Sunday, January 26, 2014

Poll: Americans still like Obama. His policies? Not so much.

A new poll by AP-GfK released on Jan. 23 reveals that even though most Americans like Barack Obama personally, many think that he is a poor president. The poll found that while Obama’s image has rebounded in the months since the government shutdown, people are still pessimistic about the economy and the direction of the country.

The poll showed that President Obama’s likability had increased by nine percent since the end of the government shutdown in October. Fifty-eight percent of Americans now view the president as very or somewhat likeable.

The good news for the president does not extend to his policies however. The poll shows that the view of the president is slipping even among Democrats and liberals. The percentage of Americans who view Obama as outstanding or above average has declined by six points since he was reelected in November 2012. Thirty-one percent now view Obama’s presidency as outstanding or above average while 42 percent see it as below average or poor.

Even though the president’s approval rating is relatively stable, the current Real Clear Politics average shows him with 43 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval, other trends look bad for Democrats. Polls asking about the direction of the country consistently show that two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. A Bloomberg poll also released on Jan. 23 found that 58 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, his worst showing since September 2011.

In spite of Obama’s personal popularity, his policies provide an opening for Republicans in this year’s midterm elections. A Fox News poll from earlier this week showed that Americans view the economy as the most important problem for Congress and the president to face. More than three times as many voters chose the economy as the next most serious problems, health care and the federal deficit. Jobs/unemployment and federal spending were the most important economic issues. President Obama scored poorly on all of these issues.

The poll numbers suggest that personal attacks on President Obama, who will not face reelection, will fare poorly with voters. Criticism of Democratic handling of the economy, health care and government spending is likely to be much better received by voters.

The current view of President Obama seems best described by Joshua Parker, a 37-year-old small businessman from Smyrna, Tenn. who is quoted in the AP-GfK poll. “He would probably be a guy I would like to hang out with if he wasn’t president,” Parker says, “but I like a lot of people who are not qualified to be president.”

Originally published on National Elections Examiner

Sunday, January 19, 2014

How Obama lost Iraq

The recent news out of Iraq is reminiscent of the dark days of 2004 before President Bush’s surge largely pacified the country. Earlier this month, Israel’s Debka File reported that ISIS, the Iraqi al Qaeda affiliate, had captured the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi from government forces. Fallujah was proclaimed the capitol of a new Islamic caliphate. On January 18, CNN reported another in a series of bomb attacks. The latest bombings killed 19 people and wounded at least 74.

Iraq’s slide back into chaos has its roots in 2011 when the last U.S. soldiers left the country. The Obama Administration and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had been engaged in months of negotiations in an attempt to reach a new status of forces agreement that would allow American soldiers to remain in Iraq to help support government forces. (The Bush Administration had signed a status of forces agreement that required U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.) When these talks failed, the stage was set for President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise to remove U.S. forces and end the war in Iraq.

Unfortunately, as pointed out by the Atlanta Conservative Examiner, it was much easier to remove U.S. troops than to end the war. President Obama’s assumption was that American forces were the cause of the fighting in Iraq and that if American forces were removed, the war would end. That turned out not to be the case, partly because of Iran.

In the absence of Saddam Hussein, Iran has grown into a larger threat in the region. According to NBC News, relations between the two countries had been frosty for decades before the Iranian revolution in 1979. Iran, known as Persia until the 20th century, is comprised primarily of Shia Muslims. The Shia also make up a majority of Iraq’s population even though Saddam and his ruling Baath party were Sunni. Saddam’s control of Iraq was threatened by the Islamist revolution in Iran, leading Saddam to invade Iran in 1980. The war dragged on for eight years.

After the U.S. toppled Saddam, the Iranians revealed that they were developing nuclear weapons. As the U.S. and its European allies worked to diplomatically halt the Iranian weapons program, Iran began aiding Shia militants in Iraq. As far back as 2006, ABC News reported that Iran was directly supplying Iranian made weapons to Iraqi militants. The Washington Post reported that coalition forces captured Iranian agents, suspected to be members of the Quds (Jerusalem) Force of the Revolutionary Guard, in Iraq. The New York Times reported on evidence that Iraqi Shiite fighters were being trained in Iran as late as 2010.

While the Obama and Bush Administrations reached out diplomatically to Iran, the Iranians were actively engaged in a proxy war against the U.S. and the Iraqi government. A look at history shows that Iran has actually been engaged in a shadow war against the United States since 1979. It was less than three years ago that federal agents disrupted an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. by blowing up a restaurant in the District of Columbia. Given the history of Iran with both Iraq and the United States, it is not surprising that the radical Islamist regime would move to fill the power vacuum left in Iraq as the U.S. withdraws.

The logical move to protect the U.S. gains in Iraq would have been to negotiate an extension to the status of forces agreement that would allow U.S. forces to remain and assist the Iraqi government in a limited capacity. This agreement would have been in the interest of both the United States, which wants stability in the Middle East, and Iraq, which needs to prevent a resurgence of sectarian violence in order to maintain control of the country.

In October 2011, Foreign Policy magazine reported that even though the Iraqi government had acceded to allowing 8,000 to 20,000 American soldiers to remain in Iraq, the status of forces talks fell apart over the issue of immunity for U.S. troops. The Obama Administration insisted that the immunity be granted in the treaty, something that was not politically possible for al-Maliki government and something that Bush Administration had not demanded in the previous status of forces agreement.

A former senior congressional staffer told Foreign Policy that a treaty agreement was never required. “An obvious fix for troop immunity is to put them all on the diplomatic list; that's done by notification to the Iraqi foreign ministry," he said. "If State says that this requires a treaty or a specific agreement by the Iraqi parliament as opposed to a statement by the Iraqi foreign ministry, it has its head up it’s a--."

