Free Markets, Free People

Obama Administration

The most transparent administration in history … not

The Obama White House has quietly rewritten a portion of the Freedom Of Information Act to exclude what it calls “White House equities” from being released without a White House review.  The rewrite was inspired by a 2009 memo by then White House counsel, Greg Craig:

The Greg memo is described in detail in a new study made public today by Cause of Action, a Washington-based nonprofit watchdog group that monitors government transparency and accountability.

How serious an attack on the public’s right to know is the Obama administration’s invention of the “White House equities” exception?

“FOIA is designed to inform the public on government behavior; White House equities allow the government to withhold information from the media, and therefore the public, by having media requests forwarded for review. This not only politicizes federal agencies, it impairs fundamental First Amendment liberties,” Cause of Action explains in its report.

The equities exception is breathtaking in its breadth. As the Greg memo put it, any document request is covered, including “congressional committee requests, GAO requests, judicial subpoenas and FOIA requests.”

And it doesn’t matter what format the documents happen to be in because, according to Greg, the equities exception “applies to all documents and records, whether in oral, paper, or electronic form, that relate to communications to and from the White House, including preparations for such communications.”

What this effectively does is stop federal agencies from answering FOIA requests which might include “White House equities” within the 20 days required by law.  There is no apparent limit to the review time the White House can take with its “review” of such requests.  Since the White House gets to decide what are “White House equities” and how long it will take to review requests which include them, the change effectively neuters the intent of the FOIA law.  This gives the White House the ability to delay release of such information until it is politically beneficial for them to do so (or, in reality, not at all):

In one case cited by Cause of Action, the response to a request from a Los Angeles Times reporter to the Department of the Interior for “communications between the White House and high-ranking Interior officials on various politically sensitive topics” was delayed at least two years by the equities review.

And that isn’t the only department in which such delays have become common:

“Cause of Action is still waiting for documents from 16 federal agencies, with the Department of Treasury having the longest pending request of 202 business days.

“The Department of Energy is a close second at 169 business days. The requests to the Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services have been pending for 138 business days,” the report said.

This is what political subversion looks like.  It is also a fairly common example of this administration saying one thing and actually doing the opposite.

Most transparent administration ever.  Another lie worthy of 4 Pinocchios.

~McQ

Prepare for more foreign policy disasters

One of the foreign policy promises Barack Obama made was that during his presidency, America would have a “light footprint” on world affairs. Our first indicator of what that meant was the action in Libya when the US “led from behind”. The Obama administration belived that pulling back from our strong presence and position in the world would help mollify other powers and usher in a new era of peaceful cooperation with America as a partner and not necessarily the leader.

How has that worked out?

Ask Russia, China and a few others:

The White House was taken by surprise by Vladimir V. Putin’s decisions to invade Crimea, but also by China’s increasingly assertive declaration of exclusive rights to airspace and barren islands.

Neither the economic pressure nor the cyberattacks that forced Iran to reconsider its approach have prevented North Korea’s stealthy revitalization of its nuclear and missile programs. In short, America’s adversaries are testing the limits of America’s post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan moment.

“We’re seeing the ‘light footprint’ run out of gas,” said one of Mr. Obama’s former senior national security aides, who would not speak on the record about his ex-boss.

What we’re actually seeing is naivete in foreign policy head toward a predictable conclusion. Foreign policy isn’t bean bag and it has been established many times in history that the retreat of a great power from the world’s stage will see other seemingly lesser powers attempt to fill or take advantage of that power vacuum.

The “light footprint” didn’t “run out of gas”, the light footprint was foreign policy destined for failure from its inception. Mr. Obama and his foreign policy team were warned about that constantly and preferred to ignore both the warnings and history.

Mr. Obama acknowledges, at least in private, that he is managing an era of American retrenchment. History suggests that such eras — akin to what the United States went through after the two world wars and Vietnam — often look like weakness to the rest of the world. His former national security adviser Thomas Donilon seemed to acknowledge the critical nature of the moment on Sunday when he said on “Face the Nation” that what Mr. Obama was facing was “a challenge to the post-Cold War order in Europe, an order that we have a lot to do with.”

But while Mr. Donilon expressed confidence that over time the United States holds powerful tools against Russia and other nations, in the short term challengers like Mr. Putin have the advantage on the ground.

Mr. Obama is managing “an era of American retrenchment” he initiated.

It doesn’t look like a period of weakness to the rest of the world, it is a period of weakness that is compounded by our weak leadership. We’re engaged in bringing our military down to pre-WWII levels and we’ve made it clear that we’re not interested in fulfilling treaty obligations with the likes of the Ukraine. How else would one interpret our actions?

