Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pot: Hey, Kettle! How About That Deadline?

    President Obama is getting a little testy with Congress for not coming to a fiscal cliff agreement as the December 31st deadline looms.  From Fox News:
Obama to Lawmakers: Let's Not Miss This DeadlinePresident Barack Obama held out hope for a last-minute agreement to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and spending cuts after a meeting with congressional leaders, scolding Congress for leaving the problem unresolved until the eleventh hour.
"The hour for immediate action is here," he told reporters at the White House. "I'm modestly optimistic that an agreement can be achieved," he said...
Obama took Congress to task for stalling on negotiations in a manner that is reminiscent of the 2011 stalemate that brought the nation close to the brink of defaulting on its debt and that hurt the economic recovery.
"This is déjà vu all over again," he said.
"America wonders why it is that in this town for some reason you can't get stuff done in an organized timetable," he added. "Well, we're now at the last minute."
    And in his Saturday weekly address to the American people, the president said:
You meet your deadlines and your responsibilities every day. The folks you sent here to serve should do the same. We cannot let Washington politics get in the way of America’s progress.
     So, said the kettle to the pot, how have you done on deadlines?
  • May 20, 2011 - Washington Post - Obama misses deadline for congressional approval of Libya operations
  • September 7, 2012 - The Hill - White House to miss deadline for report on 'fiscal cliff' budget cuts
  • November 1, 2012 - CNS News - Obama Admin. Ignores Legal Deadline To Disclose Regulatory Plans, Economic Impact - Again
  • November 2, 2011 - Sen. Tom Coburn - Administration Fails to Meet Deadlines In Its Own Health Law
  • July 18, 2012 - Heritage Foundation - Obama Misses Budget Deadline—Again
  • January 27, 2012 - Rep. Paul Ryan - President Obama’s Missed Budget Deadlines
  • December 21, 2012 - Washington Times - Obama announces new wave of proposed regulations - "After taking criticism for missing an October deadline..."
    And perhaps the granddaddy of them all...
  •  January 22, 2009 - WhiteHouse.gov - Closure of Detention Facilities at Guantánamo. The detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order.
    Perhaps the Republicans can be forgiven if they do not respond with gracious acquiescence to President Obama's lecture on punctuality.

Saving Taxpayer Dollars: Specks and Logs

    In mid-December, the White House announced the four finalists in President Obama's fourth annual SAVE Award competition for federal employees.
Since its creation in 2009, President Obama’s SAVE Award [Securing Americans Value and Efficiency] has served as a vehicle for Federal employees to offer firsthand their ideas on how to improve performance and ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.  
Today, we are announcing the four finalists for the 2012 SAVE Award.  Keeping with tradition, the winner will present his or her idea to the President in the Oval Office, and other proposals will be directed to agencies for potential action or inclusion in the President’s Budget.
The final four ideas are:
Frederick Winter, Shift to Senior Transit Fares.  Frederick Winter of the Department of Education proposes that all Federal employees who receive public transit benefits shift from regular transit fare to the reduced senior fare as soon as they are eligible.  In the D.C. area, this change would lower the cost of the employee’s travel by 50 percent, with no loss in the effective benefits for the employee. 
Angela Leroux, Reduce Employee Shuttle Buses.  Many Federal agencies maintain buses to shuttle employees from one government office to another for work purposes.  Too often these vehicles sit idle or travel their routes with just a few passengers.  Angela Leroux at the Internal Revenue Service recommends that agencies eliminate or consolidate the bus service and encourage the use of conference and video calls, or provide metro cards to those with a need to travel. 
James Szender, Use Digital Transcription.  A written transcript of Federal meetings or hearings is often required.  James Szender of the Department of Interior proposes, whenever possible, using digital equipment for transcripts instead of hiring a court reporter, since using digital transcription is significantly less expensive than contracting with a certified court reporter to attend, record, and transcribe the proceedings. 
Laurie Dempsey, Post Customs Inspection Information Online.  Customs and Border Protection is required to post a bulletin weekly that lists all imported items that have completed the customs inspection process.  Currently, Customs ports across the country print this bulletin, which can be hundreds of pages long, and post it in the customs house.  Laurie Dempsey from the Department of Homeland Security suggests instead posting the bulletin electronically on CBP.gov.  This change would save paper, reduce costs, and make it easier for the public to find out what items have been inspected without having to visit the facility in person. 
    To summarize these cream of the crop, top of the heap, head and shoulders above the rest ideas for saving the hard-earned money of the taxpayers: Don’t pay more than required for a transit pass, stop running buses no one rides, stop using 18th century transcription methods, and... use the Internet.

    These ideas are certainly worthy to be implemented, and this is not intended as a slight against the four individuals listed above who have called attention to this waste. What's disturbing is that it took a contest in President Obama's fourth year in office to smoke them out.  Seriously: post customs bulletins on the internet instead of hundreds of sheets of paper on a bulletin board in the customs house?  Didn't Joe Biden already uncover this one in the Campaign to Cut Waste? What other nonsensical, money-wasting boondoggles continue to lurk below the surface?  Could federal workers be hoarding them, hoping to enter them in next year's contest? (Just kidding.)

    And where are the REAL money-saving ideas? Like stop paying farmers billions to keep food prices higher.  Stop spending billions to have the federal government via the Department of Education interfere in local education systems.  Stop spending billions to boost unnecessary "green energy" initiatives whose time, based on the market, has not yet come.  Stop spending trillions to (unsuccessfully) "eliminate poverty" while instead often exacerbating the problem.

    There's a Biblical principle in Luke 6:41-42 that, though not a perfect fit, has an application here:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. [ESV]
     The specks are important, and let's not overlook them.  But what we really need to do is start working on the logs.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Looms! Federal Government Gives Raises! [Updated]

    As the country hurtles toward the fiscal cliff, President Obama signed an executive order cryptically titled "Adjustments of Certain Rates of Pay."  The text of the order on the White House website contains no details, but a copy with the attachments is available at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  A cursory examination of the document seems to indicate that those "adjustments" are generally in an upward direction.  For example, "Rates of Basic Pay for the Executive Schedule." Here are the rates that were effective in 2012, frozen at the 2010 levels:
Level I  $  199,700
Level II    179,700
Level III    165,300
Level IV    155,500
Level V    145,700 
    Here are the rates in the just-signed Executive Order:
(Effective on the first day of the first applicable pay period beginning after March 27, 2013)
Level I  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $200,700
Level II . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  180,600
Level III. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  166,100
Level IV . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  156,300
Level V  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  146,400
    Not much of an increase, but an increase all the same.  Other raises are included for, among others, foreign service employees, senators, representatives, and even Vice President Biden.