In their 2012 debate, Paul Ryan charged that Vice President Joe Biden “was put in charge of those negotiations and he failed to get an agreement” according to the Washington Post. Biden denied the charge, but a month earlier the New York Times had reported that Mr. Biden had chaired a videoconference on Oct. 6, 2010 where he had advanced the idea of replacing Iraqi president Jalal Talibani, a Kurd, with Ayad Allawi of the nonsectarian Iraqiya party as a counterweight to Prime Minister al-Maliki. Talibani would be shifted to the post of foreign minister as a consolation prize, a plan that elicited a retort of “Thanks a lot, Joe,” from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ultimately Talibani refused to step aside.

During the conference, Biden proclaimed, “Maliki wants us to stick around because he does not see a future in Iraq otherwise. I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA (status of forces agreement).” Biden was ultimately proven wrong.

In September 2011, President Obama said that he would like to keep between 3,000 and 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, but, according to the Washington Post, he had not begun negotiations three months before the withdrawal deadline. That November, the Washington Post reported that the vice president was in Iraq seeking to negotiate a continued American presence in Iraq. Many critics pointed out that retaining such a tiny, ineffective U.S. force in Iraq might prove more dangerous than a complete withdrawal.

Author and military expert Max Boot savaged Obama in the Wall Street Journal for not taking the negotiations seriously. Boot noted that President Bush was able to get a deal for a status of forces agreement in 2008 when even more U.S. troops were in Iraq. Boot noted that the immunity issue was covered by a Memorandum of Understanding rather than a treaty in other Middle Eastern countries where American soldiers are deployed.

Boot also pointed out that Obama frequently undercut his own negotiators. By frequently bragging about his plans to “end the war in Iraq,” Obama signaled to Iraqis that he was not serious about maintaining a presence. Further, the Iraqis knew that the number of troops that Obama was willing to commit were far less than the 20,000 deemed necessary by military leaders. Iraqi leaders “were not willing to stick their necks out for such a puny force,” according to Boot, “that may not even have been able to adequately defend itself, much less carry out other missions.”

Even before U.S. troops left, Iraq began to fall into Iran’s orbit. In June 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran was wooing the leaders of three key U.S. Middle East allies: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2012, Iran began overflying Iraqi airspace on an almost daily basis in order to deliver arms and supplies to the Assad regime in Syria. CNN described in March 2013 how Secretary of State Kerry had discussed the matter with al-Maliki, who noted that the Iraqi Air Force had a very limited capability to stop the overflights. Three months later, the Iraqis warned Israel against transiting Iraqi airspace during any attempt to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities according to the Times of Israel.

The Iraqi government is now widely acknowledged to be sympathetic to Iran. The Huffington Post reported in June 2012 that Iran is likely propping up the al-Maliki government behind the scenes. Debka File calls Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “pro-Iranian” and says that the Iraqi defeats in Anbar were humiliating for Iran which had “heavily backed the Iraqi army offensive.” After the debacle in Fallujah and Ramadi, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported that the Iranian government had pledged support for Iraq’s fight against “terrorism and extremism.” Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad is also an Iranian proxy while al-Qaeda supports rebel factions attempting to oust him. The dynamic is partly one of Sunni versus Shia. Al Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim organization while Iran and the Iraqi government are primarily Shiite.

In the end it appears that the expiration of the status of forces agreement provided Barack Obama with a way to fulfill his campaign promise to withdraw American soldiers from Iraq. The immunity issue provided a convenient way to blame the Iraqi government for the failure to reach an agreement. The president’s delegation of negotiations to Vice President Biden, a man that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said was “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” is perhaps the best indication of how little importance Obama attached to Iraq’s security. Where Obama preferred to withdraw and abandon America’s influence in the Middle East, Iran was more than willing to assume the role of the Middle East’s dominant power.


Read the original article at Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My first trip to the world's busiest airport... in a small propeller plane

In June 1995, I was a flight instructor at the Ben Epps Airport (KAHN) in Athens, Ga. I had just graduated from the University of Georgia and was about to leave my part-time job flight instructing for a job in the claims department of the now defunct Fortune Insurance Company in Jacksonville, Fla.

Even though airline hiring was going on at the time, I hadn’t really thought about an airline career. The mid-1990s were at the height of the pay-for-training years in which airlines would hire pilots as long as the pilots agreed to pay for their own initial simulator training. This could cost tens of thousands of dollars and, with several student loans already, I didn’t want to add to my debt load.

As I got ready to depart Athens for a new insurance career, Ken, one of my star students, was trying to meet the requirements for a commercial license. Ken was professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia and had been bitten by the flying bug. He had already earned his private license, his instrument rating, and now had his sights set on becoming a commercial pilot.

About this time, one of the flying magazines ran an article about a general aviation pilot who had been flying around Atlanta at night and, on a lark, asked the approach controller for touch and go landings at Hartsfield International (KATL). To most people, Hartsfield is THE Atlanta airport. It is the hub and headquarters of Delta Air Lines and, until its merger with Southwest is complete, Airtran. According to CNN, ATL is the busiest passenger airport in the world with more than 95 million passengers passing through its terminals in 2012. The airport’s website reports that there are almost 2,500 departures and arrivals each day.

