Archive for February 8, 2012

Many experts have noted that the “good news” regarding the unemployment rate reported on Monday has to be tempered with the realization that the number was artificially low. So many people have grown discouraged regarding job prospects that they are no longer looking for jobs.They have dropped out of the “workforce” and are therefore no longer considered as “unemployed” for purposes of the unemployment rate.

This is bad news – and the longer they are unemployed, the poorer are their prospects of getting rehired. Their personal finances suffer, as does their ability to pay off debts, including mortgages. Leave it for the spin artists at the White House to have the temerity to consider people leaving the work force to be an “economic positive”.

John Hayward at Human Events deservedly ridicules the White House spin and also asks a good question: why doesn’t the mainstream media bother to report such an absurd statement? First he excepts a report from the Washington Examiner:

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney explained that the number of people dropping out of the work force, which artificially depresses the unemployment rate, can be regarded as an “economic positive.”

“A large percentage of that is due to younger people getting more education, which in the end is an economic positive,” Carney said. “This increase in the number of people leaving the work force has been a trend and a fact since 2000, because of an aging population, which is not to say this is wholly — that’s not to say that I would wholly disregard as an issue.” Carney had been asked about the 19 million underemployed or unemployed Americans, and about people who had left the work force.

“I think some of those who, I suppose, don’t wish us well politically have tried to make a point about this,” he also said. “The facts are that in these most recent numbers, this is not an issue of people leaving the work force; the numbers are positive across the board.”

Then he notes a problem with Carney’s spin:

And as for his pulled-from-the-trousers claim that our workforce has collapsed under Barack Obama because young people want to stay in college… isn’t this the same Administration that has been loudly complaining about the size of U.S. student loan debt? Where is the evidence that the wildly inflated tuition paid to keep kids in school for all those extra years is producing a more valuable work force? How can you square that claim with all the billions Obama thinks we urgently need to spend on job training?

Also, the current unemployment rate for ages 20 to 24 is 13.3 percent, while it’s 9 percent for ages 25 to 34. Those rates are much higher than the national average of 8.3 percent. If the bulk of the people dropping out of the workforce completely were coming from those age cohorts, their unemployment rate would be much lower.

This is reminiscent, of course, of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement that “unemployment benefits” create jobs and that they are indeed the “fastest way” to create jobs.

This administration and its political allies need to come up with better narratives; even better would be coming up with better policies.

Furthermore, why isn’t the media reporting this foolishness and insensitivity? Are the journalists too busy looking for chances to take potshots at Republicans?

Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s … a drone, and it’s watching you. That’s what privacy advocates fear from a bill Congress passed this week to make it easier for the government to fly unmanned spy planes in U.S. airspace.

The FAA Reauthorization Act, which President Obama is expected to sign, also orders the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the testing and licensing of commercial drones by 2015.

Privacy advocates say the measure will lead to widespread use of drones for electronic surveillance by police agencies across the country and eventually by private companies as well.

“There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities,” said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also is “concerned about the implications for surveillance by government agencies,” said attorney Jennifer Lynch.

The provision in the legislation is the fruit of “a huge push by lawmakers and the defense sector to expand the use of drones” in American airspace, she added.

According to some estimates, the commercial drone market in the United States could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars once the FAA clears their use.

The agency projects that 30,000 drones could be in the nation’s skies by 2020.

The highest-profile use of drones by the United States has been in the CIA’s armed Predator-drone program, which targets al Qaeda terrorist leaders. But the vast majority of U.S. drone missions, even in war zones, are flown for surveillance. Some drones are as small as model aircraft, while others have the wingspan of a full-size jet.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. use of drone surveillance has grown so rapidly that it has created a glut of video material to be analyzed.

The legislation would order the FAA, before the end of the year, to expedite the process through which it authorizes the use of drones by federal, state and local police and other agencies. The FAA currently issues certificates, which can cover multiple flights by more than one aircraft in a particular area, on a case-by-case basis.

The Department of Homeland Security is the only federal agency to discuss openly its use of drones in domestic airspace.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the department, operates nine drones, variants of the CIA’s feared Predator. The aircraft, which are flown remotely by a team of 80 fully qualified pilots, are used principally for border and counternarcotics surveillance under four long-term FAA certificates.

Read more here.

The American public’s dependence on the federal government shot up 23% in just two years under President Obama, with 67 million now relying on some federal program, according to a newly released study by the Heritage Foundation.

The conservative think tank’s annual Index of Dependence on Government tracks money spent on housing, health, welfare, education subsidies and other federal programs that were “traditionally provided to needy people by local organizations and families.”

The increase under Obama is the biggest two-year jump since Jimmy Carter was president, the data show.

The rise was driven mainly by increases in housing subsidies, an expansion in Medicaid and changes to the welfare system, along with a sharp rise in food stamps, the study found.

“You can’t get around the fact that policy decisions made over the past two years, on top of those made over the past several decades, are having a large effect on the pace of growth of the index,” said William Beach, who authored the Heritage study.

Dependence on the government has climbed steadily since 1962, when the index stood at 19. By 1980, the index had risen to 100. It stood at 294 in 2010, the last year for which the data are available. The D.C.-based Heritage Foundation has produced the index for nine years.