And, of course, one of the best ways we could address this particular crisis is to up our shipments of natural gas to Europe so they weren’t dependent of Russian pipeline supplies that flow through the Ukraine. That would give Europe some leverage because they wouldn’t be held hostage by their need for Russian petro supplies. But on the domestic front, the Obama administration has made building the necessary infrastructure to cash in on our growing natural gas boom almost impossible.

Are Russia and others testing the limits? You bet they are and all of those interested in those limits are watching this drama unfold. To this point, it appears Russia sees no downside to its action. Should that continue to be the case, you can be assured other nations will also “test the limits.”

This is Mr. Obama’s 3am phone call. And it appears he has let it go to the answering machine.

~McQ

How to destroy property rights in one easy lesson

Give government bureaucracy the power to nullify your ownership rights in the name of a “higher good”.

You’re all familiar with the poly.  The WSJ describes it:

In partnership with green activists, the Department of Interior may attempt one of the largest federal land grabs in modern times, using a familiar vehicle—the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A record 757 new species could be added to the protected list by 2018. The two species with the greatest impact on private development are range birds—the greater sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken, both about the size of a barnyard chicken. The economic stakes are high because of the birds’ vast habitat.

Interior is expected to decide sometime this month whether to list the lesser prairie chicken, which inhabits five western prairie states, as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Meantime, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are considering land-use amendments to protect the greater sage grouse, which would lay the groundwork for an ESA listing next year.

One of the birds resides mostly on federal land (remember, the federal government owns most of the west of the US).  It is on these lands and the little private land there that the sage grouse is found:

The sage grouse is found in 11 western states—California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Most of the areas affected are federal lands routinely used for farming, ranching, mining, road building, water projects and oil and gas drilling.

Ah, gas drilling.  Well here we go:

Interior’s proposed “land use” amendments are draconian. They require a four-mile “buffer zone” whenever a sage-grouse mating ground is discovered on federal land. The American Petroleum Institute calls the proposed rules a “de facto ban on drilling.” It fears that compliance could cost tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and cause years of drilling delays.

Well of course it would.  That’s the whole point.  To make it economically unfeasible to fight this.  Never mind that the technology exists to make the foot print tiny (horizontal drilling), you still have to get permission to do it – time and mucho money.

But that’s on federal land.  How about private land.  Well it just so happens that’s where the prairie chicken comes in (along with the sage grouse).  Any idea of where they’re found?

The prairie chicken sits atop Texas’s Permian Basin oil bonanza, and the sage grouse is near the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.

So a bird that is found in 11 western states is apparently “endangered” and also sits conveniently on one of the most productive finds in modern history (Bakken) and the other bird just happens to be in Texas’ big petroleum find?  How ironic, no?

Politics in the service of activism.  And if the activists don’t get their way?

Environmental groups have won victories by using a strategy called “sue and settle” under which groups propose species for protected status and then sue the federal government, which settles the lawsuit on terms favorable to the greens rather than fight. These settlements typically bypass a thorough review of the scientific evidence and exclude affected parties, such as industry and local communities.

According to Kent Holsinger, a natural resources attorney in Denver heavily involved in these cases, “Wildlife Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity have been party to more than 1,000 lawsuits between 1990 and the present.” The Center for Biological Diversity has made no secret of wanting to end fossil-fuel production in the U.S.

In the case of the Obama administration, it is more likely that this won’t be an antagonistic process, at least where the econuts are concerned.  Instead it will be a cooperative process while they bleed the destroy the concept of private property once and for all.

~McQ

Why is Russia in the Ukraine? See Syria …

With the Olympics safely over, Vladimir Putin felt safe to invade the Ukraine and annex the Crimea.  Anyone want to take a guess why?

It has to do with “red lines” and words, not action.  Those red lines were first drawn in Syria.  And when they were crossed … nothing happened.  So:

“Putin smelled blood in the water when the airstrikes against the Assad regime were suddenly called off,” Oubai Shahbandar, a senior advisor to the Syrian National Coalition, the U.S.-backed opposition group, said of the Ukraine invasion. “We’ve seen this movie play out before, sadly, as Russian-supplied planes, tanks and even some mercenaries continue to arrive in Syria uninterrupted.”

“Hope won’t stop Russian aggression,” Shahbandar added.

Ah, but we’re talking about “hope and change”.  You know, the stuff that will calm the tides, still the wind and, well, fix anything.  All the Great One has to do is speak the words and the world trembles in fear. Our first post-modern President is of the ilk that believes talk equals action.  And he’s talked about it now, so its time to move on and bash Israel.
Meanwhile, all those red lines drawn and crossed in Syria rightfully have the Syrians leary of any promises from the US:

The Syrian opposition had long held out hope for significant U.S. support for their uprising, from heavy weapons and surface-to-air missiles to a no-fly zone. They argued that Assad’s main allies — Russia and Iran — had been steadfast in boosting his regime with arms and money, and in the latter case, with boots on the ground.

