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It’s All in the Name



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I had missed the news of the untimely September death of the 45-year-old musician Uppalapu Srinivas, who introduced an instrument often associated with the folk music of the southern United States — the mandolin — into the classical music repertoire of southern India. I like him not only for his music, which I recommend, but for the fact that he was so strongly associated with his instrument that in adulthood his name became, effectively, Mandolin Srinivas. We never had a Piano Gould or a Cello Rostropovich, though we did have a Johnny “Guitar” Watson.

English has many occupationally derived proper names, though they are so familiar that English-speakers do not register them as such: Smith, Shoemaker, Potter, etc. The various Indian languages have occupationally derived proper names that will sometimes jump out at the English-speaker: Manager, DoctorEngineer. “Mandolin” would be an excellent addition to that catalog. 

(If neither Indian music nor southern mountain music is your thing, Vivaldi wrote for the mandolin, too.)

Some Thoughts on Today’s Jobs Report, Social Mediatized



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— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.

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Surprise: Low-Income People Have Low Incomes



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One of the downsides of living in a prosperous society is that we can’t stand to think about the things we really should be thinking about and instead are obliged to expend enormous amounts of energy inventing non-meaningful things to worry about, e.g. this Wall Street Journal report on Google’s high-speed Internet service in Kansas City, Mo., and the resultant  “digital divide.” Get this, kids: People living in poor neighborhoods were less likely to shell out significant sums of money for super-fast Internet service than were people in more affluent neighborhoods. Any bets on how wide is the hybrid-car divide or the organic-quinoa divide?

As the Journal reports, low-income residents of Kansas City most often cited expense when asked why they had not signed up for Google fiber, which can be 100 times faster than traditional Internet services but costs about three times as much. So, lower-income people seem to have less disposable income – crackerjack reporting there, Wall Street Journal.

This is not something to worry about. For context, consider that 30 years ago, you pretty much had to have Wall Street money to afford a mobile phone, and those mobile phones were terrible by contemporary standards. Ten years from now, it will almost certainly be the case that rich people will enjoy better Internet service than do poor people, but that everybody will enjoy better service than rich people do today. That is the general trend in technological development — which also could be the general trend in education, health care, and much more, if we’d let it. 

Web Briefing: October 14, 2014

Is Obama His Own Party’s Worst Enemy?



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Is President Obama subconsciously sabotaging his own party in the mid-term elections? He took to the stage at Northwestern University in Chicago yesterday to defend his economic record and declare: “I am not on the ballot this fall. Michelle’s pretty happy about that. But make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.”

The Washington Post noted that those words must have sent a chill down the spine of several Democratic Senate candidates from red states who have “spent much of the campaign insisting that this election is NOT about Barack Obama, that it is instead about a choice between themselves and their opponents.” You can bet Obama’s words will find their way into 30-second attack ads against those Democrats soon enough.

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The African-Born Population in U.S. Has Essentially Doubled Every Decade Since 1970



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The foreign-born population from Africa in the United States has approximately doubled every decade since 1970, according to a new report from the Census Bureau. The African-born population living in the U.S. grew from around 80,000 to around 1.6 million between 1970 and 2008-2012, according to the report.

African-born immigrants now represent 4 percent of the foreign-born population in the U.S., and much more in some states: Africans are 19 percent of immigrants in Minnesota and North Dakota, and 15 percent in Maryland. This chart shows the population’s explosive growth, though today, the group still represents just 0.5 percent of the U.S. population:

African-born people living in the U.S. outperformed the overall foreign-born population and the native U.S. population in terms of their level of education: Approximately 41 percent of the African-born population had a bachelor’s degree or more, compared with 28 percent of the total foreign-born population.

But educational attainment levels vary within the African-born population: 40 percent of Somali-born persons, for instance, had not obtained the equivalent of a high-school education (higher than the average for foreign-born U.S. residents), while 64 percent of Egyptian-born persons and 61 percent of Nigerians had a bachelor’s degree or more.

Back to Growth: September Added 248,000 Jobs. But Where’s the Wage Growth?



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The U.S. economy added 248,000 jobs in September, and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest report. But it’s not all good news: This strong jobs number was still accompanied by stagnant wage growth.

This comes after a disappointing month of job creation in August, when it was first reported that only 142,000 jobs were added. After more than 200,000 jobs were added in each of the previous six months, August was not good. It turns out August wasn’t quite as weak as we thought, though: Today’s report revised that number up to 180,000 jobs. (There is some concern that August jobs reports are just unreliable, period, because seasonal adjustment can’t deal with the number of people leaving summer jobs, returning to school work, etc.)

But the good news is that, for whatever reason, August looks like a bit of a fluke. 248,000 jobs in September is still not as fast as we’d like a recovery to be, but it’s noticeably more jobs than need to be created to keep up with population growth, and the past eight months have been a faster average period of job creation than any comparable time during this recovery.

