Tag: Barack Obama

The Overtime Follies

Good:

In a stunning blow to the Obama administration’s economic legacy, a federal judge in Texas granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday delaying implementation of a regulation that would extend overtime eligibility to an estimated 4.2 million workers.

The ruling puts in serious jeopardy the most significant wage intervention by President Barack Obama, who has been unable to persuade Congress to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour. The Labor Department regulation, previously set to take effect Dec. 1, effectively restored overtime pay to the middle class after decades of erosion had reduced it to a benefit available only to low-wage workers.

Putting aside Politico’s liberal spin, the overtime rule is looking like a bad idea and a massive executive overreach.

But let’s back up a second and review the argument in favor of the changes in overtime rules. The Department of Labor raised the threshold for exemption from overtime pay from $23,660 to $47,120. At the same time, they made changes to what workers are exempt even if their income is below that threshold. This means that approximately four million workers who were previously on salary will not be getting paid hourly and thus eligible for overtime pay if they exceed 40 hours a week.

Ostensibly, the reason for this change is to curb abuses by businesses that give employees a slight bump over the $23,660 threshold and then require them to work 50-60 hours a week. When the President put the rule into place, he said that $30,000 a year did not constitute “management” and therefore should be eligible for overtime instead of being paid as straight salary.

The problem with this logic is that while $30,000 doesn’t sound like a lot to big time lawyers, government civil servants or Vice Presidents for Community and External Affairs, it is a reasonable income for many people who live outside of Washington, D.C. Warren Meyer, over at Coyote Blog, has been doing yeoman’s work cataloging why the increase in overtime exempt income is a bad thing:

The Obama Administration and its supporters (and apparently Politico, by how they wrote the headline) are smoking something if they think employers are going to react by raising salaries of current exempt employees being paid 23,660 or 30,000 or 40,000 to $52,000. Absolutely no way. There may be a few just under the $52,000 threshold that get a bump, but that will be a minor effect.

Everyone else is going to suddenly find themselves converted from a junior manager back to a wage earner. Companies are not going to allow these newly minted wage earners to earn overtime, and so I suppose one good outcome is that we may see a new boost in productivity as companies find ways to automate or eliminate junior management tasks to get all these folks down to 40 hours a week.

There are important differences between hourly and salaried work in the relationship with employers. Some are psychological — for better or worse, management [thinks] of salaried workers differently than hourly workers. And some are real — salaried workers can try to demonstrate that they are worthy of promotion by working extra hours and taking on extra tasks, things that hourly workers really can’t do.

Furthermore, he notes, thew new overtime rules are unlikely to deliver real benefits to employees. It may, in fact, hurt them:

Further, when someone gets switched from salary to hourly, they lose a minimum pay guarantee. When I get a $3,500 a month offer, I know that no matter how slow things are, until I am fired I get $3500 a month. There is a floor on my earnings. As an hourly worker, my hours can be adjusted up or down constantly. There is no floor at all

He also points out that the Department of Labor’s own study concluded that this would not increase the pay of workers. It would just lead to cuts in hours.

The thing is, none of this is theoretical to me. It’s all very real because it’s impacting my family.

After my son was born, my wife left her good-paying but long-commuting job to take a part time job in town at our school’s main campus. Her income was above the exempt threshold. But now it is below it. Under the old rules, she would still have been exempt because she was a skilled professional — a PhD biochemist and molecular biologist managing a lab and doing scientific research. But the new overtime rules, for some strange reason, removed that exemption. So skilled professionals with decades of training are now considered no different than clock-punching temps.

(Ironically, the exemption is being kept in place for two of the most downtrodden classes of workers in higher education — graduate students and adjuncts.)

This change in no way benefits my wife or any of the thousand of scientists around the country affected by this. She’s now, after twenty years of work, back to being a clock puncher, which is humiliating. As an hourly wage earner, she loses certain benefits, like maternity leave and vacation. Like many scientists, my wife is supported by grants which can not support paying massive amounts of overtime. So she’s been told not to work more than 20 hours a week. At other universities and research institutions, scientific staff are being told to only work nine to five and not answer e-mails out of hours lest they incur overtime. A few people are getting small bumps in salary to put them over the threshold. Most are being told to work a strict 40 hours (or, I suspect, lie about how much they work).

