People in Silicon Valley get ready! Compliance is a coming!

From showboating Democrat senators, accusing Facebook of slow-walking the algorithms that Congress so desperately wants to see, specifically how they track ad-spending (which FB surely tracks very very carefully) to Twitter executives politely knocking on Congressional committee doors so they can be grilled mercilessly, the Russia Hunt continues. This time with Silicon Valley social media behemoths and sorta moths Facebook and Twitter in their sights.

So Russia or Russian-related groups (the evidence is second or third hand and rather scattered at this point) seem to have spent a fair bit of cash compared to you or me on ads in Facebook, but loose change compared to even local-race campaign budgets.

Did those ads – most of which did not mentions the president or either party (again this is all second or third hand stories about leaks about committee members options on ads that they may not have even seen yet) – influence voters in any statistically significant way? You can’t dismiss the possibility but it seems like hard evidence of Jared Kushner’s data operation’s alleged connection with Russian-sponsored actors is nowhere to be seen at this point. So now they have to haul Facebook and Twitter before Congress to make sure that FB and Twitter exec’s admit to knowing that Russia really spent far more on social media ads than the evidence suggests.

In other words, the targets keep changing when evidence is lacking but the investigation rolls on. Yes, that is in part how investigations should proceed, but it seems that Congress is moving towards some sort of compliance structure for social media companies when it comes to ad spending, specifically political ads. But how do you define a political ad in 2017? With identity politics labelling everything as political, and any opinion that doesn’t conform to radical theory as racist, then ANY ad is potentially political. Especially at election time.

Imagine Facebook now has to change their algorithms so that they can file quarterly (monthly maybe?) reports to some agency in the beltway, giving information on who spent what on which ads. Because Congress recognizes that standard campaing financing no longer works. Just ask Luther Strange and Mitch McConnell. And they’re furious about it. Social Media must pay for the changing habits of voters it seems.

And once compliance rules – detailed, ambiguous, and recondite – are in place, then you have a new industry for former Congressional aides! Social media compliance lobbyists!! Facebook might just be hiring a few very soon, if not yesterday. Twitter too. And whether Jared Kushner is an evil traitor, well we’ll just let that question hang for a while. Until some sort of evidence shows up.

​It seems we were all hasty, according to Byron York. In a cautionary tale, he gives a warning well worth listening to in his recent piece in The Washington Examiner. Despite the AP headlines about an imminent deal between the White House and Pelosi, Schumer & Aides Inc. it may be that the tweeting was hasty, as tweeting is wont to be.

Here’s the statement or note Pelosi passed to her Democrat colleagues in Congress the morning after the infamous dinner:

“We agreed to a plan to work out an agreement to protect our nation’s DREAMERS from deportation.”

Ok. So they agreed to a plan to work out an agreement. That’s at least 3 degrees of separation from an actual, bona fide, signed in soya sauce on a linen napkin agreement.

You agree. To a plan. To work out. An agreement. To protect. DREAMERS from deportation.

Pelosi, Schumer & Aides Inc. couldn’t have covered their alleyways any better. But neither AP, nor NeverTrump’ers, nor Angry Trump supporters, nor the rest of us, got that detail right. The point being that the suspicion that a deal with Democrats on anything on the part of the president, might be possible after the initial pivot is what triggered much of this reaction.

Here’s the thing. Trump doesn’t need to stop tweeting. That’s impossible. He needs to have someone helping him to get out in front with his tweeting. You do dinner with Nancy and Chuck, you have a few options on what you tweet. And you tweet before they do. Or you put up with their tweets. Rather than chase their tweets from behind, like a angry Top Gun chasing a Chinese surface to air missile, which is what President Trump was forced to do.

So after the big UN week in Manhattan. And after the speculation about whether UN Ambassador Haley is already gunning for Tillerson’s job at State. And after Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico and the island territory demands billions more in aid. After all that, we will still have the White House and Congress with a packed agenda this fall. And both sides of the aisle matter in whatever deals get done and whatever bills get passed. Even if it’s to ignore one side or the other on any specific issue.

President Trump needs to weaponize his tweeting impulses. No he hasn’t done that yet. They have been more like loose ordinance so far, causing smoke and debris to scatter around. He needs instead to target his tweets like well-aimed missiles, aimed straight at the narrative media groups like AP or Democrat Senators construct on a daily basis.

​It won’t be single-payer! It won’t be single-payer!

Sorry for shouting at Senator Sanders out here on the sidewalk. Here’s what I mean.

Like in the case of gay marriage or de facto open borders, the Democratic Party is shifting hard to the left on health care, and dragging some moderate or RINO Republicans with them.

Yes, this has to do with Bernie Sander’s surprisingly successful campaign, which ignited millennial interest and brought Scandinavian-style socialism to the doorstep of American politics in a way that previous hard left groups were unable to do. And attitudes are shifting. Whether attitudes are following or leading Sanders’ efforts to introduce single-payer health care in America is something that perhaps the wonks at 538.com can figure out.

