Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

They Said It:

One of the smartest op-ed pieces I’ve read recently is a crude right-wing rant by J. Peter Mulhern in the slightly wacky Washington Weekly.  Why is it smart?  Because Mulhern argues that the media’s liberal bias is a blessing for conservatives and Republicans.  Thanks to incessant press sniping, Republicans are never surprised by sneak attacks — they “know who’s going to pummel them, what they will be pummeled about, when they will be pummeled and where the pummeling will take place.”  Democrats, meanwhile, are lulled into a false confidence within a comforting cocoon of like-minded reporting and commentary.  ”The liberal cocoon is spun out of media bias.” . . . .

In my experience Mulhern is right.  There are cocoons on both sides, but the people in the Republican cocoon tend to see themselves as an embattled minority (even when they’re not) while those in the Democratic cocoon tend to believe they have the tides of history and populism on their side, even when they don’t.

Mickey Kaus, KausFiles, August 3, 2001.



As you have undoubtedly heard by now, over the weekend, President Obama decided that he would gladly trade five high-level Taliban leaders imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for the one known American POW held in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.  As you have also undoubtedly heard, this “triumphant” move on the President’s part has been met with a great deal of skepticism, frustration, and even anger.  As has become his wont over the last five-plus years, Obama took a situation that should have been a significant net positive for him and his administration and turned it into something controversial and far less popular than it might have been.

Part of the opposition to the President’s deal to secure the release of Bergdahl stems from the standard objection to negotiating with terrorists, namely the fact that the terrorists will simply ply their trade again, expecting the same result.  Or as Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee put it, “This fundamental shift in U.S. policy signals to terrorists around the world a greater incentive to take U.S. hostages.  Further, I have little confidence in the security assurances regarding the movement and activities of the now-released Taliban leaders and I have even less confidence in this administration’s willingness to ensure they are enforced.  I believe this decision will threaten the lives of American soldiers for years to come.”

Another part of the objection to the Bergdahl deal is related to the fact that the President violated the law to bring the soldier home.  Note, we use the word “fact” purposefully here, in that this is something that not even the administration disputes.  The law says that the administration has to notify relevant members of Congress at least thirty days in advance of consummating such an agreement.  In this case, Obama did not notify Congress until after the deal was done, which is to say that he clearly violated the law.  As it turns out, however, he doesn’t really care if he violated the law, since he doesn’t believe that the law was valid anyway.  Or as the Washington Post reported:

A senior administration official, agreeing to speak on the condition of anonymity to explain the timing of the congressional notification, acknowledged that the law was not followed.  When he signed the law last year, Obama issued a signing statement contending that the notification requirement was an unconstitutional infringement on his powers as commander in chief and that he therefore could override it.

“Due to a near-term opportunity to save Sergeant Bergdahl’s life, we moved as quickly as possible,” the official said.  “The administration determined that given these unique and exigent circumstances, such a transfer should go forward notwithstanding the notice requirement.”

But by far the biggest part of the objection to the Bergdahl arrangement is the fact that Bergdahl himself is a strange duck, who wandered off his post, left his comrades in danger, and, by his actions, led directly and indirectly to several other members of the American armed forces being killed.  All of which is to say that the Obama administration broke the law, altered long-standing American policy, negotiated with terrorists, and put future American missions in doubt and danger, all for the sake of a “hero” that few people are likely to consider heroic at all.

We’re fairly certain that what follows will be out of date before you read it.  The story of Bergdahl’s capture is developing quickly, as they say, despite the administration’s desperation to keep a lid on it.  Still, what follows, from CNN, gives a little flavor of the controversy and the anger inspired by the administration’s “heroic” deal.

The sense of pride expressed by officials of the Obama administration at the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not shared by many of those who served with him, veterans and soldiers who call him a deserter whose “selfish act” ended up costing the lives of better men.

“I was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on,” said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009.  “Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war, and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him. . . . .

Questions surround the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance.  Conflicting details have since emerged about how the militants managed to capture Bergdahl.  Published accounts have varied widely, from claims that he walked off the post to that he was grabbed from a latrine.

According to firsthand accounts from soldiers in his platoon, Bergdahl, while on guard duty, shed his weapons and walked off the observation post with nothing more than a compass, a knife, water, a digital camera and a diary.

At least six soldiers were killed in subsequent searches for Bergdahl, and many soldiers in his platoon said attacks seemed to increase against the United States in Paktika province in the days and weeks following his disappearance. . . .

E-mails reported by the late Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone in 2012 reveal what Bergdahl’s fellow infantrymen learned within days of his disappearance: He told people that he no longer supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.

