Saturday, January 16, 2016


On Tuesday, President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address, marking his final year in office.  News outlets, politicians and political pundits have provided and will continue to provide their opinions and assessments of the conte...



"At a recent Cato event, Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren noted that nine trillion in tax dollars went out the "back door" to just three financial institutions at a rate amounting to nothing those institutions could get anywhere else."

"The percentage of the adult population that is fully employed is at its lowest level in 30 years."

"The president did not acknowledge that the post-2008 “recovery” is the weakest on record, that the vast majority of the new jobs created have been low-wage and many of them part-time, or that the drop in the unemployment rate is primarily due to the withdrawal of millions of people from the work force because they lost all hope of getting a decent-paying job."

Empty Chairs and the Potemkin Presidency

By Lyall Swim
On Tuesday, President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address, marking his final year in office.  News outlets, politicians and political pundits have provided and will continue to provide their opinions and assessments of the content of his address, his invitees, and the now famous empty chair.  But as we enter the president's final year, it's time to provide more important assessment and review: the legacy of President Obama.

Perhaps the best way to evaluate that legacy is to look to an interesting story from Russian history.  According to Russian lore, a man by the name of Grigory Potemkin erected a series of fake village settlements along the bank of the Dnieper River in an effort to fool Catherine the Great's entourage during her tour of the Crimea in 1787.

Potemkin and Catherine were well known to be romantically involved, and one of the "perks" of his position was a governorship appointment of the Crimea region.  Crimea had been decimated by a previous war, and Potemkin was tasked with rebuilding the area.  In an effort to secure support for a pending war against the Ottoman Empire, Catherine made a six-month trip to "New Russia."

As Catherine's party of ambassadors moved down the river, Potemkin would be one step ahead, setting up the mobile villages on the banks of the Dnieper, and then Potemkin would have his men dress up as villagers to interact with the party.  Once the visitors left, Potemkin and his men would disassemble the village and travel through the night to set up the next village.

In modern politics, the exploits of Potemkin (and his Potemkin villages) have come to describe a situation constructed to give the outward appearance that things are much better than they really are.

While the empty chair was meant, no doubt, to pay tribute to gun violence victims, the president may have ironically given America the most succinct assessment of the legacy of the current president.  Obama is the Potemkin President.

While the Potemkin label has been applied at various times to policies or actions the president has taken during his two terms, a close examination of major areas of his presidency shows a pattern much more pervasive than just a few isolated presidential actions.

To illustrate the point, here are just five prime examples – racial/political environment, Wall Street, health care, foreign relations, and the economy – of where the president touts his successes – Potemkin successes that mask a much less flattering reality.

1. Obama's Brand as the Great Unifier.  While his approval rating remains slightly under 50 percent according to Gallup (which is much better than his predecessor), the promise of hope and change has been more of lost hope and change as it relates to America being more unified.

The racial and political climate in America is at a boiling point.  Incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore, the Black Panthers polling incidents, and the battle over immigration are just a few illustrations of the pent up frustration of Americans because of a president who talked unity but sowed the seeds of contention with his penchant for divisive rhetoric.

Further, Washington remains deadlocked.  And while a healthy part of the blame lies at the feet of Republicans for this, a real leader would have found ways to build bridges and consensus rather than ramming through legislation that passed only along party lines or turning to the executive order every time he failed to get his way.

2. The Clean-Up of Wall Street.  Upon taking office, President Obama was quick to blame former President Bush for the latter's failure to check Wall Street, but he had no issue taking credit for the passage of a litany of regulations, including Dodd-Frank, that were going to clean up Wall Street.

Is Wall Street really "cleaned up"?  We need only look to the president's own party to find the Potemkin village in this situation.  At a recent Cato event, Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren noted that nine trillion in tax dollars went out the "back door" to just three financial institutions at a rate amounting to nothing those institutions could get anywhere else.  Instead of solving the problem, the "too big to fail" banks are now even bigger and even more risky.  And according to Mark Calabria's insider federal sources, Congress has no idea if any of the large banks are currently insolvent.

3. The Affordable Care Act.  One of President Obama's biggest policy objectives when he took office was to reform the health care system, so that all Americans could have access to affordable health care.  As such, the passage of the Affordable Care Act has been touted as one of the president's greatest policy achievements.

From the infamous campaign promise of "If you like your health plan you can keep it" to continuing delays in the implementation of various parts of the law to costly websites and technical investments that haven't worked, the ACA has led to one broken promise after another.  Perhaps the most Potemkin-like aspect of the ACA is that Americans are now getting less coverage at a higher cost and are more dependent on government assistance to pay for their new "affordable" care.

