Obama, Man of Contradictions

Last week, Alex put up a good takedown of the talking points from Obama’s State of Union Monarchial Address. But I’ve thinking about it for a week and there’s one thing I keep circling back to:

Almost everything that Obama claims credit for has come from policies he opposed.

A list of the things that Obama is claiming credit for it too long for a blog post since I’m pretty sure he’s now claiming credit for the sun continuing to rise. And that’s understandable: a good job description of “President of the United States” would be “someone who takes credit for anything good that happens”. But you can burrow down to several specific things he’s crowing about. And the striking this is that almost all of them are the result of policies he has opposed.

First, Obama took credit for the shrinking budget deficit. Putting aside that it’s easy to shrink a deficit after you’ve exploded it, the progress on the deficit, such as it is, has come from things Obama or his liberal travelers opposed — budget rescissions and the sequester. And it came without the thing they insisted was needed: massive tax hikes on the rich. The reason the deficit is smaller is because Republicans held the line on spending, keeping the level of spending flat for the last four years despite endless and repeated demands from Obama and the Democrats for ever more “stimulus” spending. The Keynesians out there, having caught their breath from screaming about how sequestration would wreck the economy, are now screaming that the 2009 stimulus finally worked, six years down the road. Whatever supports their bias, I guess.

(It should also be noted that the deficit may start rising again as soon as next year because of the failure to address entitlement spending.)

Obama also took credit for falling gas prices and booming oil production. But oil production on Federal land has actually fallen over his tenure. And he has opposed new energy projects like Keystone XL. His party has opposed fracking and just got it suspended in New York on dubious environmental justification. This is the man who, in 2012, specifically said we couldn’t drill our way out of this and that $2 gas was a fantasy. To be fair, I think the low in gas prices is temporary and prices will start rising again. But the overall point remains: increased oil production was not supposed to either be possible or to help with the energy crunch. And how does Obama reconcile this energy boom with his demand for restrictions on fossil fuel exploitation to combat global warming? He doesn’t. He simply talks out of both sides of his mouth.

(Speaking of global warming, Obama touted the agreement with China. But as I pointed out at the time, the CO2 reductions under that agreement are ones we were likely to meet anyway due to things that having nothing to do with Barack Obama: increased fracking and improvements in energy efficiency in the private sector.)

The biggest boast from Obama was about the economy, which had its healthiest quarter in 15 years. Obama is spiking the football on the economy and that’s understandable, given the howling recession he inherited. But the improvement of the economy came not when we got the stimulus, not when we got Obamacare, not when we passed Dodd-Frank but when we stopped persuing Obama’s agenda. Stimulus spending stopped. Subsidies stopped. Keynesian bullshit stopped. And suddenly, we’re doing better.

In fact, we’re just now finding out that a particularly vital piece of liberal received wisdom may have been garbage:

How much did cutting unemployment benefits help the labor market?

Quite a bit. There is a new NBER Working Paper on this topic by Hagedorn, Manovskii, and Mitman, showing (once again) that most supply curves slope upward, here is one key part from the abstract:

In levels, 1.8 million additional jobs were created in 2014 due to the benefit cut. Almost 1 million of these jobs were filled by workers from out of the labor force who would not have participated in the labor market had benefit extensions been reauthorized.

There is an ungated copy here (pdf). Like the sequester, this is another area where the Keynesian analysts simply have not proven a good guide to understanding recent macroeconomic events.

You see that? When the Republicans said that extended unemployment benefits were keeping people out of work, they were pilloried for it as heartless ignorant savages. We were told it was cruel to cut off unemployment benefits based on half-baked theories of labor. Now this is only a working paper, not a refereed one. But the simple fact is that the labor market has surged as unemployment benefits were cut off.

I’m willing to give Obama credit for some things. It’s true that more people are insured. But that tends to happen when you make being uninsured against the law (excuse me, subject to a tax). And the expense of insuring those people has proven as steep as skeptics predicted. And I’ll give him some credit for drawing down our overseas commitments (although the idea that we are out of Afghanistan is laughable). And … um … I’ll even give him credit for part of the achievements above. He did, after all, agree to the sequester. I’ll agree that the stock market is booming. But it wouldn’t be if Obama had gotten his demands for more taxes on capital gains, a financial transactions tax and a push to address income inequality.

But Obama’s biggest achievements are not his … or at least not his alone. The lion’s share of the credit has to go to the Republican Congress for ignoring everything he wanted to do. They didn’t restrict energy exploration, they didn’t pass more dunder-headed stimulus spending, they did hold spending flat, they did cut off unemployment benefits. Every single one of those things was predicted to be a disaster and yet none of those disasters have materialized. And now Obama and his Keynesian allies want to claim credit.

I don’t expect this to matter to the Democrats. Keynesian economics, command-and-control regulation, the wisdom of the welfare state — these things are articles of faith. But the evidence that they work — least of all that they deserve credit for the “Obama economy” — is scant to say the least.

Hey Mr DJ: Un-Accountability Edition

Don’t ask me why I went a month with no music threads. You see, I have taken a cue from our Masters and decided that if The Powers That Be are allowed to hopelessly bungle the government’s attempt to control 1/6th of the US economy while inflicting higher costs on millions of Americans, lay workers off even while reaping record profits, rape the entire world’s privacy rights through the once-magical and promising power of the World Wide Web, and commit any other number of ethical, moral, and legal infractions with zero explanation or a single pink slip for any single asshole who got us into this situation in the first place; I just don’t have to either.

Feels good. Go ahead and add me to the ever-growing list of people to hang from a lamp-post when all is said and done. Just please don’t string me up anywhere near Lady Gaga or Lois Lerner, I beg of you. My sense of shame hasn’t completely evaporated yet and I’d hate to be photographed with the likes of them.

Doing your own thing for fun and profit and profit regardless of how much it harms society-at-large is all the rage among our elites, almost a sport. It’s much as how they used to hunt foxes, except now we in the middle and lower classes are either the poor fox or the miserable hounds and horses helping run it down.

It’s not so much that I hate them, but that I hate that nobody even tries to stop them. Time and time again, “affluenza” protects those crooks, perverts, and greedy fucks in government and the corporate world from the prison time they deserve while the populace demands more and more crumbs; grateful for every one it gets even though it’s just a crumb.

Nothing is going to get right in this country until WE decide that it has to, you know. Makes you wonder when our society is going to grow up, grow a pair, and start paying the bills.

So let’s turn the supposed season of goodwill toward men on its head and glorify the I Got Mine ideology of our betters.

No dedications or explanations why. Merry fucking Christmas, as my mother likes to say.

1. Music about getting way with everything up to and including murder.

2. Artists who broke up the band and became fabulously rich going solo.

3. Do your own thing and screw the thread. Everybody else is out getting their own nut. Why not you?

For Government: The Trickster by Radiohead

For Big Business: Cool Blue Reason by Cake

For the Iluminati, Masons, aliens, or other shadow organization of your choice: Exopolitics by Muse

For 1%: You Only Get What You Give by New Radicals

For Hollywood: I Don’t Care About You by Fear

For Us: Who Will Save Us Now by Pleistocene

And no bitching at me for questioning either your precious grand nanny Barack Obama or your sainted corporate entrepreneurs and pirates. None of them care about you and they are delighted that you waste your time passionately arguing about meaningless fringe topics that do not threaten what’s theirs. Now go look at Miley Cyrus’s shocking new album art, you peasants.

Hey Mr DJ: On The Run Edition

Winning the War on Terror? No, not so you’d notice.

Just as Dumbledore was once driven from Hogwarts at the mere mention of Voldemort’s name, the ghost of bin Laden was sufficient to place the US on worldwide alert and close down its embassies. If it were only an over-reaction based on chicken-shittiness, it would be bad enough. Unfortunately, it is probably also an intended distraction from the scandals that are overtaking this Administration, try as it might to escape.