This is madness. This is what happens when people with no experience outside government start passing sweeping rules affecting millions of workers. This is what happens when you have people in charge who think businesses (and government institutions like universities) can just conjure money out of the ether.

The states and many businesses are suing, claiming that this is an unfunded mandate from the federal government (which it is). Congress is open to repealing this rule and Trump has indicated he would sign a bill repealing it. I’m not averse to raising the exempt threshold a little bit or a narrowly tailored change to prevent the abuses that supporters of the law assert exist. But this is way too far, way too fast and way too ill-considered.

Note: The judge in this case is an Obama appointee. One of the defining elements of the Obama presidency has been Democratic and liberal judges overturning his executive overreaches. I support their doing so and will continue to support it throughout the Trump Presidency and any future Administration.

This is what checks and balances looks like, folks. If you want judges and Congress to keep Trump in check, you should be applauding this decision. Today, it’s the overtime rules. Tomorrow, it might be registration of Muslims. Checks and balances are good.

Meanwhile, Back in Reality

With the Trump campaign in full meltdown, it’s easy to miss some of the other big news going around. At any other time, these would be our headlines.

  • We are practically in a shooting war with Yemen.
  • Obama is claiming he fired a bunch of people over the VA scandal. This is a lie. Only three were actually fired. One was suspended, one firing was reversed, three retired, five resigned and two were demoted. If a political campaign fired that many people, it wouldn’t even make the news.
  • And in probably the scariest news, tensions are escalating with Russia, with the Russians moving nuclear missile submarines and recalling overseas personnel. Just as a reminder: one of our major Presidential candidates has proposed getting into a shooting war with the Russians over Syria. Over Syria. And it was not Donald Trump who said that.

This is yet another reason why I was opposed to the radioactive hamster. If the GOP had nominated Rubio, the October Surprise would be his overdue water bill and he’d be hitting Clinton hard on Russia. If the GOP had even nominated Bush, we’d be talking about some minor dumb thing he did as governor and he’d be hitting Clinton hard on the VA. Instead, we’re talking about Trump’s serial groping and total ignorance of policy. Look at all three of those stories — major challenges that will face the next President — and tell me that you trust either of these two jackanapes to handle them.

No Money for Hostages! (Unless We Do It)

Hmmm:

When Iran released four American prisoners in January, including journalist Jason Rezaian and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, it was heralded as a diplomatic breakthrough, CBS News’ Margaret Brennan reports.

“The plight of these individuals is they have done it and we have paid a price. We paid a price in a major way to bring them home,” said Representative Robert Pittenger upon their release. He was a member of a coalition of congressman that met three of the freed Americans at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The Obama administration strongly denied paying any ransom to Iran, Brennan says, but according to details first reported by the Wall Street Journal, currency worth $400 million was flown into Tehran on a cargo plane around the same time that the Americans were released.

The plane was loaded with cash: Euros, Swiss Francs and other currencies, since any transaction with Iran in dollars is illegal under United States law.

Senior U.S. officials, Brennan reports, claimed the timing was coincidental: President Obama had planned to pay Tehran nearly 2 billion dollars to settle an outstanding legal dispute from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” Obama said.

But the administration never consulted congress, according to Republican Congressman Ed Royce, who accused the White House of paying ransom to a state sponsor of terrorism, and as details of the cash became public Tuesday, there were instant reverberations on the campaign trail.

A few things to unravel here.

The money is ostensibly part of a $1.7 billion settlement of a $10 billion legal dispute from the time of the Shah, a dispute the US was likely to lose. The cash payment was because transacting with Iran in US dollars is illegal. If that were all that were going on here, it wouldn’t be that noteworthy.