    Combine federal employee raises with tax increases hitting January 1st, increases that reach down to the lowest level of wage earners with the expiration of the payroll tax holiday, and the government might be initiating a winter storm that will make this week's Euclid look like a few flurries.

UPDATE: The website FedSmith.com posted on this yesterday.  Since that blog is targeted at federal employees, the end of the freeze is of course presented as good news:

As most readers know, President Obama proposed a pay freeze on civilian employee pay that was applicable all federal civilian employees. This was way back in 2010. It did not impact pay raises as a result of promotions or within-grade increases but it was good political theater and the move was supposed to save the government money which it has probably done. 
The White House said at the time that the pay freeze would save $2 billion for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, $28 billion over the next five years, and more than $60 billion over the next 10 years. We do not know if that much has or will be saved or if it was political rhetoric in lieu of actual facts. The president noted that  action had to be taken because of “the massive deficits we inherited and the unsustainable fiscal course that we are on. Doing so will take some very tough choices.” 
But, as readers know, the pay freeze is still in effect today and the deficits in the past four years have swamped previous yearly deficits by adding as much as $1.4 trillion in new debt in one year alone. The other three years of Mr. Obama’s presidency have also exceeded more than $1 trillion each year (despite the federal employee pay freeze) due primarily to increased government spending in the past several years. 
But, the good news is that the pay freeze will end in late March.
The reason: A new executive order has been issued providing for a new pay schedule beginning “on the first day of the first applicable pay period beginning after March 27, 2013.” The pay raise will generally be about 1/2 of 1%... 
The legal authority for the new executive order is in the continuing resolution that is currently in effect... 
For those who may also be wondering if Congress could change the pay rates or completely eliminate the pay raise, the answer is that it could be done. However, the change would have to pass both the House and the Senate and, as a practical matter, the Senate has not displayed any independence from the desires of the White House. So any change is unlikely (although not impossible) prior to the effective date. 
After most readers had an extra holiday on Christmas Eve, and with the announcement of a pay raise—even a small one—many of our readers may be looking at the new year with a more positive outlook. 

UPDATE (1/1/13): The House has voted to reject the raises in the president's executive order.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee: Out With the Old, In With the... Old

    Daniel Halper of the Weekly Standard noted the following on Thursday:
Two days after reports that hotels in Washington are not filling up ahead of Barack Obama's second inauguration, the president emailed supporters to encourage them to come to the festivities scheduled for next month in Washington, D.C.
"Because of you, I'll be taking the oath of office again on January 21st," Obama wrote in an email to supporters. "I'd like you to be part of this historic moment -- whether that's in Washington, D.C., or wherever you call home. As we make plans, we want to make sure the people who made this inauguration possible are the first to know what's happening."
    Also being a subscriber to the Obama for America email list used incessantly during the campaign, I received the same email as did no doubt millions of others.  The email goes on to note that to be updated on further developments relating to the upcoming inauguration, one can sign up for yet another email list and a link is provided:
Sign up and stay updated: 
    The link is to a website established by the President Inaugural Committee 2013 (PIC).  There a visitor can enter an email address to receive the updates.  Once an email address is entered, visitors are taken to.... (drumroll, please) a donations page!

    While this organization is separate from the President's Obama for America campaign organization, once one gets beyond the honorary leadership of the committee, quite a few familiar names pop up:
  • Chair, PIC Board of Directors  Stephanie Cutter
  • Chair, PIC Finance  Rufus Gifford
  • Chair, National Day of Service  Jen O'Malley Dillon 
  • Chair, National Mall  Patrick Gaspard
  • Chair, Inaugural Parade  Jim Messina
  • Chair, Inaugural Balls and Receptions  Julianna Smoot
  • Chief Executive Officer  Stephen Kerrigan (CEO of the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee)
  • Executive Director  David J. Cusack (Senior advisor to the CEO of the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee) 
  • Senior Advisor  Clark Jennings (Senior director of convention operations at the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee, March-Oct. 2012.)
  • Communications Director  Brent Colburn (Communications director at Obama for America.)
  • Technology Coordinator  Mackenzie Walker (Executive Tech Assistant at Obama for America from July 2012.)
  • Compliance Director  Jesse Sendroff (Compliance director for the Democratic National Convention Committee, Dec. 2011-Oct. 2012.)
    Since it appears the Inaugural Committee is basically the president's reelection campaign with a new coat of paint, it can be assumed that the next three weeks will be filled with opportunities to donate to the 57th Presidential Inauguration.  And in case you were wondering, the PIC wants your donation to be as hassle-free as possible, so in keeping with the tradition established by Obama for America, you won't have to be bother to turn over your credit card and enter that annoying three-digit security code (security-schmecurity!)  It's comforting to know as we enter the uncertainty of 2013 that a new year always brings, some things will never change.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

ObamaCare's Ministry of Silly Walks

    One provision of the 2,800 page Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act was the establishment of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.  The law established funding for the institute for 10 years after which Congress would have to reauthorize it.  The funding is explained as follows on the PCORI website:
For FY 2010, $10 million
For FY 2011, $50 million
For FY 2012, $150 million
For FY 2013, the PCORTF will receive $150 million from the general fund in appropriation plus an annual $1 fee per individual assessed on Medicare and private health insurance and self-insured plans. The combined estimated total is $320 million.
For FYs 2014-2019, the PCORTF will receive $150 million from the general fund in appropriation plus an annual $2 fee per individual assessed on Medicare and private health insurance and self-insured plans and an adjustment for increase in healthcare spending. The combined estimated total averages $650 million per year.
    So with a combination of money from federal government general funds and fees imposed per insured individual, the Institute will be receiving $650 million per year by 2014. (Using Congress's meaningless and arbitrary "10 year" metric, this makes $4.4 billion.)  What are taxpayers and the insured getting for their money?  Here's how the PCORI website describes what it is all about [emphasis added]:
The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is authorized by Congress to conduct research to provide information about the best available evidence to help patients and their health care providers make more informed decisions. PCORI’s research is intended to give patients a better understanding of the prevention, treatment and care options available, and the science that supports those options.
    Got that?  Research for information about evidence for decisions.  OK, a bit vague?  Not to worry.  There's a further section describing the mission and vision of PCORI:
The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) helps people make informed health care decisions, and improves health care delivery and outcomes, by producing and promoting high integrity, evidence-based information that comes from research guided by patients, caregivers and the broader health care community. 
    Help people make decisions with evidence-based information from research.  See what they did there?  Same words... but in reverse! The clarity is blinding!  And the vision?
Patients and the public have the information they need to make decisions that reflect their desired health outcomes.
     Research and evidence are simply jettisoned completely here with only information and decisions surviving.

