Tags: President Obama

Coming Soon to Syria: Some Sort of U.S. Military Action Against ISIS


Do we do covert surveillance anymore? Do we really need somebody to announce every step we take to keep an eye on the bad guys?

U.S. surveillance flights over Syria have started with President Obama’s go ahead, a step that will provide potential targets if airstrikes against Islamic State militants are approved.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that an unnamed U.S. official said the flights had begun. USA TODAY reported Monday that the flights will provide information on potential targets for strikes in Syria if Obama approves.

What next, a formal announcement?

Dear ISIS,

You are cordially invited to air strikes on Syrian territory beginning Friday, September 29, just after dusk. Please keep all personnel, vehicles, command posts, artillery, and stockpiles of weapons in place until that time. Your cooperation is appreciated.

Courtesy, the United States of America

Meanwhile, the editorial board of the Washington Post calls for U.S. “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Syria:

No serious approach to the group can focus only on Iraq, as the United States has done thus far. The extremists treat Iraq and Syria as one area of operations, and the United States must do the same. In that theater, as Mr. Obama has said, the United States must find partners: Kurds in Iraq and Syria, Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq, the Iraqi government if it can become more inclusive, what is left of the Free Syrian Army. Aiding them does not require a U.S. invasion, but it will need “boots on the ground,” as Mr. Obama already has acknowledged by sending close to 1,000 special forces back to Iraq. They will be needed for training, to assist in air targeting and perhaps more. As The Post’s Greg Miller reported Sunday, the United States suffers from “persistent intelligence gaps” in Syria; these can be filled only with a human presence in the region, not by drones or satellite technology alone.

Peggy Noonan offered a wise thought that will probably be ignored by the administration: “Go to Congress for authorization of force, showing the world we have gained at least some semblance of unity.”

If President Obama asked Congress for authorization for expanded operations against ISIS, would congressional Republicans vote “yes”?

If President Obama asked Congress for authorization for expanded operations against ISIS, would congressional Democrats vote “yes”?

For President Obama, the easiest option, thought not the wisest, is to go ahead with any operations he deems necessary and ignore congressional complaints about the War Powers Act.

Tags: Syria , ISIS , Congressional Democrats , Congressional Republicans , President Obama

IG: Afghans Aren’t Using U.S.-Provided Transport Planes, Don’t Need Another


The independent special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction is warning Pentagon leadership that the Afghan air force doesn’t need all the C-130 transport planes provided by the U.S. in $100 million–plus deal, and is urging the Pentagon to halt the delivery of another one without a detailed review of the policy.

Special Inspector General John F. Sopko writes:

We analyzed flight data for the two AAF C-130s currently in Afghanistan and found that they are being underutilized, which raises questions about whether additional aircraft are truly needed. Lastly, during my visit last month, I was informed about support problems associated with training, spare parts, and maintenance for the two C-130s currently in the inventory.

Sopko’s report states that not delivering a single C-130 could save the U.S. taxpayer up to $40.5 million. The third C-130 is scheduled to be delivered next month.

Are the Afghans really using this plane? If not, do they need another?

The inspector general’s report also states that the Department of Defense has been unable to provide documentation to support its decision to purchase the C-130s, detailing that:

a U.S. Air Force team raised concerns that the C-130 would be too complex and costly for the AAF. Notwithstanding those concerns,on January 4, 2013 the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the Secretary of the Air Force to provide four C-130s to the AAF — two in 2013 and two by the end of 2014.


The Deputy Secretary of Defense in January 2013 was Ashton Carter. In December of that year, he was replaced by Christine Fox as the acting deputy defense secretary. Previously, she had the director of cost assessment and program evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense — one of the most senior civilian positions at the Pentagon. She’s also known for inspiring Kelly McGillis’s character in Top Gun.

When Fox retired in May, President Obama said:

Last year, she graciously agreed to return to the Department of Defense shortly after she had officially retired in order to ensure that Secretary Hagel and I had the support we needed in a challenging time. She provided steady leadership in the wake of sequester and developed an approach to the budget that puts our military on a path toward restored readiness.

NOTE: This report initially referred to the IG as part of the Pentagon, but it is an independent agency with jurisdiction over any agency doing reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Tags: Afghanistan , Government Waste , President Obama

White House Wants ‘Transparency’ Credit for Releasing VA Wait Lists Audit


President Obama deserves credit for the fact that his administration is no longer hiding the extent to which the Veterans Affairs Department hid the fact that 57,000 veterans are waiting for health care, according to his spokesman.