But today we hear about Sanders’ plan. And here’s why it will never be truly single-payer.

To achieve single-payer it’s not Trump supporters whose corpses you will have to bulldoze out of the way. They tend to be open to entitlement goodies including government healthcare which in America mostly means Medicare.

It’s the wealthy and solidly upper middle class blue voters in places like NYC and San Francisco that will never, ever, ever give up their employer-based health insurance. To let go of a system that allows them a wealth of choices with regards to their daily health care needs and that their employer mostly foots the bill for, is asking far too much of righteous, well-paid lawyers, accountants, techies, and managerial level workers. They won’t do it, and people like Pelosi and Schumer know this perfectly well because they feel exactly the same way, because that’s also who they are.

So, if over the next few years single-payer becomes a real possibility, how do you preserve employer-based insurance and how the heck do you pay for single-payer? Goodbye corporate tax-cuts? Goodbye tax cuts period, is more like it.

And what model does America look to to consider ideas for Medicare-for-all-except-us-wealthy-liberals?

Here’s a suggestion that President Trump can use in his bargaining with Canada over the northern neighbor’s terms for a revamped NAFTA:

You want to preserve some form of NAFTA up in Canada, on which your wealth greatly depends? You get to send us a committee describing how your single-payer system works. Wait. Wait. Don’t smile. AND. We get to set up employer-based insurance policies for all of you (fairly) wealthy, liberal Canadians. Think of it this way:

Ivanka gets photo ops with their Prime Minister. Smiliing about her universal daycare policy with a rainbow of adorable little kids scattered around them on the White House lawn.

Jared gets photo ops with the CEO’s of Unitedhealth, Wellpoint Inc., Kaiser Foundation Group, Humana, and Aetna. In Ottawa. Smiling next to whoever is in charge of leading Canada’s brave new revamping of it’s creaking government healthcare system.

So Medicare for all can smooth Canadian feathers by asking for their wisdom on how to let government run health care. And American enterprise can uproot Canada’s government monopoly on healthcare and give Canadians something magical … choice of healthcare plans. All in exchange for preserving some form of NAFTA.

And Senator Sanders? He gets to work away in committees on the Hill, arguing over how much to raise taxes on wealthy liberals to pay for his scheme. Unfortunately those raised taxes won’t just be on wealthy liberals, will they?

​Let’s say that climate alarmists are mostly right and that their meteorological models are reasonably accurate and that after Irma another huge storm hits the Gulf or East coast. So that 3 large storms hit the USA including Harvey in a matter of weeks.

Would the Senate use Irma and Benjy (the name of our theoretical third storm) as excuses to pass otherwise controversial or at least debatable legislation? Amost certainly yes.

Because that’s what they’re doing with Harvey. The Senate has just attached an increase to the debt ceiling to the House bill providing aid for Texas, an aid package that passed in days if not hours in the lower chamber. You want to provide an aid package for Harvey’s victims? Raise the debt limit please. It is thought that the amended bill will be approved anyway by House Republicans when it lands back on their front porch in a day or two.

But it doesn’t stop there. Democrats are insisting that action on DACA accompany any relief package for Texas. You can imagine the language:

The administration will tear these hard-working young Americans from their homes and dump them in countries they don’t know where life is hard and often dangerous!

Democrats can’t stop the aid package, but they sure can ride it for all it’s worth.

In other words an opportunity for avoiding debate on the debt ceiling increase in the case of Senate Republicans, or an oppotunity for provoking partisan name-calling rather than real constructive debate on the part of Democrats in both houses, is what a devastating storm has provided for them.

Now imagine that Congress gets to work – grumpily, divisively, and chaotically – on some sort of revised DACA that deals with these 800,000 young residents who were brought to the counrty illegally. Imagine Hurricaine Irma is as bad as the predictions are saying it will be and that, say, South Florida is hit as hard as Texas, with perhaps more lasting damage because … well they’re not quite Texas and they might not quite have the engineering in place to handle Irma. But then again, South Florida knows hurricanes like almost no other place in America.

More tragic photos. Young kids clinging to parents. Boats with grim looking first responders. Cuban Americans helping elderly retirees from say NYC. Stories of heroic efforts by young Americans who just happen to be DACA beneficiaries.

How does Senator Cotton shoehorn his RAISE Act into the DACA reform process now? He has to give way and live to fight another day, most likely. And that would hold – in this theoretical – for any modest enforcement of immigration law presented as a quid pro quo for giving DACA beneficiaries permanent residence.

Finally, imagine Huricane Benjy (our theoretical third storm) hits the mid-Atlantic seaboard during a mild spell in late October and the photos are of the Potomac overflowing and Trump fleeing in a helicopter to his golf course in New Jersey. Finally after a few days, he tours the still-wrecked Mar a Lago (thanks to Irma) and rambles about how:

A lot of good people … you should them, they’re just great. I mean they are so strong …. this is a disaster … we’re going to get together and solve this, they’re such good people. We have to fix this …

And the president – helped by Ivanka and Jared – proclaims climate change to be the greatest threat ever to mankind and promises a 2 trillion infrastructure bill to build dams, highways, bridges, and everything else under the sun.

