— Obamanation —

December 9, 2012

Things We Read Today (40), Weekend

Justin Katz

What subsidizes green?; what the unions want the pension law to say; First Family Holiday Fame; America, the Special.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 7, 2012

The Philosophy of Noose Tightening

Justin Katz

Providence Journal opinion columnist M.J. Anderson offers a fascinatingly candid look at the thought processes of those whose preference for expressing concern for people is through government programs, and at how it ultimately makes a cheap trinket of freedom.

The bulk of her column describes the terrible dynamic of ObamaCare that is leading employers to shift their emphasis toward part-time workers so as to avoid the choice that the federal government has given them: pay for expensive health plans or pay a penalty. ObamaCare sets a threshold of 50 employees working 30 hours or more per week before the mandate kicks in. As with minimum-wage laws, the rest is basic math and economic incentive.

Folks who share my philosophical view of the world look at this situation and see an argument against ObamaCare.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

November 10, 2012

Petraeus' Resignation: What Changed? Why Is He No Longer Going To Testify Before Congress?

Monique Chartier

Yesterday, David Petraeus resigned as Director of the CIA, citing an extramarital affair.

General Petraeus was scheduled to testify before Congress about the Benghazi debacle. Except that, hours after the announcement of his resignation came the news, without further elaboration, that he was not going to do so.

Why not? That he has now stepped down from the post does not change that he was, in fact, Director of the CIA and that he presumably (.... well, is there any doubt now?) possesses information that could shed light on the terrible events, decisions and repeated inaction that led to the death of four Americans at the Benghazi consulate during the September 11 attack. This is one rare instance where I agree with Dem Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday that she believed Petraeus’s infidelity did not require him to resign.

Congressman Peter King still very much plans to call on General Petraeus to testify. Any response along the lines of, "Not gonna happen; I've quit because I had an affair" would pass no test of credulity, legality or honor. Is this how the General wishes to conclude his remarkable career?


David P, Dan and Warrington have pointed out that, for several reasons, General Petraeus was obliged to resign in light of the affair. I stand corrected on that point. My not fully expressed thought was to question his resignation if its purpose was solely to get him out of testifying before Congress.

October 23, 2012

Puzzling Inconsistency of the President Towards Retro Technology

Monique Chartier

Last night during the debate, President Obama countered one of Mitt Romney's criticisms of him by saying

“Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed,” Obama said, after Gov. Mitt Romney jabbed the president for, he said, overseeing a Navy that is smaller than at any time since 1917.

We would be remiss if we did not note in passing the President's curious approach, on a planet with 70% water cover, of placing modern ships in the same category - "Obsolete" - as bayonets.

But my main question is to request clarification about the standards by which to distinguish good retro technology from bad. The President looks down at bayonets and horses as obsolete but is a strong proponent of a centuries old technology for generating energy.

Can someone please supply the criteria by which bayonets are bad but windmills are wonderful?

October 7, 2012

The ... Er, Evolution of the Obama Administration's Explanation for the Attack on Our Embassy in Libya

Monique Chartier

An illuminating (thought the Obama administration might not appreciate it) timeline presented by the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

September 25, 2012

President Obama's Early Inklings of the Dependency Portal

Justin Katz

In the battle of hidden video and archived recordings that is sure to characterize political campaigns during the digital age, audio emerged from a 1998 presentation by then-state-senator Barack Obama at Loyola University in Illinois.  The statement that made headlines (at least on the center-right side of the media) was now-President Obama's belief in economic "redistribution" through the government.

Those who've been following the development, in the Ocean State, of what the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity is calling a "dependency portal" may be more concerned about the context.  Throughout the roughly twenty minutes prior to a question-and-answer period, Obama's talk exposes early indications of precisely the model of which the Center has been warning.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

September 21, 2012

Things We Read Today (16), Friday

Justin Katz

The narrative of the candidates; death panels and pension boards; the endgame of government debt; an enemies list.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

September 20, 2012

Pledge Allegiance

Marc Comtois

Brought to you by the Obama for is America campaign:

"After he was elected, Mr. Obama allowed himself to believe in his own legend, cheered on by the hundreds of thousands of adoring supporters who thronged his inauguration, by the sheer magnificence of the swearing-in of an African-American president. It was as though he concluded that his election by itself changed the world and had fulfilled his promise of a postpartisan era." ~ New York Times editorial, September 6, 2012.

Nothing has changed.

September 19, 2012

Things We Read Today (14), Wednesday

Justin Katz

Why freedom demands father-daughter dances; the U.S., less free; PolitiFact gets a Half Fair rating for its Doherty correction; and the mainstream media cashes in some of its few remaining credibility chips for the presidential incumbent.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

September 11, 2012

Things We Read Today, 8

Justin Katz

Today: September 11, global change, evolution, economics, 17th amendment, gold standard, and a boughten electorate... all to a purpose.

September 9, 2012

Things We Read Today This Weekend, 6

Justin Katz

First, scroll down and read Monique's postings on Rep. Spencer Dickinson. Then...

The topics of hope and hopelessness pervaded this weekend's readings, from absurd labor rules in schools, to the likely outcome of Make It Happen, to Spencer Dickinson's insider view, and then to Sandra Fluke.

September 5, 2012

Obama's Economy

Marc Comtois

Better off?

Under President Obama…Jan-09Today
Gasoline$1.84 $3.84
National Debt$10.6 Trillion$16 Trillion
# Unemployed11.98 million12.8 million
Median Income$53,410 $50,964
# Food Stamp Users31.98 million46.7 million
Poverty Rate13.20%15.70%
Oil (Europe), barrel$41.22 $113
Oil (Texas), barrel$38.57 $95
Gold, oz$853 $1,690
Corn, bushel$3.67 $8.45
Sugar (raw), lb$13.09 $19.34
Hamburger, lb$1.99 $3.45

Everything is higher....except median income.

(Sources after the jump)

Continue reading "Obama's Economy"

July 27, 2012

The Context of the President's Context

Justin Katz

It's intriguing to observe the telescoping nature of the "context" to which folks are referring when discussing President Obama's infamous Friday the 13th Roanoake speech. The damning two sentences continue to be:

If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

The inferred meaning is that somebody else should get credit for the business that you built. The president's defenders introduce the entire paragraph and the next, arguing that the context shows Obama's statement to have been that business owners didn't build the infrastructure on which their businesses rely:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

The critics expand the text in the opposite direction, to the paragraph before, arguing that the context is, if anything, worse than the gaffe, mainly because of the preachy, scornful tone:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

At this point, as I've argued (and continue to believe), the president's defenders are probably correct on the grammatical point of the key sentence, but his detractors have the better case on the context. In response, a liberal commenter on Anchor Rising criticized me for not including the whole speech. And happy, as ever, to comply, I took a closer look and did indeed come to a striking conclusion: Obama's context is even worse than I'd thought.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

July 24, 2012

Chronology of a Chastened Politician

Justin Katz

Here's President Obama, speaking in Roanoke, Virginia, on Friday, July 13:

I'm always struck by people who think, "Well, it must be because I was just so smart." There are a lot of smart people out there! "It must be because I worked harder than everybody else." Let me tell you something: There are a whole bunch of hard workin' people out there!

And here's President Obama, speaking in California, on Monday, July 23:
I believe with all my heart that it is the drive and the ingenuity of Americans who start businesses that lead to their success. I always have and I always will. The ability for somebody who’s willing to work hard, put in their sweat and their sacrifice to turn their idea into a profitable business, that’s the nature of America.

Trying to combine the two statements into a coherent perspective leaves me tempted to suggest that the missing part of the first speech was that the whole bunch of smart, hard-working people who whom the president at first referred must have lacked drive and ingenuity.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

July 19, 2012

Credit for Building, Blame for Dividing

Justin Katz

President Obama's teleprompter style has been the subject of substantial (often mocking) critical commentary, and with some justification, as this nearly parodic 2010 video from a Virginia classroom proves:

Given recent political events, one can sympathize with the desire of public officials to avoid extemporaneous speech. In a world in which one's every public utterance can be recorded, scrutinized, and exploited, one can't rely on an audience's capacity to get your drift and give you the benefit of the doubt. And it's all to easy to blurt out a sentence such as the now infamous, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that."

Predictably, in the realm of commentary, the debate has moved to the meta matter of whether commentators are deliberately misconstruing the President's meaning. On Slate, Dave Weigel charitably infers "a missing sentence or clause" that Obama neglected to utter because he was "rambling." On Reason, Tim Cavanaugh rejoins that "at some point it helps to look at that thing above the subtext, which is generally known as 'the text.'"

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

July 14, 2012

Obama Administration Weakens Welfare Reform

Monique Chartier

From the Daily Caller; thanks to commenter ANTHONY for the link.

The Department and Health and Human Services announced the agency will issue waivers for the federal work requirement of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program — considered a central facet of welfare reform in 1996 — Thursday. ...

“Thus, HHS has authority to waive compliance with this 402 requirement and authorize a state to test approaches and methods other than those set forth in section 407, including definitions of work activities and engagement, specified limitations, verification procedures, and the calculation of participation rates.”

Redefining qualified "work activities and engagement". Gosh, that doesn't sound ripe for abuse, does it???

More government money (and dependency) handed out during a presidential election year - how can this be anything other than politically motivated?

It's hard to argue, on another front, with Chairman Jordan's point that this is yet another refusal by the Executive Branch to ... well, execute.

According to Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, the memorandum is proof of the Obama administration’s continued disrespect for the rule of law.

“President Obama just tore up a basic foundation of the welfare contract,” Jordan said in a statement. “In exchange for taxpayer-funded TANF payments, the law calls on able-bodied adults to work, look for work, take classes, or undergo drug and alcohol counseling. It’s the tough love that gives people motivation to help themselves…Today’s action is also a blatant violation of the law. After immigration, education, marriage, and religious conscience protections, we can now add welfare reform to the list of laws President Obama refuses to follow.”

We also have to ask how this is justifiable on the fiscal front: macro and priority-wise. The country is currently $15 trillion debt; these "waivers" can only add to it. As for priorities, how would the Obama administration explain this expansion of welfare to state and local public employees around the country facing cuts to their pensions, promised and vested? More importantly, how does he explain it to all of us in view of the decidedly mixed record that the V.A. has in taking care of our returning soldiers, a dubious record undoubtedly caused in part by underfunding?

July 7, 2012

At What Point Can We Start Reading Into the Unemployment Numbers?

Monique Chartier

As Marc notes, the Obama administration's reaction to an unemployment number that remained unchanged at 8.2% is that it is "a step in the right direction", as opposed to a Bush era unemployment rate of 5.6% which, according to candidate Barack Obama, was "too early to celebrate".

Further to this month's unemployment figure, the Obama administration issued a statement several paragraphs long which included the following admonition.

[I]t is important not to read too much into any one monthly report and it is informative to consider each report in the context of other data that are becoming available

Well, that's probably a fair statement. Except that, as someone over at the Romney campaign alertly noticed, this is the thirty first month in a row that the Obama administration has issued this disclaimer.

Over at The Blaze, Becket Adams summarizes

The White House has been telling people that they shouldn’t “read too much into” unemployment figures since November 2009! In fact, the White House has said those exact same words 30 times over the last three years.

A commenter on The Blaze postulates that TOTUS is stuck. Whatever the cause, the result is that the statement has lost some of its effectiveness and ability to reassure.

July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day?

Justin Katz

The Ocean State Current encourages readers to spend some time today reading the Declaration of Independence and considering its continuing significance in our times.

Some of the particulars resonate as if addressing present issues:

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. ...

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. ...

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation ...

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent ...

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers ...

But more profound, naturally, is the spirit of the document, and the pondering of it may lead one to question whether it does continue to have significance for many Americans — for enough Americans.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

June 23, 2012

Extreme Job Reclassification: How the Obama Admin Boosted Its Green Job Count

Monique Chartier

This illuminating exchange between Chairman Darrell Issa and John Galvin from President Obama's Department of Labor Statistics took place in a committee hearing a couple of weeks ago but I didn't become aware of it until John Gibson played the tape this week. (Youtube video of Chairman Issa's exchange with the reluctant Mr. Galvin here.) Honest to pete, as Chairman Issa read down the list of jobs that the Obama administration has tagged as "green", it sounded like an SNL skit:

- everyone who works at Salvation Army (and, presumably, Savers and all thrift stores);

- staff of a consignment shop;

- full time employees at used record shops;

- someone who sweeps the floor at a company that makes solar panels;

- a bike-repair shop clerk;

- a hybrid-bus driver;

- all school bus drivers;

- “the guy who puts gas in a school bus”;

- employees of train car manufacturers;

- employees of a trash disposal yard;

- college professors teaching classes about environmental studies;

- someone who works at an antique dealership;

- someone who sells rare manuscripts;

- an oil lobbyist, if his work is related to environmental issues.

Additionally, this excellent analysis by the Heritage Foundation's David W. Kreutzer points out, inter alia, that over 80% of the "green" jobs that the Obama administration counts in electric power generation are in nuclear. Zero carbon emissions, yes; but is nuclear power green???

To reiterate, these are not jobs necessarily created during the Obama administration by the billions President Obama has spent on green jobs; in fact, it looks like most on the above list were not. They are jobs that the administration has simply placed in the "green" category.

Why would they finagle government labor stats that way? Two reasons come easily to mind. Firstly, Chairman Issa hypothesizes that

the administration is reclassifying such jobs to prove that billions of taxpayer dollars, through the federal stimulus program, have created green, or environmentally-focused jobs – a major initiative for President Obama.

I would add that it undoubtedly doesn't hurt the campaign's fund-raising efforts with eco groups. "Look at all of the green jobs I created! So make your checks out to ..."

June 15, 2012

Didn't Obama Kinda Heckle Himself?

Justin Katz

The Big News on Friday is that Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro "interrupted" President Obama's statement on granting a sort of limited work-visa amnesty for young illegal immigrants. (The official transcript admirably captures what words from the reporter's questions were possible to hear.)

Mr. Munro explains himself thus:

I always go to the White House prepared with questions for our president. I timed the question believing the president was closing his remarks, because naturally I have no intention of interrupting the President of the United States. I know he rarely takes questions before walking away from the podium. When I asked the question as he finished his speech, he turned his back on the many reporters, and walked away while I and at least one other reporter asked questions.

And indeed, the transcript shows that the president did not take any further questions. That leads to what I see as the more relevant observation: It was Barack Obama, the President of the United States, who made an issue of the interaction.

In the immediate case, he did so by his reaction to Munro's audacity in disturbing the ambient peace of the President's press event. As the videos and the transcript show, had Obama not stumbled over his recitation in order to scold the journalist, nobody would have been any the wiser. It displays a characteristic peevishness that the nation's top executive was so disturbed by the nearly inaudible interruption that he could not ignore it in the course of finishing his remarks.

More importantly, the President brought the interruption on himself by giving members of the press corps the sense that he considers their role to be stenographers of his statements, without opportunity for questions. If Munro had reasonable expectation of an opportunity for some Q&A, he wouldn't have tried to slip a bit of Q at what he thought to be the President's closing.

By way of comparison, take a look at this video of President George W. Bush's indulgence as David Gregory, first, deals with the technical difficulty of his microphone wire and, then, offers a long-winded, ideologically charged question. Or better yet, consider a tweet that Prof. Jacobson highlighted from Jim Treacher:

If you cheered when a reporter threw a shoe at Bush, but you booed when a reporter threw a question at @BarackObama, #YouMightBeALiberal.

Chuckles aside, revisit the video. President Bush's reaction? "So what if the guy threw a shoe at me?"

When the missile is a question that's sure to be on the minds of many Americans (likely a majority), President Obama's reaction is, "I didn’t ask for an argument."

In a democracy, the relevant factor isn't what the President "asks for" or allows, but what the people request and demand.

February 18, 2012

Once We’re Done With the One Aspirin Remark, Can We Return To The 1,000 Weeks of Racism and Anti-Americanism?

Monique Chartier

Let me affirm up front that Foster Friess’ chestnut observation was notably asinine and unfunny. No, I'm not pasting it here; click on the link to read the comment if you haven't yet heard it. Mr. Friess needs to stick to his day job and leave the humor to the professionals.

Having said that, in a side matter, upon reflection, I am indebted to Mr. Friess for making the comment, as it inspired Barney Frank to utter this gem.

no, it's an affirmation of the fact that intelligence is not uniform across the board. mr. friess is good at some things that made him very rich, but he also appears to have moronic tendencies.

Indeed, Congressman Dining Tabl … er, Frank, intelligence is not uniform across the board.

What’s interesting is how the media immediately tried to tack this comment to Rick Santorum. I don’t watch t.v. – someone give us an update: are they still doing so?

But in one way, this is good news. For if this is a worthy endeavor, the expose of the rantings of President Barack Obama’s preacher for twenty years – and a full examination of the implications about President Obama’s views on race and the United States – surely must be many times more worthwhile.

After all, the Friess comment was a single utterance of stupidity with no indication of concurrence by Santorum. Yet President Obama called Reverend Wright

his mentor, his moral compass, his sounding board on matters of politics

And with his presence in the pew week after week, President Obama appears to have affirmed twenty years of hatred and anger directed at the country and certain of the people that he now represents.

... or did he? I look forward to the media leading us on this exploration.

February 10, 2012

Memo to Bishops: Don't Fall For It

Justin Katz

The Washington Post has collected a spectrum of religious reactions to the Obama administration's "compromise" — apparently announced as such without first consulting with the parties implicitly involved in the negotiations (a sure sign that Obama is more concerned about appearing to compromise than actually doing so). Religious leaders and others concerned about religious liberty — in particular those concerned about our ability to work through cultural avenues distinct from government to help shape society — should pause in their deliberations about the specifics of this overture.

Note what position the President's games put us in: We're not arguing about the morality of contraception (including abortifacients). We're not even arguing about the legitimacy of the government's declaration that everybody should have access to them free of cost (at least free of immediate cost to them). We're merely arguing about who else must pay — who has to chip in for the pills that address pregnancy as an illness to be treated and against which to be inoculated.

One hopes that the administration's initial overreach was enough to awaken the bishops and others to the reality that a deal with the Devil is always, always conditional on his ability to force you to the next-least-moral space on the playing field.

February 9, 2012

Illegal Alien "Public Advocate": President Obama Officially Gives the Table For One Salute To Legal Immigrants

Monique Chartier

It's not a piece from The Onion, as I was fervently hoping when I first heard about it this afternoon. Could the President have telegraphed any more plainly his disdain for those who come here in conformance with our laws? Not to mention for the sovereignty and laws of the United States.

The Obama administration on Tuesday announced a new "public advocate" charged with listening to immigrants' concerns about its law enforcement policies — but Republicans said the position amounts to an official mouthpiece for illegal immigrants being deported.

Further words fail me. Take it, guys.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that meant elevating the concerns of illegal immigrants.

“It’s outrageous that the Obama administration has appointed a taxpayer-funded activist for illegal and criminal immigrants who are detained or ordered deported. The administration all too often acts more like a lobbying firm for illegal immigrants than as an advocate for the American people,” Mr. Smith said.

Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said the appointment of a taxpayer-funded legal representative for illegal immigrants “continues to ignore the rule of law, which begs the question: Where is the rule of law czar?

“President Obama refuses to enforce immigration law, sues the states that do so and now he’s appointed a czar for illegal immigrants. The president is making a conscious decision to evade Congress in order to appease his base,” Mr. King said. “The president must realize that his job description does not include being an advocate for illegal immigrants. It is defined by his obligation to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’”

January 26, 2012

Where's My Debrox? He Couldn't Have Said That Everyone Needs to Play By the Same Set of Rules

Monique Chartier

From the President's State of the Union address:

or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

Seriously??? The person who has issued over 1,200 waivers to his own, signature healthcare law is talking about everyone playing by the same set of rules? The person who issued the vast majority of those waivers to his friends in organized labor while simultaneously telling everyone else that they must comply with the law - his law! - is exhorting us to play by the same set of rules?

How did he refrain from laughing out loud when he got to that part of the speech?

Play by the same set of rules? Lead the way, Mr. President.

Meanwhile, please pass the duct tape.

December 24, 2011

Schools from Bailout to Bankruptcy?

Justin Katz

An article in today's Providence Journal describes a familiar aspect of a town's movement toward receivership that might point to a common contributing factor:

A national investment ratings agency, Fitch Ratings, on Thursday downgraded the outlook for Woonsocket. In its report the agency said the city of almost 42,000 people faced a School Department deficit of about $2.6 million in this current budget and that it views "the potential implementation of state oversight positively." ...

The city narrowly averted not meeting its $1.7-million school payroll next week, the re- port says, until the state altered its payment schedule for education aid and gave the city its $4.5-million share early.

As we've been discussing a school department deficit is at the center of East Providence's problems, too. It would take some research to confirm, but I'm beginning to suspect that President Obama's stimulus gifts to public schools might be a proximate cause of the bankruptcy.

I know that the Obama windfall to Tiverton averted the difficult decisions that the local taxpayers had managed to force through budget maneuvers and, indeed, led to additional spending. The following year, the school department successfully manipulated the budget system in its own direction (with threats of school closings and more) in order to build the federal handout into the regular budget. Indeed, it was clear from the first mention of the magic Obama money that the plan was to do exactly that.

In towns that hadn't just slowed the growth of their school budgets (which the public-sector folks love to refer to as "a cut"), the stimulus funds wouldn't have been used to replace lost funds, but to add new services. When the funds went away, the result would be a massive deficit. So, I wonder: how much of these budget-and-democracy-destroying deficits are attributable to the federal government's gifts (borrowed from future taxpayers)?

To the extent that such is the case, the obvious and fair remedy is to stop the unfunded services, raises, and whatever else the federal money covered.

December 4, 2011

DOJ Handling of Fast and Furious Aftermath Was So Bad, They Have Now Resorted to the Unthinkable: Full Disclosure

Monique Chartier

Now that it has become abundantly clear that President Obama's Department of Justice lied was inaccurate to Congress in its formal statement about Operation Fast and Furious, DOJ has taken the unusual step of up-ending their internal correspondence box on the matter. (Naturally, they did so Friday - that being the best day, media-attention-wise, to break ... er, awkward information.)

The department turned over 1,364 pages of material after concluding "that we will make a rare exception to the department's recognized protocols and provide you with information related to how the inaccurate information came to be included in the letter," Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is looking into the Obama administration's handling of Operation Fast and Furious.

In one of the e-mail exchanges highlighted by the AP, DOJ officials and staffers appear to be discussing, not whether but to what extent, they should shade the truth in the February statement to Senator Chuck Grassley - a statement which the DOJ has now formally withdrawn as it contains "inaccurate information".

[ then-U.S. Attorney Dennis] Burke's information was followed by a three-day struggle in which officials in the office of the deputy attorney general, the criminal division and the ATF came up with what turned out to be an inaccurate response to Grassley's assertions.

The process became so intensive that Breuer aide Jason Weinstein emailed his boss, "The Magna Carta was easier to get done than this was." A copy of the latest draft was attached to the emails.

Initial drafts of the letter reflected the hard tone of Burke's unequivocal assertions that the allegations Grassley was hearing from ATF agents were wrong. Later drafts were more measured, prompting Burke to complain in one email: "Every version gets weaker. We will be apologizing" to Grassley "by tomorrow afternoon." Regarding the allegation that ATF sanctioned the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser, the Justice Department denial was scaled back slightly from "categorically false" to "false." ''Why poke the tiger," Lisa Monaco, the top aide to the deputy attorney general, explained ...

Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to testify in front of Congress this Thursday. Presumably, this was another impetus for yesterday's document dump: better to get all of this ickiness out now at arms length from the AG as opposed to extracted detail by excrutiating detail from the AG himself.

Now the question is, what will the AG say to the House committee on Thursday? Is he going to cast all responsibility onto his lieutenants and subordinates? Is he going to stick to the hilarious line that he doesn't read some or all of the memos prepared for him? Is he going to persist in blaming the Daily Caller for his travails???

Embattled Attorney General Eric Holder today demanded The Daily Caller stop publishing articles about the growing calls in Congress for his resignation because of the failed Operation Fast and Furious gun-walking program.

As Holder’s aide was escorting the attorney general offstage following his remarks Tuesday afternoon at the White House, a Daily Caller reporter introduced himself and shook Holder’s hand. The reporter asked him for a response to the growing chorus of federal legislators demanding his resignation.

Holder stepped towards the exit, then turned around, stepped back toward the reporter, and sternly said, “You guys need to — you need to stop this. It’s not an organic thing that’s just happening. You guys are behind it.”

By the way, don't miss the picture in that last link. (It has also, delightfully, spent the last thirity six plus hours on the front page of Drudge.) Has Mr. Holder ever gotten that finger-pointingly-peeved with a bad guy? Or does he reserve such ire for members of the press doing their job?

September 22, 2011

"Exchange" as in Bait and Switch

Justin Katz

When I initially heard of the concept of state-government healthcare exchanges, my first thought was that only three insurers are willing to do business in Rhode Island — how extensive could such an exchange be? The hook by which Governor Chafee is presuming to step in and legislate via executive order to create Rhode Island's exchange raises more questions about what, exactly, they're planning to develop:

The state faces a Sept. 30 deadline to apply for tens of millions in federal money to develop the exchange, but needed to first establish the authority to create, govern and finance the exchange.

The model cited for the exchange is Travelocity and other comparison-shopping sites, but with three insurers to review, how could it possibly take "tens of millions" in (borrowed) federal dollars to put such a thing together? The state ought to be able to get somebody to pull together the necessary documents and deploy a slightly tweaked out-of-the-box search engine for under $100,000.

Apart from finding ways to spend taxpayer money that the state and federal governments do not have, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts gives some indication of what the expanded scope of the exchange might be:

... Roberts said the exchange will provide more active assistance to people choosing health insurance. It may also set standards for the types of health insurance products offered.

Indeed, the executive order also explicitly calls for "payment reforms and innovative benefit designs" that promote quality and efficiency.

"One of the goals of this executive order is to create the infrastructure with some early goals," Roberts said. "A lot of those bigger issues are very appropriately going to be discussed by the board going forward."

As I've speculated before, the "exchange" is more of a bait-and-switch. As Roberts describes it, the site will either be a welfare-style means of drawing people toward taxpayer-subsidized programs, or it will grant a small range of technocrats the ability to shape everybody's healthcare programs in very detailed ways, or both. And a look at the board already in place to guide the thing is not encouraging:

In addition to [former U.S. Attorney Margaret] Curran, the chairwoman, the board's public members will include Vice Chairman Donald Nokes, president and co-founder of the small business NetCenergy; Michael C. Gerhardt, a former health insurance executive; James Grace, president and CEO, InsureMyTrip.com; Linda Katz, policy director and co-founder, The Poverty Institute; Peter Lee, president and CEO, John Hope Settlement House; Dr. Pamela McKnight (not currently practicing); Tim Melia, UFCW New England Council; and Minerva Quiroz, case manager, AIDS Project RI.

The government members are: Steven M. Costantino, secretary of Health and Human services; Christopher F. Koller, health insurance commissioner; Richard A Licht, director of administration; and Dr. Michael D. Fine, director of health.

In addition to the government bureaucrats, we've got a former lawyer, a former health insurance executive, a former doctor, two executives from businesses that offer related technology services, three paid activists, and the obligatory union representative. Not present is a single person who looks apt to approach this sly government power-grab from the perspective of Rhode Islanders' civil rights (in the government-limiting sense) or of protecting the free market or taxpayers' wallets. There isn't even anybody whose background suggests an especial concern with the ethical questions that inevitably arise in matters of medicine.

A further frightening thing is that the only organized voice that the reporter finds in opposition is Barth Bracy, of the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee. About the only other opposition that I've seen has come from Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the newly formed Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, in an op-ed arguing that the state should be wary of jumping into ObamaCare because many questions remain — not the least being whether the law will even remain in effect. For the most part, that's a statement of process, not of principle, although he does step beyond the practical argument a bit:

Government does poorly vs. the free market. The very idea of a government-controlled exchange is antithetical to our nation's historical free-market principles, which is the only proven way to consistently deliver a good service at the lowest possible rate. A true free-market is an exchange in itself!

Unfortunately, politicians (especially in Rhode Island) have long thought the handling of healthcare to be too important to leave to people who actually know what they're doing. Their exchanges will not be tools to guide consumers to the products that most closely align with their needs and resources, but to tell taxpayers how much they have to spend on healthcare, for what, and for whom.

September 15, 2011

Watch "Attack Waaaatch" Commercial

Monique Chartier


As the 2012 presidential campaign heats up, President Obama’s campaign team has set up a new Web site, AttackWatch.com, to challenge negative statements about the president made by Republican presidential candidates and conservatives.

Obama for America national field director Jeremy Bird told ABC News that the site’s goal is to offer “resources to fight back” against attacks. Mostly, that means fact checking statements from the likes of GOP presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Rick Perry and conservative commentator Glenn Beck and offering evidence to the contrary. The site is designed in bold red and black colors, and uses statements like “support the truth” and “fight the smears.”

The response to the site has been less than stellar. ...

“There's a new Twitter account making President Obama look like a creepy, authoritarian nutjob,” an Arizonan tweeted. “In less than 24 hours, Attack Watch has become the biggest campaign joke in modern history,” a contributor to conservative blog The Right Sphere wrote. The contributor linked to the following parody commercial for Attack Watch:

(... wait, am I going to get reported to the real "Attack Watch" website for highlighting this video???)

September 8, 2011

The Projo's Preferred Narrative

Justin Katz

I notice that the wire story that the Providence Journal chose for its coverage of President Obama's Labor Day speech didn't make mention of the call to arms of Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. The omission would be one thing if the article were narrowly focused on President Obama's words (that is, if they took the spin that only what the president said is newsworthy), but even that isn't applicable:

Before Obama's speech U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis picked up the UAW's frequently used "fired up, ready to go," slogan today as she urged union members to provide vocal support to U.S. President Barack Obama, who soon will unveil a new jobs plan.

"It won't be an easy thing to do," Solis said. "We know some will fight us and...some will say we can't afford to invest in our workforce."

Solis also criticized those who are trying to reduce the salaries, benefits and collective bargaining rights of union members.

I suppose a major figure in labor warming up Obama's audience with declarations that unions should target the opposition in such a way as to "take the son-of-bitches out" doesn't quite fit the narrative of Tea Party as terrorists versus the well-meaning president (who can only be faulted for giving in to the extreme Republicans in his urge to hear all sides).

September 7, 2011

Healthcare Exchange More than Commonly Thought

Justin Katz

As I explained in a video blog a couple of years ago, Tiverton resident, one-payer healthcare advocate, and just-about-overt socialist Nick Tsiongas is an instructive figure to watch in Rhode Island politics, and the op-ed that ran in yesterday's Providence Journal is a fine example.

I'm thinking that many of us have underestimated the intended reach of the state-level healthcare exchanges that will be implemented as part of ObamaCare:

Any reform with a chance of success would require that we move as much of the money as possible into one place and coordinate its use with a state health plan. The power of the plan and the purse would let us use carrots and effective sticks to change this crazy system.

Such an opportunity exists: It’s the exchange, a marketplace set up by the state under the Affordable Care Act where people and businesses could buy health insurance. We have the chance to build an exchange where all Rhode Islanders can buy public or private insurance.