This is a disgraceful time to be an American. We have subjected ourselves to complete surveillance and control by a government that excels at nothing but terrorizing ourselves. As unnerving as this fact is for us, those of you around the world who depend on the United States as a force for stability and peace have been officially placed on notice that we are no longer mentally or morally up to the task. The Post-American Age is upon you.

Good luck!

Music:

1. Profiles in Cowardice: Songs about greasing your shorts in the face of danger.

2. Down But Not Out: Sucks when our enemies are pluckier, more determined, and braver than we are no matter how many of them we kill, I know.

3. Superpowers Anonymous: Powerless against Kryptonite car bombs. Where have the heroes gone?

4. Due to security precautions, there is no #4.

5. Partisan Distractions: Pretend you’re an Administration official and play a song that has anything to do with something other than #1 through #4.

Barack’s Boastful Bonus: Choose a song about someone making ludicrous claims which were subsequently proven wrong or simply making ironic statements.

Mississippi Yankee: Too Afraid to Love You by The Black Keys

pfluffy: Easy Way Out by Gotye

Santino: Alive or Dead by Middle Class Rut

Biggie G: Running Scared by Roy Orbison

InsipiD: Bling (Confessions of a King) by The Killers

bgeek: Out Ta Get Me by GNR

WVR: The Frightened City by The Shadows

Surrender, infidels.

We Are Shocked, Shocked! To Find Out That There Is Spying Going On In Here

That European governments are shocked is literally the headline over at CNN:

European officials reacted with fury Sunday to a report that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on EU offices.

The European Union warned that if the report is accurate, it will have tremendous repercussions.

“I am deeply worried and shocked about the allegations,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in a statement. “If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-US relations. On behalf of the European Parliament, I demand full clarification and require further information speedily from the U.S. authorities with regard to these allegations.”

The scale of the US spying operations is quite huge. EU buildings in the US and Belgium, millions of phone lines and data connections in Germany. But … on some level, I have to wonder if this is a bit of diplomatic kabuki. As I said before, I assume that our government spies on other governments, including friendly ones. And I assume other governments spy on us. And not always for security purposes. France’s intelligence agency used to conduct industrial espionage for French corporations.

I find myself agreeing with Michael Hayden:

“I’ve been out of government for about five years, so I really don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t confirm or deny it,” he said. “But I think I can confirm a few things for you here this morning. Number one, the United States does conduct espionage. Number two, our Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans’ privacy, is not an international treaty. And number three, any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their governments are doing.”

Spying on other countries is part of the President’s job description. To not do so would be a dereliction of duty. As I said in a previous post, even our allies keep secrets for their own reasons. And we zealously guard our secrets even from those allies (which is why Pollard is in jail).

Suppose a friendly country found out about a potential terror attack on the United States. And suppose that country did not want to reveal this information for fear of compromising a critical source. Would it not be the President’s duty to find this information out?

This is one of the problems I have with those embracing Edward Snowden. As time goes on, it seems that his problem isn’t just with spying on Americans but with spying at all. That’s not a purism I can embrace. Because spying is necessary.

Even on our allies.

The Hijacking Boom

Wired has an excerpt from a new book about the so-called “Golden Age of Hijacking” when US airplanes were routinely taken by crazy people and flown to crazy places like Cuba. In a span of four years (1968-1972), over 130 planes were hijacked, a threat level that, if it occurred today, would have the NSA’s nose firmly wedged in our genitals.

