Friday, January 24, 2014

Current Events - January 24, 2014

The Sleepiness of a Hollow Legend

The State of the Union is a grand tradition—but only if people are listening.

By Peggy Noonan
....Because when I imagine Barack Obama's State of the Union, I see a handsome, dignified man standing at the podium and behind him Joe Biden, sleeping. And next to him John Boehner, snoring. And arrayed before the president the members, napping.

No one's really listening to the president now. He has been for five years a nonstop wind-up talk machine. Most of it has been facile, bland, the same rounded words and rounded sentiments, the same soft accusations and excuses. I see him enjoying the sound of his voice as the network newsman leans forward eagerly, intently, nodding at the pearls, enacting interest, for this is the president and he is the anchorman and surely something important is being said with two such important men engaged.
But nothing interesting was being said! Looking back on this presidency, it has from the beginning been a 17,000 word New Yorker piece in which, calmly, sonorously, with his lovely intelligent voice, the president says nothing, or little that is helpful, insightful or believable. "I'm not a particularly ideological person." "It's hard to anticipate events over the next three years." "I don't really even need George Kennan right now." "I am comfortable with complexity." "Our capacity to do some good . . . is unsurpassed, even if nobody is paying attention."
Nobody is!
He gave a speech on the National Security Agency, that bitterly contested issue, the other day. Pew Research found half of those polled didn't notice. National Journal's Dustin Volz wrote that Americans greeted the speech with "collective indifference and broad skepticism." Of the 1 in 10 who'd followed it, more than 70% doubted his proposals would help protect privacy.
The bigger problem is that the president stands up there Tuesday night with ObamaCare not a hazy promise but a fact. People now know it was badly thought, badly written and disastrously executed. It was supposed to make life better by expanding coverage. It has made it worse, by throwing people off coverage. And—as we all know now but did not last year—the program was passed only with the aid of a giant lie. Now everyone knows if you liked your plan, your doctor, your deductible, you can't keep them.
When the central domestic fact of your presidency was a fraud, people won't listen to you anymore.
The poor speechwriters. They are always just a little more in touch with public sentiment than a president can be—they get to move around in the world, they know what people are saying. They have to imitate the optimism of the speeches of yore, they have to rouse. They are the ones who know what a heavy freaking lift it is, what an impossible chore. And they have to do it with idiots in the staffing process scrawling on the margins of the draft: "More applause lines!" The speechwriters know the answer is fewer applause lines, more thought, more humility and candor. Americans aren't impressed anymore by congressmen taking to their feet and cheering. They look as if they have electric buzzers on their butts that shoot them into the air when the applause line comes. "Now I have to get up and enact enthusiasm" is what they look like they're thinking. While the other party thinks "Now we have to get up too, because what he said was anodyne and patriotic and we can't not stand up for that." And they applaud, diffidently, because they don't want the folks back home—the few who are watching—to say they looked a little too enthusiastic about the guy who just cost them their insurance.
They are all enacting. They are all replicating. They're all imitating the past.
You know when we will know America is starting to come back? When some day the sergeant at arms bellows: "Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States" and the camera shows a bubble of suits and one person emerges from the pack and walks into the chamber and you're watching at home and you find yourself—against everything you know, against all the accumulated knowledge of the past—interested. It'll take you aback when you realize you're interested in what he'll say! And the members won't just be enacting, they'll be leaning forward to hear.
And the president will speak, and what he says will be pertinent to the problems of the United States of America. And thoughtful. And he'll offer ideas, and you'll think: "Hey, that sounds right."
That is when you'll know America just might come back.
Until then, as John Dickerson just put it: Barack Obama, Inaction Figure.