Many Syrians were deeply disappointed when Obama failed to enforce his famous “red line” on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons with air strikes — opting instead for a Moscow-initiated deal for the regime to give up its stockpile of chemical arms. “Do not develop strategies that are based on any assumption that the U.S. or EU will demonstrate assertive leadership to deter Russian aggression,” said Amr al-Azm, a U.S.-based member of the Syrian opposition and a professor at Shawnee State University.

And Ukraine, that treaty you have the the US?

“The last thing anybody wants is a military option,” Kerry said Sunday.

Seems to me Russia has already used in Mr. Kerry.

Do I want our military involved in another war?  Not under this leadership, no.  When the leaders are both gutless and clueless, our troops need to stay home.  But that’s really not the point here.  The point is the happenings in the Ukraine are a direct result of some of the worst foreign policy ineptness we’ve had to suffer under in a couple of centuries.  It almost makes one pine for Jimmy Carter.

~McQ

It is official: Welcome to the Obama economy

We’ve been told over the last few years that our economy is in a slump but not to worry.  It’s temporary.  The administration is on it.  It’s going to be fixed.

What, we’ve had 5 recovery summers and are heading into our 6th?

Well, the CBO, that office the administration loves to cite when it suits them, has decided that this economy, the Obama economy, isn’t an outlier and we should get used to it:

The part of the past that you deem most relevant can be critical in determining your outlook for the future. And nowhere is that clearer than in the changing economic forecasts that come out of the Congressional Budget Office.

This year’s short-term and long-term economic forecasts are substantially worse than last year’s, even though the economy performed better than expected in 2013. What changed was that the C.B.O. economists essentially decided that they would no longer treat the recent years of poor economic performance as a sort of outlier. They have seen enough of a slow economy to begin to think that we should get used to sluggishness.

They think that Americans will earn less than they previously expected, that fewer of them will want jobs and that fewer will get them. They think companies will invest less and earn less. The economy, as measured by growth in real gross domestic product, will settle into a prolonged period in which it grows at an average rate of just 2.1 percent. From 2019 through 2024, job growth will average less than 70,000 a month.

So, how does it feel?  You’ve lived through the “Golden age” and are now relegated to … this.  Slow to non-existent job growth.  Regulation out the wazoo. Rising health care costs.  Taxes eating into earnings and no end in sight.

This is the economy this administration has helped fashion with an insensitivity to the economy and a policy cluelessness that is second to none.  The fact that they’re still pushing a raise in the minimum wage in the face of half a million job losses (conservative estimate) says it all.

You reap what you sow, or don’t sow, in this case.  What they didn’t sow was economic policies that would get the economy moving, create jobs and keep us in that Golden age.  Instead we got ideology first, regardless of the economic consequences.

And this is the result.

As CBO says, get used to it.

~McQ

Discounting human nature

One of the most ironic and, if it weren’t so serious, amusing aspects of central planners is how they come to the conclusion that their plan – despite thousands of years of human nature – will manage to overcome human nature.  What I mean by that akward sentence is they believe they can retrain us to like what they’ll make us do.  Screw human nature.  Screw the laws of economics.  Screw just about every immutable law of nature.  This crap sounded great in the beer haze of the dormitory among their liberal friends.

It’s a correlary of the “the only reason socialism hasn’t worked is we haven’t tried it my way” belief.  And I do mean “belief”.  An act of faith.  More underpants gnomes.

The case in point?  Megan McArdle brings it to us:

In December, I predicted that “doc shock” was going to be a major problem for the U.S. health-care overhaul, as people found out that the narrow networks insurers use to keep premiums low often don’t cover the top-notch doctors you’d like to see if you get really sick:

“If narrow networks could give everyone in the country access to health-care outcomes no worse than 90 percent as good as the folks with the best doctors at 75 percent of the price we’d pay for broader networks, the health-care wonks would jump on that deal as an unbelievable bargain. But I think it’s pretty clear that average folks don’t think like health-care wonks.

So what does ObamaCare do?  Force people into narrow networks despite it being clear to anyone with the IQ of a turnip and a couple of years observing how humans do things, that narrow networks are going to fail.

“So even if narrow networks actually were better, people would resist them. And they’ll fight with every fiber of their being when you tell them to take their kid with leukemia to a community hospital rather than the top-notch children’s hospital nearby. Expect the fight over doc shock to be bitter and long — and to end when insurers cave and start adding pricey doctors back to their networks.”

