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Tags: Barack Obama

Kurtz: Where’s the Coverage of Washington’s Role in GM’s Mess?



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Howard Kurtz, now over on Fox News, raises the question about why coverage of GM’s recall has largely ignored the Washington angle:

. . . The federal government is complicit is more ways than one.

GM, you’ll recall, had to be rescued by the taxpayers in 2009, and the federal stake was so large that the company was dubbed Government Motors when it went through bankruptcy. But bankruptcy rules require a disclosure of all liabilities as well as assets. By hiding the defect in its cars, GM may have committed bankruptcy fraud.

Beyond that, the utter failure of the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency to crack down on the defective ignition switch is an embarrassing failure. But regulatory agencies are a journalistic backwater, drawing a fraction of the coverage lavished on the White House, Congress and politics.

Allow me to submit another motive in the media’s disinterest: The massive GM recalls — now more than 6 million vehicles — would require the media to revise a major storyline from a few years ago — the near-collapse, bailout, and resurrection of General Motors, which has largely been covered as an unvarnished success story for the Obama administration. He writes, “You can’t single out President Obama because the government’s failure to act stretches back to the Bush administration, so it doesn’t make for a left/right slugfest.” That’s true enough as it goes, but the Obama administration somehow missed these multiple massive safety issues while putting together the bailout, which ultimately poured $49 billion into GM, and cost taxpayers $10.5 billion once the last share of stock was sold. Hammer the NHTSA, but at what point does the President’s Auto Industry Task Force look negligent? How did they miss so many consequential lurking safety issues in what was allegedly a thorough review of the company?

In another example of the phenomenon discussed in this piece, a wide variety of voices who are quick to lambaste “corporate greed” and “evil businessmen” — be it Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Tobacco, health-insurance companies, or any one of many others — are strangely quiet about a car company that manufactured and sold cars with a fatal defect. Why? Because progressives don’t begin from the principle, “a company must make safe products to be a good company.” They begin with “Barack Obama is the good guy.” Barack Obama supported and enacted the bailout of GM, thus that bailout must be a good thing. Thus, GM must be a company worth helping. Acknowledging that GM made dangerous cars, lied about it to the public, and then had the audacity to ask the taxpayers for money while keeping the danger of the cars secret would disrupt the “GM is worth helping, and Obama was right to help them” narrative, so it must be ignored, shoved aside, eyes averted, and so on.

UPDATE: Finally, over in the Guardian of the U.K., some tough coverage of Washington’s role in this, from economics columnist Heidi Moore:

Four years later, in December 2013, GM seemed to justify the cost — and faith — of its bailout. When the US Treasury sold its remaining stake, President Obama wrapped the moment in misty-eyed rhetoric about national pride:

When things looked darkest for our most iconic industry, we bet on what was true: the ingenuity and resilience of the proud, hardworking men and women who make this country strong. Today, that bet has paid off. The American auto industry is back.

We were desperate to believe this.

Less than four months later, it seems foolish that any of GM’s fairy tale was believable to anyone. After the recalls and the estimates of driver deaths, all of that talk — of the reborn American automaker, of bets paid and dollars won — seems like a hollow spectacle.

And it has to make us wonder: how much were US taxpayers and the government complicit in sustaining a company that researchers had already suggested was unable to compete in the modern automotive industry?

“It’s no ‘new GM’ if they’re doing this,” Dartmouth Tuck School of Business professor Paul A Argenti tells me. “If this has been hidden for 10 years, there’s nothing new about the company. It’s old-school GM. It’s stuff you can’t even imagine a company could do in the 21st century.”

Tags: GM , Barack Obama

Healthcare.gov Begins Its Final Day of Enrollment . . . Closed for Maintenance



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From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Happy Obamacare Deadline-ish Day. CNN’s Jim Acosta logs on to Healthcare.gov this morning and finds:

Perfect. Old traditions die hard, huh? At least, a lot harder than Healthcare.gov.

Health Care’s Cost Curve Is Turning Into a Squiggly Line, Mostly Upward

May 2013: Health care’s “cost curve” is bending down! Credit Obamacare!

“National health spending grew by 3.9 percent each year from 2009 to 2011, the lowest rate of growth since the federal government began keeping such statistics in 1960,” reports the Kaiser Family Foundation. Early data suggest that the numbers held into 2012. So the curve hasn’t just bent; it has bent more than ever.

September 2013: Health care’s “cost curve” is bending back up again! Blame Obamacare!

Last week, the Obama administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a rather different prediction: that “the [Affordable Care Act] is projected to . . . increase cumulative spending by roughly $621 billion” from 2014 to 2022. To be clear, that’s spending on top of the normal health-care inflation that would have happened if Obamacare had not been passed. So much for “bending down the cost curve,” as the president often liked to say his law would do.

November 2013: No, no, health care’s “cost curve” is bending down again! Credit Obamacare!

The White House issued a 29-page report that says, among other things, the once out-of-control health spending trends in the U.S. have been tamed to the point where medical inflation is just over 1%.

