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Biden: ‘Businesses Are Hiring at Historic Rates’ Well . . . No, Not Literally



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In a task-force report Vice President Joe Biden sent to President Obama this week, reporting on his examination of jobs-training programs, Biden made a surprisingly impressive claim about the labor market:

Businesses are hiring at historic rates, with 52 consecutive months of net private sector job growth. Manufacturing is back, with 668,000 new jobs in the past 52 months.

Payrolls have indeed grown for 52 consecutive months — but that says nothing about the rate at which businesses are hiring. If you’re thinking the still-slack jobs market, though, makes it hard to believe business are hiring at historic rates, your intuition is right. Biden is flat-out wrong.

There are official government statistics on this, and there are two ways to measure the rate at which business are hiring: hires made per month as a percentage of the number of employed Americans, and the gross number of hires per month. Both measures have only been collected since 2001, but even in the last ten years, business have hired at significantly faster rates, for longer, than they are now, despite what Biden claims. In fact, most of the Bush years handily outstripped the very best of the Obama years. Hires each month as a percentage of payrolls:

And the gross number of Americans hired to a new job every month — bear in mind that the labor force is of course bigger now than it was in the Bush years.

This isn’t a secret; these statistics are pretty closely watched as economic indicators. In fact, some people have tossed around the term “hireless recovery” to describe the Great Recovery. Layoffs have slowed dramatically and job openings have risen, but businesses aren’t hiring quickly at all. That’s far from all or mostly the Obama administration’s fault, but Biden’s economics and writing teams shouldn’t be slinging around patently false statements.

And they ought to know, also, that there’s little to boast about in the way of a manufacturing-jobs recovery. Here’s what Biden calls manufacturing being “back”:

Now, in fairness, manufacturing jobs are never really going to be “back,” so it’s all relative. But let’s look at it relative to the Obama administration’s promises. The red line here is the growth in manufacturing jobs the president promised toward the end of the 2012 campaign and the blue line is actual jobs. As you can see, manufacturing jobs have grown at less than half the rate promised (about 8,700 jobs a month versus 21,000):

Manufacturing in America is back, some, but the jobs really aren’t (as the Obama administration probably should have known). In any case, Biden’s report on job training seems to have some interesting ideas, and he and the president were celebrating today the signing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a reauthorization of a number of Department of Labor training programs that isn’t a bad idea: It’ll eliminate a number of them that have been shown not to work, and jobs-training programs are hardly lavishly funded. Unfortunately, the bill is still going to spend more on programs that haven’t proven their effectiveness.

Via Breitbart.

Krauthammer’s Take: U.N. Statement on Missing Rockets Illustrates Corruption



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Charles Krauthammer commented on a recently released statement from the Secretary-General regarding missing rockets placed in a U.N. school in Gaza. The statement shows how “corrupt and corrupted” the U.N. is, Krauthammer said to Brett Baier on Wednesday evening’s Special Report. The statement expressed Sec-Gen. Ban Ki-Moon’s “outrage and regret” at the placement of weapons in an UNRWA school in Gaza. But Krauthammer was quick to point out that Ki-Moon’s shock and outrage was “preposterous.” He begged the question, “How do you smuggle 20 missiles into a classroom?” and joked, “What did Hamas do, put them in a golf bag? Walk them in and say he is preparing for the Gaza Open?” 

The U.N., Krauthammer insists, has been collaborating with Hamas for “years and years.” He continues on: “They know that there are missiles in the schools, in the hospitals, in the mosques, and they know what’s going to happen. Kids will be killed and that’s going to be on television.”

Tags: Krauthammer

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No Turbin



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I read somewhere that, nearly a century after the Russian civil war, the ascendancy of Vladimir Putin ought to be seen as representing the final victory of the Whites over the Reds. It’s an interesting notion — there’s something to it — and reading this passage from a fascinating New Republic piece by Oleg Kashin on Igor Strelkov/Igor Girkin (the mysterious Russian who supposedly commands the separatists in eastern Ukraine) brought it back to mind:

Before he became a military star in Ukraine, Strelkov was already a star among war reenactors. These men arm themselves with old weapons, dress in military uniforms, and gather in deserted places to act out long-ago battles. Strelkov “the cat” particularly loves the 1918-1920 battles of the Russian civil war, where he usually plays the role of a White Guard officer. Essentially, he is now playing the same role in Ukraine: his haircut, his mustache, his manners, and even his military tactics are almost all copied from images of White Guard officers in Soviet films.

One of Strelkov’s idols is the White Guard general Mikhail Drozdovsky, killed in a battle with the Bolshevik army in the south of Russia in 1919. While Strelkov’s soldiers held on to Slavyansk, the entrance to the city was decorated with an enormous banner blending allusions to the “Drozdovites” with images from the film “300.” Another fun fact: When Strelkov rewarded his fighters with St. George’s Crosses (the main award given to soldiers in czarist Russia), he thanked on the antique forum a friend who runs a Moscow antique shop for providing him with authentic crosses for free. It is unclear if Strelkov has any real military experience: He is said to have fought in Chechnya, though that is unconfirmed.

They say that real actors dream of playing the greatest roles in real life beyond the confines of the stage. This may also the dream of war reenactors who play at battle while fantasizing about the real thing. What had once been a game for Strelkov has now become a real war, with real deaths, real shootouts, and real assaults. If Putin does not want to become a sponsor of international terrorism in front of the whole world, he will have to do all he can to stop Strelkov. The Ukrainians think this is very simple: Putin orders Strelkov to return to Moscow, and the Donbass is at peace. To me, this does not seem very realistic: I doubt Strelkov would take orders from Putin….

Who knows? The layers of disinformation are very deep indeed. Read the whole thing.

And it’s not just re-enactors of the past who are active in this corner of Ukraine. As Cathy Young reveals in this piece in Slate, re-enactors of (so to speak) the future are on the scene there too:

A pro-Western, NATO-backed Ukrainian government faces a stubborn insurgency in the pro-Russian East. Fighting rages around Donetsk, with civilians dying in artillery fire and airstrikes, while Russian troops mass on the Ukrainian border. The latest headlines? No, a two-novel series by Russian-Ukrainian science-fiction writer Fedor Berezin: War 2010: The Ukrainian Front and War 2011: Against NATO.

In a startling plot twist, Berezin, a 54-year-old former Soviet Army officer and Donetsk native, is now living inside a real-life version of his own story: He is deputy defense minister of the embattled “Donetsk People’s Republic.” And this is just one of many bizarre overlaps between fantasy and reality in the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine—a convergence that prompted one Russian commentator, novelist Dmitry Bykov, to dub this conflict “the writers’ war.”

As Cathy Young explains, Berezin was not alone in writing novels “in which Ukraine becomes a battleground in a larger East-West confrontation”.

There’s this, for example:

The Age of the Stillborn by Gleb Bobrov, who like Berezin is an ethnic Russian from Eastern Ukraine (Luhansk) and an Afghanistan war veteran. The apocalyptic novel, set in a near future in which a brutal Kiev regime seeks to quash rebellion in the East with NATO help, was first published online in 2006 and became a hit on the Russian Internet before going to print in 2007.

And:

The stream of Russo-Ukrainian war literature published in Russia at the end of the 2000s—both speculative fiction and conspiracy-theory nonfiction—alarmed Ukrainian politician Arsen Avakov, then governor of the Kharkiv region and now Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs. In an emotional March 2009 post on the Ukrainska Pravda website titled, “Do the Russians want war?” Avakov suggested that the books were part of a deliberate Kremlin strategy to build up popular support for war against Ukraine by playing to Soviet nostalgia among older readers and ignorance among younger ones.

If I’d read that theory a year or two back I would thought that I’d wandered into tinfoil shapka territory. And probably I would have been right. But the Kremlin’s manipulation of Russian media — so evident in recent months — has been such that Avakov’s thesis now seems a little less incredible than once might have been the case. That said, it’s probably better to see books of the type that Young describes as a spontaneous response to the psychological, political and emotional gap that the collapse of the USSR left behind in Russia and at least part of Ukraine, the gap that men like Strelkov are now just the latest to try to fill.

Web Briefing: July 29, 2014

The DSCC’s Short Memory



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Democratic operatives are already circling the wagons around Senator John Walsh (D., Mont.) following a report that he plagiarized his master’s thesis, reminding voters of his military service while on tour in Iraq.

Those tweets are from Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee executive director Matt Canter, who insisted his point, apparently that Walsh’s alleged dishonesty had to be seen in light of his meritorious service, wasn’t politically motivated

But Canter seemed to have a much different take during the last election cycle when he repeatedly called into question the integrity of Ohio Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel, who served two combat tours in the Marine Corps Reserve.

It’s surely imminent that Canter will make sure to praise the honor of the vets on the other side of the Senate ballot this year – for example, Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton, an Army captain who completed two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, challenging Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor. When Pryor said that Cotton’s service gave him a “sense of entitlement,” Canter was silent.

Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst served overseas in Kuwait as a company commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and currently commands the largest battalion in the Iowa Army National Guard. The Republican Senate candidates in Alaska, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New Hampshire also served their country in uniform.

So if Canter feels like laying down a lot of Twitter attacks this cycle, he’s got some disclaimers to make.

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Being Human at the Border



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The New York Times describes Cardinal Timothy Dolan as being “furious” when he wrote this blog post about the situation at our borders. I hope readers don’t take their characterization without reading the post for themselves.

In a blog post titled “The Dignity of the Human Person,” what Cardinal Dolan wrote was:

A week or so ago, I watched with shame as an angry mob in southern California surrounded buses filled with frightened, hungry, homeless immigrants, shaking fists, and shouting for them to “get out!”

It was un-American; it was un-biblical; it was inhumane.  It worked, as the scared drivers turned the buses around and sought sanctuary elsewhere.

The incendiary scene reminded me of Nativist mobs in the 1840’s, Know-Nothinggangs in the 1850’s, and KKK  thugs in the 1920’s, who hounded and harassed scared immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and Blacks.

I think of this sad incident today, the feast of New York’s own Kateri Tekakwitha, a native-American (a Mohawk) canonized a saint just three years ago.  Unless we are Native Americans, like Saint Kateri, our ancestors all came here as homesick, hungry, hopeful immigrants.  I don’t think there were any Mohawks among that mob attacking the buses of refugee women and children.

Then on Saturday I watched another scene on the TV news.  Again there were busloads of shy, scared, immigrant women and children; again, there were crowds; this time – – in McAndrews, Texas – – the crowd was applauding the arriving refugees, and helping them into Sacred Heart Parish Hall, where parishioners and Catholic Charities workers welcomed them with a meal, a cold drink, a shower and fresh clothes, toys for the kids, and a cot as they helped government officials try to process them and figure out the next step.

 This time I was not ashamed, but relieved and grateful, proud to be an American and a Catholic.

We might argue and yell about policies, processes, and politics; we can never argue about the dignity of the human person or the sacredness of life, or yell at people who need our help.

Now I read that as a shepherd prodding his sheep, highlighting humanity. He does so as one of the most familiar faces of the Catholic Church in the United States today, a Church that has long worked to provide pastoral support and practical opportunities for immigrants, however they got here.

My friend Ed Mechmann, also of the Archdiocese of New York writes reflectively about the issue as well; he sheds light on a contentious debate with the story of his grandmother’s life as an illegal alien.

I wouldn’t describe a rallying cry to see the humanity behind the headlines and debate as furious, but as an impassioned plea, stressing the urgency of the Gospel.

I wrote more about this issue in my syndicated column this week.

Bloomberg: Traveling to Israel Is Safe, and the Ban Empowers Hamas



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After the Federal Aviation Administration banned U.S. flights to Israel’s Ben Gurion airport, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg flew to Israel on an El Al flight yesterday in order to demonstrate that he believes traveling to the country is safe, and to express his solidarity with the Israeli people.

“Compared to the security at American airports, security at Ben Gurion airport is infinitely better,” he told Fox News. 

Israel has been under threat since it was founded in 1948, he explained, so the country takes “security much more seriously here and on El Al and around the world than we do in America.”

The FAA made the decision after a rocket landed within a mile of the airport on Tuesday. “If you closed down JFK every time something dangerous happened within a mile or so of Kennedy airport,” Bloomberg explained, “we wouldn’t have a city.”

Bloomberg also explained that the ban empowers Hamas. “If we let terrorists frighten ourselves into closing travel to different cities around the world, the economies of the world will collapse and terrorists will have won,” he said.

Goldberg: Obama Is ‘Checked Out of the Job’



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Your Tax Dollars Are Backing the Construction of The Largest Aquarium in South America (Thanks, Ex-Im!)



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Here is a picture of a project in Brazil that, if it goes bust and the Brazilians can’t pay the American contractor, your tax dollars will end up paying for:

The Atlantic City Lab describes the project, an Export-Import Bank–backed deal to build the largest aquarium in South America:

When it is completed in 2015, Acquario Ceará, a new public aquarium planned for the northeastern Brazilian city of Fortaleza, will easily be the world’s most recognizable aquarium—an architectural statement piece if there ever was one. It may also be the most truly American project in the Western Hemisphere. While the backers of Acquario Ceará are aiming to create a new design symbol for South America, it will be almost entirely a product of North America. …

The Export-Import Bank of the United States is financing the aquarium’s construction through a $105 million direct loan, claiming that the transaction will support 700 jobs in the U.S., with most of the work going to small businesses. 

Note that the taxpayer exposure is $150,000 per job “supported.”

Some people in Brazil are rightly upset about this. The Ex-Im loan may have lower interest rates and better terms than a regular loan, but this is probably money the indebted and poor Brazilian government can’t afford. 

But the project—for which construction and fabrication work kicked off today—is not without controversy.   

In Brazil, where critics say that the aquarium is being built without transparency, protestors launched a Facebook group called “Quem dera ser um peixe”—which translates to “I wish I were a fish” (a punny echo of a lyric by a popular Ceará-born singer, apparently). Elizabeth Duffield, a fellow at the SIT Graduate Institute, wrote a study confirming their fears. “Ceará, one of the poorest states in Brazil, is using public money, in part, to construct the aquarium while it has long standing social problems yet to be resolved,” shewrites.

That’s a real problem with the Ex-Im Bank: On one hand, it gives cheap money to large companies who would have access to capital markets even in its absence. But on the other hand, it encourages middle-income or poor countries to take on debt that they probably can’t afford, whether the products purchased are “made in America” or not.

I wrote about that in my latest Reason column:

Since 1996, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have maintained a list of Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs), which face debt burdens their governments cannot sustainably manage. Since fiscal year 2007, the Export-Import Bank has added to the debt levels of 20 of the 39 countries listed in some phase of the HIPC Initiative’s debt management process.

Just as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac convinced low-income Americans to take out risky loans to purchase homes they otherwise wouldn’t dream of buying, the Export-Import Bank sways governments in developing countries to splurge on shiny new air fleets, futuristic wind farms, and unnecessary luxury tour buses-all made, of course, in the U.S.A.

Ex-Im’s records show that $180,000 in insurance was extended to Honduras to cover an aircraft deal with Atlantic Airlines, but the records are incomplete and Ex-Im’s website does not mention this deal. Tanzania, too, took on an estimated $2.5 million in debt in 2013 to purchase aircraft from Cessna at Ex-Im’s urging.

According to its own records, the Export-Import Bank extended almost $3 billion in financing to HIPCs from 2007 to 2014. Assuming that the Bank covered the standard 85 percent of the loan value, this could mean that these already indebted countries took on another $3.5 billion in debt so that companies like Boeing could make a little more money each year.

Brazil doesn’t belong to “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” list, but it isn’t a rich country either — it’s only ranked 85 on the U.N.’s Human Development IndexBesides, I can’t imagine that the Brazilian government feels flushed with cash after the World Cup, since such events tend to be a money pit for cities and countries.

Dem. Senator Plagarized Nearly Two-Thirds of Master’s Thesis



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A new report by the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin finds that Senator John Walsh (D., Mont.) apparently plagiarized large parts of his thesis in 2007 while obtaining his master’s degree from the United States Army War College.

Walsh, who was 46 at the time, failed to cite and used the exact language from various sources, including documents from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, among others. The Times reports that parts of Walsh’s thesis were taken “word-for-word” without citations or footnotes; the article estimates about one-third of the thesis fails to cite sources, while another third provides footnotes, but uses the “authors’ exact — or almost exact — language without quotation marks.”

Walsh, an Iraq War veteran, said he did not plagiarize the works, although a campaign aide later said that Walsh was working on his thesis during a difficult personal time following the suicide of one of his unit members.

Walsh, who was appointed to replace Senator Max Baucus in February after Baucus was named United States ambassador to China, is facing election in November. Polls show Walsh trailing his Republican challenger Representative Steve Daines by a relatively wide margin.

Jerusalem Fund Director: Claim that Hamas Uses Human Shields Is a Racist Myth



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Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, says the claim that Palestinians use civilians as human shields is a myth, and also racist.

On MSNBC, he responded to a clip of a spokesperson for Netanyahu, who said that Hamas urged its citizens to stay in combat areas despite warnings from Israel. 

“It’s unfortunate we can hear Israeli spokespeople who are speaking on behalf of a military force that is inflicting massive civilian casualties on the ground stand here in front of your viewers and essentially blame the victims for their own deaths,” he said. “I think there’s something fundamentally wrong and, in fact, racist about that argument.”

Munayyer said that the claim that Hamas uses human shields is not a new one, but something he’s heard “time and time again.” He noted an Amnesty International investigation from a couple of years ago which claimed that there was no evidence of the claim. Instead, “they found Israeli ground troops were using Palestinians as human shields,” he said.

During war time, Munayyer continued, it is very easy for Israelis “to make up info graphics and whatever else to claim Palestinians, you know, just want to stand in front of Israeli missiles.”
 

FAA Ban Sparks Fight between Ted Cruz and John Kerry Teams



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A State Department spokeswoman dismissed Senator Ted Cruz’s questions about the FAA ban on flights to Israel’s Ben Gurion airport as “ridiculous and offensive” after the Texas Republican suggested that President Obama had launched an effective economic boycott of Israel.

“It’s ridiculous and offensive, quite frankly,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Wednesday. “The FAA takes it responsibility very seriously . . . They make these decisions based solely on the security and safety of American citizens, period, for anybody to suggest otherwise is just ridiculous.”

That prompted a sharp reply from Cruz’s team. “Well, we find the Obama administration’s foreign policy to be ridiculous and offensive,” spokeswoman Catherine Frazier wrote in an e-mail to reporters. After noting that a Hamas official celebrated the FAA’s flight ban, Frazier also wrote that “to suggest the administration’s move does not directly empower Hamas is misguided and short-sighted.”

Among other things, Cruz asked “what was the FAA’s ‘safety’ analysis that led to prohibiting flights to Israel, while still permitting flights to Ukraine — where a commercial airline flight was just shot down with a Buk missile?”

Cruz also recalled Secretary of State John Kerry’s February warning that “talk of boycotts and other kinds of things” would increase if the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians could not be resolved.

“The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands,” Cruz said in a statement.

Cruz: Is Obama’s FAA Ban the Launch of an Economic Boycott of Israel?



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Senator Ted Cruz (R., Tx.) has issued a statement objecting to the Obama administration’s ban on flights to Israel – a ban that comes while the administration continues to provide lavish financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, knowing this aid is siphoned off by Hamas, the terrorist organization engaged in an aggressive war against Israel. Senator Cruz has five pointed questions for the administration.

Here is the statement:

Today, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it was extending its ban on flights by U.S. carriers into Israel.  The rationale was that because one Hamas-launch rocket had landed in a field one mile from Ben Gurion International Airport, the ‘potentially hazardous security situation created by the armed conflict between Israel and Gaza’ necessitated this extreme action that has so far cancelled some 160 flights and left tens of thousands stranded.

Obviously, no one wants to place civilian travelers in harm’s way, and the recent downing of Malaysian Airways flight 17 by pro-Russian militants in Ukraine is a stark reminder of the dangers posed by regional unrest.  But security concerns in Israel are hardly breaking news, and given the exceptional challenge Israel faces, Ben Gurion has rightly earned the reputation as one of the safest airports in the world due to the aggressive security measures implemented by the Israeli government. 

Given that some 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel over the last six weeks, many of them at Tel Aviv, it seems curious to choose yesterday at noon to announce a flight ban, especially as the Obama Administration had to be aware of the punitive nature of this action. 

Tourism is an $11 billion industry for Israel, which is in the middle of a summer high season already seriously diminished by the conflict initiated by Hamas.  Group tours have been cancelling at a 30% rate.  This FAA flight ban may well represent a crippling blow to a key economic sector through both security concerns and worries that additional bans will down more flights and strand more passengers.  It hardly matters if or when the ban is lifted. At this point, the damage may already be done.

Even given the remarkable resilience and prosperity of its economy, Israel has always been vulnerable to economic blackmail.  In the 1970s, we saw the Arab League boycott, which tried to punish any financial institution that did business with Israel. 

Today we have similar noxious efforts by the Boycott, Divest, Sanction or ‘BDS’ movement, which seeks to punish Israel for the fact that the militant terrorist elements embraced by the Palestinian Authority make any peace deal an intolerable security risk to Israel at this time.  But the Obama Administration has refused to robustly denounce this effort to undermine our ally. 

Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a veiled threat last February when he encouraged boycotts of Israel and said that absent serious Israeli concessions at the negotiating table, Israel’s economic prosperity was ‘not sustainable’ and ‘illusory.’ Secretary Kerry unfortunately reprised this theme just this April, when he threatened that Israel risked becoming an ‘apartheid state’ if Israel did not submit to his chosen solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis.

Taken in the context of Secretary Kerry’s comments, yesterday’s action by the FAA raises some serious questions: 

  • Was this decision a political decision driven by the White House?
  • If the FAA’s decision was based on airline safety, why was Israel singled out, when flights are still permitted into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen? 
  • What was the FAA’s ‘safety’ analysis that led to prohibiting flights to Israel, while still permitting flights to Ukraine—where a commercial airline flight was just shot down with a BUK missile?
  • What specific communications occurred between the FAA and the White House?  And the State Department?  Why were any such communications necessary, if this was purely about airline safety?
  • Was this a safety issue, or was it using a federal regulatory agency to punish Israel to try to force them to comply with Secretary Kerry’s demand that Israel stop their military effort to take out Hamas’s rocket capacity?

When Secretary Kerry arrived in Cairo this week his first act was to announce $47 million in additional aid to Gaza, which is in effect $47 million for Hamas.  In short order, this travel ban was announced by the FAA.  Aiding Hamas while simultaneously isolating Israel does two things.  One, it helps our enemy.  Two, it hurts our ally. 

Until these serious questions are answered, the facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands.  

If so, Congress should demand answers.

The Politics of Halbig



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Jamelle Bouie is one of many arguing that the D.C. Circuit decision on Obamacare creates political peril for Republicans:

In Arkansas, where Republican Rep. Tom Cotton is running a tight race against the Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, 40,000 people have paid premiums for health insurance on the federal exchange. If Halbig went into effect today, about 34,000 of those Arkansans would face huge increases in their premiums, given a national average increase of 76 percent, according to one study. That’s an unlikely outcome, but it shouldn’t (and likely won’t) stop Pryor from hitting Cotton as hostile to middle-class families and anyone else who needs health insurance.

I wouldn’t be so sure it works out that way. If tax credits suddenly get withdrawn and people have to pay a larger share of their premiums as a result, red-state Democrats probably will blame Republicans for causing the mess. But Tom Cotton neither wrote the flawed legislation, nor recklessly sent out tax credits in violation of it, nor filed the lawsuit against it. Wouldn’t he just parry by saying, “Obamacare has caused mess after mess”? Arkansas voters—who still dislike Obamacare—might well accept that version of events.

When Obamacare has run into difficulties before, its proponents have tried to blame those difficulties on Republican sabotage. The program would be working better, they have said, if Republicans had set up exchanges in the states or expanded Medicaid. None of that seemed to work beyond the liberal base. Maybe it wouldn’t work this time either.

I would also take with a grain of salt the prediction that in a post-Halbig world states will all rush to adopt exchanges to keep the tax credits flowing. Maybe they will. But there will be a strong other side of the argument: that putting exchanges in place will trigger the employer mandate and, for many people, the individual mandate too.

Of course all of this is conditional on the result in Halbig holding up, which may not happen. [Update: I should note as well that Bouie is not saying that any of this would happen this year. In the Arkansas race, for example, the whole argument would be about possible future events.]

As for Slate’s repeated claim that Obamacare is getting more popular, take a look at this poll average. Net disapproval is higher than it was at this point in February, March, April, or May.

No, the Ex-Im Bank Isn’t Critical to American Small Businesses



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All over the states, newspapers are publishing horror stories about what will happen to small businesses if those of us fighting to shut down the Ex-Im Bank are successful. With a few exceptions, all these stories are just uncritically repeating the misleading talking points from the Chamber of Commerce about how critical the Ex-Im Bank is to small businesses. To be sure, some small businesses benefit from the bank and the ones who do like it.

But the reality about what would happen to America’s small businesses without Ex-Im is quite different than the picture painted in these stories. For one thing, the bank’s definition of small businesses is quite different from the way other federal agencies describe them. If you’re a company with 1,500 employees or less than $21 million in annual revenue, you’re a small business in the eyes of Ex-Im. I think it’s fair to say most people wouldn’t consider a firm of that size a “small business.” Over at the Daily Signal, Diane Katz describes some of the companies that Ex-Im considers “small” — some have revenues of more than $70 million.

More importantly, even if we accept Ex-Im’s definition of “small business,” it’s completely misleading for anyone to imply that many U.S. small firms are being helped by the agency. In fact, the data show that the Ex-Im Bank benefits a minuscule share of small businesses.

Data from the Census Bureau and from Ex-Im show that only 0.3 percent of all small business jobs were backed by the bank in 2007 (that’s the most recent year for which the full Census dataset is available). That, of course, is assuming that these jobs would not exist without the bank, which is obviously not true the most part.

Then, if we make the unrealistic assumption that each Ex-Im small-business transaction went to a unique small business (many get more than one deal), only 0.04 percent of all small businesses were supported by Ex-Im in 2007.

Let me break this down for you: That’s 2,390 firms, out of 6,723,226 small firms in America. Almost 7 million small firms are operating just fine without the Ex-Im Bank’s help. Over 99.7 percent of American small-business jobs exist without any Ex-Im assistance at all.

As always, Ex-Im isn’t so much about promoting America’s small businesses and jobs as it is about promoting the jobs and small businesses of a few winners. 