    PCORI is a fairly young organization and may yet show its long-term value in unexpected ways [as may ObamaCare, but who really still believes that?]  But if the output of this Institute is as vague and ill-defined as the organization's own mission and vision, Congress will have simply added one more hole to its taxpayer-funded bag of money.

Note: For those unfamiliar with the meaning of the title of this post, see here.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

PETA: Nothing Says "Merry Christmas" Like a Little Blasphemy

    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has long used Shock and Eww campaigns to try to, as they say, raise awareness of the plight of the less sentient creatures among us.  For instance, they recently ran a billboard campaign targeting popular holiday meal options with an eye to the children:

    It is difficult to gauge how successful this type of marketing is.  Certainly outrageous ads (see Superbowl Sunday) have a long and storied history, some more successful than others.  However, this Christmas, PETA may be breaking new ground in the genre with its latest offering.  Coming soon to a billboard near you:

    Protestants and Catholics and other faiths rooted in Christianity have widely differing views on Mary, but at the very least a deep respect for the mother of Jesus cuts across denominational lines, not to mention respect for God himself. After all,  Mary herself in Luke 1:46, 48 says, "My soul magnifies the Lord," and "For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed."  Mary could be forgiven for thinking "magnifies" and "blessed" aren't what PETA had in mind in this ad.

    It is difficult to understand how PETA believes this mockery will advance its long term agenda.  But then again, this is an organization that apparently lacks the self-awareness to recognize the wildly inappropriate name for its own blog:

   So what other sacred cows will PETA seek to slay next?  Oh, wait.  I guess that might be one place where they'd draw the line.

Our Politically Incorrect President

    Early Friday evening, President Obama made an appearance in the press room of the White House to give a brief statement on the fiscal cliff negotiations.  He urged all involved to take some time off for the holidays, but then be prepared to get a quick deal done to prevent the coming tax increases from hitting most Americans.  But in doing so, he committed what has become a growing holiday season faux pas in America:
So, as we leave town for a few days to be with our families for the holidays, I hope it gives everybody some perspective.  Everybody can cool off; everybody can drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing some Christmas carols, enjoy the company of loved ones...
And with that, I want to wish every American a merry Christmas.
    I can't help but wondering if some of the President's supporters are privately gnashing their teeth over his religious insensitivity and intolerance.

    By the way, in case I don't post anything again before Christmas: Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

OFA's Fiscal Cliff Web Page: An Update

    I've written twice about the Obama for America webpage on the "Fiscal Cliff" that was published and then thoroughly scrubbed three days later.  Sara El-Amine of OFA responded to my initial inquiry, suggesting that this was simply a "glitch":

    This seemed unlikely since this was not simply a broken link - the entire webpage was gone.  However, this morning, the original link ("barackobama.com/fiscal-cliff") no longer directs users to the "page not found" message, but rather an older, existing page on the website, "2012 Stories - Stories about Extending Middle Class Tax Cuts" that has been around at least since December 2nd:

    But this page is nothing like the original Fiscal Cliff page (see here as a series of screen captures):

    The "Stories" page is simply that: stories.  It's not an "action" page, provides no official information, and doesn't even reference the "fiscal cliff."  The mystery therefore continues.  My further inquiry to OFA has so far gone unanswered.  However, now that the "fiscal cliff" negotiations seem to be coming to a head, and not in a good way, it will be interesting to see if OFA once again changes direction and goes on the offensive.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Update on "Never Let a Crisis..." Post: A Decent Proposal

    My post on Monday ("Never Let a Crisis...") on David Axelrod's email regarding Barack Obama's speech on the Newtown, CT, massacre has gotten a fair amount of attention over the past two days.  A common response by defenders of Axelrod (and the president by extension) is that the email that linked to the BarackObama.com website blog was not a fund raising email, and that the format of the blog displays those "Donate" buttons regardless of the topic.  While that may be true, it misses the point.  As the folks at Twitchy pointed out:
Notably, Axelrod did not link to the post about the speech at the White House website. Rather, he linked to a post at President Obama’s official campaign site.
     In addition to the the White House website, the speech is on YouTube multiple times and doubtless at other outlets, as well.  Using the campaign website and email list that Team Obama crafted to set fundraising records during the campaign was simply asking for trouble.  Earlier, I linked to a Business Week article that detailed how the campaign lifted the fundraising email to an art form:

One fascination in a presidential race mostly bereft of intrigue was the strange, incessant, and weirdly overfamiliar e-mails that emanated from the Obama campaign... 
But they worked. Most of the $690 million Obama raised online came from fundraising e-mails. During the campaign, Obama’s staff wouldn’t answer questions about them or the alchemy that made them so successful. Now, with the election over, they’re opening the black box...
Writers, analysts, and managers routinely bet on which lines would perform best and worst. “We were so bad at predicting what would win that it only reinforced the need to constantly keep testing,” says Showalter. “Every time something really ugly won, it would shock me: giant-size fonts for links, plain-text links vs. pretty ‘Donate’ buttons.
    This brings me to my proposal.  In my original post, I noted that:
...in fairness that Axelrod might not have intentionally connected his email with the "Donate" buttons that are ever-present on the BarackObama.com website.  But if/when someone realizes the crassness of the current setup, perhaps a link to the Newtown memorials will be forthcoming. 
    So far, Obama for America has not chosen to change its set up or add any links for ways to donate to Newtown-related causes.  But based on the BusinessWeek article above, OFA has enough high-tech savvy to know exactly how much they ended up raising from this email, even if it was unintentional (see graphic from Business Week article to the right.)  Why not make a public statement that those funds will be redirected to some kind of Newtown memorial fund or funds?  There may be some legal technicality with using campaign funds that way, but I am confident that OFA's attorneys could find a way to circumvent any difficulties.

