Tuesday, October 30, 2012

One week out: The case against President Barack Obama’s re-election

Four years ago the left was filled with optimism and poised to win the presidential election. The Democrats had nominated the first African-American candidate for President of the United States, and millions were spellbound, and buoyed by his message of hope and change.

During his acceptance speech at the Democrat Convention, Barack Obama said, “we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.” The crowd went wild.

And it was about time we did those things. We had never cared for the sick before or provided jobs to the jobless. Or ended wars or been the last, best hope on Earth before.

In a campaign amazingly light on detail and substance, a dreadfully inexperienced Barack Obama won the election.
When he assumed office the country was in the midst of a recession, one President Obama frequently refers to as “The Great Recession.” As time passed and things didn’t improve as promised, this title has become a tool to make the downturn seem worse than it was to excuse his dismal performance on the nation’s crushing economic problems. Data show that other recessions were worse in one or more aspects than this recession, and while significant, the 2008 recession does not rate the honorific the president bestowed on it.
What does deserve our attention is the non-existent Obama recovery, which still has not taken hold 56 months after the recession began.
President Obama claims 5 million new jobs have been created during his term, but for the 37 weeks of 2012 through Sept. 15 the weekly new unemployment insurance claims average roughly 374,000, a total that dwarfs 5 million new jobs in just 37 weeks.
The U-6 unemployment rate stands at 14.6 percent as of September 30, and includes the unemployed, under-employed and those who have given up looking for work, a total of 22.6 million people.

Mr. Obama increased the national debt from $10.6 trillion on Jan. 20, 2009 by 51 percent, or $5.4 trillion, through a failed stimulus and a government spending spree. Despite spending all that borrowed money, since Q3 2009 GDP has averaged only 2.17 percent, substantially lower than the 3.25 percent average GDP through expansions and contractions since 1947.

Median household income has declined by 7.3 percent, and last year the Census Bureau reported more Americans in poverty than ever before in the more than 50 years that it has tracked poverty. Ironically, the group that has suffered the most during the Obama presidency has been black Americans, whose real incomes have fallen by more than 11 percent.

Had Mr. Obama set out immediately to address joblessness, and championed policies to spur the economy we would be far better off than we are. Instead, he wasted two years getting a bill passed to revamp the nation’s healthcare system, against the will of 60 percent of the people he serves.

Yet, the president does not regret wasting two years on Obamacare instead of focusing on the economy. In an interview with the Des Moines Register Mr. Obama said he had no regrets that he didn’t focus on the nation’s most pressing issue. “Absolutely not,” he said.

The dismal economic performance affects us all; however, the most remarkable failure is the scandalous behavior of the Obama administration before and after the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where during a seven-hour attack four Americans were murdered. There was a reduced level of security before the attack, despite numerous requests to maintain the higher levels and even increase those levels because of recent attacks on U.S. facilities and mounting levels of violence.

Requests for help during the attack, including requests from personnel stationed nearby who wanted to help were denied. And worst of all, adequate answers to the many legitimate questions about what actually happened still have not been provided fully seven weeks after the attack. It is difficult to avoid assigning political motives to this behavior, which appears at this point as a clumsy cover-up to get through the election.

Add to this the Fast and Furious gun-running debacle, the ridiculous job-killing ban on drilling for our own oil on federal lands, and the war on coal killing thousands of coal jobs and thousands more in related industries like power plants, railroads and support businesses, and there simply is no reason to give this man more time to wreck the economy.

Barack Obama is not the god-like figure his fawning fans believe him to be, but a very average man who allowed the nation to continue to suffer while he pursued his ill-advised ideological goals.

On the campaign trail he now says, “I want your vote for what I’m going to do.” But we’ve heard that one before, and we can’t afford to fall for it again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Obama plays both sides of the Benghazi issue, and loses

The terrorists in Benghazi, Libya who attacked our consulate last month on the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks and killed four American Foreign Service personnel have highlighted in tragic detail how deeply na├»ve President Barack Obama’s idea of foreign policy is.

His manic effort to deny the existence of Muslim terrorism to avoid offending Muslims confounds those of us grounded in reality. He put an end to the “war on terror,” and in its place we now have “Overseas Contingency Operations.” When a Muslim U.S. Army doctor screamed “Allahu Akbar” as he mowed down 13 of his fellow soldiers, Mr. Obama’s administration prefers to call it “workplace violence.”

With that background it is no wonder that Mr. Obama and his disciples inside and outside of the administration twisted themselves into illogical knots to avoid admitting what was obvious to most people: that it was a planned terrorist attack.

However, Mr. Obama tried desperately to claim the opposite during the second presidential debate, declaring that he identified the attack as a terrorist act the next day in a Rose Garden statement, and moderator Candy Crowley inappropriately backed him up on it. But the facts do not support Ms. Crowley or Mr. Obama.

