Are Pacificorp’s wind turbines shredding endangered bird species? The Interior Department is being sued by Pacificorp to prevent them releasing figures on the avian death toll to an AP reporter, thereby hoping to stave off sullying wind power’s clean image. Are the carcasses of bald eagles scattered around these silent killers? Ok, large wind turbines are anything but silent, but is this an issue to get worked up over? Clearly it’s a black mark against the highly subsidized industry and it’s no accident this story is being circulated right at the time that the lame duck Senate may do battle with House Republicans over extending tax credits to the wind industry. It is time for wind power to prove itself without government handouts is what the GOP has been saying for some time, and that time seems to have come. That billionaire Warren Buffet owns Pacificorp means the handouts the company gets from Washington are hardly an act of charity. If wind power – or any other alternate energy source – is to capture a significant share of the energy market in America, then it will have to do so on it’s own two feet.
It is simply not sustainable to keep subsidizing wind farms decade after decade. Not only does it cost taxpayers money, it ties up capital in what may not be the best option. Now $13 billion over 10 years is not major money by some standards, but 13 billion in reduced payroll taxes for small businesses, for example, is much more than a rounding error. But more importantly, there is nothing like the necessity of avoiding bankruptcy, or going into bankruptcy and then trying to emerge, for spurring innovation that pays for itself by providing a service that is profitable and cost-effective. A little less coddling and a little more market discipline would do the wind industry good and would free up capital to pursue other avenues or even rethink the wind industry itself. A selective expiry of tax credits for the wind industry should be allowed to take place. For the industry’s sake itself.
Keystone is alive and well, but not in Louisiana. What was voted down in the Senate is Keystone XL, an extension to an already existing pipeline system that runs all the way down to Houston (or will by next year). Senator Landrieu was given the dubious favor by Harry Reid of having a vote in the Senate on Keystone XL, her last gasp attempt to convince voters in her state that she holds a certain amount of leverage in the upper chamber. With the runoff elections coming up soon, she now has this defeat hanging heavy over her and voters may well decide that despite her support for the energy industry, it would be far better for Louisiana to have a GOP senator advocating their interests in Washington. Obama gets a free pass, for now, on having to veto legislation giving the go ahead to Keystone XL. Rumor has it that Barak is no fan of Mary, her tactics to try and get a favorable ruling having angered the White House and ultimately backfired.
If you ask Bill Cassidy, the GOP Representative for Baton Rouge who will face Landrieu on Dec. 6, he’ll say she’s on the wrong team. He would know. The Chicago-born physician was a Democrat and actually supported Landrieu in 2002. He switched teams when the bureaucracy of the public health care system drove him to the view that big government was not the solution. And he’s backed up that change of heart with real action on the ground providing health care to the needy in his state in admirable and innovative grass roots projects. He of course, should he win and the odds look pretty good, will have a seat on the Senate Energy Committee in a GOP controlled Senate. And he will be part of a GOP majority that will re-introduce Keystone XL and force Obama to approve it or veto it. Rather than having Landrieu desperately trying to line up support for the measure among her colleagues, there will be one more GOP senate seat in an increasingly solid majority determined to re-introduce the bill. That’s a bet that Louisiana voters, whose jobs, in large part, depend on a thriving energy sector and an extended Keystone pipeline, seem to be increasingly willing to take.
While concern over the northern border with Canada has caused a bit of a media kerfuffle lately, the prime mover for the concern, ISIS or ISIL’s use of social media to weaponize lone wolves who could then conceivably cross the US-Canada in either direction to carry out terrorist acts, is more of a concern in each country. But the open stretches of border in the west of the North American continent are, and have been, a concern for decades now. And the reason predates ISIS, and arguably, predates 9/11. The concern is Canada’s borders with the rest of the world, not the US. Canada might have argued that the concern is not justifiable, that the terrorists in 9/11 entered directly into the USA, but from a broader perspective, there is reason for that historical concern.
Terrorist groups like the Tamil Liberation Army, for example, enjoyed virtual immunity in Canada because of the Liberal government’s close connections with Tamil-Canadians and their importance in several key ridings in Ontario essentially in the 90′s and the first years of this century. How do you trust, as a partner in common security goals, a government who refused to detain and deport suspected terrorists? What do you say to the prime minister – that would be former prime minister Jean Chretien – who failed to attend a 100,000 strong rally in a spontaneous display of solidarity with America in the days following 9/11? It was the late Paul Cellucci, then ambassador to Canada and a successful Massachusetts Republican, bless him, who presided over the event and gave words of wisdom and strength on that beautiful sunny September day in Ottawa, while the leader of the government hid rather than come out strongly against the terrorists and their manifest evil.
