Monday, March 25, 2013

VP Biden's $321,665 Limo Bill and Pres. Obama's $700K to $1.4M Limo Bill

    After two items last week on the cost of lodging for Vice President Biden's early February trip to Europe, other news organizations began to investigate further.  Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room on CNN uncovered a contract apparently also related to the same visit to Paris:
Also on the receipt was $321,665 for a limousine company.
    Although CNN did not link to the document, the notice of the contract award for the limousine service was posted on the same government website as the hotel contracts.  Oddly, the "Contract Award Date" is listed as 2012, but this seems to simply be a typo:

    The CNN report went on to explain that, just as other government and former government officials had opined about the hotel costs, the limousine costs did not seem out of the ordinary:
As for the limousine to travel around Paris, the former advance official said that goes for the motor pool.  
The vice president's limo is flown in, but staff members on the trip didn't take the Metro around. They're not allowed to drive themselves and tend to book normal cars and drivers with the motor company-but don't necessarily take limousines. The $321,665 figure in Paris sounded about right, that former official said.
    The peculiarity pointed out by the CNN report and by Wolf Blitzer himself, based on his years reporting on the White House, is that these contracts are publicly available at all.  A search of the government website in question reveals very few other contracts related to the travels of the president or vice president.  However, another one of those rare finds also involves limousine service for a trip to France, this one from November 2011 when President Obama travelled to the G20 Summit in Cannes.

    Inexplicably, the contract award amount is listed as only $10,000 which is wildly at odds with the $321,665 for Vice President Biden's trip.  However, this listing, unlike the one for the Biden trip, includes an accompanying Justification and Approval document.  It reveals that the estimated cost of vehicles and drivers for the president's Cannes visit was $731,938, not to exceed $1.4 million:

    The president was in France for less than 36 hours.

Note: This article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

    Obviously, the high cost of overseas travel for government officials is nothing new, and security measures certainly add to those costs.  ABC News, reporting on the Biden hotel costs, interviewed an unnamed State Department official:
“These costs are nothing out of the ordinary. They are in line with high-level travel across multiple administrations,” the State Department official said.  ”The contract costs cover the entire range of support, including accommodations for military, communications, secret service staff, and other support professionals.  Security experts are also required to travel in advance of the president or vice president. Safety and security are not negotiable.”
    Security concerns notwithstanding, the first sentence of that response should strike fear in the hearts (and wallets) of taxpayers everywhere. "These costs are nothing out of the ordinary." If only they were.  Instead of the apoplectic response of many citizens, our government officials greeted the news with a collective yawn.  Perhaps the light these contracts are shining on this largely hidden expenditures will help bring about some true austerity to our profligate federal government.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Danger of America's Endless "National Emergencies"

    On March 12, the White House issued a press release that began with what have become rather familiar words: "Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to..."  In this case, it is Iran, an emergency first declared on March 15, 1995, when President Bill Clinton imposed sanctions on Iran in response to concern over the regime's nuclear ambitions. This is not to be confused with the state of emergency with respect to Iran declared by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 during the Iranian hostage crisis. The hostages were released in 1980, but 33 years later, President Obama continues to renew the national emergency declaration just as Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan did year after year.

    These continuations are the product of the 1976 National Emergencies Act, which, ironically, was intended in part to prevent such declarations from being open-ended.  Per the Act, if not terminated by Congress or the President, National Emergency declarations automatically expire after a year unless the president issues a continuance, and these continuances have become a matter of course.

   In the past year, President Obama has signed continuations of National Emergency declarations for Zimbabwe, Cuba, Libya, Ivory Coast, the Middle East Peace Process, Sudan, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Democratic Republic of the CongoLebanonSignificant Transnational Criminal Organizations, the Former Liberian Regime of Charles Taylor, the Western Balkans, the Risk of Nuclear Proliferation Created by the Accumulation of Weapons-Usable Fissile Material in the Territory of the Russian FederationBelarus, Iraq, SyriaSomalia, and Iran (2); nineteen in all.  Nineteen concurrent "national emergencies."  Most Americans, and perhaps most politicians, would be hard pressed to explain the circumstances surrounding one-third of these emergencies, let alone all nineteen.  The mere existence of some of these declarations would doubtless be a surprise to many.

    The nature of most national emergency declarations is not a sweeping omnipotence granted to the Commander in Chief. The National Emergencies Act requires the president to specify the provisions in the law upon which his actions under each declaration are authorized.  Many of the current declarations involve only economic measures and sanctions that are being imposed in a targeted and limited context.  But presidents seem loath to yield back even these limited powers granted by the declarations.  So the "emergencies" go on... and on.

    The world is surely a dangerous place, and responsible governance requires not only vigilance, but the ability to exercise a variety of powers.  But perhaps nothing illustrates the problem with the perpetual "emergency" as well as the following.  Last year, President Obama extended the National Emergency with respect to terrorism that President Bush signed after the devastating attacks on America by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001.  In his notice to Congress, President Obama wrote:

On September 23, 2001, by Executive Order 13224, the President declared a national emergency with respect to persons who commit, threaten to commit, or support terrorism, pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-1706).  The President took this action to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the grave acts of terrorism and threats of terrorism committed by foreign terrorists, including the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in New York and Pennsylvania and against the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks against United States nationals or the United States.  Because the actions of these persons who commit, threaten to commit, or support terrorism continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States... I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency[.]
    The date the president signed and issued this notice warning of the "immediate threat of further attacks"?  September 11, 2012, the very day of the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  While the ink was still drying on the words "continuing and immediate threat of further attacks against United States nationals" and "an unusual and extraordinary threat," the assault was underway.  Because the readiness that a "national emergency" implies was just a facade (at least in Benghazi,) the United States was caught flatfooted, unable to adequately respond in time.  Four Americans were killed and the consulate was burned.

