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Goldberg: Obama’s ‘I’m Awesome’ Foreign Policy Is Failing


Williamson: ‘I’m Glad’ Bundys Are Breaking the Law, ‘and I Hope They Keep Doing It’


Check out Kevin’s article, “The Case for a Little Sedition.”


Obama: Immigration Will ‘Haunt’ Congress


President Obama warned Congress that failure to move on immigration reform would come back to “haunt” certain members.

“I think it is very important for Congress to recognize that this is going to be an issue that haunts them until it gets solved,” he said.

He also accused Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) of refusing to spend political capital to move legislation through the house. 

“And I’m hoping that once we get through some of the Republican primary season, maybe, you know, as we are still far enough away from November, that people see a chance to do the right thing,” Obama said.


Web Briefing: April 24, 2014

Devil in the Details


The College Fix:

SAN DIEGO – A two-hour drag show hosted recently at the Catholic University of San Diego ended with a devilish finale – its transvestite host came onstage in a long black robe and horned headdress and sung about how evil should triumph over good.


The Modern Age


Good talk at UC Boulder on Abraham Lincoln and his fathers. 

One man in the audience posted the festivities on Facebook, and got a response from a friend urging him to read my Alexander Hamilton bio. which he showed me after I finished. 

The most prescient comment about social media was made by an anonymous journalist soon after the invention of the telegraph. (Its first feats included chess games between players in different cities, and instant reports of the Democratic and Whig conventions of 1844.) The journo wrote: “There is no elsewhere; everything is here.”

Springtime Thoughts


From my most recent NRO article, about some inspiring springtime visitors: “While casting about to find something to write about apart from another lamentation over the weakness of most Western political leadership, the collapse of fiscal integrity in all but a few countries, the charade of Iranian nuclear discussions, and the decline and fall of practically everybody, my thoughts alit on Herbert the Raccoon, as my wife christened him, who has largely been living in a little half-moon balcony adjacent to my wife’s third-floor dressing room.

Your comments are, as always, most welcome.

TurboTax Maker Says They’re Lobbying for Taxpayers, Not Against Them


The left-leaning nonprofit journalism outfit ProPublica recently linked tax-preparation company Intuit to a grassroots campaign against return-free tax filing, but the company, which makes the popular TurboTax software, says it’s just looking out for taxpayers’ interests. If tax filing is essentially taken over by the IRS, taxpayers’ voices would be marginalized, Intuit says.

A series of similarly worded letters written by community leaders were sent to Congress over the last year in opposition to the idea of return-free tax filing, which essentially means the IRS would fill out most taxpayers’ forms for them and inform them of their tax liability. And Emily Pflaster, who works for PR and lobbying firm JCI Worldwide, asked Rabbi Elliot Dorff, for instance, to write an op-ed in the Jewish Journal on the topic.

Intuit, the market for whose software would shrink significantly if return-free tax filing passed, calls ProPublica’s stories ”advocacy pieces” and “not objective reporting on an important public policy issue.” 

“The strategy of return-free proponents is to make this about a company, rather than debating the merits of the issue,” Diane Carlini, of Intuit corporate communications​, told National Review Online.

Intuit thinks the IRS Free-File Program is a better alternative for taxpayers than the return-free system, which they describe as a “tax bill-presentment system” that minimizes the taxpayers’ voice and maximizes revenue collection for government.

Federal lawmakers pushing the idea say it would allow millions of Americans to file their taxes in a few minutes and at no cost. Taxpayers would have to opt-in to return-free filing, they say.

“We work with many industry associations, community service organizations, public policy forums, and taxpayer advocacy and consumer groups to support common-sense tax simplification reform and taxpayer empowerment for the average American,” Carlini said.

Intuit also does open work with D.C. lobbyists on their initiatives.

Selfie Ends with a Boot to the Face


A teenager identified on a YouTube account as Jared Michael tried to take a selfie at what he thought was ”a safe distance” from a passing train. As he went to snap the picture, he was kicked by the train’s driver.

Clearly, “a safe distance” would be farther than the distance it takes for the conductor to plant a boot in your face from a moving vehicle, and Michael’s estimate was off.