It has only been with Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that a change has come in Canada’s attitude to its borders and security in general. While Canada toughened it’s vigilance at airports and its borders in the years immediately following September 11th, it did so in fearful response to the possibility of America effectively shutting down the borders to Canadian business. Economics matters a lot, but there are times when freedom and courage matter a lot more. And Stephen Harper’s government seems to understand that. Perhaps a long silent majority of Canadians get it too, but time will tell on that. While the current government in Ottawa is a more trustworthy partner, there remains hundreds and hundreds of miles of open border between the USA and Canada. Canada has to prove itself a worthy partner in security to America, and America has to do what it deems necessary as far as its northern border – including the border with Alaska – and the nation’s security is concerned. Let us hope there is truly a sea change in Ottawa and Canada. But hope is not enough. Action on the northern border – more guards, more posts, and whatever technology and other resources can be brought to bear on the frontier – along with collaboration that clearly communicates to the US’s partner that it needs to come up to speed with the USA, will continue to be an issue in the years to come.
The National Labor Relations Board was born in the first years of the Roosevelt Administration with a prototype Board being dissolved after about a year and the permanent structure – more or less – established in mid-1934. Needless to say, it was born in the top-down world of centralized, statist planning and was established to act as a quasi-tribunal for labor relations. The current board, some 80 years later, is now headed into what may be a furious few weeks of rushed rulings before current board member Nancy Schiffer’s term expires on December 16. Perhaps the current Senate can approve Dem Senate staffer Lauren McFerran in the few weeks remaining, but the risk is the approval process may be delayed until the new GOP controlled Senate holds hearings. That makes hurrying up on some of it’s rulings a temptation to the board. One of the rulings that may come down any time now is on the timing of union elections. At the current time, once a regional NLRB director approves workplace union elections, they must be held within 42 days of the decision. This amount of time has meant that businesses have had a reasonable chance to convince workers not to join a union. That may change soon, as the NLRB might shorten the required time within which elections must be held to about 2 weeks. Apparently, studies show that union elections are almost twice as successful under these shortened conditions. That means a lot more unions in a lot more workplaces across the country as the result of such a ruling by the NLRB, should it actually decide that way.
What would a significantly more unionized America behave like in today’s world? Fast food franchises say that they will be squeezed further between a mature, and extremely competitive market and the rising cost of labor, which will rise even faster. With union demands for minimum wage increases echoing louder and louder as employees increasingly join unions, will we return to an age of labor unrest? Strikes and lockouts at your local MacD’s? A father with his toddlers getting pushed around for crossing a picket line to buy them some fries? Or home health care workers picketing their own state governments demanding higher pay from them? It’s hard to say how much support there is generally for unions and higher minimum wages, along with other demands by labor. But the NLRB sits at a key junction of policy and politics in the American workplace, as an independent federal agency. How it rules will impact on how business is done in the country, especially in areas like fast food and home health care, make no mistake. The next few weeks at the NLRB should be interesting.
I live in the 11th congressional district of New York which encompasses all of Staten Island and part of Brooklyn. Now yes I acknowledge we are typically the butt of many jokes but our most recent election for congress is not only fodder for comedy but a sad reflection on the local state of politics in New York City but of the parties as well. This election saw GOP incumbent Rep. Michael Grimm who is currently facing a federal 20-count indictment, defeat Democratic opponent Domenic Recchia Jr. who had a massive fundraising advantage. Not only did he defeat Recchia, he clobbered him by 16 points. For the Democrats it was a massive embarrassment and for the local GOP, it was only a minor victory.
The congressional district that comprises Staten Island hasn’t been free of scandal over the past half century. This is probably the only district that has had two indicted representatives during that time period. The first was Democratic Rep. John Murphy who was brought down by ABSCAM in 1980 and now Rep. Grimm. Also, former Rep. Vito Fossella resigned in 2008 following a drunk driving incident which revealed that he was involved in an extra-marital affair. Rep. Grimm has been involved in numerous scandals and has been accused repeatedly of impropriety. From questions over why he suddenly left the FBI in 2006, to his questionable business partners which include felons and Mafia acolytes, to his fundraising in 2010 and relations with a mystical Rabbi who is facing numerous charges in Israel. One can never forget Grimm earlier this year threatening to throw a NY1 reporter off the balcony. For the Democrats, this seat represented a golden opportunity or so they thought.