The New York Times’ Neil Irwin points out, for instance, that jobs are up 2.6 million since this time last year, while annual growth in the jobs during the recovery has averaged about 2 million per year. And Michael Strain of AEI drew up this chart, showing that the share of “prime age” workers, 25 to 54 year olds, holding jobs has finally risen:

The bad news: Wages are still not rising noticeably: Hourly earnings did not grow in September, though they’ve risen 2 percent this year as a whole and at that rate during the recovery generally. This outpaces inflation, but not by much. The Federal Reserve’s Janet Yellen regards this as an essential metric when considering how much monetary stimulus the economy needs and can handle without risking inflation. The Fed is set to end its quantitative-easing program this month, however, so her toolbox is not that big, unless she comes up with something new: The only thing the Fed can do is not raise interest rates from the near-0 where they are now, and promise not to raise rates for an extended period of time — and it’s already promised that. (Rates are currently projected to rise around the middle of next year.)

Another bit of bad news: The unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point in large part not because of faster jobs growth but because the labor force shrunk. The labor-force-participation rate ticked down, to 62.7 percent, after it had also ticked down in August. That rate had held somewhat steady for most of this year. It will drop almost inexorably due to demographic changes in the labor force.

Friday links



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A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! Richard III was born 562 years ago, and there’s been a lot of news since his remains were discovered recently.

Caffeinated Underpants Won’t Make Your Butt Smaller.

Better living through Chemistry: These Scientists Want to Bring You Civet-Poop Coffee Without the Civets.

Star Wars recut into a Guardians Of The Galaxy style trailer is excellent, and/or there’s a three minute Too Long: Didn’t Watch review of the 1st trilogy.

What It’s Like To Be Struck By Lightning: there are a lot of strange, poorly-understood aftereffects. Related - What Should I Do If I’m About to Get Struck by Lightning?

Disney characters in their Halloween costumes.

ICYMI, Wednesday’s links are here, including weird don’t-do-drugs PSAs, the mites that are having sex on your face, vintage bad-guy trapping patents, and the death of Saturday morning cartoons.

Aces



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Today’s Impromptus is the last in a series, concerning the Castro brothers’ foreign policy. Today’s installment deals with the Castros and China.

The boss of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, visited the Castros last summer (ten days after Vladimir Putin left). As I mention in Impromptus, Xi formalized many deals with the Castros, including one to develop golf courses in Cuba.

Which is interesting, because Fidel Castro, in his salad days, effectively banned golf, denouncing it as a “bourgeois” pursuit. (“Bourgeois” was one of his worst words.)

“But listen,” I say in Impromptus: “One of his sons, Antonio, not only plays golf but is said to be a champion.”

I have a caveat, however: “When it comes to dictatorships … you can never be completely sure. According to Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il had eleven holes-in-one in his very first round of golf, carding a score of 38 for 18 holes, or 34 under par — something Bobby Jones never dreamed of. Neither did Nicklaus or Woods.”

Okay, all of this is prelude to the point I want to make here in the Corner: A score of 38, when par is 72, is not all that great — for a guy who has made eleven aces. In my view, someone who can card “1” on eleven holes should really be able to play the remaining holes in under 27.

Do you know what I’m saying?

One more point: When examining Xi’s visit to Cuba, I thought of WFB — and Jesse Jackson. Xi told Castro he wished him long life (which he has had already). Jackson, in Havana, years ago, shouted, “Viva Castro!” On television later, WFB asked Jackson, “When wishing long life to Fidel Castro, were you at the same time wishing short life to his political prisoners?”

I have paraphrased, but it was great, like many — most — Buckley moments.

Will’s Take: Amid Ebola Scare, Americans Want And Need to Trust Government, But Can’t



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The sudden appearance of Ebola within American borders “is an episode when people want to trust the government, when people need to trust the government — and, after the last twelve months, they can’t,” says columnist George Will.

“What was happening exactly 12 months ago?” he asked on Special Report. “A government shutdown and the disastrous rollout of Healthcare.gov. Since then we have had intelligence failures regarding ISIS; we have had the debacle of the veterans handling of healthcare; and the Secret Service that couldn’t lock the front door of the White House. So people think this is a gang that can’t shoot straight.”

Will added that news of Ebola comes “in the context of the immigration debate . . . where Americans have been pursuing for years the chimera, in my judgment, of a complete border that isn’t at all porous, at all, to anyone. Well, we’ll never get there. And we will never there, also, to hermetically seal this country off from viruses.”

That leaves only difficult options as the country moves forward, said Will.

The Perils of Being Neil deGrasse Tyson



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A great deal has been written about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s peculiar non-apology to George W. Bush and the Federalist’s Sean Davis, and I have no great interest in adding to it directly. With the exception of one significant disagreement as to how important and inevitable philosophy is — a disagreement, I have noticed subsequently, that other less polemical writers appear to have noted, too — my original critique was of the cult that surrounds the man and of the way he is used as a totem and fetish; not of the man himself. That cult, by the furious and devastated manner in which it has reacted to each and every quibble that Tyson’s critics have expressed, has proved my point beautifully of late. To be among the staunchest of deGrasse Tyson’s fans, it seems, one has to be both a know-nothing and a zealot, one has to live in the desperate and pathetic hope that another person’s intelligence and eloquence will somehow rub off on oneself, and one has to make a highly public show of positioning oneself in relation to others so that strangers will know where to place one within the nation’s moral and intellectual hierarchy. If you want to see some examples of how these traits play out in the real world, read any of the hilarious reactions to Sean Davis, to Rich Lowry, to Jonathan Adler, or to myself; or, for that matter, to anyone else who has exhibited the temerity to write about the man in a less than reverent manner. At least in the devotion that he inspires in his supporters, Tyson really is more akin to a Ron Paul or a Sarah Palin than he is to your average scientist. And, at times, the consequences are downright alarming. Is this Tyson’s fault? Almost certainly not, no. Still, that does not mean that it is not ridiculous, and it does not mean that it’s not true. Many a great man has been blighted by terrible acolytes.

That having been said, Tyson himself has not come out of this imbroglio well. He may not have actively assembled his clique, but, as the fake George W. Bush quotation demonstrates, he does play to it at least a little. Whatever he may claim now, the intention of his tale was absolutely clear: to demonstrate for his audience who in the world was stupid and who in the world was smart, truth be damned. Unsurprisingly enough, those who had paid to come and see him speak were classed firmly in the latter category — and they loved every second of being so praised. And who wouldn’t? The world is full of performers whose sole role is to flatter their customers. That’s why we have cable news.

Now, lest I be willfully misunderstood, I should say for the record that Tyson is an excellent astronomer and that his work popularizing science is extremely valuable. As an atheist who takes an interest in such things myself, I am delighted that people care about matters scientific, even if I do think that the vast majority of those who claim to do so are unfailingly shallow and irritating in their engagement. But, however good he may be at his job, it is inescapably true that he has also become a cultural figure who plays a cultural role and who is fetishized by a subculture. Why is this so hard for his admirers to admit? Why, too, I wonder, do we find it so difficult to concede that, even for scientists, there is a real danger in becoming so loved? As we have learned over the years from musicians, movie stars, politicians, and so forth, to acquire an expectant and ardent fanbase is to run the risk of becoming a pastiche of oneself. Has Tyson? Perhaps so, yes. He’s hardly exempt.

Consider, by way of example, the text of his non-apology. Had I been charged with parodying the man, I honestly couldn’t have done a better job. Before he even gets to the issue at hand, Tyson writes:

I own a half-dozen cosmically themed vests and another 100+ cosmically themed ties. Among them, I’m more likely to be seen in only two of the vests and about a dozen of the ties, they being my favorites. In large theater performance venues, I often remove my shoes. I can move more nimbly on the stage, but I also do so as a matter of silent respect for the countless performers — singers, dancers, musicians – who have previously sanctified the stage with their artistic talents.

Later, he explains that he doesn’t really like talking to adoring crowds for fame and fortune, but that, “knowing what I know about the physical universe – and our place within it – I’d be socially irresponsible if I did not.” Okay, then!

What would he rather be doing instead?

Doing scientific research.  Writing books.  Playing with my kids.  Having a play-date with my wife. Eating homemade very-buttery popcorn while watching a movie curled up on the couch with the family. Reading antiquarian science books. Taking notes for my next book with quill and fountain pens by candlelight. Attending Broadway plays and musicals.  Listening to jazz and classical music. Drinking malted milkshakes. Cooking dinners that are fancier than the day of the week deserves.  Drinking a bottle of wine that is just a little more expensive than can be realistically justified. And cooking & eating waffles for breakfast. e.g. 

http://www.reddit.com/r/photoshopbattles/comments/28yjr2/neil_degrasse_tyson_making_himself_a_waffle/

That the final suggestion was illustrated with a link to a fan post on Reddit is almost too perfect for words. As for “taking notes for my next book with quill and fountain pens by candlelight,” this strikes me as a level of self-indulgence that even Ron Burgundy would have considered unseemly.

Since the contretemps broke, I have been a little confused as to why Tyson didn’t quickly regain the moral high ground by saying, flatly:

I misremembered a George W. Bush quotation. In science we are always ready to be corrected and evidence is paramount. I apologize for having got this wrong, and I’ll stop using it in my public presentations. Thank you for pointing it out.

Today, though, I am less bewildered, for the nature of the apology seems to tell us exactly why he did not just own up and move on. He can’t. He’s trapped, having become responsible for the self-esteem and self-identity of millions of adoring followers. Deep down, I bet Tyson wished he could just say, “my mistake.” Instead, he had to embed his note in an avalanche of superfluous pseudo-context; to insist that the whole affair “fascinated me greatly”; to enter into peculiar digressions about the nature of evidence and of memory; and, rather than admitting that a critic was right, to propose extraneously that “the mind is surely the next mysterious universe to be plumbed.” I find this all rather sad, I must say. I like Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’m sure he’s a nice, smart, interesting guy. His most ardent followers, however, are not. And, if his behavior over the past month is any indication, he’s been captured by them.

Governor Cuomo and Racial Spoils



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In a pandering speech to a forum for Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses (MWBEs) in Albany, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that New York State would set a new goal of awarding 30 percent of state contracts to MWBEs – the “highest such goal in the nation.” 

As described, the program is almost certainly illegal: There is no effort whatsoever to to tie these race- and sex-based goals to remedying contract discrimination — which is what the Constitution requires — let alone any justification for the 30 percent figure. None, that is, except for the fact that Governor Cuomo wanted to brag about how much money he will throw around, and wanted to announce a higher goal, and indeed wanted to declare a goal higher than that of any other state. And then he urged other states to follow New York, which of course would also be illegal. 

Here’s hoping someone sues.

Boeing VP Is Very Upset That His Company’s Government Handout May Be Taken Away



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This week, the Hill has a great piece illustrating the serious problem of corporate addiction to government privileges. Protected companies jealously protect their handouts, and sometimes they can get furious with the rare principled politician that threatens to cut them off. 

This time, the company is Boeing, the furious defender of government privilege is senior vice president Timothy Keating, and the hopefully short-lived privilege is the Export-Import Bank. The Hill reports on what Keating had to say recently (emphasis added):

Mostly far-right political consultants, think tanks and congressmen banded together in a fit of ideological road rage to kill the bank,” Boeing Senior Vice President Timothy Keating said in prepared remarks at an aerospace conference in Everett, Wash.

“The temporary extension recently enacted, in many respects, leaves us worse off than before,” Keating continued. “The extension is to next summer, when in all likelihood, the Congress will be more polarized than even now. And a short-term extension does not provide business certainty, both for U.S. exporters and their potential foreign customers.” . . .

“The Export-Import Bank gives American manufacturing a fighting chance in the global arena. Ex-Im has long enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the Congress, and presidents ranging from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama have favored its continued operation,” said Keating, a former special assistant to President Bill Clinton.

Spending too long in Washington, D.C., can make you a bit jaded and hard to surprise,” he said, “but it is still amazing to me that the people going after Ex-Im are basically willing to dismantle the U.S. aerospace industry and ship the jobs to France or China all in order to raise some extra money and show their most rabid supporters that it is possible to kill a government program, irrespective of the real-world consequences.”

I suppose it is heartening that Keating seems truly worried that, for once, Congress might do the right thing and kick our country’s nasty Ex-Im habit for good in June, no matter how wrong his last-ditch defense is.

And it’s predictable that a Boeing executive would be livid about this possibility. After all, the Ex-Im Bank is fondly referred to as “Boeing’s Bank” by D.C. insiders for a reason. Check out this chart:  

That shows the top ten corporations that received the highest amounts of Ex-Im assistance in 2007 and 2013, using public Ex-Im data. As you can see, the vast majority of the money benefits large corporations that have ample access to private financing. The massively successful manufacturer, America’s No. 1 exporter, and the massively successful manufacturer leads the pack, pulling in 36 percent of all funds in 2007 and 30 percent of all funds in 2013.

Meanwhile, an S&P report released over the summer made it very clear that Boeing is the only company whose business model would be affected in a world without Ex-Im. Without Ex-Im, it will have to face more of the risk of doing business because it may have to organize more self-financing for the planes it sells than it does now. That risk is currently born by taxpayers. In a world without Ex-Im, S&P notes, Boeing will have to be more competitive to succeed like it does today — but Boeing is a big-boy company, and I’m confident it can learn to compete without Ex-Im. Consumers benefit when companies compete — they get better goods and services at a lower price. Competitors benefit when they operate on a level playing field — each company grows stronger through market innovation to the good of the whole economy. And, of course, Boeing itself will benefit by becoming corporate welfare-free, freeing itself from political uncertainty, and competing on its own merits — it’ll even save money on lobbying expenses!

