Phony President Offers Moldy Economic Agenda
“Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” –James Madison
On Wednesday, Barack Obama pulled some moldy pizza out of the fridge, popped it in the microwave and offered it as fresh gourmet fare. That was the essence of his over-hyped economic speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. But Obama's 83rd “pivot” toward jobs was virtually the same speech he gave in the same location eight years earlier, and dozens of times since. He could've saved taxpayers a bundle on Air Force One by just patching through a video replay.
A new report by Daniel Alpert at the Century Foundation lays out the sorry state of the Obama economy. (The Century Foundation is a self-described “progressive non-partisan think tank,” not a bunch of “right-wing extremists.”) Alpert notes a few specifics – we'll highlight two. First, in a normal recovery, the number of involuntary part-time workers decreases as they find full-time work, but in the Obama “recovery” the opposite is true. Most of the jobs created are part-time, while full-time workers have seen their hours reduced due to ObamaCare regulations.
Second, and more important, Alpert writes, “Nearly 100 percent of the decline in the U-3 unemployment rate has been the result of there being fewer workers in the labor force as a percentage of the employable population.” In other words, attrition, not jobs, accounts for the lower headline unemployment rate. Nearly 90 million Americans are not working, up by 9.5 million since Obama took office. Conversely, 15 million more Americans are on food stamps today than in January 2009, bringing the total to nearly 50 million.
So what was Obama saying again?
In the run-up to the speech, he arrogantly opined, “I've given some pretty good speeches before, and then things still get stuck here in Washington.” During his first two years, Obama enjoyed overwhelming Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress, but instead of easing the government burden to allow a healthy recovery, Democrats rammed through a takeover of one-sixth of the economy (ObamaCare) and onerous regulations of another chuck (Dodd-Frank financial “reform”). These burdensome laws crush private sector efforts to create jobs. So “pretty good speeches” aside, Obama's actions during ideological hegemony in Washington belie his complaint.
“Washington hasn't just ignored this problem,” he lectured. “Too often, Washington has made things worse.” More than anyone else, Barack Obama is Washington. And he has definitely made things worse.
Most hypocritically, he blamed “an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals” for causing Washington to take “its eye off the ball.” His own actions, though, have been a “parade of distractions” – from standing on the caskets of children killed by an evil psychopath in order to push for federal gun control, to exploiting a neighborhood watch incident for race bait, to making sequestration as painful as possible so as to thwart any meaningful spending cuts. As for those “phony scandals,” there's nothing phony about running illegal guns to Mexico, leaving four Americans to die in Benghazi and arguably stealing the 2012 election through IRS persecution of political opponents.
Obama has only himself to blame for the worst “recovery” since FDR's Great Depression. Five years after the recession began, instead of the normal 3-4 percent growth in an expansion, we've seen the stagnation of 0.4 percent growth in the fourth quarter last year and 1.8 percent in the first of this year. That's not in spite of but thanks to years of massive government initiatives and wealth redistribution schemes contrived by Obama and his NeoCom cadres.
The president now plans an eight-week campaign (wasn't the election last year?) to rehash his economic agenda. One of his stops next week will be right here in our own Chattanooga, Tennessee. We can hardly wait. He's calling it the “Better Bargain for the Middle Class” tour, but if you want to see how his snake oil works in practice, take a look at Detroit.
“We've come a long way since I first took office,” Obama bragged Wednesday. Unfortunately, he's all too correct – we've come a long way from the free-market economic principles that made our nation the wealthiest in the world. He continued, “As a country, we're older and we're wiser.” On that last count, let's hope it means voters are now wise enough to reject honey-lipped tyrants like him in the future.
From the 'Non Compos Mentis' File
“We've got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare.” –Barack Obama calling for more infrastructure spending to “stimulate” the economy
That prompted The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto to quip, “If bridges are enrolling in Medicare, it's no wonder health-care costs keep rising.”
Government and Politics
Hope 'n' Change: ObamaCare's Data Mining
As if it weren't already wildly unpopular enough, we now learn that ObamaCare will include a massive data mining operation empowering the Department of Health and Human Services to collect vast amounts of personal information via the IRS, the Veterans Administration, the Defense Department, and the Social Security Administration. This information will be placed in the hands of a group of as-yet-unidentified “patient navigators” who will “assist” ObamaCare enrollees in the 34 states that have refused to set up their own insurance exchanges. These navigators will serve as the public face for ObamaCare enrollment, but they will be woefully unprepared for the task that awaits them. Training consists of 30 hours or less of online schooling in the gargantuan law, and navigators need not have any prior experience in the insurance or health care fields to apply. In fact, HHS currently has no plans to administer even background checks on the navigators it hires (what happened to e-Verify?), and it may rush some of them into the field before training is completed. If ObamaCare's miserable track record to date and the recent NSA and IRS scandals are any indication, we're in for a real disaster.