Recchia was defeated by 13 points. The last Democrat to face Rep. Grimm was Mark Murphy who in 2012 was only defeated by 5 points. Murphy was the son of former Rep. John Murphy and waged a campaign with little funding and little to no help from the national party. Truth be told Recchia was an awful candidate who upon having been term-limited pout of the New York City Council sought a way to stay in elected office. He had intended to run for New York City Comptroller, then Brooklyn Borough President, then for the 11th congressional seat all within a period of less than four months. He was the only choice for local Democrats and they thought following the indictments against Grimm that the election would be a breeze.
Able to raise $2.3 million on his own and with an additional $1.6 million from the DCCC and $2 million from the House Majority PAC, Recchia clearly had the monetary advantage over Grimm. With those funds a campaign was waged that revolved solely around the indictments against Grimm. It was negative ad after another, some of which implied that Grimm was already found guilty. In over a year on the campaign trail Recchia failed to articulate a single policy position on his website until less than a month before the election. Never mind, the election wasn’t so much about him but about how bad Grimm was. The Democrats waged a campaign based on zero substance and thought that opposing a scandal scarred congressman under indictment would secure them victory.
Then Recchia began to be questioned by the media and any opportunity the Democrats had to take the seat was lost. Recchia showed time and time again he had a limited grasp of the issues that he would face if elected. It was gaffe after gaffe, some moments so cringe worthy that they made one wonder how he was able to pass the BAR exam. His ineptness was even picked up by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart where Stewart was unable to fathom how Grimm could be winning in the polls. At the time a poll had been released which showed Grimm up by several points. In the final week of the election a poll was released showing Grimm with a 16 point advantage over Recchia. It was at this same time that Recchia disappeared from the public view, apparently afraid to provide the media with any more gaffes.
Even local media outlets were so turned off by Recchia that they endorsed Rep. Grimm. Entitled Very Grimm Choice, The Daily News described Recchia as “a candidate so dumb, ill-informed, evasive and inarticulate that voting for a thuggish Republican who could wind up in a prison jumpsuit starts to make rational sense.” The Staten Island Advance gave what some call the greatest non-endorsement, endorsement of a candidate ever. In endorsing Grimm they noted the litany of scandals he has been involved in noted how he has helped to make Staten Island the “laughingstock of the nation.” At the same time though in arguing against Recchia they noted “…it’s fair to ask if these claims of his [Recchia] supposed “simplicity” are not just a cover. No one’s asking for slick, just knowledgeable.”
Rep. Grimm was able to secure a third term but there are those who believe he won’t last to see it through. There are rumors of a second set of indictments that are being prepared against him and the attorney that indicted him, Loretta Lynch has been nominated by President Obama for the position of District Attorney. One would think that her case against Grimm is solid. Also there are talks about who will replace Grimm in a special election next year. A good number of those who voted for Grimm didn’t vote for him necessarily but for the opportunity that he will be replaced next year in a special election.
Democrats ran an awful candidate with a campaign base on zero issues. Republicans ran an indicted congressman with the hope of him being replaced in a special election the following year. What great choices we have.
Obstruction of justice does just that, by impeding that justice be done, but for the New York Civil Liberties Association, due process is far more important. A new bill being proposed by New York City Council, and supported by the New York Civil Liberties Association, would require the police to request a written or audio permission – does that mean a taped response?? – from suspects they wish to search, when a warrant has not been issued and when probable cause is not certain. In essence, it would extend the Miranda Warning to searches. Otherwise, potential suspects may unwittingly allow the police to search them and discover things like weapons and drugs. While one can make an argument in terms of due process, it seems a long way from the Fifth Amendment’s original intention which was to prevent unreasonable search and seizure. NYC police already operate under a number of checks and balances to ensure that intrusive searches are as infrequent as possible, and are often punished in broad daylight for overstepping the line. How they would be able to operate effectively under this new bill is a troubling question. It will likely become a sport to defy and refuse when an officer requests a potential suspect’s consent for a search, and may further endanger the lives of police officials in NYC. A similar law is in effect in Colorado and West Virginia but both are a long way from NYC in every sense of the word.
In an adversarial legal system, a straight admission of guilt, or a clumsy act of self-incrimination is viewed as justice denied. Is it? In an age in which legal academics Allen, Ferrall, & Ratnaswamy, writing in the Valparaiso Law Review on self-incrimination, state that “Constitutional interpretation should not be viewed as predominantly a logical matter, but instead as involving the reasoned revision of belief”, then what starts to matter is who you are and how you feel, and not what you may do, or may have done. Crime a problem in NYC? Change your beliefs and define the problem away. It is no accident that they enthusiastically dissect Justice Scalia’s sin of logical deductions. So we live in an age of enshrined identity politics in which the only logic that matters is process. And bills like the one proposed by the New York City Council are inevitable. And it will make an NYC police officer’s job that much tougher.