“The future is too good to waste on lies,” he wrote to his parents.  “And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong.  I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American.  The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in.  It is all revolting.”

Bergdahl wrote to them, “I am sorry for everything.  The horror that is America is disgusting.”. . .

“I don’t understand why we’re trading prisoners at Gitmo for somebody who deserted during a time of war, which is an act of treason,” Vierkant said.

This is, to put lightly, brutal.  It is also telling.  Prophetic in fact.  Think for a minute about the Obama administration writ large.  Every act, every initiative, every landmark development is the same.  They all have enormous production value.  They all carry massive price tags.  And they all fall flat, to say the very least.  Everything is for show.  Nothing of substance is accomplished.  Yet everything comes at a steep, steep cost.

Let us start, fittingly enough, at the beginning.  Obama’s first priority as President was to turn around the ailing economy.  We don’t need to bore you with the details of the Great Recession, as it rather goes without saying that the economy was troubled when Obama was inaugurated.  So he set about to fix things.

And “fix” them he did.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known simply as “the stimulus,” cost in the neighborhood of $800 billion, all of which was purportedly intended to revive the economy ($787 billion initially authorized; $830 billion after additions).  It was, by far, the largest ever fiscal stimulus in the nation’s history.

The results of the stimulus, while difficult to measure accurately, have been mixed at best.  Almost immediately, the Obama administration began counting jobs that the stimulus had “created or saved,” a tacit concession both that the bill did not create the job growth Obama et al. had promised and that it was geared, in large part, to funnel federal funds to Democratic constituencies, namely state and local government employees, thereby “saving” their jobs.

Five-plus years after the bill was passed, employment remains sluggish, the unemployment rate remains far higher than the administration projected, and total jobs have only just recently returned to pre-recession levels, meaning no net expansion and not even the capacity to keep up with population growth.  GDP growth is tepid (or negative, as in the last quarter) and looks to remain so for the foreseeable future.

All of which is to say that the stimulus was much ado about nothing.  Everything is for show.  Nothing of substance is accomplished.  Yet everything comes at a steep, steep cost.

Next up for Obama was the so-called “Afghan Surge,” which was patterned on the Iraq Surge undertaken by President Bush at the urging of General David Petraeus in 2007.  After hemming, hawing, dawdling, and gnashing his teeth for more than three months, in late 2009, Obama agreed to give his generals the surge of troops in Afghanistan for which they had been begging him – sort of.  The President sent fewer troops than were requested and only on the condition that they leave on a strict schedule.  In short, he intended to placate the generals publicly and end his surge before it had even begun.  Obama sent some 33,000 troops, beginning in early 2010, and then brought them all home two-and-a-half years later.

The surge reportedly cost in the neighborhood of $500 billion to $1 trillion, which is to say that it cost as much as the stimulus.  And the results weren’t much better.  In fact, they were likely worse.  In 2012, as the surge was ending, Spencer Ackerman wrote the following for Wired:

The U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan ended last week.  Conditions in Afghanistan are mostly worse than before it began.

That conclusion doesn’t come from anti-war advocates.  It relies on data recently released by the NATO command in Afghanistan, known as ISAF, and acquired by Danger Room.  According to most of the yardsticks chosen by the military — but not all — the surge in Afghanistan fell short of its stated goal:  stopping the Taliban’s momentum. . . .

And there’s a number missing from ISAF’s latest set of war data.  That’s 988 — the number of U.S. troops killed in action in Afghanistan or who died from their combat wounds since Obama announced the troop surge.

Later that year, the inimitable Mark Steyn put it more bluntly:

The last crusader fort I visited was Kerak Castle in Jordan a few years ago.  It was built in the 1140s, and still impresses today.  I doubt there will be any remains of our latter-day fortresses a millennium hence.  Six weeks after the last NATO soldier leaves Afghanistan, it will be as if we were never there.  Before the election in 2010, the New York Post carried a picture of women registering to vote in Herat, all in identical top-to-toe bright blue burkas, just as they would have looked on Sept. 10, 2001.  We came, we saw, we left no trace.  America’s longest war will leave nothing behind.

In short, then, with respect to the Afghan Surge, Everything is for show.  Nothing of substance is accomplished.  Yet everything comes at a steep, steep cost.

In the spring of 2010, Barack Obama signed his “signature issue” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, the culmination of more than a century of Democratic agitation on behalf of health care “reform.”  It is difficult to assess the costs of the law, given that there are so many categories of costs, including secondary and tertiary ones, and, yes, lives, which cannot be measured in coin.  There is the cost of implementation, the cost of expanding Medicaid, the cost to consumers in higher premiums, the cost to consumers in higher deductibles, the cost to everyone in new health care inflation, the cost to doctors and hospitals in increased regulation and paperwork, and so on.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates the government’s cost to be in the neighborhood of $1 trillion over ten years.  But as we said, that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  The fact of the matter is that the Obama administration undertook the complete reworking of 1/6th of the total economy.  And the costs are and will continue to be astronomical, by any measure.

