Saturday, June 30, 2012

How I Know Obamacare Really is Popular

I'm told by commenters on this blog and all sorts of other "Surrender Dorothy" types that Obamacare is popular now that it has the imprimatur of the Chief Justice, who called it legal because it's permissible under the taxing power granted to Congress.

If it's so popular, why is the White House already denying it's a tax?

“It’s a penalty, because you have a choice. You don’t have a choice to pay your taxes, right?” Carney said.
Carney was initially reluctant to assign a label to the fine when pressed repeatedly by reporters Friday. “Call it what you want,” he said.
Now that I have Jay Carney's permission to call it what I want, I'll call it a tax.

As for the notion that you have a choice, I think we should give that a rest, as we are reminded here:

This is how it works: the government insists that you have to health insurance. It's for your own good, so you have to have it. It'll save you money and, possibly, save your life.

But if you don't want it or don't find a plan that you can afford that meets their standards, well, that doesn't matter. Then the argument shifts that it isn't just for your benefit, it's for ours -- we don't want to have to pay for you should you get sick or injured. That potential cost is too much risk, so you gotta pay for insurance.

In P. J. O'Rourke's brilliant classic "Parliament Of Whores," he described this effect: every single government mandate comes with an implicit threat: do this, or else. Obey the law, or be fined. Pay the fine, or go to jail. Try to get out of jail, and be shot. Or, more precisely, "Would you kill your grandmother to pave I-95?"

That's the underlying, oft-unstated message behind RomneyCare and ObamaCare: sign up, or pay a fine. Pay the fine, or go to jail.

And this points out Mitt Romney's biggest weakness as a candidate: he put forth something similar to Obamacare in Massachusetts. Up to this point, Romney has been unwilling to repudiate his handiwork. I think he'll have to do it soon. And I predict he will.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Home Truth

Timothy Dalrymple:
I think this places the central issue of the election very clearly in front of the voters: Do you believe that the government ought to have more power over your life, or do you think it should have less?  The Supreme Court is not going to save us against our own poor electoral decisions, if the people we elect go on to pass foolish taxes.  Conservatives cannot rely on the Supreme Court as a backstop.  So I think you will see the Tea Party movement revived, less focused on internecine battles and more focused again on the fundamental questions of the role of government.
Emphasis mine. Chief Justice Dread Pirate Roberts said as much yesterday:
Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.
Again, emphasis mine. Or, as H. L. Mencken put it many years ago:
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
A whole lot of common people thought they knew what the wanted in 2008. Yesterday those people, and the rest of us, got it good and hard.

Deep Thoughts in the Comments Section

Reading through the comments sections of blogs can be entertaining and maddening, especially on a day when something as newsworthy as the Obamacare decision comes down. Sometimes commenters make really good points, though. This is a smart observation from a Powerline commenter:

I think it is very hard for the average person to understand a ruling that says the Federal Government does not have the authority to compel you to enter the marketplace, but if you choose not to do so, it can tax you for failing to participate in the marketplace. That just seems contradictory at its heart. Now that the taxing power is understood to include taxing things that do not happen, who knows what could be next.

Which brings an equally smart response from another commenter:

 I think you have put your finger in the hole in Roberts argument. I would love to ask him if the government could charge someone income tax for what he should have earned rather than for what he earned.

I would assume the Romney campaign will be asking these questions on the campaign trail. And it should.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Answer We Got Today

So we're in for an interesting campaign season, then....

I don't think anyone thought the scenario would play out quite the way it did, but the Supreme Court today did let Obamacare stand on a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts providing the deciding vote. You'll have no trouble finding news articles about the case and probably more analysis than you ever would have time to read. But since you're here, I'll share my thoughts.

The greatest fear I had was that the Supreme Court would accept the idea that Obamacare was constitutional because of the Commerce Clause and the jurisprudence surrounding that particular clause, especially the case of Wickard v. Filburn, which I have referenced a number of times. As it turns out, Roberts and the other justices in the majority (Sotomayor, Kagan, Breyer and Ginsburg) ruled that the key portion of the law, the individual mandate, was constitutional because of Congress's power to levy taxes. There's no point in disputing that power, since it's right there in Article I
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.
Uniformity is an interesting issue where this law is concerned, but Congress's power to levy taxes is beyond dispute. Roberts and his colleagues were certainly within their right to see the law as constitutional on that basis. As always, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. And we have every right to hold Congress and President Obama to account for their handiwork. And I urge my fellow citizens to do so in November.

The good news, potentially, is that the abuse of the Commerce Clause might be coming to an end because of this case. Writing for the Washington Post, Brad Plumer offers a fairly straightforward explanation:

In its decision Thursday, five justices, including Roberts, ruled that the health reform law’s requirement for all Americans to purchase health insurance runs afoul of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Basically, the court ruled that Congress can regulate existing interstate commercial activity, but it can’t directly force people to enter into a market (by, say, requiring them to purchase health insurance). “The power to regulate commerce,” Roberts wrote, “presupposes the existence of commercial activity to be regulated.”
That could be huge, as Tom Scocca of Slate points out:

The scholars expected to see the court gut existing Commerce Clause precedent and overturn the individual mandate in a partisan decision: Five Republican-appointed justices voting to rewrite doctrine and reject Obamacare; four Democratic-appointed justices dissenting.

Roberts was smarter than that. By ruling that the individual mandate was permissible as a tax, he joined the Democratic appointees to uphold the law—while joining the Republican wing to gut the Commerce Clause (and push back against the necessary-and-proper clause as well).

Scocca quotes the opinion to explain this (italics in original):

Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority. Congress already possesses expansive power to regulate what people do. Upholding the Affordable Care Act under the Commerce Clause would give Congress the same license to regulate what people do not do. The Framers knew the difference between doing something and doing nothing. They gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it. Ignoring that distinction would undermine the principle that the Federal Government is a government of limited and enumerated powers. The individual mandate thus cannot be sustained under Congress’s power to “regulate Commerce.”
This is about as ringing an endorsement of enumerated powers as an evil-hearted conservative like myself could ever hope for, truth be told. And because it spells out that you cannot compel someone to engage in commerce, it kicks Wickard and another odious decision, Gonzales v. Raich, right in the teeth. While the court cases that will follow this case will take time, I could easily see a day in the future in which these cases are essentially defanged. That would be a great thing.

It's pretty simple, really. Benjamin Franklin summed it up nicely at the beginning of the Republic:

QUOTATION: “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”
                                “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Just so. If we have learned nothing more from cases like Raich, or Kelo,  it's this:  you cannot rely on the Supreme Court to be a personal deus ex machina and save your ass from tyranny. You have to do it yourself, with the tools you have, which include your voice and your ballot. It's up to us to have our say. And you can do that in November. We have a Republic, if you can keep it. And one way to keep it is to go to the ballot box. So get to it.

The Answer I Hope We Get Today

So it comes down today, the big decision. For all the complexity of the law, I think the question here is pretty simple. What we ought to learn is the answer to this question: are there any real limits on the power of the federal government beyond those specifically proscribed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?

If there are limits to what the government can do, Obamacare is going down. If the Court accepts the premise of the 70 years of jurisprudence that have flowed from the Wickard v. Filburn decision, then Obamacare stands.

Either way, the republic will survive. If Obamacare is struck down in whole, the next Congress will likely readdress the issue. If only the individual mandate is struck down, the next Congress will have to address the issue. If Obamacare stands, Mitt Romney and his Republican cohort will have to convince Americans that Obamacare must be eliminated, primarily by ensuring that the next Congress has enough Republicans in it to get a repeal measure through. In other words, no matter what happens today, the issue of how we pay for health care will remain on the table.