“The first thing I want to point out [is] that the release of today’s data is an indication of the  president’s commitment to trying to be transparent about this process,” White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday. The audit he was referring to showed that 57,000 veterans are waiting for treatment and that ”13 percent of VA schedulers reported supervisors telling them to falsify appointment dates to make waiting times appear shorter,” per the Associated Press

Earnest said that the report would allow the public to evaluate the reforms needed to fix the VA. “We have removed the 14-day scheduling goal that has led to some of the unintended consequences that you’ve cited, the creation of these alternate lists and these other things that the VA is working through right now,” he said. Earnest was referring to the secret wait lists created by VA staff in order to hide the fact that they were failing to provide an appointment to new patients within 14 days of an initial request.

“Before leaving office, [resigning VA Secretary Eric Shinseki] directed that wait times should no longer be part of hospital directors’ performance reviews and canceled the attached bonuses,” the Hampton Roads Daily Press noted.

Tags: Veterans Affairs , Veterans , President Obama

Anyone Seen the Guy Who Gave GM $49 Billion in Taxpayer Money?


Also in today’s Jolt:

Has Anyone Seen The Guy Who Gave GM $49 Billion in Taxpayer Money?

Remember Steve Rattner? From his own biography: “Rattner served as Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury and led the Obama Administration’s successful effort to restructure the automobile industry, which he chronicled in his book, Overhaul: An Insider’s Account of the Obama Administration’s Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry.” You know, the car czar.

Over on his personal website, his most recent article is on challenges to Europe’s economies. He wrote it March 21.

Over on his blog, the most recent entry is from March 17, on the missing Malaysian jet.

Rattner was on ABC News This Week Sunday, but he talked about manufacturing wages, not GM’s problems or the bailout. ABC News did a separate interview with him, asking him how he felt about the “car czar” nickname, but not about GM.

A Google News search reveals Rattner has gone largely unmentioned in the coverage of the GM defective-switch scandal. He’s not saying much on his own venues, and apparently no one wants to ask him any questions about President’s Auto Industry Task Force, just how thorough their review of GM was, and how they managed to miss so many consequential lurking safety issues.

Allow me to spotlight two sentences in Michael Moore’s rant about the GM defective-switch scandal that indicate the mental leap our progressive friends have to make when discussing this story:

Only now, under the newly-configured GM — owned, essentially, by you and me from 2009 through last year — has the truth come out . . . 

I hope someone in the Obama administration will get out the handcuffs, the SWAT teams, or the U.S. army if need be, march into GM headquarters in downtown Detroit and haul away anyone who is there who had anything to do with this. And if they already left town, hunt them down and bring them in to face justice.

“Anyone who had anything to do with this”? Would that include “the owners from 2009 through last year”?

The GM bailout put big government and a big corporation in bed together; now Moore only wants to blame one spouse. To give him a smidgen of credit, he was sufficiently distrustful of GM that he wasn’t cheerleading President Obama’s bailout back in 2009: “Who among us wants $50 billion of our tax dollars thrown down the rat hole of still trying to save GM?” Of course, Moore wanted President Obama to “immediately convert our auto factories to factories that build mass transit vehicles and alternative energy devices” because “things we call ‘cars’ may have been fun to drive, but they are like a million daggers into the heart of Mother Nature. To continue to build them would only lead to the ruin of our species and much of the planet.” I guess he walks everywhere. (Friendly reminder: Michael Moore has a $2 million, 10,000-square-foot mansion in Torch Lake, Michigan, that he must somehow heat and cool without any carbon emissions.)

There is plenty of blame to go around here. First there’s the serious accusation that GM hid just how deadly the problem could be:

In particular is the charge from a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) official that the agency had no knowledge in the link between faulty ignition switches and airbag non-deployments. “GM had critical information that would have helped identify this defect,” said David Friedman.

Then there’s the charge that federal safety inspectors and regulators are now blaming GM to divert attention from their own bureaucratic inertia . . . 

However, former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook took her former employer to task yesterday, saying, “NHTSA has fallen into a bureaucratic quagmire that it uses to avoid opening investigations and determining safety defects while people are dying unnecessarily on the highway. . . . It is past time for NHTSA to put the public first in its safety defect decisions.” The NHTSA has been faulted for not fully looking into the issue, as they concluded in 2007 that there wasn’t enough evidence to press for an investigation.

Says Friedman, “We believe our defects investigation program and recalls process has functioned extremely well over the years in identifying defects that create unreasonable risks and ensuring that recalls occur whenever appropriate. Even so, we continually seek ways to improve.”

Remember, this administration tied itself at the hip to General Motors’ leadership. Not many CEOs get invited to the State of the Union.

Tags: GM , President Obama , Steve Rattner

Obamacare’s Never-Ending Dance of Delays


From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Obamacare’s Never-Ending Dance of Delays

How the Obamacare discussion has progressed, in short-play form:

Congressional Republicans: Obamacare’s new rules are eliminating plans that people like.

President Obama: That’s not true. We said, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”

People: Hey, our insurance plan just got canceled!

President Obama:I am sorry that [you] are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances [you] got from me.”

Congressional Republicans: You have to repeal the law. The law is what’s causing these plan cancellations.