As for the law’s benefits, they are also difficult to quantify, although as we have noted before in these pages, most people believe that benefits of Obamacare will be considerably smaller than Obama and his Congressional allies promised.  Many of the new health care “enrollees” have been pushed into Medicaid, which is not one terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad health care plan, but several of them, managed by the states and partially funded by the feds.  Additionally, while Obama promised that the law would increase everyone’s health security, it will do no such thing.  A late March study by RAND Corporation suggests that only a quarter of Obamacare enrollees were previously uninsured.  If you add those few to the roughly 3 million new Medicaid enrollees, the percentage of the population that is uninsured is still higher than it was when Barack Obama became president.  Or as the Congressional Budget Office recently estimated, some 31+ million Americans will still be uninsured in 2024, a full decade after the ACA’s implementation.

So much for “universal health care,” we suppose.  Or to put it another way:  Everything is for show.  Nothing of substance is accomplished.  Yet everything comes at a steep, steep cost.

Later in 2010, the Obama administration, with the assistance of two of the longest-serving and most personally corrupt members of Congress, pushed through a new law designed to ensure that members of the financial services industry wouldn’t be able to benefit from their own circumstances in the way that the law’s authors had.  The Dodd-Frank law, also known as the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, was initially pushed either to eliminate “too big to fail” or to preserve it, depending on whom one asks.  In any case, it affected the business world dramatically and with significant costs.  And the full extent of those costs is still unknown.  Last year, on the law’s third anniversary, Diane Katz, a research fellow in regulatory policy at the Heritage Foundation explained why:

Although three years in, the full effects of Dodd–Frank have yet to hit.  Some of the most significant regulations are still winding their way through the bureaucracy.  Dozens of rulemakings have been completed, but a backlog of hundreds more is prolonging regulatory uncertainty and inhibiting economic growth.  Consumers are facing dramatically higher banking fees and fewer service options because of new government constraints on credit.  And for all its vast regulatory scope, Dodd–Frank utterly fails to address some of the principal causes of the 2008 crisis. . . .

Virtually no aspect of the financial system remains untouched by Dodd–Frank, including checking accounts, credit cards, mortgages, education loans, retirement accounts, insurance, and all manner of securities.  The enormity and complexity of this regulatory hijacking is reflected in the inability of agencies to meet statutory deadlines for implementing the law.  As of July 1, nearly 63 percent of the rulemaking deadlines have been missed.  Preliminary proposals have not been prepared for more than one-third of the rules still outstanding.

Dodd–Frank’s onerous regulatory demands are driving up banking fees, and regulatory uncertainty is prompting banks to be cautious about extending credit.  The House Financial Services Committee estimated that the Dodd–Frank regime would impose at least $27 billion in new assessments on financial firms and require more than 2.2 million annual labor hours — the equivalent of 56,516 work weeks — to comply with just the first 10 percent of rules issued.

The impact of Dodd Frank on small banks was perhaps most onerous, as they added compliance staff, generated additional compliance costs, and, as a result, many went out of business.  As of last December, the number of federally insured banking institutions had fallen to less than 7,000 for the first time since the Great Depression.

As for the benefits of Dodd-Frank, one would be hard-pressed to name anything tangible.  As for the goal of eliminating “too big to fail,” it appears more the case that the law ensured the opposite.  Again, as Diane Katz put it:  Under Dodd–Frank the Financial Stability Oversight Council is tasked with designating specific firms as “systemically important financial institutions” (SIFIs).  But doing so reinforces the perception that the designated firms are “too big to fail.”  The perception that regulators would provide a bailout gives the protected firms an edge over their smaller and more vulnerable competitors.”

The verdict on Dodd-Frank?  Everything is for show.  Nothing of substance is accomplished.  Yet everything comes at a steep, steep cost.

Fast forward a bit to yesterday, a day which the liberal icon Matthew Yglesias declares “is overwhelmingly likely to go down in history as the single most important day of Barack Obama’s second term in office.”  Yesterday, as you likely know, Obama introduced his long-awaited and hugely momentous global warming initiative, for which the Left has been waiting with baited breath.