In related news in California, Anthem Blue Cross, the state's largest insurer for small businesses, has announced that they will not participate in the ObamaCare small business exchange. Anthem now joins UnitedHealth and Aetna in opting out of the state's individual consumer pool, a development that threatens the exchange's viability in the marketplace.
Elsewhere, Indiana insurance regulators expect a 72 percent hike in premiums after ObamaCare kicks in next year, and Ohio expects an 88 percent hike. Republican-controlled states appear to be taking a bigger hit because Democrat-controlled states are already more highly regulated and expensive, so the impact of ObamaCare is somewhat muted. But the Government Accountability Office is warning of insurance premium “rate shock” in all 50 states.
So all in all, it was just another dreadful week in the implementation of a horrible law.
News From the Swamp: Budget Battle Preview
Summer isn't yet over, but Congress is already gearing up for the fall budget fights. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) warned this week that he will refuse to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts. Here we go again. It seems unlikely that Boehner would go so far as to risk a government shutdown to make his case given how that tactic has spectacularly failed for Republicans in the past. The Senate further complicated that gambit by finally passing a budget this year. In reality, the best strategy now would be to pass a budget, take it to committee, and adjust the debt ceiling according to how much money is needed to cover the budget. But Congress rarely if ever follows the best strategy.
The White House is signaling that the president, too, will dig in his heals to oppose any further spending cuts. “Threatening that you won't pay the bills in this country when we've already racked up those bills, that's not an economic plan,” Obama said. “That's just being a deadbeat.” Then again, in the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama condemned “driving up our national debt” as “unpatriotic.”
IRS Officials Really Logging Some Travel Miles
Treasury Department inspector general J. Russell George found that a few bigwigs at the IRS had “extremely high travel expenses” in 2011 and 2012. George reports that although these executives live outside of Washington, DC – as in the just-outside-the-Beltway suburbs of Atlanta, Dallas and Minneapolis – they regularly commute by plane to the nation's capital. Two of the executives are Beth Tucker, a deputy commissioner, and Laurel Cummings, the director of compliance strategy and policy for the Affordable Care Act. One unnamed official logged 282 days in DC in 2012, at a cost of $127,000.
As National Review's Eliana Johnson observes, “It is the American taxpayer, of course, who is footing the bill for their costly commutes, which is why federal law requires the agency to accomplish its mission in 'the most economical and effective manner' and to 'consider alternatives, including teleconferencing, prior to authorizing travel.' The IRS's most frequent travelers cost taxpayers over $1.2 million in 2011 and nearly $1.1 million in 2012.” Doesn't it make you feel better to know that these are the people who audit your expenses?
“In a mere three days, the Big Three network morning shows have devoted more coverage to the birth of the British royal baby than they gave to news of the IRS scandal since that story broke 74 days ago.” –Scott Whitlock of Newsbusters
Texas Holder 'Em
Never mind the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act over outdated pre-clearance requirements for several Southern states' election laws. Attorney General Eric Holder decided this week that he will defy that ruling by indefinitely reasserting pre-clearance requirements for Texas. Arguing that the Lone Star State has a “history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities,” Holder insists that its election law changes must be pre-approved.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) rightly blasted Holder, saying his “refusal to accept the judgment of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding pre-clearance continues the department's longstanding pattern of refusing to follow the law.”
Village Academic Curriculum: Leaving Fewer Children Behind?
Pity the poor No Child Left Behind Act, a chief “achievement” of President George W. Bush's first term. The Left hated NCLB because it instilled some credible educational standards, and they constantly whined that it was underfunded (something they say about every government program). Conservatives blasted the additional federal influence in what the Constitution leaves as a state and local issue.
A decade later, though, the demise of NCLB may be at hand. Last week the House passed the Student Success Act, a bill that includes a limited variant on vouchers via an amendment by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). His addition allows states to decide how Title I money is distributed to any public or charter school, although distribution to private schools is still verboten.