By the numbers, the average American household now depends on a $2,890 government subsidy, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, to help offset the cost of rising premiums, which are poised to rise 12 to 13 percent this year, according to  And these increases tell only half the story.  As premiums have gone up, so have deductibles.  The average American household's deductible has risen by $400 since 2010 (from $900 to $1,300), and for small business owners, that deductible number is $1,800.  It is as if the president took a page from the cereal and cracker companies, who kept prices "low" but reduced the amount of food in the box.  As with Obamacare, Americans were led to believe they were getting a good deal until they starting reading the fine print on the box.

4. The Peace Prize President.  Shortly after his inauguration, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The president can't be blamed for the timing of the award, but the award now stands as a rather ironic piece of evidence confirming the Potemkin President's legacy.

A quick look at the news in just the past year is all one needs to pull the curtains back on what's really going on behind the village cutouts.  The Russia/Ukraine conflict continues to fester.  France has endured a horrific terror attack.  North Korea appears to have conducted a successful nuclear test.  The Arab world ebbs closer to major conflict, with continued issues in Syria and ISIS conflicts in Iraq.  Finally, trust in the current president's foreign policy in the Arab world is at historic lows according to research by the Pew Foundation.

5. The Obama-Led Recovery.  Based on his 2012 campaign, President Obama was responsible for helping to pull the U.S. out of one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression.  In fact, the president just a few months ago made the claim on The Daily Show that "by every metric, the economy is better than when he took office."

While some numbers have improved slightly from the bottom, the underlying fundamentals of the economy tell a different story.  According to Gallup research, small business growth is in a death spiral, and the U.S. now ranks 12th among developed nations in business start-up activity.  The percentage of the adult population that is fully employed is at its lowest level in 30 years.  The small growth we have seen pales in comparison to the economic recovery initiated by Reagan that didn't require trillions in new debt.  Finally, the Fed has been forced to keep the gas pedal down on its quantitative easing strategy, which may be the clearest sign that there has been no real recovery. 

This list could be significantly larger.  But each additional example would only confirm the original premise that the best way to summarize the leadership legacy of our current president is that he would have made Potemkin proud.

Lyall Swim is the managing partner of Junto Strategy and leadership development enthusiast.  (Email:; Twitter: @lyallswim.)

Read more:
Follow us: @AmericanThinker on Twitter | AmericanThinker on Facebook

Obama’s Legacy? Dismal and Declining Labor Force Participation

By Daniel Mitchell | January 14, 2016 | 10:35 AM EST

(AP File Photo/Matt Rourke)
I normally enjoy working for the Cato Institute since it’s a principled and effective organization.
But every so often, my job requires an unpleasant task, and watching the State-of-the-Union Address as part of Cato’s live-tweeting program counts as one my least enjoyable experiences since joining the team.

But let’s make lemonade out of lemons by looking at lessons that can be learned from Obama’s speech. The most jarring part of the evening was when Obama bragged about the American economy.
Since we’re suffering through the weakest recovery since the Great Depression, that was rather bizarre.

Moreover, being proud that we’re doing better than Europe is akin to getting a participation ribbon in a soccer league for kids.

And the chest thumping about the unemployment rate was very misplaced since that piece of data only looks good because so many Americans have given up on finding a job.

I’ve pontificated on that issue before and cited the Labor Department’s overall data, but let’s dig a little deeper to fully understand why Obama should have apologized rather than patted himself on the back.

Here’s the employment/population ratio for the prime, working-age population of those between 25 and 54 years of age.

As you can see, this ratio has improved a bit over the past five years, but it appears that there’s very little hope that the overall employment situation will ever recover to where it was before the recession.
At least not with current policies.
Here’s another way of looking at the same data. It’s labor force participation by age. The lines don’t seem that far apart, but a 3-4 percentage point decline across age groups adds up to millions of people no longer productively employed.

Last but not least, here’s another way of approaching this data.
We have a chart from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank showing the number of working-age people not in the labor force.

There are two takeaways from this chart.

First, it’s clear that the problem started well before Obama.

But it’s also clear that the problem has gotten much worse during his tenure.

The bottom line is that the expansion of redistribution programs has lured more and more people out of the labor force, particularly when matched by government policies that have hindered the private sector’s ability to create jobs.

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute. Mitchell is a strong advocate of a flat tax and international tax competition.