That’s right … you’re relegated to whatever backwater network of care the particular insurance company you’ve been forced to buy from (or pay a tax too if you prefer) has contracted with.  Want world-class care for your child?  Tough beans.  See your doc at the community hospital instead.

So what has happened?  Well exactly what happened before when something like this was tried:

However much good, sound policy sense narrow networks might make, they are political poison. Regulators and politicians are going to find it very hard to withstand the appeals of constituents who have been restricted to the bargain basement of our nation’s health-care system. I simply don’t think they’ll be able to stand it for very long. This is basically what happened to the managed-care revolution that held down cost growth in the mid-1990s — people in those plans complained bitterly, in their capacity as both voters and employees. A combination of legal and market pressure forced insurers to open up their networks and approve more treatments. And then costs started rising again. As people begin using their Obamacare policies and start running into restrictions, the same sort of pressure will begin to mount.

But did our estwhile leaders learn anything from managed care’s failure?

Nah.

Because, you know, they weren’t in charge at the time and besides, human nature is just overrated.

So, as with every other aspect of this nonsense, watch Obama do what is necessary to ensure the fewest number of people possible are hurt by this … until after midterms, at least and 2016 if Mr. “I can do whatever I want” can swing it.

~McQ

Well here’s a surprise – Obama’s Syria policy is failing

Yes, I called it a surprise facetiously.  Does Obama do anything that doesn’t fail (other than campaign)?

Meanwhile, two-faced government continues because, well you know, telling the real truth outloud just isn’t politically smart – especially with this administration’s record:

Two prominent Republican senators say that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told them — along with 13 other members of a bipartisan congressional delegation — that President Barack Obama’s administration is in need of a new, more assertive, Syria policy; that al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria pose a direct terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland; that Russia is arming the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and is generally subverting chances for a peaceful settlement; that Assad is violating his promise to expeditiously part with his massive stores of chemical weapons; and that, in Kerry’s view, it may be time to consider more dramatic arming of moderate Syrian rebel factions.

Kerry is said to have made these blunt assertions Sunday morning behind the closed doors of a cramped meeting room in the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich, as the 50th annual Munich Security Conference was coming to a close in a ballroom two floors below. A day earlier, Kerry, in a joint appearance with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on the ballroom stage, gave an uncompromising defense of the Obama administration’s level of foreign engagement: saying that,“I can’t think of a place in the world where we’re retreating.”

Really, Mr. Kerry?

Obama/Kerry’s Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria and Russian policies have been failures.  Israel has taken to actually ridiculing US efforts.  Saudi Arabia is said to be looking for a new patron in the Middle East.

And yet, given all of that, Kerry is still the loyal waterboy making false claims when anyone with an IQ higher than warm spit can see that during the Obama administration we’ve done nothing but retreat.

Being charitable, maybe Kerry meant we’re no longer retreating because, well, we’ve retreated about as far as is possible to retreat.

Oh, and yes, I saw the Obama/O’Reilly interview.  It had the same gripping suspense and entertainment content as the Superbowl.  In the case of Denver it was safety, interception, fumble, collapse. Obama was deny, deny, deny, blame, deny reality some more and then cast even more blame.

Pitiful.

~McQ

The incredible shrinking presidency

Yes I know Peggy Noonan was one of “those” on the right to who thought Barack Obama would “deliver” (deliver what I’m not sure but she thought he’d be a welcome change to Bush).  And, in a weird and fascinating way it has been fun watching her discover how unbelievably wrong she was (not that it shouldn’t have been obvious from the beginning).  Frankly, it makes you a little skeptical concerning just about anything she might say that isn’t based in observable fact.

However, I think her opinion today is just about right:

Because when I imagine Barack Obama’s State of the Union, I see a handsome, dignified man standing at the podium and behind him Joe Biden, sleeping. And next to him John Boehner, snoring. And arrayed before the president the members, napping.

No one’s really listening to the president now. He has been for five years a nonstop wind-up talk machine. Most of it has been facile, bland, the same rounded words and rounded sentiments, the same soft accusations and excuses. I see him enjoying the sound of his voice as the network newsman leans forward eagerly, intently, nodding at the pearls, enacting interest, for this is the president and he is the anchorman and surely something important is being said with two such important men engaged.

But nothing interesting was being said! Looking back on this presidency, it has from the beginning been a 17,000 word New Yorker piece in which, calmly, sonorously, with his lovely intelligent voice, the president says nothing, or little that is helpful, insightful or believable. “I’m not a particularly ideological person.” “It’s hard to anticipate events over the next three years.” “I don’t really even need George Kennan right now.” “I am comfortable with complexity.” “Our capacity to do some good . . . is unsurpassed, even if nobody is paying attention.”