And the bill passes both houses with LOTS of pork handed out across the land, as Time Magazine runs a cover of the president looking worried but almost statesmanlike with a title something like:

Trump Turns Against his Deniers.

Doesn’t it seem that Congress loves a good disaster? That every perceived or (in the case of Harvey and most likely Irma) very real disaster is an opportunity that can’t be left to waste. If you’ll forgive the metaphor if you’re shoveling out wet drywall from your home in Houston.

When you paint the world in apocalyptic terms – as climate change narratives tend to do – then a complete lack of deliberation is one consequence – whether untintended or intended. Suddenly we’re all Noah, and everyone’s got climate change religion and a monstrous mega-Ark made by the government is our only last living hope.

Yes, Congress loves a good disaster.

John Marini is professor of political science at The University of Nevada-Reno. He worries about Hegel and Bismarck, as it applies to America’s administrative state. Tom Nichols is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. He worries about our current admiration for martial virtue as a bulwark against civilian instability, specifically regarding the cheers – by many of us – at John Kelly’s appointment as White House Chief of Staff. Between the two of them, one can see the outlines of what may be an emerging set of trends in America that may be cause for concern.

In Real Clear Politics, Marini talks about the emergence of the administrative state in America, as a consequence of Hegel’s belief back in Bismark’s Germany, that progress is rational and the result of the “cultivation of knowledge” as Hegel put it. In other words the state must become a huge corps of unelected bureaucrats and supposed experts that handle the details of much of the regulations that nowadays affect voters’ daily lives. Never mind natural rights on which the framers based the constitution. Never mind human nature as Aristotle and the Greeks did. It’s all about experts in their specific area of knowledge. So, we now have a Congress which has assumed a powerful but strangely unaccountable role as members of the House and Senate distance themselves from the nuts and bolts of policy making and act as “co-administrators in various parts of the apparatus.”

That means that Congress no longer really acts as a deliberative body. You want to know the details on how the ACA actually works and why the GOP Congress has been unable to repeal and replace? Talk to the federal and even state bureaucrats. That’s where the power increasingly is.

But it gets worse if you consider this. In Hegel’s and progressives’ vision, including current day liberals and progressives, the administrative state is politically neutral, managing and accumulating knowledge and guiding us poor uninformed deplorables upwards and onwards towards a socially just society where bathrooms are gender neutral and where identity politics is an ever expanding great blob crushing all who attempt to oppose it’s steady slimy creeping progress.

In other words, what happens when one realizes that this administrative state has never been neutral? When an overwhelming percentage of bureaucrats vote Democrat? You now have something approaching a one party state. Like in Eastern Europe a generation ago. For example. And the fact that cultural neo-marxism underlies much of the tenets of current day progressivism makes this outcome frighteningly inexorable.

Tom Nichols, on the other hand, is worried about a sort of soft praetorians, the preponderance of generals in President Trump’s cabinet, who are admired, even by some progressive commentators, for their martial virtue. And who, it is hoped, will bring some discipline to the White House. This crosses a red line marking the boundary between civilian spheres of action and military ones, according to Nichols. His concern, as he admits, may be exaggerated; from Eisenhower to Haig, to Scowcroft, Powell, Shineski, etc. there have been military men in politics for much of America’s history. But the concern is because of Trump’s indiscipline and Trump’s apparent respect for military men, to the exclusion of everyone else.

Here’s a thought: what if these two trends – a powerful politically partisan progressive administrative state, and a increasingly politicized military whose martial virtue is seen as a saving grace in an age of decaying morals – combine to share much of the power normally vested in Congress, The Executive, and The Judiciary in America? Even though right now, martial virtue – at least in Trump’s White House, leaving aside the intel community – seems to be on opposite sides to the administrative state. But what if they join sides? And what if that inevitably leads to the very corruption of martial virtue by the de facto one party administrative state?

That’s a very grim picture and one that seems a little too dramatic and dystopian to ever really come true. But it sure gives pause for thought, and makes one think of civics – as in family values and local grassroots organizations – as something we can scarcely afford to lose.

Who is Imran Awan? A former (he was employed up until Tuesday by Wasserman Schultz) IT employee of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and previously several other Democrat members of congress, who is now released under “high-intensity” supervision (involving curfew and a restriction on his ability to travel and including a GPS monitor he has to use). All this after he was detained at Dulles trying to flee the country on Tuesday.

But Awan has been in the FBI’s sights for some time now, for bank fraud. Last January he wired $283,000 to two individuals in Pakistan. These funds were apparently obtained from a fraudulent loan from the Congressional Federal Credit Union meant for a principal residence but used to purchases a rental property. The question is: where else might those $283,000 come from? Awan and other family members worked at inflated salaries for several Democrat members of congress, including Wasserman Schultz, since 2004-2005. Were these funds the result of overbilling? Were they the result of theft of IT equipment that Awan is accused of, involving the offices of members of Congress that he worked for as an IT consultant? Are they the fruits of a series of scams he seems to have been running?

What the heck is going on here?

Consider this: Wasserman Schultz threatened Capitol police in late May for not returning a laptop and perhaps other computer equipment that are clearly part of the investigation. Why? What does she not want investigators to find on that laptop and other devices? Why was Awan, who has been the target of the fraud investigation since at least early this year and whose wife fled with their children to Pakistan back in March, still employed by Wasserman Schultz until just this Tuesday morning when they finally fired him??

It is interesting to note that Awan had access to certain members of Congress’ email lists and even files stored on staffers’ computers. Is there blackmail involved here?

And who the heck in Pakistan received those funds? A quarter million dollars (plus 33 thousand just to top it off) goes a along way in Islamabad, for example. Is this just plain old fraud by a smooth-talking operator? Or is there more involved, given that Wasserman Schultz has kept him on the payroll until just a day or two ago?

Yes, Trump’s announcement of cancelling Ash Carter’s policy of beginning to officially accept transgendered military personnel will suck up a lot of oxygen over the next few days. And the Senate’s attempt at passing a skinny health care bill that will serve as the basis for conference with the House, is also key. But Awan’s and Wasserman Schultz’s story is one that should be receiving more media attention. Who knows where it will lead?

Listening to Democrat Senators threatening and cajoling their colleagues on Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, you would think that the 60-vote cloture rule was enshrined in the Constitution way back in 1789 or thereabouts. Sorry. Not true.

Cloture and the filibuster have always been procedural and therefore tactical rules of engagement in Congress, especially in the Senate. That means that they have been modified from time to time. Usually as the result of anger at a filibuster, or anger at the failure of a filibuster. And for much of the 20th century, that anger came from Southern (often Democrat) senators who were not keen to see civil rights legislation spread too far or wide in America.

In the late 40’s cloture thus required a hefty two-thirds vote. A filibusterer’s paradise, if you will. But by the mid 70’s (after the failure to filibuster the 1964 Civil Rights Act into oblivion by Senator Robert Byrd among others) that threshold for ending debate was reduced to three-fifths, or 60 votes in today’s senate.

So now we are faced with the nuclear obliteration of the filibuster – at least in relation to Supreme Court Nominations – to use the language of Democrats and much of the media. And the GOP as well, if you’re being honest. Because both sides don’t mind the theatre that such a simile produces. And the media loves it of course. But is it really the procedural equivalent of an A-bomb being dropped on a legislative body?

Hardly. Ask yourself this question:

Is the filibuster a vital parliamentary tactic that we would be wise to keep? It really doesn’t seem so. Constructive debate is the cornerstone of a parliamentary democracy, and Congress fulfills that role in America’s republic. And filibustering is the tactic used when the votes aren’t there, after the constructive debate has run it’s course. It’s all about delaying, laying siege to the intentions of the opposition and hoping to drain the lifeblood out of any proposed legislation. Think of the filibuster as a little bat that hangs in the rafters of Congress until it’s time every now and then to swoop down on the procedural process, and suck the life out of a bill.

Yes, the Democrat’s base is howling for blood. Like rabid wolves on the steps of Congress hoping to wake up that little bat in the rafters, and then watching with glowing eyes, as the proposed nomination dries up like a desiccated corpse.

Good luck. Not going to happen. And therefore, we are again at a point where the filibuster is about to change. It starts with Supreme Court nominations. Does it end there? Or will it eventually be gone forever if Democrats follow through and refuse to give Gorsuch the 60 votes for any (theoretical) cloture? It’s close and the next few days will see whether the filibuster survives.

If it dies, will Democrats insist on keeping Justice Ginsburg on life-support (literally) if – God forbid – she succumbs to a life-threatening disease. Will her votes be recorded by the beeps on her heart monitor? How many beeps make a yes? A no?

Silly perhaps. But because of the need to placate their base, Democrats may regret not giving Gorsuch the 60 votes. Let’s hope they do, for the sake of procedure, and that little bat in the rafters. Even if its presence is hardly the Senate’s most glorious feature.

Landmines Abound for Republicans in Obamacare Replacement

 

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Now that Republicans control of both houses of Congress as well as the presidency, the process of Obamacare repeal and replacement has begun in earnest. Once the ACA is formally, officially repealed, the Republicans will “own” the healthcare issue and the pressure will be on for them to deliver something better than Obamacare.

As the alternatives for a new Act fly back and forth, the obvious trap for Republicans is crafting a piece of health legislation that is actually better, not merely different. Wider coverage, easier access, more provider choices, lower costs, more provider accountability, less wasted mandated coverage (no maternity coverage for post-menopausal women, for example), no religious/moral/Government mandate conflicts, etc.

The list of must-have items for a successful replacement plan is long. Crafting a plan that satisfies all those requirements is a monumental task and will likely take several iterations past this initial effort.