If your view of the healthcare exchange has been as a sort of benign, non-binding Web site on which to compare possible plans in a straightforward manner, you (like me) forgot that everything that government does is not about serving the public, but about government power. In Tsiongas's telling, the exchange is an opportunity to filter all of our healthcare dollars through a single point, at which the government can impose requirements that force users of health services to conform with best practices as defined by Nick Tsiongas and friends.

By opening the exchange to all our residents and linking it to an explicit state health plan, we can finally empower ourselves to get off the cost treadmill, maintain quality and start treating this ailing system.

He doesn't go into how, exactly, the exchange will be "linked" to "an explicit state health plan." On one end (no doubt his ideal), all companies allowed to sell healthcare plans would have to do so through the exchange, and the exchange would require them all to conform with government-defined benefits, creating a de facto single plan over which bureaucrats, ideologues, and special interests have government access.

On the mild end, a state plan would compete with other plans which may or may not have to be on the exchange or meet additional requirements than they currently face. If that's the case, then it's hard to see how a state plan could be so attractive as to draw people away from other options unless it exacerbates cost problems by subsidizing member benefits through additional revenue confiscated from taxpayers.

Either way, the exchanges cannot be written off as a mild distraction for unnecessary government functionaries if the likes of Tsiongas have such strong intentions for them.

September 4, 2011

Et Tu, MoDo?

Monique Chartier

That's what the Obama campaign must be quietly saying after reading the column of the not-exactly-right-leaning Maureen Dowd in the not-exactly-Republican-sympathizing New York Times.

("Languid"? "Flailing"? Yikes!)

... If the languid Obama had not done his usual irritating fourth-quarter play, if he had presented a jobs plan a year ago and fought for it, he wouldn’t have needed to elevate the setting. How will he up the ante next time? A speech from the space station?

Republicans who are worried about being political props have a point. The president is using the power of the incumbency and a sacred occasion for a political speech.

Obama is still suffering from the Speech Illusion, the idea that he can come down from the mountain, read from a Teleprompter, cast a magic spell with his words and climb back up the mountain, while we scurry around and do what he proclaimed.

September 1, 2011

Not Getting to Keep the Coverage That You Like

Justin Katz

It's too bad nobody was able to see this as a probably consequence of ObamaCare:

Nearly one of every 10 midsized or big employers expects to stop offering health coverage to workers after insurance exchanges begin operating in 2014 as part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, according to a survey by a major benefits consultant.

Towers Watson also found in its July survey that another one in five companies are unsure about what they will do after 2014. Another big benefits consultant, Mercer, found in a June survey of large and smaller employers that 8 percent are either "likely" or "very likely" to end health benefits after the exchanges start.

If this outcome weren't so unexpected, one might be tempted to wonder whether President Obama's assurances that anybody who likes his or her health coverage could keep it was deliberately deceptive.

Seems to me that I haven't been hearing near enough from elected officials about repealing the healthcare legislation, lately.

August 19, 2011

The Tone Deaf Ruling Class

Justin Katz

This is precisely the thinking that has to end:

The two-phase plan will require Obama to argue for spending more money in the short term while reducing the federal deficit over a longer period. Many economists support that combination, saying that cuts in spending should wait until the economy is stronger. But political strategists say it has been difficult to communicate that idea to voters.

Obama pushed the idea Wednesday during a stop in Alpha, Ill. "Yes, some of these things cost money," he said. "The way we pay for it is by doing more on deficit reduction."

Enough already! Stop with the stimulus spending. Stop with the gimmicks. Stop with the attempts to use anxiety about the economy to expand the government's size and scope.

It doesn't "pay for" increased spending to spend a little bit less money you don't have in other areas. That is, reducing the deficit doesn't mean that you can spend the reduction, unless you've crossed the zero mark and are no longer spending more than you take in.

August 10, 2011

... You're Reading His Resume Two Years After You Voted For Him???

Monique Chartier

The Telegraph's Alex Spillius (H/T Drudge) reports that some Democrats are quietly regretting their support for Barack Obama as President.

In that vein, well into an OpEd in Saturday's New York Times that vilifies all of the usual suspects (Bush, Republicans, Wall Street), Professor Drew Westen admits

Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted "present" (instead of "yea" or "nay") 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.

Part of me is gratified that one of President Obama's supporters has finally recognized the weakness of Barack Obama's c.v., not to mention of his (non)voting record. And another part of me wants to yell in exasperation,

You're just figuring this out now, friend??? Next time, couldja maybe read the label before walking into the voting booth?

Moving the Goal Posts on Healthcare

Justin Katz

See, I don't recall this being the sales point with which President Obama and his allies pushed ObamaCare:

New projections show that health care spending will grow faster than the nation's GDP over the next decade. But the increase will be only slightly more than would be the case without the new national health law.

At least that's what the White House and other health law supporters drew from a new analysis of actuarial data released by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The analysis, published in Health Affairs last week, reported that health spending through 2020 would rise only one-tenth of one percent more under the health law than it would have otherwise — despite some 30 million more people getting health coverage.

Sure, a bunch of young, healthy people will now have insurance that they wouldn't otherwise have purchased without incurring Earth-shaking costs, but ObamaCare wasn't sold on the great deal that it would provide in covering additional recipients. It was going to slow the inflation of health care costs. Indeed, it was going to be a sort of deficit reduction program for the government. That's clearly not expected, now, and wasn't expected by many of us who opposed the legislation in the first place:

Over the next 10 years, federal actuaries expect the pace to pick up. By 2020, the national bill will be $4.6 trillion — one in every five dollars spent in the U.S. economy. The government's share also will rise. Washington will pay 30 percent of the tab, and state and local governments will pay almost 20 percent. Average annual spending growth over the decade will be 5.8 percent, according to the analysis.

Our broke and flailing government is currently covering about 27% of $2.7 trillion in healthcare spending, or $729 billion. In 2020, that federal expenditure will be $1.38 trillion, with state and local governments paying another $92 billion. (The article doesn't say what the lower-tier governments currently pay.)

Repeal this monstrosity.

July 31, 2011

Chicago in the White House

Justin Katz

Michael Walsh characterizes President Obama's leadership style as "the permanent insurgency":

Do nothing, lie in wait, and then counter-attack. Never present a plan if you can possibly help it, but deal exclusively in bromides and platitudes as you stake out the moral “high ground” and get ready to ambush the other guy. Think of it as the Permanent Insurgency campaign.

Walsh goes on with the description, concluding:

So the later Boehner walks into the trap, the quicker Harry Reid trumps him, and the sooner Obama can can declare for the umpteenth time that the time for talk is over, emerge as a hero — and get the debt-ceiling debate safely past the shoals of the next election, which is all he really cares about. Because, in case you hadn't noticed, running for office is the only thing the Punahou Kid knows how to do.

Insurgencies emanating from the top executive office in the country seem likely to be especially dirty.

July 30, 2011

Poverty Discussion Focuses on "Them," Not "Us"

Justin Katz

Victor Davis Hanson makes an excellent point:

Instead [of descriptions of modern "poverty" and examinations of whether government spending works], we hear the rhetoric of Dickensian poverty, usually in terms of relative rather than absolute want, as in the president's constant referencing of "corporate jets" for "millionaires and billionaires" rather than any statistics about average American access to a big-screen TVs, serviceable automobiles, or personal computers. The president made this clear when, during the campaign, he rejected any idea in cuts in capital-gains taxes even if it should lead to greater national and collective wealth, "fairness," he said, being the only issue. (I supposed that meant something like "it does not matter whether I am better off if you are way better off.") And completely absent in the current debate of who gets more and who pays more is any adult discussion over the causes of being less well off than someone else, and whether such criteria can always be addressed and remedied by more government money.

July 17, 2011

Debt Ceiling Stand-Off: White House Budget Director Declines to Give Priority to Social Security Checks

Monique Chartier

White House Budget Director Jacob Lew appeared on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley. Kudos to Real Clear Politics for picking up on this part of the interview and transcribing it.

Note that the White House no longer contends that there wouldn't be enough money to issue these checks in the event of a shut-down. Now the question is, are they a priority for the President if such a fiscal triage becomes necessary. Mr. Lew, presumably speaking for his boss, declined five times to indicate that they are.

CNN's Candy Crowley, HOST: "More immediately, you'd have to make some spending priorities -- payment priority decisions: Social Security benefits, and federal worker pay, and defense contractors. What are your priorities should the debt ceiling not be raised on the 2nd, when you have the bills that immediately come due? Social Security checks, federal worker pay, defense contractors?"

Jacob Lew, WH Budget Director: "Our plan is for Congress to do its work and the President to sign into law legislation that will make it possible for the United States as it always has, to keep its obligations. We'll be ready to deal with whatever happens. There is no plan other than meeting our obligations."

CROWLEY: "Surely you must have discussed priorities, though, we have to pay this?"

LEW: "The truth is this is a different situation the United States has ever faced. We've never gone into a situation where we didn't have enough money to pay our bills. We borrow 40 cents on a dollar right now. And if the time comes when we lose the ability to pay our bills, there will be a cash flow issue that is very real, and that's why it's critical that Congress take action before August 2nd."

CROWLEY: "Would you allow it to happen that those the Social Security checks would not go out? Would you allow that to happen?"

LEW: "As the President has indicated, it's not a question of what we allow and what we don't allow --"

CROWLEY: "But you get to decide priorities. There will be some money --"

LEW: "There will not be enough money to pay all the bills."

CROWLEY: "Of course not, that's why I'm talking about priorities."

LEW: "I think that once someone gets into the business of trying to ask about setting priorities it misses the question. Which is that it's unacceptable for the United States to be in a place whether it's Social Security recipients, or a soldier or somebody who is just owed money by the government can't be paid because we have not done our job."

July 14, 2011

Debt Ceiling Stand-Off: So President Obama Wants Republicans to Undertake What Democrats Refused to Do (Raise Taxes)

Monique Chartier

I'm not a big fan of Karl Rove. But he's got a point here.

Mr. Obama has offered no evidence since becoming president that he wants to restrain the upward trajectory of government spending. He does want higher taxes to pay for significantly higher federal spending. But he wants Republicans to deliver the tax increases, since Democrats couldn't pass them last year despite controlling both chambers of Congress.

The President's lack of specificity as to spending cuts also does not do much to enhance his credibility in this matter. The headline on Tarpon's Swamp describes the President's approach perfectly.

I’ll Gladly Cut Spending On Tuesday For a Tax Increase Today

July 11, 2011

Re: Who Is Pulling the Trigger?

Monique Chartier

Further to Justin's post, perhaps the most exasperating aspect of the mainstream media's studious disinterest in Operation Fast and Furious is the patent lack of consistency. If this had been an operation initiated by the ATF under a Republican president, the coverage would have been wall to wall. Assuredly, more than one MSNBC program host would have required a paper bag and then sedation to ease the hyperventilating.

One exception, however, was the Daily Show. Jon Stewart pretty thoroughly shredded the operation. Check out minute 1:20, for example, to learn about the ATF's cringe-making explanation as to how the tracking of the guns into Mexico got botched - hint: it involves Radio Shack. (You heard that right: Radio Shack.) He also points out (minute 5:15) the ... er, cooperation demonstrated by the Department of Justice - i.e., Attorney General Holder, whose "resignation" Justin is correct to call for - to the Congressional committee investigating the operation.

Who Is Pulling the Trigger?

Justin Katz

Given that the mainstream media has appeared less interested in this story than in such critical events as royal weddings and the accuracy of Republicans' references to history, Anchor Rising should help in the effort to prevent it from slipping through the cracks:

In Fall of 2009, the Obama Administration conceived Operation Fast and Furious, in which the ATF sold thousands of advanced weapons to Mexican drug cartels in order to track them once they were used in crimes. This policy perfectly dovetailed with Obama's gun control arguments. First of all, by selling guns to the cartels that the ATF could definitely trace back to the US (because they were bought from the ATF), the percentage of guns used in Mexican crimes traceable to American guns would increase. ATF supervisors rejoiced at their success when they found that these guns were being used for violence in Mexico.

At the very least, Attorney General Eric Holder, who is knee deep in this operation, should be forced out of office. The political repercussions for the Obama administration should also reach all the way up to the top office.

July 2, 2011

Should We Even Be Celebrating Independence?

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn's Fourth-of-July-weekend column is a doozy:

Big Government on America's unprecedented money-no-object scale will always be profoundly wasteful (as on that Williamsburg flight), stupid (as at the TSA) and arbitrary (as in those waivers). But it's not republican in any sense the Founders would recognize. If (like Obama) you're a lifetime member of the government class, you can survive it. For the rest, it ought to be a source of shame to today's Americans that this will be the first generation in U.S. history to bequeath its children the certainty of poorer, meaner lives — if not a broader decay into a fetid swamp divided between a well-connected Latin-American-style elite enjoying their waivers and a vast downwardly mobile morass. On Independence Day 2011, debt-ridden America is now dependent, not on far-off kings but on global bond and currency markets, which fulfill the same role the cliff edge does in a Wile E Coyote cartoon. At some point, Wile looks down and realizes he's outrun solid ground. You know what happens next.

One could go quite a bit farther. The retiring generation has left the rest of us a decaying culture after decades of knocking chips from its foundation. Arguably, the lunge of government into this disconnected realm in which budgets are optional and unimaginable debt defines the new baseline for spending is a crass manifestation of the broader collapse.

It might be a manifestation that we could actually repair, though... if only so many Americans weren't dependent on government profligacy in one way or another.

June 7, 2011

"If You Like Your Insurance, You Can Keep It."

Justin Katz

Remember when the President of the United States repeated that promise over and over to the American people? Well quite a few of us less-lofty folks predicted this contrary outcome:

Once provisions of the Affordable Care Act start to kick in during 2014, at least three of every 10 employers will probably stop offering health coverage, a survey released Monday shows.

But that's not all:

The survey of 1,300 employers says those who are keenly aware of the health-reform measure probably are more likely to consider an alternative to employer-sponsored plans, with 50% to 60% in this group expected to make a change. It also found that for some, it makes more sense to switch.

In some cases, the lost benefit might transition to some other form of compensation (although many of us have also predicted that ObamaCare will not stop, and may accelerate, cost inflation and quality deflation in the medical industry). In the push for government control of healthcare, though, spanning its peculiar procedural maneuvers and bold flight in the face of taxpayer concerns, likely outcomes were downplayed, not thoroughly vetted.

May 18, 2011

A Change of Tune on Radicalization

Justin Katz

The opening sentence of an article about events in Libya makes deafening the dog that isn't barking:

Mourners vowed revenge and rattled off heavy gunfire in a Tripoli cemetery on Saturday as they buried nine men they said were Muslim clerics and medics killed in a NATO airstrike in mostly rebel-held eastern Libya.

Remember when an army of folks, like Senator Barack Obama, would take to the airwaves to mouth wisdom about how American intervention in Muslim countries would only radicalize the region and breed more terrorists. We haven't heard quite so much from them, and one suspects that the reason isn't just that Libya is sufficiently disconnected from U.S. national interests to make our motives seem pure.

The article goes on make the case that the increasing the risk to civilians is a ploy by dictator Moammar Gadhafi to make focus aggression on the West, rather than himself, but that's nothing new. What's new is that the mainstream media and Democrat operatives have different political motives, these days.

May 17, 2011

Jobs Saved and Destroyed

Justin Katz

I've long described President Obama's stimulus program as an attempt to insulate governments at various levels from the effects of the recession. The great bulk of the dollars flowed to states and municipalities in order to prevent budget cuts and, therefore, salary cuts and layoffs.

The problem with seeing the "just spend" approach as a means of jump starting the economy is that the government must take its spending money from somewhere, and to the extent that it collects it immediately in taxes, it changes its productivity incentive from making a profit to making busy work. The former is clearly a more efficient way of creating wealth.

And to the extent that government borrows the money that it spends — obligating the country to repay — it is merely shifting money from future productive uses, with interest. Moreover, given the role of investing in the economy (spanning from the stock market to home buying), which is in a sense a gamble about where wealth will be in the future, that money from the future can now no longer be borrowed for more productive uses.

In other words, in principle, there's little difference between taxing and borrowing in this regard, although the degree to which each saps the private economy to benefit the public may differ dollar for dollar. That brings us to an economic study highlighted by PowerLine, finding as follows:

Our benchmark results suggest that the ARRA created/saved approximately 450 thousand state and local government jobs and destroyed/forestalled roughly one million private sector jobs. State and local government jobs were saved because ARRA funds were largely used to offset state revenue shortfalls and Medicaid increases rather than boost private sector employment. The majority of destroyed/forestalled jobs were in growth industries including health, education, professional and business services.

Stimulating the government necessarily dulls the economy, and there appears to be a reverse multiplier effect of sorts.

May 1, 2011

A Message Full of Coincidence

Justin Katz

So, as Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice headed toward the climactic "you're fired" of tonight's episode, NBC periodically killed the sound to play a jingle and run ticker text about a pending important message from President Obama. The actual interruption came right as the show built up to a crest.

Apparently, Osama bin Laden has been confirmed as dead. I'm not sure if just happened or at some point today, yesterday, last week, but it sure is curious that this big announcement would have to be made on a Sunday night with only an intense twelve minutes remaining on a show produced by a political competitor of the president's.

I wouldn't take this so far as to imply political motives, but it's also very helpful to Mr. Obama, considering unrest about gas and grocery prices and growing dissatisfaction with his military activities.

10:59 p.m.

The President hasn't come on, yet, but the commentators on NBC are making bin Laden's death out to be much more than it really is. He was a symbol, but whether he's been alive or dead has been largely irrelevant for the past six years. The real success of the decade-long war effort is the lack of additional large-scale terror attacks on U.S. soil.

From the commentary, thus far, the administration has been gathering details all day and has the terror master's body.

April 28, 2011

Birtherism Dies an Easy Death

Justin Katz

At the end of a long post describing the ease with which President Obama could have ended the birther controversy long ago, Andrew McCarthy concludes as follows:

So, assuming as we should the legitimacy of the long-form birth certificate produced yesterday, the only thing that makes sense is that Obama knows the mainstream media is in his hip pocket. That is, he knew that he would not be held to the same standard as other politicians, and that if he acted in an unreasonable manner by withholding basic, easily available information that any other person seeking the presidency would be expected — be compelled — to produce, the media would portray as weirdos those demanding the information, not Obama and his stonewalling accomplices. And he also knows that, having now finally produced the document only because the game was starting to hurt him politically, the media will not focus on how easy it would have been to produce the birth certificate three years ago, or on how much time and money has been wasted by his gamesmanship; they'll instead portray him as beleaguered and the people who have been seeking the basic information (i.e., doing the media's job) as discredited whackos.

It's hard to say what's more depressing, Obama's cynicism or the zeal with which the media does his bidding.

One can imagine the media presentation had any given Republican drawn out the saga for so long, let alone a media-loathed figure like Sarah Palin. But when entire segments of society (news media, academia, Hollywood, and so on) are so slanted, politics is a different game depending whether one aligns with them or not.

April 25, 2011

The Reign of Obama May Close Out the Age of America

Justin Katz

It's not the current president's fault (although many of us would be inclined to suggest that he hastened the end result), but if Barack Obama wins a second term, it may be that he'll turn out the lights on the Age of America... at least according to the International Monetary Fund:

According to the latest IMF official forecasts, China's economy will surpass that of America in real terms in 2016 — just five years from now.

Put that in your calendar.

It provides a painful context for the budget wrangling taking place in Washington, D.C., right now. It raises enormous questions about what the international security system is going to look like in just a handful of years. And it casts a deepening cloud over both the U.S. dollar and the giant Treasury market, which have been propped up for decades by their privileged status as the liabilities of the world’s hegemonic power. ...

The IMF in its analysis looks beyond exchange rates to the true, real terms picture of the economies using "purchasing power parities." That compares what people earn and spend in real terms in their domestic economies.

Brett Arends, who wrote the above, suggests that the Age of China won't be as benign a hegemony as has been the past few "ages" dominated by Western democracies. He also quotes NYU Stern business professor Ralph Gomory as suggesting that the United States has "traded jobs for profit," leading to "a small, very rich class and an eroding middle class."

On the latter count, I'd say that business leaders' transition of jobs to lower-cost foreign markets is only part of the story. As seems to be a repeating theme, in our society, the trouble arises by our failure to follow a particular governing philosophy. What I mean is that the pursuit of cheaper labor for reasons of profits has had to combine with government imposition of regulations, mandates, and other market controls in order to trip up the United States.

With ever-increasing barriers to entry, the middle and working classes have been unable to compete with established companies, decreasing the risk for the internationals in turning toward distant employees. Displaced workers, and those who would employ them, have also been restricted in their ability to explore new means of making a living.

The way through this is to trust in the American people by removing government manacles, despite the fears and selfish interests of our ruling class, and begin to rebuild the character of the nation.

April 9, 2011

Let Them Buy Hybrid Vans

Justin Katz

In his NRO column, this week Mark Steyn mentions President Obama's response to an audience having to do with lowering the price of gasoline:

He was asked a question by a citizen of the United States. The cost of a gallon of gas has doubled on Obama's watch, and this gentleman asked, "Is there a chance of the price being lowered again?"

As the Associated Press reported it, the president responded "laughingly": "I know some of these big guys, they're all still driving their big SUVs. You know, they got their big monster trucks and everything. . . . If you're complaining about the price of gas and you're only getting eight miles a gallon — (laughter) . . . "

That's how the official White House transcript reported it: Laughter. Big yuks. "So, like I said, if you're getting eight miles a gallon you may want to think about a trade-in. You can get a great deal."

Glenn Reynolds has noted that the Associated Press has still scrubbed the exchange from the record. Luckily, one can find the video on YouTube, and even cue right up to the question, as I've done in the following embed:

What's interesting is that the president visibly forces himself to step back in his commentary when he goes on:

Obama: You may have a big family, but it's probably not that big, so... How many you have, ten kids, you say? Ten kids? [Pause for a stunned expression and probably a bit of lip biting.] Well, you definitely need a hybrid van, then.

No doubt, even folks who disagree with President Obama on just about everything would pull back from endorsing a ten-child family unless the parents can afford it. But that's pretty much the point: Doubling the fuel bill on the car by which the large family gets around reduces affordability. Moreover, it reduces affordability for a family already in particular circumstances, and it's not inconceivable that the family size resulted from adoptions meant to rescue the children from worse.

To declare that the father should spring for a large, expensive hybrid vehicle is to skirt the question, to put the blame for difficulties on the asker, and to impose government priorities on a highly diverse population — diverse not only in the liberal meaning of multiracial, but in the more significant (more conservative) meaning of varying circumstances and priorities.

December 8, 2010

Your Kids' Diet, Their Business?

Justin Katz

The fat cats in Washington will soon be telling your children what they can and cannot purchase to eat in school. The U.S. government will also be regulating what sorts of treats school-related organizations can provide during fundraisers and luring more children to after-school meals, making it even easier for busy parents to ignore the critical activity of families' taking care of themselves and spending time together.

More children would eat lunches and dinners at school under legislation passed Thursday by the House and sent to the president, part of first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to end childhood hunger and fight childhood obesity.

The $4.5 billion bill approved by the House 264-157 would also try to cut down on greasy foods and extra calories by giving the government power to decide what kinds of foods may be sold in vending machines and lunch lines. The bill could even limit frequent school bake sales and fundraisers that give kids extra chances to eat brownies and pizza.

There's been some debate over whether the bake sale ban actually exists, but the language seems pretty clear that, even if the feds don't swoop in to snatch away those Rice Krispie Treats, schools will self-regulate to avoid the eye of Sauron:

The knot-hole exemption that might keep bake sales alive is found in Section 208 of the bill, which says there are "special exemptions for school-sponsored fundraisers (other than fundraising through vending machines, school stores, snack bars, a la carte sales, and any other exclusions determined by the Secretary), if the fundraisers are approved by the school and are infrequent within the school."

Bake sales are front-and-center, probably because of their domestic feel, but consider the scope of foods and events that Big Brother might deem unhealthy: hot dogs at sporting events, pizza at movie nights, spaghetti and meatballs at dinner theaters, bacon and sausage at special breakfasts. And the implications are broader than that (from the first link, above):

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the measure gives USDA the chance to make significant changes to school lunch programs for the first time in more than 30 years.

"Our national security, economic competitiveness and health and wellness of our children will improve as a result of the action Congress took today," Vilsack said.

By this criterion, anything that would move our children closer to the image of the Ideal Human would be within the government's purview. Soon, we'll be hearing about the physical and mental health benefits of properly executed marches.

It occurs to me that the newspapers have been full, lately of stories about anti-bullying initiatives, with a particular emphasis on homosexual students. I bring that up, in this context, because a frequent attack on social conservatives is that they create a a hostile environment for those who deviate from their traditional moral code. (I don't agree, but it's a common assertion.) Curious that the same allegations aren't levied against government do-gooders who target children who deviate from their dietary code.

November 24, 2010

Not So Out There, After All

Justin Katz

Ron Radosh says that he began reading Stanley Kurtz's book, Radical-in-Chief, "skeptical of the charge" that President Obama is a socialist, but the book changed his mind:

As the years went by, and Barack Obama moved from community organizing to Harvard Law and then back to Chicago, Kurtz shows that one thing remained constant: Obama continued to move in the same socialist circles that he had first come across at the SSC at Cooper Union. It was there that he probably heard a young Cornel West talk at a panel on race and class in Marxism, and was introduced to the father of Black Liberation theology, James Cone, the mentor to a minister named Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It was also at the SSC that he most likely came across a leader of Michael Harrington's Democratic Socialists of America, the Yugoslav-born Bogdan Denitch, who wrote an essay on the importance of Harold Washington's mayoral campaign in Chicago, in uniting the black and white Left in a new class politics that would produce victory and socialist momentum.

These ideas and theories motivated Obama and helped him choose his own career path — that of community organizing as the way to lead a coalition of blacks, whites, and Hispanics to create a socialist "redefinition" of America, with one caveat: The concept and advocacy of socialism as the final goal would consciously be hidden from sight. As Kurtz reveals, the socialist theorists openly talked about what they called "stealth socialism" or "incremental radicalism," small steps that move the nation forward until the ultimate goal of a socialist transformation is obtained. One moves apparently without an ideological plan, but working for measures that will end with an irreversible move to a statist economy based on public control through groups run by labor and community organizations. As Kurtz writes: "Obama's college socialism, the influence of socialist conferences on his career, his choice of a profession dominated by socialists, and his extensive alliances with the most influential stealth-socialist community organizers in the country give the game away. Obama has adopted the gradualist socialist strategy of his mentors. . . . Eventually, this will transform American capitalism into something resembling a socialist-inspired Scandinavian welfare state."

Plenty of us saw through the facade before America's Great Mistake of 2008, but as Radosh points out, many of "Obama's inexplicable actions" — disregarding all messages from the public regarding ObamaCare notable among them — make sense within this construct.

No doubt, many who take up the "stealth socialism" program do so unconsciously, merely being duped by the rhetoric that its advocates deploy. As the media fawners were quick to proclaim during his campaign for office, Barack Obama is too smart for that to be the case, for him.

October 29, 2010

Shoving Back

Justin Katz

Even on the construction site, I've heard criticism of gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio for his "shove it" comment, related to a general sense that one should have respect for the office of the president. Firstly, one must wonder why President Bush did not receive similar defense against his hostile critics. Secondly, President Obama's hardline partisanism and eagerness never to leave the campaign trail surely affects the respect that he's due generally.

Two letters in yesterday's Providence Journal create an interesting context for Caprio's complaint about Obama's treatment of Rhode Island. From Tom Letourneau in Cumberland:

Consider the people who coughed up the paltry sum of $7,500 for the privilege of having dinner with the president. (I would not have called it anything close to a privilege to be anywhere near a man who will go down in history as the worst president since Jimmy Carter.) But then they were told where his (Obama's) priorities really lie. When Mr. Obama concluded his remarks, at about 7:30, he informed all of those present, and his gracious hosts, he couldn't stay for dinner, stating: "I've got to go home to tuck in the girls and walk the dog and scoop the poop!"

I can't imagine paying that much money for dinner with anybody, but I can imagine the care and excitement that must go into planning and preparing an event to be experienced by somebody whom the participants believe to be important. What a disappointment that the preparations yielded only a passing stump speech. Recall the extensive coverage of local veggies on which the President would be dining. Perhaps he took a doggy bag.

But Rhode Islanders were not entirely deprived of the experience of a presidential visit. From Richard Jackson of East Greenwich:

I fear for this country when those who are running it are not even smart enough to schedule the travel itinerary for President Obama's visit around Rhode Island's rush hour.

He left Woonsocket at about 5:15 p.m. on Monday to travel south on Route 146 to Route 95 south — closing the highway in advance of his arrival.

That 20-minute drop-by in Providence appears to have netted the president more than a third of a million dollars in campaign dough, and in modern America, that is apparently a higher priority than the daily lives of thousands of Rhode Islanders.

Search Engine Friends in High Places

Justin Katz

This is interesting. You may have heard about Google's spy cars:

Eustace said the company was "mortified" by the discovery that sensitive information was collected when the Street View cars drove through neighborhoods around the world and said Google was making major changes internally to deal with user privacy, security and compliance.

They'll deal with the stolen emails and passwords, and never, ever do it again. They promise. Trust them. Trust, also, that the Federal Trade Commission has dropped its investigation for purely wholesome reasons — not because Google bigwig Marisa Mayer just hosted a $30,000-a-head, $1.8 million fundraiser for President Obama.

Remember, only Republicans are susceptible to the influence of Big Business.

October 14, 2010

The Classless President

Justin Katz

A few lines from this blog post by Victor Davis Hanson brought back a relevant memory:

The final irony? The more Obama goes out on the campaign trail, slurs the Chamber or the new enemy of the week, and blatantly appeals to bloc voting from particular minority groups, the more unsympathetic to voters he becomes. (I don't recall George W. Bush going after Keith Olbermann, Bob Shrum, MoveOn.org, or the AFL-CIO).

President Bush played the game to an extent, but the big difference is that Obama is classless. The contrary image that comes to mind is when President Bush walked to his helicopter with a copy of Bernie Goldberg's book about media bias under his arm. Subtle, almost a good-humored jab.

Nowadays, we get personal attacks from the president against particular people, from Nancy Reagan to Cambridge police officers, and a villain of the week declarations.

October 10, 2010

What the President Thinks Is Inexcusable

Justin Katz

A couple of weeks ago, I highlighted President Obama's supposed jab at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Inexcusable," Mr. Obama said of the proclamation of "the U.S. did it" 9/11 conspiracy theorizing right in the city that saw the greatest death toll on that day. Well, not long thereafter, our Barack used the word again:

"It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines," the president declared in a Rolling Stone magazine interview. He said that supposed supporters who are "sitting on their hands complaining" are irresponsible because Republican congressional victories could dash Democratic plans.

As I said in the post linked first, above, "inexcusable" has become a nearly meaningless word. But it is interesting to ponder whether, from his perspective, President Obama's use of it in these two instances is hyperbole when speaking about Democrats and progressives or dilution when speaking about Ahmadinejad.