Health spending growth is the lowest on record, the report contends, up an average annual rate of 1.3% over the past three years. That’s less than one-third the historical average dating back to 1965.

Today: Health care’s “cost curve” is bending back up again! Blame Obamacare!

Health care spending rose at the fastest pace in 10 years last quarter, a development that could foreshadow higher costs for consumers this year.

Expenses for health care rose at a 5.6% annual rate in the fourth quarter, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said last week. The jump triggered a sharp upward revision in the government’s estimate of consumer spending overall and accounted for nearly a quarter of the economy’s 2.6% annualized growth in the last three months of 2013.

Driving the increase was an $8 billion rise in hospital revenue — more than the previous four quarters combined, according to the Census Bureau and Royal Bank of Scotland. RBS economist Omair Sharif says the increase in hospitals’ income was puzzling because the number of inpatient days dipped 1% during the fourth quarter.

Fewer patients, staying in the hospital less time, and paying more.

In the meantime, thank you, Obamacare.

U.S seniors — those aged 65 and older — have moved from a reliably Democratic group to a reliably Republican one over the past two decades. From 1992 through 2006, seniors had been solidly Democratic and significantly more Democratic than younger Americans. Over the last seven years, seniors have become less Democratic, and have shown an outright preference for the Republican Party since 2010.

Gee, do you think it has anything to do with the fact that Obamacare is cutting Medicare?

Finally, way to go, Maryland:

On Tuesday, Maryland will begin the process of replacing its troubled exchange, which has had so many problems since its launch on Oct. 1 that officials have decided it would be better to start anew. Maryland had more than two years to create its first exchange, which has cost $125.5 million to build and operate, according to the exchange’s spokeswoman.

Tags: Healthcare.gov , Obamacare , Barack Obama , Maryland

Obama’s Task Force on the Auto Industry Flunks the Test.



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Also in today’s Jolt, hitting e-mailboxes a moment ago, a bit more about the General Motors recall scandal. A question that must be answered: How did President Obama’s Task Force on the Auto Industry, which put together the GM bailout, manage to miss the fact that the company had a “potentially fatal defect [that] existed in hundreds of thousands” of GM vehicles, with massive liability issues?

Announcing his Task Force’s plan, President Obama said, “We, as a nation, cannot afford to shirk responsibility any longer. Now is the time to confront our problems head-on and do what’s necessary to solve them.” But we now know GM wasn’t confronting problems head-on and doing what was necessary to solve them; they let the defective and dangerous cars remain on the roads for years. And either they hid that, as they asked the government for billions of dollars in aid from taxpayers . . . or, even worse, it was mentioned, and the Task Force never told the public.

From BusinessWeek:

GM’s own engineers, along with newspaper auto writers, were talking about the ignition switch defect in several GM models almost a decade before the carmaker announced plans last month to recall 1.6 million vehicles . . . 

The documents GM filed yesterday indicate the company got an early indication of the ignition-switch problems as it developed the Saturn Ion in 2001. It thought the problem was fixed. Then, in 2003, an engineer investigating a consumer complaint was able to replicate engine stalls while driving. GM ended up using the same switch in the Cobalt, the G5 and three other U.S. models.

Wait, did we say that they knew about this sudden-stall problem for a decade? Maybe two decades, according to Automotive News:

Stung by rising warranty costs, General Motors decided in the mid-1990s to pull design work for ignition and turn-signal switches from suppliers and put its own employees in charge. One of the first projects for the in-house team was the ignition switch for the Saturn Ion and Chevrolet Cobalt.

Why did GM authorize a redesign of the part in 2006, eight years before the recall? And why was the change made so discreetly — without a new part number — that employees investigating complaints of Ions and Cobalts stalling didn’t know about it until late last year? . . . 

Not assigning the new part number would have been highly unusual, according to three people who worked as high-level GM engineers at the time. None of the engineers was involved in the handling of the ignition switch; all asked that their names not be used because of the sensitivity of the matter.

“Changing the fit, form or function of a part without making a part number change is a cardinal sin,” said one of the engineers. “It would have been an extraordinary violation of internal processes.”

That doesn’t prove that the company was trying to cover up a defective, dangerous part . . . but it sure does look suspicious.

Why does this matter to us? Because $10.5 billion of our tax dollars were given to GM to steward them through the bankruptcy — and it’s very likely they were lying to everyone the whole time. The National Legal and Policy Center is asking some very tough questions:

The timing of the revelation (May 15, 2009, just two weeks prior to GM filing for bankruptcy) that a “potentially fatal defect existed in hundreds of thousands” of GM vehicles is of particular importance as the company is currently being accused of hiding the liabilities arising from the defects from the bankruptcy court in June of 2009. Is it really believable that the company honestly overlooked a “potentially fatal defect” and the accompanying lawsuits when they were required to disclose them to the bankruptcy court? Also, how could President Obama’s Auto Task Force, which orchestrated the bankruptcy process, not know of the issues when they were so deeply entrenched at GM.

If Old GM knew about the defects, New GM had to know as well. Also, meetings were held in July of 2011 regarding the known defects at a time when Mary Barra was head of product development; still, no recall. And New GM’s recent responses have not been any better than the old.