For some it’s a paid holiday, and without our Veterans we wouldn’t have many of the freedoms we enjoy including paid holidays. We encourage everyone to find a way to celebrate or support our veterans today in any way they can and enjoy. There are probably to-do lists to be checked off or maybe relaxing is the only thing on the agenda, but take the time to express gratitude to the men and women who haven helped protect our freedom every day.
We wanted to share a heartfelt video from George W. Bush.
There are those who celebrate Christmas in the original sense, derived from the Old English, Christ’s Mass, in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. There are those who celebrate Christmas in the family sense, with some small echo of the religious, Christian roots, but mostly to share some time with family and friends. There are those who celebrate Christmas as a rushed holiday with shopping done just in time. Many of us have celebrated one or more of these versions of Christmas over the course of our lives, but nowadays Christmas has become something else even beyond these; a civic holiday stripped of all religious meaning and which must, by civil right, have equivalents in other faiths, or at least not impose itself on those other faiths. In Maryland, we have the logical outcome of this evolution. A school superintendent for the Montgomery County Board of Education, has dropped the names of Christian and Jewish holidays from its calendar to avoid offending Muslims. Or more to the point, to avoid, or delay, having to name Muslim holidays on its calendar.
Did the Founding Fathers intend this? It is not an ironic question entirely as some lines of historical reasoning emphasize the Deism of many of the framers of the Constitution. And Deism at it’s essence is a rejection of any kind of revealed authority while professing a single creator behind all known life. One can rustle through Washington’s personal correspondence, for example, to attempt to deduce whether he was evangelical. Apparently the evidence suggesting he was is scant. But assuming that a reasonable proportion of the framers were deists and free masons, deliberately removing Christian – and Jewish – holidays from a public school board calendar in what is obviously a desperate tactical measure by a superintendent faced with Muslim protests, feels more like an atheist attack rather than a deist posture. And atheism might be rational but is hardly reasonable. And further, revealed authority has throughout history, especially Christian revealed authority, an organizing force for Western Society, even as it did battle with rational philosophy. In America, it is literally and legally framed within the Constitution in rituals small and large. Whether the framers intended it that way or not, the Constitution and the government they bequeathed America has had at its core a faith in that very document that embodies at the same time the very best of the rational principles of the Enlightenment. As other faiths, and deists, and atheists, continue to advocate for their place in the cultural and social fabric of American society, Christ’s Mass will remain central to America, whether a superintendent lists it in his school board’s holidays or not.
The Washington Examiner needs to decide what to call Tea Party Republicans. With the GOP victory now in the history books, they have already fired warning shots across the party’s bow on how civil war within the Republican party must be avoided at all cost in oder to build a solid and, yes, unified platform for 2016 and face up in a “clear eyed” fashion to what will certainly be a wounded lame-duck president’s divisive tactics in his final two years in office. An editorial calling for unity described TP GOPers as conservative, while another article focusing on, who else, Ted Cruz, labelled him far-right and warned of his willingness to “use all procedural means necessary” to repeal Obamacare and block any attempt by Obama to offer illegal immigrants amnesty. Already, Mitch McConnell is having to reign in the renegade longhorn, so goes the media spin. According to this spin, no one in America wants another government shutdown and what is needed is cautious reforms that contains Obama’s remaining agenda.
Here’s another label for Ted Cruz. How about off-the-charts? As in brilliant. That would be from a comment by his former professor Alan Dershowitz, hardly a conservative. Maybe Ted Cruz realizes that real change to the US government, in terms of scope and cost, will never come about by baby step reforms. So the question is, do his bare knuckle tactics work? Not in terms of the polls taken during any government shutdown, but in terms of the size of the US government, and just as importantly, the limits to federal powers, when they intrude on state powers. US government spending as a percentage of GDP has steadily risen – aside from WWII when it shot up under FDR’s presidency – despite a few periods of modest declines during the first years of Eisenhower’s terms, the middle and latter part of Reagan’s terms, and during both terms of, yes, Bill Clinton’s presidency. Neither Bush presidency lowered spending to any statistically significant degree and HW in fact increased it. The most marked decline in government spending was during Clinton’s 2 terms. And what happened back around 95? Newt Gingrich played hardball with the White House, both in the previous midterms and with the government shutdown. And he had a clear plan. And he had an economy that was showing the fruits of Reagan’s liberating tax changes that rewarded rather than punished innovation. Changes that took more than a presidential cycle to work their way through the economy. And the policy wonk from Little Rock got to ride that wave. Further, aside from government shutdowns, the only lasting way to control federal spending is to devolve power, education is an obvious area, back to the states. Ted Cruz needs to explain clearly why he’s ready to do battle with Obama – who by the way, couldn’t get into Dershowitz’s class while at Harvard – and maybe listening a little to establish GOP consultants could help. But those consultants need to listen to the off-the-charts mind from Texas. If those beltway GOP pundits are in fact serious about reducing government. If not, Mitch McConnell will preside over a Congress that prioritizes good governance. And nothing will change.