October 8, 2010

Even the Comedians Can't Ignore the President's Foibles

Justin Katz

If you haven't yet watched the clip from Jon Stewart's Daily Show being touted as "the night Jon Stewart Turned on President Obama," do so. The best line, paraphrasing Obama's message to Democrats:

You know the most disappointing thing about you? Your disappointment in me.

Of course, this doesn't represent a sharp turn, but a further development of comedians' inability to ignore President Obama's eminently mockable characteristics.

September 27, 2010

Willingly Distracted from the Real News

Justin Katz

Before it actually occurred, many in the blogosphere speculated that Congressional testimony by comedian Stephen Colbert was intended to distract from concurrent testimony. If that was the case, from the perspective of mainstream media, the ploy clearly worked. Saturday's Providence Journal, for example, dutifully covered the "controversy" over the Colbert performance.

Unless I've missed it, the paper has yet to mention more-serious testimony by former voting chief for the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division Christopher Coates that race determines whose voting rights are protected under the Obama administration.

Yes, Colbert thwarted the strategy at least to the degree that he made a mockery of such hearings and thus threw mud on those who oversee them. But getting dirty is part of politics, and it's a calculated and tolerated outcome for politicians who prefer that you look at the dirt on their lying faces rather than the tar that they've smeared on our civic structure. As for the mainstream media, their pages probably won't bear the weight of much more fluff.

September 20, 2010

The Obama-BP Message Control

Justin Katz

It is odd in the highest degree that left-wing commenter Russ, responding to a post about the failure of onshore environmental armageddon to materialize in the Gulf of Mexico, thinks that conservatives would shrink from this information:

FLATOW: Yeah, let me to go the phones, Darren(ph) in College Station, Texas. Hi, Darren.

DARREN (Caller): Hello, Ira.

FLATOW: Hi, there.

DARREN: I'm an adjunct professor here at A&M, and we were also in the Gulf, but got thrown out. We were testing a theory that the chemical composition of the dispersant they were using was causing the oil to sink. And we'd been there for approximately three days, and federal agents flat told us to get out. And it wasn't Fish and Wildlife officers. These were Homeland Security officers, and we were told that it was in the interest of national security. ...

DARREN: Oh, yeah, they inspected the boat. They, of course, checked everyone's identification, and they took all the samples that we had. And they also took some notes that we had. The theory that we were operating upon was information that had been given to us by someone who worked in the plant that made that dispersant. And they took everything.

So, the oil didn't wash over the land in the ecosystem-killing amount initially predicted, but it might not have been absorbed by the Gulf to the degree subsequently thought. Whether the remediation effort did, indeed, coat vast swaths of the seafloor with oil and what the repercussions will be — the breadth of the damage, whether the previously cited oil-eating microbes will remove it over time, and so on — are all questions that should be answered. And if this talk-radio caller can be trusted, it's discouraging to see the administration, whose deep-water-only policies and poor execution of oversight helped to precipitate the disaster, trying to keep those answers from materializing as quickly as possible.

August 25, 2010

Americans Subsidizing the Green Fetish of the Rich

Justin Katz

Henry Payne questions the Obama administration's approach to saving the environment through the subsidization of green cars that only wealthy households can afford (try here if you don't subscribe to National Review):

In this unholy alliance of Big Government and Big Auto, the carmakers exacted their price — more taxpayer billions to underwrite their research, in addition to the same $7,500-per-vehicle tax credit that buyers get for purchasing a Tesla. And since plug-in hybrids like GM's Chevy Volt cost $40,000 — or about the price of an entry-level BMW — the program amounts to yet another set of subsidies for buyers with six-figure incomes.

Payne closes by noting that cars that Americans actually want, such as Jeep Grand Cherokees, remain profitable. All government intervention in this market is going to do is to distort incentives and place chips on technological bets that politicians — not scientists, not car designers, not consumers — consider promising. Of course, "promising" for a politician is always promising to their careers, not to the taxpayers and voters whom they are supposed to represent nor the economy that keeps the country rolling.

August 15, 2010

The Inevitable Victory Line Is Ringing Hollow

Justin Katz

I've got to agree with David Pryce-Jones:

... [President Obama] admits we are in a fight and the reason we'll win "is not simply the strength of our arms — it is the strength of our values. The democracy we uphold." This in the week he's just been rejoicing about imminently in Cairo removing the strength of arms from Iraq, with Afghanistan to follow as soon as possible. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Iranians going nuclear — and we are to meet them with approval for a mosque at Ground Zero and babbling about upholding democracy? This speech sent a shiver of fear down my spine.

I fear our nation has been so long without an existential threat that we've ceased to believe in them.

August 11, 2010

Spills, Agendas, and Money

Justin Katz

After an excellent description of the process and risks of deep sea oil drilling, Mario Loyola turns political (see PDF here if you don't subscribe to National Review):

What is more startling is that, judging by appearances at least, Obama may be trying to advance his agenda by intentionally causing a fuel shortage. The moratorium on offshore drilling; the browbeating of BP into disgorging assets regardless of actual liability; the EPA's unjustifiable quashing of licenses for most of the refineries in Texas, supposedly over air-pollution concerns; the Interior Department's failure to process license renewals for a slew of shallow-water wells, which are much less tricky than those in deep water — all these actions bespeak a desire to create a hostile regulatory environment for oil extraction.

Many of Obama's supporters — those at the Brookings Institution, for example — seem to think that a severe oil shortage is precisely what we need to save the environment and kick-start the transition to green energy. Governor Jindal tells me that when he complained to Obama about the impact of the offshore-drilling moratorium on Louisiana's jobs and businesses, the president suggested, apparently in all seriousness, that the losses caused by his moratorium could be compensated from the $20 billion BP spill-liability fund that he had just seized control of.

The attack on American businesses and the United States economy is startling enough, but the procedural maneuver of extracting a massive pool of money from a company to be used toward the end of refashioning the energy industry in heavy handed ways is astonishing. My complaint isn't in defense of BP or the oil industry in total, but against this sort of government tactic.

The peculiar thing is that those who rail against Big Oil have no problem imagining conspiracies to squelch alternative energy technologies and U.S. presidents who go to war to increase the bottom lines of their oil executive pals. Yet, they are not discomfited by powerful politicians, with their own links to other industries, manipulating environmental disasters and threatening the well-being of the economy during a time of historic recession, provided the causes nominally being served are politically popular.

June 19, 2010

It's the Authority, not the Debate

Justin Katz

Further to this morning's post about the use of science as an irrefutable cudgel in moral debates, I'd like to draw your attention to Eric Cohen and Yuval Levin's comparison of the Bush and Obama treatments of the President's Council on Bioethics. In effect, Bush's version was designed to have an authority of its own and to ensure that significant policy debates became public debates, while Obama's might more appropriately be compared with a hospital's ethics board: the objective is known and supported, and the board lies somewhere between rubber stamp and safeguard against excess.

The problem, rather, is that the commission seems designed to keep bioethics out of the news. Its members are a far lower-profile group than those in Bush's commission (or, for that matter, Bill Clinton's). Its charter, which the president signed in November, repeatedly insists that the commission should focus on specific and programmatic policy questions. The president stressed the same point in the statement the White House released at the time: "This new commission will develop its recommendations through practical and policy-related analyses."

The idea, no doubt, was to distinguish the focus of this commission's approach from the broader and deeper approach of the Bush council, whose own charter said its foremost task was "to undertake fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance of developments in biomedical and behavioral science and technology" and whose work (including an anthology of readings from great works of literature called Being Human and a report that reflected on the meaning of human-enhancement technologies but did not offer policy proposals) was sometimes described as too ethereal.

As its designers surely recognized, the likely effect of directing the new commission to take up narrower policy questions will be to keep it from taking up the most basic questions underlying our approach to science and technology.

If the primary question guiding the commission is not what but how, the range of topics it may examine is constrained--as so much of bioethics in recent decades has been--to utilitarian concerns and matters of procedure. As with the president's implicit assertion that there is no debate to be had about embryo research, the idea is to treat the basic ethical questions as closed and to relegate the questions that remain to the judgment of experts. These remaining questions involve, for instance, not whether we should pursue the destruction of nascent life for research but how; not what advances in biotechnology mean for our humanity but how they can be made available to all.

One could suggest that our supposedly deep-thinking president apparently believes that all of the actual deep thinking has already been done. In electing him, we've freed ourselves of the need to consider difficult questions of morality and identity, because he's already figured out what's best and will impose it as necessary.

I can't help but think back to President Bush's Oval Office broadcast banning federal funding of new embryonic stem cell lines. Whatever one might have thought of his intellect, his approach was to lay out the issues as he saw them, including competing arguments, and explain his decision. Frankly, I've yet to see Obama say anything half as thoughtful.

It's the Authority, not the Science

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg spotted in the news an instance in which the Obama Interior Department appears to have misrepresented the opinion of some scientists whom it consulted regarding a possible ban of offshore drilling:

The draft these experts saw was substantively different from the document that bore their names. The draft called for a moratorium on issuing new permits, not stopping existing drilling (a move many experts believe would be unsafe).

One of the experts, Benton Baugh, president of Radoil, told the Wall Street Journal that if the draft had said to halt drilling, "we'd have said 'that's craziness.'"

As Goldberg writes, "there is something ugly and hypocritical about glorifying the absolute authority of scientists and sanctimoniously preening about your bravery in 'restoring' that authority" — only to ignore what they say when it's "politically expedient." Actually, I'm sure Goldberg would agree that progressives' periodic lauding of science is primarily, if not entirely, all about political expedience.

When candidate Obama said he would "restore science to its rightful place," he meant that he would treat it as an unassailable, procaimedly "objective," conversation-ending weapon in philosophical debates. The prerequisite, of course, is that science must agree with his own views on a particular issue.

The very necessity of politics arises because there is no objective measure when it comes to policy decisions that must balance competing interests and complement subjective considerations like religion and ethics with practical needs and objectives. Tyranny lurks behind the elevation of any particular input as if it alone settles the question, especially when determination is handed to a limited group with information beyond the comprehension of everybody else.

June 10, 2010

Weakness and Blame

Justin Katz

Chris Stirewalt makes a point about President Obama's hypocrisy when it comes to blame taking and partisanship. Pop culturally, we make a great deal of hypocrisy in this country, but as Stirewalt intimates, it's really the weakness beneath that tastes of blood in the water to political sharks.

I thought of something similar during the two-day "whose ass to kick" media flash. If you missed it, somehow, in explaining why he wasn't expressing more heat against the evil-doers of BP, the president said that he'd been talking to experts to figure out "whose ass to kick." Most commentary has focused on the unpresidential nature of such comments. Filling in for Dan Yorke, the other day, Matt Allen focused on the faux passion from our college professor chief executive. Stirewalt focuses on Obama's turning away from the federal government's responsibility.

What struck me was the president's statement that he had been in the Gulf region well before "any of the talking heads." Again, weakness. Why should the president be setting his bar by the response time of news and commentary celebrities? It's a bit like a doctor's defending himself on the grounds that he had visited the patient well before any flower delivery guys had found the room.

June 9, 2010

Formerly Admirable, Now a Bad Example on the Way to Obviation

Justin Katz

Bringing his military eye to the topic, Theodore Gatchel provides an astute summary of the Obama movement in government:

Two competing schools of thought have developed. One holds that the government's role should be one of educating people about the risks so that they can make informed decisions. The other school holds that the issues are too complex for most people to comprehend, thereby requiring the government to make the decisions for them.

President Obama is clearly in the latter camp, which fits nicely with his promise to fundamentally change America. In this case it means transforming the country from one in which people who take risks are admired and rewarded to one in which risk taking is regarded as harmful to the common good.

To be sure, it's possible to go too far lauding unnecessary or ill-considered risks (or those that involve others without consent), but the freedom and opportunity of turning from security en route to improvement as the individual defines it has been essential to the American character — and should remain so.

April 26, 2010

Insider and Outsider "A" Students

Justin Katz

As a matriculated "A" student, now a carpenter, I'm not sure I can accept P.J. O'Rourke's thesis:

America has made the mistake of letting the A student run things. It was A students who briefly took over the business world during the period of derivatives, credit swaps, and collateralized debt obligations. We're still reeling from the effects. This is why good businessmen have always adhered to the maxim: "A students work for B students." Or, as a businessman friend of mine put it, "B students work for C students—A students teach."...

Why are A students so hateful? I'm sure up at Harvard, over at the New York Times, and inside the White House they think we just envy their smarts. Maybe we are resentful clods gawking with bitter incomprehension at the intellectual magnificence of our betters. If so, why are our betters spending so much time nervously insisting that they're smarter than Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement? ...

The other objection to A students is what it takes to become one—toad-eating. A students must do what teachers and textbooks want and do it the way teachers and texts want it done. Neatness counts! A students are very busy.

At the very least, O'Rourke ought to draw a distinction between variants of the "A" student, between those who agree with their professors and those who do not. I used to write twenty to eighty page papers (many of those consisting of footnotes) when the argument that I felt intellectually obliged to make clearly conflicted with the preferences of the person doing the grading. Sort of the academic variation of the electoral maxim, "if it isn't close, they can't cheat."

Just such a paper could be written, it seems to me, on the link between political philosophy and my proposed categories of "A" students. Those who achieve high grades in spite of their status as class gadfly are not apt to prefer governments that presume to stand before and instruct the electorate on the definition of a good life and equitable distribution of resources, while those whose high marks happened to coincide with philosophical accord with the grade giver have likely learned the advantages of having somebody hovering above their peer groups dispensing rewards.

Of course, as you read this, I'm probably crouched over a century-old fir floor board, prying it straight with one hand while pounding screw-flooring nails into its tongue with the other. If only I had the time to work that into a proper metaphor...

April 16, 2010

The Common Wisdom of the Newsroom

Justin Katz

Odds are that Philip Marcelo doesn't recognize how much he's bowed to the left-wing common wisdom of the American newsroom, as indicated by this paragraph in his profile of Colleen Conley:

Still, for many detractors, it is telling that the national Tea Party movement began not in the eight years of enormous federal spending during the Bush years, but in the first year of the nation’s first black presidency.

The "for many detractors" phrase is a fudge; Marcelo clearly finds it telling, because he thought it a detail worth an unrebutted mention. Those who fell for all of the Hope and Change pablum don't see the consistent theme of the public's early experience with Obama, which was absent from the Bush presidency: the cult-like commercials and logo, the messianic talk, Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, Michelle Obama's implied dislike of the country, spreading the wealth, cap and trade, stimulus, the union shadow, Chris Matthew's declaration that he saw it as his duty to make sure Obama succeeded as president, the bizarre promotion of an "office of the president elect," the many (and questionably ideological) czars, politicized reports about theoretical domestic right-wing terrorists, and of course government overtaking of healthcare. The list could go on.

The fact of the matter is that Barack Obama would not currently be President of the United States were many of the current Tea Partiers and sympathetic voters not so deeply dissatisfied with President Bush. They were fed up with the spending and growth of government and reacted as angry voters are accustomed to doing: Putting the opposition in power. That the Republican candidate was within the "moderate" range, was a Senatorial old hand, and had championed pro-incumbent, anti-First Amendment campaign legislation didn't help.

Unfortunately, too many Americans were snookered by the happy talk and caught up in the zeitgeist — much of which had to do with a desire to break racial barriers — and chose not to see just how different a politician Mr. Obama was until it was too late. That they came to their senses quickly is not an indicator of racism, although those of us who were on to the game before the election predicted that President Obama's skin color would become a political weapon.

April 6, 2010

The Healthcare System Sinking In

Justin Katz

It's probably not really worth mentioning, but Joe Baker's column in yesterday's Newport Daily News is an astonishing bit of cheer leading for the policies of the Obama administration. Most of it has to do with the economy and how wonderfully the stimulus program worked. Perhaps it's enough to note that he claims the recovery on which he's so bullish is "in the rebound a lot quicker than was being forecast when we were in the pits of despair last year."

My recollection is that, in the pits of despair, economists were predicting a clear recovery before 2010. If we find ourselves emerging from the darkness only a couple quarters later, that'll be wonderful, but I'd advise against managing your finances as if flush times are just around the corner.

What's really astonishing about Baker's essay comes when he decides that singing about rainbows in the economy isn't adequately partisan:

Republicans who went to the wall in an attempt to kill the health care reform measure were hoping for a rising backlash from its passage. But that hasn’t materialized, and as the reality of the program sinks in and nobody sees the dire consequences predicted by its opponents, methinks a lot of the remaining anger will float away.

Does this guy get his news purely from Obama press releases? Put aside the fact that he ignores the delay on most of the bill's provisions. One gathers that Baker missed the financial statements of major companies expecting billions of dollars lost to their bottom lines because of the legislation. Moreover, on the same day that Newport County's major daily paper handed its readers Baker's bubblegum, the state's major daily paper was informing its own of the following, on its front page:

While some experts are predicting better times for hospitals from the national health-care overhaul, an analysis conducted for the Hospital Association of Rhode Island predicts that the state's 11 acute-care hospitals stand to lose $465.7 million over the next 10 years.

The study found that any gains from more patients coming through the doors with insurance will be more than offset by cuts in payments the hospitals receive from the federal government, according to Edward J. Quinlan, the association’s president.

An accompanying article suggests that the government has a history, in this area:

Quinlan traces the hospitals' troubles back to the passage of the federal Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which led to steep cuts in Medicare payments. The association estimates that over 13 years, the cuts have resulted in a loss of $700 million. Medicare payments used to provide hospitals 14 percent more than the cost of care, providing a necessary buffer to help pay for general hospital expenses. Now the payments are about 89 percent of the cost of care.

Just wait until employers start dumping their workers into publicly subsidized programs. And just wait until this guy's ilk get the reins firmly in their hands:

Health-care reform may bring some relief. But Nick Tsongias, an executive board member of HealthRIght, which supports comprehensive health-care reform, says there's an even deeper problem to address.

"I think the business model that the hospitals are operating under is now obsolete," he says. ...

... increased competition isn't necessarily beneficial, says Tsongias. In fact, he says, it can be harmful. For example, Landmark Medical Center started a coronary-care unit, but had to close it down because it contributed to financial losses so severe the hospital had to seek protection from the courts, he says.

"It certainly poorly serves the public if the way we determine how many hospitals we have, and what the appropriate array of services are ... is through survival of the fittest," Tsongias says.

Competition leads to efficiency. Indeed, Tsiongas's complaint is that it drives down prices to the point that only the most effective providers can continue to profit from a particular good or service, and what ultimately makes them effective is that consumers wish to spend their money with them. I'm not an expert in hospital finance, but I'd wager that the reason hospitals have chased a narrow collection of identical services is that a mixture of government regulations and insurance company policies have created inadvisable incentives through mandates and the speed and percentage of payments.

The better approach to lowering costs and broadening care would be to allow consumers to pay more directly for the services that they want and need. Further embedding the "insurance" model — really a "healthcare services plan" model — and giving government regulators a more direct responsibility for and authority over the healthcare system will only yield additional strains on providers and higher costs. Which will only yield fewer providers and even higher costs.

I'd much rather live in Mr. Baker's world, in which one can trust that the cool smart guy running the show in Washington would manage of our every worry. We could all relax and be taken care of. Unfortunately, in the world that I've observed, that's just not realistic.

April 3, 2010

A Newly Aware America Confronting Old Tricks

Justin Katz

Andrew Breitbart pulls together some of the threads related to the post-healthcare-vote anti-Tea Party redirection, concluding:

Who is calling the shots here? Is it the White House, by way of Chicago? Or is it Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid? The press refused to tell you the truth about this president. It refused to tell you of his proud adherence to the teachings of the original Chicago "community organizer" Saul Alinsky. We have now entered the first full-fledged Alinsky presidency. The only way to beat Alinsky is with Alinsky. The Democrats and President Obama will not give up this tack. Do you think the GOP will win the day in November and in 2012 if its strategy is to apologize for every manufactured "right wing fringe" outrage?

I disagree about "the only way to beat Alinsky." I think it's honesty. That's why it's significant that he's becoming an increasingly understood figure. Fighting Alinsky with Alinsky would mean deception and manipulation, which many whom I've observed on the political right are not well suited to do effectively. Bright lights and proper conduct are the appropriate and most effective responses. Two notes on this front, one national and one local.

First, consider this small story, slipped into the inner pages of the Saturday paper:

David Brian Stone [leader of the recently FBI-stung militia group] never got too far in his plans. His influence didn't appear to extend much beyond a close circle of family and friends, and associates say other militias refused to come to his defense during raids late last month. ...

Members of a group in Hutaree's own backyard — the Lenawee Volunteer Michigan Militia — not only refused to assist one of Stone's sons who fled the FBI after a raid on Saturday night, but they actually turned to authorities to help track down Joshua Stone.

I lack the time and interest to dig into the details and merits of the FBI investigation and raid, but the timing and the huge national splash certainly gives the impression that somebody is constructing a narrative stretching from the Tea Party movement, through the Republican Party, to the most fringe characters of the right.

Which brings us to a local item on which I've been meaning to comment:

Some people wore tri-cornered hats and waved yellow flags that proclaimed "Don't Tread On Me." Others brandished signs with more current messages aimed at Rhode Island's congressional delegation, such as "Abort the D.C. Thugs," with photos of Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Representatives Patrick Kennedy and James Langevin, and "LANGEVIN'S VOTE CRIPPLE$ AMERICA."

The "Abort the D.C. Thugs" sign lies at about the edge of what one expects at these rallies, but the one about Langevin, specifically, crosses the line. Indeed, it's so beyond the appropriate that one wonders why reporter Mike Stanton, or his on-scene surrogate, didn't attempt to procure the sign-wielder's name and extract further comment. Perhaps the journalists' caught a whiff of the reek of setup around the sign.

Anybody have a picture of that sign — especially of the person holding it?

April 2, 2010

The Obama-Era Binge

Justin Katz

One gets the sense, watching state and national politicians in action, that paying for things is by far a secondary or tertiary consideration. As Ed Achorn puts it:

The government will borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends this year. Under the most optimistic scenarios, borrowing will continue at historically high levels, putting a severe strain on the dollar and either dampening or devastating the economy. The federal debt will rise to a chilling 90 percent of the nation's economic output by 2020, the Congressional Budget Office reported Thursday.

Most politicians and most of the media do not pause to consider such things. They prefer happy talk about growing government through clever (often corrupt) maneuvers and passing out public dollars as if they were candy. If pols dwell at all on how to pay for it, they cite budget figures that are based on transparent gimmicks or they advocate taxing that man behind the tree. But nobody seems to be very seriously engaged in the unnerving development that we are aboard a runaway train and we’re rapidly running out of track.

Big-government spending is self-feeding, inasmuch as the recipients of the dough are sure to vote for the people handing it over to them. Our only hope, it seems, is for folks with less direct incentive to get involved and push governance back toward status as an adult activity.

March 27, 2010

Obama in Aggregate

Justin Katz

"Chicago Does Socialism," that's what Victor Davis Hanson calls the aggregate effect of the Obama administration's year in office:

The president promises a state fix for health care; then student loans; and next energy. There are to be subsidies, credits, and always new entitlements for every problem, all requiring hordes of fresh technocrats and Civil Service employees. Like a perpetual teenager, who wants and buys but never produces, the president is focused on the acquisitive and consumptive urges, never on the productive — as in how all his magnanimous largesse is to be paid for by someone else. ...

[With taxation, once] again, Obama never honestly connects the dots and comes clean with the American people about the net effect: On vast swaths of upper income, new state and federal taxes — aside from any rises in sales, property, capital-gains, or inheritance taxes — could confiscate an aggregate of 65 to 70 percent. ...

[On transparency and promises,] I could go on and on, but again the pattern is clear. Each time Obama prevaricates, we grant him an exemption because of his lofty rhetoric about bipartisanship and his soothing words about unity. Only later do we notice that in retrospect each untruth is part of a pattern of dissimulation within just a single year of governance. Obama has proven so far that in fact one can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time. ...

[With respect to international affairs,] again, connect these seemingly isolated dots and a picture emerges of a new radical foreign policy of "neutralism." Traditional allies are ignored, and old enemies are courted — until both are on the same moral and political plane. The one constant is that a socialist anti-Western philosophy abroad (which blames the West for a nation's own self-inflicted misery) wins sympathy with the Obama administration, while capitalist Western culture is seen as mostly passé.

His appropriate response to 9/11 excepted, President Bush's years in office nudged the nation in the wrong direction as his administration attempted to walk the line between bolstering the public sector and keeping the private sector alive, while anticipating and adjusting for foreign developments. Obama's years in office, unless they prove to be a repealable four-year binge, are going to be absolutely disastrous. As Mark Steyn puts it, after describing the inevitable decline ushered in with the healthcare usurpation and the foreign variables like "the price of oil when the Straits of Hormuz are under a de facto Iranian nuclear umbrella":

... right now the future lies somewhere between the certainty of decline and the probability of catastrophe. What can stop it? Not a lot.

March 21, 2010

Presidential Popularity, or Fun with Juxtaposition

Justin Katz

Charles Blow informed New York Times readers, Friday, that President Obama may be "unbreakable":

First, let's take his job approval rating. Yes, it slid during the summer, but it stabilized around 50 percent in November and has hovered there ever since.

The empty-headed chattering class began another round of speculation and inane analysis this week when his approval rating dropped to 46 percent, its lowest yet. Silly pundits.

Then again, Jim Lindgren offers a comparison:

When George Bush left office he was deeply unpopular: in Bush's last month, according to Rasmussen 43% strongly disapproved of the job Bush was doing, while only 13% strongly approved, for a staggering negative rating of -30%. Rasmussen's Thursday release shows that after 14 months in office President Barack Obama has achieved Bush's 43% of the people strongly disapproving of his performance, but Obama is still 10% ahead of Bush in those who strongly approve (23% v. 13% for Bush).

As Lindgren suggests, 10% "strong approval" seems more than adequately covered by adjustments for identity politics (i.e., "the black vote") and the daily and nightly beating that President Bush took in the media for most of his time in office. From what I've seen (admittedly, as one who doesn't pay much attention to such things), the common wisdom about Obama in the entertainment range of the media is that his biggest shortcoming is being too darn smart and cool for the American people.

The President may turn his popularity around, somehow, but it's also possible that us ignahrant folks are increasingly wondering why the One we're seeing doesn't match the One we're hearing about.

March 17, 2010

No Transparency on Transparency

Justin Katz

An unsigned op-ed in the Newport Daily News, yesterday, went to bat for the Obama administration on government transparency:

... it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that on his first full day in office, the president issued a memorandum to the heads of all executive departments restoring the original presumption of disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, a reversal from the previous administration.

"My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government," he said. "We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government."

Oh, the writer admits that "there have been some broken promises along the way" and emphasizes that it's all "a work in progress." But the administration has made a "commitment to instill a culture of openness and collaboration between the federal government and the American people." You know, like this:

One year into its promise of greater government transparency, the Obama administration is more often citing exceptions to the nation's open records law to withhold federal records even as the number of requests for information decline, according to a review by The Associated Press of agency audits about the Freedom of Information Act. ...

Major agencies cited the exemption at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, up from 47,395 times during President George W. Bush's final full budget year, according to annual reports filed by federal agencies. Obama was president for nine months in the 2009 period.

As with much that Obama supporters proclaim, what the One says is apparently more important than what he does.

March 15, 2010

Laying Planks into the Chasm

Justin Katz

Almost since the recession began, I've been wondering out loud what was going to pull us out of it — what unexplored industry, what as-yet-stagnant market, what boom. In the intervening months, it's been clear that the Obama administration's strategy has been to prop up the public sector (i.e., insulate government from the downturn), flood some borrowed money into the economy, and hope that the private sector would stumble onto something, as it has proven so proficient at doing. But anybody who's spent a decade or so, after college, without that magical high-paying job that's supposed to appear when you take all the right steps and do good work has learned to look for incremental steps, and I'm just not seeing those steps for the economy.

Anthony Randazzo goes so far as to call the currently touted recovery a "myth":

... a closer look reveals those appealing numbers sit on a dangerously shaky foundation. Economic growth in 2009 was largely dependent on a historic level of government spending that even the president acknowledges is unsustainable in the long term. The root problem of mortgage delinquencies has yet to be worked out. Bank lending is sparse amid ongoing uncertainties surrounding regulatory reform. As a result, manufacturers and small businesses continue to struggle with limited credit. All that translates into historic job losses and a bleak outlook for meaningful growth in 2010 and 2011.

Worst of all, many of the core problems in the housing, banking, manufacturing, and service sectors are being perpetuated and exacerbated by the very federal programs the president credits with jump-starting economic growth. Instead of confronting the roots of the crisis head on, as Obama has repeatedly boasted of doing, his administration and the Democratic Congress have kicked the can down the road, postponing the day of reckoning for real estate, the auto industry, and the toxic mortgage-backed securities that were at the heart of the economic meltdown. These unsolved problems will keep looming over the economy until they’re finally addressed.

At this point, perhaps the best thing we could do, as a nation, is spin a 180 away from big government. Especially in Rhode Island, going from overburdened to liberated would at least attract the growing market of investors, entrepreneurs, and skilled, motivated workers looking for a sanctuary.

March 4, 2010

Where the Comparison Goes Wrong

Justin Katz

Chatter about the comparison of circumstances between President Obama and President Reagan has been everywhere, and it all falls apart on one basic question. Here's an example from Henry Olsen (subscription required):

Where does this leave us? Republicans should first remember that politics is like tennis, and the Democrats are serving. It's very hard to break service against a competent player, and there is still time for Obama and his party to regain their game. Obama's slide in the polls has been steep, but his year-end standing was eerily similar to Ronald Reagan's in December 1981. Back then, Reagan had 49 percent approval; Obama had 50 percent in the late-December 2009 polling average on RealClearPolitics. Reagan's numbers slid throughout 1982 as the economy worsened, reaching their nadir at 35 percent in January 1983.

But Reagan recovered nicely, relying on issues that unified his coalition, like hard-line positions against the Soviets. The fast-recovering economy also helped, and as his numbers recovered — and with Democrats unable to overcome their own intra-party divisions during their presidential primaries — Reagan swept to an epic reelection win that placed the GOP on the path toward the continued power it would wield for another 20 years.

Olsen's argument relates to the possibility that a third party will emerge and take the place of the GOP, but one significant consideration is missing from the analysis. Reagan's policies helped bring about the recovery that ultimately boosted his image. Amazingly, Obama has continued to chase down the very policies (in effect and proposed) that have been suppressing economic activity. If that continues, the Republicans have plenty of room to maneuver in order to obviate the need for an additional right-leaning candidate.

February 24, 2010

Spreading the Brand

Marc Comtois

In 1993 the Strategic Defense Initiative (founded in 1983) became the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which was in turn renamed the Missile Defense Agency in 2002, complete with a brand new logo:

It was noticed last November that the MDA has decided to update its "branding" with yet another new logo (h/t).

See for yourself (upper left hand corner). Looks familiar.

January 28, 2010

Blah, Blah, Spin, Blah, Blah, Big Government

Justin Katz

I caught about 25 minutes or so of President Obama's State of the Union address on 630AM/99.7FM WPRO on my way home last night, which served to make me even more relieved to pull into the driveway. Put aside all the cortex-numbing spin, the take away message from what I heard, and what I've read since, is that Obama still doesn't get the message that the people of the United States are sending him.