However, regardless of the details of the actual replacement plan, gaining widespread public acceptance and overcoming structural anti-Republican bias is going to be at least as big a challenge as crafting the legislation itself.

There are three essential public relations issues with the Republican alternative to Obamacare that are problematic, any one of which by itself could spell doom in terms of widespread public acceptance. All three together mean disaster.

  1. Obamacare is President Obama’s “signature domestic achievement” as they call it. It’s his crowning glory. Supporters claim it comes closer to providing universal health care than anything that has come before. it’s President Obama’s achievement. He personally gets the credit for it. His supporters and cheerleaders love this, and do not want his so-called legacy jeopardized by having it dismantled. To repeal it will leave millions without medical coverage in the immediate short term, and because of the potential administrative and logistical time lag before a replacement plan is in place, millions may fall through the cracks and be left without any workable, affordable coverage whatsoever. Republicans must deal with this quickly and effectively.
  1. The liberal mainstream media is virulently anti-Republican/anti-Trump and is loathe to run stories that cast either the President or Republicans in a good light. These media outlets include not only the traditional liberal media like the broadcast networks, major papers like the NY Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe, cable news like CNN, MSNBC, but also social media sources like Zuckerberg’s Facebook, which has been exposed for downplaying conservative stories, and the supposedly “neutral” Internet resources like Snopes, a “fact-finding” site which has been caught multiple times putting forth a liberally-sympathetic version of the facts and being very slow to change when the conservative-favoring side of the story proves to be true. Any proposed Republican alternative to Obamacare, regardless of its actual merits, will be dismissed by the liberal mainstream media as unacceptable, in order to preserve their pro-Obama narrative.

The liberal media is always going to highlight and key in on any aspect of a new Republican plan that they deem inferior to the existing ACA, while ignoring any benefits or advantages. We’re already seeing headlines like, “Why Republicans’ health-care plans are bad deals for Americans” (Washington Post 3/9), “GOP health-care bill would drop addiction treatment” (Washington Post 3/10), “Doctors, hospitals rip health plan” (Providence Journal, 3/10).

Liberal media headlines like these are as predictable as a Brady win in the playoffs.

  1. The Republicans always seem focus on tax credits as a way to help pay for healthcare insurance. In order to receive tax credits, an individual or family must earn enough money such that offsetting the tax they owe is a relevant and attractive proposition. In the Hartford Courant on 3/10, they reported, “CT Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman (D) criticized the tax credits proposed by House Republicans to subsidize health care as useless to Connecticut’s poorest residents. ‘If you don’t pay taxes, what do you get a credit for?’ she asked.”

The underlying, undeniable-but-rarely-admitted liberal position is that Obamacare—which is essentially just affordable insurance that the Government will largely pay for if the party can’t afford to pay for it on their own—is a partway measure at best. What the Democrats really want to do is to find a way to flat-out give healthcare away to everyone, regardless of their tax status or income. Democrats want single-payer (Government-run) healthcare, not the private system involving for-profit insurance companies that we have now.

Any of these three—a threat to Obama’s legacy, relentlessly inaccurate, biased reporting by the liberal mainstream media or the perception that the Republicans are against the poor because their favored tax credit-based approach assumes employment and sufficient earnings—give Democratic lawmakers more than enough ammunition for high-profile public grandstanding.

How do Republicans avoid their usual PR disaster?

First, the final version must be a good bill, a legitimate improvement over the existing ACA. This submission is the first step, but it won’t be the final bill.

Then, the Republicans need to learn a lesson that they seem incapable of learning: They need to understand that the merits of the issue do not carry the day in the court of public opinion. It’s the 10-second soundbite that wins the attention of the casually-attentive swing voter. Democrats are very good at that—“Tax cuts for the rich,” “Bush lied, people died,” “Big pharmaceutical companies are ripping you off,” etc.—especially since the liberal media never hold the Democrats to account for the veracity of their statements. Republicans have the challenge of not only crafting a 10-second soundbite that distils the complex essentials down into an easily-memorable clip, but they also have to be accurate and truthful, because the liberal media will not let them get away with the same fuzzy math that they let slide for the Democrats. Tall order, but it’s about time Republicans learned how to play this game.

Third, they must be unified. They need to avoid the destructive public infighting that gives the liberal media the opportunity to say, “See? Even the Republicans don’t like it.” When Rand Paul declares that the House version is “Dead on arrival” in the Senate, he plays right into the Democrats’ hands and the liberal media pounces right on cue. The Democrats are much better at standing unified on legislative issues than the Republicans are, and this works against the Republicans’ PR interests.

Fourth, strike first and strike often. Set the tone and terms of the public healthcare discussion. Be proactive in speaking about why the new bill is a huge improvement, point out the current ACA’s shortcomings and failures again and again and keep the pressure on the Democrats about that. Make the Democrats respond to you, not the other way around. They are already behind the curve on this, but they can reverse that with something as basic as calling a press conference—today!!—and outlining their plan’s advantages. Then, all of a sudden, the Democrats will be forced to play, “But wait….” catch up.