The larger question, especially about whether the Commerce Clause actually allows the federal government to require participation in a market, is what needs to be resolved today. I'm not confident that will happen, though. It would be very easy for the Court to kick the question down the road and play with the structure of Obamacare while leaving it intact. Even though I completely oppose Obamacare, in some ways it would be preferable if the Court left the whole thing stand rather than to tinker with it. I have long believed that a principal reason that the economy has not improved much in recent years is that there is a great deal of uncertainty about how much power the government holds and how it will use it. If you cannot be certain how your enterprise will be regulated, a prudent individual is less likely to take the sorts of calculated risks that are key to making a free market economy work. If we learn today that we aren't actually in a free market economy, because Congress really does have plenary power over commerce, then people will respond. If Congress does not have plenary power, people will respond to that, too. One way or another, the question is ripe for an answer.

Either we all are Roscoe Filburn, or we are not. Either way, it would be good to know.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Break in the Ranks?

The idea that the ongoing drama surround Fast and Furious is a partisan witch hunt takes a turn:

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) on Tuesday became one of the first Democrats to publicly declare he will vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, breaking from his party on what is expected to be a mostly party-line vote Thursday.

“Utahns expect and deserve transparency and accountability from government officials, especially when a tragedy such as the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent occurs. It just compounds the tragedy when both sides play politics instead of releasing the facts,” he said in a statement, adding: “Sadly, it seems that it will take holding the Attorney General in contempt to communicate that evasiveness is unacceptable. It is a vote I will support.”
Is this a sign of Democratic uneasiness about the scandal? Maybe, but I think there's something else going on. An astute observer of the political scene would note two things about this development:

  • Utah Democrats are pretty rare critters; and
  • It's safe to assume that any Utah Democrat would have tough sledding in this election cycle.
And sure enough, Matheson has a fight on his hands:

Other than her conservatism, there is little about Mia Love that doesn't stand out in Utah. She is a black Republican, a 36-year-old mother of three, a fitness instructor and mayor of a growing town.

Now, her congressional race against a popular incumbent whom Republicans have struggled to defeat has made Love a minor celebrity among GOP stalwarts.

She recently introduced herself to a group of teachers, standing in the gilded state Capitol, which historically has been the domain of white men, by describing her Haitian American father.

"He said: 'Mia, your mother and I never took a handout. You will not be a burden to society,' " she said with a stern smile. " 'You will give back.' "

Most of the teachers already knew of Love, whose race against six-term Rep. Jim Matheson (D) has become one of the country's most closely watched congressional contests.

If she wins, not only would she help Republicans keep control of the House, but she would become the first black Republican woman to serve in Congress. Love, who is Mormon, also could go a long way toward helping presidential candidate Mitt Romney, putting a fresh face on his church and his party as both try to appeal to an increasingly diverse nation.
Here is the safest prediction of the day: as the campaign goes on, you are going to see a lot more Democrats with tough races trying to put a little daylight between themselves and the incumbent administration. Doubt that? Check out Claire McCaskill:

Claire McCaskill will not be attending the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, a McCaskill aide confirmed to TPM Tuesday. McCaskill joins a list of vulnerable Democratic politicians whose home districts are hostile ground for President Obama and who will be steering clear of the convention.
McCaskill is the incumbent senator from Missouri, famously known as the Show Me State. It's interesting what she chooses to show these days.


My friend and ace radio man Brad Carlson on the President's adventures in sports punditry. Hit the link.

For what it's worth

If you wanted to know why George Zimmerman wasn't charged right away in the Trayvon Martin case, here's a possible explanation:

A day after killing Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman passed a police lie detector test when asked if he confronted the teenager and whether he feared for his life “when you shot the guy,” according to documents released today by Florida prosecutors.
More at the link.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Submitted Without Further Comment

Just hit the link.

Where the Wild Things Aren't

Probably my favorite children's book of all is Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. It's a wonderful book with luminous drawings and it is justly beloved. I first read it when I was probably about 4. I've also shared it with many other children, including my own.

As you likely know, Sendak died earlier this year. I'm not one to speak ill of the dead, but I think this passage from an interview that Sendak did last year speaks for itself:

SENDAK: Bush was president, I thought, “Be brave. Tie a bomb to your shirt. Insist on going to the White House. And I wanna have a big hug with the vice president, definitely. And his wife, and the president, and his wife, and anybody else that can fit into the love hug.”

GROTH: A group hug.

SENDAK: And then we’ll blow ourselves up, and I’d be a hero. [Groth laughs.] To hell with the kiddie books. He killed Bush. He killed the vice president. Oh my God.

GROTH: I would have been willing to forgo this interview. [Sendak laughs.]

SENDAK: You would have forgotten about it. It would have been a very brave and wonderful thing. But I didn’t do it; I didn’t do it.

Sometimes you have to trust the tale more than the teller.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday at the Court

The big decision apparently waits until Thursday, but the Supreme Court did hand down three rulings today. They have decided that the 8th Amendment precludes giving juveniles life in prison without the possibility of parole. They also decided not to take up Montana's challenge to Citizens United. And finally, they performed surgery on the Arizona immigration law SB 1070.

I don't have a lot to say about the 8th Amendment case. While there are certainly a lot of young people who commit heinous crimes, it's quite possible to share the view that committing a young person to a lifetime in prison isn't the best course of action. The underlying case happened in Arkansas, in which a 14-year old was part of an armed robbery in which a store clerk was murdered during the robbery. The plaintiff in the case before the Court was not the shooter, however, but because he was part of the crime he was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole. You can argue it either way but there's still a presumption that there is a purpose in trying to rehabilitate prisoners. The young man in question, Kuntrell Jackson, is now 26. Perhaps he'll get a second chance with his life; if he does, I certainly hope he makes  better choices as an adult than he did as a 14-year old.

The second case concerned a state challenge to the Citizens United ruling, a bete noire for the Left. The state of Montana sought to defend a law passed in 1912 that limited corporate spending on campaigns, contravening the ruling in Citizens. The matter came back to the court and went down with the same 5-4 margin that Citizens United had. In other words, not much changed. I would fully expect that there will be additional challenges to the ruling in the future, especially if the composition of the Court changes in the next few years. The logic behind Citizens United remains the same as it has always been -- money is a form of political speech and the 1st Amendment has a very high bar for limiting the amount of political speech any entity can have. The Left hates the ruling because it takes away what had long been a competitive advantage that the Left held.

As an aside, I'm amused by the notion that the Left is uniformly against corporate interests speaking out on political matters. I haven't heard a lot of complaints about General Mills lately, to use just one example, and media corporations that aren't called Fox typically get a pass, too. Funny how that works. The issue in Citizens has never been about the mechanism of speech, but rather the content of the speech. If the Left really wants to defeat the corporations who might speak against what the Left holds dear, I'd suggest that the Left get in the habit of making more persuasive arguments instead of trying to muffle its opponents.

The biggest one of the day concerned the Arizona immigration law, SB 1070. Three of the four provisions of the law were struck down. John Hayward of Human Events explains how the Court decided the matter:

Struck down were Arizona's requirement for aliens to carry registration papers, the law's application of criminal penalties for employing illegal aliens, and the authorization of warrantless arrests for deportable crimes.

However, Arizona's requirement for police officers to make reasonable efforts to determine the immigration status of people detained for other infractions was upheld. 

The ruling is tricky, because the situation is a difficult one. I don't think there's much dispute that immigration is a federal matter, not a state issue, but in a place like Arizona the burden is much greater. The sad truth is that there's something approaching a civil war going on in northern Mexico right now and a lot of the violence has spilled over into Arizona. In some respects, SB 1070 was a much a cry for help as anything else. As things stand, the Obama administration has little interest in enforcing the immigration laws as they are currently written and the president has essentially implemented the DREAM Act by fiat.

Should he able to do that? Probably not, but Obama's action was not what was under review in the case. For his part, Justice Scalia let fly with a blistering dissent and brought up the current situation as a key factor:

Besides expressing unhappiness with the Obama Administration’s immigration enforcement policies, Justice Scalia contended that the framers of the Constitution understood that the states had sovereign power over immigration.  He stated sarcastically that “[i]f securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State.”
As usual, Scalia has a point. However, hard cases make bad law, as the old saying goes. And if we are going to have a uniform immigration policy, it needs to come from the federal government. The proper remedy for dealing with the Obama administration's actions is to vote it out of office. And it's worth remembering that Arizona can still enforce its statutes concerning crimes that are committed within its borders. That's been happening all along and will continue, although the Justice Department has been trying to throw spanners in the works.