Americans don't want to hear "our country" and think first of all of its government. We don't want to hear what government is going to do for us; we want to hear what the government is going to stop preventing us from doing. In other words, the subtext of the President's message is that he'll lead the government in coming up with a plan to assist we little folk who are wandering clueless in a complicated reality. And surely I'm not the only person in the global audience who noticed that every time he spoke of "hard-working Americans," he went through a list of union — especially public-sector union — roles before grudgingly mentioning such afterthoughts as "people who start businesses."

On top of it all, the brilliant orator's style long ago began to grate. Listening on the radio, I could picture him doing his teleprompter-left, teleprompter-right head oscillation. "Word word [pause] word word word word [pause] word."

January 25, 2010

When Presidents Lose It

Justin Katz

Has anybody else been writing "What is he thinking?" in the margins of stories like this?

President Obama's latest broadside against big banks may have more bark than bite.

Obama's plan to limit banks' size and risky trading has spooked investors, but analysts say it would have only marginal effect on institutions like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup - and would be hard to enforce. And it's not clear the rules would reduce taxpayers' risk of having to bail out another big bank.

As if on impulse, Obama fired a shot at the finance industry and, in an utterly predictable development, the markets tanked. My theory is that the administration foresaw Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts and wanted to circumvent headlines like "Markets surge on election of Republican." That would be far too straightforward of a lesson for the Democrats to allow the electorate to learn. (Of course, the electorate is learning the lesson by other means.) Roger Simon appears to agree:

I don't think it's accident that the Stock Market is tanking after a very short rally that coincided with the then coming victory of Scott Brown. The business world is scared — as is evidently our Secretary of the Treasury who has wandered about as far off the reservation as cabinet officers normally go, allowing the world to know his skepticism about Obama's new reining in of the banks. (How long before Geithner goes under the bus now?)

The scary thing is that many of us believe the President hardly knows much of anything, certainly not economics, and is surrounded by an increasingly paranoid and defensive group of advisers. It's shades of Nixon, but worse. Tricky Dick, at least, knew what he was doing and could accomplish things. Obama is the biggest windbag to ever ascend to the presidency. He has no idea what he is doing and now things are getting rough. Frankly, I'm worried for our country because this man doesn't really understand what the public is telling him. He just thinks we're "angry.” He’s wrong — we're furious and we're furious because he blames everyone but himself and seems psychologically incapable of taking responsibility. One can imagine a ninety-year old Obama stumbling around in some rest home shaking his walking stick at George Bush. But for the moment Bush is being replaced boy. Now evidently it's the banks fault. The evil bankers are to blame. It's capitalism, stupid.

Simon goes on to suggest that Obama has never really faced adversity before and may be unpredictable for the next year. Moreover, I can't help but think back to those conservatives and moderates who were just positive that Obama would grow and learn once in office, surely coming around to their point of view. An introduction to adversity doesn't appear to be teaching the president such lessons.

January 20, 2010

Banks as Tax Collectors

Justin Katz

Here's the ruse (emphasis added):

President Obama expressed confidence Saturday that lawmakers would approve his proposed tax on banks to recover bailout money, despite opposition from Republicans and the financial industry.

And here's the reality (emphasis added):

The proposed 0.15 percent tax would last at least 10 years and generate about $90 billion over the decade, according to administration estimates. It would apply to about 50 of the biggest banks, those with more than $50 billion in assets, and include many institutions that accepted no money from the $700 financial industry bailout.

And here's the president's faulty premise:

Obama challenged those who say banks can't afford the tax without passing the costs on to shareholders and customers.

"That's hard to believe when there are reports that Wall Street is going to hand out more money in bonuses and compensation just this year than the cost of this fee over the next 10 years," he said. "If the big financial firms can afford massive bonuses, they can afford to pay back the American people."

The financial firms could afford to do lots of things with their profits, but what they do typically rewards those in charge, especially those responsible for the strategies that generated their revenue in the first place. Taxing all banks in order to pay for handouts to a few of them doesn't change the industry dynamics around competition for top talent. That is to say that the banks will look for other areas to make up for losses from taxation rather than the pay scales of those whom they credit for their success, largely by passing them on to customers.

The bigger point, though, is that this plan will suck $90 billion directly out of the global economy, with the focal point of the United States. For example, consider some number crunching from the Providence Business News:

Citizens Financial Group Inc.'s parent company, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, may owe $625 million a year if Congress passes a new tax on financial institutions proposed by President Barack Obama.

From where does Mr. Obama believe that money is going to come? Out of the bonuses of executives? If one believes the narrative of the left, bank executives are immorally greedy connivers. From a rightward perspective, the bonuses are the price that the market has placed on their talent (hugely distorted upward through the meddling of government, to be sure). In neither case are financial leaders likely to simply accept an indirect tax on their income.

As I've said before, if one wishes to curb outrageous pay and bonuses, the best method would focus on increasing competition, making excess unsustainable. Taxation favors incumbency, exacerbating the underlying problem.

January 16, 2010

Political Spin on a Used Car Salesman Scale

Justin Katz

Anybody who watches politics must be prepared for spin to the border of falsehood, but in Brian Riedl's telling, it's difficult not to conclude that the Obama administration has stepped well into the range of what would more accurately be called scams and con jobs:

Last spring, President Obama proposed $11.3 billion worth of discretionary spending cuts. Today's Washington Times notes that Congress accepted $6.9 billion worth of these cuts, a 61 percent success rate.

In a $3.6 trillion federal budget, that comes to just 0.2 percent of the federal budget.

But there is a larger issue:100 percent of the savings from these "cuts" were automatically shifted into new spending. Total federal spending was not reduced by one dollar.

Moreover, the cuts were mainly in defense spending, so spending on things that most of us associate with "big government" actually increased as a result of these "cuts." Unbelievable.

January 12, 2010

Making America Just Another (Subordinate) Country

Justin Katz

Amid political battles locally and race scandals nationally, let's not lose sight of the newly immune global-government police force operating within the United States. A recent column by Andrew McCarthy is must-reading on the topic, as he explains why the Obama administration is disinclined to explain why the president would quietly remove protections of the American people against the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol):

Here's how the game works. International-law professors, jurists, and bureaucrats announce some piety that they think everyone should follow (e.g., the death penalty is an unconscionable human-rights violation). Once enough of them have followed it for long enough (in recent years, "long enough" seems to have become "ten minutes" . . . or the time it takes to announce these new international standards), the piety is deemed — at least by transnationalists — to be universally binding. In their view, it thus becomes the obligation of every nation to fall into line, changing their laws to whatever extent is necessary to do so. That is, the sensibilities of the "international community" (i.e., the elites of the global Left) void the democratic self-determinism of the American people. ...

This is surely another reckless gesture designed to eviscerate America's special status and self-determinism — to make us just one of 192 other countries, no better, no different, no superpower. The president knows that Americans don't share his view of America, which is a big reason behind his tumbling approval ratings. Saying out loud that we need to immunize Interpol — to put it above the U.S. Constitution — in order to be more like Kenya, Thailand, Zimbabwe, etc., would not go over well. That would bode ill for the administration's agenda to subjugate the U.S. to such transnationalist schemes as the Law of the Sea Treaty and the International Criminal Court. Better to say nothing.

The Great Obaman Recession

Justin Katz

Charles Gasparino explains the mechanics of our jobless economic recovery:

The issue is strikingly similar to what the banks face. As we're all aware, the banks are making big money and waiting to pay out bonuses in the coming days. But the cash isn't coming from lending the money out. Instead, the banks are cutting costs, hoarding cash and investing some of it in low-risk bonds.

Businesses are doing the same even if the economy "grows" according to official statistics. Why risk expanding operations and hiring workers amid a wild boom in government that will lead to massive tax hikes when you can make money simply by doing nothing or laying people off?

All of which translates into a jobless recovery -- the economy appearing to grow while unemployment remains unnaturally high -- unless of course, you work in government.

To be fair to the President, he's not accomplishing suppression of the national economy on his own; the Democrats in Congress are playing a large role, too. There's therefore at least some room for hope that a Republican resurgence in the legislature will be a sufficient signal that the era of hopenchange is over. Or perhaps not; the economic paranoia surely derives, in part, from the memory that the Republicans had drifted far from their Reaganite roots over the past decade, leaving no hope of a solid turnaround.

Of course, whatever the case, Rhode Island exacerbates the problem. All the gimmicks, as I've been calling them, are meaningless without large structural change, including an overhaul of elected officials. Businesses needn't even be all that perceptive to fear that the "targeted incentives" that the local Democrats have increasingly been citing as their economic plan are merely a lure into a trap. The people running our state government want businesses here so that they can take their money and transfer it to friends, unions, and government-dependents, not so that their state can return to economic health and opportunity.

December 30, 2009

The Man Behind the Tendrils

Justin Katz

Andrew McCarthy's takedown of Attorney General Eric Holder is relevant for a number of topical reasons — the war on terror, generally, the strategy of treating the war like a criminal action, the decision to give terrorist masterminds access to the American civil courts, even as an international police organizations are freed from accountability. On a political level, though, this part ties in with something that I've found to be increasingly applicable across layers of government:

We have been at war with Islamist terrorists for over eight years now--about half as long as they have been at war with us. In that time, they have committed all manner of atrocities. But of the thousands of jihadists who have been killed, captured, or detained since 2001, the 9/11 plotters stand out. To submit them to the civilian justice system makes a mockery of the war, betrays its victims, and turns the American courts into a weapon by which the enemy can gather intelligence and broadcast propaganda. It is inconceivable that civilian trials would have been permitted in any previous American war. In those conflicts, war was understood as the military and diplomatic resolution of a geopolitical dispute, not the judicial disposition of a legal controversy.

But the Obama administration views the war as a legal matter. And its maneuvering to insulate the president from this unpopular ideological decision has been comically transparent: The president was, conveniently, en route to the Far East when Holder announced the civilian-court transfer; the White House maintains that the decision was a call for Holder alone to make (in fact, the attorney general has no authority to order war prisoners out of military custody--that's a presidential call); and Holder purports not to have consulted the commander-in-chief on this momentous matter, instead seeking the counsel of his wife and his brother.

To further the myth of a fully detached Obama, the administration projects a fully engaged Holder, hitting the books, agonizing for long hours over the most difficult decision of his career. But at the hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) exploded the myth by asking the most elementary legal question: What is the precedent? "Can you give me a case in United States history," he asked, "where an enemy combatant caught on a battlefield was tried in civilian court?" After several seconds of excruciating silence, Holder stammered, "I don't know, I'd have to look at that." What, pray tell, has he been looking at, if not that? Senator Graham, an experienced Air Force lawyer, informed the nation's top law-enforcement official that there has been no such case.

Whether it be national administrative "czars" or state-level boards and commissions, this transfer of authority — at least as far as the public is led to believe — is an insidious thing. I find the elevation of a man like Holder to his current position disconcerting, but not as worrisome as the fact that he's clearly not an administrative rogue.


But while I'm quoting from the piece, here's part that's directly related to the decision about easing domestic restrictions on the International Criminal Police Organization:

Why invite all this when the 9/11 plotters were ready to plead guilty? On the campaign trail, Holder promised the Left a "reckoning." The new administration would hold the Bush administration to account for its purported crimes. Understanding the legal emptiness and political explosiveness of such a promise, however, Holder has been reluctant to do more than "investigate." Thus the restless international Left--which includes Obama's core of support--has exhorted the United Nations and foreign tribunals to invoke "universal jurisdiction" to bring war-crimes charges against Bush officials. In Europe this spring, Holder expressed his willingness to cooperate with such investigations, including one ongoing in Spain.

A civilian trial for KSM & Co. will be an unparalleled coup for these efforts--more so even than the mounds of classified memos Holder has already made public over the strenuous objections of current and former CIA directors. The Left's shock troops at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who worked on our enemies' behalf with many lawyers now staffing Holder's Justice Department, will exploit any new revelations to intensify calls for foreign prosecutions. The Obama administration will get credit for delivering on its promised reckoning but will avoid the political damage that would result if DOJ were to bring the case itself.

As I titled an earlier post: the noose tightens.

December 11, 2009

Bush Was Better

Justin Katz

Now this is interesting:

Perhaps the greatest measure of Obama's declining support is that just 50% of voters now say they prefer having him as President to George W. Bush, with 44% saying they'd rather have his predecessor. Given the horrendous approval ratings Bush showed during his final term that's somewhat of a surprise and an indication that voters are increasingly placing the blame on Obama for the country's difficulties instead of giving him space because of the tough situation he inherited.

There are a number of centrist-types who were rah-rah for Obama during the campaign from whom I haven't heard since the man began attempting to govern. In a sense, Obama's strategy was to hold up a picture of President Bush (not unlike the one that Glenn Reynolds posted in relation to the polling information) and told Americans that he would be the opposite of whatever they didn't like about his predecessor — left, right, whatever.

It was naked deception, but it worked. Too many right-of-center people didn't realize that Obama included "even more" among the qualifiers for "opposite."

November 4, 2009

Grow up

Donald B. Hawthorne

Real men don't whine and make excuses.

And they don't dither, either.


My first comment in the Comments section:

Dithering on Afghanistan while American soldiers die.

Meeting multiple times with Andy Stern of SEIU while not having time to decide on Afghanistan.

Calling Afghanistan the important war in March before it wasn't the important war in October. The man simply can't say the word "victory," let alone "victory" and "America" in the same paragraph.

Talking, talking, talking to Iran without conditions while being silent as Iranian tyrants arrest, torture and kill freedom-loving dissidents. And then continuing to talk when Iran thumbs their nose at us about their nuclear program.

Chairing the UN for a day and failing to disclose the existence of another Iranian nuclear facility, a clear violation of those meaningless/toothless UN resolutions. Forcing French president to drop any reference to it from his UN speech.

Refuses to meet with the Dalai Lama because relationship with Communist Chinese cannot be sacrificed.

Abandoning our allies in Eastern Europe while coddling Russia as they do war games threatening Eastern Europe.

Treating our historic friends, the Brits, with disrespect.

Refusing to participate in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling.

Completely silent on anything to do with human rights and freedom while coddling tyrants.

Bowing to Saudi kings.

Pressuring Israel but not the Palestineans.

Backslapping and smiling broadly with tyrant Hugo Chavez.

Listening passively to 50-minute anti-American rants by Daniel Ortega.

Bullying Honduras democracy to reinstate Chavez acolyte who was violating constitution.

Contrary to CW, GW Bush had more effective relationships with various countries than Obama has. Obama is unable to convince anybody of anything anywhere, including actions on Iran and Afghanistan.

Going on world-wide apology tour about America while failing to speak up for our national self-interest.

Passing roughly $800 billion stimulus package that blows up deficit without positively impacting economy. Did I mention nobody read the bill before it was passed?

Running budget deficits that make that spendthrift GW Bush look like a tightwad. See here.

Trying to socialize medicine in America, which would blow up deficit even further and take away freedom.

Trying to pass cap-and-trade energy tax that would adversely impact economic growth and family economics.

Taking over industries instead of letting the marketplace sort it out, losing billions of taxpayer dollars in the process. Dictating outcomes for Chrysler bondholders, unilaterally declaring existing legal contracts don't have any standing.

Demonizing news organizations who don't toe the Obama party line, including trying to exclude them from interviews with Administration officials. In other words, arguing against free speech based on ideological differences.

Having endless number of czars who are effectively an unaccountable shadow Cabinet, operating without Congressional oversight or transparency. Telling Congress there will be no testifying by czars in front of Congress.

Having czars dictate pay for private companies.

Filling his administration with self-proclaimed Marxists and admirers of Mao.

Aligning self with ACORN-types, who commit voter fraud, etc.

Hey, that's the Obama track record. Who needs any more time? He is a wimp like Jimmy Carter on international relations but without any moral compass on freedom and human rights. He is a budget-busting spendthrift who is trying to socialize the American economy. His banana republic deficit levels are driving the international community to abandon the dollar as the preferred reserve currency, something that threatens to reduce our standard of living over time. He is allergic to the concepts of freedom, liberty and American exceptionalism, surrounding himself with people akin to long-time friends like Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers. And he doesn't know history.

In summary, running as a (faux) moderate in 2008 and governing from the far left in 2009. He most certainly has a track record already and it is not positive on any dimension. All while golfing more in 9 months than GW Bush did in 2 years and 10 months.

Okay, the man has a great sounding voice and can read off of a Teleprompter.

And, I repeat, does he ever whine and blame others. Real men and women don't do that. Successful leaders surely don't.

My second comment in the Comments section:

How fascinating to read many of the responses.

Few seem to want to talk about the substantive issue: Obama manufacturers excuses for his non-performance. And he is, I believe, the first US President to go overseas and publicly trash his predecessor. Call it what you want. I call it wimpy, lacking in courage, lacking in leadership, lacking in a moral foundation. You can call it whatever you like but, regardless, it is not what strong, principled men or leaders do.

And talk about thin-skinned! Politics is a contact sport so why is everyone aghast when Obama is criticized. Or feeling a need to twist any criticism into a suggestion of racism.

So, here is the other call out - Is criticizing Obama off limits because he is a black man? Sure seems that way. Which is itself a racist concept and worthy of challenge.

In a nutshell, the other substantive point is that Obama is a socialist who doesn't believe in the core principles of America. And he is a foreign policy wimp who dithers without any moral direction. My earlier comment to this post offers the particulars of an indictment.

By way of contrast with the overly sensitive types, some of us dish it hard in all directions, writing before the 2008 election that McCain wasn't presidential timber; that is summarized here. Some of us said the Republicans should lose majority control of the House in 2006 and spend some time in the political wilderness so they could rediscover principles. Some of us sat out the 2006 RI US Senate race because of a belief that neither of the candidates deserved support. Some of us trashed GW Bush and the Republican Congress for their spendthrift domestic policies. Some of us supported and raised money for a black US Senate candidate back in 1992 and have written on this blog site about the moral contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr.

So some of us are pounding Obama because we don't like socialist domestic policies that take away our freedom, spineless/unprincipled foreign policies that do not promote American interests - all from someone whose actions regularly suggest a lack of commitment to liberty.

October 28, 2009

Societies We Can Imagine

Justin Katz

Thomas Sowell pauses for a moment of disbelief at the conversation in America:

Just one year ago, would you have believed that an unelected government official, not even a Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate but simply one of the many "czars" appointed by the President, could arbitrarily cut the pay of executives in private businesses by 50 percent or 90 percent?

Did you think that another "czar" would be talking about restricting talk radio? That there would be plans afloat to subsidize newspapers-- that is, to create a situation where some newspapers' survival would depend on the government liking what they publish?

Did you imagine that anyone would even be talking about having a panel of so-called "experts" deciding who could and could not get life-saving medical treatments?

There's a parallel in Rhode Island. You know, it's not that difficult to imagine a reality in which we wouldn't be discussing whether or not prostitution will finally be made illegal and binding arbitration for teachers contracts might make a midnight appearance on the State House floor, but rather whether the tax code would be restructured to improve the business environment of the state and legislators would be explicitly barred from selling their votes.

One can dream on a rainy autumn day...

October 23, 2009

Kennedy and Obama vs. Catholic Church and Fox

Justin Katz

Something's been gnawing at me since Andrew posted video of Congressman Patrick Kennedy proving once again why we should all hope his handlers keep him well away from any real power, and it took a revistation of Ed Achorn's concern about the Obama administration's jihad against Fox News to jar the pest loose. Here's Achorn:

The White House's declaration of enemy status for Fox seems to reflect a growing disrespect throughout our society for free speech, the wellspring of America's greatness and generous spirit. A president of all Americans, even those who disagree with him, should have the grace and bigness to realize that.

Ominously, growing numbers of Americans seem to think that it is illegitimate for anyone to have an opinion at variance with their own. And that those who disagree — or would report facts that challenge their viewpoint — become a fit target for retaliation, punishment, abuse, even the coward's art of slander.

Kennedy's dismissing the Church's easily foreseeable objection to the probability that the Democrats' version of healthcare reform will fund abortions as a "red herring," and his declaration that the bishops are sowing "dissent and discord" is precisely in the line of Achorn's criticism.

October 9, 2009

Checking in from the Construction Site on the Nobel Prize

Justin Katz
The ideas being expressed about Obama's Nobel Prize win around Marc's office water cooler are also finding voice around my construction site — where the crew had an affiliative reason to tune into NPR for the morning news, today. The consensus (which, admittedly, I had no small role in developing) is that the Nobel Peace Prize is little more deserving of honor than the cover of a magazine. All previous winners should feel slighted. If there was any doubt that the Nobel Peace Prize is nothing more than an opportunity for European elites to make a political statement, then Barack Obama's surprise win is the clincher. Being the world's foremost figure for "peace" is now nakedly an achievement of political rhetoric.

Nobel Peace Prize Jumps the Shark

Marc Comtois

One could argue that having Yassar Arafat awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was the true "Jump the Shark" moment for the Nobel Peace Prize...or even that Al Gore winning for a Power Point presentation on Global Warming Climate Change. But at least Arafat had been involved in something--no matter how disingenuously--that looked like a peace process and Gore had been around for a while doing his shtick (and I realize these are extremely low bars to hurdle that I've set up!). But now the Nobel Committee has awarded the Peace Prize to a President who has done....nothing (heck, they nominated him 10 days after he'd been inaugurated). Hope indeed. As the TimesOnline editorializes:

Rarely has an award had such an obvious political and partisan intent. It was clearly seen by the Norwegian Nobel committee as a way of expressing European gratitude for an end to the Bush Administration, approval for the election of America’s first black president and hope that Washington will honour its promise to re-engage with the world.

Instead, the prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronising in its intentions and demeaning in its attempt to build up a man who has barely begun his period in office, let alone achieved any tangible outcome for peace.

Mickey Kaus suggests the President should politely decline:
Turn it down! Politely decline. Say he's honored but he hasn't had the time yet to accomplish what he wants to accomplish. Result: He gets at least the same amount of glory--and helps solve his narcissism problem and his Fred Armisen ('What's he done?') problem, demonstrating that he's uncomfortable with his reputation as a man overcelebrated for his potential long before he's started to realize it. ... Plus he doesn't have to waste time, during a fairly crucial period, working on yet another grand speech. ... And the downside is ... what? That the Nobel Committee feels dissed? ... P.S.: It's not as if Congress is going to think, well, he's won the Nobel Peace Prize so let's pass health care reform. But the possibility for a Nobel backlash seems non-farfetched.
Worth considering because, if some of the statements around the local water cooler are any indication, the backlash has begun. Plus, by declining the award, Obama would show the world that he, like most Americans, still believes that accolades should be earned for actions completed, not promised.

ADDENDUM: This is the best pro-"Obama wins the Nobel Prize" reaction I've read so far:

"Obama won? Really? Wow," said David Hassan, 43, of Pine Brook, New Jersey. "He deserves it I guess, he's the president. He's a smart guy and I guess he's into peace."

ADDENDUM II: President Obama will accept the prize. He's also being very careful:

"I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee," Obama said Friday. "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of many of the transformative leaders who have received this prize."

Obama downplayed his own role in having one the prize, asserting it as more of "an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

In that light, the president said he would accept the prize.

"I will accept this award as a call to action; a call for all nations to confront the common actions of the 21st century," he said.

October 5, 2009

Out of the Democrats' Black Heart, a Force Grows

Justin Katz

Alright, the title of the post is a bit dramatic, but there's an interesting tidbit obscured under the walk-on-by headline of "Brown grad hired" in today's Political Scene:

The Democratic National Committee has announced the hiring of recent Brown graduate Emilie Aries to lead the Rhode Island chapter of an Obama campaign off-shoot organization called "Organizing for America." ...

[State] Party Chairman William Lynch sent a letter to several party leaders, including the Rhode Island's Congressional delegation, noting that "numerous Democratic state chairs throughout the country who were not, frankly, overly enthused by the plans to unleash OFA across the country."

"As the Rhode Island Democratic State Chair, I did not think then, nor do I think now, that it is generally advisable nor beneficial to have a separate and distinct Democratic political organization working in the state of Rhode Island as opposed to joining forces with our existing state party structure," Lynch wrote. "This, however, was not a decision that was left up to me by OFA and, in fact, I have had virtually no input into OFA's plans here in Rhode Island."

Whom are the Obamanauts trying to elbow aside? Interesting to see these subdivisions emerge.

As was a repeating theme at this weekend's Republican Northeast Conference, the Right is aware of the need to craft messages and build alliances that allow us to work together, even if one region's or faction's emphases are antithetical to another's, but the Right tends to be more patchwork (coalitional, if I may coin a term), in general, so such loose affiliation along irreducible principles accords with our nature. The Left can pragmatically put one faction's goals aside, if all agree that doing so represents a necessary, but temporary, action, but my sense is that its structure is more of a giant consensus than an agreement to work together within the limited contexts that are possible.

September 20, 2009

The Distressing Versus the Frightening

Justin Katz

The rapid transformation of this country into a European-style socialist democracy is certainly distressing. American life is on its way to becoming more difficult and less free, less innovative — in a word, less American. But it is the combination of that atrophy with the existence of nations seeking to duplicate the international accomplishment of the United States (a global sphere of influence, if you will) without adhering to its methods.

More specifically, it is the combination of a strong-handed government at home with a weak-kneed government on the international scene:

The U.S. Defense Secretary is already on record as opposing an Israeli strike. If it happens, every thug state around the globe will understand the subtext — that, aside from a tiny strip of land on the east bank of the Jordan, every other advanced society on earth is content to depend for its security on the kindness of strangers.

Some of them very strange. Kim Jong-Il wouldn't really let fly at South Korea or Japan, would he? Even if some quasi-Talibanny types wound up sitting on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, they wouldn't really do anything with them, would they? Okay, Putin can be a bit heavy-handed when dealing with Eastern Europe, and his definition of "Eastern" seems to stretch ever farther west, but he's not going to be sending the tanks back into Prague and Budapest, is he? I mean, c'mon . . .

September 19, 2009

Ignoring the Lesson Plan

Justin Katz

One of the topics that came up on last night's Violent Roundtable was the failure of mainstream commentators to leaven their mockery of conservative concern about President Obama's in-school presentation with an acknowledgment of the objectionable suggested lesson plan that stoked the ire in the first place. Host Matt Allen suggested that bias leads such commentators to accept administration assurances that they've taken care of that aspect and then — poof — forget about it altogether. That's certainly plausible, given the likelihood that many MSMers didn't even know about the dispute until alternative-media heat and constituent reaction had brought the story to a head.

Particularly disappointing was the Providence Journal editorial on the matter (no longer online), published well after the event in question. Space is understandably short in such pieces, but by any journalistic standard with even mild pretensions to critical objectivity, the lesson plan should have been included in the summary of the controversy. Consequently, the reader can't help but feel that the editors' parting line is less a conclusion than a purpose:

The flap over the president's speech diminished his critics, while enhancing his own status as a role model.

An editorial, whether right or wrong in its expressed opinion, should represent the collected wisdom of the newspaper in which it appears — or at least of the guardians of its opinion pages. That it couldn't accurately summarize the sides in a national story like this suggests that it is content to enhance the status of a preferred politician at the expense of its own.

September 18, 2009

The Obama MO?

Justin Katz

With the economy at best slowing its wobble (and reason to be wary even about that), the Obama administration has added requirements for "better gas mileage for cars and trucks and the first-ever rules on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions" to its list of desired drags thereon. Note this now-familiar feature:

The proposal will cover vehicle model years 2012 through 2016, allowing auto companies to comply at once with all federal requirements as well as standards pushed by California and about a dozen other states.

Now, I'm sure there are a whole lot of arguments that one could put forward, with respect to time for such things as research and marketing plans, but a growing fist of expensive programs seem slated to swing by during the millennium's teens — after the next presidential election.

I'd also highlight this:

The administration estimated the requirements would cost up to $1,300 per new vehicle by 2016. It would take just three years to pay off that investment, the government estimates, and the standards would save owners more than $3,000 over the life of their vehicle through better gas mileage.

Except for the fact that gas will increase in price as it adjusts for the lower demand...

September 16, 2009

A Fascism of Our Own?

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg — eminently qualified for such a statement, as he is — suggests that the Obama-as-Hitler rhetoric is over the top, not the least because it underestimates the American people:

... there's a problem. Many folks claim to see in Obama the makings of an actual Hitler and in Obamaism a repeat of the National Socialism of the 1930s. Worse, some think my book supports their fears. And maybe it does, though I hope not.

The simple truth is that I do not think it is in the cards for America to go down a Nazi path. I never said otherwise in Liberal Fascism, either.

It's important to keep in mind that, as bad as various other avowedly fascist regimes were, only the Nazis did what they did. Mussolini was a bad man and a dictator, but he was no Hitler. The Italians did bad things, but they don't amount to a fraction of German crimes. Supposedly fascist Franco wasn't nearly as bad as Mussolini, and Franco's complicity in the Holocaust was nil. In other words, fascism brings out things in specific cultures at specific moments. Not only is Obama obviously not interested in being a Hitler, he couldn't pull Hitlerism out of the American people if he wanted to.

Of course, we should also keep in mind that, on the road to serfdom, the fascist dictator comes after the central planners have utterly failed.

September 8, 2009

President's Address to School Kids

Marc Comtois

As promised, the White House has released the prepared text of President Obama's speech to school children today. Here's the theme:

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

More excerpts after the jump. Content wise, there are a few things here and there that I didn't like (a reference to AIDS--the President needs to remember his audience, here). All in all, it's OK, but it's way too long for kids. After five minutes, the tune-out factor will be setting in. "When's recess?"

Continue reading "President's Address to School Kids"

September 6, 2009

Nuts in the Government

Justin Katz

Have you heard of the Van Jones controversy? No? You know, the thing with Obama's environmental jobs "czar" and his kooky left-wing extremism? Huh. The spotlight got sufficiently intense that Mr. Jones had to resign; of course, the light didn't emanate from mainstream sources — which typically promote themselves as just such seekers of truth and keepers of accountability.

Ed Morrissey provides a good starting point to catch up on the controversy, including its infection of the negligent American press. Andy McCarthy, meanwhile, argues that President Obama shouldn't be seen as floating above a staffer mishap:

The point, of course, is that Obama vetted Jones just fine. President Obama is not Mr. Magoo — haplessly gravitating to Truther Van and Ayers and Dohrn and Klonsky and Davis and Wright and the Chicago New Party and ACORN, etc. Jones is a kindred spirit. Obama knows exactly who he is. Jones was given a non-confirmation job precisely because that circumvented the vetting process. This isn't one of those things that just happen. This is Barack "Transparency" Obama gaming the system.

In keeping with the media's disinterest in Googling Van Jones, we're still largely in the dark about the specifics of Mr. Obama's career of community organizing (although McCarthy raises some disturbing anecdotes). With that note sounded, an interesting thought experiment all but throws itself on the examination table: Van is a "Truther" because he was among those fanning the blue flame of belief that the "truth" about 9/11 was that it was an inside job; what do you suppose will be the media reaction if the next Republican president attempts to slip a "birther" onto his staff?