    Not only would this tangibly help people who are facing this devastating tragedy, but it would diffuse the fund-raising accusation.  Personally, I have hoped from the beginning that, as bad as it looked, this was not a conscious effort to capitalize on the circumstances of last Friday.  Redirecting those funds would be a small price for the Obama campaign to pay to show both its heart and wallet are in the right place.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Obama for America's Aborted Fiscal Cliff Strategy

    Last Thursday, December 13th, as John Boehner was headed to the White House for a face to face meeting with President Obama, the Obama for America team was busy preparing for an evening conference call.  Sara El-Amine, the "GOTV [Get Out The Vote] Director in VA for last 2 mo. Fmr OFA Natl. Training Director" according to her Twitter profile, tweeted the following:

    A short time later, she followed up with this:

    This message was retweeted by the Deputy National GOTV Director, Obama for America, Geoff Berman later that evening.

    At 7:42 PM, El-Amine began a series of tweets recapping the phone call, beginning with this:

    Throughout the evening, there was a variety of tweets from those who had been in on the call.  The Facebook page of Obama for America in Gwinnett County, Georgia, also posted the following recap:

Hello Everyone,
I'm really excited! Just got off a conferance [sic] call with OFA Chicago- They have set up a new web site to help us get the word out about the Fiscal Cliff.
This site will give you the Facts you need- and ways to use it.
The differences between the Obama plan and the Republican plan.
Calculation tool - to figure what it will cost you if the Republicans get their way.
Call info for your Congressman
Call tool - to call others to encourage them to get in touch with their Congressman
Also convenient ways to get the word out via Email. Facebook, and Twitter.
Plus it is broken down by state-You can pull the information for all 50 states
It's time to take action - go to www.barackobama.com/fiscal-cliff
Please share with your networks, friends, family and neighbors. We've done this before - We can do it again!!

    Mentioned several times in these various posting was the new page launched the same day on Obama for America's national website on the "fiscal cliff" standoff in Washington between the president and the GOP Congress.  The conference call and the anticipated action it was intended to inspire centered around this page as a place to direct supporters and those they wished to inform for information and what they could do to help the president.  Curiously, over the next several days, there was no email to the OFA mailing list to which I subscribe promoting the new page, nor were there any further tweets about it, and the home page of the OFA website never linked to the "fiscal cliff" page.

    Then, on Monday, some time in the early afternoon, the page abruptly disappeared and a rather Jedi-like message ("SORRY, THIS ISN'T THE PAGE YOU'RE LOOKING FOR. HOW CAN WE HELP?") greeted those who attempted to access it.  At present, the page is not only not available at its original location, it has disappeared from the caches of the search engines I have checked (Google, Bing, Yahoo.)  However, I downloaded the page from the Google cache before it disappeared and have reproduced it here as a series of screen captures.  I contacted both Sara El-Amine and Geoff Berman via Twitter for an explanation, but so far have not received a reply from either. [SEE UPDATE BELOW]

    The social media prowess of the Obama for America organization is legendary, credited to a large extent with electing and reelecting Barack Obama with its grassroots outreach and marketing savvy.  What prompted this wholesale scrapping of a carefully planned and organized effort to get behind the president on the fiscal cliff negotiations.  Initially, I speculated that the tactic seemed to mirror a union negotiation tactic of talking with the other side in private (Obama's meeting with Boehner) while trashing them in public (the new web page.)  But then when the new site languished for three days before being unceremoniously deep-sixed, I wondered if it was a sign that a fiscal cliff deal was near and the White House did not want to risk antagonizing Boehner and the Republicans.

    More recent reports have suggested that the White House and the GOP are not as close to a deal as was previously rumored.  Will the "fiscal cliff" page be resurrected and pressed into service after all?  What were all the participants in the conference call told, and what are they being told now?

* * * * *
UPDATE:  Just as I was finishing this post, Sara El-Amine replied to my tweet:

    Apparently Sara El-Amine was not aware the page had been taken down.  I will update my post if I receive any further information.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Never Let a Crisis... [Updated]

Note:  Due to the reaction to this post, I have submitted a proposal for the Obama campaign in a new post here.  [Update: Point of clarification, since there has been confusion elsewhere: the "Donate" buttons are not in the email itself, only at the link.]
* * * * * * *

    Sometime it almost feels wrong to point out bad taste, because it feel like the original offense is compounded.  But tonight I got an email from David Axelrod via Obama for America:
Friend -- 
Our hearts broke on Friday as we learned of the tragic and senseless deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. 
Last night, President Obama addressed the families of Newtown, offering the love and prayers of a nation, and vowing to use whatever power his office holds to protect our children from such unthinkable acts of violence. 
He spoke from the heart -- as a president and a parent. Watch this speech: 

As we reflect on the lives lost last week, we must also, as the President urged, consider how each of us can play a part in making our country worthy of the memory of those little children.  
I hope you and the ones you love have a happy and safe holiday.  

    As I clicked on the link provided, I thought to myself, maybe once, just once, the Obama team will play against type and surprise me, given the scope of this horrific tragedy.  But it was not to be:

    Not one, but two buttons - two opportunities to donate... to the Obama campaign.  Not to the Red Cross, or to a memorial fund for the children and adults killed in Newtown.  How hard would it have been to shift the focus, disable the buttons, for just one email, just one blog post?  But the show must go on.

Note: Although I am not feeling very charitable towards Obama for America at the moment, I should note in fairness that Axelrod might not have intentionally connected his email with the "Donate" buttons that are ever-present on the BarackObama.com website.  But if/when someone realizes the crassness of the current setup, perhaps a link to the Newtown memorials will be forthcoming.  I will update if that happens.
Update: If anyone thinks I am being too hard on Team Obama, read this article (that I wrote about here) that documents how carefully the emails from the Obama campaign are crafted.

* * * * * * *

Here is a link to an article with a list of the charities chosen by the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown.  And here's a Red Cross link.

A Sign of an Imminent Deal? BarackObama.com Deletes Fiscal Cliff Page

    Last Thursday evening, BarackObama.com launched a new page on its website dedicated to the "Fiscal Cliff" and attacking the GOP Congress for their plan.  The page went live right after the President met with Speaker Boehner, but over the next three days, the page was never linked from the home page, on the @BarackObama Twitter account, or in an Obama for America email that I could find.

    Now the page has been completely removed from the site:

    It is still available in a cached version here [cache expired; screencaps here.]