I found the excerpt fascinating for two reasons. First, the description of what happened to these people once they reached the island communist paradise of Cuba:

But though Fidel Castro welcomed the wayward flights in order to humiliate the United States and earn hard currency—the airlines had to pay the Cuban government an average of $7,500 to retrieve each plane—he had little but disdain for the hijackers themselves, whom he considered undesirable malcontents. After landing at José Martí, hijackers were whisked away to an imposing Spanish citadel that served as the headquarters of G2, Cuba’s secret police. There they were interrogated for weeks on end, accused of working for the CIA despite all evidence to the contrary. The lucky ones were then sent to live at the Casa de Transitos (Hijackers House), a decrepit dormitory in southern Havana, where each American was allocated sixteen square feet of living space; the two-story building eventually held as many as sixty hijackers, who were forced to subsist on monthly stipends of forty pesos each. Skyjackers who rubbed their G2 interrogators the wrong way, meanwhile, were dispatched to squalid sugar-harvesting camps, where conditions were rarely better than nightmarish. At these tropical gulags, inmates were punished with machete blows, political agitators were publicly executed, and captured escapees were dragged across razor-sharp stalks of sugarcane until their flesh was stripped away. One American hijacker was beaten so badly by prison guards that he lost an eye; another hanged himself in his cell.

I had never heard this before. That’s not surprising — either the treatment or the fact that I’d never heard of it. The treatment isn’t surprising because anyone with an IQ bigger than their underwear waistband knows that Castro was and is a brutal dictator. Donna did a series of posts on the old Moorewatch website describing the conditions in Cuba and little has changed since then. Little has ever changed in Cuba.

But the lack of publicity of that treatment isn’t surprising either. Many of the Left, especially in the 70’s, happily turned a blind eye to Castro’s oppression. Many bought into the cartoon version of Cuba that he happily sold to the West. And the media were very reluctant to call shenanigans on the whole thing. When Castro, having washed the blood off his clothes, is was praised and decorated by other countries for his “achievements”, the Cuban exile community, who had endured his brutality and lost relatives to his murderousness, went nuts. I don’t blame them.

The other interesting part is the response to hijacking. The hijacking boom was when the policy began that hijackers were not to be resisted or opposed. For the safety of the airplanes, crews and passengers were instructed to comply with the hijackers’ demands. That policy would be exploited on 9/11 to devastating effect before it was summarily rescinded by the brave passengers of United 93.

The other interesting part is how the hijacking boom was stopped, at least for a while.

John Dailey, a task force member who also served as the FAA’s chief psychologist, began to attack the problem by analyzing the methods of past skyjackers. He pored through accounts of every single American hijacking since 1961—more than seventy cases in all—and compiled a database of the perpetrators’ basic characteristics: how they dressed, where they lived, when they traveled, and how they acted around airline personnel. His research convinced him that all skyjackers involuntarily betrayed their criminal intentions while checking in for their flights. “There isn’t any common denominator except in [the hijackers’] behavior,” he told one airline executive. “Some will be tall, some short, some will have long hair, some not, some a long nose, et cetera, et cetera. There is no way to tell a hijacker by looking at him. But there are ways to differentiate between the behavior of a potential hijacker and that of the usual air traveler.”

Dailey, who had spent the bulk of his career designing aptitude tests for the Air Force and Navy, created a brief checklist that could be used to determine whether a traveler might have malice in his heart. Paying for one’s ticket by unconventional means, for example, was considered an important tip-off. So, too, were failing to maintain eye contact and expressing an inadequate level of knowledge or concern about one’s luggage. Dailey fine-tuned his criteria so they would apply to only a tiny fraction of travelers—ideally no more than three out of every thousand. He proposed that these few “selectees” could then be checked with handheld metal detectors, away from the prying eyes of fellow passengers. Most selectees would prove guilty of nothing graver than simple eccentricity, but a small number would surely be found to be in possession of guns, knives, or incendiary devices.

Profiling, in other words. Needless to say, this program was a success. Only one in every 200 passengers was picked for extra screening. Most did not object. Hijackings dropped. And janitors reported finding abandoned weapons.

The excerpt cuts off at that point and hijackings did boom again after the Dailey program. I may actually get the book to see why and learn how the problem was solved in the long term. But it comports with what Bruce Schneier and others have been saying about our approach to security: that we’re better off trying to identify terrorists than strip people of potential weapons. Almost anything can be used as a weapon. But very few of us are terrorists. It’s much more productive to find the latter than the former.