Okay, okay. It's not much of an experiment.

September 5, 2009

Going Right Where They Sent Us

Justin Katz

So the national unemployment rate is 0.3% shy of 10%, and economists are debating when, not whether, it will achieve double-digits. In Rhode Island, which has been in double-digits for quite some time, already, the experts continue their reluctant predictive marches toward my initial gut estimate of 14-15%. And worst of all, usage of the term "jobless recovery," perhaps calling forth that terrifying creature, the W-shaped recovery, has moved from whisper to indoor-voice.

Oddly, for all the distinguishing between young workers and older workers, employed, unemployed, and not-looking, discouraged workers, few reports are differentiating between employers in an attempt to explain how the economy can grow without creating jobs. One wonders whether the reason has something to do with the subsequent conclusion, to which Larry Kudlow comes based on this picture:

The large companies are gradually recovering as a result of major cost-cutting, inventory reduction, and a lean-and-mean return to profitability and high productivity. So the payroll survey registered a 216,000 job loss, the smallest drop in over a year.

However, the household survey, which picks up small, owner-operated, LLC/S-Corp-type businesses, registered a devastating 392,000 job loss, which follows losses of 155,000 and 374,000 in the prior two months. This is the source of the unemployment-rate jump, as 466,000 newly unemployed were scored in the report.

In a nutshell, this is without question now the Obama administration's recession:

Borrowing from Peter to redistribute to Paul is not fiscal stimulus. It's a fiscal depressant. Small businesses are having enough trouble getting their hands on credit. And now they can't find enough capital for new start-ups. The government prospers, but the small-business sector sinks.

Then there are all the tax and regulatory threats related to health-care and energy reform. Until Mr. Obama retreats from his plan for a government takeover of the health-care sector, and a cap-and-trade program that will cripple the energy sector, the cost of hiring the new job will continue to rise.

The threat of higher payroll taxes and energy costs is more than enough to deter new hiring. Taxes on upper-end investors are going to rise, too, and there may be a health-care surtax on top of that. And don't forget that small businesses pay the top personal tax rate, which is going up. Oh, and how about the recent minimum-wage hike? Yet another business cost.

So while the government doles out money for transfer payments and one-time temporary tax credits, the ensuing increase in the private-sector tax-and-financing burden becomes a complete deterrent to new job creation, as well as capital formation.

Kudlow suggests that Obama and the Congressional Democrats could perhaps spur recovery simply by backing off their mad-dash for government power. Similarly, Rhode Island's General Assembly could hand their ostensible constituents hope of a quick turnaround if legislators would signal soon and decisively that the state has learned the error of its ways and intends to make itself the most business-and-taxpayer-friendly cut of land in the Northeast.

Neither of those conversions is very likely, of course, which means that our highest priority, as individuals, should be to find something buoyant to hold onto, and to grab it tightly.

September 4, 2009

Re: Teacher-in-Chief

Marc Comtois

I touched on the growing controversy surrounding President Obama's address to school kids earlier in the week. As I said, I thought Obama's speech would be pretty harmless and I expect that the speech will be filled with the usual platitudes and educational cheerleading. That's fine and is the sort of feel-good thing we should expect the President to do. However, I did find the "lesson plan" released by the Administration to be a little weird. I think it was this memo, not the speech itself, that got people wound up and paranoid to the extent that some school districts across the country aren't going to air the speech in their schools.

Supporters of President Obama have pointed out that both Presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr. also addressed school children. And they were also criticized. For instance:

As Barack Obama prepares a nationwide broadcast to America's students next Tuesday, it has been revealed that Democrats complained in 1991 when then President George H. W. Bush broadcast a speech from a Northwest Washington junior high school.

In fact, the House Majority leader at the time, Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), said "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students."

Such was reported by the Washington Post on October 3, 1991 (h/t KY3 Political Notebook via Chuck Todd)

The difference, I'm pretty certain, is that neither Reagan nor Bush put out a comprehensive lesson plan, much less a poorly written one, beforehand in preparation for their speeches.

The Obama Administration has fallen to blaming this misunderstanding on the "inartfully worded" memo and has changed at least one "suggestion" from, "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president” to "Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals.” That's a smart change and more indicative of what the President's address should aim to do a la Reagan and Bush. Inspire the students about education in general by encouraging them to think about themselves (that's what kids do best, anyway!). Shy away from anything that could be inferred as Presidential hagiography. President Obama is also going to release his speech ahead of time. Another wise move.

So, the lesson plan is one reason--and probably the biggest--why people got upset over this. Over-exposure is another. Since he took office, we have seen or heard the President speaking at us about nearly every aspect of our lives, from health care to the economic crisis to the baseball All-Star game. People who disagree with Obama's politics are just plain getting sick of the Obama Show. Yet, despite all of the media exposure, at least they could switch the channel or turn the page. But with this address to the schools, they see Obama circumventing their ability to control who or what has access to their children. I think they are over-reacting and that part of being a parent is discussing such things at the dinner table. Re-programming, if you will. Dan Riehl (h/t) thinks the backlash is symptomatic of a deeper conflict going on within the country:

That what once would have been a non-event is so incredibly controversial suggests to me that a great many Americans likely feel disconnected from the nation's political affairs right now, as well as extremely concerned about what the future's going to bring. The crisis Rahm [Emmanuel] suggested taking advantage of doesn't just cut one way, after all. And I doubt that any alienation, or all the concern came about from just 9 months of any one term.
That is certainly part of it, but it has been a heckuva nine months. For myself, I agree with John Podhoretz:
If, in his speech, he tells kids to do their homework and listen to their teachers, he will be doing something good, especially for African-American kids, who are, all sources and studies report, desperately in need of hearing that performing well in school isn’t some kind of betrayal of their race.

If he does use the speech to do some politicking on his agenda, there’s going to be trouble in the schoolhouse. As the nation learned in June and July, it turns out there are few things more boring than listening to Barack Obama discuss health care; school-age children by the millions will be shifting in their seats, rolling their eyes, and beginning to think seditious thoughts if they are forced to sit through such a thing.

Basically, I think most kids are going to hear Charlie Brown's teacher. Mwa mwa. Mwa, mwa mwa mwa mwa. BUT, if some come away inspired to learn, all the better.

September 1, 2009


Marc Comtois

Via Drudge, it seems President Obama is going to address all pre K to 6th grade students on September 8th. Hm. On the one hand, I'm guessing he'll speak a lot of platitudes about working hard, opportunity, reaching for the stars, etc. In and of itself, probably pretty harmless. But the concept of sending out a talking points sheet is a little weird. Here's one of the talking pre-speech discussion points:

Why is it important that we listen to the President and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?
I wonder if the difference between "listen" as in "do what they say" and "listen" as in "analyze what they say" will be discussed. I doubt it, especially since most kids don't have the critical thinking skills to figure out the difference. Instead, it will simply be an authority figure talking at them. Ahh, the irony that the "question authority" generation has gone here....

This address to our captive school children is all part of the kick-off for the new "Get Schooled: You Have the Right" campaign, which also an appearance by the President on a back-to-school special.

"Get Schooled"?


Bureaucrats trying to be too cool by half, if you ask me. And it seems to be an extrapolation of urbanity nationwide, where the cultural relevance of "getting schooled" may not be completely grasped in the hinterlands. Setting aside the poor grammar usage exhibited by naming an education initiative after a bit of slang, don't these guys know that once you co-opt slang you remove all of its inherent coolness immediately?

August 26, 2009

A Trillion Dollars per Year

Justin Katz

President Obama has put the government on track to realize nearly one trillion dollars per year of cumulative deficit for the next decade:

In a chilling forecast, the White House is predicting a 10-year federal deficit of $9 trillion -- more than the sum of all previous deficits since America's founding. And it says by the next decade's end the national debt will equal three-quarters of the entire U.S. economy.

Do you suppose Americans are finally waking up to the hangover resulting from their campaign-year binge of moral vanity and political superficiality? It's becoming difficult to miss the scam-pitch in such nonsense as the assertion by Obama's Budget Director Peter Orszag that rewriting our healthcare system with an emphasis on regulation and government involvement will decrease the deficit. Sorry, Pete, more and more of us simply aren't buying.

But before President Barack Obama can do much about it, he'll have to weather recession aftershocks including unemployment that his advisers said Tuesday is still heading for 10 percent.

I submit that the solution to both problems is one and the same: shrink government. Define the United States as something grander than its government, and the tidal economic rewards of freedom will lift the bureaucrats' boat, as well.

August 25, 2009

Ajami: Obama Cult of Personality = FAIL

Marc Comtois

Fouad Ajami:

American democracy has never been democracy by plebiscite, a process by which a leader is anointed, then the populace steps out of the way, and the anointed one puts his political program in place. In the American tradition, the "mandate of heaven" is gained and lost every day and people talk back to their leaders. They are not held in thrall by them. The leaders are not infallible or a breed apart. That way is the Third World way, the way it plays out in Arab and Latin American politics.

Those protesters in those town-hall meetings have served notice that Mr. Obama's charismatic moment has passed. Once again, the belief in that American exception that set this nation apart from other lands is re-emerging. Health care is the tip of the iceberg. Beneath it is an unease with the way the verdict of the 2008 election was read by those who prevailed. It shall be seen whether the man swept into office in the moment of national panic will adjust to the nation's recovery of its self-confidence.

August 22, 2009

The Weekly Steyn

Justin Katz

Sing it, brother:

That's why the "stimulus" flopped. It didn't just fail to stimulate, it actively deterred stimulation, because it was the first explicit signal to America and the world that the Democrats' political priorities overrode everything else. If you're a business owner, why take on extra employees when cap'n'trade is promising increased regulatory costs and health "reform" wants to stick you with an 8 percent tax for not having a company insurance plan? Obama's leviathan sends a consistent message to business and consumers alike: When he's spending this crazy, maybe the smart thing for you to do is hunker down until the dust's settled and you get a better sense of just how broke he's going to make you. For this level of "community organization," there aren't enough of "the rich" to pay for it. That leaves you.

August 19, 2009

The White House's Pesky Friends

Justin Katz

Opinions have, predictably, been split about the verbal ping-pong match of Fox News's Major Garrett and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. On the left, that pushy reporter from the conservative propaganda network was forcing baseless accusations into the public discourse. On the right, he was speaking truth to power.

Well, well, well:

The White House said Sunday night that it will change its e-mail sign-up procedures after some recipients of a health-care e-mail complained that they had not asked to receive updates.

"We are implementing measures to make subscribing to e-mails clearer, including preventing advocacy organizations from signing people up to our lists without their permission when they deliver petition signatures and other messages on individual’s behalf," spokesman Nick Shapiro said in a statement Sunday night.

After a few such recipients appeared on Fox News, White House officials determined that advocacy groups on the right or left could have sent in the names without the person knowing it.

It's possible, I suppose, that right-wing groups have been signing folks up for White House talking-point emails, but it's also conceivable that this has been a method of merging mailing lists at arm's length. The latter possibility wouldn't exactly be out of character for this administration.

August 14, 2009

Czars Are Un-American (That's Why We Use a Russian Word to Describe Them)

Justin Katz

It doesn't take a stethoscope to hear the reckless "what could it hurt" beat behind the creation of a "pay czar":

Q: So what happens Thursday?

A: Thursday is the last day the companies can submit proposed pay packages for the 25 highest earners at each one. At least one company, General Motors, said Tuesday it already had submitted its plan.

Q: What's next?

A: [Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation Kenneth] Feinberg has 60 days to review the proposals, then accept or reject them. He is expected to meet and negotiate with the companies during this period. He also will approve broader compensation formulas that will apply to the 75 next-highest-paid workers at each company.

Seven hundred of the wealthiest, most powerful corporate types in the United States, and the infrastructure that has heretofore granted their proclaimedly outsized remuneration, now have incentive to exert influence on a single person. It doesn't take a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian to see where this is going.

August 8, 2009

Sit Down, Community, and Be Organized!

Justin Katz

If anything, Mark Steyn's latest lays on the wordplay a bit too thick, but apart from his usual humor, this one's worth reading if only to sow the last four sentences of this block quote into the conservative repartee:

"The right-wing extremist Republican base is back!" warns the Democratic National Committee. These right-wing extremists have been given their marching orders by their masters: They've been directed to show up at "thousands of events," told to "organize," "knock on doors" ...

No, wait. My mistake. That's the e-mail I got from Mitch Stewart, Director of "Organizing for America" at BarackObama.com. But that's the good kind of "organizing." Obama's a community organizer. We're the community. He organizes us. What part of that don't you get?

August 4, 2009

Flagging the Fish

Justin Katz

Apparently, the White House has set up an email account to gather inconvenient rhetoric about healthcare reform:

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov.

I agree with Tevi Troy that the "flag" idea is inspired and have forwarded Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's recent op-ed to the email address. I just know that he hasn't read the bill with sufficient attention to justify his professed "confidence" about its effects and his entire op-ed is consequently "fishy."

July 31, 2009

Abortion Insinuates Itself in a Leftward Government

Justin Katz

Barth Bracy, executive director of the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee, makes an interesting observation in the current issue of the Rhode Island Catholic:

In less than six months Obama has appointed dozens of extreme pro-abortion ideologues to key positions in government, nullified the Mexico City Policy, and authorized taxpayer funding for embryo-killing experimentation, for abortion-on-demand in the District of Columbia, and for the United Nations Population Fund, which supports China’s population-control program with its coerced abortions. While speaking of safeguarding conscience rights for health care professionals, his administration is dismantling protections they already enjoy. Meanwhile, authentic common ground proposals, like the Pregnant Women Support Act, languish with no support from his administration. And while it may appear that he has backed off from [Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)], his campaign pledge to the abortion industry, the reality is that he is stealthily inserting the provisions of FOCA into other bills. Indeed his allies in Congress are even now pushing health care bills that would establish federal funding for abortion on demand, override state abortion laws, and vastly expand access to abortion.

Bracy's commentary comes in the form of a response to George Cardinal Cottier's expressed support for President Obama in relation to his appearance at Notre Dame, so it's context that places the focus on the president. The reality is that devoting federal dollars for the killing of unborn children — American as well as across the globe — is a Democrat project. Regarding abortion slipped into the healthcare bill, here's the latest:

Last night, the House Energy and Commerce Committee narrowly passed the Stupak-Pitts amendment to prevent the bill from mandating that private insurance plans cover abortions, but when Chairman Henry Waxman brought the amendment up for reconsideration, Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee flipped his vote to 'no', defeating the Stupak-Pitts amendment 30 to 29. "I misunderstood it the first time," Gordon said of his flip-flop, according to The Hill. Gordon and Zack Space of Ohio were the only Blue Dogs on the committee to vote against the amendment to ban mandates for abortion.

Instead of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, the committee passed an amendment that is being billed by some Democrats as a "common ground" measure on abortion. The amendment--sponsored by Lois Capps (D-Calif.), whose National Right to Life Committee vote-scorecard is 0 for 74--would allow the "public option" to provide coverage for elective abortions and would allow federally subsidized private plans to provide abortion coverage as well. How exactly could this be construed as "common ground"? Congress isn't requiring the public option to cover abortion--merely allowing it. And through some nifty bookkeeping, abortions will supposedly be paid for out of private funds rather than tax dollars.

The silver lining may be that Democrats' unwillingness to let go of taxpayer dollars for fetal slaughter could be decisive in killing the final bill. It's a cosmic travesty, though, that the end game could be such a close thing, once again seeming to pit the lives of the youngest human beings against the health of their older brothers, sisters, and parents.

What Do the Duped Think?

Justin Katz

In one of the meaningful transitions that used to make me daydream about the possibilities now manifested in MP3 players that can put an entire music collection on shuffle, the Eagles' "Hotel California" followed directly upon the "We Are the Ones" Obama-adulation song. "You can check out anytime you want," sings Don Henley, "but you can never leave."

For an exercise in empathy, it's interesting to ponder the effect that the Obamanation movement had on the man himself. How would you respond to fawning on such a scale? It's a scary question, and whatever else one is inclined to say about him, Barack Obama has handled himself admirably.

That's not to say, "perfectly." Rich Lowry devotes some imagination to an alternative course that the president could have plotted, over the past six months:

The Obama team is fiddling with his health-care talking points. But the verbiage is beside the point. What Obama needs is a little modesty. It's easy to imagine an alternative history of a more cautious Obama administration that wouldn't have stoked a voter backlash in all of six months.

It would have begun with the recognition that he won office sounding like a tax-cutting moderate devoted to paying for "every dime" of his program, against a terrible candidate in the middle of a recession blamed on the incumbent Republican president. Even Howard Dean might have won in these circumstances. Obama's victory wasn't as transformative as it appeared. He was given an opening — to address people’s economic anxieties, detoxify the Washington debate, and occupy the center.

Although we're seeing it, to some extent, in dropping poll numbers and thinning bumper stickers, we haven't heard much from those folks who were sure — so confident as to disregard evidence that many of us saw as red flags — that candidate Obama would govern in precisely that fashion. What have they learned from being burned?

I'd like to think that the majority have become wiser, and some surely have. Still, the elixir that Obama peddled may have been of the alluring sort that tempts even those who were sickened by it to take another sip when the packaging changes.

July 28, 2009

Do the Chinese Buy the Spin?

Justin Katz

The administration likely offered something more concrete to the Chinese, during its groveling session, than we ordinary citizens apparently deserve:

Among the officials meeting with Chinese representatives Monday, the first day of two-day talks, were Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers and Peter Orszag, Obama's budget director.

U.S. officials told reporters that the U.S. side stressed to the Chinese that the United States has a plan to bring the deficit down once the economic crisis has been resolved. Officials said Bernanke discussed the Fed's exit strategy from the current period of extraordinary monetary easing.

If U.S. officials offered only the vague scams that have constituted their public statements, then we can expect the Chinese to accelerate their exit strategy from American investments. Although, it's hard not to wonder whether it mightn't be to the nation's long-term good were the Chinese to turn off the spigot by which our government has tapped future generations.

July 23, 2009

The Moment the Veil of Post-Racialism Fell

Justin Katz

You didn't really believe all that stuff about "moving past" race, did you? No, no. You misunderstood: We're only a "post-racial" society when it benefits preferred minorities and the white liberals who crowd surf among them. By no means does that negate the right of race hucksters to continue capitalizing on their "narrative."

Of course, the pitchmen's attire has changed, and as Victor Davis Hanson points out, it can't help but give the game away:

Meanwhile, that the rest of the country is supposed to cringe and feel sorry that we are still a racist nation — as an African-American president, governor, and mayor all weigh in on the plight of an endowed African-American professor — seems odd. Sorry, but somehow I think most would tend to disagree.

One could go crazy making a continual search for hope in such things, but I do wonder if the haloed benediction of America's First hasn't just lost its fuzzy glow. Sgt. Crowley erred in the presence of a four-tiered old-boys network, and the nation has now seen an Ivy League you-don't-know-who-you're-messing-with threat backed up by the President of the United States.

Me, I can't believe that it's still in the news.

July 20, 2009

Economy as Political Card

Justin Katz

Noting a New York Post article on Washington's spending bonanza, Glenn Reynolds writes:

And yet members of Congress would be hard-pressed to tell you where the money's going. This isn't just undisciplined spending. It's looting.

I'd like to know whether the culprits will face a consequence for the travesty beyond their names' being footnotes in an historical tale of iniquity. Not that their focus is on anything beyond the near-term pillaging. Glenn also links to this report that's difficult not to see as pretty much the very same story:

The administration's annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Barack Obama's budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through Congress.

The release of the update - usually scheduled for mid-July - has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess.

The administration is pressing for votes before then on its $1 trillion health care initiative, which lawmakers are arguing over how to finance.

Can't have the people panicking until after their representatives have already committed them to a devastating expansion of federal power.

July 19, 2009

Preventive Totalitarianism

Justin Katz

Stated in passing — as an inarguable truism — is the most eerie part of President Obama's recent healthcare remarks (video, at about minute two):

We're now at a point where most everyone agrees that we need to invest in preventive and wellness programs that can save us money and help lead healthier lives.

Put aside that some folks — John Stossel among themdo question the "preventive care" shibboleth. One gets the sense that what Obama is saying and what many Americans will hear are two different things. To my ear — and I offer this without intending to express favor for any particular policy — an "investment" in such programs means funding to make them available, with the option of whether to partake left up to the individual. General experience suggests that, when government officials use the term "investment" in this context, they mean at the very least some form of compulsion, as in: "We'll subsidize your healthcare, but you must do X and must not do Y."

Let's be clear about what's going on conceptually. The premises on which the debate is being framed are that private healthcare is en route to pricing itself out of the reach of a broad swath of our society and that the portions of the industry directed by the government are finding costs unsustainable. By "investing" in "wellness programs" as a means of lowering costs, the government would be putting the weight of the nation's entire healthcare system on individual citizens' behavior. What couldn't be declared intolerable with such a consequence as the collapse of everybody's medical care?

The national and state governments have already instituted the practice of disincentive taxes (as on cigarettes), they regulate what plans must cover, and so on. Imagine what political leaders will do when they can dictate health-related behavior directly, especially if it remains a commonplace that preventive care is key to affordability. With the passage of Rep. Patrick Kennedy's healthcare "parity" bill, eliding the distinction between mental and physical ailments, "health-related behavior" would be tautological. We can only imagine what behaviors and life decisions will qualify a person to be locked out of the healthcare system.

President Obama illustrated his perspective on the ownership rights of a government "investor" when he changed the leadership of GM. In like fashion, healthcare "reforms" that entail greater involvement of the government and greater reliance on its "investments" will inevitably prove to be about the very ownership of individual Americans. One already reads stories from other nations of rationing based on habits like smoking, but the principle needn't halt there.

It's certainly objectionable enough that mandatory coverage of abortions appears now to be a component of the Senate bill. What begins as a "medically appropriate" option could easily make the transition to classification as "most appropriate" — say for one of those inspiring mothers who, under the current system, accept the risk of their own lives for their children's births or for those who choose not to kill their unborn offspring despite known disabilities. When a centralized government becomes a "single payer," those risks and those offspring are a burden to the whole system. One can hear the argument that they're free to do so, but that society cannot be expected to pay for "excessive" procedures during birth, let alone a lifetime of specialty care.

We daren't even contemplate the possibility that women with psychological problems (religious views considered to be extreme, for example) may be deemed ineligible to bring children into the world. We further daren't consider that a government empowered to tell its healthcare dependents what risks they are not permitted to take may, given circumstances, quickly decide that it also holds the prerogative to place risks before them — whether of a martial or occupational character. For the time being, it is enough simply to acknowledge that the party that pays is the party that controls and that to control a person's health is to control the person.

July 18, 2009

Revisiting the Cult of Obama

Justin Katz

File this under "confessions," but I've started putting politically tinged songs on my MP3 player so that, every now and then, amidst the thousands of songs and compositions being shuffled throughout the day, I'll have reason to pause and smirk, laugh, or shake my head. The first such song was the creepy Obama children's choir tune, which I've found myself humming every time I hear another of the mounting stories of national decline and global danger. I recently added Remy's "Going Green with Cap and Trade."

Well, last night I went digging for the pre-election Obamacult "We Are the Ones" advertisement featuring will.i.am and various stars, and this spoken word promise by somebody I don't recognize definitely won the song some megabytes on my non-Apple player:

I think the thing that inspires me most about Barack Obama is that he really is going to be the President of the United States. You know? He's not going to be the President of the top 10% or the President of the most powerful corporations or the President of the most powerful lobbyists. He's going to be our President. He's going to speak for us, 'cause we put him there.

Of course, there's the endearing naiveté — as if the rich, corporations, and especially lobbyists can't declare the "we put him there" claim on his attention to a greater degree than the average voter. But the game that's likely to prove increasingly fun comes with the second "or": He's not going to be the "President of the most powerful corporations"? If we take that as a de facto title, I'd say that bit of hope was misplaced!

Watching the President's brief recent comments on the healthcare debate in preparation for a post that will go up tomorrow morning, it struck me that one cannot address the Barack Obama phenomenon — or figure out a way to arrest his relentless push for national destruction (inadvertent as that result may be) — without realizing that there's a segment of the U.S. population that is involved enough to vote, but not enough to follow policy debates, that doesn't hear a substantive argument when The One orates. What they actually hear is something more like the speech-turned-pop-song "Yes We Can" (which, therefore, is also apt to pop up on shuffle from time to time).

People will continue to support Barack Obama for the same reason that young folks continue to become new smokers. There's a cultural appeal — an image and a storyline — that they find compelling, and even if they know enough to have an abstract understanding of the consequences, like teenagers, they don't believe it'll actually ever come to pass.

Wasn't This Guy Supposed to Be Smart, Moderate, and Temperate?

Justin Katz

This bit of cynicism should be beneath the cool-headed genius whom we elected president:

Obama countered yesterday that "if we step back from this challenge at this moment, we are consigning our children to a future of skyrocketing premiums and crushing deficits. If we don't achieve health-care reform, we cannot control the costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and we cannot control our long-term debt and our long-term deficits."

"Our children" (in this cliché) have years before adulthood and will not be consigned to anything by some months of research and debate. There is no milestone pending in the next few weeks or months that will lock in costs. Unless, that is, the federal government does act and institutes a mess of an oppressive power grab like the plans that are on the table.

July 15, 2009

The Depression Is Coming! The Depression Is Coming!

Justin Katz

It really is astonishing. With the economy flailing and the trends in job losses disappointing even the whiz kids of the Obama administration, despite its having whipped out the "stimulus" credit card, with "cap and trade" energy policy seeking to raise the cost of doing business (and of simply living), the Democrats are hitting the accelerator pedal on their hybrid healthcare suicide car:

The liberal-leaning plan lacked figures on total costs, but a House Democratic aide said the total bill would add up to about $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private calculations. Most of the bill's costs come in the last five years after the 2012 presidential election.

The legislation calls for a 5.4 percent tax increase on individuals making more than $1 million a year, with a gradual tax beginning at $280,000 for individuals. Employers who don't provide coverage would be hit with a penalty equal to 8 percent of workers' wages with an exemption for small businesses. Individuals who decline an offer of affordable coverage would pay 2.5 percent of their incomes as a penalty, up to the average cost of a health insurance plan.

Pay down. Employment down. Prices up.

Note that admission that the legislation's cost structure attempts to move the bill past the next presidential election. Consider also that the bulk of the stimulus money is scheduled for dispersal next year — an election year. One doesn't have to be partisan to wonder whether economic hardship and civic anxiety are being tolerated in the service of a planned political script. A few eggs must be broken, after all, in order for the Left to make the governmental omelet that the country doesn't yet know it needs.

July 14, 2009

An Image and a Corrective on Healthcare and the Economy

Justin Katz

Ben Stein presents an excellent image:

True, by many metrics, the economy has stopped falling drastically, but we are still in a painful recession, large by postwar standards. The bank crises seem to have abated for now and Wall Street is paying itself fantastically well again, thank heavens, after being rescued with taxpayer money. But housing is still extremely weak, profits are miserable and, most important, far too many Americans are unemployed — roughly 9.5 percent, by the latest data.

Just as basic, far too many Americans are living in fear.

What is President Obama doing about it? Perhaps too much. And, possibly, his efforts are too diffuse. When I think about the economy I think about a plump man who has just been hit by a truck while crossing a street and is in severely critical condition with internal bleeding. Instead of just stabilizing his hemorrhaging, the doctor decides that while the patient is unconscious, he might as well also do a face lift, some coronary bypasses and a stomach-stapling to keep him from gaining weight while he is recovering (if he does recover). After all, a crisis is not to be wasted.

The problem is that all these ambitious operations create too much of a burden for the human body to bear.

It's an old truism that one shouldn't go grocery shopping while hungry. Similarly, one shouldn't make dramatic financial decisions while panicked about paying a surprise bill. With the amped up call for extreme healthcare changes to be pushed through Congress with a minimum of deliberation, one can't help but wonder what makes the matter so dire that it must be forced through Congress in the distracted days of summer immediately before a recess. Are masses dying in the street for lack of a "public option"? It isn't unreasonable to suggest that such an outcome is much more likely if unemployment continues to mount — especially if new healthcare requirements increase the cost of employment for employers.

No, in theory, the urgency derives from a series of jumbled abstractions:

"The status quo on health care is no longer an option for the United States of America," the president said. "This is no longer a problem we can wait to fix. This is about who we are as a country. Health care reform is about every family's health, but it's also about the health of the economy."

In actuality, the urgency derives from a political necessity to rope Americans into a framework of dependency on government while we're susceptible to panic, under the thrall of a charismatic political celebrity, and as yet unable to assert regained senses through an electoral correction.

July 11, 2009

My Case Rested?

Justin Katz

Sometimes, it's almost like one of those scenes in old movies with the spinning newspapers tracing a character's meteoric rise in headlines:

He's more powerful; she's more popular.

He sells millions of books he's written; she sells millions of magazines she's posed for.

He gets more Internet clicks — except when she does.

There are plenty of ways to score a theoretical Barack vs. Michelle celebrity smackdown.

But if one is to engage in this just-for-fun dissection of the phenomobama, it must be stipulated that Barack is the president, which does give him certain advantages.

Then again, Michelle has the fashion factor working for her. And motherhood. And those sculpted arms. And, she doesn't have to tackle sticky issues like cutting the federal budget.

Yup, that slashing of federal expenditures sure does weigh President Obama down. Displaying his pecs on a few magazine covers would probably make up the difference.

July 3, 2009

A Bipartisan Thorn

Justin Katz

It's encouraging to see that figures most often noted for their irascibility against right-leaning politicians can find fault with the other side:

Following a testy exchange during today's briefing with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas told CNSNews.com that not even Richard Nixon tried to control the press the way President Obama is trying to control the press.

"Nixon didn't try to do that," Thomas said. "They couldn't control (the media). They didn't try. ...

"I'm not saying there has never been managed news before, but this is carried to fare-thee-well—for the town halls, for the press conferences," she said. "It's blatant. They don't give a damn if you know it or not. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame."

Two questions to which I won't presume to supply answers: Is this an indication of Thomas's objectivity or President Obama's extremity? If the latter, is it possible that the standard storyline about the partisan nature of oppressive behavior can be made to change?

June 28, 2009

Exhibit H Supporting the Thesis That Obama's Celebrity Status Has Acheived Unprecedented Importance to His Standing as President

Justin Katz

I mean, come on:

He even topped that by making sure to carve out time for a lovely date night in Paris. PARIS! Dining on foie gras and pheasant de truffled snootypants beneath the Eiffel Tower? Now that's a European adventure and makes me a little pouty when I consider that, like most American women, the closest I've come to that lately was the "Tour of Italy" trio of I-talian favorites at The Olive Garden.

Even on the night of a big NBA playoff game, Barack made sure date night would go on. He arranged for an early dinner allowing plenty of time for digestion before tipoff. He and Michelle had supper at ritzy Citronelle in Georgetown, cooing and hand-holding and everything.

The thing with the fawning over run-of-the-mill celebrities is that it's the fawning that gives them influence. Blending that influence with the actual power native to the presidency of the United States of America makes for a dangerous cocktail.