In Obama’s first term, of course, Congress rejected his efforts to deal with global warming.  And then, to make matters worse for the President, the voters strengthened the faction in Congress that had been most vocal in rejecting him, which meant that he would have no chance whatsoever of signing meaningful legislation intended to address global warming – or whatever it is that the ruling class is calling it these days.  So Obama, in the grand tradition of statists, turned to the regulatory state to accomplish what he couldn’t through democratic means.  He proposed a new regulatory regime intended to cut greenhouse emissions.

By all accounts, the new regulations will have significant costs – the great majority of which will be borne by electricity consumers, also known as “everyone.”  How much those costs will be, though, depends a great deal on the regulatory regimes adopted by the states under Obama’s new directive.  Costs will also vary from state to state based on current reliance on coal for the generation of electricity, which is to say that “red” states will be the hardest hit (natch).  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the regulation will cost businesses some $50 billion a year.  As for the costs to consumers, most estimates pace the average yearly increase in electricity rates at roughly 10%.

By contrast to the costs, the benefits of the Obama plan will be felt by a select few only.  That’s because the benefits are almost entirely psychological.  Algore may feel better.  And so may Barack and Michelle Obama.  The folks at the Sierra Club will get a kick out of it.  And most of the rest of the hard-core liberals in the country will get to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.  But beyond that, no one will notice a thing – or at least not anything positive.

The fact of the matter is that American greenhouse gas emissions have been falling for roughly a decade already.  At the same time, global greenhouse gases have been rising – and rising rapidly.  What this means, then, is that all of this effort will be largely pointless – and that’s even if you accept the global warming doctrine in its entirety.  Even if you think that global warming is the greatest threat ever.  And even if you think that it is caused exclusively by humans and their consumption of fossil fuels.  In short, even if you are a global warming zealot, you must acknowledge that cutting American emissions while global emissions skyrocket will accomplish nothing.  Zip.  Zero.  Zilch.

Of course, all of that assumes that these regulations will actually be enforced, which is hardly guaranteed.  Now that the regulations have been proposed, there will be a lengthy comment period.  Assuming that all goes well (or poorly, depending upon your view), final regulations will be issued sometime next summer, with the EPA to determine when they will go into effect.  Like many other observers, we presume that the EPA will somehow manage to decide – purely by coincidence, mind you – that the new regulations will go into effect on January 1, 2017, which is to say AFTER the 2016 presidential election and just three weeks before Obama leaves office.  We presume further that if the next president is a Republican, the regulations will be changed immediately, if not sooner.

What all of this means, then, is that the President’s much ballyhooed fight against global warming will be an extremely expensive farce.  Electricity producers will be compelled to prepare for the new regulatory regime.  States will be compelled to fashion their new regulatory regimes.  And everyone will be compelled to act as if they are saving the world by putting coal miners out of work.  And in the end . . . meh.  Or, as you might have guessed by now:  Everything is for show.  Nothing of substance is accomplished.  Yet everything comes at a steep, steep cost.

Seven years ago, when the freshman Senator from Illinois first began his campaign for president, most political observers thought he was simply trying to raise his national profile.  After all, he had no real national-level experience.  He was as green as politicians get.  He was young, untested, and largely unqualified for the job he claimed to want.  When it became clear that he was, as they say, in it to win it, most of that criticism faded into the proverbial mists.  Democrats, independents, and the mainstream press were enamored with the newcomer.  He was interesting and engaging.  He was new and different.  And his pants were neatly creased.  Of course, the Republicans continued to claim that he was unqualified and thus would, if elected, make a complete hash of everything, from the economy to health care, from foreign affairs to regulatory policy.

In retrospect, it’s not especially difficult to see who had the better argument – not that it mattered to Obamanauts.  They loved him, revered him, gushed over his innate charisma and political talent.  But even that was a mistake – of epic proportions.  The political talent they thought they saw was, by and large, imaginary.

Go back, just for a moment to Bowe Bergdahl and his family. We have no qualms with the President of the United States doing everything in his power to rescue the lone POW in a war that is winding down from an enemy known to give no quarter, even to defenseless captives.  But how does a guy manage to manifestly screw up something as noble and honorable as this?  Here’s the President of the United States standing in the Rose Garden with a man – Bergdahl’s father – who has grown a Talib-style beard, who speaks Pashtun, and who recently tweeted about how his goal is to “free” all captives at Guantanamo.  And he’s crowing about the wonderful job he’s done in making this family whole again by winning the release of the captured son – even as the rest of the world begins to discuss whether the deal was wise, legal, or even sensible given Sgt. Bergdahl’s alleged desire to aid the enemy.

This whole thing was a stunt.  About that there can be little question.  But it was a stunt arranged with no thought, no planning, and no consideration for what anyone other than the President and his “yes men” might think of it.  It was a stunt orchestrated in a bubble.  And it’s proving to be a disaster – yet another confirmation of Obama’s complete and total incompetence.