The actual ACA replacement bill is an interesting proposition, but even more fascinating to veteran political observers will be watching how the Republicans present and defend the progress of their bill, and how they deal with the inevitable negative reaction of the liberal media.

 

 

Oh Commonwealth of Virginia! What the heck is your problem? Is it that your valleys and hills enfold the nation’s capital, creating some of the wealthiest suburbs in America? And that proximity creates a sense of privilege? At least in those zip codes well within the beltway. First there’s Mcauliffe, your governor. A partisan with little scruples some may say.

Now your elected GOP representative, Bob Goodlatte, tried to pull a fast one – along with most of the House GOP members it must be said – and gut the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics by bringing all the decision making back to where Bob and his cohorts felt it should belong. With them in the House Committee on Ethics, peopled by the same subjects who may from time to time come under the Ethics Office’s gaze.

Yes Representative Goodlatte, it is a pain when an anonymous charge brought by a crazed little NGO whispers its way into the Office of Congressional Ethics, and starts a process rolling in which you, the elected representative, do not have quite the same due process as you would as a citizen in a court of law. Yes, the process can and often will be partisan, and therefore political.

So what? You are not an ordinary citizen. You are a representative of your district and of America. You should have to face a higher level of scrutiny. And the timing … just awful, wasn’t it? Instead of the Army Corps of Engineers dutifully draining the swamp under the President-Elect’s mandate, you would instead have those Army Corps engineers feeding those submerged alligators who only pop up above the surface at feeding time. Yes, that would be you.

Your Speaker of the House told you: please don’t do it. Your House Majority Leader called an emergency meeting to scrap the plan to gut the ethics committee. And your President-Elect aimed his twitter bazooka right at you, Bob.

Do most of your colleagues, on both sides of the aisle by the way, want some sort of “reform” of the House Committee on Ethics? Absolutely, and there seems to be agreement that not now, maybe later, is the best plan. But all this does not go down well with the voting public. The House Committee on Ethics was the result of scandals on your side of the aisle, and voters don’t mind seeing you guys sweat from time to time.

So good for Trump that he went straight to his iPhone and tweeted loud and clear. Any change to the ethics committee should be done in broad daylight with lots of debate, all of it out in the open. Not snuck in through the back door.

Speaker Ryan, heeding voter anger, postponed a vote – a secret ballot – in the House of Representatives on earmarks. And yes, he used the phrase “drain the swamp” when he managed to convince his colleagues to at least hold off on the vote. But that didn’t stop Florida’s Tom Rooney – one of the 3 sponsors of the proposal – to let people know what this vote was about.

The Army Corps of Engineers. Or Corps of Engineers, for those on the righteous side of the sandbanks, dams, and newly-designated swampland on your aunt’s 80 acres of farmland. Tom Rooney is sick of being ignored by the CoE. Who respond to a chain of command that ends up in the White House. Not Congress. And Tom Rooney would like to get a dam built on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. Yes, the huge inland lake that sits at the heart of Florida’s Everglades and demarcates the western border of the 17th congressional district that Rooney represents.

In the 1920’s the Army Corps of Engineers built dikes around Lake Okeechobee, after devastating flooding in the wake of two hurricanes. More devastating flooding occurred in the late 40’s. These were the latest in a long string of projects, including canals, meant to … drain the swamp and create agricultural land – mostly sugar – in South Central Florida. Sometime in the 70’s, resistance grew and by 2000 legislation has been in place to restore the Everglades to its former glory. If you are environmentally inclined that is, and regard swampland with a propensity to flood as glorious. As a libertarian eco-activist might say: South Florida wants to be a swamp.

Not on my watch, says Tom Rooney. You see, to get the Corps of Engineers to built that dam that his constituents apparently want, he claims he needs earmarks. Earmarks targeted at the Army Corps of Engineers. These earmarks would have the USACE directly responding to Congressional spending authority. Because right now, you have to go through the Assistant Secretary of Army (Civil Works), run by Jo-Ellen Darcy, an Obama appointee who has lengthy experience in land and water management, including a stint in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. One suspects she doesn’t eagerly answer her phone when Tom Rooney tries to call her.

So who decides how wet South Central Florida should be? The President and his hand-picked appointees? Or Congress? It’s a fascinating battle, but one cannot help but feel that the law of unintended consequences will inevitably apply if Congress even brings back a more limited, and transparent version of earmarks. And then expands earmarks, just a touch. And just a touch more. This battle is not over.

The bridge to nowhere would have been splendid. Hundreds of millions of dollars to build an enormous bridge to a tiny island off Alaska’s coast. Where, thankfully, a ferry instead continues to provide good service at a very reasonable cost. Because the infamous bridge to nowhere did not get built. Not yet at least. But this is what earmarks get you. Cozy, corrupt relations between beltway lobbyists, members of Congress, local politicians, and favored contractors. That’s the whole point of earmarks.