But … it is noteworthy because Iran released four prisoners around the same time and is portraying the payment, at least to their populace, as a ransom. And the surreptitious way in which it was done tells you the Obama Administration knew quite well how it would be seen. They can squirm all they want but the difference between, “We’re paying you $400 million to release prisoners” and “we’re settling this legal dispute with you coincidentally at the same time you’re releasing prisoners” is academic. This is a ransom all but in name.

(A historical parallel: one of the conditions of settling the Cuban Missile Crisis was withdrawing nuclear weapons from Turkey. The Kennedy Administration was at least smart enough to delay the withdrawal so it didn’t look like a quid pro quo even though it was. The Obama Administration wasn’t even that smart.)

The last time we did anything remotely close to this, it was called Iran-Contra and we had years of hearings on it. Will the same happen now? I expect the Republicans to have some hearings. But I also expect the usual symphony of eye rolls, shrugs and “BENGHAZIIII!” denialism from the media and the Democrats. It’s likely that no laws were broken here. But, Good Lord, is this shady.

JAMA Jumps In Bed With Obama

Wut:

An author named “Barack Obama, JD” published an article on Monday in a scholarly journal. No prizes for guessing the topic: It’s an assessment of the Affordable Care Act as well as policy recommendations for the next president to improve the U.S. health care system.

The article, titled “United States Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps,” was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The piece, which contains 68 footnotes to academic journals and government publications, claims to present evidence showing that the number of Americans without health insurance has dropped dramatically, and resulted in lower hospital readmission rates. Obama also used the article to recommend the introduction of a “public option” plan in parts of the U.S. and for the federal government to push down drug prices.

Seriously, JAMA? You guys decided to publish an unrefereed buffed-up propaganda piece?

I blogged about the public option earlier this week. Almost everyone — including the advocates of the public option — recognizes that it is a Trojan Horse for socialized medicine, a program that will finish the job of bankrupting private insurance companies so that the public option quickly becomes the only option (except for the elites, who will be allowed to keep their boutique private plans). And the result will be a system that somehow manages to be just as expensive but less efficient than the system we have now.

“But, wait, Hal!” you say. “Government insurance if more efficient because they don’t turn obscene profits!” Well, first of all the profit-margin in the insurance industry is not obscene, but fairly normal at a few percent. Second, as I noted earlier, Medicare’s “efficiency” mainly consists of hiding costs and allowing gigantic amounts of fraud.

But the real proof is in the pudding. One of the things Obamacare did was create insurance co-ops, non-profit insurance companies that were supposed to show what we could have without those evil evil profits. We even gave them government loans to prop them up. Well, 16 of the 23 co-cops have failed, sucking up $1.7 billion in taxpayer funds. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Every insurer is struggling to make Obamacare work because … get this … it turns out that when you just hand out insurance policies, sick people are the most likely to take them. Just imagine what would be happening to insurance markets if “sell-out” Republicans hadn’t stood firm and gotten the public option jettisoned.

Obamacare is turning into a slow-rolling disaster whose end-game is shoving all of us plebs into a socialized system. Again … this is why the GOP holding onto Congress is so important. Even if we can’t repeal Obamacare, we can pass an overhaul that moves it more toward a real market system (e.g., allowing insurance to be sold across state lines). Clinton and a Democratic Congress will only complete the job they’ve started.

Sunday Triple Play

Three thoughts on unrelated topics:

Brexit:

When it came to the Brexit vote, I was partial to Remain, mainly because I am an avid supporter of free trade. And I’m worried that the departure of the UK could trigger an eventual dissolution of the EU, with bad economic consequences and an empowerment of Russia. I still worry about this but … I think the reaction of the Remain faction has been hysterical. Vox alone has run a few dozen articles rending their garments and gnashing their teeth over this. To borrow a thought from Greg Guttfield, this is about ten times as many articles as they’ve run on Venezuela, which is having an actual economic meltdown right now, with severe shortages of good, medicine and power. For Americans to go into hysterics because the UK’s economy might be a little weaker going forward while ignoring the Lord of the Flies situation developing in our own hemisphere is insane. McArdle argues they are lamenting the decline of this idea that we will no longer be citizens of nations but “citizens of the world” — a notion that has a lot of sway in elite circles.