The case for Ex-Im is nowhere near as solid as the corporate welfare-addled Mr. Keating​’s rant proclaims. First, he argues that the bank promotes U.S. exports — if anything, its impact is negligible. If promoting U.S. exports is truly Mr. Keating’s goal, then he should propose policies that would actually work. Liberal economist Dean Baker has a good summary of the Ex-Im Bank and economics 101:

The basic story is a simple one. The Ex-Im bank subsidizes politically connected firms by providing them with below market loans. This can boost exports, but the bank also subsidizes imports, leaving its direct impact on the trade balance uncertain. As any graduate of Econ 101 knows, the subsidies provided by the bank effectively raise the cost of capital to other firms. When the higher interest rates paid by less well connected firms are factored in the bank would likely be a net loser of jobs and detriment to growth.

Mr. Keating is also misleading his audience by touting President Obama and President Reagan’s alleged support for the cheap high of Ex-Im Bank subsidies. When he was a senator, Obama said the Ex-Im Bank was ”little more than a fund for corporate welfare,” while President Reagan dramatically cut its budget during his time in office. 

Finally, it is intentionally misleading to portray the case against Ex-Im as an ideological fixation when the policy merits are on the side of letting it expire. If anyone has a fixation on Ex-Im, it’s the beneficiaries of the Ex-Im handouts down at Boeing.

Should We Believe Kaiser’s Obamacare Polling, or ‘Something Else’?



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New polling finds that, in the context of a conservative alternative being offered, 60 percent of likely voters want Obamacare to be repealed. But the Daily Kos is having none of it. It rejects that polling, which was conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, for reasons that don’t rise to a level that merits refutation. It instead touts a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, calling Kaiser “the gold standard” in Obamacare polling.

This claim is worth examining because many Republicans are also under the mistaken impression that they should view Kaiser’s Obamacare polling as the gold standard, or at least as being quite credible. In reality, Kaiser is a pro-Obamacare outfit, and its polling has long shown better results for Obamacare than one can expect to find anywhere else. 

For example, in April 2010, the month immediately following the Democrats’ passage of Obamacare over unanimous Republican congressional opposition, Real Clear Politics published eleven polls on Obamacare’s popularity, or lack thereof, from eight different outlets. All eleven polls found that (much like today) Obamacare faced a clear public-approval deficit. On average, those eleven polls found Obamacare facing a 13-point approval deficit (with 40 percent supporting it and 53 percent opposing it), with the specific deficits ranging from five points in Resurgent Republic’s polling (44 percent support, 49 percent opposition) to 21 points in polling from CBS News (32 percent support, 53 percent opposition). 

So what did Kaiser (which didn’t — and doesn’t — even make the cut for RCP) show at that time?  Well, Kaiser’s April 2010 Health Tracking Poll said that Obamacare enjoyed a six-point public-approval advantage (46 percent support, 40 percent opposition) — a whopping 19-point swing from the average of the polling listed that month by RCP, and an eleven-point swing from even the most favorable of the Obamacare polls listed by RCP.

Fast-forwarding four years, Kaiser’s September 2014 Health Tracking Poll asked, “What would you rather see your representative in Congress do when it comes to the health care law?” The options Kaiser provided were, “Work to improve the law,” or “Work to repeal the law and replace it with something else.” 

Kaiser didn’t provide the option of passing “an alternative to Obamacare,” or “a conservative alternative.” It simply offered up “something else.” Not only could that “something else” be a single-payer system (which might help explain why only 61 percent of Republicans chose that option), but it seems a pretty safe bet that nearly anything — and especially trying to fix nearly anything — would beat scrapping that thing and replacing it with “something else.” Imagine a GOP candidate saying during a debate, “We should repeal Obamacare. And we should replace it with . . . something else.” Moreover, many people who want Obamacare to be repealed in 2017 still want those in Congress to work to try to improve it in the interim. So even those who picked “improve” weren’t necessarily opposed to “repeal.” 

By asking the question in this peculiar way, Kaiser managed to get 63 percent of respondents to say they want Congress to work to “improve” Obamacare, while only 33 percent said they favor “repeal” and “something else.” 

If anyone still thinks this Kaiser result indicates genuine opposition to repeal — despite Kaiser’s track record and its wording of the question — another result from the very same survey should quickly dispel that notion. Kaiser provided a list of things that congressional candidates could potentially do, asking, “Would [doing that thing] make you more likely to vote for that candidate, less likely, or wouldn’t it make much difference in your vote?” Kaiser listed one of the potential actions someone could have undertaken as, “Voted to repeal the health care law.” By a double-digit margin, respondents said that a candidate’s having voted for the repeal of Obamacare would make them more (41 percent) not less (30 percent) likely to vote for that candidate. 

And even this is still a question about straight repeal. If Kaiser had instead asked about repeal in the context of an alternative, its result would likely have been closer to what McLaughlin & Associates found — namely, that voters overwhelmingly want to ditch Obamacare. They’re just waiting for Republicans to advance a winning alternative and thus make repeal a reality.