The President made a five and one-half minute statement consisting of 801 words. Several times he used descriptive language, such as:

  • “… four of these extraordinary Americans were killed in an attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi.”
  • “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack.”
  • “ … we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people”
  • “The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.”
 Notice that he did not say “terror,” “terrorism,” “terrorist” or “terrorist attack,” and he did not utter any such word in the first three-fourths of the statement.

 About three and one-half minutes into the statement Mr. Obama referenced the 9-11-2001 attacks: “Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks.” Still, there was no reference to terrorism.

 And then, four minutes and 15 seconds into the five and one-half-minute statement, and 618 words into the 801 words of the text, he spoke the words “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation …” That oblique reference – plural, not singular – was the only time the concept of terrorism entered into Mr. Obama’s text. Right after that he said: “We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.” “Terrible,” but not “terrorist." 

If he truly wanted the nation to understand that he thought terrorists killed those four Americans, he deftly disguised the message.

 As if to prove the assertion that he didn’t “really” call the attack an act of terror, for the next two weeks members of the administration – including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Press Secretary Jay Carney and President Obama himself (who mentioned it again and again at a speech to the United Nations on September 25th) – repeatedly blamed the attack on a violent protest in reaction to an anti-Islam video produced by an American. Yes, an American; that “shadowy character” who created a video about Islam was the cause of the Benghazi attack.

The administration offered the video as the only cause of the violence for days on end, despite the common sense reaction that people don’t show up with RPGs and mortars at a spontaneous protest, even in places occupied by radical Muslims.

Was there a protest prior to the terrorist attack, or wasn’t there? It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that the security provided to our people in Libya was dismally inadequate. There were eight attacks in Libya in a 6-month period, one on a British convoy and another on the Red Cross facility, causing both the Brits and the Red Cross to leave Libya because of the growing level of violence. And in June, there was an attack on the American Embassy in Tripoli.

U.S. personnel in Libya knew danger was mounting and practically begged for increased security measures. But Mr. Obama is fond of boasting that “Al Qaeda is on the run and Osama bin Laden is dead,” and mounting violence in Libya really doesn’t fit into that narrative. Al Qaeda is still alive and well, and Barack Obama’s dream of a “New Dawn in the Middle East” has proved to be a nightmare. Putting the “Dream” ahead of protecting Americans at home and abroad, the administration declined those requests for help, and now four brave Americans are dead.

Extremists in the Middle East may make it impossible for that long-troubled region to ever become a peaceful place, and perhaps no president can change that. But a position of strength on the part of the United States best serves the interests of peace and stability. We don’t have that in President Obama’s America, where foreign policy focuses on offering apology and appeasement. Leading from behind just doesn’t cut it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Obama administration denies mother answers about her son’s murder

Why is my son dead?

That is all Pat Smith wants to know. Her son, computer specialist Sean Smith, was one of the four Americans killed on September 11th in the terror attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. A month after she buried her son, a month after everyone all the way up to the president of the United States promised her answers, she says she is still awaiting those answers.

“That's a funny subject,” Mrs. Smith said. “I begged them to tell me what was -- what happened. I said I want to know all the details, all of the details no matter what it is, and I'll make up my own mind on it. And every one of them, all the big shots over there told me that -- they promised me, they promised me that they would tell me what happened. As soon as they figure it out.”

“No one, not one person has ever, ever gotten back to me other than media people and the gaming people,” she said. “Hillary promised me. Joe Biden -- Joe Biden -- they all told me that -- they promised me. And I told them please, tell me what happened. Just tell me what happened.”

The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was a made-in-Washington disaster, a result of naive foreign policy consisting of apology and appeasement – projecting weakness surpassing even that of Jimmy Carter.

Every other world leader defends and promotes his country, but Barack Obama agrees with our critics and apologizes for America. His pusillanimous posture sent a message to our enemies, and they have acted on our well-advertised weakness.

And now in the face of that inglorious policy failure in Libya, Mr. Obama has retreated to doing what he does best: passing the blame. “We didn’t do that; it was that video.”

Suggesting that an anti-Muslim video that hardly anyone on Earth had seen was responsible for that attack was ridiculous on its face, and was almost immediately discredited. Still, the administration continued to blame the video for about two weeks, before finally admitting what everybody else already knew: it was a planned terrorist attack. It then shifted blame to intelligence agencies for providing the administration bad information.

But, as time passed, the tawdry details emerged, showing that the State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stubbornly refused to provide additional security forces for Libya as repeatedly requested.