Warren Meyer has a great post up, contrasting the “it was racism!” explanation that is now the default on the Left against the real regulations coming down on things like tea kettles. It’s worth a read but here’s a critical point:

The real crime from a US perspective is the actions of our President. Mr. Obama has told the British that by voting for Brexit, they go to “the back of the line” for trade negotiations with the US. This is, amongst a lot of stupid things politicians say, one of the stupidest I have ever heard. My response as president would have been to move Britain to the front of the line, offering them a free trade treaty with the US the day after the Brexit vote. Like most politicians, unfortunately, President Obama does not view trade as a vehicle for the enrichment of individuals but as a cudgel to enforce his whims in the foreign policy arena. Why on Earth has President Obama threatened to undermine America’s strong interest in trading with the UK merely to punish the UK for not staying in the EU, a transnational body this country would certainly never join?

The UK would be one of the most logical countries in the world for us to have a free trade agreement with. I have little hope that our next President will grok this.

Orlando:

The FBI has said that they have no evidence that the Orlando shooter was gay. That doesn’t prove he wasn’t, as the FBI notes. There are still indications from his friends and wife that he might have been. But the narrative that he was actively dating men and a regular at the club appears very unlikely.

The FBI is currently saying “they may never know” his motive, given some of the ambiguity around his sexuality. But given that he called 911 to specifically pledge allegiance to ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the slightest thought might begin to speculate about the merest possibility of crossing our minds that this was Jihadist terrorism. Especially as Jihadism and killing gay people are not exactly incompatible ideas.

Honestly, theres enough blood to go around. We don’t have to confine ourself to one motive.

Obamacare:

Blue Cross has announced that they are pulling out of the Minnesota individual insurance market. The Kaiser Foundation is projecting steep hikes in insurance premiums. The longer this goes on, the more Obamacare is faltering, slowly destroying the individual market. We’re barely two years into this thing and we are now at the point where it’s not if, but when, Obamacare is going to face a massive overhaul. I don’t know that the insurance market can be repaired after this. But I know that if we dick around for much longer, we’re going to see uninsured rates spike drastically to the point where individual insurance may cease to exist.

Makes you kind of wonder if that was the point.

Obama Smacked Down. Yes, Again.

The Supreme Court split 4-4 on United States v. Texas. This lets stand the lower court ruling that invalidated Obama’s attempt to do immigration reform by executive fiat. And it really should have been 8-0.

I support immigration reform. I also support doing it through Congress, as the Constitution mandates. If Obama has the executive power to rewrite immigration law, so will Trump.

Best of Lee: Brownie Moment

This was one of my favorite Leeisms:

I’d like to take a moment to coin a new phrase: Brownie Moment. A Brownie moment can be defined simply as the moment when a supporter of President Bush is smacked in the head by reality and loses any and all faith in the president from that moment forward. As you may have surmised the term comes from Bush’s recent comment regarding former FEMA head Michael Brown’s leadership in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

This was my Brownie moment. I understand that in the world of politics leaders often have to say things they don’t mean, or shake hands with dictators and scumbags, and do a lot of morally repugnant stuff. But when Bush said that I realized that after surveying the impotent, incompetent response of the federal government he truly, honestly believed that Brownie was doing a heck of a job. That sealed it for me. I’d been turning sour on Bush for a while, but I was still generally supportive of him. When I heard him make that remark, however, that was it. That was my Brownie moment.

I bring this up in light of the Miers nomination. There are a whole lot of head-scratching Republicans gazing at each other wondering what the hell just happened. Could Bush really have nominated this woman to the Supreme Court? Yes, my friends, he just did. I imagine there are a whole lot of conservatives out there today who have just had their very own Brownie moment.

I bring this up because it seems like a lot of Republicans are having “Trumpie Moments”. A lot of Republicans have been endorsing Donald Trump. This is not unusual, of course, parties endorse their nominees. Duh. But it’s come under extra scrutiny this year because Trump is not an ordinary candidate. He’s brash. He’s politically incorrect. The things he says are controversial and often have no relationship with the truth. He contradicts himself, sometimes in mid-sentence.

