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submit wish-lists of management mandates, superfluous programs, and counterproductive procedures that they would like repealed.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.

Iran has Obama’s number

There is something to offend just about everyone on the American political scene in the comments of senior Iranian presidential adviser and former intelligence minister Ali Younesi. The comments were offered for domestic political consumption to the official Iranian news agency.

I think it is fair to say that Younesi et al. have Obama’s number. Younesi’s contempt for Obama shines through his comments and it is surely reflects the consensus of the regime. The fact that Younesi would make these comments on the record for public consumption is really striking and newsworthy.

The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo has the story:

The Iranian president’s senior advisor has called President Barack Obama “the weakest of U.S. presidents” and described the U.S. leader’s tenure in office as “humiliating,” according to a translation of the highly candid comments provided to the Free Beacon.

The comments by Ali Younesi, senior advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, come as Iran continues to buck U.S. attempts to woo it into the international coalition currently battling the Islamic State (IS, ISIL, or ISIS).

And with the deadline quickly approaching on talks between the U.S. and Iran over its contested nuclear program, Younesi’s denigrating views of Obama could be a sign that the regime in Tehran has no intent of conceding to America’s demands.

“Obama is the weakest of U.S. presidents, he had humiliating defeats in the region. Under him the Islamic awakening happened,” Younesi said in a Farsi language interview with Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency.

“Americans witnessed their greatest defeats in Obama’s era: Terrorism expanded, [the] U.S. had huge defeats under Obama [and] that is why they want to compromise with Iran,” Younesi said.

Younesi follows up with comments that are somewhat offensive to conservatives like us, but the substance isn’t unflattering. We believe Israel is our friend and Iran has been our mortal enemy since, you know, around about 1979. In assessing Iran our enemy, we have taken them at their word and judged them by their actions. They have a voluminous amount of American blood on their hands. Younesi says of us: “Conservatives are war mongers, they cannot tolerate powers like Iran. If conservatives were in power they would go to war with us because they follow Israel and they want to portray Iran as the main threat and not ISIS.” Well, Iran is the main threat. ISIS doesn’t have a nuclear program or the trappings of a state and I would like to think we would support military action against Iran if necessary, though a president whose strength they respected would make it unnecessary.

Younesi also has the Democrats’ number. He deems them “no threat.” He’s got that right, though you don’t have to be a former intelligence minister to figure that out.

Younesi’s comments suggest we have a date with destiny before the ongoing nuclear talks are set to expire next month: “We [the Islamic Republic] have to use this opportunity [of Democrats being in power in the U.S.], because if this opportunity is lost, in future we may not have such an opportunity again.”

Something happening here?

A faithful reader who asks us to withhold his name informs us that he has reason to believe the computer network within the Executive Office of the President has been down for close to a week, and staff throughout the various components still lack basic access to their files (though many are now able to access e-mail and the Internet). He advises that EOP staff have been told not to say anything about the situation to anyone. He adds that a major security breach is suspected, but no information has been forthcoming, either to those inside the EOP or to the public.

I called the White House press office this morning for a comment. I was instructed to submit the inquiry by email and specify the deadline for response. I submitted a written inquiry to the press office by email with a request for response by 3:30 (EDT) this afternoon. No response has been forthcoming.

I called the press office again this afternoon at 4:15 (EDT) to confirm receipt of the email. The lady taking my call confirmed receipt and added that the message had been forwarded to the correct “spokespeople” for response. I believe the lack of a timely response reflects nothing other than our place in the media pecking order, but at this point we are left to our own devices. I will update this post if/when a response is received, or post it separately.

In the meantime, if you have information of any kind bearing on our reader’s report, please write us at powerlinefeedback@gmail.com.

About Ferguson, the Post Says: Oops, Never Mind

Yesterday the Washington Post reported on leaks from the grand jury investigating the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as recently-released autopsy results. The bottom line is that the evidence, including both eyewitness testimony and physical evidence, supports the conclusion that officer Darren Wilson acted in self-defense:

Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown fought for control of the officer’s gun, and Wilson fatally shot the unarmed teenager after he moved toward the officer as they faced off in the street, according to interviews, news accounts and the full report of the St. Louis County autopsy of Brown’s body. …

Some of the physical evidence — including blood spatter analysis, shell casings and ballistics tests — also supports Wilson’s account of the shooting, The Post’s sources said, which cast Brown as an aggressor who threatened the officer’s life….

Experts told the newspaper that Brown was first shot at close range and may have been reaching for Wilson’s weapon while the officer was still in his vehicle and Brown was standing at the driver’s side window. The autopsy found material “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm” in a wound on Brown’s thumb, the autopsy says.

Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco who reviewed the report for the Post-Dispatch, said it “supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound.”

Melinek, who is not involved in the investigation, said the autopsy did not support those who claim Brown was attempting to flee or surrender when Wilson shot him in the street.