The report also found that spending on “dependence programs” accounts for more than 70% of the federal budget. That, too, is up dramatically. In 1990, for example, the figure stood at 48.5%, and in 1962 just over a quarter of federal spending went to dependence programs.

At the same time, fewer Americans pay income taxes, the report notes. Almost half (49.5%) didn’t pay income taxes in 2009, the latest year for which the researchers have data. Back in the late 1960s, only 12% of Americans escaped the income tax burden.

Read more here.

A resurgent Rick Santorum won Republican presidential caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado on Tuesday night, a stunning sweep that raised fresh questions about front-runner Mitt Romney’s appeal among the ardent conservatives at the core of the party’s political base.

Santorum triumphed, as well, in a nonbinding Missouri primary that was worth bragging rights but no national convention delegates.

“Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota,” the jubilant former Pennsylvania senator told cheering supporters in St. Charles, Mo. Challenging both his GOP rival and the Democratic president, he declared that on issues ranging from health care to “Wall Street bailouts, Mitt Romney has the same positions as Barack Obama.”

Returns from 83 percent of Minnesota’s precincts showed Santorum with 45 percent support, Texas Rep. Ron Paul with 27 percent and Romney — who won the state in his first try for the nomination four years ago — with 17 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trailed with 11 percent.

It was closer in Colorado, where returns from all the precincts showed Santorum with 40 percent of the vote to 35 for Romney. Gingrich had 13, and Paul claimed 12 percent.

Romney showed no sign of disappointment in remarks to supporters.

“This was a good night for Rick Santorum. I want to congratulate Sen. Santorum, but I expect to become the nominee with your help,” he told supporters in Denver.

If the night was good for Santorum, it was grim for Gingrich, who made scant effort in any of the states that voted during the day. He ran far off the pace in both caucus states, forced to watch from the sidelines while Santorum boasted of being the candidate with conservative appeal.

There were 37 Republican National Convention delegates at stake in Minnesota and 33 more in Colorado, and together, they accounted for the largest one-day combined total so far in the race for the GOP nomination.

The victories were the first for Santorum since he eked out a 34-vote win in the lead-off Iowa caucuses a month ago, and he reveled in the moment. “I don’t stand here to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama,” he told his supporters.

He had faded far from the lead in the primaries and caucuses since, and Gingrich seemed to eclipse him as the leading conservative rival to Romney when he won the South Carolina primary late last month.

While Romney throttled back after victories in Florida and Nevada in the past several days, Santorum campaigned aggressively in all three states on the ballot, seeking a breakthrough to revitalize his campaign.

He won Minnesota largely the way he did Iowa, dispatching his organizers from the first state to the second and courting pastors and tea party leaders alike.

Romney’s campaign moved swiftly to take the sting out of the Missouri vote. The state’s Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, a Romney supporter, congratulated the winner but noted the state’s delegates are still up for grabs. He said, “Mitt Romney has the organization and the resources to go the distance in this election, and I believe he’ll ultimately win our party’s nomination.”

Read more here.

The U.S. Justice Department was wrong to block South Carolina from requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification to vote, the state’s top prosecutor argued in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Enforcement of the new law “will not disenfranchise any potential South Carolina voter,” Attorney General Alan Wilson argues in the suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. “The changes have neither the purpose nor will they have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority.”

The Justice Department in December rejected South Carolina’s law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, saying tens of thousands of the state‘s minorities might not be able to cast ballots under the new law because they don’t have the right photo ID. It was the first such law to be refused by the federal agency in nearly 20 years.

The department said the law, enacted last year, failed to meet the requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory practices that prevent blacks from voting. The Voting Rights Act also requires the Justice Department to approve changes to South Carolina‘s election laws because of the state’s past failure to protect the voting rights of blacks.

In the lawsuit, Wilson asks that a panel of three federal judges consider the case and declare that the rejected portions of the law are not discriminatory. Wilson also notes that South Carolina’s law is similar to one in Indiana that has already been upheld as constitutional. He says the photo ID requirements “are not a bar to voting but a temporary inconvenience no greater than the inconvenience inherent in voting itself.”

Citing data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Wilson says at least 31 states require voters to show some sort of ID at the polls, and 15 states have enacted photo ID requirements. Since 1988, South Carolina law has required voters to show either a voter registration card or some sort of government-issued ID to be allowed to vote on a regular ballot.

Immediately after the Justice Department’s December decision, Wilson had vowed that he would fight the issue in court, saying at the time, “nothing in this act stops people from voting.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice did not immediately comment on the lawsuit. The American Civil Liberties Union said it disagreed with the lawsuit and planned to oppose it in court.

Passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s law also required the state to determine how many voters lack state-issued IDs so that the Election Commission can inform them of law changes. The Department of Motor Vehicles will issue free state photo identification cards to those voters.

The federal review of South Carolina’s law has sparked a dustup between state agencies over the number of residents who lack state-issued IDs. The State Election Commission has said nearly 240,000 people didn’t have an appropriate ID, but the DMV director said that list included more than 37,000 records that appeared to belong to dead people, plus more than 91,000 whose state license records had been dropped because they had IDs in another state.

Read more here.