    We will never stop every attack. The enemies of the United States are legion and seemingly tireless.  Yet the principle at work here is at least as old as Aesop and the boy watching the sheep.  When everything is an emergency, nothing is. While these declarations are not false alarms, neither do they reflect the imminence and urgency normally associated with a true emergency.  Rather, they tend to obscure actual immediate threats.  Therefore, as nineteen echoes of "national emergency!" rang in the air, the wolf struck in Benghazi.  Unless our leaders learn to resist the profligate invocation of "emergency," the wolves simply have to wait until overuse once again breeds complacency before they strike.  But then, the emergency will be all too real.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Border Security: Apprehensions versus Attempted Crossings

    In mid-February, Homeland (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and Delaware Senator Tom Carper visited Arizona to observe border security operations at the well known Mariposa Port of Entry.  Carper chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and he conducted the tour with Napolitano as part of his committee's oversight function.  Napolitano and Carper issued a joint statement after the trip that included this claim about a precipitous drop in attempted illegal border crossings during the first four years of the Obama administration:
Over the past four years, the Obama Administration, working together with Congress, has dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology, and resources to the Southwest border, and undertaken an unprecedented effort to transform our nation's immigration enforcement systems into one that focuses on public safety, border security, and the integrity of the immigration system.  
Attempts to cross the border illegally, as measured by U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions, totaled nearly 365,000 nationwide in FY 2012, representing a nearly 50 percent decrease since FY 2008 and a 78 percent decrease from their peak in FY 2000.
    The key phrase is "as measured by U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions."  Since attempted crossings are, of course, impossible to track accurately, this statement makes the assumption that attempts mirror apprehensions - in other words, attempts are only counted if those crossing are caught.  Not only is this highly improbable, it opens the door for manipulation of the numbers or even manipulation of enforcement efforts themselves.  Lax enforcement of border security would result in lower apprehensions and therefore lower reported attempts when in fact the lax enforcement would likely result in a higher success rate for those attempting to enter the U.S. illegally.

    This apprehensions-equals-attempts formula is counterproductive and probably misleading.  Looking at airport security as a parallel, if the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) were to see a decrease in the number of weapons being carried into airplanes, that would not automatically mean fewer attempts were being made to carry weapons on board.  On the contrary, it may indicate more success by violators in hiding such weapons, a decline in thoroughness by TSA personnel, or lack of effective search techniques to find new varieties of more easily hidden weapons.  Any solace gained from a report of a decline in weapons seizures by the TSA apart from other factors to explain the decline would be rather cold comfort.

    Not only does this proxy method suffer from practical and logical fallacies, the DHS has itself disavowed its validity as recently as 2011.  In a July 2011 DHS Fact Sheet, a section entitled "Defining Border Apprehensions" says the following [emphasis added]:
Apprehension data collected by DHS represent events, not individuals. The total number of apprehensions during a specific period will be greater than the total number of unique individuals apprehended because some individuals will have been apprehended more than once. The relationship between the number of border apprehensions to either the number of attempted illegal entries or the number of successful illegal entries is unknown. 
    The same document goes on to note that the "decrease in apprehensions ... may be due to a number of factors including changes in U.S. economic conditions and border enforcement efforts." The statement from Napolitano and Carper was silent on economic and other possible factors.

    Another problem presented by this proxy method of counting attempts is the implications for the other statistics quoted later in the press release:
Additionally, from FY 2009 to 2012, CBP and ICE seized 71 percent more currency, 39 percent more drugs, and 189 percent more weapons along the Southwest border as compared to FY 2005 to 2008.
    Applying the earlier logic, this would mean drug traffic across the border increased by 39 percent, and weapons traffic increased a whopping 189 percent.  Those would not be statistics that DHS would be anxious to report using the apprehensions-equals-attempts formula. But by choosing to tout success in reducing attempted border crossing with a dubious methodology, the DHS has inadvertently implied those disturbing conclusions.

    None of this amounts to direct evidence that the DHS is manipulating statistics or that the results derived from the numbers are somehow wildly inaccurate.  But at a time when the Obama administration is seeking to push through "comprehensive immigration reform," demonstrating a secure border, a pre-condition to immigration reform for many on the right, is certainly in its interest.  The apprehensions-equals-attempts proxy does not provide the assurance that the secure border pre-condition has been met.

Vice President Biden's One-Night Paris Hotel Tab: $585,000.50

    As it turns out, Vice President Joe Biden's London stay in February was not the most expensive part of his trip.  A government document released on February 14, 2013 shows that the contract for the Hotel Intercontinental Paris Le Grand came in at $585,000.50.

    The documentation for this contract is not as detailed as the London one, so the cost per room is not available.  However, just as the Hyatt Regency in London, the Hotel Intercontinental Paris Le Grand is a five star hotel.  Again, security concerns prevent these type of contracts from being open to bidding, but if the government was able to do some comparison shopping, the Hotel Intercontinental has a special offer.  "Find a lower price elsewhere and your first night is free."  The Vice President stayed in Paris for one night.

Note: This article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Vice President Biden's $459,388.65 Hotel Bill

    Vice President Biden and his entourage spent a little time in London in early February during his first foreign trip of the second term of the Obama administration.  A document released today revealed that the cost of lodging in London alone was close to half a million dollars.  The contract was awarded on January 30, 2013 to the Hyatt Regency London for a total of $459,388.65.

    Due to obvious security concerns, such contracts are not open to the competitive bidding normally required on government contracts.  The accompanying document justifying the "sole source" contract notes that the vice president's group required "approximately 136 hotel rooms for 893 room nights."  Based on these figures and the total contract price, each hotel room at the five star hotel cost the US government about $500 per night.

Note: This article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Symbolism and the HHS

    The American flag is the most enduring and recognizable symbol of the United States, and there is a long list of laws, regulations, and recommendations (widely flouted) regarding its use and display.  However, the flag is only one of many symbols our government uses.  Most departments have their own logos and symbols, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is no exception.

    HHS takes quite seriously the use (and misuse) of its identifiers.  An entire page on the HHS website is dedicated to "HHS Logo, Seal and Symbol Policies."  Here is the seal:

    Most of the regulations are common sense and fairly mundane, but I found the closing section describing the HHS eagle symbol especially interesting in light of HHS's oversight of the implementation of ObamaCare and the ever-expanding nanny-state:

HHS SymbolThe symbol is the key element in Department identification. The symbol represents the American People sheltered in the wing of the American Eagle, suggesting the Department’s concern and responsibility for the welfare of the people. 
This symbol is the visual link which connects the graphic communications of all components and programs of the Department. It is the major design component for the Department Identifiers - the Department Logo, Seal, and Signatures. 
The symbol can never be altered and must always be positioned with the eagle facing left...