— Jeffrey H. Anderson is executive director of the 2017 Project, which is working to advance a conservative reform agenda to re-limit government, secure liberty, and promote prosperity.

Obama Takes Credit for the Health-Cost Slowdown. He Shouldn’t



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In today’s speech on the economy, President Obama devoted an extended section to Obamacare and health care, a topic he generally hasn’t been eager to discuss since the law took effect. He had two pieces of good news: The number of Americans who lack health insurance is dropping, and health care and health insurance isn’t costing as much as we expected. He’s right about the first part, and it can probably be attributed to the Affordable Care Act: The uninsured rate is dropping, thanks in large part to the law’s Medicaid expansion, though how much, we’re not sure. (And, of course, the economy is improving, and the drop in uninusred looks to be noticeably less than the Congressional Budget Office predicted the law’s effects to be.)

The much more problematic claim is that Obamacare is holding down the cost of health insurance. Here’s his first claim:

If your family gets your health care through your employer, premiums are rising at a rate tied for the lowest on record. What this means for the economy is staggering. If we hadn’t taken this on, and premiums had kept growing at the rate they did in the last decade, the average premium for family coverage today would be $1,800 higher than they are. That’s $1,800 you don’t have to pay out of our pocket or see vanish from your paycheck. That’s like a $1,800 tax cut.

First, this is only like an $1,800 tax cut if you expect your taxes to rise, say, 8 to 10 percent a year, as health insurance premiums often do — Americans are not seeing premiums drop for comparable employer health plans. Premiums have risen relatively slowly for employer plans over the past couple years, but there’s almost no way the president can possibly claim credit for this. The Affordable Care Act didn’t “take on” employer health insurance at all, really — it only made small, relatively inexpensive tweaks to that market (such as the HHS mandate). Employer premiums are rising slowly for a couple reasons: the overall health-cost slowdown and the continued shift to high-deductible, health-savings-account plans. The latter is due in large part to President Bush’s Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which made such savings accounts much more feasible. (Obamacare’s ”Cadillac tax” will also drive the growth of these plans in the future — he does deserve credit for that.)

What about that overall cost slowdown? It’s also almost impossible to attribute it to Obamacare, and other factors are probably driving it, not least the bad economy. Obamacare could slow down costs in the future, but the law has barely been implemented. Meanwhile, health-care-cost growth has slowed across the entire wealthy world, mostly because of the recession, and growth started slowing in the United States in the mid 2000s. This has shown up most obviously in Medicare, which makes up a huge part of our health-care system. In a column on “the Medicare miralce,” Paul Krugman was eager to attribute some of the slowdown to Obamacare, but Vox’s Sarah Kliff, writing for an outlet not exactly hostile to the president, explains that there are other factors going on, and any connection to Obamacare is quite speculative.

President Obama was careful in his discussion of Medicare, though he’s still putting it next to unjustified claims about his law and the cost slowdown:

Partly because health-care prices have been growing at the slowest rate in nearly half a century, the growth in what health care costs the government is down, too. The independent, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently reported that in 2020, Medicare and Medicaid will cost us $188 billion less than projected just four years ago. Here’s what that means in layman’s terms. Health care has long been the single biggest driver of America’s future deficits. Health care is now the single biggest factor driving those deficits down.

This isn’t a very good layman’s explanation. Health-care is still the single biggest factor driving America’s future deficits — ignoring interest, it’s not even close. What’s really happening: When you look at what we projected for future deficits several years ago, and what we’re projecting now, the single biggest improvement in that picture is due to slower health-cost growth. But it’s still health-cost growth that’s expected to generate the deficits, and we don’t know whether Obamacare is going to help in that regard. Few listeners of the president’s speech would understand that.

The president also noted that rates for Obamacare insurance in some places are actually falling next year: This is based on on report, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, that premiums for “silver plans” are on average falling in the 16 cities where they could get data. Kaiser VP Larry Levitt, as Obama noted, really did say it’s “like defying the laws of physics.” I’m not quite as surprised: Premiums shot up across the individual market in 2013, and insurers are now eager to keep people on their plans, since they’re protected from significant losses for the next couple years by the way Obamacare is designed. If putting American taxpayers on the hook  to hold premiums down for a small number of insurance enrollees and to protect insurance-company profits, and canceling tens of thousands of more insurance plans, is “progress” the president “can be proud of,” well, okay.

And apparently the president couldn’t resist one more slippery reference to Obamacare. Describing the sharp reduction in current annual deficits over the past few years, he said: 

Between a growing economy, spending cuts, health reform, and asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more, over the past five years, we have cut our deficits by more than half.  When I took office, the deficit was nearly 10% of our economy.  Today, it’s approaching 3%.  In other words, we can shore up America’s long-term finances without falling back into the mindless austerity or manufactured crises that dominated Washington budget debates for too long.