The leader of the military security team in Tripoli, Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard, told various TV outlets that he and other embassy officials unsuccessfully attempted to extend his team’s tour of duty in Libya because of mounting security concerns. “The security in Benghazi was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there,” Colonel Wood said. “Diplomatic security remained weak.”

A former security officer, Eric Nordstrom, said he was told in a phone call in July that the deployment of a 16-member American military site security team based in Tripoli could not be prolonged, according to a report by The New York Times. Although the Africa Command that oversaw the unit was willing to extend the deployment, the State Department said “no.”

Mr. Nordstrom told a Congressional committee recently he tried to improve security by asking for 12 agents, only to be told by a State Department official that he was asking for the “sun, moon and the stars.” “It was abundantly clear: we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident,” Mr. Nordstrom said. “And the question that we would ask is, again, how thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through?” We now know the answer.

Although he is still a State Department employee, Mr. Nordstrom expressed strong frustration in trying to work with the Department. “It’s not the hardships,” he said. “It’s dealing and fighting against the people, programs and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me.” And he made this revealing comment: “For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.”

There is no way the administration can fix this colossal, deadly screw-up, but it could at least keep its word by honoring Mrs. Smith’s loss and help give her peace in her hour of grief.

Mr. Obama should drop the cover-up and come clean with the American people. That means admitting the dramatic failure of his foreign policy, and admitting to playing petty politics to distract the public. However, accepting responsibility isn’t in the Obama Playbook, especially this close to the election.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Trying to understand job numbers that appear to challenge reality

After three years of a lackluster economy, unacceptably high unemployment, serious policy gaffes and generally poor performance, President Barack Obama really needed some positive development. But he didn’t get anything positive at the first presidential debate with challenger Mitt Romney, which was, to be kind, uninspiring.

And then – magically, two days after the debate – the September jobs report came out and in one fell swoop wiped away that negative. From the jobs report we learned that the U-3 unemployment rate fell from 8.1 to 7.8 percent, a surprisingly large drop, given what we’ve seen over the last three years, big enough to get below the magic 8.0 threshold that dogs incumbent presidents.

But then the big surprise: There were 873,000 more people working in September than in August.

Really? Nearly a million people found work in one month?

That number is wildly out of line with months of job number reports. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “In 2012, employment growth has averaged 146,000 per month, compared with an average monthly gain of 153,000 in 2011.” And suddenly, just when Mr. Obama needed it most, 873,000 people find work. What’s going on?

The BLS has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: the Current Population Survey – the household survey – and the Current Employment Statistics survey – the payroll or establishment survey – which the BLS describes thusly: “The household survey and establishment survey both produce sample-based estimates of employment and both have strengths and limitations.” The establishment survey has a larger sample size and smaller margin of error than the household survey. “However, the household survey has a more expansive scope than the establishment survey.”

Economists say that over a period of months the two different surveys will show similar results, however, the household survey is erratic, with wild monthly swings up and down, and it is not unusual for responses to the survey to be made by proxies, who may answer for the targeted respondent. Any single month’s results cannot be depended upon for an accurate picture of employment changes from the previous month, whereas the establishment rate moves more steadily up or down.

Illustrating that point is that the establishment/payroll survey showed total nonfarm payroll employment rose by only 114,000 in September, which is substantially lower than the monthly average of 146,000 for 2012, but more in line with average job growth than is the household figure.

“We believe part of the drop in the unemployment rate over the last two months is a statistical quirk (the household data show an increase in employment of 873,000 in September, which is completely implausible and likely a result of sampling volatility),” say economists John Ryding and Conrad DeQuadros of RDQ Economics. “Moreover, declining labor force participation over the last year (resulting in 1.1 million people disappearing from the labor force) accounts for much of the rest of the decline,” they conclude.

Just how implausible is that 873,000 new jobs number that appeared in only a month? It is the highest one-month jump in 29 years.

Further, the BLS explains that jobs reflected in the household survey are different types of jobs than are tracked in the payroll survey. They include those in start-up businesses, the self-employed, unpaid family workers, agricultural workers, private household workers, and some are people who can’t find a regular job and have started working from home, perhaps selling items on E-Bay; jobs that are excluded by the establishment survey.

While the U-3 rate fell to 7.8 percent, it is still too high. The sky-high number reported in the household rate may reflect a turn in the oh-so-slow rate of job creation. But it may not. We’ll have to wait and see what happens next month.

Following this “October Surprise,” to maintain a healthy perspective, other statistics must be kept in mind: The economy is grinding forward, with GDP a mere 1.3 percent last quarter. Most knowledgeable observers say we need 200,000 to 250,000 new jobs each month to drive unemployment down at a suitable speed, not the 146,000 we’ve been averaging. And while the Labor Force Participation Rate ticked up to 63.6 percent from 63.5 percent, it is still near the 30-year low.