And now 3 GOP members of Congress want to start peeling back the restrictions on earmarks that have been in place since 2010. John Culberson of Texas’ 7th congressional district. Mike Rogers of Alabama’s 3rd congressional district. And Tom Rooney, of Florida’s 17th district. The vote is secret and conservative GOP members of the House are trying to make sure the nays win.

Do these three, and others who will vote in favor of easing restrictions and allowing earmarks to return to the floor of the House – not to mention the Senate – even care about the recent election? Do they even care about voter anger at beltway politicking?

There’s another name worth remembering: Jason Grumet, President and founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center, or BPC. He has recently written in the Washington Post in favor of earmarks as a way to entice members of Congress to vote the tough issues. As well, the BPC like to hold what they call Bridge-Builder-Breakfasts. There’s nothing like the promise of targeted pork spending to bring people across party lines to sit down for a little coffee and deal making. And the Bipartisan Policy Center is dedicated to “principled solutions through rigorous analysis, reasoned negotiation, and respectful dialogue.”

Did they hold a Bridge-Builder-Breakfast with Alaska’s Ted Stevens and chat about his bridge to nowhere? What does reasoned negotiations mean? You block my earmark and I will vote against every bill you or anyone in either party bring to the floor until I die of a heart attack or get voted out? And perhaps respectful dialogue is code for: how dare you talk to the media before you clear it with me!

That’s the thing. If people like Jason Grumet get their way, and earmarks are brought back to get the logs rolling again on Capitol Hill, then the tough votes tend not to get taken. They often don’t even make it to the floor. But there’s also another implication. Infrastructure spending will likely be a big budget item in the coming years. Lots of it. And how all that money is allocated will depend in part on how this secret House vote goes. If earmarks are slowly allowed back on the floor of the House, then Trump’s presidency won’t be about draining the swamp. It will be about building an enormous and expensive bridge over the swamp.

Instead of being forced to denounce Trump’s attack on Judge Curiel, Paul Ryan would have rather been talking about his plan to fight poverty. It’s not a grand battle scheme, precisely because some 50 years since LBJ’s Grand Society, relative poverty in America is about the same. And if there was a grand battle scheme against poverty, it was the Grand Society.

But Ryan’s proposed devolution back to state and local governments of welfare programs – as well as consolidating some federal welfare programs – is merely trimming the edges of a dense underbrush of regulation and entrenched bureaucratic power. And even that trimming will be attacked by Democrat lawmakers.

So it’s interesting, in this context, to consider two takes on Universal Basic Income or UBI – also called a Negative Income Tax – schemes. It essentially involves giving every member of the adult population a guaranteed income stream that is only partially (if at all) clawed back at reasonably high income levels. But it also involves dismantling every other welfare program you can possibly think of: from housing to Medicare and Medicaid. All of it gone. To be replaced by your UBI cheque every month in the mail.

In one corner we have Charles Murray, who favors UBI. Yes, that Charles Murray: the co-author of the Bell Curve. And not a fan of current educational policies either. So, no, he’s not liberal. And yes, he’s controversial.

In the other corner we have Robert Tracisnki, a Randian Objectivist. As in Ayn Rand. He attacks Murray’s advocacy of UBI not principally from an economic perspective – how can it be paid for? how do you replace the welfare state with such a simple scheme which wil be opposed by entrenched interests? etc. – but rather from a moral perspective.

Leisure is an aristocratic entitlement built on the backs of a subjugated peasantry, to put it dramatically. And any attempt to justify a UBI scheme – like the one voted down in a Swiss referendum recently – in terms of the added leisure time it would produce is wrong morally. By the sweat of your brow … etc. But also, UBI falls apart because unlike ye olde days there is not a subjugated peasantry to pay for the scheme. Not in democratic, developed nations at least. Which is precisely where the UBI scheme is being evaluated.

As Kevin Milligan has pointed out, you have a three-legged stool where only two legs are possible at a time. A tough balancing act. It goes like this: if you have a generous payment (say $15,000 – $20,000 a year) you have to choose between really frickin’ high taxes to pay for it, or have a clawback which penalizes work. The working poor paradox that keeps people on the welfare rolls because of the marginal disincentive to go back to work.

In other words, you either disincentivize work in a big way, or you raise taxes in a big way to pay for the scheme. Which, umm, also disincentivizes work. No welfare benefit should be seen as guaranteed but rather as something conditional and temporary, is what Tracinski is getting at.

As a follower of Ayn Rand, Tracinski should just come out and say it (he surely has somewhere in his writings): relative poverty is a moral necessity in a virtuous society. Ouch.

And even Ryan’s cautious and doable reforms are likely doomed by partisan politics and gridlock.