    As I mentioned in my original post, the page included a rather unflattering portrayal of the GOP's positions on the issues, including:
  • Guts investments in education and other areas vital to rebuilding our economic future in the name of lower taxes for the most fortunate families.
  • Have proposed deep cuts in Medicare.
  • Would use the threat of damaging the full faith and credit of the U.S. government to force more spending cuts next year.
Is it possible the president's talks with Boehner have been promising enough that the Obama team rethought the wisdom of launching such a broadside and scuttling a possible agreement?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bill of Rights Day and Gun Control

    In a coincidence which is likely to be viewed with increasing irony in the coming months, on Friday, the same day as the horrific murder spree in Newtown, CT, the White House issued a proclamation signed by President Obama declaring December 15, 2012, "Bill of Rights Day."
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the 150th anniversary of our Nation's Bill of Rights, he called it the "great American charter of personal liberty and human dignity." He understood that the freedoms it protects -- among them speech, worship, assembly, and due process -- are freedoms that reinforce one another. They form the bedrock of the American promise, and we cannot fully realize one without realizing them all. Today, as we work to reinforce human rights at home and around the globe, we reaffirm our belief that government of the people, by the people, and for the people inspires the stability and individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world.
In adopting the 10 Constitutional Amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, the Framers sought to balance the power and security of a new Federal Government with a guarantee of our most basic civil liberties. They acted on a conviction that rings as true today as it did two centuries ago: unlocking a nation's potential depends on empowering all its people. The Framers also called upon posterity to carry on their work -- to keep our country moving forward and bring us ever closer to a more perfect Union.
Generations of patriots have taken up that challenge. They have been defenders who stood watch at freedom's frontier, marchers who broke down barriers to full equality, dreamers who pushed America from what it was toward what it ought to be. Now it falls to us to build on their work. On Bill of Rights Day, we celebrate the liberties secured by our forebears, pay tribute to all who have fought to protect and expand our civil rights, and rededicate ourselves to driving a new century of American progress.
Even before the day was over, the airwaves and internet were filled with those who might have been happier with a less full-throated endorsement of the Bill of Rights, at least when it came to the second of the first ten amendments.

    As the scope and enormity of the crime became clearer throughout the day, there were a significant number of high profile reactions from those who set aside the usual "this is not the time to discuss policy, but rather a time to grieve" protocol.    Some, including E.J. Dionne, Jr. in the Washington Post, simply ignored the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in calls for strict gun control.  Michael Cooper in the New York Times only referenced the Constitution in a pre-massacre quote from the president of the NRA.

    Others, such as Ed Schultz of MSNBC, were more explicit in their criticism of the Second Amendment (via The Blaze):
Despite the fact that the Connecticut school shooter reportedly used guns legally owned by his mother, MSNBC host Ed Schulz said the shooting is proof that we must “come to grips with a changing society” and stop “hiding behind the Second Amendment.” 
* * * *  
“Tonight is… a time we as a people come to grips with a changing society,” Schultz said. “We need to be the Founding Fathers on how we deal with the sickness in our country called ‘gun violence.’ Hiding behind the Second Amendment doesn’t cut it anymore.”
He continued: “Hiding behind the Second Amendment can no longer be the shield for access. The people who wrote that document owned slaves, oppressed women, and were short on tolerance.”
The MSNBC host went on to say that lawmakers in Washington need to stop doing the bidding of the gun lobby.
    Even the president in his initial statement hinted at a possible change in his previous hesitancy to address the gun control issue:
As a country, we have been through this too many times.  Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago -- these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children.  And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
     His remarks at Sunday's memorial in Newtown were more direct:
We can’t tolerate this anymore.  These tragedies must end.  And to end them, we must change.  We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true.  No single law -- no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.  Surely, we can do better than this.  If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that -- then surely we have an obligation to try.
In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens -- from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators -- in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.  Because what choice do we have?  We can’t accept events like this as routine.  Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?  Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
    Although the president did not specifically address the Second Amendment or gun control, it is difficult to see how he could resist the pressure that will be exerted by many liberals and Democrats who have often oversimplified the gun control argument as dominated by the "gun lobby."  The reach of the NRA just doesn't go that deep and the love-their-guns-more-than-children insinuation aimed at 2nd Amendment defenders is too ludicrous to be taken seriously by the general public.  The American people realize that while "tragedies must end" sounds like a worthy goal, it is not a justification for undermining the basic liberties upon which this country was founded.

    It remains to be seen if the president will head down the path to weaken the 2nd Amendment in spite of his Bill of Rights Day proclamation or if he will focus on those other areas he mentioned ("law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators".)  If his positions on political speech, campaign finance laws, and the First Amendment are any guide, the former seems more likely than the latter.  The country will soon have an opportunity to see if President believes this is another opportunity to "fundamentally [transform] the United States of America" in the way that we, as his Proclamation says, "balance the power and security of [the] Federal Government with a guarantee of our most basic civil liberties."

White House: Clinton Tax Rates on Rich Were Great! Spending? Not So Much.

    Throughout the tax policy debates in the presidential campaign and carrying over into the current fiscal cliff talks, the spending side of the equation has been a contentious issue.  One of the Obama administration's talking points has been that the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthy would simply return rates to the level they were in the Clinton administration when the economy was booming and deficits were falling.  Although it is unclear how higher taxes on the rich help the economy, the President was not shy about pressing this point during his campaign.  From July 2012:
By the way, these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are also the tax cuts that are least likely to promote growth.  So we can’t afford to keep that up, not right now.  So I’m not proposing anything radical here.  I just believe that anybody making over $250,000 a year should go back to the income tax rates we were paying under Bill Clinton -- back when our economy created nearly 23 million new jobs, the biggest budget surplus in history, and plenty of millionaires to boot. 
    So if the Clinton tax rates on the "wealthy" were good for the economy, how about the spending?  When Clinton took office, total federal government spending was about $2.1 trillion (all figures inflation adjusted per this chart at Heritage.org.)  In 2000, spending had only risen to $2.3 trillion, thanks in large part to the Republican Congress which swept into office in 1994.  Revenue during that same time went from $1.65 to almost $2.6 trillion.  It is arguable how much of that increase was due to the "Clinton tax rates" on the wealthy and how much was simply due to the booming economy.  But in 2010, while spending had risen to $3.6 trillion, revenues had fallen to $2.1 trillion.  Is this the kind of "balance" the president speaks of?  A reporter tried to get Jay Carney to address this at Friday's Press Briefing:
Q    You are comfortable, quite obviously, with the Clinton-era tax rates for the reasons you have said, economically and otherwise.  Are you similarly comfortable with the Clinton-era level of spending, even for an inflation adjustment as of ’10?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think you’d have to give me a little more specificity.  If you're making the point that under Bill Clinton deficits were reduced and turned into surpluses, we obviously find that a commendable record.
Q    Right.  But there was less discretionary spending.  There was less entitlement spending.  Things like that.
MR. CARNEY:  But again, what’s your question?
Q    Would that be a level of spending the President --
MR. CARNEY:  I think the level of spending from 20 years ago, no, I don't think that's --
Q    But with an inflation adjustment, just for example.
MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to make policy from here based on top line numbers.  I think that the President has demonstrated -- let’s back up, too.  When we talk about this deal, remember back in the summer of 2011, after a grand bargain was not achieved, Republicans could not in the end go along with revenue being part of the package, the Budget Control Act was passed and signed into law, agreed to by the President as well as leaders in Congress and approved by significant percentages of each party in each house.
Speaker of the House Boehner at that time declared that he had gotten, on behalf of House Republicans, 98 percent of what he sought.  So let me remind you when we talk about what this President has been willing to do, that at the time when he signed into law $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending cuts, that was viewed by Speaker Boehner as a great victory for Republicans.  Additionally, that bill created a super committee and set up a system where an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction needed to be achieved or else the sequester would kick in, and that’s why we face the fiscal cliff, or one half of it.
But it is important to know when we talk about who’s willing to move here, who’s willing to compromise, who’s willing to accept some of the other party’s goals, that when the President of the United States signed into law the Budget Control Act in the summer of 2011 and signed into law $1.1 trillion in cuts, Speaker Boehner said it was a 98-percent victory for Republicans.

    Frankly, Carney comes across initially as almost obtuse, first with "If you're making the point that under Bill Clinton deficits were reduced...," moving on to "But again, what’s your question?" and then finally, "I think the level of spending from 20 years ago, no, I don't think that - ."  The reporter then spelled out (again) what should have been obvious, that he was talking about spending with an "inflation adjustment."  By this time though, Carney had stalled long enough to collect his thoughts, and proceeded to use 269 words to not answer the question, ending with an abrupt "Alexis," signaling that he was moving on to the next question.

    Missing was the explanation of how the president could justify praising the higher tax rates of the Clinton era for the wealthy without also admiring a level of inflation adjusted spending that was 36% lower in 2000 than in 2010.  Also missing was an explanation of how a $1.3 trillion increase in spending over Clinton era spending could be made up with a tax increase on the "wealthy" that is not even projected to raise $1 trillion in 10 years.

    I am by no means exempting the Republicans from blame on increased spending.  The Bush administration was certainly a lost opportunity to cut spending.  But even with the Bush tax cuts, even with the economic hit taken by the country on 9/11, even with additional war spending, that same chart show how after 2004, deficits began to drop.  If the Bush administration had held the line on discretionary and entitlement spending (instead of pushing new entitlements like the Medicare prescription drug benefit,) surpluses would have become the norm.

    So after Carney shut down this reporter at the Press Briefing, will anyone broach the subject with Carney again, or perhaps even the president himself?  Or will the most fiscal unbalanced president in history continue to get a pass on his claim of a "balanced approach" to tax increases and spending cuts?  I fear the latter is more likely.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Diversity for Me, But Not For Thee

    Andrea Mitchell recently reported about internal Obama adminstration reaction to Susan Rice's withdrawal from consideration for Secretary of State:
ANDREA MITCHELL: A lot of Democrats are saying that the president did not show enough loyalty. A lot of women in the administration are very angry tonight, and I'm saying this at a very high level. Angry because they feel that she was not treated with respect, she was not given the support she needed and she was left to twist in the wind.
    Are the men in the administration angry too?  Just the women?  Why?  Because this president, who doesn’t need binders to pick qualified women, decided to accept the decision of a women to withdraw her name?  Should he have refused and nominated her against her wishes?  Or do these “angry women” think she was told to remove herself from consideration?  Are these women saying that if Rice was a man, Obama would have stood behind her?  After all this time of telling us Republicans are the ones waging a war on women, are they accusing their own president of waging a war on Susan Rice?

    Instead, why aren’t these women saying, “This President has shown great leadership in putting both men and women of all races in places in his administration on the basis of their qualifications for the job.  It’s ridiculous to say that Barack Obama treated Susan Rice differently because she’s a woman. Susan Rice made her decision to withdraw, and the president treated her like an adult and accepted it.”  Can these “angry women” not say that because they don’t believe it? Because they are so used to reacting to everything in terms of sex and/or race?  They’ve spent weeks accusing Republicans of sexism and racism for opposing Rice and criticizing her for her now infamous Benghazi comments on those Sunday talk shows. Is it possible – is it just remotely possible – that neither the Republicans criticism nor the president’s decision to accept Rice’s choice to withdraw have NOTHING TO DO with her sex or race?

    The Republicans have a long history of criticizing Democrats of both sexes and all races, and those Barack Obama has thrown under the bus are also the picture of diversity (Obama’s own grandmother,
 Van Jones, Tony Rezko, Rod Blagojevich, and Ludacris, to name a few – someone has compiled a helpful if somewhat outdated list here.)  Have we lost the ability to look at political issues without resorting to a demographic analysis of all the individuals involved?  

    Or can we blame the media - like Andrea Mitchell - for introducing this element.  Here's another example.  At the White House Press Briefing Friday, the following exchange took place between Jay Carney and an unidentified reporter:
Q    Now that Susan Rice is out of the running, the President's -- 
MR. CARNEY:  Do you want to know who is in the running? 
Q    Well, yes, if you care to respond to that.  But the President is losing someone who would have brought diversity to his Cabinet.  So how important is it to the President now that his Cabinet with her out of the running reflects the sort of diversity that we see throughout the rest of the country?  
    “[T]he President is losing someone who would have brought diversity to his Cabinet”? Is someone’s race and sex the most important factor in determining diversity?  Would not John Kerry, now the presumptive nominee, bring diversity to the Cabinet?  John Kerry’s background is certainly quite diverse: married to an extremely wealthy woman; Vietnam veteran and harsh, vocal critic of the same war; long-time Senator; former presidential candidate.  How many other people in America can match that demographic?

    For all the left's talk about Republicans and conservatives being sexist and racist, more often than not it is they who focus on the external.  But on the other hand, maybe this incident shows progress of a sort.  In addition to the "good ole boys" network of old white men we hear so much about, this may be evidence of the emergence of a "good ole girls" network who look out for each other.  As the saying goes, you've come a long way...