What will Harry Reid do if he can’t get to 8? That would be 8 years as Senate Majority Leader, a position he is rather fond of by now, having been there since 2007, which adds up to 7 years of course. Feared more than admired by colleagues in the Senate, Democratic colleagues that is, there may be more than a couple of coup plotters waiting in the wings on the hill, especially Schumer and Durban. Feared because of his ruthlessness which he has put to good effect by making sure not too much gets done in the Senate. Assuming the GOP takes charge of the upper chamber, a very reasonable assumption at this point, if not quite an outright certainty, what will his fellow Dems do with their fearless leader? If Gridlock is unpopular with voters, and it is, and if a lack of productive legislation is also unpopular with voters, and it is, then what can we say about Harry Reid’s legacy? That he’s a fighter who’s used to being on the ropes? Any other boxing metaphors anyone?
As has been pointed out during the campaign, the GOP has younger, more energetic more optimistic candidates who look forward to the challenges facing America and have new ways to solve them. The legacy lions have tended to be more Democrat than Republican, and they are growing long in the tooth. That’s not really about age, although that is part of the equation, it’s about ideas that can lift America out of the bad-tempered funk it seems to fall into when thinking about Washington. Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Cory Gardner in Colorado, and Joni Ernst in Iowa, whose already impressive service to the nation is just getting started it seems, all project an optimism and clear set of values that voters have been turning to in increasing numbers in the final weeks of these midterm elections. A grumpy and cantankerous chess player who loves stalemates is not quite as impressive. So what will the Democrats do after tonight? Should they decide to replace the aging pugilist, it will not be an easy task. While the GOP will have to put together, and especially promote, the ideas that they have been putting forward in a piecemeal fashion on health care, immigration, taxes, and regulation, the Democrats will have to decide on how to clean house. Will they turn on Harry Reid? Some already have. And what will they do without him?
In some ways the senate race in Alaska is a contest of the shouldn’t-have-beens. Mark Begich the incumbent owes his seat to Ted Steven’s legal troubles which meant Bergich got a shot in a state that does not trend Democrat in general. Dan Sullivan’s primary victory was also a bit of a surprise as he defeated Joe Miller who had Sarah Palin’s endorsement. But Alaska is an independent minded state and it seems they may hold the nation in thrall as they make up those independent minds on election night. Right now a RealClearPolitics average of several polls has Sullivan ahead by 46.2% to 43.8%. That’s perhaps just a bit better than the margin of error, but final tallies of rural votes could leave the outcome uncertain until very late. The televised debate between the two candidates focused on fisheries, a very local issue to say the least. In some ways that’s because the values issues are pretty much decided in Alaska. Things like gun control and abortion do not play well there.
In a letter to Alaska voters published in a local paper, Dan Sullivan focused on Begich’s voting record, using the same 97% formula Tom Cotton has used successfully in Arkansas. Top-down health care and education rules and regulations from Washington as well as issues affecting small business and energy development were all on his list of challenges he would take on as senator. These issues should resonate with voters in Alaska, but a further key issue he touched on gives Sullivan an interesting advantage, and that’s national security. As a long time Marine Corps infantry officer with a tour of duty in Afghanistan just last year, Dan Sullivan can appeal to Alaskan’s keen sense of the importance of guarding the nation’s frontiers against terrorism and other threats. Alaskans live next door to Russia and lived next door to the Soviet Union for the better part of a century. While Europe and Turkey were key locations in the Cold War, Alaska was perhaps the most important focus for the US military. Alaskans understand, over several generations now, what it takes to keep America safe. Dan Sullivan certainly does, and it seems to be something voters in the state appreciate in increasing numbers.
Mark Pryor is dead in the middle. The senior Senator for Arkansas, in office for the Democrats for over a decade, is stuck in the middle of govtracks’ voting charts showing leadership and ideology. He’s as close to Republicans as a Democrat can get and smack in the middle in terms of leadership. You could put a big X right through his position and it would line up perfectly with all four corners of the chart. Why does this matter? Because Tom Cotton has been to all four corners of Arkansas sticking to a brutally simple game plan – the 93% model. And boy, has it worked out for the GOP challenger. Tom Cotton has stuck poor old Pryor so close to Obama there’s no daylight between them it seems, despite Pryor’s increasingly blatant attempts to distance himself from the president. By focusing on the fact that Pryor voted 93% of the time with Obama, Cotton now has about a 7% lead in the polls according to RealClearPolitics. Obama, needless to say, is not popular in Arkansas. While Pryor’s father, the late David Pryor, is a well-liked political figure in the state, having been a state legislator, US senator, and governor, his name is apparently no longer enough to keep his son in office.
