No, it’s not, especially in Syria, where ISIL continues to gain territory.

Guided by Obama, the U.S. is “assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.” But “extremism” can’t be an ideology. It has to be an extreme version of something, in this case “Islamic jihad.” Obama won’t say those words. You’ll have to figure his reason on your own.
Even Andrea Mitchell acknowledges that the part of his speech on foreign policy is "not close to reality."
"I think that on foreign policy, his projection of success against terrorism and against ISIS, in particular, as I said, is not close to reality," said Mitchell.
Byron York expands on Obama's obliviousness to reality.
"In Iraq and Syria, American leadership -- including our military power -- is stopping ISIL's advance," Obama said, referring to the Islamic State. The claim left some foreign policy observers aghast, since there is a general consensus that the Islamic State is making progress in the face of limited American air attacks. "That just isn't the case, according to military officials I've been speaking to," NBC foreign correspondent Richard Engel said of Obama's statement. "They [the Islamic State] are taking new territory." Of Obama's description of a world in which the Islamic State is retreating, Afghanistan is on the road to peace, and terrorists are on the run from South Asia to North Africa, Engel concluded, "It sounded like the president was outlining a world that he wishes we were all living in."

Obama sounded equally disconnected from reality on some domestic issues. For example, when discussing the nation's veterans, he said, "Already, we've made strides towards ensuring that every veteran has access to the highest quality care." A listener wouldn't know it from Obama's speech, but there has been a huge VA scandal since Obama's last State of the Union; his Secretary of Veterans Affairs had to resign because of it. Veterans died waiting for treatment. All Obama said Wednesday [sic] night was, "We're slashing the backlog that had too many veterans waiting years to get the benefits they need." By "benefits," the president apparently meant "life-saving medical care."

At another point, Obama claimed credit for a "re-energized space program." The remark surely led to some jaws dropping among laid-off National Aeronautics and Space Administration engineers who believe Obama has nearly killed the place.

The president's final disconnect was perhaps the biggest. After a "vicious recession…tonight, we turn the page," Obama said. "With a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, booming energy production, we have risen from recession." For some Americans, that is the case, although even for them, "bustling" might be a bit much. For other Americans, the news is still pretty bad. When a recent Fox News poll asked, "For you and your family, does it feel like the recession is over, or does it feel like the country is still in a recession?" 64 percent of respondents said it feels like there is still a recession. Indeed, it's widely conceded that part of the reason the unemployment rate has fallen is because a core of discouraged workers dropped out of the job search altogether. So for many listeners, Obama's "turn the page" declaration will seem as out of touch as his claim that ISIL's advance has been stopped.

Perhaps Richard Engel found the key to the president's nearly 7,000-word speech: Obama described the world as he wishes it were, not as it actually is. Indeed, in Obama's State of the Union, things are going so well that it's hard to imagine why voters would decisively turn control of Congress over to the opposition party -- not that Obama would acknowledge that, either. Doing so would be a concession that something is still terribly wrong.

The WSJ debunks any idea that Obama's policies are about helping the middle class.
The President has suddenly discovered that middle-class incomes have plunged on his watch, and he’s demanding that Congress address this with more of the same policies that have done so much to reduce middle-class incomes.

White House aides are saying their boss’s plan for $320 billion in new taxes on savings and investment to finance more transfer payments is a bid to be remembered as a Robin Hood. This would be accurate if our hero and his merry men had shaken down Sherwood Forest for the benefit of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Mr. Obama has spent six years trying to redistribute income, but all he’s done is make the income gap between rich and poor wider.
They point out that how the real income of American households grew in the 1990s and started declining during Bush's first term and then rebounded. But they declined at the start of the recession in 2008 and have been declining ever since.
The President has suddenly discovered that middle-class incomes have plunged on his watch, and he’s demanding that Congress address this with more of the same policies that have done so much to reduce middle-class incomes.

White House aides are saying their boss’s plan for $320 billion in new taxes on savings and investment to finance more transfer payments is a bid to be remembered as a Robin Hood. This would be accurate if our hero and his merry men had shaken down Sherwood Forest for the benefit of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Mr. Obama has spent six years trying to redistribute income, but all he’s done is make the income gap between rich and poor wider.