But Republicans have still endorsed him. Partly because they don’t want to be told what to do by the elite media. Partly because they see defeating Hillary as the most important thing in this election. Partly because they’re hoping he’ll become more Presidential as time goes on. Partly because they think this is an act and he’ll either govern moderately or just rubber stamp their legislation. And partly because they genuinely support him.

But with Trump’s poll numbers plunging, his tone not moderating, a bad money situation developing in the RNC, new polls indicating the House and Senate may be at risk, and indications that Trump is already planning a post-election TV network, a lot of Republicans are backing away from their endorsements or saying they won’t support him. Larry Hogan, Richard Armitage, Rick Snyder, John Kasich, Mark Kirk and Fred Upton are the most prominent names of what is becoming a stampede.

I think a lot of people are having “Trumpie Moments” right now. They’re realizing that his caustic tone isn’t an act, it’s who he is. They’re realizing that he’s bringing the same financial disaster to the RNC that he brought to his businesses. It’s getting so bizarre — Trump is apparently wanting to push hard in traditional blue states like California, rather than swing states like Ohio — that some people are openly wondering if he’s tanking the election. There’s enough defection right now, that Gary Johnson is polling in the low 10’s. If he gets to 15%, he’ll get into the debates (in theory; I suspect the media will find an excuse to keep him out).

This is bad. We can deal with President Clinton and a Republican Congress. But we can’t deal with President Clinton and a Democratic Congress. There’s four and a half months to go and a lot can happen. I make absolutely no predictions. But a year ago, I thought the Republicans would easily sweep this election and get another chance to be conservative. Now, we’re looking at the possible total crackup of the GOP and a Democratic sweep.

And yeah, I know some people are going to say that’s great, that the GOP needs to be burned down. These people are fools. I’ve quoted Charles Cooke before but it’s worth quoting again:

But the idea that it hasn’t effectively and consistently opposed President Obama’s agenda is little more than a dangerous and ignorant fiction. Had the GOP not been standing in the way — both from 2008, when it was in the minority everywhere, and from 2010, when it regained the House — the United States would look dramatically different than it does today. Without the GOP manning the barricades, Obamacare could well have been single payer, and, at the very least, the law would have included a “public option.” Without the GOP manning the barricades, we’d have seen a carbon tax or cap-and-trade — or both. Without the GOP manning the barricades, we’d have got union card check, and possibly an amendment to Taft-Hartley that removed from the states their power to pass “right to work” exemptions. Without the GOP standing in the way, we’d now have an “assault weapons” ban, magazine limits, background checks on all private sales, and a de facto national gun registry. And without the GOP standing in the way in the House, we’d have got the very amnesty that the Trump people so fear

I would add, as I noted before, that Obama wanted to spend $2.5 trillion that the GOP refused to spend, including $700 billion in 2015 alone.

It’s scary what Hillary Clinton would do, pulled to the far Left by Bernie Sanders and unfettered by a GOP Congress. The White House may or may not be a lost cause. As I said, we’ve got four months left. But the House and Senate are not lost causes. And the GOP needs to go all out protecting them. And any conservative or libertarian who values divided government should get on board.

Obama Reverses

One of the disappointments of the budget showdown a few years ago was the collapse of the Grand Bargain — the potential of putting Social Security on “chained CPI” in exchange for tax hikes. It would have potentially sliced trillions of dollars from future Social Security obligations.

Well, Obama has now changed course and embraced one of the dumbest ideas yet to emerge from the Democratic mind: expanding Social Security.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for an increase in Social Security benefits for the elderly as he hit the road with a speech that previewed his role as campaigner-in-chief for Democrats ahead of the November election.

The president’s comments mark a reversal after he sought a bipartisan deal five years ago that would have cut Social Security and moves the Democratic party toward a unified stance on the nation’s cornerstone retirement program.

“It is time we finally made Social Security more generous and increase the benefits so that today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they have earned,” Obama said in Elkhart, Indiana, during a speech in which he spoke against Republican economic policies.