Devoted fans will typically not be adequate judges of their heroes' work product, and it is just plain dangerous to give political leaders too much of that beneficent haze.

June 27, 2009

One Needn't Guess at the Results of Progressive Policies

Justin Katz

Glenn Reynolds points to a Wall Street Journal editorial that is well worth a few moments of your time. (Those in Rep. Ray Sullivan's Coventry may be relieved to learn that it's available online.)

President Obama has bet the economy on his program to grow the government and finance it with a more progressive tax system. It's hard to miss the irony that he's pitching this change in Washington even as the same governance model is imploding in three of the largest American states where it has been dominant for years -- California, New Jersey and New York.

A decade ago all three states were among America's most prosperous. California was the unrivaled technology center of the globe. New York was its financial capital. New Jersey is the third wealthiest state in the nation after Connecticut and Massachusetts. All three are now suffering from devastating budget deficits as the bills for years of tax-and-spend governance come due.

These states have been models of "progressive" policies that are supposed to create wealth: high tax rates on the rich, lots of government "investments," heavy unionization and a large government role in health care.

Lacking the time, just now, I'll have to rely on general experience, but I'd be surprised if Rhode Island weren't right up there with these three states on the various lists that the WSJ puts forward as evidence for its thesis that progressive policies are harmful to the entities foolish enough to pursue them. Our local progs would be better positioned to opine on this than would I, but the detrimental outcomes seem to me so predictable that the engaged citizen may wonder whether the harm is intentional.

Rock-Star Pols and Deterring Regular Folks from Government

Justin Katz

Mark makes an interesting point in the weekend Steyn:

The real bubble is a consequence of big government. The more the citizenry expect from the state, the more our political class will depend on ever more swollen Gulf Emir–sized retinues of staffers hovering at the elbow to steer you from one corner of the fishbowl to another 24/7. "Why are politicians so weird?" a reader asked me after the Sanford press conference. But the majority of people willing to live like this will, almost by definition, be deeply weird. So big government more or less guarantees rule by creeps and misfits. It's just a question of how well they disguise it. Writing about Michael Jackson a few years ago, I suggested that today's A-list celebs were the equivalent of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria or the loopier Ottoman sultans, the ones it wasn't safe to leave alone with sharp implements. But, as Christopher Hitchens says, politics is showbusiness for ugly people. And a celebrified political culture will inevitably throw up its share of tatty karaoke versions of Britney and Jacko.

The retinues to which Steyn refers are the staffs that, for example, must accompany President Obama on a jaunt out of the White House for ice cream and, for another example, that Governor Mark Sanford sought to escape with his liaisons. With the former example, I'm beginning to think that may be part of the political point. As Steyn notes, it's laughable to think the wave of Obama's entourage permits him to truly intermingle with "regular folk," but it does create a scene — not unlike a rock-star sighting. Although not beneficial to the public that elected him, such scenes are certainly worth the cost to a politician who is so dependent on his image.

June 23, 2009

The Latest Weapon in the U.S. Arsenal: The O-Bomb

Justin Katz

Just wanted to share this fantastic line from Jonah Goldberg that readers might not have caught because it was in an extended entry:

So, if Obama deserves "credit" for what's happened in Iran, there are several possibilities. The first is that he intended for something like this to happen. He gave his speech in the heart of the Muslin and Arab world, knowing full well the glorious inspirational power of his words.

Or, he didn't intend for his words to specifically inspire the Iranians, but he's glad the shrapnel from his wisdom grenade generated so much collateral hope and change.

Eventually the Campaign Has to Look Like Leadership

Justin Katz

Michael Barone offers his "Three Rules of Obama:

First, Obama likes to execute long-range strategies but suffers from cognitive dissonance when new facts render them inappropriate. ... On domestic policy, he has been executing his long-range strategy of vastly expanding government, but may be encountering problems as voters show unease at huge increases on spending. ...

Second, he does not seem to care much about the details of policy. ... The result is incoherent public policy: indefensible pork barrel projects, a carbon emissions bill that doesn’t limit carbon emissions from politically connected industries, and a health care program priced by the Congressional Budget Office at a fiscally unfeasible $1,600,000,000,000. ...

Third, he does business Chicago-style. His first political ambition was to be mayor of Chicago, the boss of all he surveyed; he has had to settle for the broader but less complete hegemony of the presidency. From Chicago he brings the assumption that there will always be a bounteous private sector that can be plundered endlessly on behalf of political favorites.

The presidency is not a Senate seat, which one can fill from a distance — as a matter of location as well as responsibility. Even when it is unfair to do so, Americans tend to feel that the buck stops with the President. The endless campaign, in other words, will ultimately hinge on occupational results in a way that President Obama may never have encountered before.

Here's an interesting (and loaded!) question: At what point will the President begin secretly hoping that Congress changes hands in the next election? If the country continues to tumble down the cliff face, he'd have a crew of bogeymen to blame; if the Republicans somehow manage (by bolstering their principles) to turn the U.S. around, Americans would be able to return to their preferred mindset of adoring their cool, black, rock-star President.

June 12, 2009

"We're From the Government and We're Here to Help"

Marc Comtois

James Poulus observes:

I’ve said elsewhere that our vision of politics is being corrupted by a well-meaning but misguided epistemology of compassion: increasingly, we consider the person or group demanding a right to be the most trustworthy source of information about whether they deserve it. Anyone aggrieved, we think, must really be suffering grief, and since suffering is the worst thing and cruel is the worst we can be, justice is served when the law — that is, judges — fast-track the claims of the aggrieved and grant them instant — that is, legislature-circumventing — relief.

This is pretty transparently a medical way of viewing social relations. But our big medical brains are wired into big therapeutic hearts. And so what is happening in ‘politics’, which is actually the evacuation of politics by law on the one hand and desire on the other, is happening in medicine itself.

This leads into an observation by Keith Hennessey on private industry competing with government (ie; as proposed in the proposed health care reform):
I think that government cannot compete on a level playing field with the private sector. Government always has advantages because of its sovereign power. I also think that in most markets there is a range of private health insurance plans competing for business, and so the addition of one more plan is not worth the downsides of government involvement. (I believe that competition is flawed because for most people their employer shops for health plans. I prefer a system in which individuals are shopping for health plans.)

The government cannot compete on a level playing field with private firms:

* Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had competitive advantages relative to their purely private counterparts. They leveraged those advantages to the gain of their management and shareholders until they collapsed and jeopardized the entire financial system.
* Ford Motor Company was not bailed out. It is now disadvantaged relative to GM and Chrysler, which benefited from government oversight, funding, and effective rewriting of bankruptcy rules.
* Government-provided terrorism reinsurance is preventing private reinsurance from returning to the marketplace.
* Most physician- and hospital-reimbursement structures are based on the methodologies of the largest payor in the market, Medicare.
* Government-run direct student loans are now crowding out the guaranteed student loan program, in which private banks and financing firms offer loans. The government advantage comes from control over small details of the program that give direct loans a competitive advantage.

The ultimate fear of having a government-run “public” option is that it will crowd out private health insurance, and that ultimately most Americans will be getting their insurance from the government.

In other words, when government is involved--whether as a service provider itself or with a vested interest in particular entities within a given business sector--private companies without government help are at a disadvantage. Yet, some may welcome government intervention, according to Poulos:
Big Pharma has a vested interest in comprehensive government regulation, too, you know — the better to squeeze out competition, get institutionalized with an unkillable monster of market share, and permanently hedge, by way of unremittant lobbying and revolving-doorism, against market risk or corporate accountability.
What both illustrate is that the while government doesn't always actively pick winners, its insertion into markets results in preferred policies and "suggestions" that ultimately lead to losers: Either businesses that don't benefit from government largesse (Ford) or consumers who are affected as services are adjusted to comport with the new business model.

June 6, 2009

Truly He Is the One

Justin Katz


EVAN THOMAS [editor of Newsweek]: Well, we were the good guys in 1984, it felt that way. It hasn't felt that way in recent years. So Obama's had, really, a different task We're seen too often as the bad guys. And he, he has a very different job from ... Reagan was all about America, and you talked about it. Obama is - we are above that now. We're not just parochial, we're not just chauvinistic, we're not just provincial. We stand for something, I mean in a way Obama's standing above the country, above above the world, he's sort of God.

Some of our behind-the-mic conversation last night had to do with the fact that it's no longer fun to spot media bias. Back when I began blogging, it was like an easy game — conservative blogger solitaire or something. Now it's just nauseating, and not a little frightening. Just look at this from yesterday's Washington Post (also in the Providence Journal):

The 55-minute address electrified many Muslims in the Arab Middle East. The president celebrated the cultural, scientific and intellectual achievements of Islam to the delight of the audience inside the domed hall at Cairo University where he spoke -- and beyond.

Using spare language and a measured explanatory tone, the country's first African American president, whose Kenyan family has deep Islamic roots, drew on history, biography, moral principles and mutual interests to dispel cultural stereotypes that divide Christians from Muslims, Arabs from Jews, and the United States from many in the Islamic faith. Seemingly small but symbolically important gestures by Obama drew warm applause, including his use of the phrase "May peace be upon him" after a reference to the prophet Muhammad. Speaking in Arabic, he offered the traditional greeting of "May peace be upon you" on behalf of the American people, again to applause.

Kathryn Lopez has posted a parody Newsweek cover, but it's hardly possible to parody the president-media dynamic anymore. (Has Saturday Night Live been on this? I haven't seen.)

June 5, 2009

An Interesting Convergence of Issues

Justin Katz

This story confounds categorization:

Eastern District of Michigan judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff handed down the decision, in a case involving an alleged violation of the constitutional separation of church and state. The issue is whether a government-owned company, AIG, can market sharia-compliant insurance products. (To be sharia-compliant, an investment vehicle must be created and structured in ways that do not violate Islamic law.) In a well-reasoned and cogently argued opinion, Judge Zatkoff refused to dismiss the case prior to factual discovery. ...

The problem with all of this public largesse is that AIG sponsors, pays for, and aggressively markets sharia-compliant insurance products. The practice of sharia finance has created lucrative advisory positions for often radical imams, who get paid to guarantee the religious "purity" of sharia-compliant products. Such vehicles typically follow the Muslim principle of zakat and donate a slice of their profits to charity. Unfortunately, many of the charities receiving these funds have links to terrorism. Mr. Murray objects to his funds' being used to legitimate and promote sharia law, when that is the same law that calls for jihad. For that matter, sharia allows Saudis, Iranians, Sudanese, Somalis, Afghans, Taliban members, and other adherents to justify the following: the execution of apostates who decide to abandon the faith; the criminalizing of "Islamophobic blasphemy"; the punishment of petty crimes with amputations, floggings and stonings; and the repression of “non-believers” from practicing their respective religions freely and openly.

On one hand, a private business should be able to develop, operate, and market whatever products it likes (provided doing so does not directly support our nation's enemies). On the other hand, AIG is not alone, now, in being a not-so-private company, and the government ought not be in the position of financing the adherence to religious law. It's a precarious balance, and the conceit of mere mortals to maintain it is apt to become hamartia.

Herman Melville functions out of context here:

So, when on one side you hoist in Locke's head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant's and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! Throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

Starboard side, we carry the notion that the government should not interfere with freedoms of association and religion. Port side, we've now hung the principle that the government can become a controlling investor in industry. Express no surprise when when find the deck taking on water.

June 4, 2009

Boycotting Solipstocracy: Government by the Unitary Self

Justin Katz
"From the beginning, I made it clear that I would not put any more tax dollars on the line if it meant perpetuating the bad business decisions that had led these companies to seek help in the first place," he said. "I refused to let these companies become permanent wards of the state, kept afloat on an endless supply of taxpayer money. In other words, I refused to kick the can down the road."

To prevent GM from becoming a ward of the state, Obama made it the property of the state.

"I decided then," said the first person in chief, "that if GM and their stakeholders were willing to sacrifice for their companies' survival ... then the United States government would stand behind them."

Here, I, Barack virtually identified himself with the United States government.

There you have just five of the "I"s that Terence Jeffrey counted in President Obama's speech about his administration's takeover of GM. Jeffrey goes on to ask an important question:

He did not say he would ask Congress to enact legislation to provide the executive with the funds needed to purchase 60 percent of GM or with the legal authority to restructure the company and oversee its business plan. He said: "I decided then ... the United States government would stand behind them." Remember: In December, Congress specifically declined to enact legislation authorizing the president to bail out the auto industry--let alone to purchase an auto company. What law now gives Obama authority to buy General Motors? The White House says, when pressed, it is the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But that legislation was written specifically to allow the Treasury Department to purchase assets from "financial institutions." It says nothing about buying auto companies.

Ever since I began my all-too-American aggregation of debt with the purchase of a brand new Pontiac Grand Am GT on a fish huckster's wage, I've owned GM automobiles. Each time I've bought one, I've had a few thousand dollars worth of points from my GM credit card. Unless Ford or some Japanese automaker begins accepting those points, I'm afraid they'll be going to waste; I can't in good conscience support the machinations of a president who pats himself on the back for "deciding" that and how "stakeholders" in a private company should "sacrifice."

June 2, 2009

A Despicable Omission

Justin Katz

Byron York wonders whether the GM bailout will finally tie the popular President Obama to the sinking weight of his policies. Personally, I wouldn't presume to predict.

I will say this, though: I expect it registers with more voters than one might think that a president who issued a statement about the murder of an abortion doctor within hours on a Sunday is also a commander in chief who has yet, within days, to express similar "shock and outrage" that one of his soldiers was gunned down on an American street the following morning.

I guess a president must have priorities.

May 20, 2009

Your Late-Night Entertainment

Justin Katz

Via the College Republicans at Roger Williams, "Obama-man can 'cause he mixes it with hope and makes the world feel good."

Driving the Country into the Ground

Justin Katz

Well isn't this just dandy (emphasis added):

Some soccer moms will have to give up hulking SUVs. Carpenters will still haul materials around in pickup trucks, but they will cost more. Nearly everybody else will drive smaller cars, and more of them will run on electricity. The higher mileage and emissions standards set by the Obama administration on Tuesday, which begin to take effect in 2012 and are to be achieved by 2016, will transform the American car and truck fleet.

Agree or disagree with the concept of higher mileage and emissions standards, just about everybody acknowledges that there's an economic cost, and this one will hit Americans as (at best) the country's taking shaky legged steps out of a severe recession. The President has hopped into the driver's seat of the U.S.A. — which already needed repairs — and opened her up. "Let's see what this baby can do!"

Even David Brooks — who once fawned over a certain literary academic politician — is beginning to realize that indications of Barack Obama's intentions weren't mere rhetorical flourishes:

What these traits do add up to is a certain ideal personality type. The C.E.O.'s that are most likely to succeed are humble, diffident, relentless and a bit unidimensional. They are often not the most exciting people to be around.

For this reason, people in the literary, academic and media worlds rarely understand business. It is nearly impossible to think of a novel that accurately portrays business success. That’s because the virtues that writers tend to admire — those involving self-expression and self-exploration — are not the ones that lead to corporate excellence.

For the same reason, business and politics do not blend well. Business leaders tend to perform poorly in Washington, while political leaders possess precisely those talents — charisma, charm, personal skills — that are of such limited value when it comes to corporate execution.

Fortunately, America is a big place. Literary culture has thrived in Boston, New York and on campuses. Political culture has thrived in Washington. Until recently, corporate culture has been free to thrive in such unlikely places as Bentonville, Omaha and Redmond.

Of course, that's changing. We now have an administration freely interposing itself in the management culture of industry after industry. It won't be the regulations that will be costly, but the revolution in values. When Washington is a profit center, C.E.O.'s are forced to adopt the traits of politicians. That is the insidious way that other nations have lost their competitive edge.

And the children sing:

We're gonna spread happiness
We're gonna spread freedom
Obama's gonna change it
Obama's gonna lead 'em

May 14, 2009

Their Errors, Our Freedoms... and Taxes

Justin Katz

So when the president's budget errs in its estimation to the tune $58 billion, why is a more invasive pursuit of taxes the obvious answer?

The Obama administration on Monday proposed $58 billion in additional taxes to offset budgeting errors that overstated revenues in the president's plan to finance health care reform.

The tax measures target a host of activities, including people who for tax purposes aggressively reduce the value of property received as gifts or in estates. To reduce fraud, other provisions would require investors, contractors and taxpayers to provide more information about certain transactions to the Internal Revenue Service.

The largest budgeting error overstated the amount of money that would be raised by limiting charitable and other deductions for high-income taxpayers. The limits would generate $267 billion over the next 10 years — $51 billion less than the administration projected in February.

It seems that, no matter what happens — even an incident of miscalculation on the administration's part — the government gets a little bit more power and control.

May 12, 2009

RE: Can You Imagine Doing This at Home

Marc Comtois

Justin beat me to the punch, but here's the link to the AP story he mentioned about the budget deficit. More:

The new record deficit this year -- driven by the federal government's efforts at bailing out financial institutions and automakers, the $787-billion economic stimulus act that Congress approved one month into Obama's term and slumping federal tax revenue -- will amount to 12.9% of the nation's Gross Domestic Product...."The deficits ... are driven in large part by the economic crisis inherited by this administration," budget director Peter Orszag wrote in a blog entry on Monday.
Aahhhh....inherited..."It's not our fault!" Hm. Perhaps this will lend perspective on the "inheritance".

Yes, the above graph has been around for a while, but it's a useful reminder that:

1) We're engaging in way more deficit spending than ever before, and plan on continuing because...
2) The projected numbers escalate even after the current economic crisis is "solved" by the Obama Administration.

Can You Imagine Doing This at Home?

Justin Katz

I don't have time to get the link, right now, but this is jaw dropping, from the AP:

The government will have to borrow nearly 50 cents for every dollar it spends this year, exploding the record federal deficit past $1.8 trillion under new White House estimates.

Budget office figures released Monday would add $89 billion to the 2009 red ink — increasing it to more than four times last year's all-time high...

May 9, 2009

The Unions' Guy

Justin Katz

In effect, the Obama administration insists that some of the federal money given to the states is meant to go directly to unionized public sector workers in California:

The Obama administration is threatening to rescind billions of dollars in federal stimulus money if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers do not restore wage cuts to unionized home healthcare workers approved in February as part of the budget.

Schwarzenegger's office was advised this week by federal health officials that the wage reduction, which will save California $74 million, violates provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Failure to revoke the scheduled wage cut before it takes effect July 1 could cost California $6.8 billion in stimulus money, according to state officials.

The state lowered the maximum hourly wage of members of the Service Employees International Union from $12.10 to $10.10, and the SEIU picked up the Obamaphone.

May 8, 2009

Overheard on the Jobsite

Justin Katz

Multi-job-site days always disrupt my posting routine, but I was rewarded with an encouraging exchange at my second stop. Two glass guys from the cape were installing a shower door as I put trim around the large vanity mirror. When they broke out the hammer drill to put screw anchors in the marble around the shower:

Me:You guys sure are loud.
Glass guy 1: Hey, you gotta break some eggs to make an omelet.
Me: Are you communists, too?
Glass guy 2:No, but we're all socialists now, apparently. You gotta spread the wealth around.
Me: Change you can believe in, because you've seen it before.
Glass guy 1: Hey, did you hear what the interest payments are going to be on all this borrowing?...
Glass guy 1: And you know how much that photo shoot from the plane in New York cost? ...

I work among non-union blue collar guys, of course, but it's still surprising (and pleasant!) to have such conversations.

I had my MP3 player on shuffle. If only it had happened to play that children's choir Obama campaign song...

April 26, 2009

Comfort Means Your Eyes Are Down

Justin Katz

A few days ago, Associated Press writer Liz Sidoti issued perhaps the most disturbing bit of "journalism" in recent memory:

It didn't take long for Barack Obama — for all his youth and inexperience — to get acclimated to his new role as the calming leader of a country in crisis.

"I feel surprisingly comfortable in the job," the nation's 44th president said a mere two weeks after taking the helm.

A milder complaint was often made of President Clinton, but frankly, a president who claims comfort amidst the current circumstances — from the economy to continuing battles with Islamic radicalism and the various conniving regimes across the globe — is either lying or dangerously overconfident. This isn't to say that our national head ought to appear panicked, but "comfort" wouldn't be a word in the vocabulary of an appropriately realistic and circumspect leader.

President Obama ought to ponder why it is that a significant portion of his constituency doesn't find the title of Mark Steyn's latest to be all that extreme: "The End of the World as We Know It." Steyn enumerates a number of uncomfortable developments on the world scene, but among the most chilling thought comes as an aside (emphasis added):

On the domestic scene, he's determined on a transformational presidency, one that will remake the American people's relationship to their national government ("federal" doesn't seem the quite the word anymore) in terms of health care, education, eco-totalitarianism, state control of the economy, and much else. With a domestic agenda as bulked up as that, the rest of the world just gets in the way.

One wonders if the president's comfort level has something to do with the likelihood that his response to Steyn's title would be something along the lines of, "Yup. The country, too."

We will soon find out unequivocally, as our country shifts its stance, whether the United States, as it has stood in the world, really has been a force for good or for ill.

April 22, 2009

Imposed "Responsibility" Is Just Coercion

Justin Katz

It's disorienting to hear folks who follow politics for a living take speeches as sincere explanations of politicians' hopes and intentions. One would expect, as a case in point, David Brooks to understand the dangerous undercurrents of a speech by President Obama that Brooks describes as "a small masterpiece" of "explication."

His view was clear. The market is dynamic and important, but it makes people reckless, parochial and dangerously shortsighted. The market needs adult supervision — a leadership class made up of people who appreciate the market but who also have committed themselves to public service, and who therefore take the long view and are more conscious of the public good.

Obama is building this new leadership class. His administration has become a domestic I.M.F., consisting of teams of experts who can swoop in and provide long-term solutions when systems — finance, housing, health care, education, autos — have broken down.

When the members of this new establishment are confronted with a broken system — whether it involves hospitals, energy, air pollution or cars — their approach is the same. They aim to restructure incentives in order to channel the animal drives of the marketplace in responsible directions.

Brooks does put forward two significant objections, but they're easily rebuffed. The first is that this "leadership class" might fail, to which the plain response would be, essentially, that the current system has failed and that the administration feels a moral obligation to try to right it. The second is that Obama's spending spree does not exemplify the responsibility and "hard choices" that he wishes to impose on others, ranging from passivity to Congress's worsening of his proposals to the attempt to do all things at once to his recent "cynical Potemkin cuts." But the simple answers to this are that America's problems are deep, requiring the large dollar amounts to stabilize, and that an administration can only work within its context and must cooperate with coequal government branches.

The way I see it, there are only two possibilities that join the president's Georgetown speech and his actions. His words could be cynical political rhetoric intended to obscure for citizens the differences between his approach and that of his opposition. That, after all, is how he got himself elected: by convincing everybody that he was going to govern the way that they wanted, even if each preference was incompatible with the other.

The other possibility is that Obama is sincere, in which case raising the specter of fascism is not unreasonable. The emergence of "planners" and (being human) their inevitable failure are milestones on the road to serfdom. Indeed, this leveraging of a market system for the government's use in serving the "public good" is the central theme of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism.

To repeat my suggestion at the Providence tea party, if we aren't free to take risks, we aren't free. If the government can "swoop in" and save us, then our eyes will always look first to the dark shadow circling around us. Moreover, the rest of our society isn't free if it is obligated to pay for insuring others' risks, whether those others are businesspeople or public officials who, by corruption or incompetence, find themselves with failures to cover up and all the tools of government to apply toward that effort.

April 21, 2009

The One Raises the Dead (And I Bet the Old Souls are Grateful)

Justin Katz

I suspect this would be much less of a story without the wordplay and image building that it enables:

After Lesh, who had never publicly supported a presidential candidate, threw his lot in with Obama, he was anxious to do a benefit concert for him. But he was all but done with The [Grateful] Dead, so it was going to feature his other band, Phil and Friends.

"My son Brian said, 'No Daddy, you've got to get The Dead together because it will be so much more meaningful and important,''' the musician chuckled during a recent phone interview.

One benefit performance led to another and then an inaugural ball concert. Next thing they knew, Lesh, guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann were back together.

"It came off so well that we thought we owe it to ourselves to play again,'' Lesh said. "It brings out something in all of us, in our gestalt and our totality, that we can't deliver, we can't find anywhere else.''

In real terms, what happened, here? A charismatic candidate stirred up a cultural happening that led a handful of aging hippies who'd had nothing significant to do since the death of their lead guy to jamb together. They found that they preferred the life to which they'd grown accustomed, and they've picked it up again, at least for a short-term basis. Process that through two products of pop culture myth-making, and you reinforce both.

April 20, 2009

Obama, Budget Cutter?

Justin Katz

Following a week of tea party rallies that the president professes to have barely noticed, a couple stories in today's Providence Journal suggest some modest attempts to puncture his big-spending image. Considering that some banks have suggested that they'd like to return bailout money to the feds, it isn't surprising that the administration thinks more money might not be necessary. Of course, there's a twist:

President Obama's top economic advisers have determined that they can shore up the nation's banking system without having to ask Congress for more money any time soon, administration officials said.

In a significant shift, White House and Treasury Department officials now say they can stretch what is left of the $700 billion financial bailout fund simply by converting the government's existing loans to the nation's 19 biggest banks into common stock. That would turn the government aid into available capital for a bank -- and give the government a large equity stake in return.

Lacking time for extensive research, I put this forward as only an impression, but this doesn't strike me as all that much of a shift from where we were a week ago.

Here's the other (little) bone the administration is throwing out there to the angry crowds:

President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, where he will order members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official.

The budget cuts, while they would account to a minuscule portion of federal spending, are intended to signal the president's determination to cut spending and reform government, the official said.

Precisely, that $100 million would represent 0.0028% of the $3.5 trillion 2010 budget — 0.0083% of the $1.2 trillion deficit. So how many protesters do we have to gather across the country to merit, say, a 1% decrease in the budget?

April 19, 2009

The Compromise of the Moment

Justin Katz

Does anybody doubt that President Obama's handling of the stem-cell issue is designed as a means of avoiding political heat while disregarding the beliefs of those who hold the culling of embryonic stem cells to be a form of murder? By placing determination of the "guidelines" for expanded funding under controle of the National Institutes of Health, he's made them easily changeable and at a political distance. Coverage of the guidelines' release is peppered with statements of "for now" (emphasis added):

"We think this will be a huge boost for the science," said Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington. "This was the right policy for the agency at this point in time." ...

The guidelines are "a reasonable compromise based on where the science stands now," said Dr. Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology. "We may need to revisit some of the details down the road depending on how the science develops." ...

That's in line with legislation passed by the last Congress but never signed by President George W. Bush. Besides, Kington noted, no one has yet created a stem cell line using cloning techniques.

It sounds as if moral questions are hardly in play at all. Policy, in that case, is precisely a match for the general political approach of liberal materialists: Take steps as they're possible and pretend that there are still safeguards against leaps too far.

April 18, 2009

A Sweepstakes and a Downpayment

Justin Katz

The daily roll-out of the "stimulus" spending is beginning to feel like a joke. One day, we're hearing about a "sweepstakes":

For nearly a year, city officials have been planning the 66th police training academy, intent on keeping up the size of the police force as the crime rate increased.

But the city's fiscal crisis has overwhelmed that plan, and the academy has been put off indefinitely. Police Chief Dean M. Esserman is now jumping into President Obama's $4-billion stimulus sweepstakes for law enforcement, eager to win a grant to hire the novice officers who would graduate.

The next it's yet another "down payment":

President Barack Obama on Thursday outlined plans for a high-speed rail network he said would change the way Americans travel, drawing comparisons to the 1950s creation of the interstate highway system.

Obama was careful to point out that his plan was only a down payment on an ambitious plan that, if realized, could connect Chicago and St. Louis, Orlando and Miami, Portland and Seattle and dozens of other metropolitan areas around the country with high-speed trains.

I like the idea of a high-speed railway system, but I do wonder whether it's practical to "invest" in such infrastructure. Americans can already crisscross the nation by plane, and for shorter distances, we seem to prefer our own cars. (Enhancing that individual, independent freedom was one difference that undermines comparisons with the interstate highway system.) Where a high-speed railway would be most attractive, its advantages would be self defeating: It would be wonderful to hop on a train in Fall River, for example, and zip to Boston in fifteen to twenty minutes, but because adding stops along the way would lengthen the trip, folks would find themselves having to utilize multiple modes of transportation where before one sufficed.

It isn't irrelevant to consider that, absent the willingness of the federal government to indulge in exploding debt and deficits, there would be no economic justification for this spending.

April 14, 2009

Fight Excess Power with Excess Power?

Justin Katz

Responding to my reference to Peter Schwartz's "Mob rule comes to Washington," RIC Professor Thomas Schmeling seems to think that I've written myself into a corner:

I'm confused. In this post you object to rule by the "mob" (which appears to be the democratically elected representatives of the people) and you object to "government unconstrained by the principle of individual freedom." I get that. We need, as James Madison told us, some protection against the "tyranny of the majority".

Now, it seems to me that what constrains government is the Constitution, and that constitution is best enforced against mob rule by an independent judiciary, free from political pressure (like the need for re-election)

However, you also denounce an independent judiciary as the "dictator branch" and a " judiciary supported by an aristocracy of bureaucrats".

So, what do you want...majority rule or protection of rights free from majority influence?

So, I'm confused. I'm happy to be edified on this but, for the moment, I'm tempted to think that your support for majority rule depends on whether the majority supports your substantive views. I hope that's not the case, as I'm sure you would not be so unprincipled.

One can see in this, perhaps, a foundation-level reaction to government growth that sends people down an erroneous strategic path. As our government becomes more centralized at the federal level, reaching more broadly and more deeply, the response that Mr. Schmeling advises for instances of executive and legislative overreaching is to elevate the authority of another branch of government sufficiently to respond.

Along that route, two ultimate outcomes are possible, neither of them attractive to those who privilege freedom. If we continue to cede social ground to government, one branch may eventually become so powerful as to actively impede the others unjustly; the executive might disregard the judiciary, or the judiciary might block efforts toward democratic reform. Alternately, the branches could coalesce even more thoroughly into a governing cadre, with the legislative and executive appointing allied activist judges and the judiciary affirming the right of the other branches to oppress.

Frankly, I disagree, philosophically, with Thomas's characterization that the Constitution "constrains government"; that implies the existence of a clear application to circumstances that the founders could not have foreseen, which I don't believe to be available for interpretation and which I don't trust a handful of unelected judges to discern. Whatever the legalities, it isn't mere semantics to insist that the Constitution be seen as delineating the boundaries of our government and defining its structure.

My objective in making points of order, so to speak, is to increase consensus that, whatever the ideology furthered by usurpation of power, the act itself ought to be opposed. When the President of the United States looks to be becoming the de facto CEO of any company receiving financial assistance from the government, and when the executive branch presumes to insist that such money be taken and/or not returned when the private organization wishes, that in itself ought to motivate sufficient opposition to bring about democratic correction.

In like principle, we also must return to a federalist approach that disperses power broadly, such that opposing "mobs," if you will, can grow in their own enclaves. It is very convenient for those who think they've got a full grasp of secular Truth to leverage the federal government to impose their views on the entire country, and to use that government to fix all problems, but the end result is an organic metastasis toward the death of liberty.