The Student Success Act also eliminates several other burdens on local schools: the Highly Qualified Teacher mandate, which did little but foist more paperwork on local districts; state maintenance of effort requirements, an important deletion that gives states additional overall budget flexibility; and the dreaded Adequate Yearly Progress requirement would all be dropped. Instead, states would be left to determine what they considered acceptable progress.
Naturally, neither the Senate nor the White House is inclined to support the House bill. The Senate is working on its own version, while the National Education Association complains that “we need federal legislation that seeks to partner with and support state efforts in meaningful reform, not undermine those efforts.” It seems to us that allowing states more leeway would be a step in that direction. The NEA's goal, however, is to centralize control for its own agenda. Distributing power among the 50 states does the opposite.
New and Notable Legislation
Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) introduced the No Subsidies Without Verification Act (H.R. 2775), which would prohibit the federal government from paying subsidies to people for health insurance before the law's anti-fraud measures are fully in place. Barack Obama earlier this summer waived the verification process, opting instead for the “honor” system for those seeking subsidies. We don't expect Black's bill to become law, but we do expect rampant fraud in the system – exactly what the president intends.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed a deal on student loan interest rates. When the previous subsidy expired on July 1, rates doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent for new student loans. Under the new agreement, undergraduate loans will be subsidized to bring rates down to 3.86 percent, retroactive to July 1. Graduate students would pay 5.41 percent, and PLUS loans for grad students and parents of undergrad students would carry 6.41 percent rates. Loan rates will also be capped by subsidy at 8.25 percent, 9.5 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively. The House is expected to pass the agreement as well.
Income Redistribution: Obama's Mortgage Meltdown
Some four years ago Barack Obama rolled out the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), supposedly to assist underwater homeowners in refinancing their debt. Aid was offered to reduce interest rates, extend loan terms or even in some cases to reduce the principal owed. Since 2009, nearly 1.2 million mortgages have been modified. However, as with everything else Obama touches, his HAMP plan merely hampers growth.
According to the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), 306,000 borrowers who took advantage of HAMP have re-defaulted on their loans, with another 88,000 teetering on the edge. And the longer homeowners stay in HAMP, the more likely they are to default. For those in the program since the beginning, the default rate is an astounding 46 percent.
When HAMP was launched, the Obama administration said the goal was to “help” four million borrowers. But if we extrapolate the results so far, reaching that goal would mean well over one million re-defaults. Taxpayers have already lost $815 million out of $4.4 billion spent so far. Of course, one might argue that taxpayers lost all $4.4 billion in a program that isn't rooted in any constitutional federal authority or economic sense. But since it's working so well, Obama extended the program through 2015.
Study Finds Fracking Is Okay
Environmentalists have long blamed hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for polluting groundwater, supposedly igniting tap water, and generally causing an environmental Armageddon in the service of “Big Oil.” Well, now there is further evidence that they're wrong. A “landmark” study conducted by the Obama Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh found no proof that any chemical contamination ascended from fracking sites far below ground to affect drinking water thousands of feet above them. This isn't the first time the facts haven't supported the green narrative. In 2011, the EPA set out to prove fracking guilty of groundwater contamination in Wyoming, but recently and suddenly the EPA abandoned its review, essentially failing to prove their premise. Coincidence? We think not.
Meanwhile, what fracking has done is unlock stores of natural gas that have led the way to carbon emissions reductions, just as enviro-zealots claim to want. So this is a good thing, right? Well, yes … er, no, because the zealots oppose any carbon-based fuels. Truly, the fracking folly fallout is enough to turn the greenest green-zealot red. The bottom line, though, is that while no single study is conclusive, evidence is mounting that fracking is not even close to the evil portrayed by environmentalists. And U.S. drilling policy should open up in part as a result. Perhaps Leftist documentarian Josh Fox will cover all these new developments in his movie sequel “Gasland 3” – but we doubt it.
Regulatory Commissars: Another Pipeline?
With domestic oil and gas extraction at an all-time high, America's booming energy infrastructure has created an urgent need for pipelines. But even this lone bright spot in the economy is feeling the disastrous effects of Obamanomics. In North Dakota, for instance, refineries are burning off close to a third of the natural gas produced in the state. The reason? There simply aren't enough pipelines to transport the abundant supply to other parts of the nation. In large part, we can thank Obama's decision to handcuff TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline for that.
The obvious question is why the hurdles? Thousands of jobs are at stake, and pipelines are practical. “In terms of terrestrial transport, highly regulated pipelines are a good deal more safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly than the cars and trucks that have been in increasing use” for transporting oil, notes Hot Air's Erika Johnsen. Gee, that sounds like a “green” solution that eco-fascists could support, right? Well, we can dream, anyway.