All through the reelection campaign, Barack Obama and his supporters celebrated the GM bailout as one of his shining successes. Now it turns out we were helping a company that sold dangerous, defective vehicles last a little longer until the plaintiffs’ lawyers got a hold of them. (The argument is that by hiding the danger during the bankruptcy crisis, the “new GM” is liable for the actions of the “old GM.”)

Tags: Barack Obama , GM

Obama: I’m ‘More Concerned’ about a ‘Nuclear Weapon Going Off in Manhattan’



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What?

President Obama, speaking in the Netherlands, moments ago:

The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more. And so my response, then, continues to be what I believe today, which is that Russia’s actions are a problem. They don’t pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned, when it comes to our security, with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.

Tags: Barack Obama , Russia , nuclear weapons

The Taxpayer Bailout of GM, Helping Them Sell Unsafe Cars



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President Obama, December 2013:

In exchange for rescuing and retooling GM and Chrysler with taxpayer dollars, we demanded responsibility and results.

The news he alluded to, but did not directly mention that day:

The taxpayer loss on the GM bailout is $10.5 billion. The Treasury department said it recovered $39 billion from selling its GM stake, and had put $49.5 billion of taxpayer money directly into the GM bailout.

The news today:

It was nearly five years ago that any doubts were laid to rest among engineers at General Motors about a dangerous and faulty ignition switch. At a meeting on May 15, 2009, they learned that data in the black boxes of Chevrolet Cobalts confirmed a potentially fatal defect existed in hundreds of thousands of cars.

But in the months and years that followed, as a trove of internal documents and studies mounted, G.M. told the families of accident victims and other customers that it did not have enough evidence of any defect in their cars, interviews, letters and legal documents show. Last month, G.M. recalled 1.6 million Cobalts and other small cars, saying that if the switch was bumped or weighed down it could shut off the engine’s power and disable air bags.

The Times reports:

Since the engineers’ meeting in May 2009, at least 23 fatal crashes have involved the recalled models, resulting in 26 deaths.

In November 2008, automaker executives came to Washington and “pleaded for emergency government aid.” At the end of May 2009 — after that meeting about the potentially fatal defect in the Cobalts! — the Obama administration finalized its aid package and terms to GM, committing “another $30 billion on top of the $19.4 billion it has already given GM to cover its losses and fund its operations, in exchange for a 60% equity stake in the new company after restructuring, as well as $8.8 billion in debt and preferred stock.”

Great news, taxpayers. You spent $10.5 billion to save a company that sold defective, unsafe cars, and lied about it for years.

Note this wrinkle:

When questioned last week at a news conference whether government ownership had any impact on the regulatory response to the ignition switch problems, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. responded: “I’m not sure that is necessarily true.”

Time to update that Obama 2012 slogan. “GM is alive, and 29 Cobalt drivers and passengers are dead.”

ABOVE: President Obama tapes his weekly address from a GM plant in
Detroit, October 14, 2011; there’s no word on whether the car behind him is one
of those with life-threatening defects that GM knew about but did not disclose.

Tags: GM , Bailouts , Barack Obama , Eric Holder

President Obama’s Discussion of Your Privacy Is Private



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President Obama’s meeting with technology leaders about invasions of privacy of U.S. citizens is private:

We can’t leave the door open or have the press in the room, because it just wouldn’t be right if somebody could listen in on their conversations!

You may recall that three years ago, President Obama accepted a “transparency” award from the open-government community in a closed, undisclosed meeting at the White House.

Tags: Barack Obama

The President’s Busy Morning: Russia Announcement, ESPN Radio



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This morning President Obama announced new sanctions on Russia for that country’s aggression in Crimea and threatening gestures toward Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

Then the president did an interview with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd.

This is the home page of WhiteHouse.gov right now:

“View the President’s Backet” is at the top of the page.

Elsewhere on WhiteHouse.gov, visitors are encouraged to provide their e-mail addresses so they can “Sign up to get the First Lady’s blog posts, videos of events and photos delivered right to your inbox” dealing with first lady Michelle Obama’s trip to China.

This is really the only way for the American public to learn much about the first lady’s six-day taxpayer-funded trip to China with her daughters and mother, as “First lady Michelle Obama will not take questions from reporters or give interviews during her tour of China that begins today, and members of the press corps who usually follows [sic] the first family everywhere can’t travel with her entourage.”

Back in November, news organizations filed a formal complaint with the White House about the administration’s habit of “bypassing them to release ‘official’ photos of presidential meetings and events,” contending “visual press releases” have displaced independent coverage.

Tags: Barack Obama , Michelle Obama , White House , Russia , Basketball

Putin Redraws Russian Borders; Obama Unveils Bracket Picks



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From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Perhaps Obama Will Play the Fiddle at Tonight’s Democratic Fundraisers

Today’s Headlines, from Moscow . . . 

In a gilded Kremlin hall used by czars, Vladimir Putin redrew Russia’s borders Tuesday by declaring the Crimean Peninsula part of the motherland — provoking a surge of emotion among Russians who lament the loss of empire and denunciations from Western leaders who called Putin a threat to the world.