April 13, 2009

The One's Direction of the Mob

Justin Katz

Peter Schwartz tallies some recent indicators of political mood:

The essence of mob rule is arbitrary and unchecked force, in disregard of all rights. If so, then when the government spends our money with virtually no limits — then trillions of dollars are gleefully disbursed through unrestrained horse-trading and arm-twisting among members of Congress — when trillions more are poured down the rat holes of failing companies at the uncontrolled discretion of bureaucrats — when government "czars" can select a company's CEO and dictate its product line — then what we have is government by mob rule. That is, we have government with arbitrary, unchecked power to do as it wishes — which means: government unconstrained by the principle of individual freedom.

As he goes on to explain, freedom is unjustifiably being made a scapegoat:

Like any mob, Washington desires a scapegoat. It blames capitalism for the mortgage and credit crisis, in order to divert attention from the real culprit, government intervention. Every housing-related measure taken by Washington has made the standards for homeownership looser than they would be in a free market. Government has stepped in to override private companies' aversion to undue risk. Regulators criticized banks for turning down too many mortgage applications. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were created to encourage the issuance of mortgages that would not be prudent in a free market. The FDIC anesthetizes depositors against risks taken with their funds. And the entire Federal Reserve exists to pump paper money into the economy, and to keep interest rates artificially low — often below the rate of inflation — so that more lending occurs. Yet when this house of cards collapsed, it is capitalism that was denounced and more government power that was demanded.

April 9, 2009

Ambassador as Change Agent

Justin Katz

During my drive home, Dan Yorke was talking about rumors that Caroline Kennedy might be poised for appointment as President Obama's ambassador to the Vatican:

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Raymond L. Flynn is giving a thumbs down to Caroline Kennedy as a potential pick for his former diplomatic post, saying the pro-choice values of JFK's daughter would make the nod "a mistake." ...

According to the Italian publication Panorama, Sen. John F. Kerry asked Obama to consider Caroline Kennedy for the Vatican ambassadorship. Neither Kerry’s office nor the White House would comment yesterday.

Dan's core point was that the Vatican isn't just another country, but an ethnic entity to which it is traditional to send an ambassador of the Roman Catholic faith, and being pro-life is critical to such a role. I'd suggest that the special status of the Vatican (in contrast to a nation) is only relevant in the sense that its public character is more starkly drawn than normal.

Sending Kennedy would be like sending an anti-Zionist Jew as ambassador to Israel. It would be like sending somebody whose beliefs run absolutely contrary to those of France or England or Brazil or wherever — somebody who stands in opposition to a core value of the foreign power. Such treatment is only suitable with hostile, or at least unfriendly, countries.

The only reason the United States would send an inimical ambassador is if it is more concerned with challenging a nation's policies and beliefs than with ensuring good relations.

A Man Who's Sure Courts and the "Global Community" Will Remain on His Side

Justin Katz

Rick Santorum introduces his fellow Pennsylvanians (and us) to a man whom he says is on President Obama's short list for Supreme Court:

Watching President Obama apologize last week for America's arrogance - before a French audience that owes its freedom to the sacrifices of Americans - helped convince me that he has a deep-seated antipathy toward American values and traditions. His nomination of former Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh to be the State Department's top lawyer constitutes further evidence of his disdain for American values.

This seemingly obscure position in Foggy Bottom's bureaucratic maze is one of the most important in any administration, shaping foreign policy in the courts and playing a critical role in international negotiations and treaties.

Let's set aside Koh's disputed comments about the possible application of Sharia law in American jurisprudence. The pick is alarming for more fundamental reasons having to do with national sovereignty and constitutional self-governance.

What is indisputable is that Koh calls himself a "transnationalist." He believes U.S. courts "must look beyond national interest to the mutual interests of all nations in a smoothly functioning international legal regime. ..." He thinks the courts have "a central role to play in domesticating international law into U.S. law" and should "use their interpretive powers to promote the development of a global legal system."

And how's this for night-is-day speak:

He wrote that "the principles of human dignity and autonomy that are the essence of the modern right-protecting democracy demand that civil marriage be available to all couples and that the equality of all citizens triumph over historical attitudes."

In Koh's view, the underlying principles of democracy "demand" that the practice of democracy itself be circumvented. One suspects that Mr. Koh's personal beliefs align reasonably closely not only with principles, but practices, as well, that he believes a global judiciary ought to impose.

April 4, 2009

The Pitchfork as the Symbol of Tyranny

Justin Katz

It's the pitchfork line that's attracting attention, but this strikes me as the more astonishing exchange to emerge from President Obama's meeting with banking bigwigs:

JPMorgan's Dimon spoke first. He began by complimenting the president on the economic team he'd assembled. And he said his industry needs to explain more directly to the American people that the economic recovery plans are already working. Dimon also insisted that he'd like to give the government's TARP money back as soon as practical, and asked the president to "streamline" that process.

But Obama didn't like that idea — arguing that the system still needs government capital.

The president offered an analogy: "This is like a patient who's on antibiotics," he said. "Maybe the patient starts feeling better after a couple of days, but you don't stop taking the medicine until you've finished the bottle." Returning the money too early, the president argued could send a bad signal.

Several CEOs disagreed, arguing instead that returning TARP money was their patriotic duty, that they didn't need it anymore, and that publicity surrounding the return would send a positive signal of confidence to the markets.

How is it that the newly elected president — previously a sparsely attending Senator, previously a state-level politician, previously some other things and a community organizer — is the one writing prescriptions that leaders of finance are too inexperienced to adjust? There's a dangerous side to this change-in-which-we-must-believe, and behind it is a hand to which a pitchfork is not unfamiliar.


Stuart Varney elaborates:

I must be naive. I really thought the administration would welcome the return of bank bailout money. Some $340 million in TARP cash flowed back this week from four small banks in Louisiana, New York, Indiana and California. This isn't much when we routinely talk in trillions, but clearly that money has not been wasted or otherwise sunk down Wall Street's black hole. So why no cheering as the cash comes back?

My answer: The government wants to control the banks, just as it now controls GM and Chrysler, and will surely control the health industry in the not-too-distant future. Keeping them TARP-stuffed is the key to control. And for this intensely political president, mere influence is not enough. The White House wants to tell 'em what to do. Control. Direct. Command ...

After 35 years in America, I never thought I would see this. I still can't quite believe we will sit by as this crisis is used to hand control of our economy over to government. But here we are, on the brink. Clearly, I have been naive.

March 31, 2009

Soft Appeasement in the Service of Evil

Justin Katz

As with the strained morality of modernism, what galls about rationalizations for the invitation of President Obama to be commencement speaker for and to receive an honorary degree from the Catholic Notre Dame University is the dishonesty of the rationalizations:

The Obama invitation, [Notre Dame President Rev. John] Jenkins emphasized, does not condone or endorse Obama's positions on stem cells or abortion but the visit is "a basis for further positive engagement."

As George Weigel subsequently points out in the linked article, "Commencement is not an occasion for debate." Obama will be receiving an honorary degree.

[Catholic law professor and Reagan lawyer Doug] Kmiec, who taught at Notre Dame for 20 years and supports the invitation to Obama, called it a sign of a mature university and further evidence that religion is firmly part of the public discourse.

This about a president who has pledged to disallow religiously founded morals from guiding public policy concerning science.

The invitation and subsequent justifications point to an intention to coo the masses to slumber because they don't comprehend the nuanced relationships between power and morality. And Father Jenkins's emphasis of Obama's race illustrates the soft racism whereby ethnicity trumps all, leaving the moral actor powerless in bonds of sensitivity.

March 30, 2009

Our Best Minds Must Be in Government

Justin Katz

Yeah, we could discuss the rights of a governing entity that is spending billions of dollars to prop up a specific company, but that would slide past the real question of political philosophy that makes this such a frightening proposition, no matter which step we highlight as the one in the wrong direction:

The Obama administration asked Rick Wagoner, the chairman and CEO of General Motors, to step down and he agreed, a White House official said.

On Monday, President Barack Obama is to unveil his plans for the auto industry, including a response to a request for additional funds by GM and Chrysler. The plan is based on recommendations from the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry, headed by the Treasury Department.

It is nearly irrelevant whether Wagoner deserves to lose his job (the answer being pretty self evident, if you ask me). The critical first principle requires an explanation of why it can be supposed that a handful of brains on a Presidential Task Force can be expected to step into a gigantic, ailing industry and prescribe the appropriate steps to save it:

Industry sources had said the White House planned very tough medicine in Monday's announcement, which turned out to be an understatement. And it went to the very top. The measures to be imposed by the government will have a dramatic effect on workers, unions, suppliers, bondholders, shareholders, retirees and the communities where plants are located, the sources said.

One needn't have the IQ of a Task Forcer to predict one likely path should the industrial plans of an entity with the power to tax fall flat. One needn't be a community organizing short-term Senator and first-rate orator to see the incentives tilting in all the wrong directions. When the chief executive of a business is — in fact, if not on paper — the chief executive of the United States of America, the need to safeguard a résumé and reputation meets with unparalleled power to buy and coerce cover-ups.

March 20, 2009

Stimulating Ignorance of the Problem

Justin Katz

So Rhode Island — indeed, Tiverton — may be providing the first instance of the federal stimulus at work:

It will surely be the first in Rhode Island and there's a chance that a Main Road, Tiverton, rebuilding job could be the first federal stimulus job in the nation.

"We've already had some inquiries from national media," said Frank Corrao, chief of construction for the state Department of Transportation. "We're not sure but we hear that this one could be the first."

In whatever coverage there may be of this milestone, in whatever political grandstanding, will anybody ask the critical questions: Why did we allow this road to reach this point, why did it require once-a-century federal largess to fix it, and what can we do to ensure that our transportation infrastructure doesn't continue to deteriorate to this state?

I'll guess "no." From the print edition of the story:

Mr. Corrao said that while this has been a "priority" job for some time, it was backlogged with many others due to lack of funds. It is a job that needs doing, he said, "but the money wasn't there."

Then where was it?

March 17, 2009

The Incredibly Shrinking Mandate

Justin Katz

Inasmuch as people have a tendency to express approval or disapproval for subjective reasons and the popularity of policies isn't necessarily reliable evidence of their necessity, watching approval polls is a bit like watching traffic patterns in reaction to a fog. That said, perhaps these results will begin to move us past the silly declaration that Americans want the full dose of Obama's medicine good and hard:

According to the table of daily results, President Obama began his term with a strongly approve/disapprove differential hovering around thirty points; it's now four. His "total approve" has slipped from 65% to 56%, while his "total disapprove" has surged from 30% to 43%.

Watch for the emphasis to change from Americans' specific desire for a particular political platform to their general disgruntlement.

March 11, 2009

The Substance in the Style on Stem Cells

Justin Katz

I remember when President Bush made his announcement about the ban on federal financing of embryonic stem-cell research. He held an evening address, at his desk, and took the time to explain some of the science, present the opposing arguments as he saw them, and explain his decision. You can think what you like about the man or his decision, but that's a stark contrast from President Obama's cheering-crowd press conference, yielding photographs of him leaning off the stage to lay hands on the paralyzed Representative Jim Langevin.

The difference extends to substance. Bush offered an actual compromise position (as much as those who opposed him might have disliked it): He increased (I believe) funding of adult-stem-cell research and permitted funding of research on stem cells that had already been removed from embryos. From Obama, we get promises:

Mr. Obama pledged that his administration will write strict guidelines for research on stem cells taken from embryos. "And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction,'" calling the practice "dangerous and profoundly wrong."

Why not have those guidelines ready for presentation at Monday's announcement? Why not actually put into place anti-cloning policy at the same time that he opened the door for federal funds for the destruction of embryos?

The answer, I suppose, depends on how cynical one is.

March 7, 2009

David Brooks Lulled Back to Doze

Justin Katz

Apparently worried that their leg-tingling "conservative" in the New York Times was shedding his cataracts of hope and change (one on each eye, presumably), the Obama team approached David Brooks with a targeted spin campaign, and in his view, they're almost comfortably moderate again. Boy, that was easy:

I didn't finish these conversations feeling chastened exactly. The fact is, after years of economic growth, the White House still projects perpetual deficits of more than $500 billion a year. That's way too much, especially with the boomers' retirements looming. Moreover, Congress will likely pass the spending parts of the budget and kill the revenue parts, like the cap-and-trade energy tax and the limits on itemized deductions, thus producing much, much bigger deficits.

Plus, I'm still convinced the administration is trying to do too much too fast and that the hasty planning and execution of these complex policies will lead to untold problems down the road.

Nonetheless, the White House made a case that was sophisticated and fact-based. These people know how to lead a discussion and set a tone of friendly cooperation. I'm more optimistic that if Senate moderates can get their act together and come up with their own proactive plan, they can help shape a budget that allays their anxieties while meeting the president's goals.

I happen to know a tradesman whose employer habitually coerces extra work from his employees and subcontractors through a blend of deception, direct economic threats, and implicit physical aggression. Deadlines are said to be shorter than they actually are; the budget is being busted by the workers' incompetence; mistakes ultimately derive from the same, not managerial errors; and the upshot is always that more money ultimately flows to the guy in charge, as he belittles his crew and makes a living nightmare of their professional lives.

In different circumstances, however, when the boss needs a particular person, the attitude is all camaraderie and promises of opportunity. With no more time than it takes to turn his head, the guy will go from irate abuser saying whatever's necessary to get his way to ingenuous businessman just trying to get along, hoping that everybody can be happy in their careers. The tradesman has seen an obscenity-flinging raver transform into an affable pal with the click of a cell-phone disconnect button.

You know, it takes a while for folks to catch on that Dr. Jekyll is really the same person as Mr. Hyde, that one doesn't graduate to consistently better treatment by working hard and giving that extra little bit, and those raised with proper instincts for responsibility are most vulnerable to repeated victimization. They want to believe in the vision of opportunity and its acquisition that they've learned ought to be possible, and he exploits that psychologically and economically positive quality.

The parallel isn't exact, but that's the dynamic that comes to mind with the Obama team's talent for persuasion. During the campaign, Mr. Obama was everything to everybody. Absolution and vindication all at once. Now as he has begun rolling out policies, and as warning alarms have begun to sound among his admirers, anonymous minions (perhaps the man himself) are going on background to charm the prominent among them.

We'll see, I guess, whether proper instincts prove to be a detriment or a source of strength in the future.

March 4, 2009

Russian Rulers "Encouraged" by the New Tone

Justin Katz

I'm sure they are:

President Obama said yesterday that he had told Russia that reducing Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon would in turn lessen the need for a U.S.-planned missile-defense system in Eastern Europe that Moscow has opposed. But Obama said he sought no "quid pro quo" with Moscow.

Obama also said it was time for the United States to "reset or reboot" its relationship with Russia, a nod to the increasingly tense relations of recent years. ...

Medvedev reaffirmed strong opposition to the Bush administration's plan to deploy a battery of missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar in the Czech Republic. He said the move would hurt security in Europe.

Medvedev said Russia was encouraged by the Obama administration's readiness to discuss Moscow's complaints.

"Our American partners are ready to discuss this problem, and that's already positive," he said. "Several months ago we were hearing different signals: 'The decision has been made, there is nothing to discuss, we will do what we have decided to do.' Now I hope the situation is different."

Yes, now only one side is going to be saying that discussion is futile on such matters as the nuclear armament of Middle Eastern theocracies.

I hope liberals will be paying attention over the next few years and decades. They're about to see their policies tested for better or worse. I predict worse.


Charles Krauthammer is even more critical.

March 2, 2009

Hoping Against Hope for Presidential Wisdom

Justin Katz

Curious about how conservative Obama fans are getting along, I checked in with the man whose leg the messiah made tingle with knowledge, David Brooks. Here is a guy who reallly, really wants to believe:

If ever this kind of domestic revolution were possible, this is the time and these are the people to do it. The crisis demands a large response. The people around Obama are smart and sober. Their plans are bold but seem supple and chastened by a realistic sensibility.

Yet they set off my Burkean alarm bells. I fear that in trying to do everything at once, they will do nothing well. I fear that we have a group of people who haven't even learned to use their new phone system trying to redesign half the U.S. economy. I fear they are going to try to undertake the biggest administrative challenge in American history while refusing to hire the people who can help the most: agency veterans who are registered lobbyists. ...

It'll be interesting to see who's right. But I can't even root for my own vindication. The costs are too high. I have to go to the keyboard each morning hoping Barack Obama is going to prove me wrong.

What'll be interesting is how Brooks and others gauge Obama's success. "If Obama is mostly successful," he writes, "then the epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives will have been discredited." Such judgments have a way of being obscured by the turmoil of government and society.

After the budget speech, for example, Brooks sought to blame political innocence, not a fundamental intellectual misconception, for Obama's willingness to embrace a destructive half-plan for America's future:

The bigger problem is health care. This is an issue where everybody wants benefits they don't pay for, where perverse incentives have created an expensive system that doesn't deliver results. This is an area where aggressive presidential leadership is mandatory.

Yet in no other area does the administration cede so much authority. The administration has over-learned the lessons of the Clinton-care fiasco. They're not going to send up a detailed 1,400-page program. Fine. But they're not pushing a plan at all.

Instead, replicating the model that did such harm to the stimulus package, they are merely outlining eight general principles and then sending the matter up to Capitol Hill. They vow to have a series of "conversations" and then presumably at some point some group of committee chairmen will write a bill or a bunch of bills. ...

Even though the budget is not all one would have hoped, I'd trust the folks in the Obama administration to craft a decent health care plan before I'd trust the Congressional Old Bulls. Obama blew a mighty trumpet Tuesday night, but after you blow the trumpet, you actually have to charge.

Perhaps that trust is rooted in a swindle, and the Obama team is ceding authority because it is more concerned with appearances than actions. That is the great flaw of big government philosophy: It moves forward on the assumption that a plan could be created... by somebody... and then fumbles for anything that would maintain the illusion, because no concrete proposal will actually work. The upshot is that the powerful manipulate the new well of money and influence while the general public suffers.

March 1, 2009

Has the Fantasy Died, Yet?

Justin Katz

You know whom I haven't heard from, lately? Those centrists and conservatives who were so sure that Barack Obama's natural tendency toward dialogue and cooperation would temper — maybe even cancel out — the liberalism of his past. Their silence is understandable; this must be an awful bulk to absorb among the hopes and impressions they imbibed while splashing about in the zeitgeist of the campaign (emphasis added):

While tackling the economic crisis, he is asking Congress to enact contentious measures that have been debated, but not decided, in calmer times: cut subsidies for big farms; combat global warming with a pollution tax on industries; raise taxes on the wealthy; make big changes to health care, including lower reimbursements for Medicare and Medicaid treatments and prescription drugs.

Standing alone, any one of these proposals would trigger a brawl in Congress and fierce debates outside Washington. Obama wants the proposals done largely in concert, as an interrelated plan to undo major elements of Ronald Reagan's conservative movement.

"They're gearing up for a fight," he said. "So am I."

Remember just a few years ago, when folks were touting Reagan as the cool head that President Bush ought to emulate? When the success of welfare reform was common knowledge? Or when this interview, which led the Obama campaign to blacklist a television station, was much more controversial than it should have been:

West bored in, quoting Karl Marx's "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," and asked Biden, "How is Senator Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?"

Biden appeared stunned and asked, "Are you joking? Is this a joke?"

He then insisted that despite Obama's declaration that he would spread the wealth around, Obama "is not spreading the wealth around." ...

West returned to the "spreading the wealth" question, asking Biden what he'd "say to the people who are concerned that Barack Obama will want to turn America into a socialist country much like Sweden?"

Biden again ducked the question, saying only that he didn't know anybody who thinks that, "except the far-right wing of the Republican Party."

A far broader swath of the American population may begin to "think that," now that the proposition's thorough possibility is coming to light. Consider:

Some liberal-leaning foundations are unhappy about his proposed reduction in the tax deductibility of gifts to charity from wealthy people.

What will we need private charities for when the government picks up the slack? "Obama's gonna change it; Obama's gonna lead 'em," as the children sing. It's just a matter of selling the plan, as we flip through the milestones to subjugation.

February 28, 2009

Everything Is Rosy, Now Obama's Found Rosy

Justin Katz

So that two-trillion-dollar deficit? Turns out it might be the optimistic scenario:

The administration insists it isn't so, but some private economists are wondering if the Obama administration has brought "Rosy Scenario" back to town.

In unveiling his budget, President Barack Obama pledged to bring "honesty and fairness" back to the budget process by getting rid of the gimmicks past administrations had used to hide the real costs of government programs and proposed tax cuts.

But many economists who examined the economic assumptions that undergird the spending plan believe that Obama may have resorted to one of the oldest gimmicks around — relying on overly optimistic economic assumptions to make it look like you are dealing with soaring budget deficits when in reality you are only closing the gap on paper.

I suppose nobody should have expected that the president would be able to change the world on the cheap, and as Mark Steyn reminds us, that is the project on which our nation has now embarked:

If you find it hard to keep track of these all these evolutions, the President in his address to Congress finally spilled the beans and unveiled our new hero in his final form: the Incredible Bulk, Statezilla, Governmentuan, a colossus bestriding the land like a, er, colossus. What superpowers does he have? All of them! He can save the economy, he can reform health care, he can prevent foreclosures, he can federalize daycare, he can cap the salary of his archenemies the sinister Fat Cats who "pad their pay checks and buy fancy drapes." No longer will the citizenry cower in fear of fancy drapes: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! With one solar panel on the roof of his underground headquarters, Governmentuan can transform the American energy sector and power his amazing Governmentmobile, the new environmentally friendly supercar that soon we’ll all be driving because we'll be given government car loans to buy the government cars! He'll have hundreds of thousands of boy sidekicks, none of whom will ever be allowed to drop out of high school because (in the words of his famous catchphrase) "that's no longer an option!" "Gee, thanks, Governmentuan!" says Diplomaboy the Boy Wonder, as he goes off to college to study Gender As A Social Construct until he's 34.

February 26, 2009

Obama Doomsayer!

Justin Katz

Dick Morris is hit or miss, and I can't say I'm sure which it is with this column:

In addressing this panic, the president of the United States must truly be the leader of the world — showing the way back to confidence.

Instead, Obama has been instrumental in purveying fear and spreading doubt. It is his pronouncements, reinforced by the developments they kindle and catalyze, that are destroying good businesses, bankrupting responsible people and wiping out even conservative financial institutions. Every time he speaks, he sends the markets down and stocks crashing. He doesn't seem to realize that the rest of the world takes its cue from him. He forgets that he stands at the epicenter of power, not on the fringes campaigning for office. This ain't Iowa.

Why does Obama preach gloom and doom? Because he is so anxious to cram through every last spending bill, tax increase on the so-called rich, new government regulation, and expansion of healthcare entitlement that he must preserve the atmosphere of crisis as a political necessity. Only by keeping us in a state of panic can he induce us to vote for trillion-dollar deficits and spending packages that send our national debt soaring.

There's a note of truth to that, but time must pass — and escalating, leveling, or waning pain — before such pronouncements can be judged.

And then, of course, there's Obama's first deficit:

(via Drudge)

At What Point Do We Begin Using the Phrase "Out of Control"?

Justin Katz

Turning debate into bickering over legislation that would increase departmental budgets by eight percent, Rep. James McGovern (D, MA) offered this irrelevancy:

"The same people who drove the economy into the ditch are now complaining about the size of the tow truck," said Rep. James McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, pointing out the large increase in deficits that President George W. Bush and GOP-controlled Congresses amassed.

I guess responding to a wrong with a wronger makes it right. Reading the Nation section of the newspaper is beginning to feel like watching teenagers run up the family's credit cards while the parents recover from a peculiar illness that had caused financial delusions.

On the healthcare side, the change in the flow of money couldn't be more dramatically drawn:

Obama's budget proposal would effectively raise income taxes and curb tax deductions on couples making more than $250,000 a year, beginning in 2011. By not extending all of former President George W. Bush's tax cuts, Obama would allow the marginal rate on household incomes above $250,000 to rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, said an administration official.

To raise more money, Obama wants to reduce the rate by which wealthier people can cut their taxes through deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions, local taxes and other expenses to 28 cents on the dollar, rather than the nearly 40 cents they could claim otherwise.

That proposal is deeply controversial, particularly with nonprofit institutions that depend on wealthy donors and with lawmakers representing high-tax states such as New York and New Jersey.

The plan also contains a contentious proposal to raise hundreds of billions of dollars by auctioning off permits to exceed carbon emissions caps Obama wants to impose on users of fossil fuels to address global warming. Some of the revenue from the pollution permits would be used to extend the Making Work Pay tax credit of $400 for individuals and $800 for couples beyond 2010 as provided in the just-passed economic stimulus bill.

About half of what officials characterized as a $634 billion "down payment" toward healthcare coverage for every American would come from cuts in Medicare. That is sure to incite battles with doctors, hospitals, health insurance companies and drug manufacturers.

Some of the Medicare savings would come from scaling back payments to private insurance plans that serve older Americans, which many analysts believe to be inflated. Other proposals include charging upper-income beneficiaries a higher premium for Medicare’s prescription drug coverage.

Even after all those difficult choices, Obama’s budget would still leave the federal government heavily in the red, with deficits remaining above $500 billion over the second half of the decade — even after a series of wrenching policy choices.

Running with the just-make-it-so liberal fantasy that policy can simply be dictated to society without consequence, the current regime is going to stultify economic growth and foster dependence. Well, America, you asked for change, and you're going to get it; let's hope we all survive the experience.

February 24, 2009

An Ear to the National Scene

Justin Katz

Personally, I've never been a fan of state of the union addresses. They're political speeches dressed up as government updates. A lot of partisan applauding. A lot of commentary as if what the president says sets some bold, unexpected plan for the country.

And yet we go on living.

The few minute's of President Obama's first "Address to Joint Session of Congress" that I heard on the way home from a frigid (but warming) post–school committee chat confirmed the quality that leads me not even to enjoy these speeches as political theater (whatever the president's party):

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

So we're going to make green energy "profitable" by artificially increasing the price of alternative sources of energy and by pouring government subsidies into it. I'm not sure that's how it's supposed to work. But this president is nothing if not keen to usurp (and stir to brackishness) the beliefs and arguments of his opposition.

February 23, 2009

The Political Stylings of Barack Obama

Justin Katz

With his latest maneuver, Barack Obama has really clarified his approach to politics:

President Obama wants to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term, mostly by scaling back Iraq war spending, raising taxes on the wealthiest and streamlining government, an administration official said Saturday as the president worked to finalize his first budget request.

Obama's proposal for the 2010 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 projects that the estimated $1.3 trillion deficit he has inherited from President Bush will be halved to $533 billion by 2013. That's a difference of 9.2% of the overall economy now vs. 3% in four years.

Hey, why not? Our national harbinger of hopey-change — he of the impossible-to-gauge promise to "create or save" jobs (Can't you just hear the brainstorm team laughing at the gullible electorate while contriving that one?) — learned from his election that Americans will believe whatever he says. Rather, we'll believe whatever we want about what he says, so one month into his presidency, Obama's day-to-day operations already resemble the most elaborately woven of Bill Clinton's state of the union speeches.

What better way to deflect political heat over the rush to move a massive spending bill through the legislative process than to insist that his goal is to decrease the deficit? "I'm a fiscal conservative," he's appearing to claim, "so you may go back to sleep and trust my steerage." Of course, for one thing, spending in Iraq was already likely to decrease, thanks to the success of the Bush Administrations reworked strategies. For another, the notion of "inheriting" his first budget year is a conspicuously convenient way to hide the impact of his own policies. But nevermind.

Make the claim; claim the ground; ground the flights of observation from the opposition. The administration will float excuses for failure, take the credit for others' successes, and find some way to straddle ever-broadening fences. After all: "He's gonna change it. And rearrange it. He's gonna change the world."

February 16, 2009

Milestones on the Road to Serfdom

Justin Katz

Linking to an illustrated Road to Serfdom, Instapundit Glenn Reynolds conveys a reader's question about what page we're currently on. Of course, one must take into consideration, as Michael Ledeen does, that American fascism is likely to have some significant differences in character from that described by Hayek, but I'd suggest that we're somewhere around pages eight and nine. (Sadly, that assessment includes both Republicans and Democrats in the category of "planners.")

This paragraph, from Ledeen, struck an uncomfortable chord for me, having recently observed many state and local "leaders" casting their eyes to Washington for salvation:

The metaphor of a parent maintaining perpetual control over his child is the language of contemporary American politics. All manner of new governmental powers are justified in the name of "the children," from enhanced regulation of communications to special punishments for "hate speech;" from the empowerment of social service institutions to crack down on parents who try to discipline their children, to the mammoth expansion of sexual quotas from university athletic programs to private businesses. Tocqueville particularly abhors such new governmental powers because they are Federal, emanating from Washington, not from local governments. He reminds us that when the central government asserts its authority over states and communities, a tyrannical shadow lurks just behind. So long as local governments are strong, he says, even tyrannical laws can be mitigated by moderate enforcement at the local level, but once the central government takes control of the entire structure, our liberties are at grave risk.

Any Rhode Island school committee member will complain of unfunded mandates from the feds. What they may not have considered is that, when the funding encompasses the entire enterprise, increasingly invasive mandates will follow. The same is true on the town side, as well.

February 14, 2009

The Change Some Didn't Believe In

Justin Katz

There are a number of right-of-center Obama supporters from whom I haven't heard any follow-up regarding their expectation that he would bring fresh air to government and would, actually, be a consummate centrist. Mark Steyn, for one, finds the possibility increasingly dubious:

The "buy American" provisions in the "stimulus" will invite certain retaliation around the world, wrote Jagdish Bhagwati, the Columbia economics prof, in the New York Times. This is presumably the same Jagdish Bhagwati who reassured a Toronto audience last year that he was endorsing Obama despite the senator's anti-NAFTA, anti-free-trade rhetoric because he didn't think Obama really believed it. Today it's even less clear what, if anything, Obama believes — and, even more critically, whether he has the wit or authority to impose those beliefs on a Congress whose operating procedure for the new era seems to be business as usual with three extra zeroes on the end.

Rick Karlgaard turns to his Obamacon Silicon Valley peers for some description of their current feeling:

In the eyes of Silicon Valley, Obama was like the Apple Macintosh. John McCain was like Windows.

Now comes the reckoning. Obama may be the coolest guy ever to hold the office of U.S. president. He may be the personification of an Apple Mac, iPod and iPhone. But this week Obama proved he is a big-state liberal, through and through.

My Silicon Valley friends who supported Obama are weirdly silent about this. I suspect they are in denial, still hoping for the closet libertarian Obama to emerge. Throughout the 2008 campaign, Silicon Valley Obama voters would tell me that Obama was really an economic centrist. Forget his liberal Senate record and Saul Alinsky-conditioned career as a community organizer. Forget the Chicago-style thug politics. That was in the past. Obama did what he had to do to rise. Once in the Oval Office, Obama will really govern more like John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton or Tony Blair.

Say it enough times, and you can almost believe it. Well, sorry about that, you Obamacons. You just got thrown under the bus.

