|10:10 AM, Sep 20, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
If you know how many months there are in a “considerable time,” you will know exactly when Janet Yellen and her colleagues on the Federal Reserve Board’s monetary policy committee plan to begin raising interest rates. If not, you can add your guess to those of professional Fed watchers who are predicting the date will fall somewhere between early 2015 to mid-2016.
In fact, the Fed’s adherence to its “considerable time” language is the least interesting news to come out of this week’s Fed meeting. More interesting is the central bank’s latest prediction. The Fed’s economists expect real GDP growth to total 2.1 percent this year, 2.8 percent next year, 2.75 percent in 2016, and 2.4 percent in 2017, before settling into a “longer run” rate of 2.15 percent.
Those growth rates are hardly high enough to set pulses pounding in anticipation, and are more likely to have set teeth gnashing in some policy circles in Washington, circles in which rapid growth is seen as a cure for a multitude of ills, ranging from a low labor-force participation rate to rising inequality. They represent a lowering of earlier forecasts, which proved excessively optimistic, and in my view ignore the growth prospects for major sectors of the economy. Consider, for example, the housing sector, which recorded a 14.4 percent decline in August. Home builders know that most of that fall was accounted for by the volatile multi-family sector, and that even the low August figure was up 8 percent above last year’s. So they remain cheerful.
The index of homebuilders’ sentiment rose this month to a level not seen since 2005. Goldman Sachs Kim Dawsey notes that Goldman has found the index “to be a decent leading indicator for housing starts….We expect a solid positive contribution to GDP growth from residential investment in Q3.” With reason. Americans overwhelmingly believe that a home is a good investment. But 53 percent think their income is too low, and 41 percent say their credit isn’t good enough to qualify for a mortgage. That might be changing. Pulte, a major builder, reports that sales of its lower-priced homes, in the $200,000 range, rose 29 percent and 26 percent in the first and second quarters, respectively, compared with last year.
At the high end of the market, Toll Brothers (average price of homes it recently delivered is $732,000) reports increases of 53 percent and 36 percent in revenues and number of homes sold, respectively, compared with its third quarter last year. And sales of previously owned homes, the bulk of the market, climbed steadily during the summer. Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors, says, “We are in a multi-year housing recovery.”
That is not to say all is clear sailing for this key industry. Interest rates are likely to rise; young people saddled with debts from student loans, and with incomes (adjusted for inflation) that remain 6 percent below 1989 levels, are lingering on their parents’ couches, rather than starting new households; shortages of skilled construction labor are holding back the industry’s growth; the slow pace of the recovery and continued uncertainty favor renting rather than buying. Despite such negatives, the overall outlook for the housing sector has to be considered sunny, with spotty clouds.
9:55 AM, Sep 20, 2014 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
A new poll from Public Opinion Strategies, commissioned by Independent Women’s Voice, finds that people who care about the issue of Obamacare really don’t like Obamacare. On the flip side, people who like Obamacare really don’t care about it very much. That’s a bad combination for pro-Obamacare candidates.
The poll found that likely voters in battleground districts who consider Obamacare to be the “most important” issue in the upcoming election oppose it by the overwhelming tally of 70 to 30 percent (see slide 9). Likely voters who consider Obamacare to be a “very important” issue (but not the “most important” one) oppose it by more than 2 to 1 — 67 to 32 percent. Those who consider it to be “somewhat important” somewhat like it — but still oppose it by 51 to 47 percent. And those who consider it to be “not at all important” love it — favoring it by 70 to 17 percent.
In all, the 80 percent of likely voters in battleground districts who consider the issue of Obamacare to be at least “somewhat” important oppose it by the tally of 61 to 37 percent. The 20 percent who consider it to be either “not that important” or “not at all important” support it by the tally of 65 to 27 percent.
Wonder why you aren’t seeing many pro-Obamacare ads from pro-Obamacare candidates?
When likely voters who don’t like Obamacare were asked to give open-ended responses as to why they don’t like it, their most common answer (29 percent) was that it raises people’s health costs or premiums. Their second-most-common answer (20 percent) was that it involves undue government intrusion or coercion and therefore undermines freedom.
The poll also found that most people (58 percent) have either been personally affected by Obamacare or else have a family member or friend who has been. By an almost 2-1 margin, such people said Obamacare’s effect on the person (or persons) in question has been “very negative” (46 percent) rather than “very positive” (24 percent).
7:42 AM, Sep 20, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Although President Obama has been unequivocal that US forces will not return to Iraq for "boots on the ground" combat, some in his administration (Gen. Martin Dempsey, John Kerry, Joe Biden) have dropped hints that future events may change that. Friday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno joined the chorus, telling the Defense Writers Group, according to the Army News Service (ANS), that "all options are open. 'I never rule anything out,' he added."