From Kiev:

Ukrainians, however, were convinced from Putin’s speech to the Russian Duma that the conflict could not remain cold. Many said they found some of Putin’s phrasing chilling, including his statement that “We’re one nation. Kiev is the mother of all Russian cities.”

They also noted that his proclamation of respect for Ukrainian territorial integrity rings hollow when he has already invaded and taken control of one region, and has an estimated 60,000 troops massing at the shared border.

Vitali Klitschko, the former world heavyweight champion and a leading member of Ukraine’s Parliament, underscored what many Ukrainians are thinking when he addressed the Russian threat, pointedly using the words “when the Russians invade” instead of “if.”

From Simferopol:

A member of a pro-Russian militia group is reported to have been killed in the same gun battle that claimed the life of the Ukrainian soldier earlier. There’s some confusion over how the militia man died and it seems that he may have been killed by his own side rather than shot by resisting Ukrainian forces.

From Sevastopol, an old woman in a pro-Russian crowd, lovingly holding an image of Joseph Stalin:

And from Washington:

President Obama stumps for a minimum wage hike Wednesday by appealing to specific television markets.

The president sits for interviews with stations based in New England, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Dallas, Phoenix, and San Diego.

He has asked Congress to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.

Also on Wednesday, Obama will host the screening of a new film about Cesar Chavez, the farm worker who campaigned for labor rights.

Just in case you thought this was a productive use of his time, “The odds that Congress will pass an increase in the U.S. minimum wage before the November elections are so low that even the nation’s lobbyists are largely ignoring it.”

That’s not all Obama has going on today: “President Barack Obama, the nation’s No. 1 college basketball fan, is going to make his picks public on Wednesday.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Ukraine , Vladimir Putin , Crimea

Obama’s Schedule for This Week: Three Fundraisers



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This morning Vladimir Putin announced that Crimea had always been a part of Russia, prepared papers for the territory to formally rejoin Russia, and claimed that no Russian military forces had been deployed on the peninsula. Also the Duma, the Russian parliament, dared the United States to put sanctions on all of its members.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, tonight President Obama will attend a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in Washington, his first fundraiser for the DNC since Tuesday, March 11.

On Thursday, President Obama plans to travel to Orlando, Fla. for an event on the economy followed by fundraisers in Miami for the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Barack Obama, seen here conducting an interview with Ryan Seacrest Friday, March 14, holds an elected position that many once called “the leader of the free world.” 

 

Tags: Barack Obama , Crimea , Russia

NRCC: Please Bring President Obama to Red House Districts!



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Yesterday, to discuss the referenda in Crimea and the crisis in Ukraine on “Meet the Press,” the White House dispatched… Dan Pfeiffer. You know, the guy who was previously communications director for the Obama campaign. And before that, a spokesman for Sen. Evan Bayh.

When Pfeiffer had finished “answering” questions about the missing Malaysian Airlines jet, and warning Vladimir Putin that the Crimean “referendum is in violation of international law,” he declared that President Obama would be an “asset” to Democrat candidates in 2014 and that he’d help Democrats “up and down the ballot.”

After the National Republican Congressional Committee stopped laughing, they felt the need to help arrange these campaign stops:

They sent that letter, in press release form, to the districts of Gwen Graham (FL-2), Amanda Renteria (CA-21), Andrew Romanoff (CO-06), Ann Callis (IL-13), George Gollin (IL-13), Staci Appel (IA-03), Jerry Cannon (MI-01), John Lewis (MT-AL), Erin Bilbray (NV-03), Domenic Recchia (NY-11), Sean Eldridge (NY-19), Martha Robertson (NY-23), Aimee Belgard (NJ-03), Kevin Strouse (PA-08), and Shaughnessy Naughton (PA-08).

I guess we know where the NRCC thinks Obama’s a liability now!

Tags: NRCC , Barack Obama

If You Liked Your Doctor . . . Well, Never Mind.



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Then: “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Period.”

Now: “But for the average person, many folks who don’t have health insurance initially, they’re going to have to make some choices, and they might end up having to switch doctors.”

It’s not clear what Obama means when he suggests “many” of the “average” don’t have health insurance, since the “average” American has always had health insurance. The percentage of Americans telling the Gallup organization that they don’t have health insurance has ranged from 13.9 percent in late summer 2008 to 18 percent in the third quarter of 2013. The rate dropped to 15.9 percent in their most recent figures.

Tags: Barack Obama , Obamacare

The Gap Between Obama and Reality



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During the old days of tension with Russia, presidents worried about the “missile gap.” During the current days of tension with Russia, the president . . . shops at The Gap.

After a tough morning doing an interview with Funny or Die, and in between two fundraisers, President Obama did his part for the economy:

President Barack Obama looks at a sweater with Gap employee Susan Panariello while shopping for his family during a stop at a Gap store in New York, N.Y., March 11, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

“For Michelle, I have no idea what to get. Maybe we should buy some socks,” he said.

Inspirational, Mr. President.