Obama has no specific proposal in mind for a benefits increase, said a White House official who asked for anonymity. Obama didn’t say in his speech how much he wants to raise benefit levels or offer a timetable.

With the shift, the president joins likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who embraced the idea of expanding Social Security earlier this year, and her challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a longtime champion of expanding the program. Obama’s remarks nudge the party toward a more liberal agenda and represent a nod to Sanders and his supporters.

Social Security is already losing money. There’s a “trust fund” but that trust fund consists entirely of IOU’s — the money will have to come out of general revenues. Even with the fiction of the trust fund, the program has $10 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the next 70 years.

As always, they want to pay for this by raising the cap on Social Security taxes. We’ve discussed this before: this would produce an enormous marginal tax rate for the wealthy — 50% for the Feds alone. And raising the earnings cap doesn’t solve the problem. The reason Social Security taxes are capped is because benefits are. If you tax Bill Gates on all his income, you have to raise his benefits too. Without statutory change, you’ve made Social Security’s finances worse, not better.

And all of this to benefit the wealthiest demographic in America. The 65-74 year age group has the most net wealth in the United States. The 75+ age group has the second highest. This isn’t a conspiracy: wealth builds over a lifetime and usually peaks at retirement. Social Security was intended to prevent seniors from living in poverty, not to be their primary source of retirement income. But seniors vote like hell and the Democrats are nothing if not panderers.

The good news is that this is going nowhere. Democrats are on board but the Republicans can easily block it. And their courage will likely falter when Americans realize the tax hikes and program changes necessary to make this “work”. But it’s a sign of just how far Left this party has moved: Barack Obama has discovered that he’s too conservative for the base.

The Secrecy State

The WaPo has a very good rundown of the Clinton e-mail scandal. I don’t think anything will come of this legally. It is a long-established principle that there is one rule for us plebs and one rule for the elites. But it’s a good breakdown of how she potentially compromised national security in order to keep her communications secretive.

Hard to blame her thought. After all, her boss has turned out to be one of the least transparent administrations ever

Obama in Cuba

Over the weekend, Obama became the first President to visit Cuba in almost nine decades. It’s part of the slow thawing of relations between the two countries.

Naturally, there is a lot of opposition. And it’s not an opposition anyone who isn’t Cuban can really understand. The Cuban community has first and second hand memories of Castro murdering and imprisoning their families. They’ve watched as he has turned what was once a functional, if corrupt island into a nightmare prison state. They see celebrities going to Cuba, getting the guided tour and pronouncing everything wonderful and it drives them crazy. They see a media that fawns over Castro and ignores his brutal oppressive regime.

But I was struck by this quote, courtesy of the Coyote Blog:

I meant to post this a while back, but Jeff Flake totally gets it on Cuba, and I appreciate his leadership among the Republicans on this. I absolutely loved this quote:

Flake has long said that Americans should be free to see for themselves the stunted fruit of socialist policy. He tells the story of meeting with Lech Walesa, the great activist who challenged Soviet domination of Poland. “I have no idea,” Walesa complained, “why you guys have a museum of socialism 90 miles from your shore and you won’t let anybody visit it.”

After three generations, I think one can safely call a policy like our embargo “failed” and try something else.

Robert Heinlein once said the same thing about the Soviet Union. After touring it in 1961, he said that we should send a million Americans to tour the Soviet Union. The cost and the influx of hard currency to the USSR would be worth it if a million Americans got a real glimpse of the depraved impoverished police state that Khrushchev had promised us.

Right now, socialism is in vogue. We have an open socialist running for the Democratic nomination. Socialist ideas are portrayed as cute and idealistic. Let’s send a bunch of Americans to see what a real socialist paradise looks like. Let them see 14-year-old girls turning to prostitution to feed their families. Let them see the “free” hospitals that are open air infection wards. Let them smoke terrible Cuban cigars and inhale the failure of socialism into their lungs. Whatever benefits it gives to Castro’s regime will be worth it just to have a generation of Americans see where the road to socialism ends.