A Lefty Explains What the Election Is All About

Rob Stein is the founder of the Democracy Alliance, an umbrella a group that organizes the funding of left-wing causes by rich liberals and interest groups. In The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado by Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer, at page 7, Stein explains candidly what politics is all about for the Left:

“The reason it is so important to control government is because government is the source of enormous power,” Stein continued. “One president in this country, when he or she takes office, appoints…5,000 people to run a bureaucracy, nonmilitary nonpostal service of 2 million people, who hire 10 million outside outsource contractors–a workforce of 12 million people–that spends $3 trillion a year. That number is larger than the gross domestic product of all but four countries on the face of the earth.”

“So the reason we’re doing what we’re doing…and the way we get progressive change, is to control government,” Stein said. “That’s what this is about.”

This will to power explains why the Left, a clear minority among Americans, consistently punches above its weight, politically.

Glenn Reynolds once commented on the seeming paradox of liberals who are terrified at the prospect that libertarians might take power and leave them alone. Actually, liberals probably do want to be left alone; they just don’t have any intention of leaving you alone. Liberals hunger for power so that they can enrich themselves, in many cases, but more generally, so they can remake the world according to their own preferences. This doesn’t mean that they will have to change, but it does mean that you will have to change. As long as liberals’ hunger for power is stronger than conservatives’ desire to be left in peace, the Left will continue to dominate our public life.

Why Climate Negotiations Are Like Arms Contol

News out of Europe yesterday is that the EU has adopted an ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction target, calling for a 40 percent reduction in GHG emissions by the year 2030. But the announcement was larded with lots of talk of “flexibility” and contains so many contradictory elements that it is clear this is not serious. My favorite condition is this one:

A 27% renewable energy target that is binding at an aggregate European level but voluntary for individual member states.

In practice what this means is: Let Germany do it. They’re dumb and rich enough to keep subsidizing this nonsense. And why not? Germany is sticking it to the rest of the Euro-zone economies with its de facto domination of the Euro currency, which is adverse to the economic interests of the poorer southern European nations. If I were a Greek, Portugese, or Spaniard, I’d want to stick more windmills up Germany’s arse too.

Above all, the scheme is contingent upon the upcoming UN climate summit in Paris next summer arriving at a legally binding international deal. But the Obama Administration has already signaled that it won’t commit further political suicide by agreeing to a legally binding treaty, and will instead seek a loose framework in which each country can decide for itself what level of effort it wishes to make.  At which point this new European commitment will go “poof.”  France’s Francois Hollande, host of the next UN summit, admitted as much when he said the agreement, while “conclusive and definitive,” could be “revisited.”  No wonder Hollande’s public approval rating in France rivals that of our Congress.

It is all starting to remind me of the whole arms control farce of the 1970s, when agreements supposedly in service of disarmament were really just fancy covers for regulating the further buildup of arsenals. But it kept everybody happy: bread and circuses for the politicians, and jobs for the “arms control community.” Not until Reagan came along and threatened a new technology (SDI) did the fundamentals change.

And there’s a lesson there for climate change.  The vast minuet of climate negotiations, with their “goals and timetables,” amount to a cover for continuing business as usual. (As we’ve noted before, Germany is building several large new coal plants, while shutting down their emission-free nuclear plants. This is not what serious people would do.) Regardless of what you believe about the issue, nothing real is ever going to happen until new sources of cheap, scalable energy are developed that make hydrocarbon energy obsolete. Until then everything is a sideshow designed to keep politicians and bureaucrats busy, and the shallow, superficial climate campaign happy and engaged.

It’s The Economy, Stupid

As Peggy Noonan points out in her weekend WSJ column, the “war on women” theme isn’t working so splendidly for Democrats: “This one is old and mined out.”  Even more cutting is this line:

The advertisement that most captures the 2014 cycle is from Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes : “I’m not Barack Obama.” She looked for all the world like Christine O’Donnell, who uttered the most famous words of her 2010 cycle: “I’m not a witch.”

Ouch!  Meanwhile, poll analyst extraordinaire Karlyn Bowman notes that “people are really feeling beat down by this economy.”  Here’s six minutes with Karlyn about the numbers:

So why aren’t Democrats talking about the economy?  What happened to Carville’s Razor—“It’s the economy, stupid.”  If you want to see the simple reasons why a large numbers of Americans perceive the economy more clearly that the White House, check out “12 Charts That Show The Permanent Damage That Has Been Done to the U.S. Economy” by the cheerily named EconomicCollapseBlog.  All 12 tell a story, but the one on the labor force participation rate is probably the most significant:

Fred Chart copyEleven days and counting.

 

The Age of QE

We are approaching the end of year six of the regime of Quantitative Easing (QE) engineered by the Federal Reserve under Fed chairmen Ben Bernanke and now Janet Yellen. In place of responsible economic policy to revive economic growth and employment, we have had QE and the explosive growth of job-killing regulations (including Obamacare). In a recent look back at QE, New York Post columnist John Crudele credits QE with some good effects, but adds this inarguable observation, consistent with the avowed goals of QE:

There’s one more thing that QE accomplished: it has made the stock market soar. Interest rates have remained so low for so long that investors have had no other choice but to move their money into the stock market, thus creating a bubble.

Even those adverse to risk were forced to chase the better yields in stocks, no matter how dangerous that was.

But for every winner in QE there are 99 losers. While the richest 1% of the US population has been loving the rise in stock prices and other QE amenities, Fed policy has been taxing on the masses of savers.

In fact, “tax” is a perfect word. QE has been an invisible tax on savers beyond anything Washington could have ever conceived.

Every dollar that has benefited a borrower during QE has come out of the pocket of a saver in the form of a lower return on [his] assets.

In fact, QE is now widely recognized by both supporters and opponents as causing the single largest shift ever in wealth, from middle class savers to rich Wall Street investors.

And that this should have happened under a Democratic president who came into office championing wealth redistribution in the other direction is both shocking and ironic.

I don’t know if all that is exactly right — Ramesh Ponnuru mounted a defense of QE3 addressing some of these issues in 2012 — but the silence around the phenomenon of QE is notable. You would almost think it must be accounted an unalloyed good that the banks have been recapitalized on the backs of middle class savers, and perhaps it is, though it’s hard to see how it all ends well.

It is late in the day to have a debate over the policy, yet it is overdue. There must be a good populist case to be made against it. As I say, I don’t pretend to know the right answer, but the headline of Crudele’s column suggests what the populist case would sound like: “Obama’s $4 trillion gift to the rich.”

Thoughts from the ammo line

The New York Times has our friend Ammo Grrrll is thinking about FRIENDSHIP LEVELS. She writes:

The New York Times – faithful, fawning Boswell to Obama’s Johnson (it’s a literary reference, grow up) – informed us recently that The President is “seething” over his minions’ incompetence! A once-prestigious paper reduced to being a childish narcissist’s mood ring. What if the rest of us mere mortals had such powerful friends as Pinch, Punch and Little Paunch who would print any drivel we fed them as news? This suggested the topic of Friendship and that is what we will discuss today.

I have pretty rigorous standards for what constitutes true friendship. I am blessed with perhaps a dozen really close friends evenly divided between men and women. Dozens more are valued acquaintances. And that’s nice, too. Not everyone is destined to be a soulmate.

How do we know, often at an early age, who we are going to bond with for life? What is that alchemy? In romantic attachments, of course, you have sexual attraction which unsentimental scientists tell us is just pheromones. What is it in friendship? Commenters, please share your thoughts. I am fascinated by this mystery.

Of my closest friends, one I met when we were 6 and the twins of Road Trip fame when we were 14. In the latter case, had our last names not started with “B” so that we sat next to each other in class, it may never have happened. Think of that! Bonded for life because of the alphabet! At the end of the movie Stand By Me the narrator says: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?”

I do, actually. In adulthood I became great friends with two neighbors, from the serendipity of having bought a house next door. One neighbor’s motorcycle buddies also became beloved friends. Being retired is almost like being a kid again, only with more money. You can go ring the bell and ask if Randy or Angela can come out and play.

Like the colored terror threat levels, I have constructed a handy Friendship Level chart.

Level 1 (Beige) – You know these people very casually. They will come to a party that YOU throw and drink your beer and eat your chips. Some of them will never be invited back.

Level 2 (Puce) – These people will actually trouble themselves to host a party to which you are invited. You see them a couple times a year like New Year’s Eve or Superbowl.

Level 3 (Periwinkle) – People who will hang out and engage in mutual activities. Men tend to share activities while women share heart-stuff and recipes. I once had a co-worker named Ted whose “best friend” Jim filed for divorce without Ted’s ever knowing there was anything wrong with the marriage! This would be unthinkable for a pair of women friends.

Level 4 (Silver) – Now we’re getting serious. These friends will help you move. Cultivate people who own pickups. Mr. Ammo Grrrll and I helped two sets of “Silver” friends with equally wretched Minnesota moves, one in July and one in January. In the first, it was 98 and humid; the second was 30 below zero with a stiff wind. Good times, good times.

Level 5 (Gold) – These folks know your very soul. They will pick you up at LAX at rush hour, knowing that you will do the same. They will take a 3:00 a.m. call if you are depressed or anxious. They will commiserate with you when you are down, and will rejoice with you without jealousy when good things happen to you. If you are lucky, this level includes your spouse.

Some Gold friends will clean up an extremely-deceased rabbit on your patio. And shoot pigeons – winged rats, really – off your roof. Hypothetically, because that would violate HOA rules and a bunch of other picky laws.

(Memo to self: check on the Statute of Limitations for bb-gun infractions before sending to Scott. Even though nothing happened. Plenty of reasonable explanations for dead pigeon. Google “Incidents of Pigeon Suicide: More frequent than commonly thought?” See also: “Pigeon Gangs and Drive-Bys – The Craps vs. the Bloods”).

One thing I do know for sure: friendship needs quality time and effort. Trite but true, to have a friend you have to be a friend. And sometimes that means picking up the phone, sitting down to email, reaching out to comfort, when you’d rather just watch Seinfeld re-runs or ESPN. Friends not only enrich your life; they lengthen it. Call one today.

Revive Congress?

Public approval of Congress is in the single digits, down to blood relatives and pets as the joke goes in Washington. So perhaps the answer to our political troubles is to focus on making Congress more powerful? Yes—that’s the well-reasoned argument my old boss Chris DeMuth makes in The Weekly Standard in “A Constitutional Congress?” Here’s the important core of the argument that supplies its title:

A constitutional revival will require a cultural revival. Recovering Congress’s lost powers will require relearning legislative skills, redirecting legislators’ energies, and risking the ire of party constituencies who are unfamiliar with the obligations of legislating and their centrality to the separation of powers. That is a tall order, but the time may be ripe.

You should set aside the necessary time to read the whole thing, but it is a long piece, so here is an outline of the main points of the reform agenda toward the end of the article, some of which will require you to read the accompanying explanation to understand:

First, retrieve the recently relinquished borrowing, taxing, and spending authorities.

Second, reinstitute the spending power.

Third, regulate the regulators. 

Fourth, censure unconstitutional executive acts. 

Fifth, acknowledge executive strengths.

This one really begs part of its more complete explanation:

The 114th Congress should initiate a practice of inviting the agencies, through the president, to submit wish-lists of management mandates, superfluous programs, and counterproductive procedures that they would like repealed. It should give prompt and serious attention to the submissions, and consider establishing a mechanism, akin to the base-closing programs, for compiling and considering management reforms through a structure it has legislated in advance. The purpose of such a mechanism, of course, is to give Congress political cover to do what it knows needs to be done but that it cannot do on its own — it must rely on the executive branch’s comparative advantage in balancing national against local and parochial interests.

Finally, it would be particularly bold, and fitting, for a Republican Congress to “repeal and replace” the impoundment provisions of the 1974 Budget Act for the signature of a Democratic president.

As Michael Greve comments in his approving notice of this article: “Because there’s something humiliating about being a member of an institution with an approval rating below that of Ebola and Lindsay Lohan. There’s no downside to trying something totally rad: take responsibility, and legislate.”

But as I say, RTWT.

Obama Administration’s Privilege Claims Are Even More Frivolous Than We Knew

Most people have concluded that the Obama administration is incompetent, but we must admit that it is supremely talented at one thing: stonewalling. Time after time, the administration has managed to run out the clock on scandals through sheer chutzpah. Fast and Furious, as the longest-running Obama scandal, is farthest along in this respect.

Judicial Watch made a Freedom of Information Act request for a very limited number of documents relating to Fast and Furious, and got stiffed. The organization then started a lawsuit to compel production of the requested documents. Years later, the lawsuit grinds along slowly, the Obama administration’s coverup still intact. Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, refused to produce many of the documents requested by Judicial Watch on the ground of executive privilege. I wrote in June 2012 that the administration’s assertion of executive privilege was “frivolous” under prevailing federal law.

I didn’t know how right I was. More than two years later, I wrote here that a federal court in Washington had finally ordered the Obama administration, not to produce the documents in question, but to produce a list of those that were being withheld on privilege grounds and a description of each document so that Judicial Watch can evaluate the claim of privilege. The court ordered the Justice Department to produce this index by October 1.

The Obama administration tried to put this obligation off until after the election, but the court refused, granting DOJ an extension until yesterday. So the long-awaited index of documents being kept secret by the administration–the list itself is more than 1,300 pages long–has finally been made public. Judicial Watch reports on what it received here. I am beyond being shocked by the Obama administration, but I confess that this was surprising:

The document details the Attorney General Holder’s personal involvement in managing the Justice Department’s strategy on media and Congressional investigations into the Fast and Furious scandal. Notably, the document discloses that emails between Attorney General Holder and his wife Sharon Malone – as well as his mother – are being withheld under an extraordinary claim of executive privilege as well as a dubious claim of deliberative process privilege under the Freedom of Information Act. The “First Lady of the Justice Department” is a physician and not a government employee.

Let’s repeat that: the Obama administration has been keeping secret emails that Eric Holder wrote to his wife and mother for more than two years on the ground of executive privilege. I termed the administration’s privilege claims “frivolous” when I naively assumed we were talking about legitimate business communications among executive branch employees. We now know that the position being taken by President Obama is a bad joke. The Obama administration doesn’t just break the law. It laughs at the law. It mocks the law. It treats as a sucker every citizen who imagines that there is still a shred of integrity in the executive branch.

But, hey, let’s give him credit: when it comes to stonewalling, Barack Obama is a master.