Tag: Barack Obama

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.

The Pigeons Come Home

Now that it looks like we’re headed for a … ugh … Trump/Clinton showdown, expect to see more articles like this:

Back in 2013, I argued that the U.S. has been building “all the infrastructure a tyrant would need, courtesy of Bush and Obama,” adding, “More and more, we’re counting on having angels in office and making ourselves vulnerable to devils.” With Trump and Hillary Clinton leading in the primaries, let’s revisit some particulars:

Bush and Obama have built infrastructure any devil would lust after. Behold the items on an aspiring tyrant’s checklist that they’ve provided their successors:

A precedent that allows the president to kill citizens in secret without prior judicial or legislative review

The power to detain prisoners indefinitely without charges or trial

Ongoing warrantless surveillance on millions of Americans accused of no wrongdoing, converted into a permanent database so that data of innocents spied upon in 2007 can be accessed in 2027

Using ethnic profiling to choose the targets of secret spying, as the NYPD did with John Brennan’s blessing

Normalizing situations in which the law itself is secret — and whatever mischief is hiding in those secret interpretations

The permissibility of droning to death people whose identities are not even known to those doing the killing

The ability to collect DNA swabs of people who have been arrested even if they haven’t been convicted of anything

A torture program that could be restarted with an executive order

Even if you think Bush and Obama exercised those extraordinary powers responsibly, what makes you think every president would? How can anyone fail to see the huge potential for abuses?

Before moving into a new house, parents of small children engage in child-proofing. Before leaving the White House, Obama should engage in tyrant-proofing. For eight years, he has evinced a high opinion of his own ability to exercise power morally, even in situations where Senator Obama thought that the president should be restrained. At this point, better to flatter his ego than to resist it. You’ll be gone soon, Mr. President, and for all our disagreements, I think your successor is highly likely to be less trustworthy and more corruptible than you were.

Insofar as you can, limit his or her ability to violate liberties or hide atrocities before you go. It may be the most significant step you can take to safeguard your legacy.

Conor, who like many libertarians, has been sounding alarms on these issue for the last decade, also calls on Congress to reclaim its power while it still can.

Lee warned about it when Bush was assuming Patriot Act, surveillance and torture powers. I warned about it when Obama assumed mass surveillance powers and started doing everything by executive order. The mantra was always the same whether you trusted Bush or trusted Obama or trusted both: it wasn’t about them; it was about the next President and the next.

And now we have a next President, either Clinton or Trump. And the public doesn’t trust either of them. Nor should they. Both have shown a disregard for Constitutional restraint and the Rule of Law. Both have shown that they will use the power of the office to engage in petty personal vendettas. Both of them could be imagined being overruled by the Supreme Court and saying, as Andrew Jackson once did, “John Roberts has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

Yet rather than reign in this unprecedented power, our leaders seem to be expanding it. To wit:

A while back, we noted a report showing that the “sneak-and-peek” provision of the Patriot Act that was alleged to be used only in national security and terrorism investigations has overwhelmingly been used in narcotics cases. Now the New York Times reports that National Security Agency data will be shared with other intelligence agencies like the FBI without first applying any screens for privacy.

This basically formalizes what was already happening under the radar. We’ve known for a couple of years now that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the IRS were getting information from the NSA. Because that information was obtained without a warrant, the agencies were instructed to engage in “parallel construction” when explaining to courts and defense attorneys how the information had been obtained. If you think parallel construction just sounds like a bureaucratically sterilized way of saying big stinking lie, well, you wouldn’t be alone. And it certainly isn’t the only time that that national security apparatus has let law enforcement agencies benefit from policies that are supposed to be reserved for terrorism investigations in order to get around the Fourth Amendment, then instructed those law enforcement agencies to misdirect, fudge and outright lie about how they obtained incriminating information — see the Stingray debacle. This isn’t just a few rogue agents. The lying has been a matter of policy. We’re now learning that the feds had these agreements with police agencies all over the country, affecting thousands of cases.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue: do you want Clinton or Trump to have these powers? But of course, it is a partisan issue. Congressional Democrats don’t want to reign in the power of the White House because they’re just fine with Clinton wielding that power. Republicans might be a little more principled, given their fear of Trump, but I suspect they wouldn’t mind too much if he had such power.

One way or another, we appear to be on the brink of realizing what all those civil libertarians have been complaining about for years. And the country may never be the same.

It’s Garland

Obama has announced his SCOTUS nominee: Merrick Garland.

I think the GOP would be wise to consider the nomination. They don’t have to accept it. They are well within their prerogative to reject it. But I think it should be considered.

For me, I would not support Merrick. He’s yet another product of the Harvard-Yale axis. Yet another nominee who has no experience in criminal defense (he’s been a career prosecutor). He’s yet another nominee who defers to the government and to law enforcement rather than defend our civil liberties. He also opposed Heller.

I won’t form a final opinion just yet. But my initial response is negative. I expect the GOP will like the things I dislike about him.