The Blame Game

    The following exchange took place at Friday's Press Briefing with Jay Carney at the White House:
Q    Jay, the Speaker is in Ohio this weekend.  The President has plans himself to go on holiday a week from today.  The deadline draws closer.  Is it the White House’s calculus that if the nation does in fact go off the fiscal cliff, the blame -- the burden of the blame will fall on the Republican side?  Secretary Geithner said not that long ago that absolutely, that there would be willingness to go off the cliff if there was no acceptable deal.
MR. CARNEY:  The President is not interested in apportioning blame.  He’s interested in reaching a deal...
    Apparently Jim Messina, writing at BarackObama.com on Wednesday, didn't get the memo:
If your taxes go up, there's only one reason why 
By Jim Messina on December 12, 2012 
This week, thousands of Americans picked up the phone to help the President prevent a tax hike on middle-class families. 
We can't stop now. Republican leadership in the House of Representatives is still refusing to allow a vote on a bill that would prevent 98 percent of American families from paying higher taxes next year. 
If your taxes go up by more than $2,000 in a couple weeks, there's only one reason: because a few dozen Republican representatives refuse to ask the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans to pay their fair share.

    I love this new tone in Washington.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

BarackObama.com Unveils "Fiscal Cliff" Webpage Attacking the GOP

    In a tactic reminiscent of union negotiators, even as President Obama met with House Speaker John Boehner to discuss how the "fiscal cliff" might be avoided, the president's lingering Barackobama.com campaign site was unveiling a new page [original deleted - cached here; cache now expired; screencaps here] entitled "FISCAL CLIFF: GET THE FACTS AND GET INVOLVED", attacking congressional Republicans for their plan:
  • Willing to taxes increase on the middle class and small businesses to keep taxes low on the most fortunate families.
  • Guts investments in education and other areas vital to rebuilding our economic future in the name of lower taxes for the most fortunate families.
  • Have proposed deep cuts in Medicare.
  • Would use the threat of damaging the full faith and credit of the U.S. government to force more spending cuts next year.
    Visitors then have the opportunity to see the impacts in their home state, followed by an action list which included calling representatives, calling or emailing friends, and calculating personal savings from the president's tax plan.  This follows the long established pattern from the presidential campaign.

    Was the website released in response to the outcome of the meeting?  It is difficult to say. Obviously the site has been in production for a while, but one assumes if significant progress had come from the talks, the Obama team would have held off on this assault.  The Washington Post reported the outcome of today's hastily called late-afternoon meeting:
President Obama summoned House Speaker John A. Boehner to the White House Thursday, but their talks over the looming “fiscal cliff” failed to break the impasse over taxes and clear the way for a deal to head off painful austerity measures set to hit in January.
After the 50-minute session in the Oval Office, aides to both men described the meeting as a frank exchange and said that the lines of communication remained open. But Boehner prepared to return to Ohio for the weekend, with no further negotiations on his schedule.
    The Post story is headlined "Obama, Boehner meet on ‘fiscal cliff,’ but no deal is reached," but the actual web address of the article includes how the story was originally presented by the Post: "gop-republicans-dig-in-on-fiscal-cliff-talks."  Whatever was discussed in the meeting, Speaker Boehner would probably be justified in feeling he'd been sandbagged by the White House as this new attack website was launched shortly after it ended.  One wonders what effect this tactic might have on those "lines of communication."

    One footnote: Even though this new "Fiscal Cliff" webpage concerns a policy fight between the sitting president and the Congress, the ubiquitous "Donate" button appears in the upper left hand corner of the page.  A full five weeks after winning re-election, President Obama is still not one to let a crisis, or a fund raising opportunity, go to waste.

Update:  Based on this tweet, it appears the Obama team held some kind of conference call/training last night regarding the fiscal cliff:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

President Obama's "New Revenue" Math [Updated]

    As the fiscal cliff looms, some of the details are getting lost in its shadow.  For at least a month now, President Obama has been talking about $1.6 trillion in new revenue that must be part of his "balanced" approach to deficit reduction.  In the middle of November and again last week, the Treasury Department tweeted a graphic that provides the only breakdown I can find on this $1.6 trillion:

    One of the most remarkable features of this graphic appears under the heading "Revenue Proposals in the President's Budget."  Given that the vast majority of these proposals consist of increased taxes to be extracted from the American people, the characterization of this as "10 Year Savings" is extraordinary.  Rush Limbaugh often says that the government considers all money its own, and tax rates just determine how much of its money we citizens will get to keep.  By referring to tax increases as "savings," the Obama administration is saying exactly that.  Current tax law has cost the government so much, so these increases represent a "savings" to Uncle Sam.

    A closer look at the details, however, reveals a more striking fact.  The amount of new taxes detailed here is not $1.6 trillion, but is rather closer to $2 trillion.  Here's a closer look at that portion of the graphic:

    Note the first line under Total Tax Reforms and Savings: "Tax cuts for families, individuals, and businesses (negative savings)".  I addressed the Orwellian term "negative savings" in an earlier post.  But what are these "tax cuts" totaling $359 billion?  Is the president proposing some new tax cut heretofore unrevealed?  None that I have heard of, so I can only assume this $359 billion represents the extension of the Bush tax rates for those the president doesn't consider "wealthy."  But this is not a "cut" in taxes - those taxpayers will simply continue to pay what they pay now.  Therefore, the continuation of the tax cuts for the lower 98% of taxpayers is a non-factor when calculating "new revenue." The true tax increases ("savings" in the president's vernacular) total $1.92 trillion, not $1.6 trillion.

    The Treasury Department's explanation as to why the $359 billion in "negative savings" lowers the revenue total is most likely related to the phrase "10 Year Savings Against FY2013 OMB Adjusted Baseline." [emphasis mine]  But whatever the comparison, the reality is that there are no new tax cuts that will cost the government anything, but the tax increases are all real.  So rather than dipping into American's pockets for $1.6 trillion, the president has his eye on $1.92 trillion.  Oh, and that doesn't count the payroll tax holiday expiration, mysteriously missing from the chart above.  And that's $120 billion in 2013 alone.  By my calculations, that puts the 10-year "savings" above $3 trillion.  The president doubled the government's take without breaking a sweat.  At least until taxpayers get their first paychecks in January.

UPDATE: A commenter below wrote "I think the tax cut number is something else (though what I do not know). The dollar value of the tax cuts in the lower two brackets far exceeds the 849 you get from reinstating the top two brackets - I've seen figures showing it as 3X to 4X more."  This certainly makes sense, but it highlights the lack of clarity.  What is this new tax cut, and why isn't the White House trumpeting it?  And why isn't the end of the payroll tax holiday part of the calculation?  The $120 billion "cost" of the payroll tax holiday is an annual amount and as the Social Security Administration notes on page 15 of its 2013 budget, "The general funds reimburse the trust funds for this loss in tax revenue."  In other words, this is about $1.2 trillion for which the general fund will not have to reimburse the Social Security Trust fund over the next 10 years.  So while this will "save" the general fund $1.2 trillion, it does so at a cost of $1.2 trillion in resumed full payroll taxes over the next 10 years. Any way you look at it, the Obama administration has its eye on way more than $1.6 trillion, and not just from the "wealthy."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Roads and Bridges and Schools, Oh, My!