The US Chamber of Commerce Versus America

By Michelle Malkin
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a politically entrenched synod of special interests. These fat cats do not represent the best interests of American entrepreneurs, American workers, American parents and students, or Americans of any race, class or age who believe in low taxes and limited government. The chamber's business is the big business of the Beltway, not the business of mainstream America.
If you are a business owner who believes your country should strictly and consistently enforce its borders and deport illegal immigrants who violate the terms of their visas, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn't represent you.
If you are a worker who believes the feds should punish illegal aliens who use fake documents to obtain jobs instead of rewarding them with "legal status," the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn't champion you.
If you are a parent or educator who opposes top-down federal education schemes such as Common Core that undermine local control, dumb down rigorous curricula and threaten family privacy while enriching big business and lobbying groups, the U.S. Chamber od Commerce doesn't speak for you.
If you are a taxpayer who has had enough of crony capitalism and publicly funded bailouts of failing corporations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn't work for you.
Last year, the chamber poured more than $52 million into K Street lobbying efforts on behalf of illegal alien amnesty, Fed Ed Common Core programs and increased federal spending. This year, chamber bigwigs are paving the perilous pathway to GOP capitulation. The left hardly needs to lift a finger against tea party candidates and activists who are bravely challenging the big government status quo. The chamber has already volunteered to spend $50 million subsidizing the Republican incumbency protection racket and attacking anti-establishment conservatives.
Allow me to say, "I told you so." In 2010, when President Barack Obama hypocritically attacked the chamber for accepting "foreign donations" just before the midterm elections, many on the right rushed to the group's side. But as I warned then, the purported enemy of my enemy is ... sometimes my worst enemy. Barely three months after their Kabuki campaign fight, Obama and the chamber had already kissed and made up.
The chamber joined hands with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations on a joint campaign to support Obama's increased government infrastructure and spending proposals, stuffed with Big Labor payoffs.
The chamber is one of the staunchest promoters of mass illegal immigration, and joined with the AFL-CIO and American Civil Liberties Union to oppose immigration enforcement measures.
The chamber opposed E-verify and sued Arizona over its employer sanctions law.
The chamber supported a pro-Obamacare, pro-TARP, pro-stimulus, pro-amnesty Democrat in Arizona over his free-market GOP challenger.
The chamber supported the George W. Bush/Obama TARP, the Bush/Obama auto bailout and the billion-dollar, pork-stuffed stimulus.
This isn't about letting the best ideas and businesses thrive. It's about picking winners and losers. It's about "managing" competition and engineering political outcomes under the guise of stimulating the economy and supporting "commerce." What's in it for the statist businesses that go along for the ride with Obama and his team of corruptocrats? Like they say in the Windy City: It's all about the boodle -- publicly subsidized payoffs meted out to the corruptocrats' friends and special interests.

Oh My: Moody's Downgrades Insurers, Citing Obamacare "Uncertainty"

By Guy Benson
You'll recall that Standard & Poors downgraded the US government's credit rating for the first time in history during Barack Obama's first term -- a decision for which they were reportedly threatened by the administration. Now another ratings agency is slapping the health insurance industry with a fresh downgrade -- and the cause-and-effect calculus isn't ambiguous:

Credit ratings firm Moody's Investors Service on Thursday lowered its outlook for health insurers to "negative" from "stable," citing "uncertainty" swirling around the rollout of President Obama's health care law. In a new report, the agency said that the outlook for insurance companies is no longer clear because the law's insurance exchanges haven't been attracting enough younger individuals. In addition, Moody's analysts were concerned that the Obama administration has been changing regulations after insurers had already set prices for the year..."The past few months have seen new regulations and announcements that impose operational changes well after product and pricing decisions were finalized." The release noted, "Uncertainty over the demographics of those enrolling in individual products through the exchanges is a key factor in Moody's outlook change. ... Enrollment statistics show that only 24 percent of enrollees so far are between 18 and 34, a critical age group in ensuring that lower claim costs subsidize the higher claim costs of less healthy, older individuals. This is well short of the original 40 percent target based on the proportion of eligible people in this cohort."

Resolved: Obamacare Is Now Beyond Rescue

By Megan McArdle
Many of the commentators I’ve read seem to think that the worst is over, as far as unpopular surprises. In fact, the worst is yet to come. Here’s what’s ahead:
· 2014: Small-business policy cancellations. This year, the small-business market is going to get hit with the policy cancellations that roiled the individual market last year. Some firms will get better deals, but others will find that their coverage is being canceled in favor of more expensive policies that don’t cover as many of the doctors or procedures that they want. This is going to be a rolling problem throughout the year.
· Summer 2014: Insurers get a sizable chunk of money from the government to cover any excess losses. When the costs are published, this is going to be wildly unpopular: The administration has spent three years saying that Obamacare was the antidote to abuses by Big, Bad Insurance Companies, and suddenly it’s a mechanism to funnel taxpayer money to them?
· Fall 2014: New premiums are announced.
· 2014 and onward: Medicare reimbursement cuts eat into hospital margins, triggering a lot of lobbying and sad ads about how Beloved Local Hospital may have to close.
· Spring 2015: The Internal Revenue Service starts collecting individual mandate penalties: 1 percent of income in the first year. That’s going to be a nasty shock to folks who thought the penalty was just $95. I, like many other analysts, expect the administration to announce a temporary delay sometime after April 1, 2014.
· Spring 2015: The IRS demands that people whose income was higher than they projected pay back their excess subsidies. This could be thousands of dollars.
· Spring 2015: Cuts to Medicare Advantage, which the administration punted on in 2013, are scheduled to go into effect. This will reduce benefits currently enjoyed by millions of seniors, which is why they didn’t let them go into effect this year.
· Fall 2015: This is when expert Bob Laszewski says insurers will begin exiting the market if the exchange policies aren’t profitable.
· Fall 2017: Companies and unions start learning whether their plans will get hit by the “Cadillac tax,” a stiff excise tax on expensive policies that will hit plans with generous benefits or an older and sicker employee base. Expect a lot of companies and unions to radically decrease benefits and increase cost-sharing as a result.
· January 2018: The temporary risk-adjustment plans, which the administration is relying on to keep insurers in the marketplaces even if their customer pool is older and sicker than projected, run out. Now if insurers take losses, they just lose the money.
· Fall 2018: Buyers find out that subsidy growth is capped for next year’s premiums; instead of simply being pegged to the price of the second-cheapest silver plan, whatever that cost is, their growth is fixed. This will show up in higher premiums for families -- and, potentially, in an adverse-selection death spiral.