Tags: Barack Obama

With Dedication and Hard Work, Obama Hits New Levels of Overexposure



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Sunday night Fox debuted a ten-part documentary series, Cosmos, featuring astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, inspired by and updating the Carl Sagan series.

It’s pretty impressive, using computer-generated imagery to dramatize the stars, nebulas, and rogue planets of deep space. But it began with this:

This morning, comedic actor Zach Galifianakis interviewed President Obama.

Obama has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman, slow-jammed the news on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, taped a question-and-answer promoting Conan O’Brien’s transition to The Tonight Show, taped a promotion for George Lopez, taped a video for The Colbert Report, taped a prime-time special with Oprah, grilled with Food Network star Bobby Flay, popped up in commercials during Thanksgiving football, and filled out his NCAA basketball tournament picks on ESPN every year, and of course, American Idol. (More than once.) He appeared on The View in fall 2012, and made his second appearance as president on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show that fall as well.

Getting the president to pop up in every conceivable entertainment context is a deliberate strategy by this White House. It is an awful development, and the next president has to at least try to put this genie back in the bottle. Even the New York Times noticed:

There appears to be no place that Mr. Obama is unwilling to go in his search for young people, which the image makers of his predecessors have noticed.

“We have to worry about the dignity of the presidency,” said Mike McCurry, who served as Mr. Clinton’s press secretary in the 1990s. “There’s a limit to how much you can do.” Still, he said, “the shifts in the popular culture and the way people are entertained and get information almost mandate new strategies.”

Nicolle Wallace, who was Mr. Bush’s communications director, said she suspects there are some lines that even Mr. Pfeiffer and his current team will not cross.

“You can’t put a president on ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’” she said, perhaps hopefully.

The presidency of the United States is not meant to be an all-encompassing, ubiquitous role in the national culture. It is a job, with a four-year contract and an option for another four. And there is no shortage of real work in that job, beyond sitting on the talk-show couches and taping introductions to documentary series. And a lot of big problems remain unresolved.

According to the latest jobs figures, 10.5 million Americans are officially categorized as unemployed, with 3.8 million considered long-term unemployed, 7.2 million Americans working part-time involuntarily, 2.3 million “marginally attached to the labor force,” and 755,000 “discouraged workers,” so there’s still plenty of work to be done on the economic front. Wages have been flat for a decade. Household debt has declined some since the Great Recession, but it’s still considerable, particularly a boom in student-loan debt. Despite the highest level of tax revenue in American history, last year’s deficit was “only” $680 billion, and the national debt is $17.4 trillion and counting. Math, science, and reading test scores for American children remain mediocre, with no signs of improvement over the past decade.

Then, of course, there’s the Affordable Care Act, where most of the previously uninsured are finding the options are not affordable at all, and perhaps 10 percent of the uninsured have selected and purchased a plan, as of February 13.

With Russia on the move in Ukraine, Venezuela exploding, Syria disintegrating, violence and refugees spreading to Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, the Taliban threatening the elections in Afghanistan, and China and Japan continuing to rattle their sabers over small, uninhabited islands, there’s no shortage of work to be done in foreign policy, either.

Never mind. The president’s bracket selection will go on, no matter what else is going on in the world.

Tags: Barack Obama

After Denouncing Putin in Classroom, Obama Heads to Fundraisers



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The following is from ABC News… and seems like the sort of thing the media might have given the White House a pass over, a few years ago:

This is awful, awful advance work on the part of the White House. And the contrast with Vladimir Putin today is… not good.

Tonight the president will attend a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in McLean, Virginia. 

Then tomorrow, “President Barack Obama will fly to Boston Wednesday to take part in a series of fundraising events.”

 

Tags: Barack Obama , Vladimir Putin , DSCC

No One Could Have Predicted This! Except Tom Clancy Did.



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From the Tuesday Morning Jolt:

The Chaos in Crimea Continues

Hey, guess what Barack Obama was doing back in August of 2005, as Larry O’Connor discovered?

DONETSK, Ukraine – U.S. Senators Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Barack Obama (D-IL) called for the immediate destruction of 15,000 tons of ammunition, 400,000 small arms and light weapons, and 1,000 man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) or shoulder missile launchers that are often sought by terrorists. 

Lugar and Obama toured the Donetsk State Chemical Production Plant, a conventional weapons destruction facility where the U.S. has taken the lead in a three-year NATO program to destroy the weapons. Another 117,000 tons of ammunition and 1.1 million small arms and light weapons are slated for destruction within 12 years. 

Heck, it’s not like Ukraine will need lots of weapons in the next decade, right?

Fast forward nine years…

CNN: “Turning to the troop buildup in the Russian-dominated autonomous region of Crimea, Putin said Ukraine is a brotherly neighbor of Russia — and that the troops there have much in common. He also said Russian forces have not fired a shot since they crossed into Crimea.”

And here’s video of Russian troops firing shots over the head of marching Ukranian Air Force airmen.