More relevant, the U-6 unemployment rate counts those who are underemployed and those who have given up looking for a job, and now sits at the seasonally adjusted rate of 14.7 percent.

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons rose from 8.0 million in August to 8.6 million in September, because many workers saw their hours cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

“The household survey painted a picture of a sharply falling unemployment rate—down 1.2 points over the last 12 months,” say Ryding and DeQuadros. “Such a rapid decline in the unemployment rate would be consistent with 4 percent to 5 percent real economic growth historically. Of course, the economy is not growing 4-to-5 percent, not even half that.”

Despite this surprising bit of good news, the economy is still under-performing, and nothing has changed to warrant four more years of Obamanomics. It’s way too little, and far too late.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Congress’ solution to the financial crisis: Fire, aim, ready!

Following the financial crisis of 2008, the U.S. Congress rushed in on its white horse to save the day. Its solution: a huge bill designed to reign in those naughty big banks and Wall Street firms whose greedy executives created this crisis.

Never mind that Congress tried to fix problems a few times before, and in doing so contributed substantially to this crisis, and that many of its current members supported those efforts. Undaunted by previous failures, Congress yet again created a solution that would prevent this from happening again: the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, better known as Dodd-Frank, after co-authors Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and the new law has made things so much better, right?

“It's in the aggregate, in weighing benefits against costs and in pondering the unintended consequences, that Dodd-Frank starts to look like a threat to our financial system.” So wrote Neil Weinberg in American Banker a year ago. “At 2,319 pages, including 250 amendments, and with vastly more rulemaking to come, Dodd-Frank's costs are only now starting to mount,” he said.

“Whether all this will make our financial system safer is an open question. Even Barney Frank would likely concede that the hugely expensive Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, of which he is a fan, has not had the intended effect of wiping out corporate wrongdoing. What's not in dispute is that Dodd-Frank will impose a major drag on the business of commercial banking and have numerous knock-off effects that were neither intended nor necessarily desirable.”

Among those possible unintended consequences: Fewer and bigger banks, as the cost of compliance forces banks to merge; higher consumer costs, as banks must pass on their higher regulatory costs to their customers; and fewer mortgages, as banks flee the mortgage business in reaction to onerous elements of the law.

A month later co-author Sen. Chris Dodd, who retired after the law passed the Congress, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post titled “Five myths about Dodd-Frank,” in which he defends the law against criticisms, although different criticisms from those Neil Weinberg discussed. “After a worldwide financial meltdown — and a $700 billion taxpayer-funded bailout — the need for common-sense financial reforms was clear. But now, even though the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 … is only beginning to take effect, critics are launching false attacks against the law in an effort to undermine it. Whether they are intentionally misleading or just misguided, they are wrong about the law’s purpose and impact.”

Sen. Dodd may not view his work as harmful from his disconnected and distant perspective, but the people who are directly affected by it do.

American Bankers Association President Frank Keating, had this to say about the effects of the law in a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in June of last year: “While I appreciate that you share our desire that the law not operate to the harm of community banks, I must report and emphasize that in actual practice the Dodd-Frank Act is already operating to the detriment of community banks and promises community banks further harm. … I have spent the past six months meeting leaders of thousands of these small banks across the country. There is uniform concern, anxiety, frustration and anger among these community leaders, who feel betrayed by Washington,” the letter said.

“Though Congress and administration officials have attempted to reassure these bankers that Dodd-Frank is not about them – that they are held harmless by the law – the reality is quite different,” he continued. “True, the law on paper distinguishes between banks by size. But its $10 billion threshold – used to “exempt” smaller institutions from provisions in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Durbin debit-interchange amendment – is arbitrary and artificial and is not working.”

A truly dire warning about Dodd-Frank’s likely effects comes from former Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission (FDIC), Bill Isaac, who told Larry Kudlow on CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report” in March of this year that community banks have a lot to fear from the law’s financial reforms. “The bigger banks can absorb it, the smaller banks can’t,” he said. “I would not be surprised to see half of the community banks in this country go out of business if we don’t give some relief from Dodd-Frank for them.”

Community banks are owned and operated by people in their community, and still possess that local focus and personal touch that larger institutions usually do not have. They tend to focus on the needs of the communities where the bank has branches and offices. The people who make lending decisions understand local needs and are themselves members of the community.

Community banks did not create the problem, but as Bill Isaac, Neil Weinberg and Frank Keating demonstrate, they are suffering under the regulations that were supposed to target those who did.

If things at your community bank change for the worse, be sure to blame the U.S. Congress instead of the bank. Better yet, why not pressure members of Congress to takes steps to save those valuable local businesses before it’s too late.