    Facing left, eh?  That may very well be the most symbolic element of all.

Acting Labor Secretary Mocks ‘Small-Government’ Conservatives, CEOs

    Acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris addressed the Annual Legislative Conference of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) on Monday.  As part of a scathing attack on attempts to reform public employee labor unions, Harris told a joke that he said was “making the rounds a few years ago”:
 A unionized public employee, a small-government conservative, and a CEO are sitting around a table with a plate that has a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes 11 cookies, looks at the conservative and says: "Watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."
    Ironically, of course, since the IAFF is a public employee labor union, there are no CEOs.  Rather, the firefighters work for the taxpayers, hardly the greedy CEOs caricatured in Harris’s joke.

    Harris’s assault did not end with the joke.  He further accused those attempting to reform public union labor practices as wanting
to tear apart that bargaining table until it's a pile of firewood. Their goal isn't to give you a little haircut; their goal is to cut off your head. Their goal, through a campaign of denigration, distortion and demonization, is to destroy public employee unions as we know them, to eliminate them as a force in American life.
     Harris took a further swipe at "pundits and professional political hatchetmen," suggesting that they blamed firefighters and their fellow public union members for the 2008 financial crisis:
It's really unfathomable how many pundits and professional political hatchetmen looked around and somehow decided it wasn't reckless Wall Street shenanigans that crashed our economy under President Bush. Instead, they tell us, it was dedicated public servants barely getting by on middle-class wages. Have any of you ever met a firefighter who got a multi-million dollar bonus? They're as common [as] unicorns being ridden by leprechauns with angels sitting on their shoulders.
    Congress (Republicans in particular) did not escape Harris's broadside either.  He laid the blame for the sequestration at the GOP's doorstep:
I know that IAFF just celebrated 95 years of standing up for firefighters and the communities they serve. At the Department of Labor, we're having a birthday too — 100 years ago this month, we first opened our doors. And to mark the occasion, Congress sent us a present to both of us — it's called "sequestration."... 
[O]ne side in Congress is choosing to further undermine public safety and economic security... because they don't want to close tax loopholes that contribute nothing to growth, because they don't want to ask millionaires and billionaires and the largest and wealthiest corporations to pay a little more.
    Harris encouraged IAFF members visiting Capitol Hill on Wednesday to tell members on Congress that the GOP's way is the "wrong path" for the middle class, the economy and the nation.

Update:  Excerpts above are from the prepared remarks.  Here is the video of the joke as actually told:


Note:  The article (without the video) first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rand Paul, George Orwell and the GOP

    While Rand Paul captivated the (politically attuned segment of the) nation in early March with his drone-powered filibuster, a dozen GOP senators were dining with President Obama.  According to the Washington Examiner, while Rand Paul was making do with candy bars and water, the president put on quite a spread for his guests at the Plume restaurant in Washington's Jefferson Hotel:
Created by Plume's executive chef Chris Jakubiec, entree selections included roasted striped bass, Colorado lamb acai, filet of prime beef and lobster "Thermidor." Appetizers were golden beet soup, hamachi tartar, Maryland blue crab risotto and a raw and cooked vegetable salad. And finally, for dessert, the selections were a peanut butter crumble, the heart of Guana chocolate tart and an iced Tahitian vanilla and praline bar.
    The following day, two attendees of the soiree, Lindsey Graham and John McCain had some rather harsh words for their younger colleague.  McCain made his now infamous and awkwardly-worded "wacko birds" remark about Rand Paul and some of Paul's supporters (for which he eventually apologized).  Graham seemed to take a cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face stance (via Politico):
Graham told reporters in the Capitol that Paul’s filibuster has persuaded him to support the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director.
“I was going to vote against Brennan until the filibuster. So he picked up one vote!” Graham said. “It’s become a referendum on the drone program.”
    Personally, I cannot support all of Rand Paul's libertarian tendencies, but the record of the Obama administration justifies Paul's insistence on a direct answer to his question about targeting U.S. citizens on American soil.  Some commentators I greatly respect have suggested it was ludicrous for Paul to make such a big deal out of this, but perhaps we'd be better off today if someone had demanded answers to some other ludicrous questions of politicians in the past.  Questions like, "Would you ever support the legal right for a man to marry a man?" Or, "Would you support allowing a baby who survives an abortion attempt to legally be allowed to die?" Or, "Would you support taxing someone who refuses to buy medical insurance?"  Or, "Would you support outlawing the incandescent light bulb?"  In retrospect, questions don't always look as ludicrous as they once did.

    When I read of the GOP senators' dinner with President Obama during Rand Paul's filibuster, and then of McCain's and Graham's attacks on Rand Paul the next day, I immediately thought of the closing scene of George Orwell's classic book Animal Farm.  I will not quote at length from the book, not because I don't believe the comparison is useful, but simply because the actual words may come across as inflammatory.  I am not putting our country's current struggle of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals on par with the struggle Orwell was portraying.  But Animal Farm is a cautionary tale for all time, and even in our time the lesson of the book is relevant.  If the GOP is to be effective and turn back the liberal tide this White House has unleashed, the party must stand firm and remain distinct in its principles.  The American public already holds politicians in low regard, and the current Congress has set records for low approval ratings.  The last thing the GOP needs is for the public in general and its base in particular to look back and forth from the president to Republicans in Congress and conclude "it [is] impossible to say which [is] which."

Friday, March 15, 2013

Student Loans and Sequestration: More Devastation?

    The White House has been trumpeting the devastating effects of sequestration for weeks.  Everything from the military to Head Start to White House tours have been cited as victims.  However, some effects are less than disastrous.  For instance, student loans.  Here's a sample letter to prospective recipients of direct student loans from the Department of Education:
Dear <first name of borrower>:
Our records indicate that you either recently received or are scheduled to receive a Direct Loan from the U.S. Department of Education to help meet your educational expenses.  We want to bring to your attention some recent changes in the law that will affect your Direct Subsidized and/or Direct Unsubsidized Loan.  
On August 2, 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011, which put into place automatic federal budget cuts, known as the “sequester.”  While this law does not otherwise change the amount or terms or conditions of your Direct Loan, it does increase loan fees on Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans first disbursed after March 1, 2013.  Specifically, the fee on your loan will increase from 1.0 percent of your loan amount to 1.051 percent.  For example, the fee on a $5,500 loan will increase by $2.80 from $55.00 to $57.80. 
If you accept the loan that has been or will be disbursed for you, you will be agreeing to this higher fee and there is nothing you need to do at this time.  However, if you wish to cancel or reduce your loan, you may do so by contacting your school’s financial aid office.  Requests for cancellation should be made as soon as possible.  If you have additional questions about your loan, please do not hesitate to contact your school’s financial aid office. 
We wish you good luck in your educational pursuits.

    While $2.80 might not seem like much, the Obama administration made quite a big deal back in the summer of 2012 over saving student loan recipients 25¢ a day, so perhaps the president can spin this as yet another tragic result of the heartless intransigence of Congress.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Senate Budget and Tax Expenditures

    On March 13, the Senate Democrats introduced their first budget resolution in almost four years.  On page 64 under the heading "Spending in Disguise," the Democrats speak admiringly of a quote from Donald Marron, a member of George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisors:
“A great deal of government spending is hidden in the federal tax code in the form of deductions, credits, and other preferences – preferences that seem like they let taxpayers keep their own money, but are actually spending in disguise.”
    The Democrats then go on to explain this disguised spending and why the Orwellian term "tax expenditures" (of which the logical counterpoint would be "spending income") is justified:
Much of the complexity of the tax code can be traced to the proliferation of so‐called “tax expenditures,” which the Budget Act of 1974 defines as “revenue losses attributable to provisions of the Federal tax laws which allow a special exclusion, exemption, or deduction from gross income or which provide a special credit, a preferential rate of tax, or deferral of tax liability.”
Tax expenditures, in other words, are special tax preferences that, under current fiscal conditions, have the effect of increasing the deficit by reducing the tax liabilities of the individuals and businesses who qualify for them. From an economic and budgetary perspective, the difference between tax expenditures and direct spending programs is substantively meaningless.
    The last sentence is fascinating for two reasons.  First, the Democrats are arguing that the government spending tax dollars for whatever reason (defense, education, welfare, infrastructure is equivalent to dollars that taxpayers, following federal tax law, never owed in the first place.  Those deductions for charitable contributions, medical expenses and mortgage interest, not to mention the child tax credit?  That is money the government is spending on you, the taxpayer.

    Second, the Democrats have long argued that government spending is a great economic stimulus.  This was the basis of the 2009 Recovery Act.  And Nancy Pelosi has famously (or infamously) asserted that unemployment benefits (money taken from some taxpayers and given to others) stimulates the economy, and similar claims have been made about food stamps.  And yet, if "[f]rom an economic... perspective, the difference between tax expenditures and direct spending programs is substantively meaningless," then why isn't allowing taxpayers to keep their own money instead of filtering it through government coffers equally beneficial?  It's like arguing friction aids locomotion.

    This issue defines the difference in the liberal versus conservative view of government's role in the economy, and to a lesser extent, Democrat versus Republican view.  For the former, the government is a necessary and integral part at virtually every level of economic activity.  For the latter, perhaps with less conviction, the government serves a limited role that acts as sand in the gears as that role increases. Unfortunately, the former idea seems to be gaining momentum even as evidence builds that the economy is not.  The American people will have to decide if it's time to head in the other direction come 2014, if it's not already too late.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

White House: Deficit Reduction Priority of the GOP

   President Obama has often talked about the need to reduce the budget deficit.  Before his run for the presidency, Senator Obama was rather harsh in his criticism of George Bush's deficits.  And in July 2011, during the debt ceiling crisis, the president even addressed Congressional leaders in a talk the White House titled "President Obama on Deficit Reduction: “If Not Now, When?”  During the talk, he said:
We keep on talking about this stuff and we have these high-minded pronouncements about how we've got to get control of the deficit and how we owe it to our children and our grandchildren. Well, let's step up.  Let's do it.  I'm prepared to do it.  I'm prepared to take on significant heat from my party to get something done.  And I expect the other side should be willing to do the same thing -- if they mean what they say that this is important.
    Based on Jay Carney's remarks at this Monday's press briefing, the president has conceded that the GOP does "mean what they say that [deficit reduction] is important."  Carney was responding to a question about Organizing for Action's (OFA) attempts to influence policy, and even took issue with a reporter's characterization of OFA as a "partisan group."  During his answer, he said:
I mean, there’s nothing partisan about deficit reduction.  In fact, you might even say it’s more of a priority for Republicans than Democrats.
    While this difference in the parties' priorities may not come as a shock to most observers, the admission was a rare moment of candor from a press secretary who is adept at portraying his boss as holding the high ground on virtually every policy issue. As the White House has committed to release a budget shortly, Republicans will be poised to hold the deficit reduction position the White House has ceded and use it to pull the president in their direction.

Note: This story first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

President Obama Raised Funds for Organizing for Action

    At the February 25th White House press briefing, Jay Carney faced some pointed questions about Organizing for Action (OFA), President Obama's former campaign turned non-profit advocacy organization, based on a New York Times story that suggested OFA was selling Oval Office access for $500,000 donations.  The line of questioning had apparently been anticipated as Carney was clearly reading his response from prepared notes.  Part of that response denied that administration officials would be fund raising on behalf of OFA:
    President Obama has also outlined additional concrete steps Congress should take to eliminate the corrosive influence of money in Washington like holding Congress to the same conflict of interest standards as the executive branch, and prohibiting lobbyists from bundling and bundlers from lobbying.

     The fact is there are a variety of rules governing interaction between administration officials and outside groups, and administration officials follow those rules.  White House and administration officials will not be raising money for Organizing for Action.  And while they may appear at appropriate OFA events in their official capacities, they will not be raising money.
     However, President Obama has already violated this pledge. Before his State of the Union (SOTU) address on February 12, OFA sent an email with an invitation to listen in on a conference call in which the president would participate directly following his speech:
You can still join the online call with President Obama after he delivers the State of the Union tonight.
It's happening at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time -- RSVP to join here:
Once you do, we'll send you the link where you can join us for the call.
You're not going to want to miss this one. 
Organizing for Action
    Signing up for the call at the link in the email immediately took visitors to this page:

    The conference call itself took place at this page, which now promises a recording of the call in the near future.  A "donate" button appears in the upper left corner:

    Previously, an email from President that went out prior to his inauguration asked recipients to "say you're in" and provided a link to a page with a video of Michelle Obama touting the launch of Organizing for Action.  Another email from the president went out three days later immediately following his inauguration with the same link.  After entering an email address on that link, users are taken to an OFA donations page.  Both emails were signed "Barack" and included "Paid for by Organizing for Action" at the bottom, as this sample shows:

    Jay Carney's assertions of "independence" notwithstanding, the president's ability to send emails from OFA seems indicative of a formal position with the organization.  And while his emails and his post-SOTU conference call did not explicitly solicit funds, the donations page was the ultimate destination. Given these connections of the president with OFA, it's little wonder Common Cause and other watchdog organizations have expressed deep concern.
    So far, however, the president shows no signs of yielding to the pressure.  On Monday, Jay Carney dug in his heels in response to further questioning:
 The bottom line here is that this is a separate organization, as we've noted, the existence of which is perfectly appropriate.  And the White House will engage with it consistent with the way we engage with a whole host of other outside constituencies. 
    However, the bequeathing of the president's campaign email list, website, and Twitter account to OFA alone are reasons to doubt that the organization is just another "outside constituenc[y]." Add to that the famous Obama "O" logo and personal involvement of the president and his wife in OFA's launch and Carney's words simply ring hollow.

Monday, March 11, 2013

American Embassy in Israel Plans 'Obama-ba Festival' [Updated]

    Preparations continue for President Obama's first visit to the country as president.  The US Embassy in Israel through its American Center in Jerusalem is planning "the Obama-ba Festival," which will run all this week preceding the visit.
    The festival includes various activities, such as an informal coffee with an embassy diplomat, two rock concerts, and a special theatre group presentation for children on the prevention of violence.  The rock bands participating are a Jerusalem rock group called "Even Yerushalmi" and a "high energy Tel Aviv rock group, the Heeby Gee Bees."  The children's presentation is described as:
“Yael Does It Differently.” Educational presentation for children on the prevention of violence. Created andperformed by Yael’s Theater Group with special participation of Hatsiloo the clown.  After the show, children will be invited to share and describe their experience in drawings for President Obama.
    Also in advance of the visit, the US Embassy is holding a contest that will award 20 tickets to President Obama's speech.
The U.S. Embassy in Israel is announcing a contest to be held on its official Facebook page in which it will provide  up to 20 invitations to President Obama’s speech. Facebook users are asked to “like” the page of the U.S. Embassy, and write – in the most original and creative way – why they should be invited to attend the speech. The winners will attend the speech together with hundreds of students and other invited guests.
    The name of the Obama-ba Festival is apparently a play on the name of a popular snack food in Israel, Bamba.  [See update below.]  Wikipedia describes the snack:
Bamba is made from peanut butter-flavored puffed corn. Bamba contains no cholesterol, preservatives or food coloring, and is enriched with several vitamins. Nevertheless it contains high amounts of fat and salt. It has 544 calories per 100 grams. Bamba is certified Kosher by Badatz Jerusalem. Some describe it as "Cheez Doodles without the cheese."
    Although the president may be flattered by the comparison as a commentary on his popularity in Israel and his support for the U.S. ally, Michelle Obama, well known for her emphasis on healthy eating, might take exception to the high fat, salt and calorie content.  Mrs. Obama is not expected to accompany her husband on this trip.

Note: This story first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

UPDATE: I have heard via email from two individuals both saying the same thing. I am off base in my "Bamba" supposition.  Here is an excerpt from one of the emails: ""Obama-ba" is not a reference to Bamba and Israelis reading the Hebrew wouldn't see it that way (especially because the spelling is different).  "Obama ba" simply means Obama is coming.  If there is any allusion here it is to the children's song about Passover coming: "Aviv heggi'ah, pesach ba" which means Spring has come, Passover is coming (or has come).  And of course, Passover is coming very soon. "

Saturday, March 9, 2013

HHS Awards $6 Million Contract for Parking Spaces

    Earlier this week, a listing entitled "Parking Spaces at Democracy Blvd." appeared on the Federal Business Opportunities website. The contract was awarded on February 19th before the sequester took effect, but the timing could still prove embarrassing for the Obama administration.  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the five-year lease for 1,076 parking spaces in Bethesda, MD, for National Institutes of Health (NIH) employees at a cost of almost $6 million.  This breaks down to $1,115 per space per year.  The facilities are located at One Democracy Plaza and Two Democracy Plaza in Bethesda, pictured here:

    The cost of $93 per space per month is at the high end of the comparisons provided in the market research section of the justification document for the contract, but since the parking lots are on the property where the NIH offices are located, HHS had little choice.  The leases are a continuation of leases acquired by the government's General Services Administration.

This story first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Friday, March 8, 2013

HERadventure: Premiere Day for $100K NEA Grantee

    Earth is the source of a "spreading darkness, mysterious in its origin, ruthless in its destruction." That darkness emanates from "societal issues affecting the women of Earth." So says HERadventure, a "multi-episode, augmented reality computer game" developed with the support of Spelman College in Atlanta and a $100,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant.  I first called attention to HERadventure in January, and now the day has arrived for taxpayers to find out if they got their money's worth.
    Today, International Women’s Day, March 8, was chosen as the launch date for the "transmedia, interactive" story, and Beets Cafe in Austin, Texas is the place.  The listing at Eventbrite.com says that the "event will include a demo and talk back with award-winning and pioneer filmmaker Ayoka Chenzira and Emmy nominated producer, HaJ who will share their unique experiencing behind HERadventure."  As of Thursday evening, 36 tickets remained for the free event.  It is not clear how many tickets were available to begin with or what the seating capacity is at Beets.
    A website for HERadventure is now live, although it is rather sparse.  However, a "press kit" is available on the site with a detailed synopsis of the movie/game. Some excerpts:

A universal truth, across space and time, and to all things: Everything is connected. HERadventure, reveals that incivility anywhere is a threat to civility everywhere; that evil seeded on one planet can feed evil on another. That is where the story begins: on another planet, another world entirely….
Xamtha.  A once-great planet -- a thriving civilization of women leaders and noble warriors -- is slowly being consumed by a spreading darkness, mysterious in its origin, ruthless in its destruction.  The elite warrior corps of Xamtha, the Glovebearers, has been dispatched to combat this dark force, and to protect the very source of Xamthan life -- its Life Energy Force.  Harnessed from the roots of precious trees, the Life Energy Force is all that stands between the Xamthans and utter extinction. And it is slowly being eaten away by the corrosiveness of the encroaching darkness... 
...energy signatures of the dark force indicate that it is originating from another planet: Earth.  Determined to stop the dark force at its source, Zira goes through the portal against Her’s protestations... 
On Earth, Her enlists the assistance of you, the audience-turned-Player, and the adventure becomes an interactive experience in which conflicts through instances of social injustice must be overcome through a series of game-mode challenges.  Her comes upon various scenarios of societal issues affecting the women of Earth -- discrimination, domestic violence, sexual predation among them -- and in finding that the root of these evils is the root all evil, she finds her voice and a great unknown strength.
    There is even a short video clip on the website of Her herself pleading for help.

    HERadventure also has an account on Twitter, as well, and a Facebook page.  Most recently, a promotional trailer was posted on YouTube:

    “We are experimenting with ways to address social issues, personally engage viewers and reach them where they get entertainment / education in the digital age” said Ayoka. “Stories and superheroes developed for the new digital film and gaming formats seldom include women of color. HERadventure will not only address this issue but engage more young women through gaming and illuminate the interconnectivity of us all,” said HaJ.  Today, the world will get to judge for itself how far these two collaborators have come in achieving their goals.  And whether or not it was worth the $100,000.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

State Department Awards Cash Prizes in "Arms Control Challenge"

    The world continues to experience much turmoil and angst over the possible proliferation of nuclear arms, particularly relative to North Korea, Iran, and even Russia.  Just today comes word that North Korea made its most provocative statement yet, threatening a preemptive nuclear strike on the United States. Less than a month ago, North Korea conducted another underground nuclear test, drawing near universal condemnation.  Secretary of State John Kerry said in a recent interview with ABC News, "This is a very challenging moment with great risks and stakes for everybody because the region will be far less stable and far more threatened if Iran were to have a nuclear weapon." And it has not been quite a year since President Obama made his now infamous "after my election I have more flexibility" open-mic comment to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a global nuclear security summit in South Korea.
    Yet on the heels of confirmation hearings for John Kerry (State) and Chuck Hagel (Defense), who will both play significant roles in arms policies and negotiations, the State Department is exploring less conventional approaches to this deadly serious business.  As the sequestration was just beginning to take effect, the State Department announced cash prizes in the first ever Innovation in Arms Control Challenge:
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance is pleased to announce the winners of the first Innovation in Arms Control Challenge. This Challenge, which received interest from more than 500 potential solvers, sought creative ideas from the general public to use commonly available technologies to support arms control policy efforts. 
Ms. Lovely Umayam, a graduate student from the Monterey Institute of International Studies at Middlebury College, located in Monterey, California, has been awarded the first prize of $5000. Ms. Umayam developed “Bombshelltoe,” an online education platform that examines the intersection of culture and nuclear issues in order to facilitate better public understanding of basic nuclear and arms control-related issues.
    Runners-up included a "mobile application that provides a platform for users to connect and interact, as well as a rewards program for sharing information on various arms agreement regimes" and a "unique geographically based online social game for verifying treaty compliance."
    These ideas seem to mark a trend in government to emphasize new media and technology to raise awareness on a variety of issues, as well as attract the interest of the public, especially young people.  In another example, the Centers for Disease Control recently released an iPad app called "Solve the Outbreak," an interactive game that allows a user to be a "disease detective."  The U.S. Mint has a whole page dedicated to various games and activities (to raise kids' awareness of... money?)  The American people will have to decide if this trend is valuable outside-the-box thinking for government in the 21st century, or if the Obama administration is just playing games courtesy of the taxpayer.

Note: This article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Right Hand, Meet Left Hand

    On Monday (3/4/12), Lisa Ellman, Chief Counselor for the Open Government Partnership, wrote the following on the White House blog:
Fulfilling our Commitment to Open Government: We Hear You 
We announced last week that we are doing a self-assessment of the U.S. National Action Plan on Open Government and were looking for your feedback about our implementation. We are meeting with civil society groups to solicit their feedback in person, and we set up ways for you to share your own feedback online through a dedicated Q&A site Quora, or through a web form on WhiteHouse.gov. And we take your feedback seriously. 
Here’s proof: We heard from you that it would be helpful if we published the text of the President's directive extending whistleblower protections to the intelligence and national security communities for the first time. We decided you were right. Click here to find the directive.
    The directive (PPD-19), dated October 10, 2012, is titled "Protecting Whistleblowers with Access to Classified Information" and begins as follows:
This Presidential Policy Directive ensures that employees (1) serving in the Intelligence Community or (2) who are eligible for access to classified information can effectively report waste, fraud, and abuse while protecting classified national security information. It prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse. 

    President Obama has said that his administration is "committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government."  In this case, the administration apparently didn't realize just how open it was.  The same document has been available at the Homeland Security Digital Library since (according to Google) the date it was issued, October 10, 2012.  Here is the first page of the PDF document which is available for downloading:

    Which raises the question: in what other unintentional transparency is the Obama administration currently engaging?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

President Obama Appears to Have Exaggerated Effects of Sequester on 'Head Start'

    In the days leading up to sequestration, President Obama and other administration officials often singled out Head Start as one of the vital programs that would be severely impacted by the automatic spending cuts.  Phrases like "70,000 kids get thrown off of Head Start" and "70,000 young children would be kicked off Head Start" were common refrains.  On Friday, as the sequester went into effect, President Obama himself said:
[F]olks who suddenly -- might have been working all their lives to get an education, just so that they can get that job and get out of welfare and they've got their kid in Head Start, and now, suddenly, that Head Start slot is gone and they're trying to figure out how am I going to keep my job, because I can't afford child care for my kid...
    That same day, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) put out a memo to Head Start personnel echoing the same claims, albeit in less dire language:
As you are likely aware, in accordance with the Budget Control Act of 2011, a series of spending cuts, called sequestration, will cancel approximately $85 billion in budgetary resources across the federal government for the remainder of the federal fiscal year.  The President is required to issue a sequestration order today, March 1, resulting in spending reductions of approximately 5 percent for the remainder of the federal fiscal year.  We estimate that approximately 70,000 children will lose access to Head Start services because of this reduction.
    The Obama administration has not released its calculations on how its arrived at the 70,000 figure, but based on past experience, it seems likely that the number is simply an estimate based on the dollars that will not be spent.  However, a look at recent Head State enrollment numbers and budgets calls the assertion into question.

    Just a little over a year ago, HHS issued this memo regarding Head State after President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012.
TO: Head Start and Early Head Start Grantees and Delegate Agencies 
SUBJECT: FY 2012 Head Start Funding Increase 
President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 on December 23, 2011. This Act included the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriation for programs under the Head Start Act of $7,968,543,933. This represents an increase of approximately $409 million over the FY 2011 appropriation level.
    So the amount budgeted represented an increase of $409 million over the previous year, an increase of approximately 5%.  The bottom line is that the 5% cut by the sequester simply brings head start levels back to where they were a year ago, hardly a doomsday scenario.  And the 70,000 children who will be thrown off Head Start?  According to the Annie E. Casey foundation, an organization that compiles numbers on Head Start enrollment, Head Start enrollment for 2012 totaled 1,128,030.  Enrollment for the year before, 2011, was 1,125,209, a difference of less than 3,000, a far cry from 70,000.

    Obviously these enrollment figures are not unimpeachable and the time periods may not match up precisely, but it would appear ludicrous to say that 70,000 will be kicked off.  Unless the administration can back up its claims with hard data, questions may continue to be raised about the dire consequences being predicted by the president and his officials.

Note: The story first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Monday, March 4, 2013

John Kerry and Egypt's "Versions" of Democracy

    Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Sunday the release of a quarter of a billion dollars in aid to Egypt. The Associated Press reports:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday rewarded Egypt for President Mohammed Morsi's pledges of political and economic reforms by releasing $250 million in American aid to support the country's "future as a democracy."
Yet Kerry also served notice that the Obama administration will keep close watch on how Morsi, who came to power in June as Egypt's first freely elected president, honors his commitment and that additional U.S. assistance would depend on it.
    The day before, the secretary of state hinted that the Obama administration was continuing to throw its weight behind Morsi in some curiously worded but little reported remarks at the Marriott Zamalek Hotel in Cairo. Kerry had meet with some opposition leaders on Saturday and a reporter apparently caught Kerry at his hotel after the meeting. There is a partial transcript of a reporter's impromptu question and Kerry's answer on the State Department's website [emphasis added]:
QUESTION: (In progress) heard his conversation with the opposition members. Did you hear anything from them that would suggest that they’re going to renounce their boycott of the election and actually take part? 
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I heard very passionate people who are deeply committed to Egypt and to their version of the democracy that they fought for in their revolution. And I completely understand that. I wanted to hear from them. I explored their strategy and thoughts. 
They’re deeply committed to human rights, to democracy, to freedom of expression, and to a real political process in which they feel they have a voice. America supports all of those things. And so listening to them was really important. There was a divergence of views in terms of the adamancy, but they all shared a sense that they needed to be more part of the process, more included, and they recognized the economic challenge, but they believe there’s also a need to fill the promise of democracy. And so do we. We believe that too.
     There's no explanation of what Kerry meant by the remark.

Note: This story first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Alexis De Tocqueville and Crony Capitalism

   In the age of crony capitalism and "green energy" company subsidies, this passage from Alexis De Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" struck me [emphasis added]:
The European generally submits to a public officer because he represents a superior force; but to an American he represents a right. In America it may be said that no one renders obedience to man, but to justice and to law. If the opinion which the citizen entertains of himself is exaggerated, it is at least salutary; he unhesitatingly confides in his own powers, which appear to him to be all-sufficient. When a private individual meditates an undertaking, however directly connected it may be with the welfare of society, he never thinks of soliciting the co-operation of the Government, but he publishes his plan, offers to execute it himself, courts the assistance of other individuals, and struggles manfully against all obstacles. Undoubtedly he is often less successful than the State might have been in his position; but in the end the sum of these private undertakings far exceeds all that the Government could have done.
 A visit to the "Start a Business" page of the Commerce Department's website gives the impression that starting and even running a business without government help is not even an option.  We have completely turned "he never thinks of soliciting the co-operation of the Government" on its head.  Often short-term advantages of government assistance are traded for the far better long-term results achieved by eschewing the help of the State.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Bee Kind