Raise your hands if you foresaw Zbigniew Brzezinski calling for deployment of U.S. airborne troops to NATO bases near Ukraine:

Russia’s unilateral and menacing acts mean the West should promptly recognize the current government of Ukraine as legitimate. Uncertainty regarding its legal status could tempt Putin to repeat his Crimean charade. Second, the West should convey — privately at this stage, so as not to humiliate Russia — that the Ukrainian army can count on immediate and direct Western aid so as to enhance its defensive capabilities. There should be no doubt left in Putin’s mind that an attack on Ukraine would precipitate a prolonged and costly engagement, and Ukrainians should not fear that they would be left in the lurch.

Meanwhile, NATO forces, consistent with the organization’s contingency planning, should be put on alert. High readiness for some immediate airlift to Europe of U.S. airborne units would be politically and militarily meaningful. If the West wants to avoid a conflict, there should be no ambiguity in the Kremlin as to what might be preciptated by further adventurist use of force in the middle of Europe.

NATO member countries that border Ukraine are Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Turkey’s on the other side of the Black Sea.

Did you catch this headline from Time magazine’s correspondent in Kiev a week ago? “No, Russia Will Not Intervene in Ukraine.” 

…Meanwhile, Morning Jolt reader Doug points out that no one could have predicted Russia’s move on Ukraine… except Tom Clancy, who died in October:

The last Tom Clancy book, Command Authority, published last year, is all about Russian aggression against its former satellites. Dialogue on p. 70:

Golovko added, “Volodin has his eyes on the Crimea, in Southern Ukraine, and he knows once Ukraine joins NATO, that will be difficult for him to achieve.  The way he sees it, he has to move soon.”

Ryan said, “He is right that there is no treaty between Ukraine and NATO.  And if he does invade, getting Europe on board to fight for the Crimea is a nonstarter.” 

It’s like he’s psychic. The only good news in this revelation is that if Clancy’s right about this, it means he’s right about everything else, and that means the U.S. Navy got their hands on a Russian submarine with a caterpillar drive back in 1984.

UPDATE: Separately from Clancy’s last novel, the author lent his name to a line of computer games. The first Ghost Recon game depicted U.S. special forces secretly going into T’bilisi, Georgia to deal with Russian invasion forces backed by ultra-nationalist hard-liners. The “future date” of the 2001 game was… April 2008. In real life, Russian forces crossed into Georgia a few months later. Ghost Recon also featured Russia taking over… Ukraine. The trailer is below:  

 

Tags: Ukraine , Crimea , Barack Obama , Vladimir Putin , Russia

The U.S. Has Plenty of Options for a Response to Russia.



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A great deal of talk about Russia, Crimea, Ukraine, and our wise leaders in the first Morning Jolt of the week. Let’s fast forward to the “what are our options?” part:

So What to Do?

You’re going to hear a lot of “well, there’s not much we can do” in the coming days and weeks, a preemptive excuse for administration dithering, indecision, and empty gestures.

John Fund:

The U.S. should immediately move to expand its existing Magnitsky Act, which prohibits Russians engaged in illegal activity from entering the U.S. If it were extended to the regulation of bank accounts and property ownership in the U.S., we’d hear howls of outrage from many Russian officials and oligarchs. Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), for one, supports this kind of restriction: “Living in Miami, I have seen in recent years the wave of Russian tourists coming to our city and state to spend money and buy property. Many are government officials or allies whose wealth stems from allegiance to Putin, and we should limit their ability to travel here.”

The editors of the Wall Street Journal:

Russia today is not the isolated Soviet Union, and its leaders and oligarchs need access to Western markets and capital. All trade and banking relationships with Russia ought to be reconsidered, and the U.S. should restrict the access of Russian banks to the global financial system. Aggressive investigations and leaks about the money the oligarchs and Mr. Putin hold in Western banks might raise the pressure in the Kremlin. The U.S. should also expand the list of Russian officials on the Magnitsky Act’s American visa ban and financial assets freeze, including Mr. Putin.

The U.S. can also deploy ships from the Europe-based Sixth Fleet into the Black Sea, and send the newly commissioned George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean. NATO has a “distinctive partnership” with Kiev and in 2008 promised Ukraine that it could eventually join. It’s impractical and risky to bring Ukraine in now. But the alliance should do what it can to help Ukraine and certainly boot the Russian mission, a well-known den of spies, from NATO headquarters in Brussels and shut down the useless Russia-NATO Council.

Tom Rogan:

Were the president to unleash America’s energy boom into the export sector, fast-tracking energy supplies to Europe, he’d pull the rug out from under Putin’s feet. No longer subject to Putin’s energy protection racket, Europe would be free to take a tougher stand against his intimidation. More important, removed of the foreign capital flows born of his own energy exports, Putin would be unable to support his increasing military expenditures and continuing support for Assad’s rampages in Syria.

So will we use any of these options? Or will the administration reject all of them as being too “provocative” — as if the invasion of a country we wanted to bring into NATO wasn’t provocative enough?

“Don’t worry, world! We’ve got this one!”

Tags: Russia , Ukraine , NATO , Crimea , Barack Obama

Obama Administration’s 2014 Message: Everything Is Awesome!