Obama’s final State of the Union: Lies, evasions and threats

According to a report by the National Association of Counties issued on the eve of the State of the Union address, of the 3,069 counties in the United States, 93 percent are worse off than before the 2008 financial crash according to at least one of four economic indicators: total employment, the unemployment rate, the size of the economy and home values.

Obama’s final State of the Union: Lies, evasions and threats

By Patrick Martin
13 January 2016
The final State of the Union speech delivered Tuesday night by President Barack Obama was a demonstration of the incapacity of the American political system to deal honestly or seriously with a single social question.

Obama evaded the real issues that affect tens of millions of working people in America every day of their lives. He painted a ludicrous picture of economic recovery and social progress that insulted the intelligence of his television audience—and went unchallenged by the millionaire politicians assembled in the chamber of the House of Representatives.

Summing up what he called “the progress of these past seven years,” Obama gave first place to “how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.” The so-called “recovery” has been a bonanza for corporate profits, stock prices, and the wealth and income of the super-rich. For the working people who are the vast majority of the population, it has been a disaster.

By most social indices, the American people are worse off in January 2016 than when Obama took office seven years ago. The real wages of working people have fallen, social services have deteriorated, pension benefits have been gutted, and cities such as Detroit and San Bernardino have been forced into bankruptcy.

According to a report by the National Association of Counties issued on the eve of the State of the Union address, of the 3,069 counties in the United States, 93 percent are worse off than before the 2008 financial crash according to at least one of four economic indicators: total employment, the unemployment rate, the size of the economy and home values.

In 27 states, not a single county has recovered fully from the 2008 crash and the deep economic slump that followed. These include such major states as Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Obama, however, painted a picture of nearly unblemished economic advance, declaring, “The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.” He boasted, “We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s; an unemployment rate cut in half.”


The president did not acknowledge that the post-2008 “recovery” is the weakest on record, that the vast majority of the new jobs created have been low-wage and many of them part-time, or that the drop in the unemployment rate is primarily due to the withdrawal of millions of people from the work force because they lost all hope of getting a decent-paying job.

He went on, tellingly, to cite the auto industry as a symbol of success, declaring that it “just had its best year ever.” This perfectly expresses the utter blindness, not just of Obama, but of the entire political establishment. The “best year ever” was for General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler, which enjoyed record profits, not for the auto workers who produced those profits.

Real wages for auto workers have dropped sharply since the Obama White House forced through a 50 percent cut in wages for all new hires as part of the bankruptcy reorganization of the industry in 2009. Mass discontent among auto workers was expressed at the end of 2015 in the rejection of contracts at Fiat-Chrysler and Nexteer, a major supplier, and in widespread demands for strike action, smothered by Obama’s stooges in the United Auto Workers union.

“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” Obama concluded. The social position of the American working class has, in fact, suffered a dramatic decline, through the combined efforts of the corporate bosses, the unions and the two capitalist parties, the Democrats and Republicans.

The president conceded that economic inequality has grown in the United States, but he described it as the outcome of long-term trends such as globalization and automation, as though the policies of his administration—bailouts for Wall Street, budget cuts and wage cuts for workers—had nothing to do with it.

In the seven years since the financial crash, brought on, as he admitted, by “recklessness on Wall Street,” not a single banker or speculator has been prosecuted or jailed. On the contrary, the billionaires have greatly increased their wealth, gobbling up 95 percent of all new income since Obama entered the White House.

Obama listed a few other policy “successes,” claiming that “we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector… we delivered more care and benefits to our troops and veterans.” He was referring, however, to a series of social disasters: the reactionary attack on health benefits for workers and their families known as Obamacare; the devastation of Appalachia and other energy-producing regions; and the abuse of ex-soldiers, wounded in body and mind, by the Veterans Administration.

Obama sought to defend the foreign policy record of his administration from criticism, mainly from the Republican right, where demands are being raised for military escalation in the Middle East and stepped-up attacks on democratic rights at home in the name of fighting “terrorism.”

While he claimed to reject an American role as the world’s policeman, he nonetheless boasted, “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.”

He continued, “Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” winning the bipartisan standing ovation that always accompanies any mention of American soldiers engaged in combat overseas.

Obama indulged in the glorification of killing that has become an essential part of the degraded spectacle that passes for political discourse in America. Describing the US war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, he claimed, “With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons.”

He called on Congress to pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force against ISIS, but vowed to wage war with or without legislative approval. The leaders of ISIS, he proclaimed, “will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them. If you doubt America’s commitment—or mine—to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden. Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year…”

Then he declared, in language that will be noted by nations all over the world, that when it comes to waging war against potential adversaries, “our reach has no limit.”