While most of the environmental propaganda attention is focused on Keystone, other companies are quickly jumping into the fray. Another Canadian-based company, Enbridge Inc., is quietly moving forward with plans to begin construction next month on a 600-mile pipeline between Flanagan, Illinois, and Cushing, Oklahoma, to run alongside an already established route. So far, environmentalists have been strangely silent. Johnsen concludes, “What it is environmentalists think they're going to accomplish in the long run if they succeed in killing the Keystone pipeline project, I'm not sure I'll ever understand, but the highly selective attention is … interesting, to say the least.”
Contentious NSA Vote
A coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans teamed up this week and nearly succeeded in canceling the statutory authority for the NSA's domestic spying program. An amendment to curtail the NSA's power was cosponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and John Conyers (D-MI), and it would have been attached to the $600 billion defense spending bill. The final roll call of 205-217 split both parties. The vote was the first on the NSA program since Edward Snowden revealed it in June.
Passions ran high in the tight vote. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) opposed the amendment and asked, “Have 12 years gone by and our memories faded so badly that we forgot what happened on September 11th?” Rogers joined six GOP committee chairmen in a letter saying, “While many members have legitimate questions about the NSA metadata program, including whether there are sufficient protections for Americans' civil liberties, eliminating this program altogether without careful deliberation would not reflect our duty, under Article I of the Constitution, to provide for the common defense.” Proponents of the NSA data collection contend that at least 50 terror plots in 20 countries were thwarted in part thanks to this surveillance.
Amash countered, “Opponents of this amendment will use the same tactic that every government throughout history has used to justify its violation of rights: fear. They'll tell you that the government must violate the rights of the American people to protect us against those who hate our freedom.” Even Patriot Act co-author Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) supported the amendment. For many Republicans, opposition to the NSA program is rooted in who controls it, i.e., the Obama administration. But more than just political fodder, it's an issue of trust. Does the government really need our passwords?
This vote is likely not the final word on the program, either. Of course, we should be countering terrorism in every effective and constitutional way. The question is whether NSA's warrantless collection and storage of data of every single American doing anything – collecting the haystack to find the needle – fits that bill.
John Kerry to the Rescue
The Middle East was cast into deeper confusion last week after an anonymous “Israeli official” erroneously told Reuters that Israel was willing to return to pre-1967 borders as a precondition to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinians – a claim quickly denied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office. However, while visiting the Middle East on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry added to the contentious development by saying, “We have reached an agreement that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.” It was then the Palestinians' turn to deny that rumor.
That wasn't the end to the chaos. According to the Associated Press, two Palestinian officials asserted that “President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resume peace talks with Israel only after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave him a letter guaranteeing that the basis of the negotiations will be Israel's pre-1967 borders” – a claim that the U.S. denied. Amid all this, the latest report is that Israel is willing to meet with Palestinian officials in Washington beginning July 30, though Netanyahu has neither confirmed nor denied it.
This circus was likely started by media hyperbole meant to spur negotiations between the two countries. After all, Kerry came into office promising to change the situation in the Middle East. Kerry also perhaps saw this as an opportunity to boost his foreign policy credentials if he's eying a presidential bid in 2016. It's remarkable that each new administration comes into office thinking it'll finally be the one to bring peace to the Middle East. But this just in: The Palestinians (and pretty much all Muslims) want the Jews gone. Period. John Kerry's magnetic personality isn't going to change that.
This Week's 'Alpha Jackass' Award
“[W]e discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson.” –Barack Obama on his meeting with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang
Ho Chi Minh was a Communist who led North Vietnam's war effort that killed nearly 60,000 Americans. What an ignorant and outrageous thing for Obama to say.
Warfront With Jihadistan: Al-Qa'ida Resurgent
One of the primary reasons that the Obama administration swept under the rug the details of the Benghazi attack was to maintain the campaign fiction that al-Qa'ida had been decimated, scattered, defeated. Indeed, just one day after the attack perpetrated by al-Qa'ida-linked terrorists, Obama boasted, “Al-Qa'ida is on the path to defeat, and Osama bin Laden is dead.” The commander in chief was desperate to have it both ways: a full pullout from Iraq and then Afghanistan along with a claim of total victory.