Me, I've captured the audio from the "Obama's gonna spread happiness" song and loaded it onto my non-iPod MP3 player — for use whenever the sour mood about our ever-more-difficult lives settles on the construction site.

February 10, 2009

Mark Zaccaria: You Can’t Finance Growth with Deficit Spending

Engaged Citizen

We all should be vitally interested in the goings-on in Washington, DC, regarding the Stimulus Package that’s making its way through Congress. The news reports may make it seem complicated and far away, but it won’t be long before the effects of what our lawmakers do to us on this matter come right home to roost.

America became what it is today by productivity. In days gone by that word meant manufacturing, virtually the only process by which wealth is created. The productive capacity of the United States of America was the deciding factor in both World Wars of the Twentieth Century, and our ability to build the things that businesses and consumers around the world wanted created the highest living standard in history. I would also argue that the inability of our adversaries to keep up with our productivity was the very thing that won the Cold War.

Today we are seeing what happens when our ability to keep creating wealth slips away from us. Make no mistake. We still manufacture plenty here in America, just not as much as we once did. But we have been consuming more than we’ve been creating for some time and the result is plain for everyone to see. So it falls to government to act as agent for American society and do something to fix our ailing financial system.

That means now is the time that every politician who has ever uttered the phrase “Doing the People’s Business” gets to prove that he or she knows what that means. To government, Doing Something means spending money. To politicians, spending money carries with it the implicit chance to curry favor with voters in the process. Without that there might be no re-election.

So what will curry favor with the voters while also having a positive impact on our economic woes?

The Congress of the United States seems to think that would be a spending frenzy on public works and special interest projects. Collectively, our Senators and Representatives appear to have decided this will please voting constituencies in the short term, even if it takes years for the economic impact to trickle down to you and me. What we are seeing in the Gazillion Dollar Spending Bills making their way through Congress is a litany of measures that fail to address the housing crisis, contain wasteful spending at a time when tax revenues are bound to be down, and create only temporary or purely public sector jobs.

How about creating an Industry instead of just a spending program? What if private capital instead of public tax dollars created the infrastructure that millions of us could work within to once again make the things that businesses and consumers around the world really want? For that to happen, government action has to attract that private investment, not repel it. Harder still, our political leaders have to have the courage of their convictions to give the voters credit for understanding that it is only economic activity that will create growth, not pork and not special interest pandering.

Giving taxpayers’ hard earned dollars to inefficient corporations won’t help us. Spending in deficit to pump up the balance sheets of banks won’t help us either, if those banks just sit on the cash instead of putting it to work in the economy. What these approaches will do, at least according to one study, is give every American Taxpayer a brand new $10,000 invoice on top of all our existing indebtedness.

There are real product opportunities in green technologies and alternative fuels, just to name two industries that will be built on innovation. Electronics and nanotechnology are two more. Recent gains in efficiency for high voltage electrical transmission promise to let us use much more of the juice we generate, if we will only put them in place. There are plenty of market segments where a real stimulus might trigger a new growth industry.

What’s lacking is political courage inside the Washington Beltway.

But you and I can help with that. We can let our elected representatives know we understand that stimulating the economy is different than helping insiders feed at the public trough. We can let them know that we hired them to go down there and do the right thing for Us, even if we don’t have lobbyists reminding them of it all the time. Drop a Dime. Send an E-Mail. Write a letter. It could save you Ten Grand! The more we tell them that they have more to loose by doing Business as Usual than they do by innovating for new times, the more likely they are to get it.

Here in Rhode Island, our own Congressional Delegation is composed of professional legislators. None of our team in Congress has any practical experience in the private sector. So they can’t be expected to understand intuitively what the right thing to do actually is. We need to tell them. We need to let them know that when they hold back on spending for government managed projects they are doing what we want. We need to tell them that incentives for economic development will cost much less and go much farther towards helping everyone than entitlements put in the hands of consumers will.

Let them know you’re watching. Let them know that you approve of doing the right thing in this crisis. Hopefully it will give them the political courage to actually do it.

Mark Zaccaria is a small businessman in North Kingstown. He is a former member of the North Kingstown Town Council and was the Republican Candidate for the state’s District 2 seat in Congress in 2008.

February 6, 2009

A Tenuous Deal with the Devil

Justin Katz

Generally speaking, the government ought to get out of the charity business, but if it's going to appropriate funds, there's no reason that it shouldn't be able to work together with religious groups toward shared ends. For one thing, their spiritual motivation often enables lower administrative costs. The danger — the deal with the devil — is that government tends to appropriate in the other direction, as well, making the receipt of its funds an increasingly dominant consideration. And when it begins making demands, the religious organizations ought to cordially turn away from the relationship.

One might justifiably be suspicious that, at bottom, the word "expand" has a double meaning for the current administration, indicating both an increase in the size of the program and in its demands of participants:

President Obama signed an executive order Thursday to create a revamped White House office for religion-based and neighborhood programs, expanding an initiative started by the Bush administration that provides government support — and financing — to religious and charitable organizations that deliver social services. ...

In announcing the expansion of the religion office, Mr. Obama did not settle the biggest question: Can religious groups that receive federal money for social service programs hire only those who share their faith?

The Bush administration said yes. But many religious groups and others that are concerned about employment discrimination and protecting the separation of church and state had pushed hard for Mr. Obama to repeal the Bush policies.

Meanwhile, other religious groups were lobbying to preserve their right to use religion as a criterion in hiring. Some religious social service providers warned they might stop working with the government if they were forced to change policies.

Invidious discrimination should not mix with charity, but the practice of interfering with an organization that's interwoven with religious principles will tend to expand, with groups opposed to various religious tenets using the government's reach to constrict them. The impression that religious citizens should be wary of government expansion is fortified by other recent news:

Senator DeMint's [failed stimulus-package] amendment would have eliminated a provision that bans any university or college receiving funds to renovate buildings, from allowing "sectarian instruction" or "religious worship" within the facility. This would in effect bar use of campus buildings for groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, Catholic Student Ministries, Hillel, and other religious organizations.

February 3, 2009

Drowning Goose, Frozen Gander

Justin Katz

There's some risk of "gotcha" opposition to the current president and his hordes of true believers, including in the media. Considering that the Katrina catastrophe still holds an important place in the self-persuasive arsenals of the anti-Bush crowd, Steve Gill is right to note a conspicuous difference in treatment:

Last week a massive ice storm struck the heartland of America, leaving at least 42 dead and millions without power or water. Days later there are still over a million people in Kentucky who have no power, no water, and no communications. They could have to survive this way for weeks! The conditions are dire and getting worse, with some storm survivors carrying pails of water from creeks. Thousands more are living in shelters with no timetable for returning home. FEMA is nowhere to be found.

Amid this catastrophe, where is President Barack Obama? While millions were struggling with the dangerous and deadly icy conditions President Obama had the thermostat in the Oval Office cranked up like a "hothouse" growing orchids. On Thursday — while millions in Tennessee and Kentucky did not have access to shelter or food — Obama hosted a cocktail party at the White House and served up fancy martinis and an appetizer menu that featured mouthwatering wagyu steak costing $100 a pound.

February 2, 2009

Money Makes the World Go Mad

Justin Katz

Disappointingly, URI economics professor Len Lardaro sums up the zeitgeist of the times:

"These may not be stimulus funds in the strict sense," Lardaro said, but they convey the sense that government is attacking the crisis head on.

Bryant's Edinaldo Tebaldi displays another symptom of the intellectual virus currently infecting economics academia:

To Tebaldi, the separate streams of money expanding unemployment insurance, food stamps and home heating aid for the poor are necessary parts of the stimulus blend. "You cannot let people suffer if it can be avoided," he said.

For his part, Representative Pat Kennedy runs onto the thin ice that cooler heads have avoided:

Democrats disagree, of course, and some, including Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy fear that the stimulus bill — far from being too expansive — is too timid.

"We need a bolder vision," said Kennedy.

Personally, I think these speakers — especially the academics — provide a fine expansion to economist William Poole's observation in the article:

A new program to extend Medicaid to the unemployed at all income levels might have the perverse incentive of prompting people to pass up job opportunities that do not carry health insurance, Poole said.

Thus grows the gravity of an expanding government. Little wonder that professors — whether employed by public universities or merely benefiting from huge government subsidies and lending for higher education tuition — move toward the principle that government must be seen to be doing something — that pouring money drawn from some unmentioned corner of the financial universe onto "suffering" is a moral imperative.

The reality ignored is that none of these steps can "jump start" the economy; at best, they have some chance of forestalling utter collapse, in the hopes that the next bubble will begin to inflate before the temporary bridge crumbles. At this magnitude, however, the effort may be draining gallons rather than sprinkles of precisely those resources and incentives that ultimately generate the booms. The money and initiative is being taken out of the striving and entrepreneurial segments of the economy in order to support bureaucrats, workers, non-workers, and the already rich. The larger the expenditure, the less likely it is that the next lurch forward will ever come.

Kennedy, no doubt, exists in the blissfully ignorant state of a kid gathering snowflakes on his tongue. One can only hope that the economists feel some small twinge from the deep-down knowledge that they're merely rationalizing a calamitous economic blunder.

January 31, 2009

More Tax Aversion from the Tax-and-Spend Left

Justin Katz

I'm sure Tom Daschle had every intention of filing three years of amended tax returns (one for every year since he was bumped from public office, I believe) whether or not he'd been presented with the opportunity of joining the Obama administration:

Thomas A. Daschle recently filed amended tax returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007 reporting $128,203 in additional tax and $11,964 in interest. The adjustments resulted from additional income for consulting services and the use of a car service, and reductions in charitable contribution deductions. Senator Daschle filed the amended returns voluntarily after Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate the senator to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The Presidential Transition Team identified the charitable contribution issue and Senator Daschle self-identified the income adjustments.

If not, citizens of the United States of America — even those who support the current president — might have reason to question whether Mr. Daschle possesses the ethical fortitude to hold appointed office.

January 24, 2009

The Warm Glow of Press Affection

Justin Katz

It was a sad sort of laugh, but I couldn't stop the guffaw's escaping into the tire shop's waiting area when I read the following from AP writer Charles Babington (emphasis added):

At one point in Friday's meeting in the White House's Roosevelt Room, GOP Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona objected to a proposal to increase benefits for low-income workers who do not owe federal income taxes.

Obama replied in a friendly but firm way that an election had been held in November, "and I won. I will trump you on that," according to several people briefed by participants who took notes.

Ah, the media: Supplying the "tone" that the president promised.

January 20, 2009

I've Heard Better

Justin Katz

Here is the text of President Obama's speech. His victory speech was much better, not the least because it was much more gracious toward and tolerant of the other side. Among the first statements issued in the president's new, "unified" tone?

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

He read that as one paragraph, by the way, making it a complaint against his predecessor, not a statement of national growth. "Unity," in this usage, means the other side just gives in.

One other thought that occurred to me while listening to the speech was that we have been proven correct who have been noting that the nation's handling of race had already changed, and that the liberal methods of addressing it were merely prolonging discord. The conditions were amenable to Obama, just awaiting the right individual.

That is not to deny that it is quite an achievement for him to have been that individual, but a testament to the goodness of our country.

So How Will He Do?

Justin Katz

Fans of our new president perhaps imagine us non-fans as scowling through the day today, embittered by all that hope and rueful of the change to come. Me, I'm just going about my business, as I have on every inauguration day within my lifetime. That said, Andrew Stuttaford's suggestion is an attractive one, although I can't afford any of the Obama-branded merchandise that he subsequently lists:

It's better, I think, to borrow a few ideas from the Orange Alternative (Pomaranczowa Alternatywa). Fearless prankster surrealists of the Polish sort-of-Left from the 1980s, they used to taunt their country's crumbling Communist regime with cheers, not jeers, their specialty being sporadic displays of unsettlingly enthusiastic loyalty. These included a reenactment of the storming of the Winter Palace and a procession through the streets of Warsaw by 4,000 people chanting their love for Lenin. Now, I would not want to compare Obama with that other community organizer—no, not for a second!—but the cult of personality now surrounding our next president suggests that hosting an Orange Alternative inauguration dinner would be a perfect counterpoint to the pomp, sincerity, and cynicism on display in Washington. It'll also be an ideal opportunity to treat friends of all political persuasions to a confused, confusing, and almost certainly annoying celebration that can be read, as Obama has said about himself, in any way they like.

With a little more notice, a Long Live the King party might have been a pleasant way to spend this evening. Indeed, we could have begun with an extolment of a newly introduced bill from U.S. Representative Jose Serrano (D, NY) to repeal the 22nd Amendment and enable a longer reign for the One. Several party games involving the national debt and antes of coolness also come to mind.

The levity does raise a serious (if unanswerable) question, though: How is President Obama likely to do? The variables are infinite, and the wildcards too many to count. Not the least of the unknowns is what Obama will do, because his past is like a novelist's thumbnail sketch of a character. He's all personality.

The economy will be the irreducible determinant of his level of success, and there's little a president can actually do to affect it. Within the degree of economic influence that the government can be said to have, the general approach suggested by Obama and the Democrat Congress (with complicit Republicans, to be sure) does not give reason for optimism.

In order to escape recession and surpass stagnation, the economy requires an open field. That running room can emerge with a new technology that creates whole new industries. It can open up literally as new space to fill. Innovative financial tools can create economic activities as if out of air (or, as was the case with the recent bubble, make future income the open field). Where the government has built artificial walls, knocking them down in a spell of deregulation can free the economy. A newly opened national market can bring a burst in demand.

All of these possibilities are of like form — involving the creation, development, or discovery of voids that the economy can surge to fill — and none look likely in the near future. Put what hopes as we may into the everything-green movement, nothing new is being created; energy is still energy, and more cost-effective ways exist for creating it. The emphasis on government spending and "shovel ready" projects as stimulus may run the economic engine, but with nowhere to go, and eventually we'll run out of our borrowed fuel. New financial tools and deregulation are probably out of the question in the short term. And the international market is fraught with nations acting in their own interests.

Dealing with those foreign bodies is another variable. I believe the major players will postpone testing and challenging Obama for a while — not because the world sincerely wishes to see if the new U.S. president will govern in a way more to their liking than his predecessor, but out of strategy. If he takes his foot off the accelerator in the War on Terror, terrorist groups won't attempt an immediate strike; they'll regroup and rebuild, taking into account lessons learned since 9/11. Foreign powers such as Russia and China will want to see how sympathetic and manipulable Obama is. They'll begin to test him in ways so minor that it won't be immediately apparent that that's what they're doing.

In the meantime, once the elation of a new presidential face subsides, domestic turmoil may simmer as economic frustration spills over into the culture war. The left has its wish list out, and with Democrats controlling two branches of government, it will expect results. For its part, the right is arguably enlivened when on the defensive.

So in all of this, how will President Obama do? I won't hazard to say, but I will offer a three-part generality: Liberalism is a recipe for disaster; centrism is an inadequate approach when the economy requires inspiration, foreign affairs require a set jaw, and the sides refuse to let social issues balance; and powerful institutions have installed constructs to make conservatism a very painful option. Obama will probably shoot for a leftish centrism until circumstances knock over the fulcrum.

The real change, that brought by the tectonic forces of history, could be serendipitous or calamitous. Which it will be and how the president will react are questions sure to bring silence to the party.

January 19, 2009

That's Quite a Change, Alright.

Justin Katz

$40-something million? How about $170 million:

The country is in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, which isn't stopping rich donors and the government from spending $170 million, or more, on the inauguration of Barack Obama.

The actual swearing-in ceremony will cost $1.24 million, according to Carole Florman, spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

It's the security, parties and countless Porta-a-Potty rentals that really run up the bill.

The federal government estimates that it will spend roughly $49 million on the inaugural weekend. Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland have requested another $75 million from the federal government to help pay for their share of police, fire and medical services.

And then there is the party bill.

"We have a budget of roughly $45 million, maybe a little bit more," said Linda Douglass, spokeswoman for the inaugural committee.

The rich among the do-good left can always come up with money for the important stuff:

"They are not the $20 and $50 donors who helped propel Obama through Election Day," said Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. "These are people giving mostly $50,000 apiece. They tend to be corporate executives, celebrities, the elite of the elite."

Inauguration or Coronation?

Marc Comtois

The inauguration festivities seem to be particularly "big" this time around. Wonder why? It seems much more like a coronation than an inauguration (I know, this will probably be taken as me being just another cranky-con. Oh well). Anyway, Michael Drout, Professor of English and Chair of the English Department at Wheaton College (I don't know his politics), offers an illustrative recounting of a conversation he had in his faculty lounge:

Background: Wheaton has arranged for a sophomore January experience. Sophomores come two days early and do some stuff. This happens to be on the day of the inauguration, so the planners decided that all the sophomores could be brought to the field house where they would watch the ceremony on a giant screen.

Drout: (as tactful and politically savvy as I always am): I'm just glad I never had to participate in such a creepy experience when I was in college.

X: (confused): Why would you call it creepy?

Drout: You are rounding up a large group of people and forcing them to watch political theater. On a giant screen. In a gymnasium.

[Long pause while people look uncomfortable.]

Drout: It never occurred to any of you who planned this that it was the slightest bit creepy, did it?

X: The way you describe it makes it sound creepy. It is a major event that most people will want to watch.

Drout: Couldn't they watch it without being herded together into a gymnasium? Maybe hang out with their friends, watch it on the various lounge TVs? Make comments?

X: But then there wouldn't be the bonding experience.

Drout: Bonding over a political spectacle is, in your view, a good thing?

[another uncomfortable pause]

X: Maybe you should be one of the faculty members afterwards who can give talks to contextualize the event. You could analyze the rhetoric.

Drout: I'm pretty sure I don't want the students to see me as part of the creepy event.

X: But you'd have a chance to express your point of view.

Drout: But you've got my entire point of view. I think it's creepy.

X: (Gives up in exasperation).

Look, I do GET it. I really do believe that this is a significant moment in our nation's history. Yet, the 24/7 coverage of the week long celebration...I don't remember this happening before. Is it just because we, as entertainment/news consumers, are getting more demanding (or the suppliers of the aforementioned more aggressive?) when it comes to our politics-meet-entertainment appetite? I know there is a need to fill programming time--and what better way than covering inauguration festivities (plus, it's relatively cheap). To say nothing of the MSMs love for Obama.

I'm sure there are several factors that go into this. The coincidence of the inauguration of the nation's first black President with our annual commemoration of our country's greatest civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has certainly, and correctly, heightened the emotions this time around. But the idea that we as a nation need to "bond" over the inauguration of a new political leader? It all seems just a little overboard. And creepy.

Fanatics in the Cabinet

Justin Katz

Jeff Jacoby has some suggested questions for U.S. Senators to ask Obama's nominee for director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, John Holdren. The last one gives a sense of Jacoby's general concern:

8. You are withering in your contempt for researchers who are unconvinced that human activity is responsible for global warming, or that global warming is an onrushing disaster. You have written that such ideas are "dangerous," that those who hold them "infest" the public discourse, and that paying any attention to their views is "a menace." You contributed to a published assault on Bjorn Lomborg's notable 2001 book "The Skeptical Environmentalist" - an attack the Economist described as "strong on contempt and sneering, but weak on substance." In light of President-elect Obama's insistence that "promoting science" means "protecting free and open inquiry," will you work to soften your hostility toward scholars who disagree with you?

Mr. Holdren, it bears mention, appears to have a long history of erroneous alarmist predictions.

January 18, 2009

The 51st State

Justin Katz

Apparently, Old Glory isn't adequate for some Obama supporters. See pictures here, here, and here.

One gets the feeling that, in a sense that has not been true for any American President thus far, it's his country, now. Or maybe time will wrap him in the modest trappings of actual humanity.


January 17, 2009

I've Been Everything You Want to Be, I'm the Cult of Personality

Justin Katz

Yeah, yeah. Go on and tell me that I'm a paranoid right-wing crank slipping into the forthcoming Republican version of Bush Derangement Syndrome, but this sort of thing — beginning even before inauguration — concerns me a great deal:

President-elect Barack Obama will need something akin to superpowers to handle the country's economic woes. Word is he's already hobnobbing with a famous superhero.

Obama is on the cover of a special edition (583) of the Amazing Spider-Man comic book. In the story, he and the famous wall-crawler team up after the Chameleon tries to crash the president's inaugural festivities. (There's another edition of the comic available, but Obama's not on the cover.)

The Providence Journal's Tatiana Pina exhibits none of that mythic journalistic cynicism or burning for inquiry that might have led to such questions as:

  • Have any other presidents ever received like treatment?
  • Are there any historical echoes for the treatment of a political leader as a superhero?

Including this latest, the Chicago Tribune has found nine comic books that involve the appearance of real presidents, and even within this tiny group, none compare. The Clintons had a cameo in Superman. Carter slipped onto the cover of "Superman vs. Muhammad Ali." JFK helped out Superman by posing as Clark Kent. On the Republican side, Nixon pondered losing the entire East Coast to toxic winds and was mocked by aliens. Reagan was savaged on a page of Batman. Marvel's The Punisher actually threatened the life of President Bush a couple of months after 9/11.

As to my second question, well, you all know the history.

January 11, 2009

The Declarational Power of the O

Justin Katz

"O" continues to stand for "audacity":

President-elect Obama countered critics with an analysis yesterday by his economic team showing that a program of tax cuts and spending such as he has proposed would create up to 4.1 million jobs, far more than the 3 million that he has insisted are needed to lift the country out of recession.

Of course, in the AP style book, "showing" apparently means "insisting based on data and plans that remain secret":

Obama has provided few details of his $775 billion plan so far. This fresh report does not include the specific construction of his tax cuts, the amounts dedicated to state aid or public works -- key questions that Obama aides have closely held.

Yesterday, economic aides and advisers wouldn't lay out even rough estimates for the plan's components. They said they worked with broad instructions from Obama but didn't want to limit negotiations with congressional leaders by outlining their limits in public.

In other words, there's more than a little showmanship involved in the declaration that the plan will now "save or create" an additional million jobs. This is a telling tidbit, though:

If Congress fails to enact a big economic recovery plan, Obama's advisers estimate that an additional 3 million to 4 million jobs will disappear before the recession ends.

It's conceivable that the Obama team revised its analysis upwards because updated economic indicators suggested another million jobs might be lost, and they're operating under the assumption that pumping a bunch of borrowed federal dollars into the economy will halt the slide. It's difficult enough to tell whether a particular action helped to create jobs; promises to "save" them on this scale are meaningless.

December 14, 2008

Not a Centrist

Justin Katz

Charles Krauthammer argues persuasively that Obama's apparent centrism goes only so deep as pragmatism requires:

Take the foreign policy team: Hillary Clinton, James Jones, and Bush holdover Robert Gates. As centrist as you can get. But these choices were far less ideological than practical. Obama has no intention of being a foreign-policy president. Unlike, say, Nixon or Reagan, he does not have aspirations abroad. He simply wants quiet on his Eastern and Western fronts so that he can proceed with what he really cares about — his domestic agenda.

There's a similar explanation for his senior economic team, the brilliant trio of Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, and Paul Volcker: centrist, experienced, and mainstream. But their principal task is to stabilize the financial system, a highly pragmatic task in which Obama has no particular ideological stake. ...

Obama was quite serious when he said he was going to change the world. And now he has a national crisis, a personal mandate, a pliant Congress, a desperate public — and, at his disposal, the greatest pot of money in galactic history. (I include here the extrasolar planets.)

It begins with a near $1 trillion stimulus package. This is where Obama will show himself ideologically. It is his one great opportunity to plant the seeds for everything he cares about: a new green economy, universal health care, a labor resurgence, government as benevolent private-sector "partner." It is the community organizer's ultimate dream.

Obama's objective, in other words, isn't to tilt the deck to the left; it's to turn the entire ship in that direction. Ships turn slowly, no doubt, but they go down quickly when ideology obscures real hazards in the water.

November 30, 2008

A Story That Doesn't Make Sense

Justin Katz

Of course one should temper incredulity when addressing the opinions of a college professor who's written a book on a related topic, but so wrongheaded does Jonathan Stevenson's assessment of Osama post-Obama seem that it's difficult to conclude otherwise than that he has an investment of some kind in the wrong argument:

ONE OF SEN. John McCain's favorite themes was that Sen. Barack Obama was soft on terrorists, which implied that Osama bin Laden would be tickled if Obama were elected. But the world's terrorist-in-chief has been conspicuously mum on America's choice. The most al-Qaida has been able to muster is a puerile audiotaped statement by Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's voluble deputy — disseminated over two weeks after the election — that Obama is a "house Negro" destined to fail in Iraq and Afghanistan. This weak response almost certainly reflects their profound disappointment in Obama's victory.

It isn't necessary to nitpick the distinction of terrorist zealots' "puerile" rhetoric from, I suppose, their mature statements in order to question Stevenson's apparent belief that al Qaida's relative silence of late is more a result of a marketing conundrum than the ever-looming possibility of capture and death. Furthermore, the fact that Stevenson makes no distinctions between President Bush's foreign policy before and after the "surge" strategy suggests that he may be straining to fit President-Elect Obama into the patterns of his own book, as described in a handful of synopses. It's not inconceivable that Barack Obama is poised to look a very wise military leader by virtue of advances made before he took office (advances that he, himself, opposed), and it's even less difficult to imagine the ranks of the commentariate taking steps to be similarly positioned.

Writes Stevenson:

... The U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq that Bush engineered has intensified many Muslims' worries about America's global intentions and made them more susceptible to bin Laden's arguments. Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have been able to cast the Iraq war as confirmation of Washington's wish to dominate the Arab and larger Muslim world politically, economically and militarily; its intention to loot Islam of its natural resources, in particular oil; and its support for Israel's repression of Palestinian Muslims.

The Iraq war has stoked jihadist recruitment and fundraising and energized the jihadist movement — especially in Europe, the platform for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The war has also drained vital military resources from Afghanistan, and executive attention from the security of the U.S. homeland. ...

A man so steeped in this area of inquiry shouldn't have found it difficult at all to hand out a taste or two of numerical evidence of al Qaida's supposed recruitment and fundraising boost, and if his argument were sound, he could profitably have spared a word addressing the role that al Qaida's pursuit of violence in Iraq played in pushing the citizens of that nation toward democratic progress. Having addressed those points, perhaps Stevenson would have had cause to question the value of words spent decrying executive distractions from the domestic security of a nation that hasn't experienced anything resembling terrorism in years.

But Jonathan Stevenson displays nothing so much as a state of thrall to Obama's charms:

Obama represents an affirmative and historic hope for a reinvented America that is once again confident, exemplary and admired. Bin Laden now beholds not an Obama presidency that will reprise the weakened, beleaguered America of Jimmy Carter's tenure or perpetuate the embattled America weakened by its own recklessness that a McCain presidency would have augured, but one that revives adroit alliance management and earnest multilateralism, leavens Muslim perceptions of the United States, restores international respect for the United States, and reinvigorates solidarity in the global counterterrorism campaign. Obama's victory has been overwhelmingly applauded in Europe and the Middle East, and should shrink al-Qaida's funding and recruiting base and accelerate the downward trend in its popularity among Muslims.

A man who would make such declarations without so much as a whisper of the potential perils of his daydream if gone awry is a man whose capacity for cold analysis ought to be a matter of doubt. Stevenson goes on to cite the lack of a pre-election press release from Osama bin Laden (whom I still believe to be a corpse) as evidence that the terrorist king was too cowed by Americans' unity behind the "preternatural coolness and vision" of The One.

What the likes of Stevenson will say when their laughable construction of current reality proves itself to be a fairytale is anybody's guess. We can predict confidently, though, that the well-being of our nation will be preserved in inverse proportion to the attention paid to well-credentialed nonsense.

November 22, 2008

An Obaman Education

Justin Katz

Well, that was fast:

The Hempstead Union Free School District board voted unanimously Thursday night to rename Ludlum Elementary School as Barack Obama Elementary School. The change went into effect immediately, school officials said Friday.

Officials for the Long Island district say they think the school is the country's first to be named after the first black president-elect, although similar efforts to rename schools, parks and streets are under way elsewhere.

Although it would probably be yet another statement that others will declare beyond the pale to state, it's difficult to ascribe this recognition to much more than the color of his skin. The guy hasn't done anything, yet!

Well, he has chosen a school for his daughters:

Now we learn that [DC schools chancellor] Rhee's schools aren't good enough for Obama's children: The president-elect has chosen to enroll his girls at Sidwell Friends. This is nothing new. The elite opponents of school choice routinely keep their children out of public schools.

Word on the dog is forthcoming, but I'm sure there's a kennel or two already researching the process of changing their names.

November 20, 2008

Change You Can Believe In... Because You've Already Seen It

Justin Katz

So here comes good ol' Tom Daschle back to the government, this time in Obama's cabinet:

Barack Obama is enlisting former Senate leader Tom Daschle as his health secretary, embracing a third Washington insider in the early stages of Cabinet-building by the president-elect who promised change. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the capital's most famous woman for two decades, seemed ever more likely to be his secretary of state. ...

... Daschle stayed in the capital city after his defeat, becoming a public policy adviser and member of the legislative and public policy group at the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird. Daschle isn't registered as a lobbyist. He advises clients on issues including health care, financial services and taxes and trade, according to the firm's Web site.

Health care interests, including CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, Abbott Laboratories and HealthSouth, are among the firm's lobbying clients. ...

"It's a terrific choice," said Sen. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "I am elated. As a former member he certainly knows the Congress, he knows the Senate, he is deeply committed to health care reform."

Is it me, or is Obama's executive branch beginning to look a lot like an executive committee of the legislature?

(Biaswatch Bonus: Gotta love an AP report that characterizes Republican comments as "sniping.")


VDH makes some good points on this:

... given Obama's absence of executive experience and brief tenure in the Senate, Obama never was in a position to assemble an insider team other than the Chicagoan Axlerod. So what was Obama to do when he needed savvy advisors and a brain trust he could count on from the old days to form the nucleus of his advisors and cabinet?

He could hardly draw on personal friends like Ayers, Khalidi, Pfleger, Rezko, and Wright. Other than Friends of Bill, the last Democrats to be insiders were the Carterites now in their 80s. So if a Democrat were to be elected President without much experience, and without friends or advisors he could draw upon who were qualified for office and worldly about Washington's macabre politics, who but the Clintonites were there?

This seems to be an unprecedented development entirely neglected by the media, this sudden reliance on a primary rival's team—ipso facto an illustration of Obama's thinner political resumé.

November 15, 2008

From Where Will He Govern

Justin Katz

Dick Morris's analysis is typically hit or miss, but his knowledge is such that it's worth noting his reasons for this belief:

Those who embrace the comforting fantasy that Obama will govern from the center and leave the left frustrated are in for a shock. We don't know if Obama wants to move left or center. But that's not the key question. The issue is not what he will want to do but what Congress will make him do.

November 11, 2008

Yeah, Maybe I'm Being a Little Paranoid

Justin Katz


How is it that the "don't tase me bro" guy became an Internet star, and it took me a week to come across even a passing reference to a man being grabbed by police and arrested for wearing a McCain-Palin shirt at a post-election Obama rally?

There could be more to the story that the video doesn't portray, but the screams and O-ba-ma chants as the police push the kid up against the glass are chilling regardless of context.