Ken read the article about the touch and goes at the world’s busiest airport and hatched an idea. He wanted to make a cross-country trip from Athens to Hartsfield. Even though he was a licensed pilot, Ken did not feel comfortable making the trip by himself so he asked me to join him. Flying the trip under instrument flight rules would make it easier to get in and out of Hartsfield, we hoped. Pilots must have a clearance to enter the busy Class B airspace around Atlanta and it comes automatically when you fly IFR. As an added bonus, Ken could log the trip as a cross-country flight to meet commercial pilot license requirements.

On the day of the trip, June 26, 1995, we rented a Piper Warrior from Sonny’s Air Service, the small flight school at the Athens airport where I worked. The low-wing single-engine airplane seated four and was the fastest rental plane in Sonny’s fleet. Ken flew while I sat in the right seat, my usual perch while instructing. We also brought along Brooks, one of my friends who wasn’t a pilot but who loved airplanes and flying.

After almost 20 years the details of the trip are a little hazy in my memory. I remember the controller (who probably wasn’t very pleased to have us disrupting the flow of his traffic) making us do 360 degree turns while we waited for a gap in the never-ending line of airline jets approaching for landing. We finally found a gap between Delta and ValueJet, the forerunner of AirTran, and made our landing on runway 9 right, up to that point in my flying career, was the largest piece of pavement I had ever seen.  We made the approach and landing at about 120 knots, about as fast as a Warrior can fly and about as slow as an airliner can fly.

I remember taxiing to the FBO (fixed base operator), the terminal for private airplanes on the north side of Hartsfield. Ken paid the landing fee which was about $25 for our Warrior as I recall. We explored the FBO and filled our tanks with free cookies in the pilot lounge.

When we got ready to leave, we started the engine and got our clearance. The ground controller, rather than having us taxi to the end of the nearest runway, directed us to a runway intersection directly in front of the FBO on taxiway “Dixie.” (Normally taxiways are named for letters of the phonetic alphabet. In Atlanta, where Delta Air Lines is based, taxiway “Delta” is renamed taxiway “Dixie” to avoid confusion.) I had always been taught to never accept an intersection takeoff and had given my students the same advice. In this case, however, the runway in front of us was 9,000 feet long and 150 feet wide. The Piper could almost take off going across it. A glance at the airport chart showed that we had approximately 5,000 feet remaining from the intersection, nearly a mile and about as long as the runway at Athens. Judging that to be a sufficient distance, we accepted the takeoff clearance and were soon on our way.

The trip back to Athens was uneventful. We returned home, our exploratory mission successful, and now had the bragging rights that came from flying into Hartsfield and mixing with the kerosene burners who props were invisible inside their jet engine nacelles. The entire round trip had taken just under two hours.

Soon after that trip, I left Athens to start work at an insurance company. Office work didn’t take, however. I never quit flying and a few years later I went back to full-time instructing, this time in Florida at the FlightSafety Academy. A few years after that, I returned to Hartsfield, this time as the First Officer of a Delta Connection Canadair Regional Jet. Since then I have returned there flying corporate jets back to the same FBO (although it is now under new management). My current job has taken me back to Hartsfield as a simulator instructor.

Ken’s love of flying eventually led him to become a Certified Flight Instructor in addition to his teaching duties at the University. While Brooks never became a pilot, he fulfilled his love of aviation through building and flying remote control airplanes.

Originally published on Aviation Examiner

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How to land at the wrong airport

Twice in recent memory a large jet airliner has landed at the wrong airport. The Kansas City Star reported on January 14 that a Southwest Airlines 747 landed at the M. Graham Clark Taney County airport in Hollister, Mo. instead of the larger airport in Branson. Several months earlier, in November 2013, a Boeing 747 freighter operated by the Boeing Company itself, accidentally landed at Wichita’s Col. James Jabara airport instead of McConnell Air Force Base.

The Dallas News reports that the Southwest jet landed at Hollister at 3:40 p.m. Archived weather reports on show that the weather was partly cloudy with the clouds at about 5,000 feet. Similarly, in the case of the Boeing in Wichita, the preliminary NTSB report notes that “visual meteorological conditions prevailed,” meaning that cloud ceilings were at least 1,000 feet and visibility was at least three miles. The 747 landed at 9:20 p.m.

The two recent episodes were not the first airliners to land at the wrong field. In one famous incident in 1967, a TWA pilot mistakenly landed his Boeing 707 at the Ohio State University airport instead of the intended Port Columbus. The story is recounted in the Columbus Dispatch.

Paradoxically, it can be easier to locate an airport when the weather is bad than when it is good. In cloudy weather, instrument approaches lead the airplane directly to the landing runway with great precision. When the weather is good, air traffic control vectors the pilot toward the airport, but often the aircraft is cleared for a visual approach. According to the Pilot Controller Glossary, to accept a visual approach, the pilot must have “either the airport or the preceding aircraft in sight.”

In many cases, landing at the wrong airport is a case of mistaken identity. The pilot sees an airport and misidentifies it as his destination. This can be easy to do because urban areas often have many airports. Since runways are usually aligned with the prevailing winds, many airports in the same area can have a similar configuration.

In Missouri,’s airport database shows that Clark airport (KPLK) has runways numbered 12 and 30, consistent with the magnetic courses of 120 and 300 degrees. Branson (KBBG) is similarly configured with runways 14 and 32. A telltale difference is that Branson’s runway is 7,140 feet long where Clark is only 3,738 feet. McConnell AFB (KIAB) has paired runways that are numbered 1 and 19 left and right. These runways are each 12,000 feet long. The smaller Jabara airport (KAAO) has a 6,101 foot runway numbered 18 and 36.

The airport pairs are also close together. Jabara is eight miles from McConnell. Clark is only six miles from Branson.

It is likely that the pilots were cleared for a visual approach and simply mistook the smaller airports for their larger neighbors due to the similar runway configurations and proximity.

The problem could have been exacerbated for the Boeing 747 pilots because their approach took place at night. There are numerous potential pitfalls with night landings, including the difficulty in picking urban airport lights out from the surrounding city lights. Often brighter city lights can make airports nearly impossible to spot. In addition, night landings are subject to a number of visual illusions that could have made it difficult for the crew to detect the short length of the Jabara airport.

To avoid making this sort of mistake, pilots should verify the runway before they land. This can be done by using the same instrument systems that help the airplane find the runway in bad weather. A good procedure is to tune in the instrument landing system (ILS) frequency for the runway that is being used. If the needles don’t center on short final, the airplane is not approaching the right runway.

For runways without an ILS, most modern jets are equipped with GPS. Over the past few years, many smaller airports have added RNAV/GPS approaches. These can also be used as a backup. If the runway does not have a GPS approach, the pilot can still select the runway waypoint and create his own visual approach with a user waypoint about three miles in front of the landing runway.

Landing at the wrong airport is not a common mistake, but it is a serious one. The pilots in question may lose their licenses and find their careers at a premature end. Using navigation systems as a backup on a visual approach can prevent an embarrassing and potentially career-ending error.

Originally published on Aviation Examiner

Monday, January 13, 2014

Leftist con men hijack conservative Facebook pages

In the early morning hours of January 11, a group of leftist con men launched a sneak attack on an undetermined number of conservative Facebook pages. The perpetrators, calling themselves the “Goatz Alliance,” gained access to the conservative pages, deleted the page administrators, and began posting anti-conservative propaganda and memes depicting goats.

Jason Doolin, owner of the conservative Citizens’ Post page on Facebook, said that Patrick Blair, allegedly a representative of The Freedom Alliance contacted him several months ago about helping him to expand his page. Blair gained his trust over a period of months. There is a real Freedom Alliance as well, a Virginia based charity organized as 501(c)(3) organization that educates young Americans in civic responsibility and provides scholarships to the children of American soldiers.

Blair apparently operated several fake conservative Facebook pages and websites as a cover. In some cases, he seems to have even recruited conservative activists to administer and work on these pages, only to delete their work and revert the pages to goats later. Blair used the fake conservative pages to make conservative friends and seem more credible to his targets.

Doolin said that after gaining his trust Blair proposed an “admin exchange” in which the various pages in his Freedom Alliance would grant each other administrator status and exchange ideas. The plan was also promoted as a way to increase awareness of smaller pages like Doolin’s Citizens’ Post.

Blair allegedly put his plan in to action on January 10. He asked Doolin to grant administrator status to himself and a friend, Lyman Briggs. Late that night, Blair and his comrade deleted Doolin and his other page administrators and vandalized the page with anti-conservative and anti-Republican hate.

Doolin attempted to contact Facebook to report the abuse and theft of his page, but it is almost impossible to get in touch with Facebook’s customer service and security personnel. Although Facebook says on its legal page that the company “respects the intellectual property rights of others and is committed to helping third parties protect their rights,” the company makes it very difficult to report problems.

Emily Garman on the blog, The Social Animal, posted a video that describes the process to recover control of a hijacked Facebook organizational page. The process is essentially to report the abuse via dropdown menus on the page and hope that a Facebook representative deigns to contact you. A search of the internet did turn up a Facebook page with a procedure for reclaiming business pages. Depending on how the page was set up, this procedure may allow users to regain control of hijacked sites.

Patrick Blair was traced to a Facebook page in Buxton, Maine. On his timeline, he admitted to duping conservatives and “goating” their pages. Blair appears to also be involved with pages called “Busta Troll” and “Busta’s Army.” These pages are dedicated to “trolling,” visiting opposing sites and trying to provoke arguments. A post on Busta’s Army from January 10 claims responsibility for hijacking Doolin’s Citizens’ Post.

Various posts on the three pages refer to “paid liberal trolls.” It is unknown whether these internet denizens are actually paid and, if so, by whom. On his Facebook page, Blair claims to be paid by George Soros, but this is doubtful.

Examiner’s investigation turned up an several earlier attacks by the Goatz Alliance. Miss Lilly (name changed to protect her identity) was an administrator on a conservative page called, “America, the Next Generation.” One of the other administrators on the page posted a picture of President Obama in a noose, a picture that Miss Lilly agrees was “in bad taste.” The page’s owner removed the picture, but not before it was noticed by leftist bloggers.

Orlando Liberal Examiner Robert Sobel was apparently the first to notice the picture on December 31, 2013. The next day, Addicting Info, a far left-wing blog picked up the story and credited Steve Marmel, “a TV writer and producer with a left-wing Facebook page,” for pointing it out.

As the story hit the liberal blogs, Miss Lilly said their page was inundated with liberal trolls. “These were the nastiest, vilest [people],” she says. “I have never encountered such utter hatred and contempt. This goes way beyond racism. They called us racists, but what they said and did to us was beyond the scope and definition of racism. They are truly sick people.”

She continued, “We must have banned hundreds and hundreds of them. Facebook did nothing to help.”

Eventually, the site’s owners were contacted by James M. Ritchie, a.k.a. “Ranger,” who claimed to be a “troll killer.” Ritchie offered to help the site’s owners fight off the liberal attacks if they granted him administrator status on the page.

About the same time, the goats first appeared on the page, posted by a user calling himself “Vlad the Emailer.” Vlad claimed that goats were “an international peace sign” and offered his help as well. Another user who offered help, “Irwin Jr.,” may also be one of the goats.

There are several levels of administrators on Facebook pages. Content creators can post content, moderators can delete comments and messages, and managers have the ability to delete other administrators. Ritchie quickly persuaded the site’s owner to grant him manager access. Almost immediately, the page was hijacked and the legitimate administrators were deleted.

At this point, Patrick Blair enters the story. Miss Lilly says that he contacted the owners and told them that he had seen what happened to their page and that he wanted to help as well. He said that he had several pages that were “abandoned” by other administrators and offered to give one to the owners of America, The Next Generation. Where Blair got these pages is uncertain, but they may have been hijacked as well. Miss Lilly worked on one of these pages until Blair changed it back to goat pictures again over the weekend. “All they got from me the second time,” she says, “was the pleasure of calling me a dummy.”

Miss Lilly also said, “We took the goats for what they are, symbols of Satanism.”

While there is no evidence that Blair and his band are Satanists, they have made anti-Christian and anti-religious postings on their pages. It is likely that they have the same anti-religious beliefs that many members of the modern left seem to share.

At this point, Examiner has identified at least seven pages that have been hijacked by the goats. Owners of conservative Facebook pages should be aware that Patrick Blair and Busta’s Army may try to target them as well. While it might be difficult to stop a horde of liberal trolls like the one that assaulted Miss Lilly’s page, owners can prevent their pages from being hijacked by not elevating anyone to administrator status that they do not know personally. In most cases, the page owner should keep manager status for himself or closely trusted associates.

Abuse or harassment should be reported to Facebook. This can be done by clicking the gear symbol at the top of the offending page or user’s timeline and selecting “report page.” Individual posts can be reported as well. Click the “v” symbol in the upper right corner of the post. This will open a menu with an option to “report post.” Any threats should definitely be reported to Facebook as well as to the police.

Originally published on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Unemployment extension may hurt long-term unemployed

Democrats and Republicans are currently locked in a battle over how to pay for a reauthorization of the extension for long term unemployment benefits. For the most part, the debate is only over how the extension of unemployment benefits should be paid. As PBS reported, most Republicans don’t oppose the unemployment extension, but favor offsetting the increased spending with cuts in other budget areas. Little, if any, attention has been given to whether the unemployment benefits should be extended at all however. The Senate passed its version of the plan on January 7, but the bill faces an uncertain future in the House. Politically the extension is popular, but many economists are not sold on the benefits of the extension.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, unemployment insurance typically lasts for 26 weeks. The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program extended benefits for an additional 14 to 47 weeks. The number of additional weeks varied by state and was based on state unemployment rates.

In December 2013, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman attacked the idea that extending unemployment payments may be harmful to the unemployed. Krugman claims that much of the research on the effects of unemployment insurance is decades old and that ending unemployment insurance would not create more jobs. In Krugman’s view, the economy is limited by demand, not supply,and slashing unemployment benefits — which would have the side effect of reducing incomes and hence consumer spending — would just make the situation worse.”

There are some problems with Krugman’s analysis. As Krugman himself notes, unemployment insurance typically pays between 40 and 50 percent of the worker’s previous pay. This hardly seems enough to stimulate significant demand. In fact, such benefits are more accurately described as subsistence payments that merely help the unemployed to survive. compiled a list of maximum unemployment benefits by state. The highest was Massachusetts at $653 per week. The lowest was Mississippi at $235. Georgia’s maximum weekly benefit is $330.

Krugman may also be off base about the number of available jobs. In October 2013, the National Federation of Independent Businesses reported that 20 percent of business owners had job openings that they could not fill. This begs the question of why business owners cannot fill jobs in an economy with unemployment rate that has been chronically above seven percent for the past five years. In reality, the employment situation is even worse than reflected in the unemployment rate. As previously reported by Examiner, the civilian labor force participation rate has continued to fall even as the unemployment rate declined. This indicates that much of the decline in the unemployment rate is due to people leaving the work force.

In contrast to Krugman’s claim that more demand is needed to stimulate the economy, the NFIB survey found that poor sales ranked third when business owners were asked what the most important problem facing small business. Government requirements and red tape was the selected as the worst problem. Taxes was rated a close second.

Part of the answer to the business staffing problem probably lies in the number of long-term unemployed. According to the November 2013 employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most recent available, more than 53 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than 15 weeks (almost four months). Thirty-seven percent have been out of work for more than 27 weeks (almost eight months).

A January 8, 2014 report in CNN Money cited a report by the Council of Economic Advisors that found that workers who had been unemployed for less than five weeks had a 31 percent chance of finding a new job or returning to their old one. At 27 weeks, the odds of becoming employed again drop to 12 percent. For those who have been unemployed for more than a year, the chances of finding a job are only nine percent. In the current economy, it takes about four weeks for most workers to either find a new job or give up their search.

When workers are unemployed for more than a year, it becomes very difficult to find a job. A worker’s skills deteriorate, professional licenses and certifications may lapse, and prospective employers begin to question their work ethic, health, or otherwise try to determine why they haven’t worked in so long. After more than a year of unemployment, many workers move from being unemployed to being unemployable.

It might seem counterintuitive that the unemployed would reject a job to maintain a meager unemployment payment, but Pete, a union electrician, explained the thinking in a piece he wrote for an series of stories of the unemployed. Pete writes, “I'm used to bringing home $1,500 gross a week and now with unemployment I bring home $425 a week…. I keep looking for work outside of my trade, but all there is are 10 dollar an hour job[s] or less or part time. Now why would I get a $10 an hour job working 40 hours a week without insurance and benefits when I make that being unemployed?”