Bundy and the Rule of Law


I agree with David and Rich that John Hinderaker’s Bundy post is very strong. As a matter of law, Cliven Bundy is in the wrong. He is nevertheless a sympathetic figure, and the concerns raised by the standoff in Nevada transcend the illegality of his conduct.

Rich’s recollection of Lincoln’s exhortation that reverence for the law become “the political religion of the nation” triggered my recollection of a seemingly inconsistent speech Lincoln delivered as president nearly a quarter-century later. As the Civil War raged, the president very controversially suspended the writ of habeas corpus and imposed martial law in states where Confederate operatives and sympathizers were taking seditious action. Addressing Congress on July 4, 1861, Lincoln defended his suspension of the writ:

Of course some consideration was given to the questions of power and propriety before this matter was acted upon. The whole of the laws which were required to be faithfully executed were being resisted and failing of execution in nearly one-third of the States. Must they be allowed to finally fail of execution, even had it been perfectly clear that by the use of the means necessary to their execution some single law, made in such extreme tenderness of the citizen’s liberty that practically it relieves more of the guilty than of the innocent, should to a very limited extent be violated? To state the question more directly, are all the laws but one to go unexecuted and the Government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated?

Now, it was only advisedly that I described this speech as “seemingly” inconsistent with the one Rich excerpted. For one thing, Lincoln did not believe his suspension of the writ violated the law, and he had a very colorable argument. The Constitution provides for the writ’s suspension in cases of rebellion or invasion; it does not say who may suspend it. The Supreme Court’s eventual conclusion (in the 1866 case of Ex Parte Milligan) that Congress must enact a suspension because the relevant clause is in Article I was sensible, but it was not indisputable. Lincoln was not without reason to believe that he had the necessary authority as long as a rebellion or invasion had occurred. Moreover, Lincoln’s passion for the rule of law was evident even in the act of arguably breaking it: He not only vigorously contended that his suspension was lawful; he also urged Congress to affirm the suspension by passing legislation (which Congress did in 1863).

But all that said, Lincoln’s speech does justify law-breaking in extraordinary circumstances. I’d construe his argument as follows: Even if what I have done is unlawful, it was necessary because it was done for the higher purpose of preserving the system that protects our liberties—under dire circumstances where violating the law was more faithful to the Constitution than obeying it would have been.

Many of us think Lincoln was right—I certainly do, and I even suspect the Supreme Court did (note that the suspension was invalidated only after the war was over). This informs our assessment of the situation in Nevada, and explains why Bundy gets our sympathetic consideration even if we cannot absolve his illegal conduct.

The underlying assumption of our belief in the rule of law is that we are talking about law in the American tradition: provisions that obligate everyone equally and that are enforced dispassionately by a chief executive who takes seriously the constitutional duty to execute the laws faithfully. The rule of law is not the whim of a man who himself serially violates the laws he finds inconvenient and who, under a distortion of the “prosecutorial discretion” doctrine, gives a pass to his favored constituencies while punishing his opposition. The rule of law is the orderly foundation of our free society; when it devolves into a vexatious process by which ideologues wielding power undertake to tame those whose activities they disfavor, it is not the rule of law anymore.

The legitimacy of law and our commitment to uphold it hinge on our sense that the law and its execution are just. As John Hinderaker points out, concerns about the desert tortoise—the predicate for taking lawful action against Nevada ranchers under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)—turn out to be pretextual. The ideologues who run the government only want to enforce the ESA against a disfavored class, the ranchers. If you’re a well-connected Democrat who needs similar land for a solar project, the Obama administration will not only refrain from enforcing the ESA against you; it will transport the tortoises to the ranchers’ location in order to manufacture a better pretext for using the law to harass the ranchers.

When law becomes a politicized weapon rather than a reflection of society’s shared principles, one can no longer expect it to be revered in a manner befitting “political religion.” And when the officials trusted to execute law faithfully violate laws regularly, they lose their presumption of legitimacy. Much of the public is not going to see the Feds versus Bundy as the Law versus the Outlaw; we are more apt to see it as the Bully versus the Small Fry.