Odierno also said that while air strikes have proved effective in the short term in slowing ISIL's gains, concern about civilians casualties will blunt their effectiveness down the road. He added that the military will be carefully "vetting" the anti-ISIL forces that are due to receive training and support, including weapons, to make sure "they are who they [say they] are and won't be part of some extremist group."
For the present, however, the ground forces will come from local nations, according to the ANS report:
"Airstrikes have slowed the advances of ISIL. But airstrikes alone won't defeat ISIL," Odierno cautioned. "You need a complementary ground capability that will go in and do that."
These boots on the ground will be moderates in Syria and Iraq, as well as troops from other Arab nations who would like to assist, he said, adding that the U.S. will train, equip and advise them as needed.
"We all agree with the current strategy we're executing," he said, referring to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president. "We've got to give this time to work. It's important they're the ones who will defeat ISIL."
Odierno added that as is the case in any operation, assessments will continue to be made as events unfold, and that with input from his commanders, he will continue to provide the chairman and the president with candid advice.
All options are open, he said. "I never rule anything out," he added.
3:26 PM, Sep 19, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Ben Casselman and Reuben Fischer-Baum of 538 have gone inside the numbers (as they say) of the economic recovery and their findings are not comforting.
… particularly troubling is how weak the recovery has been in many of the places hardest hit by the recession. In past business cycles, the worst-hit places also tended to have the strongest rebounds. But that hasn’t been the case this time around. The Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida, area, which sustained the biggest income decline of any big metro area during the recession, saw its median income fall even further in 2013. Overall, there is almost no correlation (R < 0.1) between an area’s income loss during the recession and its gains or losses since then.
Income isn’t the only measure by which the recovery has lagged. Household net worth, the value of a family’s assets minus its debts, has fallen during the recovery as well. One big reason for that is the weakness in the housing market, as Thursday’s data made clear.
There’s more. And while it is not encouraging, you might want to read the whole thing.
2:08 PM, Sep 19, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at U.S. Aid's 2014 Frontiers in Development Forum Friday and gave a stark warning about "500-year" drought conditions around the world that he says are a result of climate change. He went so far as to say that "[t]here are people killing each other over water in certain parts of the world," and part of the solution lies in a "low-carbon economy" [emphasis added]:
Climate change means the heatwaves we’re already seeing, the extraordinary level of fires because of drought that is beyond the hundred-year mark. It’s the 500-year mark. Water shortages also way beyond hundred-year marks. All of this means conflicts over resources and serious implications for feeding the world’s growing population. Development is the only possible way, and it’s only possible if we grow more sustainably, if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if we transition to a low-carbon economy.
One of the privileges of traveling as I do or Mary Robinson does or Raj does is we see this. We see it now happening. There are people killing each other over water in certain parts of the world. There are people who are refugees because of the lack of food and the changes and the absence of adequate agricultural policies in parts of the world. So this is a critical moment. This is not conjecture. This is not pie in the sky. This is not some time down the road; it’s now, and we are compelled to respond.
Kerry's complete remarks can be found here.
1:32 PM, Sep 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
As the military prepares to take on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is ordering a review ... of the military's ties to the National Football League. This comes "in the wake of the scandal over how the league is handling domestic-abuse allegations against players," reports CNN.
News of the Pentagon review comes on the same day a senior Obama administration official decried recent domestic abuse episodes within the NFL and said the league needs to "get a handle on" the situation since so many professional athletes are considered role models to younger players.
The Pentagon is increasingly sensitive to any suggestion it is supporting a major sports organization that is perceived to tolerate domestic violence.
An anonymous official tells the news network, "The secretary wants to fully understand that relationship, in case he decides to make some changes to it."
The military has a zero-tolerance policy in the ranks for domestic abuse, but it also has a high-profile relationship with the NFL that goes back decades. Any Pentagon action to cut back support for the NFL would be the most direct involvement by the Obama administration yet in the scandal.
11:13 AM, Sep 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
At a women's conference in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden touted Bob Packwood, a politician brought down by a sexual harassment scandal:
"It was Republicans who expanded access to the polls. It was Republicans in the Judiciary Committee that did motor voter. It's Republicans that were involved -- guys like Mac Mathias and Packwood and so many others," Biden said, praising politicians Democrats were once able to work with. "It wasn't Democrats alone. Republicans were the sponsors of raises in the minimum wage. I could go on and on. So I'm not joking -- this is not your father's Republican party or your mother's Republican party."
Packwood of course is Senator Bob Packwood.