Is it fair? If you look inside the raw numbers, it is true that Mark Pryor lined up with Republicans on gun laws, but not on background checks at gun shows, where he voted with his party, and not with the GOP. He voted for Keystone but against the birth control exemption. On most fiscal issues he voted with his party and voted down the House GOP budget bill. And he voted against repealing Obamacare. So while that 7% where Pryor did not vote with the president might contain a few votes that the senior senator can point to as proof of his not-too-liberal credentials, the real issue is whether a Democratic senator will offer enough of a change for voters in a conservative state like Arkansas, which voted overwhelmingly against Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Tom Cotton has found the perfect rhetorical weapon to clear away any doubts on the issue. In Arkansas, 7% is not nearly enough when it comes to your voting record, but more than enough when it comes to voting in a new senator.
Let’s take a moment to remember Russell Long, the former Senator from Louisiana. He used what is called reconciliation – a part of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 that was intended to provide a way of adjusting the numbers, so to speak, of a budget between the first and second resolutions in a way not intended by the law’s framers. He saw that its language provided a far broader interpretation just a year later in 1975, and effectively used it to cut off debate on a tax cut bill he was trying to push through. So some 40 years later, we now have the GOP thinking out loud about using reconciliation to, not repeal in the full sense of the word, but to overhaul Obamacare. Mitch McConnell stated that they would use reconciliation in the Senate to nullify the bill’s most onerous provisions while putting forth a patient-friendly alternative with a wider range of options that any individual or family could choose between. The key is that it would only require 51 votes instead of 60 and McConnell is not too optimistic about the GOP reaching 60 seats come this Tuesday night. Employer mandates on health care and the 30 hour workweek regulations are two examples they believe they could gain consensus on and perhaps change. But remember, it still has to pass the president’s desk. Would Obama sign a reconciliation bill that amended his prized legislative baby? Do people like McConnell or Barrosso, the Republican Senator from Wyoming, really believe that? Or would it be a chance to let the president lower his job ratings even more? And would it work? Perhaps, lowering Obama’s approval ratings seems to be something everyone, especially the president himself, is getting good at. It might instead, however, be the first stage of 2016′s election platform for the GOP. Healthcare, or more specifically, the Republican’s alternative to Obamacare, will certainly be a defining part of the presidential elections in 2 years time. Perhaps reconciliation is not the first blow, the House has been swinging for some time, but it is certainly the latest volley in the ideological battle over how to keep America healthy.
A little Halloween political humor. Laughing on the outside and crying on the inside.
Photo credit: Someecards
Harvard’s Institute of Politics has released a poll showing millenials are turning away from Obama and the Democratic Party after showing overwhelming support a few years ago. They are now evenly split on which party should run Congress and are fairly disillusioned with both parties, but their support for the President and his party has shrunk dramatically. Do they sense that top-down, centralized statism is out of touch with their own reality? In today’s world millennial act much more like subcontractors, developing particular skills and using them across a broad range of work experiences, as opposed to spending your working life in a couple of jobs in the same industry. This sort of statism does not solve their problems. Complex rule-based centralized systems, whether for health care, or taxes, or environmental regulations, or for labor market regulations if you are a millennial putting together a small business, is a burden and a throwback to the industrial age.
At the same time, younger millionaires who have made their wealth in high-tech tend to vote more Democrat than Republican. Some have suggested that money made quickly – in a few years with an IPO that arises from a cool idea that becomes a useful product in the fast and furious online business cycle – do not possess the same values that a business owner who has built up their wealth over years of controlling costs and delivering quality. This seems to be a contradiction. A business owner in a non-tech industry will vote Republican, legacy industry workers will trend Democrat, information age owners will vote Democrat, while tech workers are trending Republican. Clearly these categories are far being neatly defined in real life, and a small business owner is likely to be knee deep in technology in order to control costs and meet demand in a quality manner.
The important issue seems to be one’s attitude to wealth – how you value it and how you earn it. Until recently, creating wealth has never been easy. It tends to be a long slow laborious process that reaps dividends after years of effort. Speculation has been around for longer than tulip crazes in Holland or gold and silver from Peru sloshed around the decaying Spanish Empire and riddled it with inflation. Incredibly bright and savvy minds have been able to create untold wealth for themselves in relatively short time periods, and one can wonder whether those gains are closer to speculation or to wealth building. Time always tells and the best of the tech world clearly have built up their wealth, rather than rushing unproven products to an IPO, if at a rate unseen ever before. And sometimes they realized that building wealth requires a certain set of values. Steve Jobs had a meeting with Obama at San Francisco airport in 2010 and he told the president he was headed for a one term presidency unless he developed business friendly policies. He also criticized America’s education system, declaring it was “crippled by union work rules.” Maybe designing some of the most beautiful and disruptive technologies the world has seen and creating untold wealth, made him realize he needed to reboot his values. So let’s see where some of the tech millionaires are casting their votes these mid-terms and in 2016, and beyond. Maybe they realize that Adam Smith has a lot more to do with their lives than they thought.
In an unusual display, the undeniably talented cast of Saturday Night Live performed a monologue slamming President Obama and his
lack of handling of the current ebola crisis. We’ve seen SNL poke fun at politicians for ages, but this really seems like the first time to actually bash the president. The second half of the video mocks the newly appointed Ebola Czar, Ron Kain. Again, SNL got it right this week. Check out the video.
Maybe Tom Harkin felt he was getting a little old to be the junior senator from Iowa. In fact, he is ranked the most senior junior senator in the US Senate, and he likely felt it was time to move on. He has stepped aside before, during the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, to let Arkansas native Bill Clinton have a clear path to the party’s nomination. And that was after leading in some polls. So now we have a Senate race in Iowa with no incumbent. Joni Ernst; Iowa born and bred, a state senator, and as Republican as they come, is in a tight race with about a 3 point lead over Bruce Braley; Iowa born and bred and about as Democrat as they come. In other words, on most issues there is a continent’s worth of distance between the two candidate’s positions. For example, Joni Ernst, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, would like to eliminate the Federal Education Department and leave Education up to each individual State’s department, as a way of reducing the size of the federal government and devolving power over education back out to the states. Braley apparently complained about the House gym and the cutbacks to certain services offered by said facility. Ernst is in favor of eliminating the EPA and is a climate change skeptic, while Braley can’t wait to enact reductions in emissions and has voted for emissions trading. Braley voted for Obamacare and Ernst is in favor of replacing it. Braley is pro-choice earning a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Ernst is pro-life and co-sponsored a state bill that would have made marriage an act between a man and a woman.
In other words, the choice between the two candidates, in terms of policy and values, is very clear. A RealClearPolitics polling average has Ernst ahead by 47.3 to 44.8. She had trailed earlier in the year but in late spring/ early summer shot up in the polls to make it a tight race, one that it now appears she will win. In a fascinating and fairly wonkish article by Shawn McCoy, someone who knows Iowa politics fairly well and applies innovative statistical modeling, he points out two key factors that seem to be pointing clearly to an Ernst win. The first one is that Joni Ernst has managed to come on strong in the home stretch in terms of fundraising, meaning she is finishing strong in terms of getting her message out to Iowa voters. The second reason is that Republicans seem to be winning the ground war, doing a much better job with no-party or independent voters. Those advantages should help undecideds vote for Ernst in large enough numbers to give her a close win. The choice for undecideds could not be clearer between the two candidates. Let’s see which way they do vote. Iowa will be one to watch on November 4.
The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 never occupied the popular imagination, or has it’s place within the media, in the way it should have after the horrifying plague stopped as suddenly as it had started in the year or so after WW I. It is only in the last decade or two, after SARS and other bird flu scares that it’s ghost has been revived and the disease that claimed so many lives began to take it’s place alongside the bubonic and other plagues that devastated Europe centuries ago and have been part of popular culture ever since. With the Spanish flu, which killed up to 5% of the world’s population, there seems to have been a roaring silence in the years that followed. Had the Influenza virus continued it’s progression for another year, the effects on the world’s population can only be imagined. Even then, in an era of slower and less frequent communication, it was impossible to stop. And today with the legal and logistical difficulties of imposing quarantines of any kind it seems, a horrifying but relatively focused outbreak of Ebola is now spreading case by case around Africa and to America and Europe, and perhaps elsewhere.