The larger issue of immigration and the implications of the DREAM Act are well beyond the scope of today's ruling. We do need to resolve these issues, but that's not going to happen in this election cycle.

Court Watching

The decision on Obamacare will come down this week, perhaps even today. And even before the actual decision comes down, the navel-gazing is underway. Writing for the Washington Post, Peter Wallsten has a theory:

Obama, a former constitutional law instructor, and White House lawyers helped shape a legal strategy essentially portraying health care as a unique marketplace that Congress, under the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause, could regulate by imposing the requirement that consumers buy insurance before receiving treatment or pay a penalty.

Many liberals had criticized Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. for a halting performance during the oral arguments on the case in March. But while Verrilli took the lead in shaping the government’s case, the broader strategy being questioned in some circles stemmed from a close partnership between the solicitor general’s office and the White House — with the strategy securing Obama’s approval.

How one interprets the Commerce Clause makes all the difference. The clause itself seems straightforward enough:

Clause 3: To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes
Congress has this authority and everyone agrees on that. How much regulation Congress gets to do is where it gets sticky. One of the key cases in our modern understanding of the Commerce Clause is the Roosevelt-era decision Wickard v. Filburn. I've written about Wickard before and if you follow its logic, Obamacare pretty much has to stand.

What I suspect is that the conservative wing of the Court has been waiting to give Wickard another look and may have chosen to use the Obamacare case as its means. As recently as 2005, the Court used Wickard as a precedent in a case that essentially gave Congress the right to intervene in California's medical marijuana experiment. That case, Gonzales v. Raich, has been a source of consternation among conservatives and libertarians ever since.

Would the Court consider striking down Wickard in this case? Damon Root, writing for Reason, doesn't think so:

As I explained shortly before the Court heard oral arguments in the health care case, there was already good reason to think Scalia would vote against ObamaCare’s individual mandate. And since there’s zero chance the Supreme Court is going to overturn Wickard as part of its health care ruling, Scalia’s new hostility to that case only figures in as a sort of background influence.

The hostility that Root is referencing comes from a new book that Scalia has written, in which he is critical of Wickard. I'm not sure I agree with Root, however. Wickard is long since due for a good hard look, precisely because its logic pretty much lets Congress do anything it wants if there's even a hint of "commerce" involved. I'm thinking that there's at least a chance that the Court is going to give Wickard a good kick. I don't think there's necessarily any reason to assume that stare decisis will stop the Court. If stare decisis were always in play, Bowers v. Hardwick would still be on the books.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Title IX at 40

A few very random thoughts on this notable anniversary:

  • I'm glad that girls and women get to play. More options are always better. And there is at least as much joy in watching Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus as there is watching any other basketball player. They are very impressive players, as are their teammates.
  • I graduated from high school in the early 1980s and women's sports programs were still relatively new. The progress they have made is simply astonishing. As it happened, my high school had some very good women's teams and we even won the state basketball title in 1978. If you go to a game today, the level of play is far superior. The best player on that 1978 team, who earned a scholarship to play at Iowa, would be good enough to start for a modern high school team, but I think most of the rest of the players would be lucky to be reserves now. There's a reason for that, about which more in a moment.
  • It's worth pointing out that there are side effects to Title IX that aren't so good, though. First, it has meant in some cases that sports programs for men have been cut. It still bothers me that the University of Wisconsin does not field a baseball team, in large part because it's necessary to keep the overall participation numbers in line. That's not good.
  • Second, and more important, the women's sports do not generate enough revenue to be self-supporting. There are instances, primarily in women's college basketball at places like the University of Tennessee and UConn, where programs pay for themselves, but in the main that is not the case. As a practical matter, that lack of self-support has meant that the revenue producing sports at the large college level, especially football, have had to be even more corporate and business-like. I don't think that is a particularly good development.
  • One other thing that is less than desirable is that I see girl's sports, especially at the youth level, starting to emulate some of the less savory trends you see in youth sports for boys. My daughter has played softball for most of her childhood but her only option this year was to play for a traveling team, which would have involved a time commitment and cost that didn't make sense for her or for our family. She's finding other ways to stay active this summer, but she misses it. The youth programs increasingly are farm systems for the local high school programs and that's not necessarily the best reason to run a program. It does mean that the high school teams play at a much higher level than they did 30 years ago, but in some respects it also means that girls who might want to play for the fun of it are essentially weeded out at an early age. That seems counter to the spirit of what Title IX is supposed to be about. I wouldn't want to put this emphasis at the feet of Title IX, because it's more of a function of the problems inherent in youth sports generally, but it's worth pointing out. We are taking a lot of the joy of sports out of the game at the youth level and it's disheartening that the girl's programs are following the same pernicious model that the boys use.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Deep Gravy

Are you excited about this year's election cycle? Good for you if you are, because we need an engaged citizenry and there are any number of important issues facing the nation right now. We aren't talking about what really matters very much right now, but that doesn't change the importance of the issues.

And yet, I'm not feeling it. It's difficult to get very excited about the prospect of a Mitt Romney presidency, because my suspicion is that he's not going to do much beyond tinkering around the edges.

Increasingly the larger narrative of this race seems to be this: Barack Obama's campaign and presidency are clearly out of ideas and both appear to be, in the words of P. J. O'Rourke, dead but too dumb to lie down.

I don't dispute that there's certainly humor potential galore in the flailing:
It's the Obama Event Registry, and I know they are making fun of it over at Hot Air and Instapundit and all those right-wing places that attract the greedy sort of person who doesn't know what it means to truly bleed deep in your heart for the poor and suffering people of the world to whom Barack Obama will minister in his second term when he is finally free of the bonds of the electoral system. It is time to sacrifice — and to display to your friends and family how much you sacrifice — for the betterment of humankind. And if any of them are receiving presents for their wedding/anniversary/birthday, may they feel the shame and, in their weakness, may they know that you are a finer, truer liberal than they.
As Gino rightly points out, the Obamas aren't asking you forgo a gravy boat, but rather a gravy bowl, which in itself is a pretty good Freudian slip. I assume that potential second-term Obama HHS Secretary Michael Bloomberg would insist that any gravy receptacle hold no more than 16 ounces of the demon fluid, too.

But you know what? Those are cheap jokes. Too easy, too formulaic. A presidency that can be mocked that easily is circling the gravy bowl, so to speak. Perhaps the happy loving couples in the prospective gay marriage registries will be happy enough with the president's storied evolution on the matter to toss a few shekels at the Obama '12 campaign, so long as they don't have to give up the other kitchen gadgetry. This lovely example goes for $77.44 on the Amazon website, which should be enough to partially offset the cost of a 30-second attack ad about Mitt Romney's evil outsourcing ways on a late September newscast in Fort Wayne.

Remember, gravy is bad for you but Obama '12 will set you free

That would be change you can believe in, I suppose. And I'm certain the citizens of Fort Wayne will appreciate the sacrifice you made on their behalf. You can always put your gravy in a bowl.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Turning and turning

It's not getting any easier for President Obama.

Item: The Washington Post fact-checker gives a recent Obama campaign ad, which refers to Mitt Romney as a "corporate raider," 4 Pinocchios:

The Obama campaign fails to make its case. On just about every level, this ad is misleading, unfair and untrue, from the use of “corporate raider” to its examples of alleged outsourcing.  Simply repeating the same debunked claims won’t make them any more correct.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Art Jay Carney is having trouble remembering the most basic details:
First, Carney couldn’t say if the documents that Obama is refusing to let Congress see actually involve the White House corresponding with the Justice Department about the false claim that law enforcement did not allow any guns to be smuggled into Mexico. “I don’t have a way to characterize the documents in question here,” Carney said.