"After Republican Robert W. Packwood was narrowly reelected to the Senate by Oregon voters in 1992, The Washington Post published a lengthy front-page story outlining the senator's unwanted sexual advances as reported by 10 women, mainly former staff members and lobbyists," the Washington Post writes of Packwood.
"The extremely detailed and convincing accounts of Packwood's gross misbehavior were appalling. Outrage toward Packwood in his home state of Oregon and across the nation grew by day. The scandal and legal entanglements surrounding it would lead the senator to tearfully end his political career in 1995."
Hosted by Michael Graham.10:35 AM, Sep 19, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with editor William Kristol on ISIS, the White House's response, and Democrats and the 2014 elections.
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
10:12 AM, Sep 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Barack Obama has released a statement praising Scotland's vote to remain with the United Kingdom.
"We welcome the result of yesterday’s referendum on Scottish independence and congratulate the people of Scotland for their full and energetic exercise of democracy," says Obama in a prepared statement.
"Through debate, discussion, and passionate yet peaceful deliberations, they reminded the world of Scotland's enormous contributions to the UK and the world, and have spoken in favor of keeping Scotland within the United Kingdom. We have no closer ally than the United Kingdom, and we look forward to continuing our strong and special relationship with all the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as we address the challenges facing the world today."
10:08 AM, Sep 19, 2014 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski reports that Wisconsin's Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke plagiarized portions of her "Invest for Success" jobs plan:
Large portions of Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke’s jobs plan for Wisconsin appear to be copied directly from the plans of three Democratic candidates who ran for governor in previous election cycles.
Burke’s economic plan “Invest for Success” copies nearly-verbatim sections from the jobs plans of Ward Cammack, who ran for Tennessee governor in 2009 before withdrawing from the race, a 2008 plan from Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, and John Gregg who ran for governor of Indiana in 2012 and lost to Mike Pence.
What makes the plagiarism especially pathetic is the stolen ideas are unoriginal and rather vapid. See examples here.
Burke isn't the only politician who's been caught plagiarizing this year: Buzzfeed also reported that Oregon Republican senatorial candidate Monica Wehby plagiarized portions of her health care plan from a survey conducted by American Crossroads. Montana's Democratic senator John Walsh dropped out of the Senate race after the New York Times reported he had plagiarized his final paper to receive a master's degree at the Army War College.
10:03 AM, Sep 19, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
A fascinating interview on CNBC with Alibaba chair Jack Ma, whose company will go public today in New York:
Ma said that shareholders come third. "Well, I think as always I believe that customer number one, employee number two, and shareholder number three," he told CNBC, laying out his companies priorities.
"The hero I had is Forrest Gump," said Ma in response to a question. "I like that guy. I've been watching that movie for about ten times. Every time I get frustrated, I watch the movie. I watch the movie before I came here again for coming to New York. I watched the movie again.
As for his new wealth -- now larger than the GDP of Estonia, according to the CNBC hosts, it presents a "headache."
"For me?" he responded, after being asked about his new wealth. "Well, this is a heady thing. I guess I'm going to -- when I was, I think, 14 years ago I asked my wife, do you want your husband to be a rich man or a respected business guy? She said, of course, a respected business person, because she never thought I would be a rich person. ... And then later I said before I'm 50 years old my job is making money, helping people make money. After I'm 50 years old, which is today 50 years old, I am spending money, trying to make sure more people get rich. Because you cannot spend a lot of money."
He added, "This is a headache."
8:47 AM, Sep 19, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
For what it is worth (and you’ll have to be the judge of that) most “security insiders” are skeptical when it comes to the president’s strategy for the fight with ISIS. As Kaveh Waddell of Government Executive reports:
The president's strategy of launching air strikes against ISIS and arming its opponents will not achieve the goal of "degrading and destroying" the group, according to 63 percent of National Journal's Security Insiders.
The “experts” were careful about parsing words, which seems to occupy more time and attention in Washington these days than actual discussions of strategy.
A number of Insiders said that the air strikes would degrade but not destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. "As we should have learned with al-Qaida," one said, " 'destroying' is an elusive objective." Another elaborated: "We need to acknowledge that groups like this cannot be 'destroyed' in the sense of ceasing to exist. This is a struggle that will not end and that will never be completed.”
7:24 AM, Sep 19, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper peppered his Thursday speech to an intelligence community summit with humor, drawing laughter from his audience nearly a dozen times. Clapper began his talk to the Intelligence National Security Alliance (INSA)/Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) meeting by telling the crowd he was "somewhat of an 'INSA hipster' I was into INSA before it was cool." But later in his talk, Clapper spoofed the federal government's data collection and privacy controversies of the past few years with a long set up and punchline:
By the way, the culmination of all the turbulence that has beset the Intelligence Community over the past year or so is a new set of imperatives, which has spawned a new approach to the practice of intelligence, which I’m going to roll out here. Let me try to describe this new approach.