None of this should be surprising. It was always highly unlikely that the police officer gunned down Brown for no apparent reason. I was, however, a little taken aback by this:

Jurors have also been provided with the St. Louis County autopsy report, including toxicology test results for Brown that show he had levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. The Post’s sources said the levels in Brown’s body may have been high enough to trigger hallucinations.

Reefer madness? Perhaps so: marijuana is reportedly much more potent today than it was decades ago, when it gained the reputation of being relatively harmless. Hallucinations aside, Brown appeared belligerent on video as he was robbing a convenience store a few minutes before his encounter with Officer Wilson, and it appears that his belligerence may have carried over to that fatal incident.

This is unfortunate, to say the least, but not surprising:

Seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson’s account, but none of them have spoken publicly out of fear for their safety, The Washington Post’s sources said.

A lot of money and power are at stake in false liberal narratives like the Michael Brown story, and truth can’t be allowed to stand in the way.

Why is this information finally coming out now? Because the grand jury that has been hearing evidence will soon conclude, in all likelihood, that Officer Wilson should not be criminally charged. The current publicity is intended to prepare the public for that result:

Tim Fitch, a former St. Louis County police chief, said there are benefits to leaking crucial information to the public ahead of a grand jury announcement.

“I think it’s good to get some accurate information out there. That way on game day, it’s not a surprise to people,” said Fitch, who retired last year from the county police department, which is conducting the investigation into Wilson.

Still, I fault the Ferguson Police Department for its handling of the Brown affair. While Darren Wilson can’t be blamed for not wanting to make public statements while he was subject to a criminal investigation, I think the police department could have released more information so as to make it clear that Wilson believed he acted reasonably in self-defense, and why the department shared that belief. Michael Brown mythology has been circulating for so long that at this point, it won’t be possible to eradicate it.

Off to Italy

I’ll be in Southern Italy for the next ten days. I don’t expect to blog while there.

I’ll be back in time for the election. In the meantime, John, Scott, and Steve will keep everyone fired up. I look forward to reading their coverage.

GOP election prospects look good to me. The old cliche would have it that 12 days is a lifetime in politics. That’s not true, but it’s enough time for a few key races to swing in favor of the Democrats or (perhaps more likely) the Republicans.

One thing I know for sure: My ten days in Italy will go by very fast.

STEVE asks: Which one of us did you leave in charge of the baseball beat?  I hear there is some kind of series going on right now.

Dems at work

Democrats protect illegal voters as though they are a core constituency of the party, and they promote arrangements that facilitate voter fraud as though fraud is a strategic electoral weapon in their armory.

In his latest video (below), James O’Keefe makes the rounds among Democrats and their friends at work on behalf of their causes in Colorado. O’Keefe has posted a partial transcript here. In the video O’Keefe and his colleagues describe how they intend illegally to exploit Colorado law for the good of the cause and meet with friendly encouragement. A representative of one of the organizations supporting Mark Udall even offers him a job. She’s got a good eye for talent.

John Fund is the coauthor with Hans von Spakovsky of a good book on voter fraud and he devoted a column to the new video in “James O’Keefe strikes again.” The column explains the Democratic “reforms” that facilitate the fraud discussed in the video. I think John accurately describes the video as “rais[ing] disturbing questions about ballot integrity in Colorado[.]”

Here are two key paragraphs from the column:

Colorado secretary of state Scott Gessler, along with several county election clerks, have raised warning flags that a new state law that automatically mails a ballot to everyone is an engraved invitation to commit fraud. “Sending ballots to people who did not even ask for them or have moved out of state is asking for trouble” he told me. For example, little can stop someone who collects discarded ballots from trash cans, fills out the ballots, and mails them in. Election workers are supposed to compare signatures on registration records with signed ballots. But if a person has a “witness” who signs the ballot on the witness line, then the signatures do not have to match and the vote is counted.

Secretary of State Gessler had futile arguments with Democratic state legislators last year who insisted on ramming a bill through that mandated Colorado become the only state in the nation with both all-mail balloting and same-day registration. Under same-day registration someone can register to vote online, have a mail ballot sent to them, and never physically show up to register or vote. Other places that use same-day registration treat the vote as a provisional ballot pending verification. Colorado immediately counts the vote and there is no way to separate it out if the person who votes is later found ineligible. “We know people in other states with better integrity safeguards have cheated using the cover of these methods,” Gessler told me. A decade ago, Melody Rose, then a liberal professor at Oregon State University, concluded that state’s vote-by-mail system “brings a perpetual risk of systemic fraud” in elections with razor-thin margins.

Coincidentally, the documentary Rocky Mountain Heist that I wrote about here earlier this week covers the same “reforms.” Michelle talked about the documentary with Megyn Kelly on the Kelly File. TheRightScoop has posted video of the Kelly File segment here.