Next, Carney was forced to back off his attempt to pin Fast and Furious on the Bush Administration. “It originated in a field office during the previous administration.  It was ended under this administration, by this Attorney General,” Carney said. ABC’s Jake Tapper quickly observed that “The operation began in fall 2009.”
Carney wasn't done, though:
As Carney continued to field questions, he appeared to forget the family name of border patrol agent Brian Terry, who was death ignited the investigation after he was killed by drug smugglers armed with weapons obtained through Operation Fast and Furious.

“We have provided Congress every document that pertains to the operation itself that is at issue here when you talk about the family that you referred to,” Carney said. When Tapper provided him the name, he repeated it — “the Terry family.”

And when Carney said that Obama’s decision to assert executive privilege over documents subpoenaed by Congress was “entirely about principle,” reporters openly laughed.
And on the banking front, Moody's has more bad news:

Moody's had announced earlier this year that it planned to review its rating rationale for global banks in the wake of the financial crisis, and had already downgraded two other banks before Thursday.

The Swiss bank Credit Suisse was downgraded three notches by Moody's, while Morgan Stanley and UBS each saw their ratings drop two levels.

As rumors of the downgrades spread among financial markets Thursday afternoon, stocks took a steep turn for the worse. The Dow Jones Industrial Average close the day down 250 points or nearly two percent, its second worst day of the year.

It's one thing when the falcon cannot hear the falconer. It's quite another when the falcon decides not to listen any more. Among other things, it's evident that the president is having trouble controlling the news cycle. This isn't surprising, because the news media are now scrambling to avoid losing any further credibility. It's likely too late for a lot of these outfits, though, because the internet is forever. We are a long, long way from 2008.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fast and Furious and Increasingly Curious

It took some dramatics to actually get "Fast and Furious" on the front pages, but it's there now:
A House panel voted Wednesday to place Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for his failure to comply with a subpoena, defying an assertion of executive privilege from President Obama.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Republican Chairman Darrell Issa (Calif.), approved a resolution along party lines to place Holder in contempt after battling him for months over access to internal agency documents about the gun-tracking operation known as "Fast and Furious."
The claim of executive privilege really surprised me, because it wouldn't seem to be germane. The claim all along is that the White House has not had any involvement in the matter beyond whatever is happening at the Justice Department. It certainly got Charles Grassley to raise an eyebrow:

Obama has denied knowledge of Fast and Furious, but Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Obama's assertion of executive privilege raises "monumental questions" about whether the White House was involved in the authorization of or the fallout from the botched operation.

"How can the president assert executive privilege if there was no White House involvement? How can the president exert executive privilege over documents he's supposedly never seen?" Grassley said in a statement. "Is something very big being hidden to go to this extreme?"
We don't really know the answer to that, but the claim of executive privilege certainly ups the ante on this matter. In her blog for the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin explains the side effects, using a figure that Democrats might remember:
But we can now see how Obama has come full circle. As a senator he decried signing statements and invocation of executive privilege, as president he’s become the quintessential imperial president complete with czars, harassment of opponents’ donors and ham-handed efforts to bully the Supreme Court on Citizens United and then Obamacare.

John Yoo, who is second to none when it comes to defending the executive branch, told me this afternoon: “Holder is a gift that keeps on giving — for congressional Republicans. He is bringing a unique combination of political ineptness and constitutional myopia. Politically, he is sustaining a story of law enforcement incompetence that he could bring to a quick end by providing the Hill with documents that bear no national security implications (unlike the Obama administration leaks about our counter-terrorism programs).”

On the law Yoo commented, “Legally, he has given the Obama White House bad advice on the scope of executive privilege, which the Supreme Court in Nixon made clear is centered on the president’s right to discuss the most sensitive national security, military and diplomatic matters with his aides. Either the White House is admitting that President Obama was involved in the ‘Fast and Furious’ controversy (which seems hard to believe), or they are seeking to claim executive privilege to mere discussion of low-level staff with the Attorney General, which the Constitution does not recognize.”
When John Yoo thinks you're overreaching. . . .

It may not matter in the end that much. You might recall that in 2008, the Bush administration was battling Congress and found a couple of aides in contempt:

No congressional committee has held an executive branch official in contempt of Congress since July 2008, when the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee found Karl Rove, the former adviser to President George W. Bush, in contempt over the alleged politicization of U.S. attorneys’ offices.

The resolution was never taken up by the full House, though two other Bush officials, former counsel Harriet E. Miers and former Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, were held in contempt by the chamber earlier in 2008, also in connection with the U.S. attorneys scandal.

After Miers and Bolten were found in contempt by the Democrat-led House in February 2008, House leaders asked the Justice Department to prosecute them. Then-Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey refused, and Democrats turned to the courts to try to obtain more information from the two aides.

A trial judge sided with the House, but the dispute eventually subsided as the Bush administration left office and the Obama administration took over.
Two points worth making:

  • There's a fundamental difference in importance between the two investigations. No one seriously disputes that a president has a right to fire any U.S. attorney at any time, for any reason, because they are political appointees. In Fast and Furious, there is actual wrongdoing and a body count.
  • There is a chance the dispute will subside if Obama is defeated in November, because it would be my guess that Mitt Romney wouldn't want to pursue the matter any further. And why do you suppose that is? Back to Rubin:
Principled Democrats who may soon face a Romney administration had better pipe up. Otherwise the precedent will be there for vast expansion of executive power and squashing of Congress’s proper role in our system of government.
Exactly right. This is the reason that I've always had misgivings about the Patriot Act. When you are in power, you should be careful not to claim any power that your political opponents would then be able to use against you when you are out of power.

My guess is that the documents that Congressman Issa is seeking are embarrassing as hell to Holder and to the administration. I don't know that there's any straight-up criminal activity involved and I'd actually be surprised if there were. But as we've learned over and over, the coverup is always worse than the crime. Unless there's something in those documents that implicates the administration in criminal activity, it would be a lot better for everyone if Holder just forked over the documents. That he refuses to do so makes the matter a lot more problematic.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Veepstakes - Early Edition

You can tell we've reached a slow moment in the election cycle, because talk of Vice Presidents seems to be in the news. The buzz yesterday started when a report from Jonathan Karl at ABC suggested that Marco Rubio, the wunderkind senator from Florida, was not being "vetted" as a potential Mitt Romney running mate. Romney's camp denied this was the case, but frankly it's inside baseball.

I would guess that Rubio will get consideration, but not a lot. If he were the veep choice, the immigration issue would become either Matsu or Quemoy in this cycle and Romney intends to make this election about the economy.

The Veepstakes is always an amusing thing, especially since no one outside of the candidate really knows. In the last cycle I guessed right on John McCain's pick of Sarah Palin, but I claim no special insight in the matter. What is amusing, looking back on what happened four years ago, is that a fair number of the same names seem to be in the running, including:

  • Tim Pawlenty, our former governor
  • Rob Portman, a senator from Ohio
  • Paul Ryan, the high-profile House Budget Committee chairman from Wisconsin
You heard rumors on all of these gentlemen last time. I think we can safely rule out Sarah Palin for this cycle, but is there another potential woman in the mix? If so, I'd suggest three possibilities:
  • Kelly Ayotte, a senator from New Hampshire
  • Susana Martinez, governor of New Mexico
  • Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a congresswoman from the Spokane, WA area
Who will Romney pick? My guess is that they line up in the following order:
  1. Pawlenty
  2. Portman
  3. McMorris Rodgers
  4. Ryan
  5. Martinez
  6. Ayotte
We'll certainly talk more about this in the coming days, but for now I'd be curious to get your guesses on what Romney is thinking.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Clemens Case

Roger Clemens fought the law and Roger Clemens won. That's what we can conclude from yesterday's verdict. But what happens now?

The next question facing Clemens is the Baseball Hall of Fame. Up to this point, anyone who has had any association with the steroids scandal has had great difficulty getting any votes. I think it's safe to say that unless there's a significant change of heart among the baseball writers, you'll never see Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro in the HOF. That's understandable, as both McGwire and Palmeiro certainly enhanced their careers quite a lot through steroid use.