Nobody is!

Yeah, she hasn’t quite lost the “fan girl” crush she had on Obama, but the stark reality of what this man is … or perhaps isn’t … has finally begun to set in. Reality is a bitch and she doesn’t let you play pretend for long before she begins slapping you around the head and shoulders with what “is”. And what “is” with this presidency is “over”.

No one trusts this man. He’s been an incompetent buffoon. And the pity is, it was entirely predictable. In fact, we did predict it. We talked about the presidency not being an OJT position. That you needed experience having run a major organization before (you know, executive experience?). Or someone that had actually done something other than write his own autobigraphy at 40.  If not, you’re likely to be well above your competency level and it will show.

But some sort of ability to suspend disbelief infected the chattering classes and they began coughing, sneezing and throwing up a myth about this empty suit. At the end of the 2008 campaign he had somehow become magic.

In reality he was the Wizard and the Noonan’s of the world, 5 years late and trillions of dollars short have finally … FINALLY … begun to peek behind the curtain where the rest of us have been sending SOS’s for years. And they’re discovering he doesn’t even know what the levers are or do, much less how to pull them.

And this discovery has led to more discovery … such as that above. He’s mostly irrelevant and ignored. Someone we must suffer through to get back to business. And so when he speaks … well, no one listens. Oh, they may show up, and they may even feign paying attention, but when you’ve heard the same speech and all it’s variations for 5 years and nothing has happened that was promised (and a lot has happened that wasn’t promised and isn’t good), you tend to not pay attention any more.

For a speechifier who thinks words equal action, I can’t imagine a worse fate.

~McQ

Administration has no idea who has or hasn’t paid for ObamaCare

You remember the post a couple of days ago when I broadly hinted that you shouldn’t believe a single statistic (or most of anything else) this administration proffers?

More proof.  You might recall a number of administration spokespersons and Democrat mouthpieces telling us that millions have enrolled and paid?

Yeah, not so fast:

An official from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services admitted at a House hearing today that no one knows how many people have actually paid for Obamacare coverage.

“So we don’t know at this point how many people have actually paid for coverage?” asked a member of Congress.

“That’s right,” the CMS official conceded.

Inept, incompetent and unfortunately, in charge.

~McQ

US drops out of top 10 for economic freedom

I’m not sure that this will surprise anyone, given the size and intrusiveness of our government:

World economic freedom has reached record levels, according to the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, released Tuesday by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. But after seven straight years of decline, the U.S. has dropped out of the top 10 most economically free countries.

For 20 years, the index has measured a nation’s commitment to free enterprise on a scale of 0 to 100 by evaluating 10 categories, including fiscal soundness, government size and property rights. These commitments have powerful effects: Countries achieving higher levels of economic freedom consistently and measurably outperform others in economic growth, long-term prosperity and social progress. Botswana, for example, has made gains through low tax rates and political stability.

Obviously the decline began before the Obama administration, but the policies of this administration have certainly hastened the decline and are certainly a primary reason for the US dropping out of the top 10:

Those losing freedom, on the other hand, risk economic stagnation, high unemployment and deteriorating social conditions. For instance, heavy-handed government intervention in Brazil’s economy continues to limit mobility and fuel a sense of injustice.

It’s not hard to see why the U.S. is losing ground. Even marginal tax rates exceeding 43% cannot finance runaway government spending, which has caused the national debt to skyrocket. The Obama administration continues to shackle entire sectors of the economy with regulation, including health care, finance and energy. The intervention impedes both personal freedom and national prosperity.

And that’s certainly been the case these past 5 years.  Regulation has exploded, government intrusiveness has increased, freedom is in retreat.

Bottom line:

Despite financial crises and recessions, the global economy has expanded by nearly 70% in 20 years, to $54 trillion in 2012 from $32 trillion in 1993. Hundreds of millions of people have left grinding poverty behind as their economies have become freer. But it is an appalling, avoidable human tragedy how many of the world’s peoples remain unfree—and poor.

The record of increasing economic freedom elsewhere makes it inexcusable that a country like the U.S. continues to pursue policies antithetical to its own growth, while wielding its influence to encourage other countries to chart the same disastrous course. The 2014 Index of Economic Freedom documents a world-wide race to enhance economic opportunity through greater freedom—and this year’s index demonstrates that the U.S. needs a drastic change in direction.

Drastic action needed, dithering and inaction expected, continued decline the result.

~McQ