Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Week of Lying Dangerously

Obama displays a Clintonian desire to have things both ways

There was a time when Barack Obama seemed more honest than Bill Clinton. While Slick Willie notoriously claimed he smoked pot but "didn't inhale," Obama candidly admitted, "When I was a kid, I inhaled frequently. That was the point."

Lately I have not been so impressed by Obama's truth-telling tendencies. Three incidents last week vividly illustrated the president's Clintonian desire to have things both ways, even if it means insulting our intelligence.

Obama wants credit for using the American military to protect civilians and compel a regime change in Libya. But he doesn't want to admit that blowing up the government's forces and facilities counts as "hostilities," because then he would need congressional permission under the War Powers Act.

Last week Obama sent Harold Koh, the State Department's legal adviser, to explain this counterintuitive position to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose members were noticeably unimpressed. "When you have an operation that goes on for months, costs billions of dollars, where the United States is providing two-thirds of the troops, even under the NATO fig leaf, where they're dropping bombs that are killing people, where you're paying your troops offshore combat pay and there are areas of prospective escalation," said Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), "I would say that's hostilities."

The following day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit was more receptive, accepting Obama's argument that Congress is regulating interstate commerce when it forces people to buy health insurance. But a concurring opinion highlighted another striking example of presidential duplicity.

Judge Jeffrey Sutton devoted half a dozen pages to rebutting the Obama administration's argument that the insurance mandate, which requires the Internal Revenue Service to collect a "shared responsibility payment" from Americans who fail to comply, should be upheld under the federal government's taxing power, thereby avoiding dicey questions about the limits of the Commerce Clause. Sutton was too polite to note that the president himself had indignantly insisted, prior to passage of his health care law, that the assessment was "absolutely not a tax increase."

Another unacknowledged reversal occurred on Thursday night (just before the long holiday weekend), when the administration released a memo that supposedly "clarified" its position on medical marijuana. Although Obama has promised to stop "using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue," Deputy Attorney General James Cole informed federal prosecutors that "commercial operations cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana" for medical use are fair game, even when they comply with state law.

By contrast, an October 2009 memo from Cole's predecessor, David Ogden, said U.S. attorneys "should not focus federal resources" on "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana." The Ogden memo listed criteria for prosecution, such as violence, sales to minors, and sales of other drugs, that make sense only when applied to medical marijuana suppliers, as opposed to the patients and caregivers who the Justice Department now claims are the only people covered by the policy of prosecutorial restraint.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in May 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that the promised forbearance applied to people "dealing in marijuana." When Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) asked him about threats to raid "legitimate businesses" that supply medical marijuana, Holder said "that would be inconsistent with...the policy as we have set it out…if the entity is, in fact, operating consistent with state law and…does not have any of those factors" mentioned in the Ogden memo. This position jibed with Holder's earlier statement that "the policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law."

So how does the new Justice Department memo address the blatant contradiction between prosecuting state-authorized medical marijuana suppliers and not prosecuting them? It assures us the two policies are "entirely consistent." That way Obama can get credit for tolerance and compassion without being painted as soft on drugs. After all, he did inhale.



The Jobless Summer

Why only one in four teens is employed

Perhaps you've already noticed around the neighborhood, but this is a rotten summer for young Americans to find a job. The Department of Labor reported last week that a smaller share of 16-19 year-olds are working than at anytime since records began to be kept in 1948.

Only 24% of teens, one in four, have jobs, compared to 42% as recently as the summer of 2001. The nearby chart chronicles the teen employment percentage over time, including the notable plunge in the last decade. So instead of learning valuable job skills—getting out of bed before noon, showing up on time, being courteous to customers, operating a cash register or fork lift—millions of kids will spend the summer playing computer games or hanging out.

The lousy economic recovery explains much of this decline in teens working, and some is due to increases in teen summer school enrollment. Some is also cultural: Many parents don't put the same demands on teens as they once did to get out and work.

But Congress has also contributed by passing one of the most ill-timed minimum wage increases in history. One of the first acts of the gone-but-not-forgotten Nancy Pelosi ascendancy was to raise the minimum wage in stages to $7.25 an hour in 2009 from $5.15 in 2007. Even liberals ought to understand that raising the cost of hiring the young and unskilled while employers are slashing payrolls is loopy economics.

Or maybe not. The Center for American Progress, often called the think tank for the Obama White House, recently recommended another increase to $8.25 an hour. Though the U.S. unemployment rate is 9.1%, the thinkers assert that a rising wage would "stimulate economic growth to the tune of 50,000 new jobs." So if the government orders employers to pay more to hire workers when they're already not hiring, they'll somehow hire more workers. By this logic, if we raised the minimum wage to $25 an hour we'd have full employment.

Back on planet Earth, the minimum wage increase has coincided with the plunge in the percentage of working teens. Before the most recent wage hikes, roughly seven million teens were working. Now there are closer to five million with a job and paycheck.

Black teens have had the worst of it, with their unemployment rate rising to 41.6% in April from 29% in 2007, faster than almost any other group. A 2010 study by economists William Even of Miami University of Ohio and David Macpherson of Trinity University found that as a result of the $2.10 increase in minimum wage, "teen employment dropped by 6.9 percent. . . . For the teen population with less than 12 years of education completed, teen employment dropped by 12.4 percent." For teens priced out of the labor market, their wage fell to zero.