Roger Clemens is a different matter, as is Barry Bonds. At this point neither has faced the voters, but both will soon. Clemens will be able to argue, as he has from the outset, that he is innocent. He also has a verdict to prove his point. Bonds was found guilty of obstruction of justice, but not of the underlying claim of steroid use. The other issue for both players is this -- both may have used steroids to extend careers that were likely good enough to make the Hall of Fame before they are alleged to have begun using the substances.

So what do you do about these things? It depends, I suppose, on how much the Hall of Fame means to you. I've long believed that the HOF is, like baseball itself, morally compromised in various ways. Anyone who claims to worry about performance enhancing drugs has to come to terms with the nearly universal use of amphetamines in baseball in the postwar era, well into the 1970s. Certainly players used greenies to help enhance their performance. Baseball has always been about getting an edge.

A blogger whose opinion I respect quite a lot said this on Facebook:

Roger Clemens almost certainly did steroids, we can be 99% sure of it. The result of using PEDs was an extenuation of Clemens' career. That extenuation cost someone a Major League job. No conundrum, Clemens should never get in the HOF. Nor should anyone from the steroids era.

When I questioned this, the blogger responded:

 No one who played from 1988 to 2002 should be elected to the HOF. Even if they did not do it themselves, through their silence they allowed others to cheat with impunity.

As a practical matter, using that 14-year period really means that nearly every modern player whose career began after 1980 should be ineligible for the HOF. For that matter, there are a great number of players already in the HOF who ought to be ineligible under this standard. Do you want to tell Cal Ripken that he needs to forfeit his membership? How about Ryne Sandberg, or Tony Gwynn?

We need to deal with the larger meaning of the steroid era in sports, but we're still too close to see things clearly. And yesterday's verdict only makes things less clear.

UPDATE: My friend Brad Carlson, ace blogger and talk show host, also wrote about the case here. As always, his thoughts are worth your time. He makes an especially good point about Clemens and Bonds, who are both eligible for the first time in 2013.

Monday, June 18, 2012

March Like an Egyptian

So much for the Arab Spring:

Egypt’s military leaders issued a constitutional decree Sunday that gave the armed forces sweeping powers and degraded the presidency to a subservient role, as the Muslim Brotherhood declared that its candidate had won the country’s presidential runoff election.

The bold assertion of power by the ruling generals followed months in which they had promised to cede authority to a new civilian government by the end of June. Instead, activists and political analysts said, the generals’ move marked the start of a military dictatorship, a sharp reversal from the promise of Egypt’s popular revolt last year.

What continues to surprise me is that anyone really believed that the "Arab Spring" would turn out any differently than it has. Modern-day Egypt has never been a particularly enlightened place. Even the oft-sainted Anwar Sadat had plenty of blood on his hands. The world is, in the main, a nasty place. Still, the dream dies hard, as we learn from a "prominent human rights activist":

“With this document, Egypt has completely left the realm of the Arab Spring and entered the realm of military dictatorship,” said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent human rights activist. “This is worse than our worst fears.”
It could be worse. Bahgat could live in Syria.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Obama and the Illegals

The President goes with a narrative-changer:

Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants will get a chance to stay in the United States and work under a new policy announced Friday by the Obama administration.

President Obama's action removes the threat of deportation for as many as 800,000 immigrants nationally -- including hundreds in Minnesota -- who are under 30 and came to the United States as children. It does not offer them citizenship or permanent residency.
As a practical matter, it doesn't really change things that much. Most people who are in this country illegally haven't had to worry about getting deported anyway. The idea that you can simply deport millions of people is absurd on its face.

Mitt Romney didn't take the bait:

Some Republicans in Congress — and the governor of Arizona, whose state has been at the center of enforcement controversy — strongly criticized the Obama action. But the response from Romney was more muted.

Romney said Obama's decision will make finding a long-term solution to the nation's immigration issues more difficult. But he also said the plight of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children is "an important matter to be considered."

That's about the only response you can offer. An executive order is only as binding as the executive who enforces it. Obama is president and gets to be president until January 20, 2013, perhaps longer. This will not be the issue that determines the election.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Another Home Truth

John Hinderaker goes a-fisking:

Next Obama becomes even more disingenuous than ever:

Now, Governor Romney and his allies in Congress believe deeply in the theory we tried during the last decade, the theory that the best way to grow the economy is from the top down.

No Republican of modern times has ever argued that “the best way to grow the economy is from the top down.” Rather, it is fundamental to conservatism that growth comes from the bottom up. Conservatives believe that innovation comes from small businessmen, not Washington lobbyists and big-company CEOs. Conservatives believe that decisions made top-down–”I know, let’s invest billions of taxpayer dollars in Solyndra!–are likely to be bad. Obama, here, is taking on a straw man; but it is a straw man that looks a lot like Barack Obama.

Exactly. Really big businesses don't much care who is in the White House, because, in the main, they can find ways to protect themselves from the depredations of government. In fact, some big-company CEOs prefer a large, intrusive government, especially when regulatory compliance hampers the efforts of smaller, more nimble competitors.

A lot more at the link, as you'd expect, and all of it is worth your time.

Home Truth

Mitch Berg rings the bell:

[I] personally support legalizing pot.  Making this cheap commodity the focus of a federal prohibition has contributed to untold deaths and incredible misery in America’s inner cities. Decriminalizing pot would at least remove some of the expense and dislocation that our failed “war on drugs” has caused.

But with all that out of the way?  Stoners annoy me.  There is nothing in the world more annoying that numbed, hemp-reeking munchy-grubbing cackling drone of the Chiba Monkey set.   I’ll sit in a chair and listen to Shakira’s fingernails on a chalkboard all weekend before I listen to stoners babbling in Shaggy-Doo cant without forcing bongs down peoples’ throats.

Peace Prize Prez

Peggy Noonan, discussing the problem of national security leaks, makes a sensible point for the second week in a row:

There's something in the leaks that is a hallmark of the Obama White House. They always misunderstand the country they seek to spin, and they always think less of it than it deserves. Why do the president's appointees think the picture of him with a kill list in his hand makes him look good? He sits and personally decides who to kill? Americans don't think of their presidents like that. And they don't want to.

National security doesn't exist to help presidents win elections. It's not a plaything or a tool to advance one's prospects.
And she shares this anecdote:

After the killing of bin Laden, members of the administration, in a spirit of triumphalism, began giving briefings and interviews in which they said too much. One of the adults in the administration, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reportedly went to Mr. Donilon's office. "I have a new strategic communications approach to recommend," he said. What? asked Mr. Donilon.

"Shut the [blank] up," Mr. Gates said.

Seems like good advice. Wonder how the folks on the Nobel committee are feeling right about now.

Take It From the Man Who Knows

You might recall the other day that President Obama said the following:

The president also said that Republicans, not Democrats, caused the current budget crisis. "I love listening to these guys give us lectures about debt and deficits. I inherited a trillion dollar deficit!" he said. Obama compared Republicans to a person who orders a steak dinner and martini and then, "just as you're sitting down, they leave, and accuse you of running up the tab."

Which brings us to this hanging curve ball:

Celebrating Father’s Day early, the president had lunch with two service members and two local barbers at Kenny’s BBQ on Capitol Hill.

As the group chatted about fatherhood, the president enjoyed a steaming plate of pork ribs with hot sauce, collard greens, red beans and rice and cornbread.

The bill for the president and his four guests was $55.58, but was left unpaid at the point of sale, according to pool reports.

Actually, I'm most surprised that there's a place on Capitol Hill where you can get lunch for 5 people for $55.58.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Suing Your Way into St. Anthony

St. Anthony is one of the best-kept secrets in the Twin Cities. It's a small community of less than 10,000 people that is nestled into an area north and east of Minneapolis. It has its own school district and the city contracts out its police force to provide service to a number of other small, neighboring communities. It's a friendly, tidy place without a lot of traffic or trouble. I live on the border of St. Anthony and New Brighton and spend time in St. Anthony nearly every day.