He’s right about the numbers, and all the causes except one: “Health reform” is an interesting way to describe how the ACA has affected the deficit so far. The Congressional Budget Office projected that it would cut the deficit by billions in 2012, 2013, and 2014 (estimates have not changed dramatically since then), but that’s not because of the reforms it made. The deficit reduction in the ACA during that time was entirely tax increases — which have not, by the way, fallen only on “the wealthiest Americans.” A couple of the tax hikes were targeted at the wealthy, but an excise tax on medical devices, multiple kinds of taxes on heath insurance, and the individual mandate are not targeted at the wealthy.

And his conclusion from this is simply illogical: The dropping deficit, he says, shows how we can improve our long-term finances without “mindless austerity or manufactured crises.” I’d like to think so, too, but the factors he identified — besides the growing economy — were all the product of (more or less) mindless austerity or congressional crises. I don’t like that any more than the president, but it’s nonsense for him to claim that the improving budget picture shows a way forward. (Unless he just wants to cut the deficit by focusing on growth exclusively — I don’t expect him to propose that anytime soon.)

Reversing the Gender Gap



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Almost every survey of what people know about political issues shows the same things. Men know more than women, college grads know more than high-school grads, and older people know more than the young. So it’s telling that in the recently released Pew Research political knowledge quiz, one question reverses the normal trend. Can you guess what it is?

It’s the amount of the current federal minimum wage. More women know it is $7.25 per hour than men, and more 18–29 year olds know what it is than those over 50. More college grads know what the wage is than those with a high-school degree, but the gap is the smallest (78 to 68 percent) of any other question.

This probably has something to do with which groups of people either earn the minimum wage or work in close proximity with those who do. After all, it doesn’t matter much to a struggling single mom who chairs the Federal Reserve. But that person surely knows how much she and her colleagues have to be paid.

Conservatives desperately want to reverse the political gender gap. Perhaps we should take a hard look at what reverses the political-knowledge gender gap first.

— Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

U.N. Security Council to Consider Resolution to Remove Jews from Key Parts of the Holy Land?



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From Fox News:

The Palestinians are pushing a United Nations resolution that makes stiff demands against Israel and could put the Obama administration in a difficult position should it come to a vote.

The draft resolution, which was given to Fox News on Wednesday by a diplomat who wished to remain anonymous, calls on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem by November 2016 as part of a new push for independence and full U.N. recognition. The resolution has not yet been shared with all of the Security Council’s 15 members.

But it would be the first time that the U.S. has had to consider such a forceful draft Security Council resolution.

. . .

The new resolution calls for Israel to return all territory seized since the 1967 Six-Day War, a condition that Israel has not agreed to in any of the recent U.S.-backed peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

When deciphering the language of the U.N. — especially when it comes to Israel — one must do just a bit of work to separate rhetoric from reality. A call for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders (borders that rendered Israel so vulnerable that they invited bloody conflict) is a call for ethnic cleansing of all Jews living in the so-called settlements. Keep in mind that many of these settlements are what we’d call “suburbs,” part of the natural growth of metropolitan Jerusalem. 

How do we know of Palestinian ambitions for ethnic cleansing? From the Palestinians themselves.

Here’s the alleged “moderate,” the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, just last year:

“In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands,” Abbas said in a briefing to mostly Egyptian journalists.

This is a position the Palestinians have constantly reaffirmed. Here’s their lead negotiator earlier this year:

“Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. “No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.”

A U.N. resolution to return “all territory seized since the 1967 Six-Day War” is a resolution to uproot and displace 500,000 men, women, and children – and that’s just the start of Palestinian ambitions.

We can never let the alleged niceties of diplomatic communications and resolutions obscure the actual stakes and the Palestinians’ actual demands — demands they hardly keep secret, yet the Obama administration routinely ignores in its mindless quest for moral equivalence.

There’s only one reasonable U.S. response to this resolution: A vow to veto.

 

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball Moves Kansas Senate to ‘Toss Up’



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For the second time in a week, a highly regarded political observer has rated the Kansas Senate race as slipping away from Republicans. On Thursday, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics moved the race from “Leans Republican” to “Toss Up” on his Crystal Ball website.

Kansas was considered a safe seat for Republican incumbent Pat Roberts until now-former Democratic candidate Chad Taylor decided to drop out last month, prompting his supporters to rally behind independent candidate Greg Orman. In the first poll since the Kansas supreme court ruled Taylor could be removed from the ballot released on Wednesday, Orman led Roberts by five percentage points.