The great tragedy is that even discussing the role of the minimum wage in teen unemployment seems to be a political taboo. The other day we saw ABC's George Stephanopoulos baiting Michele Bachmann on the minimum wage, as if refusing to raise it would be some epic political gaffe. Ms. Bachmann didn't back down from saying that the minimum wage has contributed to unemployment, though she didn't explain why.

What she or another candidate should do is stop playing defense and ask why Mr. Stephanopoulos doesn't seem to mind a black teen jobless rate of 41.6%. Someone truly brave would come out for a teenage sub-minimum wage of, say, $4 an hour. In certain circumstances employers can now pay teens a minimum of $4.25, but only for 90 days. This makes employers reluctant to hire at all. Make the case on moral grounds that a mandated wage that is too high blocks the young and unskilled from grabbing a place on the economic ladder.

Teenagers who work part-time while attending school generally make more money and have more successful careers as adults than kids who never work. As a 2006 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago put it: "The drop in teen labor force participation may also have implications for future productivity growth. In general, labor market experience tends to raise subsequent earnings."

The U.S. has long had a labor market flexible enough that when the economy grows, the jobless rate falls smartly. This time has been different, and the great danger is that Obamanomics has moved the U.S. to a permanently higher jobless rate as in so much of Europe. For America's teenagers this summer, that reality is already here.



The Big Taxpayer Scam

Here’s some friendly fiscal advice: Any time some Washington big shot like Ben Bernanke or Tim Geithner claims that immediate spending cuts in the debt deal will harm the economy—ignore them. Completely. You know why? Because in this great country of ours, spending never goes down. Never.

Take a look at the chart below. The blue line you see is President Obama's budget. The green line is Congressman Paul Ryan's budget.

Now, Paul Ryan's is of course a couple of trillion dollars lower than Obama's over the next ten years. But what do they both have in common? They both go up. As in spending more, not less. As in, roughly $40-45 trillion dollars more. That's a whole lot of taxpayer money, folks.

Now why is this? It’s because of something called the “current services baseline" which includes population and inflation increases built into the budget. Entitlements have their own formulas.

So when you hear a politician tell you they’re cutting spending, they’re actually referring only to reducing the growth of spending. Rarely, if ever, do they actually reduce the level of spending.

Think of it this way: You’re out car shopping and thinking about buying a $100,000 Mercedes. That's your target. But then you decide to forego the Mercedes and opt for a $20,000 Chevy instead. Well, guess what? Congress would score that as an $80,000 budget cut. Huh? We all know that it’s actually a $20,000 budget increase.

Let’s be honest here. This budgetary game remains one big taxpayer scam. Look, I used to work in the federal budget office. I know the game.

Here's yet another scam: big budget deals say they “cut” (there's that word again) a couple of trillion dollars over ten years. But most of it is targeted for the last couple of years, as in years eight, nine, and ten. So basically it'll never happen. It's four or five congresses from now. Laws change. Deals are broken.

At the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is next year's budget. Will it be cut? Ever in my lifetime? Because if it were cut, it would bring that line in that chart above down. Now that would be a called a decline. All of that other stuff? Increases.

When business cut expenses, the spending line declines. But when government cuts spending, the spending line always rises. Think of it.




TSA abuses and failures: "Many Americans continue to fool themselves into accepting TSA abuse by saying 'I don't mind giving up my freedoms for security.' In fact, they are giving up their liberties and not receiving security in return. Last week, for example, just days after an elderly cancer victim was forced to submit to a cruel and pointless TSA search, including removal of an adult diaper, a Nigerian immigrant somehow managed stroll through TSA security checks and board a flight from New York to LA -- with a stolen, expired boarding pass and an out-of-date student ID as his sole identification!"

TSA wins another round: "My frequent-flyer friend told me that he has noticed two things since the groping started. First, he has seen the attitude of TSA employees change with the new procedures. In his words, 'they seem more like East German police' than they used to. Second, other frequent flyers are getting upset. Going through the Syracuse airport a couple of weeks ago, my friend commented during a TSA grope, 'This is stupid.' The groper replied, 'If you keep this up, I'll call the police and have you arrested.'"

Coming soon to an airport near you: "If you fly within the United States in the future, keep your expression neutral, do not blink too much or too little, and do not sweat. Carefully maintain a normal respiration and heart beat as you submit to demands from Homeland Security agents. If you question or resist their demands, you could be detained as a pre-crime suspect, fined up to $11,000 and added to a No Fly list."

Medicaid payments go under the knife: "To curb rising Medicaid costs, about a dozen states are starting a new budget year by reducing payments to doctors, hospitals and other health care providers that treat the poor. Some health care experts say the cuts, most of which went into effect July 1 or will later this month, could add to a shortage of physicians and other providers participating in Medicaid."

Transparency measure is ripe for abuse: "The lowest qualified bid by the most competent contestant traditionally wins the government contract. Unfortunately, the 'Change' gang now wants to fiddle with this decades-old, generally reliable formula. President Obama hopes to throw another item onto the scale as bureaucrats weigh bids: political donations."


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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