The Pizza Canard

My position on voter ID is pretty straight-forward:

First, I think it is absolutely reasonable to require photo ID to vote. The claims that there is “no” vote fraud are hollow: we don’t require ID, therefore it is very hard to identify fraud. (That having been said, I don’t think there’s a lot of it, but there is some).

Second, I think it needs to be easy for law-abiding citizens to get photo ID. Many states have made it difficult to get voter IDs and for many poor people, especially minorities, acquiring documentation like birth certificates can be difficult. One of the Popehat bloggers recently tweeted about a client, a war veteran, who can’t vote because he can’t produce a birth certificate. Hospitals were segregated when he was born, his certificate was destroyed in a fire and computer records are unacceptable. I’ve heard a number of similar stories.

All that having been said, the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard about this issue was just uttered by our President:

We’re the only advanced democracy in the world that makes it harder for people to vote,” Obama said. “You’re laughing, but it’s sad.” Obama noted that it was “easier to order a pizza than vote. How do we redesign our systems so we don’t have 50% voter participation?” he asked.

First of all, we are not the only democracy in the world that makes it harder for people to vote, not by a longshot. And for photo ID, in particular, it’s not even close. Most countries require photo ID. The vast majority of Americans support it. The Supreme Court decided, 6-3, that this was not a huge burden on voters so long as it was easy to obtain the ID.

But easier to order a pizza than to vote? I fucking hope so. A pizza is a $10 commitment that feeds me for one day; a vote is a multi-trillion dollar commitment that can get us all taxed, regulated or killed for four years. I don’t give a rat’s ass if an illegal alien or a convicted felon or a 15-year-old buy a pizza. I do care if they vote.

(I watched the video and Obama wasn’t joking when he said this. He was being serious.)

He went on to suggest that we need to make it easier to vote, maybe even make it possible to vote online (because we all saw how well Healthcare.gov went). Look, I want to make it reasonably easy for people to vote. But I’ve never understood this burning desire to drag people kicking and screaming to the polls. If someone doesn’t want to vote, the most likely reason is the crappy choices they are presented with.

War of the Memes

This piece of crap has been spreading through my Facebook and Twitter feeds like a particularly aggressive form of gonorrhea.

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There’s a lot wrong here. First of all, Clinton raised taxes on everyone, not just the rich. Second, the Clinton economy was a product of Republican budget control, NAFTA (passed with Republican help) and the .com boom (enabled by lots of deregulation). Third, Bush cut taxes for everyone. But a spendthrift administration, a real estate bubble and horrible monetary policy from the Fed wrecked the economy anyway. Sorry, liberals, it’s just not that simple.

But, hey. Two can play this mindless meme game. Here’s mine. And it has the advantage of being a little more grounded in reality (click to embiggen).

memebs

The Last Defense

As we mercifully roll into the last year of the Obama Administration, we can expect a slew of articles telling us how great a President he’s been. ThinkRegress takes an interesting first approach, which I would describe as “it hasn’t been as bad as some of the more hysterical critics said!”

Specifically, they focus on:

  • Mike Lee said gas would be $6 a gallon. It’s $2.
  • Mitt Romney said unemployment would remain high. It’s 5%.
  • Donald Trump said stock markets would crash. The Dow is at 17,0000.
  • Rush Limbaugh said the entire economy would crash. We’re still having growth.

I’m … unimpressed. It looks to me like ThinkRegress basically trolled a few months of commentary to find the most inaccurate predictions they could. But hysterical inaccurate predictions are basically the language of politics. One of my earliest political memories is of liberals saying Ronald Reagan would get us into a nuclear war. So pulling out four of the worst quotes is a silly exercise.

(I’m also not clear why the stock market surging is seen by liberals as a good thing. Surely that just increases wealth inequality? I’m also dubious that the economy is in as great shape as ThinkRegress claims but I’ll accept the official numbers are decent.)

And you want to talk about inaccurate predictions? Let’s talk about Obama predicting in 2008 he would cut the deficit in half. Or let’s talk about the stimulus that would cap unemployment at 8% and bring it down to 5% by 2012. Or the prediction that his very presence would make us popular in the world again and bring about an era of international cooperation.

Here’s another exercise: let’s look at what did happen since Election 2012.

  • Obamacare has started to fall apart. Premiums have soared. Deductibles have soared. Networks have contracted. Some companies are even leaving the system. Obama’s claim that “if you like your healthcare, you can keep it” turned out to be so wrong, Politifact labelled it as a Lie of the Year.
  • Iraq, Libya and Syria have descended into chaos.
  • Russia has emerged as a major geopolitical foe. The Left wing mocked Romney when he predicted this in 2012, with Obama saying, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
  • Student debt has continued to swell.
  • The global economy is still in rough shape, with Europe and China now stumbling.
  • Terrorism has gotten worse, with the number of attacks increasing. ISIS is now losing military, but they have expanded their terror network and may continue to act on that front even if they cease to exist as a pretend nation.
  • The debt has continued to grow. To the extend that the deficit has fallen, it is because of evil Republican budget restraint. That restraint, incidentally, was supposed to plunge us back into recession.