That may be changing, however, now that the St. Anthony City Council has rejected a proposed Islamic center, as the Star Tribune reports:

St. Anthony's rejection of a proposed Islamic center marks the first time in seven years that a new Muslim house of worship has been blocked by a local government in Minnesota.

City leaders said the decision was solely a land-use issue, but Muslim leaders expressed fears that Minnesota may be joining the ranks of other states where proposed mosques and Islamic centers have been blocked by government amid anti-Islamic rhetoric and intense community resistance.

These Muslim leaders are approaching the matter in a thoroughly All-American sort of way -- they are trying to sic the federal government on St. Anthony:

"This is the first one [in Minnesota] where we're seeing so much anti-Muslim hate involved," said Lori Saroya, president of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The Muslim advocacy group asked the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday to investigate allegations of anti-Muslim bias in the rejection of the proposed Abu-Huraira Islamic Center, planned for the basement of the former Medtronic headquarters.

So what exactly is the anti-Muslim hate in St. Anthony?

During a City Council meeting Tuesday night, several residents disparaged the Muslim faith and said the Islamic center was not welcome in the small bedroom community north of Minneapolis. At least one resident said Islam is "evil" and embraces violence.

Following the vote, the imam, Sheikh Ahmed Burale, said his congregation of nearly 200 is still interested in using the St. Anthony space and is considering a court challenge of the council's decision.

A few thoughts:

  • The location for this Islamic center is not likely to be problematic for anyone. I drive by the facility every day during my commute and I would doubt that most St. Anthony residents would have even realized it was there if it weren't for the recent publicity.
  • It's often typical that religious congregations set up, at least initially, in non-traditional venues. I've attended religious services in old movie theaters and strip mall store fronts. You go where you can find space, so setting up shop in the basement of a suburban office building isn't particularly unusual.
  • I don't know if the stated reasons for stopping the center are legitimate or not, but I do think the St. Anthony City Council does have the right to make that determination.
  • Having said that, municipal governments are often hostile to proposed projects for any number of reasons. Based on what I know of St. Anthony, I doubt that religious hostility was a factor.
  • Should you hold the St. Anthony government responsible for disparaging remarks made in a public forum? I don't think so. I also dislike the notion that Islam, or any religion, cannot be criticized. As a Catholic, I hear my faith criticized quite often. While I dislike such criticism and find it unfair, I'm not inclined to sue those who disparage my faith. I would hope that the imam and his congregation would think hard about getting the federal government involved. I think St. Anthony would, in the end, welcome the congregation, but suing your way in isn't likely to help that happen.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Maps and Legends

Writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Craig Walker crunches some of the numbers of last week's recall election. He also provides a really useful map/graphic:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
What this map shows is that Walker really kicked butt in the parts of the state that aren't Madison and Milwaukee. Tom Barrett never had much of a chance, especially when it appears that northeastern Wisconsin, the area where I grew up, is reverting back to deep red.

Gilbert offers the following thoughts:

Barrett improved on his 2010 performance in just a handful of places. The two most important were Milwaukee and Dane Counties. He won these two counties combined by a little more than 200,000 votes (40,000 more than he won them by in 2010). But he lost the rest of the state by almost 380,000 votes (90,000 more than he lost it by in 2010).

In other words, Democrats ended up dangerously over-reliant on the Milwaukee and Madison vote Tuesday.  That vote materialized, but it couldn’t come close to compensating for Barrett’s weakness in much of rural and suburban outstate Wisconsin, especially when the GOP base was also turning out en masse. 
To try to explain this in Minnesota terms, Milwaukee County behaves rather a lot like Hennepin County -- the City of Milwaukee, much like Minneapolis, is heavily Democratic, but the rest of the county tends to be moderate and conservative the further out you go. Dane County behaves a lot like Ramsey County, with the dominant capital cities (Madison and St. Paul) going heavily Democratic, while the rest of the county is less so. Waukesha County, to the immediate west of Milwaukee, behaves a lot like Dakota County does here, although it's even more conservative.

The one county to the north on this map that went heavily stronger for Walker in this cycle is Outagamie County, which is where I grew up. The main city in Outagamie County is my hometown of Appleton, which is about the size of St. Cloud in the city proper, and Rochester when you add the surrounding township. Appleton had long been a bastion of conservatism -- we sent Joe McCarthy to Washington. Things had changed in recent years and Appleton, as well as the rest of the Fox River Valley, has been trending left. That stopped in this cycle.

There's a lot more to say about this, but if this map has any predictive value, and I think it does, two things are clear:

  • The supposedly strong support for Obama in Wisconsin might be chimerical; and
  • Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the Madison-area Democrat who is the functional equivalent of Betty McCollum, is going to have a very difficult time winning the open Senate seat. 
We'll talk more about these things anon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dana Canary

No, not Dana Carvey. We're looking at the canary, a fella by the name of Dana Milbank, who is as reliable an indicator of conventional wisdom as any Washington-based pundit you might name. And he's suggesting that the smart set is headed for the exits:

In Washington, there is a creeping sense that the bottom has fallen out and that there may be no second term. Privately, senior Obama advisers say they are no longer expecting much economic improvement before the election.

Milbank relates the difficulties that White House press secretary Dana Carvey Jay Carney had yesterday in executing his usual pirouettes:

Thus did Jay Carney, the oft-besieged White House press secretary, have another briefing carjacked by bad news. And Carney, who either didn’t know the details of the bizarre episode or wasn’t at liberty to divulge them, had to execute a full range of defensive maneuvers.

“I can simply tell you that he was engaged, as has been reported, in a couple of traffic incidents,” Carney began, as if the secretary, John Bryson, had been photographed by a speed camera or two. Bryson “suffered a seizure, was hospitalized. But beyond that I’ll refer you to Commerce for the details.”

“Is the secretary healthy and fit to serve?” inquired Ben Feller of the Associated Press.

“I would refer you to the Commerce Department.”

Ann Compton of ABC News asked whether the White House chief of staff, who spoke to Bryson, considers the incident serious.

“I don’t have a specific response to give you,” Carney said.

CNN’s Brianna Keilar asked about “the timing of the seizure in relation to the accident.”

“I would refer you, as I said in the past, to the Department of Commerce,” Carney answered.

“I’ve been asking them for hours,” Keilar protested.

“I think I would refer you to the Commerce Department,” was Carney’s rote reply.

The former journalist informed the questioners that he “was not a presiding doctor on this case” and could confirm only that “the commerce secretary was alone, he had a seizure, he was involved in an accident.”

“He was involved in several accidents,” called out April Ryan of American Urban Radio.

“Thank you for the correction,” Carney said. He did not sound grateful.

I'll bet. The discussion concerned the strange case of Commerce Secretary John Bryson, the one Obama cabinet member who had, up to this point, not managed to scare the horses. Bryson had a series of traffic accidents in Los Angeles over the weekend.

Carney has a tough job, because he often has to defend the indefensible. In the case of Bryson, I think it's wise to withhold judgment, since it sounds to me like he has a medical issue -- based on the reports I've read it doesn't seem likely that this was just a garden-variety DWI.

The larger point is that things continue to get worse for Obama. Milbank totes up the scoreboard for this month, which has 18 days and a major Supreme Court decision to go:

Job growth has stalled, the Democrats have been humiliated in Wisconsin, the attorney general is facing a contempt-of-Congress citation, talks with Pakistan have broken down, Bill Clinton is contradicting Obama, Mitt Romney is outraising him, Democrats and Republicans alike are complaining about a “cascade” of national-security leaks from his administration, and he is now on record as saying that the “private sector is doing fine.”

Could it get any worse?

Of course it could. Syria has been imploding for months now. The Eurozone remains on the brink. There's increasing evidence that China's economy might be the mother of all bubbles. Iran and Israel are still doing their little thermonuclear tango. Illinois has no clue what to do about its financial problems. Neither does California.

Hey, but have a nice day.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I love a good conspiracy theory. . .