    Today at the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant in Redford, MI, President Obama returned to a familiar theme as he pressed Congress to get behind his latest push to raise taxes in order to "invest" in our country's future:

        President Obama, December 10, 2012 - Twitter, Speech Transcript
"I want us to put people back to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, and schools."

    A bit of research reveals just exactly how familiar the theme is:

        President Obama, August 12, 2012 - Campaign Event
"I want to take about half of the money that we were spending on war and let’s start investing it here in rebuilding our schools and roads and bridges."

        President Obama, January 25, 2011 - State of the Union Fact Sheet
The President’s Budget will outline a comprehensive, six-year plan to leverage our resources to repair crumbling roads, bridges, and transit.  [The plan also includes] a new initiative to catalyze private sector investment and upgrade commercial buildings such as offices, stores, schools[.]

        President-reelect Obama, January 28, 2010 - Town Hall, Tampa, FL
"I mean, it's important to repave our roads; it's important to repair our bridges... We can give more money to schools -- that's important[.]"

        President-elect Obama, January 3, 2009 - Weekly Radio Address
"To build a 21st century economy, we must engage contractors across the nation to create jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, and schools."

        President-elect Obama, November 22, 2008 - USA Today
President-elect Barack Obama this morning pledges to "put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools..."

    This is by no means a comprehensive catalog of all of the president's usages of this perennial favorite.   But to find the seeds of the president's "Roads and Bridges and Schools" meme, we must go all the way back to 2004:

        Senator-elect Obama, December 2004 - Chicago Sun Times (Winter Gridiron Dinner)
It is tough, kidded Obama, to live up to all the expectations. There are people in Kenya, his father's homeland, who expect his election to mean the United States will fund new roads, new bridges and new schools.

    So not only didn't Barack Obama's election to the Senate get any roads, bridges, or schools built in Kenya, four years of President Barack Obama didn't even get them built here in America.  To be fair, Obama went on to say this at the Gridiron dinner:
Joked Obama, "I had to explain to them how it works. First comes the invasion, and then billions in aid."
    I guess our roads, bridges and schools should brace for an invasion any day now.  Oh, my!

"Report Back" and By The Way, Can You Spare a Few Bucks?

    Not only does President Obama want his supporters to "pick up the phone" and call their representatives in Congress about the middle class tax cuts, he'd like a report back on "how did they respond to your request for action?"

    And in what will surely not come as a huge surprise to anyone familiar with the Obama team, once your report is submitted, you are taken to the following page:

    If only the president were as concerned about the country's finances as he is about his campaign's.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Don't Believe Your Eyes, Read the Caption

    Scott Johnson at Powerline posted twice this week under the heading "Terrorist Theater."  The subject was "Palestinian fauxtography," the phenomenon of staged photos that seems to characterize an inordinate portion of the photojournalism relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Powerline has raised the topic numerous times over the years.  The photo in question is below and was captioned "A Palestinian girl tries to push an Israeli soldier at a demonstration in the West Bank village of al-Masara…":

    Johnson and Dr. Allon Friedman, the skeptic in Johnson's post, question the circumstances surrounding the photo and the caption's characterization of the events.  A video of the scene would surely be enlightening and might resolve some of the objections raised by Dr. Friedman.  However, another European Pressphoto Agency photo taken around the same time requires less interpretation to debunk the caption:

    The EPA caption on this photo is: "Palestinian children cheer with portraits of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Hebron, 02 December 2012, after the United Nations vote upgrading Palestinian status to nonmember observer state."  However, although the lead girl in the photo might be said to be "cheering", look at the child two behind the lead girl.  This child (a girl, I believe) is clearly sobbing, not "cheering."

    As if it's not bad enough that little children are pressed into service exalting terrorists, now the press must mischaracterize their orchestrated actions when one of them goes off script.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Reporter Strategizes With Jay Carney at White House Briefing

    At the White House briefing on Monday, an unidentified reporter (pictured on right) asked Jay Carney about the payroll tax holiday, now "back on the table," and how that might impact the White House's current My2K campaign to pressure Congress into passing President Obama's version of the Bush Tax Cuts extension.  Here is the transcript (the exchange begins on the video around 40:13):
Q    Okay.  Second of all, I saw that the Obama administration has put the payroll tax cut extension back on the table in its proposal.  I know that the White House is doing these “my2K” hashtag tweets to engage the public --
MR. CARNEY:  You say that like it’s just the kids.  (Laughter.)
Q    -- but to engage the public in getting involved in the middle-class tax cut.  So why wouldn’t you change it to “my3K” now that you’re putting the payroll tax cut back in it?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, that's a very good question.  And I appreciate the contribution to our communications thinking.  (Laughter.)  The fact of the matter is we have been very clear that we believe unemployment insurance has to be extended, and we believe that all of the provisions that are expiring at the end of the year need to be part of the conversation here and part of the discussion.  And we are interested in payroll tax cut being very much part of that discussion...
Q    What about the hashtag?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’ll bring that up in our next communications meeting.
    The partial tongue-in-cheek nature of the exchange obscures the larger issue.  For weeks now, the Obama administration's narrative has been that if Congress would pass President Obama's tax cut extension, "it means that 98 percent of all Americans, and 97 percent of all small businesses won’t see their taxes go up a single dime." As a matter of fact, the White House has forcefully pushed the idea that the average family will save about $2,000 under the president's plan.  All the while, the expiration of the payroll tax holiday, which takes effect the same date (January 1st) as the Bush Tax Cuts expiration, has been largely ignored by the White House, along with its $1,000 tax increase on the same average Americans that the White House has targeted for its misleading My2K campaign.

    The reporter should have called out the White House and President Obama for the deception and suggested that the campaign should have more accurately been called "My1K".  Instead, she coyly suggested now that the White House is considering extending the payroll tax cut too, it should make sure to publicize that fact by switching from "My2K" to "My3K" and tout a $3,000 "savings" instead of $2,000.  The lack of interest in pointing out such a clear contradiction is astounding.  In this case, the "adversarial press" took a back seat to the "advisory press."  If the Republicans are going to hold the president accountable for this hypocrisy, they are on their own.