Universal Coverage vs. Universal Liberty

 By Robert Babcock
...Just because one believes that education and health insurance are desirable for all citizens, it does not follow that one also believes that their sweeping advancement is properly within the statutory and regulatory powers of the federal government.
First, an important distinction: conservatives, going all the way back to the Founders, have supported the concept and practice of universal education. But that support does not mean we approve of direct federal involvement in education which, until fairly recently, had been recognized as the responsibility of the states. Nor do we like the results of that federal involvement: Department of Education, anyone? Common Core? Gosh, how did we ever get a man on the moon without them? So it's probably best to avoid education as an example if one is trying to pitch universal coverage to conservatives.
Nor do we believe it is within Congress's legitimate power to create a health care law that compels universal citizen participation, especially under threat of fine -- or tax, as a man named Roberts chose to call it when he split a single hair on the back of that big, nasty beast called the Affordable Care Act, and thereby forced every American to become a ward of the state.
...Can conservatives propose solutions to the problems besetting health care in our nation? Of course we can, and as concerned citizens we ought to. But any conservative healthcare policy proposal must first comply with both the letter and spirit of the Constitution. For this reason our solutions will never be good enough for our progressive opponents who have been at work for over a century undermining the foundations of limited government, while we conservatives work for the opposite: to uphold the limits of federal power that protect our liberty and thwart statist expansionism. Our solutions will never be accepted by progressives because we are principled realists, not social idealists prepared to sell our national birthright for a mess of federal pottage.
We Americans live in the greatest experiment in freedom and self-determination in history, a true miracle of the ages. We cannot let our generation be the one that destroys it. We must insist that Constitutional limitations be faithfully adhered to. We must defend and promote the values and principles that safeguard our freedom, and have been bequeathed to us at the cost of great personal risk and sacrifice by those who came before us.
We must hold these things in trust for future generations, who -- if we don't fail -- will enjoy their birthright as we have enjoyed ours. Let's call that birthright 'universal liberty'. And that is much more precious than 'universal coverage.'

Newspaper chain plans 'state-by-state' concealed weapon databases

 By Joshua Rhett Miller
A national newspaper chain with nearly 100 publications and 1.6 million readers is considering building “state-by-state databases” on concealed weapons permit holders, according to an internal e-mail.
The plan, laid out in an email from a top editor at North Carolina-based Civitas Media, could be similar to a controversial project a New York state newspaper carried out in 2012 which included an online map that identified gun owners in two counties by name and address. Civitas' database project was detailed the plan in a Jan. 19 e-mail to newsrooms in 11 states, including Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
The newest project "examines the explosion of ‘conceal and carry’ gun permits across the U.S.,” wrote Jim Lawitz, Civitas’ director of content, in an e-mail first obtained by the Buckeye Firearms Association. “Through public records act requests, we will attempt to build state-by-state databases that list those who have the right to carry a concealed weapon.”

  Keystone Cop-Out

Obama should give Canada an answer, already.

By Charles Krauthammer
....But crossing the border requires State Department approval, which means the president decides yes or no.
After three years of review, the State Department found no significant environmental risk to Keystone. Nonetheless, the original route was changed to assuage concerns regarding the Ogallala Aquifer. Obama withheld approval through the 2012 election. To this day he has issued no decision.
The Canadians are beside themselves. After five years of manufactured delay, they need a decision one way or the other because if denied a pipeline south, they could build a pipeline west to the Pacific. China would buy their oil in a New York minute.
Yet John Kerry fumblingly says he is awaiting yet another environmental report. He offered no decision date.
If Obama wants to cave to his environmental Left, he should go ahead. But why keep Canada in limbo? It’s a show of supreme and undeserved disrespect for yet another ally. It seems not enough to have given the back of the hand to Britain, Israel, Poland, and the Czech Republic, and to have so enraged the Saudis that they actually rejected a Security Council seat — disgusted as they were with this administration’s remarkable combination of fecklessness and highhandedness. Must we crown this run of diplomatic malpractice with gratuitous injury to Canada, our most reliable, most congenial friend in the world?
And for what? This is not a close call. The Keystone case is almost absurdly open and shut.
Even if you swallow everything the environmentalists tell you about oil sands, the idea that blocking Keystone will prevent their development by Canada is ridiculous. Canada sees its oil sands as a natural bounty and key strategic asset. Canada will not leave it in the ground.
Where’s the environmental gain in blocking Keystone? The oil will be produced and the oil will be burned. If it goes to China, the Pacific pipeline will carry the same environmental risks as a U.S. pipeline.
And Alberta oil can still go to the U.S., if not by pipeline then by rail, which requires no State Department approval. That would result in far more greenhouse-gas emissions — exactly the opposite of what the environmentalists are seeking.
....The only rationale for denying the pipeline is political — to appease Obama’s more extreme environmentalists. For a president who claims not to be ideological, the irony is striking: Here is an easily available piece of infrastructure — privately built, costing government not a penny, creating thousands of jobs and, yes, shovel ready — and yet the president, who’s been incessantly pushing new “infrastructure” as a fundamental economic necessity, can’t say yes.
Well then, Mr. President, say something. You owe Canada at least that. Up or down. Five years is long enough.

What happens when presidents make big donors into ambassadors

By Ed Morrissey
“I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees,” John McCain told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but not before he had eviscerated Barack Obama’s selection as the next Ambassador to Norway. Olivier Knox reported yesterday on the hearing in which George Tsunis attempted to answer questions about his new assignment, and in doing so displayed a stunning ignorance of the political situation in the country that will host him as our highest-ranking representative. In fact, Tsunis couldn’t even name Norway’s form of government:
Tsunis described Norway as having a president (“apparently under the impression that the country is a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy,” as the Local Norway’s News notes dryly). And he characterized the anti-immigration Progress Party as being among “fringe elements” who “spew their hatred” and have been denounced by the government.
That prompted McCain’s disbelieving answer: “The government has denounced them? The coalition government — they’re part of the coalition of the government.”
McCain, already flummoxed by the apparent inability of Obama’s choice to be ambassador to Hungary to list strategic U.S. interests there, closed his questioning with a bit of sarcasm: “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees.”
But Olivier found his true credentials. As a bundler for Obama in 2012, Tsunis raised almost a million dollars for the campaign, and donated $300,000 to the Democratic Party. Ironically, Tsunis raised $50,000 for McCain in 2008 before becoming a Democrat in 2009 after McCain lost the election.
Presidents have named big donors and bundlers to diplomatic posts for many decades. It’s an American tradition — one which should embarrass us, but it’s a bipartisan tradition, so it gets less attention as a result. Usually, though, the appointees at least make an effort to learn something about their new assignments before their confirmation hearings so as not to embarrass their bosses, or the rest of us.  On the latter point, it’s already too late with Tsunis.

Obama betraying democracy forces of Ukraine

By Thomas Lifson
Just as he did with the Green Revolution in Iran, which had the potential to topple the mullahs, President Obama is giving a cold shoulder to the Pro-Western demonstrators in Ukraine. Ever since President Viktor Yanukovych last November decided to pull out of a landmark treaty with the EU that would have swung that country of 45 million strongly into the orbit of Western democracies, and instead moved to resume Ukraine's status as more of a Kremlin satellite, the people of that country have rebelled and taken to the streets.
 ...At a minimum, President Obama should be publicly consulting with European leaders, who are closer and have a more direct stake in the fate of Ukraine, on methods to support the Westward movement of that country. Military intervention, it should be stressed, is out of the question. But other economic and political measures are available to use as leverage.
 Moscow has long pressured Ukraine over its supply of natural gas to the country, threatening to cut it off and let Ukrainians freeze in the winters. Although fracking is not available as a short-term solution, the value of the Kremlin's energy card is rapidly diminishing, and if he had any guts, President Obama would be letting Putin know that his blackmail of Ukraine will have consequences. Right now, with the Sochi Olympics pending and Putin heavily invested in it as a showpiece, there are good levers to be grabbed.
But of course, President Obama will do no such thing. And we are stuck with him for three more years. Or to rephrase that: the world's dictators and bullies have three more years.

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