. . . and Thomas Lifson has a good one at The American Thinker. He's positing that the Clintons and their allies are trying to force Barack Obama to pull an LBJ and get out of the race:
It's already leaking into the smarter corners of the media world: Obama is killing the Democratic Party.  The tipping point is here.

This, not coincidence, is why several brainy Democrats, including Cory Booker, Deval Patrick, Ed Rendell, and Lanny Davis, have been providing sound bites that can be used by the Romney campaign to destroy the effectiveness of Obama's attacks on Mitt Romney.  The biggest damage has been done by Bill Clinton, whose barrage includes providing the title for the current number-one bestseller about Obama, Ed Klein's The Amateur, calling Mitt Romney's business track record at Bain "sterling," and stating that the Bush tax rates should not be increased, disagreeing with Obama.
I have wondered about this, but the problem with all conspiracy theories is that it's damn near impossible to keep everyone on the same page, even in a small group, so coordinating something like a campaign to get rid of a sitting president would be almost unimaginable. Still, Lifson makes some really interesting observations:
It would have to be a covert op.  No Democrat who ever wants to carry a black precinct can be seen as slipping in the stiletto.  It has to have the appearance of Obama voluntarily announcing that he will not be a candidate for re-election.  Just as LBJ did on March 31, 1968.  For the good of the country, his family, maybe his for his health.  His medical records have never been released, after all.
Ah, the medical records thang. But wait, there's more:
It has to be a multi-phase, multi-front strategy.  Right now, we are in the softening up phase.  The highly public defection of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, calling the attacks on Bain "nauseating," certainly got Obama's attention.  So much so that enough pressure was exerted on the mayor that he issued a self-repudiation video that might as well have had the mayor blinking S-O-S in Morse code.  Follow this with respected people and allies like Deval Patrick, and Hillary enthusiasts Ed Rendell and Bob Shrum, and most of all employ the biggest gun of all, Bill Clinton.  The denials and clarifications don't matter at all.  The message to Obama is unmistakable: it is war.  We don't have your back.

Senator Dianne Feinstein truly cares about national security.  But I also know that she can read the handwriting on the wall.  Last week, she came out and made the leaking of national security information into a scandal with bipartisan support for an inquiry.  This is criminal behavior.  She is far from the only powerful Democrat who sees the wisdom of disentangling herself from the Obama disaster.
And at this point Lifson is just getting warmed up:
The signal also has been received by the mainstream media allies of the Clintons.  Many of them are already fed up with the high-handedness, venality, incompetence, and amateurishness of the Obama crowd.  But now that they see that it is okay to notice when the emperor has no clothes, they can breathe the intoxicating air of honesty and start to include some of the obvious warts on the idealized image.  Obama is starting to realize that his media invisible shield is starting to fall apart.

All of these factors paint a bleak picture for the Obama campaign's prospects, but unless there is a smoking gun about the national security leaks, nothing that would actually force a narcissist to put the interests of party and country ahead of his own.  So there may be something else, something which Obama fears so deeply that he would see his own interests best served by withdrawing from his re-election bid.
So how is it gonna go down?
We do not know what the operative issue would be, but we do know that Barack Obama is an international man of mystery, and that he has gone to great lengths to hide his documentary record.  There is on the record his claim of Kenyan birth to his literary agency.  It may well be that he was born in Hawaii, but used a claim to Kenyan or Indonesian nationality to gain scholarships and admission advantages at the series of elite and expensive schools he attended, starting with Punahou, the St. Grottelsex of the mid-Pacific.

Perhaps by coincidence, last week Stanley Kurtz was able to write about newly revealed evidence that in 2008 the Obama campaign lied about his membership in the radical socialist New Party.  I have no knowledge of the specific circumstances of the document in question becoming available, but I would note that the offices of the federal bureaucracy, state and local bureaucracies, academic bureaucracies, and nonprofit bureaucracies are largely staffed with lifelong liberals, who were Democrats before the Obama craze hit the party, and who want the party to survive, and who may even be a little nostalgic for a president with the last name Clinton.

So, hypothetically, if someone in one of these bureaucracies happened to notice a document that proved something embarrassing about Obama, something that exposed a serious biographical lie, serious enough to put him out of the running, she might consider it worthwhile letting others know.  Word gets around.

The New Party membership documentation might well be a warning shot.
But what's the endgame?

But what about Hillary, you may be asking.  Look at her hair!  She's given up.

If you imagine that the secretary of state is so weary that she lacks the energy to do her own hair, you do not understand the realities of her life.  She has staff who do all the mundane tasks at her convenience, to her specifications.  Or else.  Her current down-and-out look is just another hairstyle, one calculated to provide political cover.  Hillary knows that she will need the black vote once she heads the ticket, so she absolutely cannot be seen as scheming to bring about the sudden surprise announcement from President Obama that her allies are greasing the skids for right now.  The worse she looks, the more convincing will be her "surprise," the more sincere her willingness to step forward and save America from a disastrous Romney presidency.
Ah, it's the trick hair! But why would the Clintons play such a dangerous game? Our man Lifson has the answer:

If you imagine that Barack Obama's playing of the race card against the Clintons in the 2008 South Carolina primary battle has been forgiven or forgotten, you do not understand Bill Clinton.  As a Southern liberal, a big part of his personal identity is wrapped up in his anti-racism.  Not just his political posture -- his sense of his own self-worth is linked to his crusade to overcome the legacy of racism.  It is one of the ways he excuses the cruder aspects of his life choices.  His racial virtue justifies his life.

Bill Clinton, for all his bonhomie in public, is a bitter man -- first for his impeachment, and second for the humiliation he and his partner were dealt by the Obama forces in 2008.  A man prone to purple rages in private, following his heart surgery, he may be taking his revenge slowly, a moderate blood pressure, as it were, smiling when walking back the latest diss.
Maybe all this is true. I'm reasonably certain that the Clintons harbor lingering frustrations about the way the Obama campaign comported itself in 2008. But trying to torpedo a sitting president? I kinda doubt it.

What makes a conspiracy theory good is that it has to be plausible. And in this case, there are plausible elements. The Clintons are smart enough to realize that disaster could be imminent, especially in the financial markets. The Eurozone is going down and it's likely that Obamacare is going down, too. I think the statute of limitations has run on blaming George W. Bush for what is happening in 2012. The president doesn't have much else to run on, so things could get grim for the Democrats soon. And if the Obama administration is the face of the Democratic Party, it could have repercussions way down the ticket.

But while I enjoy conspiracy theories, I strongly prefer Occam's Razor. And in this case, the explanation is simple -- the Clintons and their allies have concluded that Obama doesn't have his act together and they're not willing to take marching orders from his campaign. They don't have to be at war with Obama, but they can certainly keep their distance.

If Romney wins, he's going to accept a bit of a poisoned chalice. It won't be easy sledding for anyone in the next four years. If things go badly, the Clintons may be back in 2016.

In any event, one thing is clear. Getcha popcorn. It's going to be a very interesting election.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Home Truth Number Two

Kenneth R. Mayer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, writing in the Wisconsin State Journal, offers this advice:

You lost. Nobody expects you to be happy about it. But you get another chance in a few months.

Stop blaming the American Legislative Exchange Council, or Super PACS, or the Koch Brothers, or Citizens United. Stop insisting that the only reason you lost was you were outspent 3-to-1, or 5-to-1, or 10-to-1, or that democracy has ended because billionaires can buy elections.

Arguing that you lost because people were too stupid to see the brilliance of your position is not a good way to get more people to conclude that your position is brilliant.

Yep. And he says this to Republicans, which is true as well:

Stop gloating, and enough with the jokes about how delicious the tears of Democrats are. You'll get your turn in the barrel eventually.
(H/T:  Kevin Binversie)

Home Truth

Writing at Reason, Steven Greenhut gets to an important point:

Collective bargaining has made it nearly impossible for agencies to fire bad workers or pursue cost-saving alternatives. Although California leads the way in most absurd trends, the vast expansion of government compensation and special privileges is a nationwide problem, and in Tuesday’s election voters across the nation said they have had enough.

How did it get this bad?

The technical answer is the economic notion of “dispersed costs and concentrated benefits.” If we imposed a one-cent annual tax on every American to benefit the Greenhut family, no one would get mad and few people would notice, but I would have a great incentive to keep that tiny tax alive and plenty of money to hire the best lobbyists. All special interest groups work that way—they push for small concentrated benefits, and figure that the rest of us don’t have the time or incentive to fight back given the costs are spread out.

Eternal vigilance, people. It's always about eternal vigilance.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

One Fine Day

The words the president had to walk back:

The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government — oftentimes, cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in.

The private sector is doing fine, he says. Millions disagree, including one who is running for president:

“Is he really that out of touch? I think he’s defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people,” Romney told supporters in a park in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “Has there ever been an American president who is so far from reality?”

Obama quickly had to walk it back:

 Listen, it is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine. That’s the reason I had the press conference. That’s why I spent yesterday, the day before yesterday, this past week, this past month, and this past year talking about how we can make the economy stronger.

The economy is not doing fine. There are too many people out of work. The housing market is still weak and too many homes underwater. And that’s precisely why I asked Congress to start taking some steps that can make a difference.
A couple of thoughts:

  • The problem for Obama is that while there have been a few improvements here and there, it's not enough.
  • "Fine" means something different than "better." You can argue better, but fine won't work when millions remain out of work.
  • Obama is especially concerned about cuts in local government, but he doesn't really get to the reason the cuts are happening. State and municipal governments cannot print money. Government at the local level has to rely, in the main, on what it can collect from its citizens, especially those who work in the private sector. 
  • That money isn't there, so something has to give. 
And if you look at what local governments spend their money on, sometimes you understand why the money isn't there. Consider the story of the Vadnais Sports Center:

The Vadnais Sports Center, controversial from the start, has sunk into a financial morass that has city leaders faced with the choice of cutting ties with the arena and defaulting on $26 million in bonds or assessing taxpayers $1 million to keep it running.

Revenues have fallen short of projections. Expenses have exceeded budget. And the center that officials promised Vadnais Heights residents would be able pay its own way without their help has been delinquent in remitting a year's worth of sales taxes to the state.

"I'm not sure we can afford this facility," said Council Member Joe Murphy. "It will be expensive to keep."

With two sheets of ice and the state's second-tallest dome covering a 100,000-square-foot turf field, the complex was supposed to become a destination that spurred economic development along Hwy. 61 and the surrounding area in the city in northern Ramsey County.

There were a number of problems here. First of all, while Vadnais Heights is lovely this time of year, it's one of the more obscure suburbs in the Twin Cities. Most people west of the Mississippi River and south of the Minnesota River would have a difficult time finding Vadnais Heights without using a map. Second, Vadnais Heights only has a population of about 12,000 people and while there are some businesses in the area, it's mostly a middle-class area. The idea that a community of that size could afford to sink over $100 million in a civic building without any real assurances of help from Ramsey County or the state is amazing. And trust me on this -- if you are willing to make certain assumptions, you could project revenue assumptions of !ELEVEN1TY!! million dollars, but it wouldn't mean the assumptions are true.

Would you support the City of Vadnais Heights receiving federal assistance to bail out their facility? How about similar municipal buildings? Just about every suburb around the Twin Cities has built a Xanadu of some sort. If you drive east on 694 through Ramsey County, you can easily reach New Brighton's Eagle's Nest indoor playground,  Shoreview's Dells-style water park and the facility in Vadnais Heights. And there are dozens more. These are nice things to have, I suppose. But are they worth permanent support? And if you have to choose between paying for police officers or debt service on optional municipal amenities, what would you choose?

Most of us have to make these choices. Barack Obama and his friends still don't seem to understand that we have long since reached the point where choices need to be made at all levels of government.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Home Truth

David McCullough Jr. lays it out for you in the Boston Herald:

“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection! Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!” And I don’t disagree. So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus. You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it... Now it’s “So what does this get me?” As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans. It’s an epidemic — and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune... one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School... where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called Advanced College Placement. And I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.” I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition. But the phrase defies logic. By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.
More, a lot more, at the link.

Line of the Day

From the inconsistent but sometimes brilliant Peggy Noonan, a brilliant observation:

Most ominously, there are the national-security leaks that are becoming a national scandal—the "avalanche of leaks," according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, that are somehow and for some reason coming out of the administration. A terrorist "kill list," reports of U.S. spies infiltrating Al Qaeda in Yemen, stories about Osama bin Laden's DNA and how America got it, and U.S. involvement in the Stuxnet computer virus, used against Iranian nuclear facilities. These leaks, say the California Democrat, put "American lives in jeopardy," put "our nation's security in jeopardy."

This isn't the usual—this is something different. A special counsel may be appointed.

And where is the president in all this? On his way to Anna Wintour's house. He's busy. He's running for president.

But why? He could be president now if he wanted to be.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Pique Oil

I remember watching a series of special reports on the WCCO evening newscasts in 2006, in which Don Shelby dolefully informed us about the theory of "Peak Oil," which posited that we were reaching the end of our supply of oil and that things would begin to dwindle quickly, soon.

It was a big deal at the time. Of course, it wasn't true:

Everyone has heard about the Bakken shale, the huge expanse of oil-bearing rock underneath North Dakota and Montana that billionaire Harold Hamm thinks could yield 24 billion barrels of oil in the decades to come. The Bakken is a huge boon, both to the economic health of the northern Plains states, but also to the petroleum balance of the United States. From just 60,000 barrels per day five years ago, the Bakken is now giving up 500,000 bpd, with 210,000 bpd of that coming on in just the past year. Given the availability of enough rigs to drill it and crews to frack it, there’s no reason why the Bakken couldn’t be producing more than 1 million bpd by the end of the decade, a level that could be maintained for halfway through the century.

Now a million barrels a day is only small portion of what the world consumes each day; current estimates range up to 85 millions barrels a day. So maybe Shelby has a point. The problem is, we keep finding more:

But as great as the Bakken is, I learned last week about another oil shale play that dwarfs it. It’s called The Bazhenov. It’s in Western Siberia, in Russia. And while the Bakken is big, the Bazhenov — according to a report last week by Sanford Bernstein’s lead international oil analyst Oswald Clint — “covers 2.3 million square kilometers or 570 million acres, which is the size of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico combined.” This is 80 times bigger than the Bakken.
And how much oil would that be?

If Harold Hamm is convinced the Bakken will give up 24 billion barrels, a play 80 times bigger like the Bazhenov would imply 1,920 billion barrels. That’s a preposterous figure, enough oil to satisfy all of current global demand for 64 years, or to do 5 million bpd for more than 1,000 years. Rosneft, says Clint, has already estimated 18 billion barrels on its Bazhenov acreage. Either way, it looks like they’ll still be working the Bazhenov long after Vladimir Putin has finally retired and the Peak Oil crowd realizes there’s more oil out there than we’ve ever imagined.
Harold Hamm, by the way, is an oil tycoon who runs Continental Resources. He probably has at least as much credibility on the issue as Don Shelby does.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Just throwing that in there

From an article about California's disastrous high-speed rail boondoggle that appears in the conservative British newspaper The Telegraph, an amusing observation:

Construction is expected to begin later this year in the middle of California's Central Valley near Merced, a town of 80,000 people known for having one of the highest home foreclosure rates in America.
I have heard that Merced is lovely this time of year, though:

Welcome to Merced. Mind the gap.

Actually, the high speed rail line is a real innovation, as the article points out:

Ambitious plans for a fast track linking Los Angeles and San Francisco at speeds of up to 220mph in just over two-and-a-half hours were slimly approved by 53 per cent in a statewide ballot in 2008. 
I'll admit -- 220mph is pretty darned fast, and it would be nice to get from L.A. to San Francisco in 2 1/2 hours. That would be nifty. You might ask, what is the flight time between the two cities? It varies, but generally it's about an hour. Just throwing that in there, too.

Oh, and the cost of this high speed rail line? Oh, about $68 billion. But it will be worth it to see Merced.