    In Duryea, PA, one community is setting an example in 21st century thinking: No Bee Left Bee Hive Behind.  The Associated Press reports:
They say home is where the hive is. Or something like that.
A colony of troublesome honeybees will settle into new digs in northeastern Pennsylvania after being removed Friday from a back alley in Duryea, where the queen and thousands of her loyal subjects had taken up residence in an old tree several years ago.
They were such a nuisance that neighbors say they couldn't stand to be outside in the summertime. The bees got into garbage and recycling bins, disrupted barbecues and buzzed anyone who got too close.
"It was a big safety issue for us," said Joe Roscioli, 32, who is allergic to bees and whose house is only a few feet from the tree.
    Humans and bees have long had a love-hate relationship, but one that benefits... us.  They pollinate many of our plants, we take their honey, and in return, we don't kill them all.  Duryea, PA has taken this non-killing a step further.
Years ago, an annoyed human might've eliminated the problem with a can of insecticide.
But with a mysterious affliction called colony collapse disorder decimating hives around the nation, Duryea's streets supervisor got a bee in his bonnet to save the colony and its 10,000 to 20,000 occupants. So on Friday, PPL Electric Utilities, a tree-trimming crew and several bee experts converged on the alley for a rescue operation.
    But is there a hidden victim in this story?
With a small crowd looking on, licensed apiarist Bill Fisher and other experts drilled several holes in the tree, then inserted probes to establish the lower and upper limits of the hive.
"It's a lot like a colonoscopy for bees," Fisher joked.
Once the 60-foot northern catalpa tree was cut down to size, a crane lifted a 15-foot section of trunk onto a trailer destined for the Hershey area, where Fisher has a small farm. When it gets warmer, Fisher will try to extract the queen, slice out the comb, and transfer the colony to a bee box. Its ultimate destination, if all goes well, is a community garden in Drums, about 30 miles southwest of Duryea.
    Where is the tree-sitter?! Where is the Friends of Catalpa Trees on this issue?  Oh, the drendonity! Could they not spare a protester to protect what someday might be an endangered specie? Just because the tree was described as "old" should it be casually drilled, cut down, and loaded onto a trailer like so much cordwood?  The article just glosses over this aspect of the story.
Such rescues are becoming more common. The state Department of Agriculture said it's seen an increase in calls from exterminators, residents and business owners who want to avoid destroying inconvenient hives and are seeking help.
"Colony collapse disorder has really increased awareness of the importance of honeybees," said Karen Roccasecca, Pennsylvania's state apiarist.
Gino Marriggi, the Duryea streets supervisor who launched Friday's rescue mission, said he couldn't be happier with the outcome.
"The neighbors are happy the bees are going to be gone, and I'm happy nobody's going to destroy them," he said. "It's a win-win." 
    In this case, perhaps a "win-win" is not good enough.  In the future, a backhoe and a tree-baller could ensure that the next so-called "rescue" is a win-win-win. On the other hand, I wonder what kind of grass was growing there?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Impeach Scalia!

    The White House's 21st century version of the Suggestion Box, "We the People" Petitions, often draws eccentric and even outlandish proposals, such as the recent call to build a Death Star, a la Star Wars.  The White House even responded with a tongue-in-cheek explanation of why the administration would not get behind this particular idea.  (The answer even included this hilarious assertion: "We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.")  More recently, an (apparently) earnest petition appeared calling for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO:Call for the Impeachment of Justice Antonin Scalia for violating the oath of the office. 
Justice Scalia stated that the continuation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act represented the "perpetuation of racial entitlement," saying that lawmakers had only voted to renew the act in 2006 because there wasn't anything to be gained politically from voting against it. The oath of office requires that I [sic] he remain impartial and protect all persons rights equally under the law. His statement indicates he not only is not impartial, but also is trying to circumvent the constitution. The legislature put in place laws to protect right to vote for all Americans. His statements are political in nature and indicates that it is his duty to circumvent the actions of the two other branches of government.
    Justice Scalia is certainly no stranger to controversy and calls for his impeachment are nothing new.  However, the unique approach of this petition is entertainingly ironic.  The last half of the petition teaches a short civics lesson on how the U.S. government is intended to function and how Scalia is "trying to circumvent" the founding document.

    There's just one problem.  While the petition calls for "the Obama administration to call for the Impeachment of Justice Antonin Scalia," the Constitution is pretty clear on this matter.  Article I, Section 2 states: "The House of Representatives shall ... have the sole Power of Impeachment."  Article I, Section 3 goes on to say: "The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments."  The Executive Branch serves no function in the impeachment process.  The petitioner is asking the Obama administration to insert itself into a matter which, one might say, would "circumvent the constitution" and the principle of separation of powers.  Well, as Barney Fife used to say, fight fire with fire.

White House Stats on Childhood Obesity Decline Pre-Date ‘Let's Move’

    First Lady Michelle Obama is continuing her road trip celebrating the 3rd anniversary of her Let's Move initiative, appearing on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts on Tuesday and at an event with Rachael Ray on Wednesday.  While the initial press release last week gave Let's Move credit for halting and even reversing the childhood obesity trend of the last thirty years, no statistics were cited.  Now, a new White House press release links to a  Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report to bolster its claims, but a closer look at the report casts further doubt.  The press release states:
Mrs. Obama and Rachael Ray chose to highlight school lunches in Mississippi, which was rated the most obese state in the nation for several years, because the state’s childhood obesity rates have declined by 13% among elementary school students in recent years.  According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Mississippi is one of several states and cities to show decreases in childhood obesity, including Philadelphia, New York City and California. Mrs. Obama praised Mississippi’s efforts and called on other states and cities to follow suit.
    Mrs. Obama singled out Mississippi for special attention on Good Morning America:
"We've really changed the conversation in this country. When we started, there were a lot of people in this country who would have never thought that childhood obesity was a health crisis. But now we're starting to see some movement on this issue," the first lady told Roberts. "Our kids are eating better at school. They're moving more. And we're starting…to see a change in the trends. We're starting to see rates of obesity coming down like never before." 
"I'm going back to Mississippi because when I first went there, Mississippi was considered one of the most unhealthy states in the nation," Mrs. Obama said. 
"If we could fry water in Mississippi, we would, we would do that," Roberts, who grew up in Pass Christian, Mississippi, said. "Food is a culture." 
"But the good news in Mississippi is that they've seen a decline in childhood obesity of 13 percent, so we're gonna go celebrate and highlight what has been going on there. There's still work to do," the first lady said.
     While Mrs. Obama credits Let's Move for these recent advances, the report from Robert Wood Johnson does not back up that assertion.  Here is a chart from the report that the White House refers to in its press release and from which Mrs. Obama took Mississippi's 13% decline:

    The 13% decrease that Mrs. Obama touted is measured from Spring 2005 through Spring 2011.  Let's Move was launched in February 2010, so the first five years of the time period in question were prior to Let's Move's existence.  The time period for New York City is similar, but the Philadelphia and California figures only extend through 2010, ending just as Let's Move got moving.

    While the Robert Wood Johnson report demonstrates progress has been made in the struggle against childhood obesity, there's no proof yet that Let's Move has played a role, and the report does not mention the program.  While Let's Move has undoubtedly raised the profile of the issue, the White House will have to wait for the studies to catch up to its claims.  Even then, a direct correlation between any change in obesity rates and Let's Move will be difficult to verify.  But if the White House continues to cite outdated statistics to promote the success of Let's Move, Mrs. Obama's credibility may be diminished before current figures on childhood obesity become available.

Note: This article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.