Impotent Jihadists, Deadly ‘Right-Wing Extremists’


I’d like to thank Kevin Williamson for pointing us to perhaps the dumbest column I’ve ever read on CNN – an actual argument that allegedly “right-wing” extremists are more deadly than jihadists. In addition to Mr. Williamson’s spot-on critique, can we also say something else about jihad since 9/11? The death toll in the U.S. may be “only” 21, but the American toll overseas is at least 6,802 with well over 50,000 injuries, including 16,000 serious injuries. Peter Bergen evidently does not think this important enough to explore, but in the aftermath of the actual worst terrorist attack in American history we engaged in direct combat against jihadists in two separate countries, combat that continues in Afghanistan to this day. In that process, these jihadists not only killed thousands of Americans, they inflicted an unholy death toll on allied soldiers and civilians.

Are these American lives any less precious or important because they were lost overseas? Does the fact that jihadists have proven capable of killing thousands of the best-equipped and best-trained soldiers in the world tell him anything about the destructive potential of jihad compared to the allegedly “right-wing” Klan? 

You would think that he would at least have the decency to acknowledge that this immense sacrifice — resulting in the killing and capturing of tens of thousands of jihadists (notably including Osama bin Laden) — is at least partly responsible for the domestic peace and tranquility we’ve enjoyed since 9/11. But no, he has an ideological sword to swing, one that Mr. Williamson expertly parries.

Mr. Bergen, those 6,802 Americans — including some of my own dear friends and brothers-in-arms — their lives count as well. Their sacrifice has not only made you safe, it should also prove beyond doubt who presents the greater threat to our nation and our way of life.

One More Job-Training Program? Really, Obama?


During a visit at the Community College of Allegheny County in Oakdale, Pa., today, President Obama and Vice President Biden ”will announce $500 million in grants aimed at increasing coordination between community colleges and industry groups and another $100 million to expand access to apprenticeships to boost job training,” according to the WSJ

One more job-training program, really? According to the Government Accountability Office, the federal government spends $18 billion a year on 47 duplicative job training programs across nine federal agencies. But the White House isn’t just adding to this host of repetitive rackets – it’s effectively creating a new program that will duplicate other programs already put in place at the state level. Here is the WSJ on the issue:

The initiatives are similar to approaches used by some states, which have tried to leverage relationships between community colleges and local businesses to steer workers toward available jobs. But the proposals also show the limits of White House power. While most of the grants will be more targeted, the initiative essentially is a continuation of existing grants already disbursed to community colleges.

Now, leaving aside whether or not it’s the role of the federal government to train workers (it’s not), there is the question of the effectiveness of job-training programs. The GAO could not find evidence that any of them were working. They’re not the only ones: Senator Tom Coburn, of course, has produced numerous reports on the issue, and the Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards has made the same point:

More fundamentally, federal employment and training programs don’t fill any critical economic need that private markets don’t already fill. Instead, the federal programs provide an opportunity for policymakers to show that they are “doing something” to help the labor market. To policymakers, federal job training sounds like something that should boost the economy, but five decades of experience indicate otherwise.

Even though millions of Americans have been out of work in recent years, relatively few of them have sought out federal employment and training services. Instead, individuals looking for jobs and training mainly rely on personal connections, the Internet, temporary help agencies, private education firms, and other market institutions.

This is not new. In fact, the GAO and others have been saying that for a while:

The GAO has been noting the dearth of positive findings regarding program effectiveness for many years. Back in 1996, the agency noted:

“Although the federal government spends billions of dollars annually to support employment training programs, little is known about their long-term effects on participants’ earnings and employment rates. Few training programs have been rigorously evaluated to assess their net impact, and, for those that have, the research results have often been inconclusive.”

The GAO’s analysis in 1996 found no statistically significant improvement in wages over the long term from participation in JPTA training programs. A decade earlier, the prestigious National Research Council came to a similar conclusion regarding federal job training programs for youth.

Edwards’s piece is here. But how about the effectiveness of the specific training program promoted by the White House? The Journal notes that “past presidents have also tried to make community colleges a central focus of job-training programs with mixed success.” So basically, there’s no reason to expect success this time — that would take some new ideas.