Here’s a chart showing that tiny sliver of beneficiaries:


The analysis for this chart and the data are here

Scribbles



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In Impromptus today, I conclude my series on Dinesh D’Souza. For my money, his most interesting insight, or contention, is this: In political debate, justice beats freedom, every time. Now, you and I might think that freedom is just. But others have their own ideas and feelings. We can talk about freedom till the cows come home, and advocate it, and promise it. But as soon as Barack Obama utters his favorite word, “fairness” . . .

They have quite a racket going. Anyway, this is a highly interesting topic, about which many books have been written, and about which books will always be written.

The Corner-reading masses say, “Jay, freedom and justice and Democrats and Republicans and all that are well and good, but what about ballet? Ballet is what we want!” Okay, okay. Last night, the Bolshoi performed Don Quixote at the Lincoln Center Festival. For my scribbles at The New Criterion, go here.

Yesterday afternoon, I was talking to a Russian friend of mine — a Russian American. She is very, very gloomy about things in the Old Country right now. Gloomy and disgusted. She said, “Ballet — that’s the one thing they can do. That’s the one thing they’re unimpeachable on.” I tried to mention science and some other things, but she would not hear of it: “Ballet. Only ballet.”

Her mood will pass, but I understand it, pretty well.

On Snowpiercer (SPOILERS)



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I watched Snowpierecer last week and like a lot of people, I really enjoyed it. It has some absolutely ridiculous plot elements, but that’s okay. Most sci-fi movies do without achieving the allegorical artistry of Snowpiercer. Of the commentary I’ve seen, I think Joe Carter gets it best.  He rightly dubs it the most political film of the year:

When I say this is a “political” film I mean it in the Platonic sense of an ideal polis based on the best form of government that leads to the common good. Snowpiercer is an extended political fable about the polis, albeit one that includes scenes of hatchet fights between people carrying torches and people wearing night-vision goggles.

But I have some disagreements or at least objections to Carter’s reading of the movie. For brevity’s sake, I’m going to write this post on the assumption that readers have already seen the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading. The unifying concept of the film is the notion of balance, a point that is drilled into the audience with diminishing subtlety from about the midpoint on. Wilfred (the holy dictator played by Ed Harris) and Gilliam (the chewed up prol-philosopher played by John Hurt) understand that society is based on Darwinian structures enforced by Platonic or Sorellian myths that give the people meaning and order. The elites need to be kept on their toes by their fear of the impoverished masses. The masses need the hope of overthrowing the elites in order to endure. The body politic needs this tension to cull hungry mouths from both ranks. Carter writes:

Wilford goes on to explain that the balance can only be achieved by two ways: Either by natural selection or political manipulation. Over the course of its 18 year history, the train has had three “revolutions” instigated by Wilford and his partner in the back of the train, Gilliam. The two political masterminds understood that they needed to “maintain a balance between anxiety and fear, chaos and horror, for life goes on.”

Class warfare was the ingenious method of maintaining the population. The people in the front of the train can never grown too comfortable, for fear the back might rise up and take their place. And the down-and-out in the back are given just enough hope in a future regime-change that they don’t fall into complete despair.

So far so good. But Carter goes on to argue that Curtis (the protagonist revolutionary leader played by Chris Evans of Captain America fame) should actually be seen as a secondary villain. He writes:

In the beginning of the film, we identify with Curtis and assume he is the hero since he is championing the ideals the audience believes in, such as equality, fairness, and justice. But by the middle of the film we start getting a different impression of Curtis.

Once he allows his loyal friend Edgar to die so that he can capture Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton), we realize he has too much of the True Revolutionary about him to be heroic. By the end of the movie we start to see him for what he really is: a man who will do almost anything—even eat human babies—in order to ensure his survival.

This strikes me as a bit unfair. We learn about his one-time desire to eat babies from a heart-wrenching story told by Curtis himself. He says the thing he hates about himself most is that he knows what people taste like. We learn that he was saved — as in he regained his soul — by seeing the self-sacrifice of Gilliam and others who literally chopped off their own limbs so that lives could be spared and the hungry might eat. Witnessing this act was quite clearly was transformative for Curtis. He was born again as a better man. Carter finds Christian themes in the film. This struck me as the most obvious.

As for Gilliam, the most revealing thing he says in the whole film is that Curtis should cut out Wilfred’s tongue the moment he sees him. “Don’t give him a chance to talk to you.” (I’m quoting from memory). That advice implies — I think — that Gilliam is not quite the partner Wilfred thinks he is (and that Carter assumes he is). If Curtis followed Gilliam’s advice, Curtis would have never been clued into Wilfred’s ideological scheme. As for his terrible choice of pursuing victory over the life of his friend, that didn’t strike me as nearly so damning. Curtis understood that if he went back to save his friend the revolt would fail. Maybe it was the wrong decision, but I don’t see it as an obviously selfish one (indeed Curtis says over and over again he doesn’t want to be a leader). The selfish course would have been to take Wilfred up on his generous offer to replace him as Lord of the Train. He rejects this. Carter suggests that Curtis does this as an active choice to “return to nature.” Maybe. Or maybe he does this because he rejects the totalitarianism implicit in all doctrines of elite-imposed balance (I could write pages on the rich pedigree of this kind of corporatist totalitarianism. Heck, I wrote a book about it).Or maybe he rejects it simply because he doesn’t want to sacrifice his hard-won soul for mere power. There’s whiff of Thomas More here. It profits a man nothing if he loses his soul for the sake of the engineer’s cap.

Anyway, maybe I’m wrong. Still, it is a huge and well-deserved compliment to Bong Joon-ho that he’s made a movie that holds together as a fairly low-budget sci-fi action flick that simultaneously lends itself to such rich and diverse interpretations.

Rob Portman’s Field of Dreams



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Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed by a potential GOP presidential candidate, Ohio senator Rob Portman, brings to mind a quote from the movie Field of Dreams. At the end of the movie, Ray Kinsella angrily confronts the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson when the player refuses to let Ray come with him. “What’s in it for me?” Kinsella cries. I fear that will be the reaction among working-class whites in Ohio and other industrial Midwest states if the agenda the senator lays out is all that’s on offer in 2016.

According to exit polls, whites without a college degree easily remain the largest single voting bloc in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Unlike their Southern brethren, these voters gave President Obama significant support, between 42 and 50 percent, in 2012. If these blue-collar white voters had just given the president the same share as their neighbors in Indiana (37 percent), Mitt Romney would have carried all three states.

Moreover, voters working in the private sector earning above middle-class wages already vote Republican in these Midwestern states. In Wisconsin, Romney carried the four counties with median incomes above $60,000 with between 55 and 70 percent of the vote. In the senator’s native Ohio, Romney carried similar counties by nearly identical margins, getting between 55 and 69 percent. Once one factors out the large numbers of college-educated, middle-income whites who belong to public-sector unions (teachers, social workers, bureaucrats) who are likely to remain Democratic voters, it’s obvious there are not very many Midwestern votes left for the GOP to get by appealing to people who are already economic winners.

The non-college-educated white faces very different challenges in today’s economy than these more comfortable voters. In Ohio, over 20 percent of private-sector jobs are in low-skilled positions such as cashier or stock boy. Many of these people earn so little they already qualify for food stamps. On average they earn less than $10 an hour, not enough to pull a family of three above the poverty line working full-time. Even those doing well by local standards are struggling to keep afloat. To put their lives in perspective, a person earning double the minimum wage, or roughly a $15 an hour, would earn a bit more than $31,000 a year working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. That’s less than 138 percent of the federal poverty limit for a family of four, allowing a household earning that income to qualify for Medicaid under Ohio’s expansion.

Voters like these would see very little “in it for them” in the senator’s op-ed, at least in the short term. Very few of these voters pay federal income tax already because of the EITC and the child tax credit. Those that do are largely in the 10 percent bracket. They simply won’t benefit much if at all from rate cuts, and might be hurt if features of the tax code they depend on are part of the “broadening of the base.” 

These voters are also likely to be concerned about increasing the age at which full Social Security and Medicare benefits can be obtained and about the senator’s statement that the typical couple gets nearly three times as much in Medicare benefits as they pay in. This is especially the case for typical Ohio working-class whites, as they earn much less than the typical national family and hence get much greater financial benefits from the existing program. It would be fairly easy, without more, for Democrats to characterize the senator as caring more about saving money than saving lives.

This caricature could carry particular weight among these voters because of the salient feature of comprehensive tax reform, lowering the top rate. Currently the top rate kicks in for families earning a shade more than $450,000 a year in taxable income, or about what Midwest working-class families will take 10 to 20 years to earn. They already see the Republican party as favoring the rich, and already have seen that lowering the top rate during the Bush presidency did not appreciably increase their family income. Again, it would be easy for Democrats to caricature the senator as thinking America’s economy is suffering because the middle class spends too much and the upper classes get too little.

It thus would be quite easy to portray someone running on this agenda and no more as a person out of touch who doesn’t care about people like them. That perception was what killed Governor Romney: He lost nationally by 63 points among the 21 percent of Americans who thought caring about people like them was the most important presidential characteristic. In Ohio the margin was even worse: Romney lost by 69 points among the 22 percent who valued caring above all else.

Other data from the Ohio exit poll should give one pause. Romney won 96–4 among Ohio voters who saw him as favoring the middle class. But they were only 35 percent of the electorate. Fifty-six percent saw him as favoring the rich, and they voted for President Obama by 75 points, 87–12. This factor more than anything else is probably why the governor lost over a quarter of the 56 percent of Ohio voters who believed the government is already doing too much.

These data don’t even account for the fact that turnout was down in Ohio, alone among the battleground states. Over 131,000 fewer Ohioans voted in 2012 than voted in 2008, and the relative drop was significantly larger in counties with large percentages of white working-class voters.

Similar turnout declines in white working-class areas occurred throughout the country in non-battleground states. Sean Trende has written the most detailed analyses of this, noting that these areas also tended to back the economically populist Ross Perot in 1992. Perhaps this turnout decline was due to the fact that Governor Romney was a particularly unpersuasive messenger, but perhaps it was also because of the message.

There’s lots that the senator and other Republican candidates can do to overcome this caricature. They could note that every Republican governor in a battleground or potential swing state has endorsed some form of Medicaid expansion or otherwise increased government-funded insurance coverage, something the Hatch-Coburn-Burr bill also does. They could note that Michigan governor Rick Snyder has increased his state’s minimum wage to over $9 an hour, or they could follow Senator Marco Rubio in endorsing some form of wage subsidy for low-income workers as an alternative. Instead of characterizing people who take food stamps or are tempted to apply for disability insurance as moochers and slackers, they could take note of how the eligibility provisions of these programs are peculiarly attractive for low-skilled workers down on their luck and devise reforms that encourage and offer financial support for people to stay in the workforce. That’s what Republicans did in the 1996 welfare reform that all factions in the party hold up as a great success and which Senator Portman voted for as a member of the House.