What can be done to prevent Ebola’s spread? Maybe a reasonable period of isolation for any health care worker who was exposed to a patient would be a good idea? Instead of climbing aboard a cruise liner in Galveston? So far the worker on the cruise ship is under self-imposed isolation and is self-monitoring her temperature and shows no signs of the disease. How reassuring. What is it like to know that your folks or your aunt or some loved one or close friend is on that liner? And do you give them a big hug when they arrive back home to let them know you still love them? Any policy of pandemic containment runs up against our egotistical habits, as well as concerns that a strict quarantine would tank the local economy in which it is imposed. So what does the CDC do? Perhaps worrying less about causing “panic” and providing as much information and warnings as the evidence suggests is necessary. I suspect most people would prefer that than a tardy admission that Ebola, or any virulent infectious disease, is already here. And maybe less centralization in one headquarters in Atlanta would help. And finally, the CDC is also a warehouse if you will, of deadly plagues that have or rare occasion been sent to at-the-time allies like Iraq. The organization clearly has a double role – in part to enable response strategies to any attempt at biological warfare by an enemy state or rogue group – as both defender against and provider of deadly plagues. Perhaps the double role is unavoidable in today’s world of terrorist threats, but one hopes the CDC is always painfully aware of what color hat they are wearing and that they don’t mix roles up. Being a little more forthcoming might help.
Amendment 3 in Tennessee would permanently enshrine their no-income-tax policy and is being pushed by various groups after an opinion by their AG suggested the state could at some point reimpose an income tax to meet budgetary needs. Aside from some worries about voting “no” when seeing the word “tax” on the ballot, the measure seems to have a good chance of passing. And Tennessee has one of the lowest overall state tax burdens despite having a relatively high sales tax rate of 7%. The average per capita state and local tax paid was $2.777 according to the Tax Foundation and that’s the 2nd lowest in the country. They do have a tax on dividend and interest income however, not good for retirees who depend on that income to meet monthly expenses.
More generally, the problem of spending by state governments, and by the federal government as well in each individual state, presents interesting evidence. A study of the net federal contribution of each state as a percentage of individual gross state products produces something of a contradiction. States that raise less money in federal taxes than that spent by the federal government in their state, tend to want to reduce the size of government at the same time that they benefit from overall transfers from Washington. Tennessee for example, contributes 18.7% of it’s GSP to federal revenue and receives 24.4% of it’s GSP in federal spending, for a 5.7% shortfall, coming between Hawaii at a shortfall of 4.3% and Lousiana at a shortfall of 5.8%. Now Hawaii is no red state so the contradiction of net contributors voting Democrat is not always the case. But assuming there is this contradiction in some cases – Mississippi and Kentucky have shortfalls of 13.3% and 17.9% – then is it hypocritical for them to wish to reduce the size of government? Salon ran an article gleefully pointing out 10 offending states, Mississippi and Kentucky are on the list. But all states are captive to federal welfare policies and must spend money that they perhaps would rather not, on policies like Obamacare for example. The real test is how willing voters in Tennessee, for example, would be to cut back all government spending until taxes balance out what they receive from Washington. I suspect that many in Tennessee would be willing, but I also suspect that Washington will never allow them that freedom. Is there fiscal hypocrisy on the part of low-tax states? Sure, but they operate within the constraints that the federal government imposes on them.
It’s hard to think of an appropriate sports metaphor to extend that of the NY Times headlines that basically stated that the Democrats have benched Obama, and turned to Hillary as the effective leader of their party. After all, she was precisely that – or more specifically the Clintons had been since 1992 – until Obama suddenly upstaged her in 2007 – 2008. Former star rookie replaced by former Coach’s wife? The left has no one left to turn to but Hillary. Her voting record as senator suggests she is a somewhat hawkish liberal, but who else can they turn to? Perhaps Elizabeth Warren, and stories have circulated in the last few months that Obama himself might consider backing the senior Senator from Massachusetts, as he feels she would be more activist and left-leaning and Hillary more of a pragmatic centrist. But given the president’s isolation, (one wonders if he actually wandered over to the bench himself, or up into the stands, or out into the parking lot, rather than being benched by his party), will Obama’s possible support of an Elizabeth Warren run for president make much of a difference? It certainly wouldn’t unite his own party, and would be one more barb between himself and the Clintons.
Time will tell on that one, but Obama’s isolation seems to be growing by the day. Whether he has the inclination to attempt to recognize and fix some of the shortcomings of his administration is a question for Hillary’s team who have to somehow rescue their party’s legacy before November, 2016. But then again, Obama’s isolation can be seen directly as a product of the Clinton’s return to center-stage politics and they seem to be not at all unhappy – to not say joyful – about the President’s sorry state in the polls. One nasty night in November in a few weeks, and then the Dems can really start cleaning house and prepare the way for the returning royalty. They seem certain that they – Hillary and Bill we have to start saying now – can regain the balance and drive the party completely lacks and whip things into shape. The GOP, once they have counted up their seats in the Senate, will need to move with purpose and ideas to make sure Hill & Bill don’t make hay by dancing on a sitting president’s grave come this November.