The Census and the Uninsured


The Census Bureau’s decision to change the way it asks about health-insurance coverage in a key annual survey just as Obamacare is being rolled out is an interesting and important story, but it is not as interesting and important as some people today are suggesting. I think the administration made the wrong decision in allowing the Census to proceed with the change, but I don’t think the move involved a malicious attempt to cook the books.

This looks like one of those many instances in which White House officials confront a no-win situation. If the story in Tuesday’s New York Times had been that the Census Bureau asked the White House for permission to change those health-care questions to make them more accurate and had been denied permission, rather than, as did happen, that the permission was granted, the White House would have been coming under basically the same sort of criticism it is now receiving. Given that there was no avoiding that trouble, the White House should have chosen to keep in place a reliable baseline for measuring changes in the number of insured Americans. Blurring that baseline might have some near-term political advantages for the administration, but it will have significant disadvantages too, and my suspicion is that they actually made the decision they did to avoid seeming to interfere in the work of the Census Bureau, rather than to use that work to their advantage. Clearly that didn’t work. More than anything, though, the story highlights how very little we actually understand about the scope and character of the problem of the uninsured, and how difficult it is to change that.  

What follow, for those interested in the minutiae, are some more detailed reflections on the whole fine mess. 

Keep reading this post . . .

Elizabeth Warren Tried to Nanny Tim Geithner


From Matt Viser of the Boston Globe’s preview of Senator Warren’s new book (disappointingly not titled “The Middle Class Is Getting Hammered”):

On her first day on the job, Geithner took her out to lunch. When she showed up at his office, he presented her with a present: a cop’s hat.

Then they got into the back seat of an SUV that was driven by a security detail. Warren put her seatbelt on; Geithner didn’t.

“Like a bossy third-grade teacher, I looked at him and said, ‘Put on your seat belt, Mr. Secretary,’” Warren writes. “Like a naughty kid, he looked back and said, ‘I don’t have to.’”

They continued arguing the point, and Warren thinks she raised her voice.

“He didn’t put on his seat belt all the way to the restaurant,” she writes. On the way back, after debating the role of government in the financial markets, he did put on his seat belt.\

I would say she tried to boss him around, but you know.

Geithner’s not the only big D.C. figure she’s traded elbows with. She had a spat with President Obama over whether she would get to lead the agency she helped start, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Obama had already decided it would be too costly an appointment to make:

Summoned to the White House in September 2010, Elizabeth Warren met President Obama in the Oval Office and he escorted her outside to a garden patio. Obama described it to Warren as a hidden retreat. But Warren, writing in a new political memoir, says the weather was hot, and the patio, confined between hedges, “felt like a green version of Hell.”

Obama had already told Warren during a previous visit that he would not name her to lead the [CFPB]. “You make them very nervous,” he told her in that previous conversation, which Warren says ended with “a perfunctory hug.”

Now, Obama wanted her to perform the hard work of setting up the agency, even without the promise of the ultimate leadership role. What’s more, she would have to work with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, one of her rivals who had opposed her nomination to direct the bureau. Warren, as she recounts in “A Fighting Chance,” at first rejected the president’s request.

“You’re jamming me, Elizabeth,” Obama said, in a tense conversation that lasted for an hour and was twice interrupted by an assistant reminding Obama of his next meeting.

“He urged me not to overplay my hand,” Warren writes. “Got it.”

“Sometimes you have to trust the president,’’ Obama implored, according to Warren’s retelling. “Let me work this out.”

Warren relented.

“All right,” she replied. “I’ll trust you on this.”


Wasteful Spending Continues Despite an ‘Evidence-based’ Policy Agenda


In a New York Times Economix blog post, Laura D’Andrea Tyson, a former White House adviser to President Clinton, and Jonathan Greenblatt,  a current adviser to President Obama, assert that the Obama administration is responding to budgetary constraints by requiring “more evidence-based research on program performance and the reallocation of funds from less-effective programs to more effective ones.” On the first point, the Obama administration is taking a positive step in funding evidenced-based research. The federal government should fund research to assess the effectiveness of social programs. Even more wisely, the federal government should stop wasting resources on social programs that evidence-based research clearly indicates are ineffective.