I would like to focus on that last point in particular, because this is something I emphasized in my commentary on the 2012 election. Such success as Obama has had has come largely because of a Republican Congress. It has often come because of things he and his party vehemently opposed, such as budget cuts, extended tax cuts and increased oil production. Part of the job of the President is to stand around and claim credit for anything that good that happens. But it’s hard to make that claim while at the same time, whining that the evil GOP has blocked every single part of your agenda. Every stimulus bill, every new spending initiative, every tax hike has found itself DOA. And yet … we’re somehow supposed to credit all this to Obama?

Well, whatever it takes to convince yourself that he’s been a great President, I guess.

The Paris Agreement

You know, I’m getting a little tired of every do-nothing climate agreement being hailed as having saved the planet. This weekend, the media exploded about a “breakthrough” climate agreement signed in Paris; one that is going to “save the Earth” from global warming (as always, remember what George Carlin said about “saving the Earth”). You can read a good breakdown from Ronald Bailey but a good summation could me given by Michael Corleone.

The offer is nothing.

The nations have agreed, in principle, to massively cut global emissions with the goal of going carbon free later in the century. They’ve also agreed, in principle, to provide some assistance to countries negatively impacted by the effects of global warming. It goes into effect if enough nations sign on and will review those goals every five years.

But there’s no enforcement mechanism. There’s nothing binding. The deal is so flimsy that Obama’s not even going to bother sending it to Congress because it doesn’t agree to anything they need to act on (and because Congress would probably overwhelmingly reject it the same way they overwhelmingly rejected Kyoto). It’s a slightly fancier piece of paper and that’s all.

Even if the goals were enacted, the reduction in projected global warming is small, maybe one degree if the countries do everything they say they are going to do. That’s actually less than the reduction in projected global warming that’s resulted from better science: improved models and better analysis of temperature trends that have dropped the projected global warming in this century by several degrees.

If you judge an agreement by its goals — which seems to be the only way the Left ever judges anything — the Paris Agreement is fantastic. But if you judge it by what it actually does, the Paris Agreement is nothing. All it really does is emphasize the dirty little secret of the global warming debate: We don’t have a solution to the problem of global warming.

Oh, there are things we can do to buy time. Better energy efficiency. Using alternative energy as practicable, especially nuclear. Cutting down on industrial methane emissions. Switching to less carbon-intense fuels, like natural gas. Making our energy grid more efficient and responsive. These can slow the process of global warming, possibly for decades. I’ve written previously on how to buy time on global warming without wrecking the economy here and here.

But the simple fact is that we will not solve this problem until we have an energy source that is as reliable, as efficient, as portable and as powerful as fossil fuels. That might be a more advanced nuclear fission. It might be nuclear fusion. It might be sunlight captured in space and beamed down the Earth. It might be efficient energy storage (and no, filling a warehouse with lithium batteries is not efficient energy storage). But we are at least a couple of decades away from being able to go “carbon free”.

When that technology is developed, we won’t need grand international agreements to force everyone to use it. The market will eat that right up. And that brings us to the final dirty secret of global warming: these meetings and these treaties aren’t about saving the Earth. They’re about consolidating power. They’re about lavishing money on special interests. They’re about, for many counties, wealth transfers from rich countries to poor ones (a major sticking point in the negotiations was just how much rich countries should “compensate” poor countries for environmental damage; most environmental damage right now is caused by … poor countries). They’re about having fancy expensive meetings in exotic locales where were world leaders can set nobel goals decades away that they will never have to worry about. They then pat themselves on the back and bask in the worship of the media and environmentalists despite having accomplished fuck all.

The No Fly Fraud, The Donald and the Death of Civil Liberties

In this corner, we present the Democratic Party. Fresh off of Obama’s lackluster Oval Office speech, they are pushing to ban people on the federal no-fly list from buying guns. Never mind that the list is arbitrary and secretive. Never mind that it’s difficult to find out why you’re on the list and almost impossible to get off of it. Never mind that there are several hundred thousand people on the list, including the odd PhD Candidate and the occasional 4-year old. Never mind that this would deprive people of a basic civil liberty without due process. Never mind that terrorists will simply get their guns illegally. There’s an election coming up. Time to sow some panic!

And in this corner, we have the Republican frontrunner. Fresh off making false claims that he saw video of thousands of American Muslims celebrating 9/11, calling for Muslims to be registered and saying that some mosques should be closed, today he said that we should just stop letting Muslims come into the country. He clarified later that this would include US citizens currently abroad although he didn’t clarify if this meant military personnel. In support of this, he cited a bunch of unscientific online polls from anti-Islamic groups. Never mind that we’ve had a total of 40 people killed on American soil by anything remotely Islamic in the last five years (against five million American Muslims and 70,000 total murders in that time). Never mind that it would be unconstitutional. Never mind that there would be no practical way to do it without forcing everyone to declare their religion to the government. Never mind that his campaign is drifting further and further into something that can only be called fascism. There’s panic to sow!

So one party wants to take away civil liberties based on secret lists. The other wants to bar people from the country based on their religion.

And people wonder why I vote libertarian.