And that’s the theme of the entire presidency.  Obama and the cheesy political hucksters with whom he’s surrounded himself are incapable of governing – largely because they never believed that they needed to know how.  They thought that all they needed to do was to make a declaration, strut for the cameras a bit, and then sit back and watch as the accolades poured in.  But that’s not the way it works in the real world.  Successive iterations of “performance coupled with high costs, producing nothing by way of results” will eventually leave an audience cold.  And the American public is turning decidedly chilly.

The remaining two-and-a-half years of the Obama presidency are, we suspect, going to among the most harrowing in recent American history – on a couple of different levels.

For starters, the American people are now at greater risk than they have been at any time in the last decade.  The economy is faltering, while the president has no plans except to increase the regulatory costs to businesses and individuals.  Meanwhile, the Islamist terrorists are resurgent.  Not only are they winning control of Iraq, they now know that they need only bide their time before they can fully retake Afghanistan, not to mention the fact that they now know that the American government will, indeed, negotiate with terrorists.  No one anywhere fears the United States any longer.  And that may well prove devastating.

At the same time, the next couple of years are going to prove especially frightening for Democrats in the political sense as well.  Obama is done.  Whatever mojo he once had is long gone.  He is an entertainer and nothing more.  And worse yet, he’s a BAD entertainer.  If the guy liked to fish, we’d suggest he arm himself heavily before stepping foot in a boat, lest he find himself defenseless against a killer rabbit.

Right now, the conventional wisdom has it that Republicans want to impeach Obama, and Democrats too want Republicans to impeach Obama, figuring that any such effort would backfire on the GOP, just as the impeachment of Bill Clinton did.  We’re not convinced – or at least we’re not convinced that the respective positions on impeachment will remain static for long.  It strikes us that the Democrats won’t be able to endure Obama’s political “magic” much longer.  This guy is NOT Bill Clinton.  Not even close.  And the longer he remains in office, the heavier the weight around his fellow Democrats’ neck will become.  We’re not sure if there is anyone in the party today who has the gravitas and the courage to march up to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and tell its occupant that it’s time to pack up – for the good of the party, if not the country.  But we suspect that before long, the Democrats will wish that such a person existed.

In the meantime, and this is probably the most troubling part of the whole thing, no one has any idea how Obama is going to react to the mess he is in.  Even after five years in the White House and seven or more in the national spotlight, Barack Obama remains a complete mystery to everyone save a handful of tight-lipped and sycophantic advisers.  From all outward appearances, the guy seems completely unconcerned about the deterioration of his presidency.  Nixon sweat.  Clinton raged.  George W. Bush quit golf and nearly worried himself to death.  But Obama?  He seems indifferent.  Everything is running smoothly.  It’s time for Sportscenter.  If something bad happens, I’ll read about in the papers, like the rest of the country.

As we watch him flit undaunted in the midst of what a normal man would view as a time of troubles, we can’t help but be reminded of the weird little Emperor Honorius, who was in Ravenna on August 24, 410 when the Visigoth King Alaric breached the Rome’s wall and sacked the city for the first time in 800 years.  The historian Procopius of Caesarea gives the following account.

At that time they say that the Emperor Honorius in Ravenna received the message from one of the eunuchs, evidently a keeper of the poultry, that Rome had perished.  And he cried out and said, “And yet it has just eaten from my hands!”  For he had a very large cock, Roma by name; and the eunuch comprehending his words said that it was the city of Rome which had perished at the hands of Alaric, and the emperor with a sigh of relief answered quickly, “But I, my good fellow, thought that my fowl Roma had perished.”

If he is indeed as unconcerned as he appears, then nation is in deeper trouble than anyone can fathom.  It means that he is delusional or that he has given up.  To mix our metaphors here, he will continue to fiddle while Rome burns.  The messes that he has created will worsen, both as a result of initial bad planning and of the temporary fixes intended to rectify that planning.

If he is concerned and is somehow able to keep it from showing, then the situation is probably even worse.  He will, in that case, try to recover.  And in his mind, that will mean regaining his status as “the One.”  And that, in turn, will mean doing the one thing he thinks he’s good at, namely putting on a show.  Public relations spectaculars, pyrotechnics and all, will be the theme of the last two-plus years of his presidency.  And if past is prologue, these productions will prove to be expensive wash outs.  You see:  Everything is for show.  Nothing of substance is accomplished.  Yet everything comes at a steep, steep cost.

Copyright 2014. The Political Forum. 8563 Senedo Road, Mt. Jackson, Virginia 22842, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.