President Obama: No, it isn’t. And no, we don’t have to repeal it. We’re not going back.

Congressional Democrats: Yeah, what he said. It’s. The. Law. We’re not going back. We’re all united behind Obamacare as is it currently written!

Red State Democrats: Whoa, whoa, whoa. What’s all this “we” stuff?

President Obama: Besides, this only impacts a very small number of people on the individual market.

Congressional Republicans: That’s several million people. The whole point of this thing was to cover the uninsured, and your law, passed without any of our votes, is creating more uninsured.

[Red State Democrats attempt to quietly slink out of the room]

President Obama: This is not a big problem.

[The people get angrier.]

President Obama: Okay, fine. I’m reinstating the old plans for a year.

Insurance companies: What, do you think we have these things hooked up to light switches? We can’t just flick them back on.

State Insurance Commissioners: Ahem, Mr. President, I think you’ll need our approval for this.

President Obama: Okay. If you liked your old plan, and if the insurance companies decide to offer it again, and if the state insurance commissioner signs off, you can keep your old plan.

People: Gee, thanks a heap, champ.

Congressional Republicans: The employer mandate isn’t going to work!

President Obama: Yes, it will! Yes, we can!

Congressional Democrats: They’re just nay-saying because they’re bitter, and hate the president, and they want sick people to die quickly.

(looks around)

Hey, where did the Red State Democrats go?

[The deadline for the employer mandate gets closer.]

Business community: These rules are unworkable.

President Obama: Due to unforeseen problems no one saw coming, I have instructed Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to delay the employer mandate until after the midterm elections.

Congressional Republicans: What do you mean, unforeseen? We told you it isn’t going to work! And you don’t have the authority to just unilaterally decide some parts of the law are delayed!

President Obama: Yes, I do. Yes, we can!

Congressional Democrats: Why are you complaining about him doing this? You were the ones complaining about the employer mandate before.

Congressional Republicans: The delay doesn’t change much. The employer mandate still isn’t going to work!

President Obama: Yes, it will! Yes, we can!

[Time passes.]

Business community: These rules are still unworkable. All you’ve done is give us more time to deal with a set of rules that make things more complicated and more expensive, and create perverse incentives to eliminate our existing coverage for employees, pay the fines instead, and tell our employees to buy insurance on the exchanges.

President Obama: Due to unforeseen problems no one saw coming, I have instructed Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to delay the employer mandate until 2016.

Congressional Republicans: Here we go again.

Congressional Democrats: What are you complaining about? He’s giving you what you wanted!

(looking around)

And where the heck did our red-state guys go?

Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.V.): “There’s bipartisan support for legislation postponing the implementation of the entirety of the Affordable Care Act until 2015.”

Fox News counts 28 major delays in Obamacare so far.

Tags: Obamacare , President Obama , Congressional Democrats , Congressional Republicans

Obama to ‘Sign Up’ for Insurance Today


Valerie Jarrett just announced to the press that President Obama will “sign up for for Health Insurance on the marketplace by the end of today to lead by example.”

We can safely assume if the site is “down for maintenance” today, it is not planned.

This AP photo is actually of Obama doing an event with Twitter.

This is actually not necessary for the president, as:

the President, while in office, has access to treatment by military hospitals and doctors as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. His family, as his dependents, also shares in this benefit. In the past, when Presidents have been sick or injured in office, they have almost always been treated at military hospital establishments. The cost of this treatment is borne by the taxpayers as part of the military budget appropriated by Congress.

As a federal employee, the president has a choice of about ten family plans, but it’s not clear how much, if any, President Obama pays out of pocket. TheLos Angeles Times:

The White House medical unit, with a staff of four doctors plus nurses and physicians’ assistants, is steps from his office. Treatment is free for Obama and his family (as well as for the vice president and his family).

The president’s coverage can change after he leaves office, though:

However, once the President leaves office, this may change. The President is afforded a set pension amount for his services, regardless of whether he served one or two terms. The amount of this pension, currently, is $199,700 per year, or a little less than 50% of an active President’s salary. The President receives this amount for life. The President is free at this point to choose privatized healthcare by paying health insurance premiums through the same carriers available to federal employees and will receive premium prices comparable to those employees. The President may also choose to purchase private health insurance from another company at his own expense. The one benefit the President and his family receive is the option to continue to receive treatment at military hospitals and healthcare provider locations, just as veterans are eligible for these services. This applies whether or not the President actually served in the armed forces, by right of being Commander-in-Chief for at least four years.

Still, it is good that the president will get to experience the joyfully simple and easy-to-understand, technically proficient web site that the rest of the country has enjoyed since day one.

Tags: Obamacare , President Obama

Can a Minimum-Wage Hike Really Motivate Voters?


President Obama’s message for the coming year is going to be a renewed focus on “income inequality.” Or as Bloomberg News puts it:

One of the president’s agenda items on this is raising the minimum wage. President Obama backs a proposal from Democratic members of Congress to raise it to $10.10 per hour.

On that front, fast-food workers around the country are walking out on the job and holding protests today, with one Detroit fast-food employee arguing his $7.40 per hour constituted “slave wages.” Rallies and protests are scheduled in “more than 200” cities. That may sound like a lot, but there are more than 13,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the United States alone. There were no protesters at the one on Duke Street in Alexandria closest to me this morning, and chances are, there won’t be any protesters at the one nearest you, either.

Also, Walmart, another corporation the Left sees as evil for paying insufficient wages, opened its first two stores in Washington, D.C., yesterday. The D.C. council had spent much of the year debating a law that would have required Walmart to pay $12.50 an hour in wages and benefits. The law would have applied to any “big box” store, but not to smaller businesses. The D.C. council instead decided to raise the minimum wage in the city to $11.50 by 2016.

The wages did not discourage applicants, according to the company, stating they had 23,000 applications for about 800 jobs in the two stores.

Raising the minimum wage always polls well, but it’s not clear if this is an issue that really drives voters to the polls. Certainly, most shoppers tune out the complaints of low wages. The Walmart openings in D.C. were greeted with long lines of eager shoppers, and as noted, most McDonald’s patrons will never encounter protests about the restaurant’s wages.

What’s more, the patrons encounter fast-food workers every day, and perhaps they’re not that convinced that they’re overdue for a raise of another $3 per hour or so. Like this Taco Bell employee, fired after posting the below photo to Facebook:

Does he look tragically underpaid to you?

Tags: Minimum Wage , President Obama

Obama Launches New PR Offensive for Dysfunctional Web Site


As mentioned below, today’s Morning Jolt talks about President Obama’s inability to see himself and his administration clearly. He can’t grasp the severity or the scope of the problem; he continually shifts back to seeing it as a “messaging” problem. Back in November, he described the problem facing Obamacare as one of “rebranding.”

Today Obama is going back to one of his favorite maneuvers:

The Obama administration on Tuesday will launch a campaign to promote the benefits of the president’s signature health care law, in a bid to blunt withering and widespread criticism over’s technical problems and insurance policy cancelations. The campaign will start Tuesday with Obama speaking at a White House event where he’ll be flanked by people who have been helped by the law, according to an administration official.

Remember Jessica Sanford. After a White House event where the president mentioned her as one of the program’s success stories, she received a letter declaring that there had been an error, that she did not qualify for a tax credit for insurance. Without the credit, she realized she couldn’t afford the monthly premium.

The problem is not the branding, or a lack of administration efforts to tout the program. The problem is that the program cannot work as promised the way it is currently structured. And what’s more, the much-touted web site still doesn’t work:

This is page A1 in the Washington Post. This is not some hidden, obscure report of an individual’s problem. In a normal White House, in a competent White House, someone would be telling the president, “We can’t just do another White House event, rolling out individuals who may or many not have insurance under the new law. The happy-talk stories don’t matter if the website doesn’t work. We just told the American people for the second time that the site works, when it doesn’t. We have a crisis of credibility, and the only way to solve that is to A) level with the American people about the scope of the problems with the system and B) do what we said we would do.”

There is no one who can tell the president that.

Tags: Obamacare , President Obama

Shutdown Strategies, Past and Future


On Tuesday, Rich wrote, “Did it take the shutdown to draw attention to Obamacare? I think it’s been pretty conclusively shown the last few weeks that the answer is ‘no.’”

Yesterday a regular reader wrote in, disagreeing, concluding:

What the shutdown did show was the GOP recognized in advance what a disaster Obamacare was, that it wasn’t ready to be launched, that average people were going to be hurt if the mandate was not delayed, etc. It also showed that the GOP members were willing to fight this monstrosity even though they were getting attacked for it and Obama wouldn’t even have any civil discussion about it (instead playing destructive politics all while he should have known what a disaster was about to hit).

We’re rapidly learning that during the shutdown fight, both sides within the GOP made erroneous assumptions about how the public would view the party’s actions.

A) The shutdown was not an effective way to build a critical mass of opposition to Obamacare, because the dominant issue became the shutdown, not Obamacare, and effectively created a news story that temporarily partially obscured the problems with Obamacare’s rollout.

Score a point for the shutdown skeptics. But also . . . 

B) The shutdown did little or no lasting damage to the image of Republicans and has quickly been forgotten.

So add a point in the column for the shutdown advocates. It wasn’t such a self-destructive strategy after all.

We did get another little bonus from this entire brouhaha: We now know that President Obama is the kind of man who would refuse to concede to his opponents’ demand for a delay in the implementation of Obamacare, even when his own political interests desperately needed a delay in the implementation of Obamacare. Chalk it up to stubbornness, stupidity, or an almost unimaginable obliviousness to the actual condition of the Obamacare rollout.

Now, the country faces some more key deadlines in a few months. On January 15, funding for the government runs out. On February 7, the government will hit the debt ceiling again. The heads of the Senate and House budget committees — Senator Patty Murray (D., Wash.) and Representative Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) — have been trying to hammer out a longer-term deal, but the outlook isn’t good.

Should the GOP make a big Obamacare-related demand of President Obama as the deadline approaches? Heck yes. They should make that demand and watch Obama refuse to accept, say, a delay of the individual mandate, even as his system continues to sputter and fail and grow less popular. Watch the Democrats’ unity splinter. Watch more and more Americans see Obama as a failed leader, (bitterly) clinging to an idea that is increasingly proving unworkable.

Republicans can make grandiose demands publicly, but they shouldn’t fool themselves about what they’re likely to get as concessions. Obama will never sign a repeal of his signature legislation, and he probably fears the chaos of Obamacare without the individual mandate more than the chaos of Obamacare with the individual mandate. Congressional Democrats may feel angry and betrayed, but they won’t abandon the president en masse until after the 2014 midterms.

Past experience shows that once the government shutdown begins, the dominant conversation to most apolitical Americans becomes, “Why can’t those losers in Washington do their jobs and pass a budget?” Eventually, a government shutdown becomes its own dominant issue, obscuring the original issue.

Republicans can and should push for the best concession they can get — but they should realize that government shutdowns are fundamentally unpopular, and they’ll always get a disproportionate share of the blame for them.

So an eleventh-hour deal that raises the debt limit through 2014, keeps next year’s spending at sequester levels, and makes Obama look stubborn and callous about people’s problems under Obamacare would be a pretty good win.

Tags: Government Shutdown , Obamacare , President Obama

Look Beyond the Speeches to See How Obamacare’s Working


President Obama gave another speech on Obamacare in Maryland today.

Let’s look beyond the speech to see how Obamacare’s implementation is actually working.

McIver News Service, reporting in Wisconsin:

Starting next week when the Obamacare Exchanges go online, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield will no longer be selling new individual insurance policies in 41 Wisconsin counties, including Dane, Eau Claire, La Crosse, and Rock. Whether its through the exchanges or not, individuals will only be able to buy new policies in 31 out of 72 counties. People in other counties who already have Blue Cross and Blue Shield individual policies will be able to keep their coverage, at least until December 1, 2014.

The Oregonian:

Most insurance plans bought by individuals will end in 2014 to meet requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon customers appear to be the first to receive their notices this week. Three customers contacted The Oregonian complaining that they face premium hikes of between 30 and more than 100 percent if they stay with Regence. Another lamented the loss of Regence’s high-deductible plan that qualifies for a health savings account.

The Seattle Times, reporting from Washington state:

The state Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) says it has received dozens of phone calls and emails from Washington residents upset by letters from their health-insurance carriers informing them their current health plan will be discontinued at year’s end because of the federal Affordable Care Act… In some cases, the suggested health plan appears to be far less appealing than the current plan, which is raising the ire of consumers.

A gentle reminder . . . 

President Obama on Tuesday, August 11, 2009, in a town-hall meeting:

If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.

Barack Obama, campaigning in Bristol, Va., June 5, 2008:

In an Obama administration, we’ll lower premiums by up to $2,500 for a typical family per year.

Tags: Obamacare , President Obama

Spared by the Sequester: Catfish Inspections, $500K Hotel Stays, New U.S. Drone Complexes


Jazz Shaw notices more spending “Spared by the Sequester”: $14 million per year for catfish inspections.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department spent $500,000 on lodging, hotel conference rooms. and other services in San Jose, Costa Rica; the cost is associated with President Obama’s May 3 visit.

Oh, and there’s a new $16.3 million “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Complex” to be built at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Despite the dire warnings, the Sequester has not yet required President Obama to look for loose change that fell behind the Oval Office couch cushions.

Tags: Drones , Sequester , Government Waste , President Obama

Obama’s Numbers on Job Approval, Honesty Suddenly Tumble


Another busy Jolt today . . . two sections to preview this morning:

BOOM: Quinnipiac Sees Obama’s Approval Take a Sudden Tumble

For a couple of weeks, Obama fans have been high-fiving each other, looking at polling numbers and concluding the public didn’t really blame the president for any of the scandals engulfing his administration.

Well, looks like they celebrated too early:

American voters say 76 – 17 percent, including 63 – 30 percent among Democrats, that a special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate charges the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

President Barack Obama gets a negative 45 – 49 percent job approval rating, compared to 48 – 45 percent positive in a May 1 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University, conducted before the IRS allegations surfaced.

The president’s biggest drop is among independent voters, who give him a negative 37 – 57 percent score, compared to a negative 42 – 48 percent May 1. He gets a negative 9 – 86 percent from Republicans and a positive 87 – 8 percent from Democrats, both virtually unchanged. Women approve 49 – 45 percent while men give a negative 40 – 54 percent score.

Americans are divided 49 – 47 percent on whether Obama is honest and trustworthy, down from 58 – 37 percent, the last time Quinnipiac University asked the question September 1, 2011.

Gee, what could cause that drop? Moving along . . . 

News-Junkie Hipster-ism and ‘The Real Scandal’

If you’ll allow me to quote Matt Welch twice, he articulates an irritation buzzing around the back of my head, pundits’ all-too-frequent declaration that whatever scandal is in the headlines is an obviously frivolous and inconsequential distraction, and that they’ve figured out what we really ought to be talking about if we’re serious, thoughtful people. You know . . . “the real scandal,” as they incessantly declare.

But the real party comes when you search on “the real scandal.” So much to choose from!

There’s “child poverty” (Jesse Jackson, Chicago Sun-Times), “political gridlock” (Ned Barnett, Charlotte News & Observer), “the Republican party’s devotion to grandstanding over governance and its preference for slime over substance” (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., The Huffington Post), “secret money influencing US elections” (Ari Berman, The Nation), “that 501(c)(4) groups have been engaged in political activity in such a sustained and open way” (Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker), that “they let General Electric not pay any taxes” (Michael Moore, HuffPost Live), sex abuse in the military (Katrina vanden Heuvel, Washington Post), and even “the IRS itself” (John Tamny, Forbes).

This is like news junkie hipster-ism. “Oh, you’re following that news story? Pshaw. I was following that story years ago. The really important story now is [some obscure story they’re fairly certain you haven’t read about yet].”

Now, some of those items are real problems, i.e., child poverty and sex abuse in the military. But only a fool would argue that the existence of one problem automatically de-prioritizes any other problem. Maybe there are a lot of big problems in our government and society that the American people should be concerned about and try to solve or improve. Maybe we really have a lot of scandals going on.

The real scandal is that we have so many real scandals going on.

Tags: Polling , President Obama , IRS Scandal

President Obama’s Rough Weekend


So, other than Israel intervening in Syria — with no heads-up to the United States — and unnamed administration officials telling the New York Times that the “red line” policy was a giant accident, and the fact that the Benghazi hearings appear set to have the deputy chief of mission contradicting all kinds of administration statements about the attacks, and bad news for Democrats in South Carolina and Virginia . . . well, other than all that, President Obama had a good weekend.

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

The New White House Line: Maybe We Don’t Care About Chemical-Weapons Use After All

Ladies and gentlemen, some unidentified White House official, within our government:

“How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense and with no Security Council resolution?” another official said, referring to United Nations authorization. “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

I realize that we’re all tired of war, that we’re tired of being asked to intervene in Arab countries, with their tribal loyalties and factionalism and blood feuds and cycles of revenge and seemingly endless reserves of cruelty and capacity for bloodshed. But if we don’t see any purpose or value in attempting to prevent, deter, or punish the use of chemical weapons against civilians, we might as well close up shop. Every two-bit dictator and ruthless regime is watching the international response to Syria or lack thereof, and we’ve already sent the signal that you can probably escape serious consequence if your use of chemical weapons is hard to prove and on a small scale.

Elliott Abrams:

How soon they forget. According to the Times that line was uttered last August, not quite four months after Mr. Obama established his “Atrocities Prevention Board.” In a speech on April 23, 2012 he said this at the Holocaust Museum:

And finally, “never again” is a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth — too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.

We may feel like the use of chemical weapons isn’t enough to justify airstrikes, a no-fly-zone, a “safe zone” for refugees, or any other steps beyond a sternly worded United Nations resolution, but other countries see their own interests in what happens in Syria, and they’re acting.  Also this weekend:

Israel launched airstrikes into Syria for the second time in three days, said Syria and its allies, targeting what it believes are stores of advanced missiles that could be transferred to the militant group Hezbollah, amid new concerns that the Syrian civil war could widen into broader regional conflict.

Surely a lot of factors go into the decision to use military force, but it’s tough to ignore that that the Israeli Defense Force suddenly got a lot more active in Syria just a couple of days after Obama said that crossing the red line meant . . . well, that we would “rethink the range of options that are available to us.”

The Benghazi Hearings: This Week’s Must-See TV

Jake Tapper offers a preview of what we can expect from this week’s hearings on Benghazi, and everyone crying “oh, this is a partisan witch hunt” can go sit in the corner.

Greg Hicks, former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, told congressional investigators that the State Department internal review of the catastrophe at the mission in Benghazi “let people off the hook,” CNN has learned.

The Accountability Review Board “report itself doesn’t really ascribe blame to any individual at all. The public report anyway,” Hicks told investigators, according to transcript excerpts obtained by CNN. “It does let people off the hook.”

The board’s report on the Benghazi attack, in which Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in September, is being reviewed by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Sunday on CBS that Hicks will testify Wednesday in a congressional hearing on the deadly attack in Benghazi.

“In our system, people who make decisions have been confirmed by the Senate to make decisions,” Hicks told investigators. “The three people in the State Department who are on administrative leave pending disciplinary action are below Senate confirmation level. Now, the DS (Diplomatic Security) assistant secretary resigned, and he is at Senate confirmation level. Yet the paper trail is pretty clear that decisions were being made above his level.

Whom might Hicks be referring to? He specifically mentions Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy.

“Certainly the fact that Under Secretary Kennedy required a daily report of the personnel in country and who personally approved every official American who went to Tripoli or Benghazi, either on assignment or TDY (temporary duty), would suggest some responsibility about security levels within the country lies on his desk,” Hicks said.

In the interview, conducted on April 11, Hicks also makes clear that he immediately believed the September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi had been conducted by terrorists, though the White House and other officials in the Obama administration initially suggested that the attack was the result of an out-of-control demonstration against an anti-Muslim YouTube video.

“I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get-go,” said Hicks, who was in Tripoli during the attack. “I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning.”

Looks like a rough week ahead, Mr. President.

Tags: President Obama , Syria , Benghazi

The ‘Good Answer’ on Rising Health Insurance Premiums


This Tweet from Democratic strategist Donna Brazile is getting a great deal of attention.

I guess it depends upon your definition of a “good” answer. Once Obamacare requires insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions, kids under 26, birth control pills and so on, the companies will cover those costs by… raising premiums for all customers.

So that’s a “good answer” in the sense of explaining the situation. But I guess if you’re a fan of Obamacare, it’s not really a good answer.

But cheer up, Ms. Brazile! You’re not alone!

Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers.

Particularly vulnerable to the high rates are small businesses and people who do not have employer-provided insurance and must buy it on their own.

In California, Aetna is proposing rate increases of as much as 22 percent, Anthem Blue Cross 26 percent and Blue Shield of California 20 percent for some of those policy holders, according to the insurers’ filings with the state for 2013. These rate requests are all the more striking after a 39 percent rise sought by Anthem Blue Cross in 2010 helped give impetus to the law, known as the Affordable Care Act, which was passed the same year and will not be fully in effect until 2014.

 In other states, like Florida and Ohio, insurers have been able to raise rates by at least 20 percent for some policy holders. The rate increases can amount to several hundred dollars a month.

Tags: Donna Brazile , Obamacare , President Obama

A Presidency Without... Guts


So the secondhand tale of House Speaker John Boehner’s assessment that President Obama “can’t make a decision. He’s got balls made out of marshmallows” … has a certain precedent, as Exurban Jon reminds me:

“If Hillary gave him [Obama] one of her balls, they’d both have two,” Democratic strategist James Carville told the Christian Science Monitor at a breakfast on Thursday morning.

The editorial board of the Washington Post uses nicer language, but reaches the same conclusion:

… why is Mr. Obama not leading the way to a solution? From the start, and increasingly in his second term, Mr. Obama has presented entitlement reform as something he would do grudgingly, as a favor to the opposition, when he should be explaining to the American people — and to his party — why it is an urgent national need. Obama priorities such as health and energy research, preschool education and job training: Those come from the discretionary budget.

Why? Because it would mean telling his party and his supporters things they don’t want to hear. And he doesn’t have the, er… stomach for it.

Tags: Entitlements , James Carville , John Boehner , President Obama

My Fellow Americans, the State of Our Satire Is Weak.


Over on the home page, I audaciously and arrogantly declare… the state of our satire is weak.

A lot of folks will attribute this to Hollywood’s fear of mocking Obama; certainly something odd is going on when Saturday Night Live greets Obama’s second inauguration with a sketch in which the ghost of Martin Luther King Jr. is obsessed with Beyonce, Michelle Obama’s bangs, and Twitter hashtages, and Obama is the straight man.

But I think it’s a bit more than that. Satire’s purpose is to mock those in power who deserve it, and our most prominent satirical voices have a hard time mocking those in power they agree with… and are meandering around, looking for new targets with a palpable sense of desperation. Couple that with the ubiquitous attempts at satire in our culture, and it’s nearly impossible to generate really stinging, memorable examples of it today.

When everybody’s getting mocked, there’s not much consequence to the mockery. The audience becomes conditioned to just letting the microwave-worthy instant satire wash over them and moving on to the next topic, because they intuitively sense that the figure wasn’t chosen for any particular trait that deserves the mockery.

The older notion of satire as a tool for addressing some wrongdoing or social ill may be falling apart before us. We don’t hold many of our national political or cultural leaders in high regard, and yet somehow they keep on with business as usual. Some of the egos attracted to political power have proven that no amount of ridicule can deter them.

As I conclude, “In a real world that increasingly resembles the Onion’s satires, the Onion is superfluous.”

Tags: President Obama , Satire , Saturday Night Live

Expect the Perennial ‘Energy Trader’ Scapegoat


With gasoline prices slated to reach an all-time high in 2013, we can expect President Obama to make another pledge to crack down on nefarious energy traders who are driving up prices of oil and gasoline. After all, he made that pledge in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

So why are gas prices rising? The Post lists several reasons, including Middle East tensions, but this one seems key: “Several refineries have been shut down for routine maintenance, and in the eastern United States, several refineries simply went out of business in the past year.”

As you often hear, the United States has not built a new oil refinery since 1976. Hess closed down its last refinery in New Jersey earlier this year. There’s an effort to build a new one in South Dakota, but that effort has been tied up in paperwork, permits, and lawsuits for six years and now people doubt it will ever be built. There’s now talk of a potential one in North Dakota.

Tags: Gas Prices , President Obama

With Everything Going So Well, Time for Another Photo-Op!


So, looking at the headlines this morning . . .

Jobless Claims Bounce Higher

U.S. economy contracts for first time since recession

Chinese Cyber Hackers a Growing Threat

U.S. faces new Al Qaeda threat as terror group’s ‘strike map’ is revealed

Report: Iran, Hezbollah terror threat rising

Iran Is Said to Be Set to Accelerate Uranium Enrichment

Syria, Iran threaten retaliation against Israel

And what’s going on at the White House?

Mark Knoller: “Today at the White House: No public events on the president’s schedule today, though Vogue is bringing camera gear into the White House this morning.”

Beautiful day for a photo-op, isn’t it?

Tags: Economy , Iran , President Obama , Unemployment

The White House Wakes Up and Smells the Smoke


Lefty commenters and folks on Twitter, shortly after the last post, paraphrased:

“Only a nitpicking partisan hack would think it was appropriate for a president to drop everything and go to a major natural-disaster site!”

The news, an hour ago:

WASHINGTON — President Obama will travel Friday to areas of Colorado devastated by wildfires, the White House announced Wednesday afternoon.

The president has spoken with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and the mayor of Colorado Springs to get the latest developments and express his concern about the extent of the damage, the White House said in a statement.

During his visit, he will “view the damage and thank the responders bravely battling the fire,” according to the statement.

The reaction from those same folks, momentarily: “Thank goodness our wise, sensitive, and empathetic president is dropping everything to go to a major natural-disaster site!”

Putting snark aside for a moment, I’ll just put up the link to again.

Tags: Colorado , President Obama

Our Governing Class Doesn’t Experience Government the Way We Do


In light of the TSA patting down a toddler in a wheelchair . . .

If more of our elected officials did their own taxes, pumped their own gas (no official office travel budgets or reimbursement), flew commercial and got to enjoy TSA pat-downs, waited on line at the post office to mail their own packages, had to wait on line at the DMV, and so on, would they have the same views and support the same policies?

When the president, most members of Congress, and most members of the cabinet debate a policy, most of the time they’re discussing something that is entirely theoretical to them. They’ll never have to deal directly with the federal policy they’re discussing, and the consequences of the policy will have no impact on the quality of their life whatsoever.

Most of them live a life completely different from ours. Many of them have chauffeurs or staffers to drive them around. Their travel expenses, including gas, are covered or are reimbursed by their office. They’re too busy to wait on line in places like the post office, the DMV, or other offices of government bureaucracy, so they have staffers do that where possible. At a high enough level, they have personal security, so the threat of violent crime is entirely theoretical to them. (How many politicians who support gun control travel with armed security guards?) They have their career path set ahead of them; they’re not attempting to launch a small business. If they did, they would just hire someone to deal with all of the paperwork and regulations.

They make a salary that is astronomical for the average American: $174,000 for most members of the House and Senate, $199,700 for cabinet members, $223,500 for the Speaker of the House, $230,700 for the vice president, $400,000 for the president. They receive generous pensions. Their careers after leaving office include many lucrative opportunities in academia, publishing, media, and lobbying.

For those at the highest level of our government, the process of passing laws is not too different from playing “The Sims” or some other game. They make the changes and observe how others react; they themselves are distanced and cushioned from the actual impact of the laws.

I was reminded of a closing passage in Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes:

The White House is the thickest and shiniest bubble of all.

It’s not just that we can’t see him. From the White House, he can’t see anything outside. Why didn’t [George H. W.] Bush get it?

Well, the White House was running like a top! Everyone who walked into his office had a wonderful job — and were excited by the swell things they were doing for the country and its people. Every microphone over which he peered had a thousand faces upturned to his, ready to cheer his every applause line. If he left Washington, every tarmac on which Air Force One touched down had a line of prosperous people in suits, to pump Bush’s hand and tell him things were, we were, he was . . . great!

Sometimes our elected officials do a poor job of showcasing their relief that they don’t have to interact with the federal government the way that we do.

Tags: Congress , President Obama


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