“These recent developments have caused us to shift the Kansas contest from Leans Republican to Toss-up, with ramifications for the GOP’s path to a majority,” Sabato wrote on his Crystal Ball website. While Sabato thinks Republicans’ chances of winning the Senate are improving thanks to other races, Orman’s rise and Roberts’s vulnerability complicate things.

Kansas is currently the only Republican-held seat Sabato rates as a “Toss Up.”

Earlier this week, the Cook Political Report placed Kansas in its “Toss Up” category.

Turkey Votes to Authorize Military Strikes on ISIS, Including Ground Troops



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The Turkish parliament cleared the way for military operations against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria on Thursday, with 298 members voting for the authorization and 98 opposing it.

The BBC reports that the resolution allows for the deployment of ground troops as well as combat aircraft against the jihadists. It also permits foreign forces participating in the U.S.-led coalition to use Turkish military bases — a potential boon for the U.S. Air Force, which had previously been barred from using its extensive air facilities in Incirlik, Turkey.

As a longtime foe of Syrian president Bashar Assad, Turkish president Recep Erdogan had been accused of facilitating the Islamic State’s rise by allowing foreign fighters to stream into Syria through his nation’s southern border.

But the release of 47 Turkish hostages by the Islamic State, the impending massacre of Kurdish civilians in the Syrian border town of Kobani, the possible danger to Turkish special forces guarding a historic mausoleum inside Syria, and the increasing incidence of stray fire striking Turkish territory all propelled him to action.

While the extent of the military operations remain unclear, Erdogan has long called for a buffer zone to be established alongside the Turkish border inside Syrian territory. And a Kurdish rebel leader warned he would break off peace talks with the Turkish government should it allow Islamic State fighers to “massacre” Kurds in Kobani

Obama: 2014 Elections Are About Me



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President Obama believes that the 2014 midterm elections are a referendum on his policies.

“I am not on the ballot this fall,” Obama said at Northwestern University.  “Michelle’s pretty happy about that.  But make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot.  Every single one of them.  This isn’t a political speech, and I’m not going to tell you who to vote for – even though I suppose it is kind of implied.”

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza pointed out that Obama’s comment, on video, makes for a devastating attack ad in red states where vulnerable Democrats are trying to fend off Republican challenges.

“The Obama political team is working under the assumption that if you dislike President Obama, nothing he says or does is going to change that reality. So, why not show the Democratic base that this election is worth fighting for?” Cillizza writes. “I think that underestimates the impact of an unpopular president (on video no less!) bluntly insisting that an election in 33 days is indeed a referendum on his policies. Republicans couldn’t have written a better script than that.”

The comments could be harmful to Representative Bruce Braley (D., Iowa), as well. Although Obama carried the state in both his presidential campaigns, his approval rating their has collapsed recently.

“His approval rating stands at its lowest point since the start of his presidency, with only 38 percent of Iowans behind him,” U.S. News and World Report noted based on a September Gallup poll.

Braley tried to distance himself from Obama during his debate with Republican opponent Joni Ernst on Sunday.

“President Obama’s name is not on the ballot,” Braley said. “And I’m not going to owe President Obama anything on Election Day.” 

GOP Will Spend Big in Louisiana Senate Runoff



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A potential runoff in the Louisiana Senate race won’t take place for another month, but Republican groups are already throwing down millions of dollars to reserve airtime to blast Mary Landrieu after the election ends.

The political-action committee Ending Spending, founded by former TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Ricketts, spent over $2.4 million on an ad buy set to begin after the November election. In Louisiana’s jungle primary system, if no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote next month, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff set to take place December 6. Neither the Democratic incumbent, Mary Landrieu, nor the Republican front-runner, Representative Bill Cassidy, is polling above 50 percent, so it’s likely they will face off against each other in December, and Ending Spending is preparing to pummel Landrieu with attack ads. 

The group recently commissioned a poll showing Landrieu losing to both Cassidy in a two-way race. But with the GOP divided among Cassidy, Maness, and libertarian candidate Thomas Clements, who is polling at 2 percent, no Republican is pulling in 50 percent of the vote. Cassidy outperforms Maness by six points when both are pitted head to head against Landrieu, with Maness losing to the incumbent by three points. 

Ending Spending isn’t backing a Republican candidate in the race, and will hit Landrieu in the runoff. “This poll is more bad news for Mary Landrieu,” the group’s president, Brian Baker, tells National Review Online. “She can do keg-stands at LSU games for the rest of the season and it won’t change the fact that she is a creature of Washington and the people of Louisiana don’t want her in the Senate anymore.”

Ending Spending and other groups are assuming that a runoff is all but guaranteed. Politico reported last month that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has already reserved $3.4 million in airtime, and the outside groups Freedom Partners and Crossroads GPS have also made seven-figure buys. 

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