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According to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 10.2 million Americans who are officially categorized as unemployed, with 3.6 million considered long-term unemployed. There are 7.3 million Americans working part-time involuntarily, sometimes considered underemployed. There are 837,000 “discouraged workers” — persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.

Wages have been flat for a decade. Household debt has declined some since the Great Recession, but it’s still considerable, particularly a boom in student-loan debt:

U.S. household consumer debt profile:

Average credit card debt: $15,270

Average mortgage debt: $149,925

Average student loan debt: $32,258

In total, American consumers owe:

$11.36 trillion in debt, a decrease of one-tenth of one percent from last year

$856.9 billion in credit card debt

$7.93 trillion in mortgages

$1,049.0 billion in student loans, an increase of 11 percent from last year

You’re familiar with the condition of America’s health-care system, and how even basic measurements of progress are unavailable:

Nobody has a good, real-time fix on how successful the Affordable Care Act has been in reducing the ranks of the uninsured. The Obama administration hasn’t been able to say how many of the 3.3 million people who have signed up for private health insurance coverage, or of the 6.3 million who have been determined eligible for Medicaid, were actually uninsured before — and health care experts aren’t sure yet, either.

And of course, despite the highest level of tax revenue in American history, last year’s deficit was “only” $680 billion, and the national debt is $17.4 trillion and counting.

Ladies and gentlemen, the schedule of the president of the United States in the coming months:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Busy man!

I think this will be the theme music for all of these fundraisers:

Tags: Barack Obama

Why Is Obama Squeezing the Home Health-Service Industry?



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This is one of those mornings where I want to post the whole Morning Jolt as soon as it’s done. But it’s better to subscribe, so you’ll get the whole package faster.

Why is the Obama Administration Squeezing the Home Health-Service Industry?

A couple of nights ago, Jim Angle of Fox News pointed out a largely unnoticed aspect of Obamacare: HHS Kathleen Sebelius’s decision to  cut the maximum amount she could from Medicare’s payments for home health-care services.

Home health-care services are when a professional from a Medicare-certified home health agency comes to an elderly person’s house and provides nursing care, physical therapy, or speech-language pathology services.

Sebelius cut the maximum permitted by law, 3.5 percent, and declared HHS would do the same for the next three years.

As Angle’s report: noted, “The cuts were deep enough that officials offered a damaging prediction of the impact saying, it was estimated that approximately 40 percent of providers would have negative margins.” 

“Negative margins” is another term for losing money. And businesses that lose money either go kaput or lay off workers. Forty percent of the firms in the industry adds up to roughly a half-million jobs. That doesn’t mean that 500,000 home health-care workers will be fired tomorrow, but it does mean that they’re at serious risk for layoffs in the next three years.

So we’re talking about a massive job-killer in a field dedicated to treating the health problems of the elderly.

Here’s industry research firm IBISWorld, basically declaring that the outlook for what was, not long ago, one of the fastest-growing health-care fields looks grim:

Prior to December 2013, the Home Care Providers industry was quickly becoming one of the fastest growing healthcare industries in the United States. Home care saves billions of dollars every year by allowing patients to avoid high-cost healthcare settings, such as hospitals . . . 

To help pay for other provisions of the recent healthcare legislation, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced the implementation of a four-year 3.5% annual reduction to the Medicare base payment for home healthcare services beginning in January 2014. The National Association for Home Care and Hospice estimates that the magnitude of these reductions will likely render three-quarters of all industry operators unable to run profitably by 2017.

(Note: That is way more than 40 percent!)

According to the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare, the industry experienced its largest job loss in more than a decade in December 2013; although the Medicare reductions were not officially implemented until 2014, CMS’s announcement was enough to spur industry operators to begin cutting costs. The industry is aggressively lobbying Congress to reconsider or revoke these reductions, but unless that happens, IBISWorld expects industry revenue to decrease in the five years to 2019. Spurred by slow revenue growth in 2014, IBISWorld also anticipates significant profit losses across the industry, with average margins decreasing by 2019.

So what’s the administration’s angle here? They never met a dollar they didn’t want to spend, particularly in entitlements, so why are they suddenly putting the screws to the home health-care industry, of all professions? Is it that the financial forecasts of Obamacare have been so wildly overoptimistic and unrealistic that they feel they’ve got to make a big-time cut somewhere to prevent their “bending the cost curve down” promise from becoming an even bigger joke? Or does the administration have something ideological against home health care? Is it that by having the health-care provider coming to a person’s house, there’s not enough of a role for the government to intervene, manage, and meddle?

And why does Paul Ryan get ads depicting him throwing Granny off the cliff when Kathleen Sebelius really is cutting funding for care for the elderly right now?

Does that nurse who visits your home really need that paycheck?

Tags: Barack Obama , Kathleen Sebelius , Obamacare , Home Health Services

Pollard Pardon? Not Now



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Jonathan Pollard’s life sentence for the crimes he committed nearly 30 years ago is, without a doubt, both a travesty of justice and completely disproportionate.