Perhaps I am wrong about the politics of this agenda standing alone. Perhaps I should have focused on a more famous quote from the movie: If we build it, they will come. But I am much more sanguine about the party’s chances to regain the White House in 2016 if we seek to ease working-class voters’ pain while we transition to a new, vibrant economy for all. 

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

It’s Not the Fundraising



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President Obama won’t stop going to fundraisers. Much of the beltway discussion about this boils down to a lot of trite commentary about “optics.” Yes, the optics are bad, but not because he’s going to fundraisers. Every president has raised money on the job, though Obama seems to enjoy it more than most. (Bill Clinton still holds the record and he, too, very much liked talking to audiences that loved him). The optics are bad because he doesn’t seem to be very good at his job. Events around the globe and at home seem to be beyond his control and, at times, his comprehension. George W. Bush had a similar problem when Iraq was in chaos and his response to Katrina seemed woefully inadequate (this latter perception wasn’t wholly unreasonable but it was fueled to the point of hysteria by a press corps that collectively lost its mind over the story). If the economy was going great and Obama seemed like a steady hand at the tiller of state, no one would much care about his fundraising schedule. Dwight Eisenhower played a lot of golf during scary chapters in American history, but Eisenhower seemed fully in command of the situation. The bad optics of these fundraisers stem from the fact that talking to people who already agree with him is the only thing that really engages this president. It also fuels the sense that, despite all of his talk about fighting cynicism, his only real priority is — as always — partisan advantage. 

Obama Won’t Arm Ukraine Because He Led the Disarming of Ukraine



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Rich’s excellent column on Obama’s fecklessness in the face of Putin’s Ukraine aggression notes that the president has resisted not only causing real pain to Russia’s economy but providing the Ukrainian military with the weapons it needs to defend its sovereign territory and defeat Putin’s thugs. On the latter, Charles Krauthammer made similar observations here.

Meanwhile, the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reports that among the defensive assets our government has denied Ukraine is “radar jamming and detection equipment necessary to evade and counter [Russian] anti-aircraft systems.” Last month, when it became clear that Moscow was providing the anti-aircraft systems to the Russia-backed rebels, Kiev asked this equipment. Last week, one of those systems was used to shoot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, killing 298 people.

I do not think the president’s opposition to arming Ukraine is explained by his intentional American decline, his stated desire that the conflict not escalate (as if Ukrainian weakness somehow discourages Putin’s aggression), or the risible suggestion—advanced by Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton—that Russian operatives shooting planes out of the sky is Europe’s problem.

We should be arming the Ukrainians not only because it is in our national interest to repel Putin’s ambitions, but also because we are the ones who disarmed the Ukrainians. Yet, that goes a long way toward explaining the president’s reluctance: as I’ve pointed out before, the American government official who was at the forefront of disarming Ukraine was none other than Senator Barack Obama. The Daily Mail had the report back in March:

As a U.S. senator, Barack Obama won $48 million in federal funding to help Ukraine destroy thousands of tons of guns and ammunition – weapons which are now unavailable to the Ukrainian army as it faces down Russian President Vladimir Putin during his invasion of Crimea. In August 2005, just seven months after his swearing-in, Obama traveled to Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine with then-Indiana Republican Senator Dick Lugar, touring a conventional weapons site. The two met in Kiev with President Victor Yushchenko, making the case that an existing Cooperative Threat Reduction Program covering the destruction of nuclear weapons should be expanded to include artillery, small arms, anti-aircraft weapons, and conventional ammunition of all kinds. After a stopover in London, the senators returned to Washington and declared that the U.S. should devote funds to speed up the destruction of more than 400,000 small arms, 1,000 anti-aircraft missiles, and more than 15,000 tons of ammunition.

A press release from then-Senator Lugar’s office included then-Senator Obama’s puerile proclamation that eliminating Ukraine’s stocks of conventional weapons would ensure “the safety of the Ukrainian people and people around the world, by keeping them out of conflicts around the world.” Rearming Ukraine now would underscore how wrong he was. That political embarrassment is a big reason why he refuses to do what needs to be done.

Shouts of ‘Jews Back to Birkenau’ . . . in Boston



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Riots in Paris, protests in Berlin — now an episode of ugly anti-Semitism in . . . Boston. The Times of Israel reports:

For the third time since last week, a handful of Jewish students with Israeli flags was surrounded by demonstrators shouting anti-Semitic epithets and – according to two of the students – a tense minute of “pushing and shoving.”

Soon after the “die-in” ended, Brett Loewenstern — a Berklee College of Music student and pro-Israel activist – entered the fray with his boyfriend, Israeli-born Avi Levi.

According to Loewenstern, he and his boyfriend’s combining of an Israeli flag with a rainbow flag – the symbol for gay rights – set off a hailstorm of insults from demonstrators.

Among other things, the shouts included “Jews back to Birkenau” and “Drop dead, you Zionazi whores,” said Loewenstern and other witnesses.

Police had to extract the pair from among the demonstrators. The incident occurred at last Saturday’s “die-in” on the Boston Common, where anti-Israel demonstrators fell to the ground as protest leaders read the names of Palestinians killed in Gaza since the beginning of the most recent conflict.

As I wrote last week, the conceit that characterizes so many of these protests is that they are merely about borders and territory, war and peace — that they are political protests. But the ease with which “anti-Israel” protesters spew lines such as “Jews back to Birkenau” suggests that opponents of the Jewish state are often averse to Jews themselves.

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