Obama concluded his speech with an appeal to his Republican opponents to work with his administration and pull back from the extreme anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric that has characterized the contest for the Republican presidential nomination.

In a clear reference to Donald Trump, he argued that “we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This is not a matter of political correctness, but understanding what makes us strong.”

Obama was making an argument, not so much that racism and bigotry are intrinsically wrong, but that they make it more difficult for American imperialism to maintain its dominant world role. “When a politician insults Muslims,” he said, “it makes it harder to achieve our goals.”

The lottery and social despair in America

The lottery and social despair in America

9 January 2015
This mania, so generally condemned, has never been properly studied. No one has realized that it is the opium of the poor. Did not the lottery, the mightiest fairy in the world, work up magical hopes? The roll of the roulette wheel that made the gamblers glimpse masses of gold and delights did not last longer than a lightning flash; whereas the lottery spread the magnificent blaze of lightning over five whole days. Where is the social force today that, for forty sous, can make you happy for five days and bestow on you—at least in fancy—all the delights that civilization holds?
Balzac, La Rabouilleuse, 1842
The jackpot in the US Powerball lottery has hit $800 million, since there were no winners in Wednesday’s drawing. In the current round, which began on December 2, over 431 million tickets have been sold, a figure substantially larger than America’s population.

Go into any corner store in America and you will see workers of every age and race waiting in line to buy lottery tickets. With the current round, the lines are longer than ever. Americans spend over $70 billion on lottery tickets each year. In West Virginia, America’s second-poorest state, the average person spent $658.46 on lottery tickets last year.

Powerball players pick six random numbers when they purchase their tickets, with a certain percentage of sales going to the jackpot. If no winning ticket is sold, the jackpot rolls over to the next round.

The totals for the Mega Millions and Powerball national lotteries have been growing every year. This year’s jackpot has eclipsed 2012’s record of $656.5 million, the $390 million payout in 2007 and the $363 million prize in 2000. The jackpots have grown in direct proportion to ticket sales.

State-run gambling programs such as Powerball have been promoted by Democrats and Republicans alike as a solution to state budget shortfalls, even as the politicians slash taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals and gut social programs. From the standpoint of government revenue, lotteries and casinos are nothing more than a back-door regressive tax, soaking up money from the poor in proportion to the growth of social misery.

The boom in lotteries is global. Lottery sales grew 9.9 percent worldwide in 2014, after growing 4.9 percent in 2013.

Psychology Professor Kate Sweeny has noted that lottery sales grow when people feel a lack of control over their lives, particularly over their economic condition. “That feeling of self-control is very important to psychological well-being,” Sweeny says.

There is ample reason for American workers to feel they have no control over their lives. According a recent survey by, more than half of Americans do not have enough cash to cover an unexpected expense of $500 or more—roughly the price of four name-brand tires.
Some 62 percent of Americans have savings of less than $1,000, and 21 percent do not have any savings at all. Most Americans are one medical emergency or one spell of unemployment from financial ruin.

For all the talk about “economic recovery” by the White House, the real financial state of most American households is far worse than before the 2008 financial crisis and recession. As of 2013, Americans were almost 40 percent poorer than they were in 2007, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. While a large portion of the decline in household wealth is attributable to the collapse of the housing bubble, falling wages and chronic mass unemployment have played major roles.

The yearly income of a typical US household dropped by a massive 12 percent, or $6,400, in the six years between 2007 and 2013, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest survey of consumer finances. A large share of this decline has taken place during the so-called recovery presided over by the Obama administration.

In addition to becoming poorer, America has become much more economically polarized. According to a separate Pew survey, for the first time in more than four decades “middle-income households” no longer constitute the majority of American society. Instead, the majority of households are either low- or high-income. Pew called its findings “a demographic shift that could signal a tipping point” in American society.

“Is the lottery the new American dream?” asked USA Today, commenting on this month’s Powerball jackpot. The observation is truer than the authors intended. For American workers, achieving the “American Dream” of a stable job and one’s own home is becoming increasingly unrealizable.
Following more than 10 million foreclosures during the financial crisis, America’s home ownership rate has hit the lowest level in two decades, and for young households, the rate of home ownership is the lowest it has been since the 1960s.

For the tens of millions of America’s poor, and the more than 100 million on the threshold of poverty, the dream of winning the lottery has replaced the “American Dream” of living a decent life. A lottery ticket is a chance to escape to a fantasy world where money is not a constant, nagging worry, where one is not insulted and bullied at a low-wage job by bosses whose pay is matched only by their incompetence. The lottery is, as Balzac aptly described it, the “opium of the poor.”

Using the same phrase to describe religion, Marx noted that the “illusory happiness of the people” provided by the solace of religion is, in fact, a silent protest and distorted “demand for their real happiness.” It is the intolerable social conditions that compel masses of people to seek consolation in a lottery ticket that will propel them into revolutionary struggles.

Andre Damon

Survey finds a majority of Americans unable to pay for major unexpected expenses

Survey finds a majority of Americans unable to pay for major unexpected expenses

By Nick Barrickman
9 January 2016
A new survey put out by the personal finance management site on Wednesday found that more than half of Americans could not weather a sudden financial crisis without having to borrow money from friends and family or being forced to reduce the amount spent on other items such as dining out, paying cable or cell phone bills, or other basic features of a “middle class” lifestyle.

The survey, conducted last month among a pool of 1,000 Americans in conjunction with Princeton Survey Research Associates International, found that only 37 percent of those surveyed would be able to pay an emergency expense of $1,000, such as an emergency room visit or the cost of repairing a broken down vehicle, out of pocket.

Sixty-three percent of those surveyed would not be able to cover such a sudden expense without either cutting down on expenses elsewhere, borrowing or resorting to credit. The survey found that nearly four in 10 Americans had suffered such a financial setback in 2015.

“Without an adequate rainy-day fund, we are all living on a very slippery financial slope,” Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling told “The unexpected, unplanned expense is going to rear its ugly head and usually at the most inopportune time…Things as small as a flat tire or one trip to the emergency room can wreck the budgets of those who do not have an adequate amount in their savings account,” she said.

For Americans making less than $30,000 per year, only 23 percent would be able to cover such a sudden expense on their own. This was contrasted by nearly 60 percent of those making over $75,000 annually who could say the same. Nine percent making $30,000 or below stated that they did not know how they would cover such expenses, meaning that they were one expensive setback away from personal financial ruin.

The poll comes amid a slew of other reports detailing an immense drop in the living standards of a significant section of the US population, a component of the growth of social inequality more broadly.

Since the 2008 financial collapse and the subsequent economic “recovery” in 2009, 95 percent of all wealth gains have gone to the top 1 percent in society. A report released in November by the St. Louis Federal Reserve showed that Americans’ personal savings in 2015 were half of what the average was in the early 1980s.

A US Federal Reserve report released in 2014 found that nearly six in 10 Americans had lost all or part of their savings due to the financial impact of the 2008 economic crisis, while a 2015 study by revealed that the majority of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings to their name. A report released the Pew Research firm last month revealed that the number of middle-income homes as a portion of the population had largely vanished in the span of a few decades.

The figures come as the US Federal Reserve has begun raising interest rates for banks and other financial institutions, which will likely lead to further difficulty for individuals who rely upon credit in order to finance their costs of living.

The expenses eating away at the typical individual’s savings read like essential items for living in modern society. According to, the largest expense for one-third of all Americans outside of food and shelter consisted of utilities such as water, electricity or phone service. For those over the age of 50, one in five cited medical bills as their largest co

Placating Americans with Fake Immigration Law Enforcement

How our leaders create fantasy 'solutions' for our immigration-related vulnerabilities.

 By Michael Cutler, December 4, 2015

Therefore the Visa Waiver Program should have been terminated after the terror attacks of 9/11 yet it has continually been expanded.

It is clear that the overarching goal of a succession of administrations and many members of Congress, irrespective of political party affiliation, is to keep our borders open and take no meaningful action to stop that flow of aliens into the United States.
. . .
The obvious question is why the Visa Waiver Program is considered so sacrosanct that even though it defies the advice and findings of the 9/11 Commission no one has the moral fortitude to call for simply terminating this dangerous program.

The answer can be found in the incestuous relationship between the Chamber of Commerce and its subsidiary, the Corporation for Travel Promotion, now doing business as Brand USA.

The Chamber of Commerce has arguably been the strongest supporter of the Visa Waiver Program, which currently enables aliens from 38 countries to enter the United States without first obtaining a visa.

The U.S. State Department provides a thorough explanation of the Visa Waiver Program on its website.

Incredibly, the official State Department website also provides a link, “Discover America,” on that website which relates to the website of The Corporation for Travel Promotion, which is affiliated with the travel industries that are a part of the “Discover America Partnership.
much more here:

No comments: