The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal.com’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.
Jobless in Seattle
The city of Seattle is raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour, and in a New York Times “Room for Debate” feature, Robert Reich, the leftist former labor secretary, argues there’s no downside:
My guess is Seattle’s businesses will adapt without any net loss of employment. Seattle’s employers will also have more employees to choose from–as the $15 minimum attracts into the labor force some people who otherwise haven’t been interested. That means [employers will] end up with workers who are highly reliable and likely to stay longer, resulting in real savings.
There are a couple of problems with this argument. For one, there’s no maximumwage, so that if companies want to enjoy the purported benefits of paying no less than $15 an hour, they are already free to do so. Reich might rejoin that imposing the minimum on everybody would free employers from competitive pressures to reduce labor costs. But even with the high minimum, companies can reduce those costs by replacing workers with machines or by moving out of Seattle.
And even if Reich is right that net employment wouldn’t go down because higher wages would attract “highly reliable workers,” that would come at the expense of pricing less reliable workers out of the market–which casts doubt on another Reich claim: that “with a higher minimum wage . . . we’d all end up paying less for Medicaid, food stamps and other assistance the working poor now need in order to have a minimally decent standard of living.”
What Would We Do Without Experts?
“Body Language Expert: Bowe Bergdahl Seemed Reluctant to Leave Captors”–headline, TheDailyBeast.com, June 4
The Lonely Lives of Taliban
“Taliban ‘Was Thrilled’ When Deserter Sgt Bergdahl’s Father Thanked ‘Allah the Merciful’ in his White House Press Conference”–headline, Daily Mail (London), June 5
Longest Books Ever Written
“What Went Wrong in the Middle East?”–headline, Hurriyet Daily News (Turkey), June 5
Who’s More Competent?
This has to hurt: A plurality of respondents in a new Fox News poll “believe the administration of former President George W. Bush was more competent [than] the Obama administration,” the Hill reports. “Forty-eight percent say the Obama administration is less competent, while 42 percent say it is more competent.” Although the question didn’t include the option, 7% volunteered that they rated the two administrations “the same.”
Not surprisingly, partisans favor the president from their party, with 76% of Democrats siding with Obama and 81% of Republicans with Bush. But independents also favor Bush, albeit by a considerably smaller margin: 47% to 34%, with 14% “the same.”
Another way of putting it is that 55% of all respondents and 61% of independents think that Obama is at least as incompetent as Bush–which, given the latter’s reputation toward the end of his term, is quite damning of the current president.
It seems to us that the Hill buries the lead, opening instead with the less surprising news that respondents rate Bill Clinton’s administration as more competent than Obama’s. Here the margin is much wider, 68% to 18%, though there’s still a partisan split, with 84% of Republicans, 69% of independents and only 55% of Democrats favoring Clinton over Obama.
The poll isn’t necessarily bad news for Democrats looking ahead two years. Assuming that Hillary Clinton decides to run for president again, she may benefit by association from her husband’s good reputation. Fifty-four percent of the poll respondents have a favorable view of her, which is better than Obama’s 45% but not as good as Bill Clinton’s 61%. Then again, Mrs. Clinton also has an association with Obama, having served in his cabinet. Her decision to leave at the start of the second term certainly looks like a shrewd one.
But the Obama administration’s ineptitude is terrifying congressional Democrats who face voters in 2014, to judge by this New York Times report:
President Obama’s handling of the Bergdahl prisoner exchange has renewed frustration among congressional Democrats about the administration’s relations with its allies on Capitol Hill, and prompted criticism that the White House failed to prepare the lawmakers for the politically explosive case. . . .
The chain of events, coming after days of contending with a searing scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs and coupled with some Democratic unrest over new proposed rules on power plant emissions, has some Democrats questioning the effectiveness of the administration’s team and its ability to help them get on the offensive with a midterm election just months away.
“We have to quit putting out fires,” said one Democratic senator, who asked not to be named in talking candidly about internal party views of the White House.
While the Times’s Carl Hulse notes delicately that “strains between a president and congressional members of his party during a second term are not unheard-of,” he also observes that “the level of discontent this week among Democrats seemed noticeably high and was fueled not only by recent events, but also by lingering fallout from last year’s health care furor and unease about the approaching election.”
Regarding the trade of captive soldier Bowe Bergdahl for five top Taliban, some of the Democrats complain they were sandbagged by Obama’s failure to comply with a statute requiring him to notify Congress before freeing the detainees. Obama’s position is that the trade was a legitimate exercise of his constitutional authority as commander in chief, and this column agrees.
Yet even if the president has the better of the legal argument, he is still politically constrained to explain his actions, and he and other administration officials are trying to do so in various ways. Here’s one of them, from another New York Times report:
Weeks before [the deal was struck], American officials grew increasingly worried that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s life might be in jeopardy.
A video produced by his captors months earlier had shown him weak and dazed, and there was a growing fear that the Taliban–frustrated by the glacial pace of hostage negotiations–were beginning to rethink the value of continuing to hold an American prisoner.
Officials from Qatar, who had long been the middlemen in the deliberations for a deal that would free Sergeant Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners, were issuing warnings that the American prisoner’s days could be numbered.
The Associated Press suggests these “warnings” were actually threats:
The Obama administration has told senators it didn’t notify Congress about the pending swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban officials because the Taliban had threatened to kill him if the deal was made public before it happened. That’s according to three congressional officials who spoke to The Associated Press.
The officials said Thursday that the threat–not just concerns that the captive’s health might be failing–drove the Obama administration to quickly make a deal to rescue Bergdahl. The threat had been transmitted by Qatari officials at the height of the negotiations.
The conservative publication Human Events sums this explanation up with a pointed headline: “New White House Spin: We Broke the Law Because the Taliban Ordered Us To.” The Human Events writer, John Hayward, doesn’t buy the explanation–hence “Spin.” And there’s good reason to doubt it, not least that the Washington Postreported back in February that such a deal was in the works. But it is a fair observation that the Taliban made us do it is not a confidence-inspiring defense, especially if it is true.
And Time.com reports that “a Taliban commander close to the negotiations” says the deal, in reporter Aryn Baker’s words, “has made it more appealing for fighters to capture American soldiers and other high-value targets”:
“It’s better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people,” the commander said, speaking by telephone on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. “It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.”
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that the deal has drawn criticism from one former Obama cabinet member:
“I don’t fault the administration for wanting to get him back. I do question whether the conditions are in place to make sure these terrorists don’t go back into battle,” former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told a gas industry gathering in Pittsburgh.
Panetta, who was in the Cabinet for four of the five years Bergdahl spent in Taliban custody, said he opposed a swap for the terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when he was Defense secretary.
“I said, ‘Wait, I have an obligation under the law,'” Panetta said during a lunchtime address at the Hart Energy Developing Unconventionals DUG East conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. “If I send prisoners from Guantanamo, they have to guarantee they don’t go back to the battlefield. I had serious concerns.”
Obama, meanwhile, still hopes to play on public sympathy for Bergdahl’s parents. At anews conference today, the president said:
This is not a political football. You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land who they hadn’t seen in five years and weren’t sure whether they’d ever see again.
And as commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces, I am responsible for those kids, and I get letters from parents who say, if you are, in fact, sending my child into war, make sure that that child is being taken care of. And I write too many letters to folks who, unfortunately, don’t see their children again after fighting a war. I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child and that we don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back.
In response, the Washington Post’s Charles Lane tweets: “Fascinating how Obama recasts Bergdahl as a ‘child.’ Uses word four times to describe him.” (Not to mention “kid,” which he used twice.)
Of course, every adult is also a “child,” in the sense of being somebody’s son or daughter. But if the president is making command decisions based on such sentimentality and heedless of the potential consequences, his administration is in dire need of adult supervision.
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