In 2010, the Wall Street Journal quoted an economics textbook written by Lawrence Summers, at the time President Obama’s chief economic advisor. In 1999, Summers had written, “The second way government assistance programs contribute to long-term unemployment is by providing an incentive, and the means, not to work. Each unemployed person has a 'reservation wage'—the minimum wage he or she insists on getting before accepting a job. Unemployment insurance and other social assistance programs increase [the] reservation wage, causing an unemployed person to remain unemployed longer.” Pete’s $425 weekly unemployment payment has obviously increased his reservation wage above $10 per hour.

Other government benefits that workers might receive in addition to unemployment payments also drive up the reservation wage. Last September, Examiner reported on a Cato Institute study that found that welfare payments in 12 states were worth more than a minimum wage job. The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion extends government health insurance to the poor in states that chose to enact the expansion. Other types of government assistance include food stamps and disability payments, both of which reached record highs in 2013.

In contrast to Krugman’s claim that studies critical of the Obama Administration’s claims about the stimulative characteristics of unemployment payments are “decades old,” the New York Fed published a detailed paper on the subject in October 2013. This study looked at bordering counties in different states and used data from the Great Recession’s high levels of unemployment and the Obama extension of emergency unemployment payments. Since the adjoining cross-border counties were part of the same labor market, a major difference in unemployment rates was traced to state unemployment insurance laws.

The study’s authors found that “having access to longer spells of benefits improves the outside option of workers and leads to an increase in the equilibrium wage. This lowers the accounting profits of firms and reduces vacancy posting to restore the equilibrium relationship between the cost of firm entry and the expected profits.” In layman’s terms, extending unemployment benefits for longer periods causes wages to rise, which in turn causes fewer new jobs to be created.

The study shows that “unemployment benefit extensions can account for most of the persistently high unemployment after the Great Recession.” The data showed that “border counties with longer benefit durations have much higher unemployment, despite the potential benefits of spending” money received from unemployment payments. The negative effects of higher unemployment outweighed any increase in demand.

In the end, extending unemployment payments allows workers like Pete to maintain a high reservation wage which keeps them unemployed longer, possibly to the point that they are no longer employable. If Pete took a lower paying job than his old one, he might lose money initially, but he would begin rebuilding his resume with recent job experience. He could use a low-paying entry level job to restart his career and work his back up the career ladder. By staying on unemployment, Pete goes nowhere. He is trapped at $425 per week.

Several years ago I was laid off when my company lost its main customer. I was unemployed for five weeks before I started work with another company. My pay at the new company was significantly less than I had been receiving in unemployment compensation, especially after insurance costs were deducted. For a time, I worked a second job to supplement my primary paycheck. Even then, we had to use credit cards to make ends meet. Before too long, however, I received a pay raise. Things got even better when my experience led to another job offer with even better pay.

While not everyone who is unemployed chooses to keep receiving benefits over taking a lower paying job, the expiration of unemployment benefits may well have the effect of lowering the reservation wage for many of the long-term unemployed. This would be an incentive for people like Pete to restart their lives and careers.

Originally published on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Obamacare won’t cause beheadings (does this really need to be said?)

A new rumor about Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, making its rounds on the internet is that the law will make beheadingan official method of execution in the United States. The rumor, apparently has its origin in an article by Lorri Anderson on the Freedom Outpost on Nov. 18, 2013, about international medical codes. Conspiracy sites claim that a medical code for “legal execution” reveals that beheading and decapitation are coming to the United States. The Freedom Outpost is a conservative pseudo-news site that has articles on birtherism, nullification and otherconspiracy theories.

Anderson's article refers to a medical code, “ICD 9 E 978,” that conspiracy theorists believe purports to list the legal methods of execution in the United States. The definition of the coding is found on under “International Classification of Diseases” and is as follows:

E978 Legal execution

All executions performed at the behest of the judiciary or ruling authority
[whether permanent or temporary] as:
asphyxiation by gas
beheading, decapitation (by guillotine)
capital punishment
other specified means

Anderson notes that the code is part of an international coding system, but doesn’t seem to understand what the codes are for or how they are used. She seems to believe that, because the United States is using the coding system, all parts of the code will apply to patients in the United States and that is is being forced on American doctors by the Department of Homeland Security and UN.

Writing for, Trisha Torrey explains that “ICD” codes are “International Statistical Classifications of Diseases.” The codes are used to categorize every disease, set of symptoms or cause of death that can be attributed to human beings. The coding system was developed by theWorld Health Organization, the coordinating authority for health in the United Nations. As electronic medical records are implemented, the codes will be used for diagnosis and treatment of health problems.

When someone dies, an ICD code will also be used to record the cause of death. This is where Anderson’s code for “legal execution” comes in. The code will obviously be used when a person has been executed “at the behest of the judiciary or ruling authority [whether permanent or temporary].” Even though “beheading” and “decapitation (by guillotine)” are not legal methods of execution for the federal government or any of the 50 states, beheading is still legal in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, rebels in Syria and the Taliban in Pakistan (possibly a temporary authority in areas that they control) have been known to use beheading, as did Saddam Hussein in pre-war Iraq. Other Islamic terrorists have also been known to behead their captives. In one notable case, Nick Berg, an American business who was Jewish, was kidnapped and beheaded by Iraqi Muslim terrorists in 2004 and the video of the murder was posted online. And no, there is no evidence that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

Regardless of what international medical codes define as legal methods of execution, the method of legal execution in the United States is established by the legislature. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 35 states plus the federal government have the death penalty. All states have lethal injection as the primary method of execution. In Georgia, lethal injection is the only legal means of execution. Federal law requires that in federal death penalty cases, the method of execution follows the law of the state in which the conviction took place. No state law permits execution by beheading.

Anderson also attempts to tie in the ICD coding to Agenda 21 by asserting that “WHO is a specialized agency of the United Nations and directly linked to the League of Nations under the guise of collecting data.” In reality, the League of Nations was the predecessor to the United Nations and was disbanded in 1946 after failing in its primary mission of preventing a second world war. The United Nations was founded a year earlier in 1945.

Agenda 21 (read the full text here) is frequent fodder for conspiracy buffs. Agenda 21 is a protocol for achieving “sustainable development” in the 21st century that was drafted by theUnited Nations Earth Summit in 1992. The agenda is not a treaty. The Heritage Foundation noted in 2011 that Agenda 21 is “voluntary” and “nonbinding.” The United Nations Associationagrees that Agenda 21 is “not legally binding” and “does not take precedence over U.S. law.” Agenda 21 passed the House of Representatives in 1992 (sponsored by Nancy Pelosi) according to the Library of Congress but was never passed by the Senate so it never became U.S. law.

Conspiracy proponents like columnist Rachel Alexander sometimes refer to Executive Orders that supposedly implement Agenda 21 without congressional approval. In reality, President Obama’s Executive Order 13575 which in 2011 established the White House Rural Council specifically says that “nothing in this order shall be construed to… affect… authority granted by law” and that the order “shall be implemented consistent with applicable law….” Obama’s Executive Order 13547 carries similar disclaimers to avoid in pretense of amending current federal law. Similar claims about other presidents are also farfetched. Two orders by Bill Clinton cited by conspiracy buffs (12852 and 12996) establish an advisory council for the president on sustainable development and create wildlife refuges on public use lands. George W. Bush is also blamed for Executive Orders 13423 and 13366, which are equally innocuous and also carry disclaimers that they do not amend existing law.

It takes little research to quickly determine that the Affordable Care Act will not implement beheadings in the United States. It can be determined almost as quickly that however ill-advised that Agenda 21 may be, it does not apply to the United States.

If you find an internet conspiracy theory that would like Examiner to investigate, contact the Atlanta Conservative Examiner at or on the Common Sense Conservative Facebook page. If your conspiracy is selected for an article, you will receive an official Atlanta Conservative Examiner tinfoil hat. Readers might also be interested in Examiner’s guide to “Becoming a discerning internet user,” a helpful article on distinguishing fact from fiction on the internet.

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See my hat tip from Politifact

The good, the bad and the ugly: A balanced look at Chris Christie


When Examiner published an article last week detailing how Chris Christie was the current Republican frontrunner for the 2016 elections as well as the only Republican who currently beats the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, it set off a firestorm of indignation among some conservatives. Many deride Christie as a “RINO” who would be almost as bad as Clinton. Others go further and claim that Christie is a Democrat in disguise. A number of angry conservatives say that Christie is dead to them.

A good place to start when trying to determine whether a Republican is a RINO is the American Conservative Union. The ACU rates members of Congress and state legislatures by their votes and determines whether they are “true conservatives” or not. In a previous article, Examiner found that most Republicans who are commonly labeled RINOs easily pass Ronald Reagan’s 80 percent rule. The ACU does not rate governors, however, so one must examine Gov. Christie’s record in New Jersey.

The Good

There are many aspects of Christie’s career that conservatives can cheer. The governor seems to be an authentic fiscal conservative. John Nichols of The Nation, a liberal site, says that Christie is in the mold of Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Nichols cites a long list of complaints that include raising the retirement age for state employees and increasing their required contribution for insurance and retirement plans, opposing tax increases on the wealthy, vetoing minimum wage hikes and pay equity bills, and trimming state budgets. Christie has taken on New Jersey’s public employee unions and won. One teacher’s union leader even publicly wished him dead in a tasteless joke in 2009.

Christie has not raised taxes during his time as governor. Politifact does note that he cut several tax credits such as the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Homestead Benefit, which provides a credit on property insurance. The EITC is a refundable credit that can be paid out to individual filers even if they have no tax liability. Politifact also confirmed that Christie balanced New Jersey’s budget as its constitution requires. Christie has also taken steps to fix New Jersey’s underfunded pension program according to the Trentonian. New Jersey’s pension problems are not resolved, but underfunded pensions are a national crisis that many states and cities have not even begun to address according to CNBC.

Christie is pro-life. In 2011, New Jersey News described Christie’s remarks before a pro-life rally at the statehouse in which he said that “every life is precious and a gift from God” and noted that he had cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Christie urged the activists “to speak calmly and clearly and forthrightly for the idea that this is an issue whose time has come.” Salon describes Christie’s conversion from a “non-thinking pro-choice person, kind of the default position” when he heard his unborn daughter’s heartbeat as seemingly much more genuine than Mitt Romney’s.

Christie’s appeal to minorities is also a very good thing for conservatives. As reported by Examiner after his re-election victory, exit polls from New Jersey show that Gov. Christie made deep inroads into Barack Obama’s core constituencies. Christie won female voters by 15 percent even though the Democratic candidate, Barbara Buono, was a woman. He also won Hispanic voters outright with 51 percent (compared to Buono’s 45 percent). Although Christie did not win the black vote, at 21 percent his percentage of the black vote was three times greater than Romney’s. A successful Republican presidential candidate will have to appeal to minority voters.

With respect to global warming and climate change, the Huffington Post noted that when Christie ran for governor in 2009, he had “an impressive green agenda” on his website according to the New Jersey Environmental Federation, but that it has remained only on the website. Since then, he told a town hall meeting in 2010 that he was “a little skeptical” that humans are responsible for climate change. The Post story goes on to say that Christie withdrew New Jersey from the Northeast’s regional cap-and-trade plan, weakened the state’s renewable energy standard and used $210 million from the state’s clean energy fund to balance the budget. On the other hand, Christie opposed oil drilling and liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities off the New Jersey coast.

The Bad

The news about Christie isn’t all good for conservatives, however. For example, Christie accepted the Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act. He justified approving the expansion by noting that New Jersey’s Medicaid program was already so large that the potential expansion of the program under Obamacare was minimal, a claim confirmed by Politifact. Christie did veto a bill making the expansion permanent, telling N.J. Spotlight that if the terms of the expansion change “because of adverse actions by the Obama administration, I will end it as quickly as it started.” Republican governors John Kasich of Ohio and Mike Pence of Indiana also accepted the Obamacare Medicaid money according to the N.Y. Times.

Many conservatives also do not like Christie’s position on gun control. In 2009, Christie told Sean Hannity that he supported “common sense laws that will allow people to protect themselves” but also favored some gun control measures that would protect police. He noted that the state’s Democratic legislature would not allow easing restrictions on guns.

In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, Christie established a task force to “responsibly expand New Jersey’s strict gun control measures” according to the Washington Times’ Emily Miller. Christie signed 10 gun control bills into law, including a measure that required the state to submit mental health records to the FBI for instant background checks, but vetoed three others, including a ban a .50 caliber rifles. The NRA hailed the vetoes even though the group rated Christie as a “C.”

On same sex marriage, Christie is also at odds with many conservatives. In October 2013, he dropped the state’s appeal of a court decision striking down New Jersey’s marriage law in spite of the fact that he had previously vetoed a bill that would have allowed same sex marriages. The decision can likely be explained by the fact that previous court decisions made it very unlikely that Christie would have prevailed in court. Additionally, it is clear that the people of New Jersey supported the redefinition of marriage. A Rutgers Eagleton poll at the time showed that 61 percent of New Jersey voters favored marriage for same-sex couples compared to only 27 percent who were opposed. Sixty-seven percent opposed continuing the appeal. Even the state’s Republicans were almost evenly split on the court decision and whether to appeal although slight majorities of Republicans opposed both. Coming right before the election, pursuing the unpopular appeal could have sunk Christie’s campaign.

Christie’s decision to sign a bipartisan bill banning gay reparative therapy is harder to justify. Politico reported that Christie’s note accompanying the bill said that he believed that people were born gay and denied that homosexuality is a sin, a position inconsistent with his Catholic faith. A similar ban in California was challenged on First Amendment grounds and upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August 2013. At least two lawsuits have been filed against New Jersey’s ban according to

Christie’s appointment of Sohail Mohammed to the New Jersey Superior Court was also controversial. Mohammed is a native of India who immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager. As an attorney, he specialized in immigration law and represented dozens of immigrants who were detained in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mohammed’s career is profiled on

The criticism of Mohammed seems to stem mostly from the fact that he is a Muslim and the fear that he might help to institute sharia law in New Jersey. Some critics also point to his ties with the American Muslim Union which some believe is tied to Islamic terrorists. Of the controversy, Christie said in the Wall St. Journal, “It's just crazy, and I'm tired of dealing with the crazies.”

Speaking of immigration, Republican hardliners won’t like the governor’s history on illegal immigration. In 2008 when he was a federal prosecutor, Christie told a gathering of Latinos that illegal immigration was a civil, not criminal, matter and that, technically speaking, illegal immigrants are not committing a crime by being in the country illegally according to Although he is correct, “illegal [unlawful] presence” is a civil violation, not a misdemeanor or felony, Christie drew criticism from conservatives for the remark. New York Magazine noted that Christie only prosecuted 13 illegal immigration cases between 2002 and 2007, a very low number considering New Jersey’s status as a port of entry the state’s large immigrant population. In December 2013, Politico reported that Christie had announced that he planned to sign New Jersey’s DREAM Act.

The Ugly

One of the hardest things for conservatives to get past may be Christie’s “bro-mance” with President Obama. When Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey and New York a week before the 2012 election, the two executives toured storm damaged areas and traded compliments. A famous photo shows the two men shaking hands, Obama resting his hand on Christie’s shoulder, in Atlantic City on Oct. 31, 2012. Many conservatives, such as pollster and pundit Dick Morris, blame Christie for making Obama look like a bipartisan leader, an appraisal that had eluded him for the previous four years.

An Examiner analysis of 2012 exit polls found that 64 percent of voters said that the president’s response to the hurricane was a factor in their vote and 62 percent of these voters chose Obama. Both Rasmussen and Gallup polling showed an uptick in Obama’s approval ratings in the days after Hurricane Sandy struck New York.

There are several theories as to why Christie, who actively supported Mitt Romney, became a cheerleader for Barack Obama less than a week before a very close election. The most likely answer is that Christie was doing what he thought was best for his state. It probably did not hurt that the move was also good for Chris Christie. The governor’s approval rating jumped to 70 percent after the storm according to

In the end, Chris Christie can’t be accurately termed a RINO, but neither is he a hardcore conservative. If he were, he would be unelectable in a state as blue as New Jersey. In reality, Christie seems to be a fiscal conservative who is moderate on most social issues. Christie’s views might play well with moderate voters in a general election, but the recent shift towards libertarianism by many in the Republican Party makes it unlikely that he will get past the primary unless other candidates split the votes of social conservatives and Tea Partiers.

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The Good - The Bad - The Ugly