We are expected to keep the nation safe and provide exquisite, high-fidelity, timely, accurate, anticipatory, and relevant intelligence; and do that in such a manner that there is no risk; and there is no embarrassment to anyone if what we’re doing is publicly revealed; and there is no threat to anyone’s revenue bottom line; and there isn’t even a scintilla of jeopardy to anyone’s civil liberties and privacy, whether U.S. persons or foreign persons. We call this new approach to intelligence: “immaculate collection.”
After the audience laughed, Clapper continued with a swipe at budget concerns:
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. And by the way, we have to conduct “immaculate collection” on the cheap too.
The director also drew some humor from more serious subjects. As Clapper ran through the seven "Principles of Professional Ethics for the Intelligence Community" that he helped institute, he said:
[O]ur fourth Principle... says, “We demonstrate integrity in our conduct, mindful that all our actions, whether public or not, should reflect positively on the IC at large.”
This one is very personal for me, and became even more-so after I was accused of lying to Congress. It’s been very disappointing to me, after half-a-century of service, to be questioned about my integrity because of a mistake in trying to answer, on the spot, a question about a specific classified program in a generalized unclassified setting.
But again, our mission is to seek truth and speak truth to power. That’s what I’ve always done, and what I intend to keep on doing until I’ve got both feet in assisted living.
Here the audience laughed and then Clapper added:
And hey, as President Truman said, “You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.”
The Washington, D.C. audience laughed appreciatively at this as well. And twice during his remarks, Clapper drew laughs by wryly observing that his term in his position as DNI would last just "another 122 weeks, or 855 days, but who’s counting?"
7:54 PM, Sep 18, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama announced this evening that France will join in bombing ISIS (also known as ISIL) in Iraq.
"Today, the United States continues to build a broad international coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL. As part of the air campaign, France will join in strikes against ISIL targets in Iraq. And as one of our oldest and closest allies, France is a strong partner in our efforts against terrorism, and we’re pleased that French and American servicemembers will once again work together on behalf of our shared security and our shared values," said Obama this evening from State Dining Room in the White House.
The commander in chief claimed a coalition of over 40 nations. "More broadly, more than 40 countries -- including Arab nations -- have now offered assistance as part of this coalition. This includes support for Iraqi forces, strengthening the Iraqi government, providing humanitarian aid to Iraqi civilians, and doing their part in the fight against ISIL."
Obama did not name any other allied country by name. Nor did Obama say France would be joining the U.S. in targeting ISIS targets in Syria.
5:13 PM, Sep 18, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
A powerful speech on foreign policy by Florida senator Marco Rubio:
Here's the prepared text of the address:
I join you today at a time of extraordinary upheaval around the world.
At the beginning of this year, many had never heard of ISIL – now the American people grieve the murder of two of our own journalists and the expanding arc of death and destruction across the Middle East at the hand of this terrorist group.
At the beginning of this year, many would have never guessed Russia would upend decades of regional balance and challenge European security – now we’ve seen a Russian invasion of Ukraine and innocent travelers murdered in the sky.
At the beginning of this year, few would have guessed this administration would abandon one of our closest allies in its time of need – now we’ve seen our president remain neutral while Hamas rained terror down on Israel.
And these are just three on a long list of global crises. Peaceful protestors in Venezuela continue to be met with violence from their own government, China continues its provocations in the South China Sea, innocent Syrians continue to be slaughtered at the whim of a tyrant – and the list goes on.
The American people watch these events unfold with growing concern. And today, a debate rages across the country, in the halls of Congress, and almost certainly among administration officials – but while the events fueling this debate are new, the debate itself is not.
Ever since the birth of our Republic, the proper strength of our military, and the proper application of that strength around the world, has been a point of contention among our people and our leaders.
There have always been those who argue that America shouldn’t concern herself with the affairs of the world – that what happens an ocean away bears little relevance to our people.
Thankfully, there have also always been those who disagree – who argue that foreign policy is domestic policy, that our people’s interests and safety require defense capabilities so robust that they deter aggression and violence before they take hold around the world.
George Washington was one such leader. When he delivered the first ever State of the Union address, he asserted the need for American Strength. “To be prepared for war,” he said, “is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”
But many in Congress disagreed. They assumed our hard-won independence meant the threats of the Old World had finally become irrelevant – that domestic issues could at last occupy our full focus. So against Washington’s wishes, they cut our Navy’s funding, leading it to be decommissioned.
Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard