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Pursuing a Dream

Those prolific folks at the Congressional Budget Office have written up yet another installment in their annual “Budget and Economic Outlook” series, and it might be their best work yet. That’s high praise, given how the president used to gush about the non-partisan brilliance of these eyeshade-wearing savants of the bureaucracy, but their latest look at Obamacare really is quite a read.
In a taut 175 pages of impeccable public policy prose, including the numerous charts and tables and citations of sources and such, the report lays out all the sorry facts about the nation’s fiscal health. This has been a recurring theme of the series for so long now that it’s become too boring to prompt comment, but the parts about Obamacare offer an intriguing if somewhat predictable plot twist. To hear the CBO boys tell it, the law isn’t working out well.
The report projects that the law will result in the loss of 2.5 million full-time equivalent jobs in the next decade, leave 31 million people still without health insurance but paying for the privilege, add $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit, cause millions of Americans to lose the health insurance plans that they liked, and wind up costing the average American money out of his paycheck. Given that the law’s eponymous president repeatedly promised that it would spur economic activity, insure everyone, wouldn’t add a single dime to the deficit, anyone who liked his health insurance plan could keep it, and the average American would wind up with an extra $2,500 in his paycheck, it seems fair to say that things aren’t going as intended.
Back when the president was making such preposterous promises on behalf of Obamacare he had CBO reports to back them up, all based on the equally preposterous presumptions the agency was forced to proceed from, which is probably why he used to gush about its non-partisan brilliance. The latest report is based on assumptions more closely resembling reality, and is therefore less to the president’s liking, but all that past praise forced the White House to carefully interpret rather haughtily dismiss the CBO’s conclusion.
By far the most entertaining portion of White House spokesman Jay Carney’s juggling act was his insistence that the 2.5 million lost jobs is proof the law’s unexpected success. After correctly noting that the report does not blame the job losses on disincentives for employers to provide jobs, and without noting that it also said such an effect might well occur when the delayed employer-mandate at last kicks in after the mid-term elections, Carney seemed proud that CBO found the initial job losses would result from Obamacare’s disincentives for employees to accept low-wage jobs rather than relinquish their health care subsidies and other benefits. As Carney thus explains it, those 2.5 million lost jobs mean “Americans would no longer be trapped in a job just to provide coverage for their families, and would have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”
Any Americans who don’t dream of a life of care-free welfare dependency probably wouldn’t put it in such poetic terms, but at this point they likely comprise only a small share of the Democratic votership. It remains to be seen how the economy will fare under the guidance of an administration that takes such pride in lost jobs, and we’ll be looking forward to next year’s installment in the “Budget and Economic Outlook” to find out.

— Bud Norman

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Inside the Insider Threat Program

The latest scandal to beset the Obama administration is the ominously-named Insider Threat Program, an executive order issued shortly after the Wikileaks scandal that attempted to plug such national security leaks by having federal employees and contractors rat on one another for any suspicious behaviors. This information comes courtesy of the McClatchy newspaper chain, which also reports that agencies having nothing to do with national security were also affected and that experts believe the suspicious behaviors that are to be reported are not reliable predictors of any illegal acts, and it’s attracted enough attention from the other media that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was forced to admit that he was “stumped” by the insistent questions at a news conference and was completely unaware of the program’s existence.
Although we never actually worked for the McClatchy company it has somehow acquired the obligation to pay us a pension in our old age, so we take its reporting seriously. The company’s reporting has been annoyingly pro-Obama for the most part, at least by the measure of the local newspaper that it bought a few years ago, but in this case it raises several troubling questions. One might well wonder, for instance, why it took so long — after the election, in fact — for a directive that was issued to some five million people to come to light. One might also wonder why Carney didn’t get the memo, given that he’s a federal employee who has surely witnessed enough strange behavior to fill a warehouse of files, and there are more significant questions as well.
As satisfying as it is to know that government workers have been subjected to the same level of insufferable co-worker snoopiness as their private sector counterparts, there is something troubling about the idea that they have been asked to tattle-tale for such easily explained behaviors as financial difficulties, odd working hours, or “unexplained travel.” Combined with the revelations of the Internal Revenue Service harassing the administration’s political opponents, the Department of Justice treating investigative reporting as a criminal conspiracy, the National Security Agency combing through the phone and internet records of millions of Americans, requests that the public report “fishy” information about Obamacare to a White House web site, attempts to silence whistle-blowers on Benghazi and other scandals, as well as a frankly stated view that “the government is the only thing we all belong to,” it starts to give a claustrophobic feeling to life in the age of Obama.
The program doesn’t seem to have been a success, either. It was in effect well before the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, but the officers who witnessed the crazed Islamist rantings and ravings of the shooter but apparently didn’t find it suspicious enough to overcome their fears of being thought Islamophobic by reporting it. Nor did it prevent the scandalous information about the NSA’s far-reaching data-gathering from being leaked by an unshaven 29-year-old with a stripper girlfriend and a penchant for Latin American satrapies. If the intent was to prevent any information embarrassing to the Obama administration from reaching the public, it must be judged an abject failure.
One might also wonder, for that matter, if Obama got the memo. Prior to the election there were a series of leaks about classified national security programs such as the weekly “kill lists” that the president approved to order drone strikes on suspected terrorists which bolstered his reputation as a tough-on-terrorism hawk rather than a Nobel Prize-winning peacenik, and all of them were attributed to “high-ranking administration officials” whose suspicious behaviors were presumably apparent to Obama. One of the leaks resulted in the imprisonment of a Pakistani doctor who had been helping the Central Intelligence Agency’s fight against terrorism, but it was one of those pre-election scandals that got little attention from the press. Perhaps Obama was every bit as outraged about those leaks as the ones that embarrassed rather than glorified administration, but that’s another thing one might wonder about.

— Bud Norman

A Hard Day on the Job

Anyone who has ever endured a tough week on the job can almost, but not quite, feel sorry for Jay Carney.
The boyish White House press secretary has been having an undeniably hard time of it lately, what with his boss suddenly beset by scandals ranging from the multi-layered fiasco of the Benghazi terror attack and its aftermath to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of opposition groups to a Justice Department that has been spying on the Associated Press, and the embarrassing spectacle of Carney flailing about as he struggles to provide a plausible explanation for all of it would ordinarily induce pity in a sympathetic soul. Even so, Carney is more to be scorned than pitied because he is so obviously out of practice.
At Tuesday’s news briefing Carney was aggressively grilled by the assembled reporters about all of the aforementioned issues, and the poor fellow seemed quite taken aback that anyone in the media would be guilty of such brazen lese majesty as to ask a question at a press conference. His surprise is somewhat understandable, given the polite behavior of the press during such past scandals as the New Black Panthers’ kid-glove treatment, Solyndra and other “green job” boondoggles, Fast and Furious, the presidenlavish lifestyle, and assorted failures such as the stimulus and the broken promises of Obamacare, but Carney should have foreseen that those reporters’ instinctive pugnaciousness would eventually assert itself. The press still isn’t nearly so adversarial as it has been during Republican administrations, but on Tuesday they at least stopped being obsequious.
In a previous week’s news conference Carney had insisted that the scrubbing of any mention of an al-Qaeda terror from the government’s official explanation of the Benghazi attack and substituting some fanciful nonsense about a spontaneous popular reaction a little-seen YouTube video was only a “stylistic” and “not substantive” change, but the reporters on Tuesday were stubbornly cynical about the claim. Even such stalwart supporters as The New Yorker and The Washington Post are starting to treat Benghazi as a story that reflects poorly on the administration, and Carney had a rather stunned look on his face when the reporters were so unenthused about his denunciations of the Republicans for taking an interest in the death of an ambassador and four other Americans.
The same rudeness attended the matter of the IRS harassment of conservative groups, which has offended civil libertarian sensibilities to the point that some news media have been using the N-word — Nixon — to describe the scandal. Carney gamely insisted that he and his boss were also appalled that an agency under executive branch control would do such nasty things to groups that the president had vilified in countless speeches. Although the press wasn’t so ravenous as it was about George W. Bush’s 30-year-old National Guard attendance records, it was more than inquisitive enough to rattle Carney. He boldly asserted that the White House had nothing to do with the scandal, but added that all he or the president knew was what they read in the papers. A reporter from the Bloomberg news service, of all places, asked how Carney could be so certain of the White House’s innocence if he didn’t know any more than what was being reported, and Carney responded with a flustered “I think I can say that I feel confident in that, but, I you know, I don’t have any.”
Harsher questions were asked about the Justice Department’s snooping around the phone records of the Associated Press, an action that everyone in the press is taking personally. The press has been badly mistreated for many years by the Obama administration, which has kicked reporters off airplanes for insufficiently enthusiastic editorials in their papers, denied access on an unprecedented scale, stonewalled investigations into various matters, and even kept a reporter in a closet during a vice presidential appearance, but the assault on AP seems to have at last caused a rift in the longstanding love affair between the president and the press. More respectful treatment might be accorded at the next presidential news conference, which might be many healing months away, but the reporters had no reluctance to beat up on Carney over the matter. Unaccustomed to such treatment, Carney wound up using the word “unfettered” a dozen times when explaining the president’s commitment to a free press.
The president’s high opinion of a free press is likely based on an assumption that it would it always sing his praises, and it remains to be seen if he will be as tolerate when the press is critical. Those reporters might fall back in line if it appears that efforts are redounding to the benefit of the Republican party, but in the meantime Jay Carney should get used to working for a living.

— Bud Norman

That Shrinking Feeling

America’s economy made a brief appearance in the headlines Wednesday, jostling for space on the newscasts with illegal immigrants, the latest gun-grabbing frenzy, and some predictable anti-homosexual aspersions cast during the pre-Super Bowl hype. The news was that the economy shrank by a tenth of a percentage point in the last three months of the past year, which is bad, so the media will likely let the matter drop soon.
It’s the kind of news that demands some brief acknowledgement from even the most reluctant reporters, though, so most of the press organizations immediately began spelunking for some heartening information that might be hidden inside in the dark cavern of the Commerce Department’s grim report. The decline was a “surprise” according to the headline writers, who always seem surprised when anything bad happens in the age of Obama, and the lead stories were quick to mention that it all means the Fed will continue to keep the money-printers working overtime. Most reports were also happy to prominently feature the Democrats’ view that this was the “best-looking contraction in U.S. GDP you’ll ever see.
A fellow named Paul Ashworth, the chief economist for Capital Economics, was able to make that claim without giggling because the report indicated that most of the decline was attributable to cuts in the defense budget and a decline in inventories. Both of these are a “one-off,” Ashworth contends, and thus the economy should soon be roaring back to its previously sluggish pace. The appointment of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is just the latest indicator that we haven’t seen the last of cuts to the defense budget, the drops in inventory investments and exports can’t easily be explained by any temporary circumstances, and the phenomenal 85.2 percent increase in dividend income that kept the decline from being much worse is also a “one-off” caused by investors trying to get ahead of the coming economy-slowing tax hikes, but Ashworth and his many re-Tweeters can be forgiven their incurable optimism.
If you’re not convinced by such happy talk, the Democrats have a back-up argument that it’s all the Republicans’ fault. White House press secretary Jay Carney helpfully explained that investors were frightened by the appalling spectacle of Republicans in the House of Representatives balking at the president’s prudent plan of massive tax hikes and endless deficit spending during the recent “fiscal cliff” negotiations, and he even blamed the defense cuts on those notoriously anti-military Republicans. The reason the Republicans insist on such shenanigans, Carney further explained, is to make sure that “tax loopholes remain in place for corporate jet owners.”
Carney was not asked to explain why Obama’s never-ending stimulus is still needed if the latest report indicates that the private sector continued to chug along despite a purported decrease in government spending, which is a shame, because we would have enjoyed hearing it. We’ll likely have to settle for more illegal immigrants, gun-grabbing, and Super Bowl hyperbole, and none of it will be quite so much fun.

— Bud Norman