Has evidence-based research led to real reductions of spending on ineffective social programs? 

Tyson and Greenblatt fail to mention what is being done with any social programs that have been found to be ineffective. Instead of answering this question, they concentrate on the creation of new spending programs, like the Social Innovation Fund which is intended to continue funding for grantees only if they can demonstrate success. While the promise of this fund is often touted, we still do not know whether this process leads to the improved performance of federal social programs. 

The Obama administration unfortunately ignores evaluations that produce results they do not like. In comparison with the more than $175 million spent on Social Innovation Fund grants, the Obama administration has called for an additional $300 million for Head Start, and its subsidiary, Early Head Start. The administration wants to spend a total of $8.9 billion for the early-childhood programs in fiscal year 2015. These programs have received additional “investments” from the Obama administration and Congress in previous years, despite rigorous evidence-based research that strongly demonstrates these programs are ineffective at benefiting children.

As a general rule, policy decisions should be backed by evidence-based research. However, many on the Left appear to only use evidence-based research to justify new spending, while ignoring the scientifically rigorous evidence that many federal social programs are frequently found to be ineffective.

— David B. Muhlhausen is a research fellow in empirical policy analysis in the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation and the author of Do Federal Social Programs Work?

Goldberg: White House Will Pocket the Boost to Obamacare Numbers from Census Changes


Who’s a ‘Right-Wing Extremist’?


Let’s say you got into politics running for office as a Democrat. You hate Rupert Murdoch and Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, and you really, really hate Bill Kristol. You despise bankers and got set up in activism by a group working on behalf of “the working class” and complaining: “Every day the rich tighten the chains . . . . They close the factories, the mills, the mines, and ship our jobs overseas.” You’re part of a group that endorses the Mearsheimer-Walt view that Israeli interests hold American foreign policy captive – a group that also wholeheartedly agrees with the Occupy Wall Street take on Zionism.

I say mainstream left-winger. CNN’s Peter Bergen says right-wing extremist. But I wonder: Which one of those positions above represents the extreme version of a view held by Rick Perry, the American Enterprise Institute, or Newt Gingrich? Not one, so far as I can tell. Which of them represent more extreme (or not!) takes on mainstream left-wing views about bankers, capitalism, Zionism, globalization, Fox News, Bill Kristol, etc? Well, take your pick, Sunshine. That line about the wicked rich “shipping our jobs overseas” must have been delivered verbatim 155 times at the 2012 Democratic convention. The canard that Zionists control the U.S. government is par for the course at our better universities and among placard-toting Union Square riff-raff.

But if there’s a straight line of conservative opinion leading from anti-Zionism and banker-hatred to the back nine at Desert Horizons, it has eluded me for decades now. Every now and then, I tweet some horrific picture from North Korea or the Soviet Union along with the words: “This is Communism.” Inevitably, I get replies from various and sundry progressives, sometimes relatively well-known ones, demanding: “What about the sins of capitalism, huh? Huh? What about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire?” It always puzzles me that they feel defensive about the crimes of the Soviet model they claim to forswear. I do not feel any similar need to deflect the avalanche of richly deserved condemnation that is coming down on that lowlife kook who shot up the Jewish centers in Kansas City. I’m for free markets, American exceptionalism, and getting a job. Not a lot of crossover with the Klan in that Venn diagram.

In addition to its questionable political characterization, Mr. Bergen’s piece also engages in some daft accounting: It may very well be the case, as he argues, that Klan nuts and other white supremacists longing for the happy days when they ran the Democratic party have killed more Americans than have jihadis since 9/11, which is to say: Yes, they commit the most terrorism, just so long as we do not count the really, really significant acts of terrorism. By the same token, the $10 baggie of weed I sold to a buddy in college makes me the biggest narco-trafficker in North America, except for all the other ones. I await my narcocorrido

Idle thought: Could it be the case that the jihadists have not killed very many Americans of late because they are getting the hairy eyeball to such a degree that even our feckless and beef-witted intelligence and national-security services have managed to thwart them? And might shifting our national focus away from the jihadists to the relatively trivial activities of the Senator Byrd Fan Club take away from that success?  Worth considering.

One thing about the jihadists and the Klan — they’re all barking mad: Really, who could hate Bill Kristol?



California Bill Proposes $9.2 Million in Loans for Undocumented Students


Senator Ricardo Lara (D., Calif.) introduced a bill that would authorizes $9.2 million in loans to undocumented students attending California state universities.

“Many undocumented students still lack the financial wherewithal to pay for school,” Lara said. “They are having to risk a withdrawal from college.”

Illegal immigrants are not eligible for loans and other financial aid from the federal government, a gap the bill is supposed to address. They are eligible for in-state tuition at California’s public university system.

Christopher Carter, director of student financial support with the University of California, said he thinks “it’s important to be able to put them on a level playing field” and to give undocumented students the “same advantage, the same opportunity that we give their documented counterparts on campus.”

Selective Lawfulness


NRO today features dueling takes by Charles Cooke and Kevin Williamson on the rule of law, sedition, and related matters. I write to amend a comment by the latter:

The relevant facts are these: 1) Very powerful political interests in Washington insist upon the scrupulous enforcement of environmental laws, and if that diminishes the interests of private property owners, so much the better, in their view. 2) Very powerful political interests in Washington do not wish to see the scrupulous enforcement of immigration laws, and if that undercuts the bottom end of the labor market or boosts Democrats’ long-term chances in Texas, so much the better, in their view.

I think this is wrong, but wrong in a way that reinforces Williamson’s larger point about the arbitrariness of contemporary governmental power. My understanding is that environmentalists and the EPA have repeatedly gone to court to keep environmental laws from being applied with the strictness that the letter of the law would demand, because strict enforcement would politically undermine the agency, the environmental movement, and the environmental laws. The Supreme Court, for example, ruled in 2007 that carbon dioxide emissions are a pollutant for the purposes of the Clean Air Act. Applying the terms of the act to carbon emissions would, however, produce absurdly strict results, so the Obama-administration EPA wants to be able to rewrite the statute. The whole thing is, I believe, still tied up in court. (I hope Jonathan Adler will weigh in here if I have this stuff wrong. Michael Greve described the issues a few months ago.)

In environmental law as elsewhere, enforcement seems to be selective rather than scrupulous.


CUNY to Pay Paul Krugman $225,000 for Part-Time Job Studying Income Inequality


Paul Krugman announced a couple months ago that he’s leaving his Princeton professorship to become a professor in the economics Ph.D. program at the City University of New York and a scholar the Luxembourg Income Study Center, which is based at CUNY. It turns out he’s going to be quite nicely compensated for his professorship. According to a freedom-of-information request by Gawker, he’ll be paid $225,000 a year for the gig.

In the first year, the job won’t involve any teaching at all. CUNY’s words told him for the first year he’ll be “asked to contribute to the buildup of [the Luxembourg Income Study Center] and our inequality project, and to play[ ] some kind of modest (not onerous!) role in our public events,”; for the second year, he’ll be expected to teach one weekly graduate seminar for one semester (most professors of his rank teach two).

If you were wondering (you were), that income alone doesn’t put Krugman in the dread top 1 percent (though per hour . . .), but combined with his Times columnist salary, speaking fees, and royalties from his best-selling introductory economics textbook, you can be sure he is. Good for him — he’s an extremely clever economist and an immensely popular public figure in some quarters, he’s probably worth it to CUNY. (I should also note that the Luxembourg Income Study is pretty awesome, and has turned out reams of good work on the complicated topic of income and wealth inequality. I cited one of their papers, which found the U.S. tax system noticeably more progressive than those of European countries, in a Tax Day post for the Agenda yesterday.)

Sebelius Eyeing Kansas Senate Run


Kathleen Sebelius recently stepped down from the Department of Health and Human Services, and she is considering her next job: Senator for Kansas.

The New York Times reports that some Democrats are asking the former HHS secretary to run against her old friend Pat Roberts for his Kansas Senate seat.

Last fall Senator Roberts asked Sebelius to take responsibility for Obamacare’s botched launch, and he asked her to step down because of “gross incompetence.”


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