Margaret Talev at Bloomberg writes about how the SOTU is more about manipulating social media than talking about the real concerns of people.
Two weeks after the Paris terrorism attacks, in the opening days of a new Congress where Republicans control both chambers and are moving to reshape domestic policy, why has the White House used the lead-up to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address to promote his post-speech interviews with luminaries such as Bethany Mota, a 19-year-old YouTube celebrity who became famous for showing strangers her fashion and beauty buys online?

Why has Obama given away so much about the speech by rolling out proposals weeks ahead of it? What happened to the bully pulpit? What would George Washington think?

....If there was a virtue in Mr. Obama’s speech, it’s that we can now retire the lectures on “responsible governing.” With the exception of trade and the war against Islamic State, the President Tuesday sought no common policy ground with Republicans. He offered a Nancy Pelosi agenda. Imagine if George W. Bush had proposed a $320 billion tax-rate cut in his 2007 State of the Union, following his rout in the 2006 midterm. He would have been hooted out of the chamber, followed by days of wondering if he’d wigged out.

If Mr. Obama won’t make any concession to political reality, then Republicans are under no obligation to take his agenda seriously. For their own peace of mind, they should ignore his gaslighting and prioritize something that really would help the economy.

Ah, good. We've moved from hashtag diplomacy and geezer rock diplomacy to holding up pencils to show solidarity with the victims in the Charlie Hebdo massacre. That will stop terrorism for sure.

Jacob Sullum writes at Reason how the press exaggerated Eric Holder's reform of forfeiture practices. There are just too many exceptions for it to really change forfeiture polices. Too bad. I was ready to give Holder kudos for a necessary change.

Now we can see how liberals regard minorities who dare to be Republicans: Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of, appeared on MSNBC to criticize the speech that Bobby Jindal recently made criticizing no-go zones in Europe and said that Jindal was "trying to scrub some of the brown off his skin as he runs to the right in a presidential bid." Because, of course, Republicans wouldn't vote for a non-white otherwise. Forget how happy some conservatives were to vote for Herman Cain or how South Carolina conservatives happily voted for Tim Scott. Such minorities are just Uncle Toms in the minds of liberals.

Mittmania might already have peaked and declined.

So what's behind Obama's recent jump in the polls? It's probably mostly driven by the drop in gas prices, a development with which Obama has had nothing to do. It's happened despite Obama, not due to Obama.

Well, of course. Liberals created a budgetary mess that has allowed millions to claim disability on Social Security and now they're refusing to fix the mess they created.
Now the political left is melting down over a modest budget change that could require Congress to be honest about the Social Security disability program’s fiscal problems and employment distortions.

Republicans are “inventing a Social Security crisis that will threaten benefits for millions and put our most vulnerable at risk,” wrote Senator Elizabeth Warren , in one of her subtler commentaries. AARP and other left-leaning groups are also war-whooping that a procedural rule the House adopted last week will mean about a 19% cut in disability-insurance benefits.

If only. Social Security payroll taxes finance traditional income transfers for the elderly and disability payments, and an ever-larger share is going to the latter for what amounts to promoting middle-age retirement. What used to be last-resort insurance has come to apply to ailments like back pain or anxiety. More and more workers are leaving the labor force permanently and substituting disability for wages.

In 1990 about one of every 10 Social Security dollars flowed to disability. Now it’s nearly one of five. The disability rolls doubled between 1990 and 2008, and then they spiked 21% in the Obama era to 10.2 million Americans and their dependents. Only about one-third of this growth can be explained by the underlying health, size and demographic composition of the working-age population.

Payments have exploded 32% since 2008 to $140.1 billion. And every year since 2009 disability payments have exceeded the revenues dedicated to disability by a portion of the Social Security payroll tax....

There is one legal catch: When a trust-fund balance reaches zero and current revenue can’t cover current claims, the Treasury isn’t allowed to pay out full benefits. The projected disability shortfall for 2016 is 19% of liabilities, which is how the same liberals who created this shortfall get their figure for phantom cuts.

In practice Congress always protects entitlements for current beneficiaries. Eleven times since 1968, most recently in 2000, Congress has reallocated balances back and forth between the disability fund and the old-age trust fund to disguise Social Security’s financial shortfall. Liberals want to do it again to fill the growing disability hole.

The Washington Examiner list 15 proposals from the SOTU that call for more government spending.

And typical for Obama: in his speech he criticized the constant fundraising for elections and then immediately his supporters received an email from Obama asking for donations.