I offered Pollard advice and help when he called me from prison in the mid-1990s. I published an original document about his trial in 1997 and evinced new information about him from Caspar Weinberger in a 1999 interview. I have maintained a blog entry exposing the rank hypocrisy of U.S. leaders who come down so hard on Pollard even as American intelligence services spy no less, and probably much more, on Israel.

I mention these bona fides because I do not want Barack Obama to pardon Pollard.

While delighted by this prospect for the prisoner and his family, after so many years and so much emotional freighting, his pardon will certainly carry a high strategic cost (just as did the release of Gilad Shalit). I expect an exorbitant price in the currency of Israeli concessions toward the Palestinians or even toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. Cool U.S.-Israel relations have their benefit when Obama, Kerry, Hagel, Brennan, and Rice are running the foreign policy show.

Accordingly, and with a heavy heart, I call on the free-Pollard advocates to cease their efforts until a president with an understanding of American interests comes to office. 

Tags: Jonathan Pollard , Barack Obama , spying

American Foreign Policy Has Gone on an Extended Hiatus



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Today’s Morning Jolt launches with this . . . 

American Foreign Policy Has Gone on an Extended Hiatus

One of the all-time “dang, I wish I had written that” essays:

Earlier this month while visiting Monticello with a French delegation that included socialist President François Hollande, President Obama was caught in a moment joking about breaking protocol to view the grounds, quipping, “That’s the good thing as a President, I can do whatever I want.” Forget the enormity of the irony; an American President joking at Thomas Jefferson’s home that rules don’t apply to him and give Obama the benefit of the doubt that this was just a casual line.

It was no different than a line Michael Douglas would say in The American President or Kevin Kline in Dave or Martin Sheen in The West Wing, and that’s exactly the point. Obama has become a President of good lines from movies but unable to act like a very real leader.

The reason for the uproar over comments like this from this President is because he never wastes an opportunity to show just how right the absurdness of the social media noise machine is. When Obama jokes about being able to do whatever he wants, then turns around and hits an HBO producer up at a State Dinner for advanced copies of television shows to get him through an extended weekend, how are we as a desperate electorate supposed to react? We tolerate the luxuries afforded to our leaders. Just don’t be a d*** about it.

How is a world currently engulfed in flames of revolution supposed to react?

The problem for a President who makes any excuse to hit up a golf course or admits to watching tons of HBO is there are still events in the world happening outside his windows. People are desperate for American leadership and can’t wait for the killer on True Detective to be revealed.

Nobody in Kiev is interested in the fallout of the Red Wedding.

Nobody in Venezuela cares about the fate of Zoe Barnes . . . 

At the height of violence that erupted with both protests this past weekend, where was he? Hosting a Hollywood premiere style party for #GeorgeClooney and cast of his film #TheMonumentsMen, in private at the White House, simply because he could. Right now in Kiev, historical statues and art are being burned in front of the world. He was content to remain silent and watch a movie about it happening instead. The real world does not interest this President. The set design does.

That essay is so darn good, there’s only a point or two left for me to add. First, particularly on foreign policy, Obama is done. Maybe he gets a trade deal, maybe he doesn’t. Sooner or later the last troops leave Afghanistan, and if the place falls apart like Iraq, with al-Qaeda flags flying over cities, well, that’s their problem. Pivot to Asia? Pshhhht. We don’t even put much effort into our old alliances anymore. The U.K. said they wouldn’t stick with us in any conflict in Syria; we don’t worry about antagonizing the Canadians over Keystone. The Benghazi killers still walk freely.

You can tell what’s important to the president by what he spends his time on, and what issues he returns to again and again. Obama really wants an immigration deal and to preserve Obamacare, and that’s about it. He doesn’t want to touch entitlement reform with a ten-foot pole. He’ll talk about global warming, but he knows the votes aren’t there for it and it’s more useful as a talking point. The deficit has shrunk from the worst ever to the fifth-worst ever, so as far as he’s concerned, the budget is fixed. Year of action? Whatever. The House isn’t getting any more cooperative before January 2017.

While we as Americans may really want to tune out the world, life goes on out there, and on a lot of fronts, it’s getting worse. Sooner or later, that translates into trouble on our shores. It may not come in the form of a hijacked airliner next time. Maybe it comes in the form of Chinese and Japanese navies trading fire over a misunderstanding and a resulting economic panic. Maybe it comes in the form of an Iranian nuclear test, but the Iranians will probably just want to drag out negotiations as long as possible to get as far along as possible before revealing they’ve got the bomb. Maybe Syria’s civil war really spreads to Lebanon, Iraq or even Jordan and Turkey in ways that endanger the governments of those countries. Maybe the nut-job running North Korea gets too provocative for anyone to ignore. Maybe it’s a cyber-attack.

Right now, the regimes in Venezuela and Ukraine are cracking down on uprisings, and the reaction from Washington alternates between pro forma denunciations and not much of anything. The world noticed. The world is reacting.

This is why the president gets the level of grief for golf, the movie screenings, and so on. He’s not doing that well at the basics of the job, and the White House wants us to believe everything’s running smoothly.

Tags: Ukraine , Venezuela , Barack Obama

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