Unfortunately, far from being history, al-Qa'ida is making a huge comeback. The terrorist group just this week bombed two Iraqi prisons, freeing as many as 500 inmates, including senior al-Qa'ida members awaiting death sentences. Many of those newly freed inmates will no doubt find their way to Syria, where they may aid rebels against Bashar al-Assad's regime – you know, the rebels that are supposedly our “allies.” And in a study for the RAND Corporation, Seth Jones writes, “There has been a net expansion in the number and geographic scope of al-Qaida affiliates and allies over the past decade [read: the last four years], indicating that al-Qaida and its brand are far from defeated.” The only “good” news, according to the study, is that al-Qa'ida's focus is shifting away from the U.S. to France and areas in the Middle East and North Africa it can more easily destabilize.
Obama talks a good game when he criticizes opponents for “taking their eye off the ball.” But how else to describe what he has done with U.S. national security by ignoring – and lying about – the resurgence of this enemy terrorist group?
New York City's Lewd Mayoral Race
Disgraced former Democrat congressman and New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner announced Tuesday, “I said that other texts and photos were likely to come out, and today they have.” That's probably the only honest thing he's said in the last two years. Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 after he sent pictures of his namesake private parts to a woman via Twitter. First he lied, saying his Twitter account had been hacked. Then he admitted to “sexting” with other women. This week, the world found out that he didn't quit his perverted habit after the scandal but continued it with at least three more women – “I don't believe I had any more than three,” he said – all under the ridiculous pseudonym of “Carlos Danger.”
His wife, Huma Abedin, is a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton, but she appears to also be Hillary's disciple. Clinton shamefully “stood by her man” throughout Bill's well-documented debauchery before embarking on her own political career. Abedin not only stuck it out with Weiner, but she also plays a significant role in his campaign for mayor. To be sure, strong marriages can endure even awful episodes like this, but both of these pairings reek of political opportunism. And, at least in Weiner's case, he doesn't seem to have learned his lesson. He even blamed his wife, saying the photos were due to a “rough time” in their marriage.
Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh asserted, “There is no question in my mind that, if there is a War on Women out there, it is being conducted by the Democrat Party – and it's being conducted by Democrat women.”
Mr. Danger says he has no intention of abandoning his run for mayor – a true narcissist like him surely wouldn't. When he first entered the race, polls showed him leading or near the front of the field. But as his numbers dropped significantly this week, it seems that even New York Democrats may have reached their limits. Heck, when Nancy Pelosi calls a fellow Leftist's behavior “reprehensible” and “so disrespectful of women,” we're really in uncharted territory.
Faith and Family: The Intrusion of Same-Sex Marriage
In 2004, Ohio voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that read, “Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions.” Just as in California, though, an activist judge thwarted voter wisdom by ordering that the death certificate of a man who was “wedded” to another man in Maryland must list him as “married” and the other man as a “surviving spouse.” Judge Timothy Black – naturally, an Obama appointee – noted that “Ohio law, as applied to these Plaintiffs, likely violates the United States Constitution” and its equal protection clause.
John Arthur, who is in the latter stages of ALS and under hospice care, traveled with James Obergefell to Maryland in a specially equipped jet to take advantage of Maryland's recent legalization of same-sex nuptials. But they weren't interested in being trailblazers. At the heart of the case was a request for Arthur to eventually have Obergefell buried next to him in a family cemetery that only allows descendants and spouses. Most likely, though, this will be another test case for striking down state law.
Black also contended in his ruling that Ohio already recognizes particular marriages, such as those between first cousins, even if they cannot be legally performed within its borders. While the state of Ohio defended its law in federal court, the city of Cincinnati where Arthur and Obergefell reside and where the death certificate would be filed declined to defend Ohio's “discriminatory ban on same-sex marriages,” though curiously it noted that it's bound to follow Ohio law regarding the filing of the death certificate. The question is what the law will be once the judiciary is through wrestling with it.
A press release from the Illinois Department of Human Services stated, “Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler today announced that the state was awarded a $4.1 million bonus for its effective administration of the Supplemental Food and Nutrition Program (SNAP). Illinois was recognized for its accuracy rate of 98.3 percent, which ranked sixth in the nation in fiscal year 2012.” Did someone say “sequester”? Doing the math reveals that in misallocating 1.74 percent of its $3 billion in SNAP money, Illinois wasted $52 million. That's a lot of trips on Air Force One down the drain. So our question is what reward goes to Illinois' adopted son, Barack Obama? After all, his failed bid to “stimulate” the economy wasted $800 billion.
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
Nate Jackson for The Patriot Post Editorial Team