Without the nefarious nine, FOIA may never have seen the light of day. In other words, without the 9 exemptions, especially nasty number 5, the Freedom of Information Act, passed into law on July 4,1966 by a reluctant President Johnson, might have instead been vetoed or died in some committee. In 1974, a willing President Ford was convinced instead to veto that year’s Privacy Act, (which contained amendments that strengthened FOIA), by chief of staff Rumsfeld and deputy Cheney with legal advice from government lawyer A. Scalia. Congress overrode the veto and the act became law. And as we end the year with a Senate approved bill to reform FOIA now waiting for House approval, the blushing bride in this case is Boehner, prudishly reluctant to expose government secrets that may prove difficult for, well, government. At least that’s the rumor.

Is this reluctance, whether on the part of LBJ, Rumsfeld et al, or any politician or more likely bureaucrat nowadays, merely vested self-interest? The current proposal is hardly radical. It would bring to an end exemption number 5 which is so broad as to allow any government official a handy excuse not to comply with any request for information they choose not to, for whatever reason. So the question is who decides how necessary secrecy with respect to government produced documents and other information is? The tendency is for possessive, bureaucratic ownership of any information they, or any particular government agency, may have had a hand in creating. As anti-secrecy crusader Steven Aftergood states, “the secrecy system does not exist in some kind of abstract isolation. It is an ordinary bureaucratic artifact that is subject to pressure on many levels.” That means the usual foibles of human nature which can and usually do lead to power and greed fueling corruption of various kinds. The quite liberal Aftergood also suggests the boundary between secrecy and transparency is constantly shifting due to changing national security priorities. This does make sense. When combined with U of Chicago’s Geoffrey Stone’s assertion that government secrecy should be presumptively illegitimate, and only authorized when there is a clear and overriding justification, it clearly makes the proposed reforms of the FOIA more than justifiable. The reforms seem modest and do not involve endangering national security as can be argued was the case with Julian Assange. They should be passed.

Confidence in Congress is at what must be an all time low. We can’t know for sure, because the Gallup survey in question only dates back to 1973. Respondents are asked to rate their own level of confidence in a fairly long list of American institutions. The latest results released show Congress right at the bottom and the military right at the top. Small business, the police, and the church or organized religion follow the military at the top. Just above Congress at the bottom are HMO’s, Unions, Big Business, Media, and Banks. Huddled together in the middle are the presidency, the medical system, SCOTUS, public schools, and the criminal justice system.

Is there a pattern here? One way to analyze the anger inherent in these results is to remind ourselves of the Declaration of Independence which will celebrate 238 years of life on July 4. Everyone remembers Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, but what follows those world-changing words sheds a severe light on the current state of events. It states, “Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” The words refer directly to the British Monarch but are so overarching that they echo with dangerous tones over two hundred years later. What had the Monarchy of King George III done to cause such anger? Some of the grievances make for uncomfortable reading: The first three complaints have to do with George III’s refusal to pass, or give assent to, “Laws of immediate and pressing importance.” Then follows complaints about interfering with Legislatures and elections, as well as interfering with immigration and the judiciary. Then comes this one: ” He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” Its corollary, Taxes without Consent, follows a little bit later.

This is a declaration of war on unrepresentative government and while it is not the Constitution, the anger sharpened into words that still live and burn themselves into our conscience should always serve any government and any member of Congress as a reminder of what the People, as divided and diverse as they may be, seek throughout the country – and around the world: the freedom to pursue happiness with reasonable guarantees of safety. The ties that bind Congress to the voters are strained to put it politely. Lets see what further unravelling of those ties November brings.

Continuity and Graceful Exits

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Filed Under Congress on Jun 23 

House Speaker Boehner had to move fast. On the night of Tuesday, June 10 House Majority Leader Cantor lost to David Brat. By Thursday next week, June 19, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy would be the new House Speaker, voted in by GOP House colleagues in a rushed effort to ensure continuity of the current House Leadership. The Speaker ensures the Whip gets the Leadership, and it’s all about experience, fellow House Republicans have been telling the media. There is no doubt that McCarthy, as House Whip, had a few IOU’s he collected on, but time will tell how wise a choice he was. Maybe Boehner honestly felt he had no choice; the party had to vote quickly and move on, avoiding a damaging debate between moderates and conservatives. The problem is, that debate will continue to happen, whether the GOP House leadership wants it or not. Boehner has indicated he plans to hold onto the Speaker’s chair now that his heir apparent, Eric Cantor, will not be around to take it over from him. If Boehner resigns at some point, maybe after the November elections, then Jeb Hensarling may decide to run for the position, according to many. Maybe Boehner just wants a gracious exit from Washington D.C. and is setting the stage for just that. In that case, continuity of House Leadership has little to do with voter concerns – hardly a shock, but at this point couldn’t there be just a little soul searching on the part of the leadership? Debating a platform, even if that debate gets a little ugly, would mean the GOP can take advantage of the midterm elections which seems a whole lot more sustainable than hanging on until November to see which way the chips fall. Does the leadership feel there is no longer enough time to do that? Everything seems a little up in the air on the hill, but on the ground there’s a lot of voters who need to be listened to.

Listening to David Brat

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Filed Under Congress on Jun 12 

While Eric Cantor will apparently be supporting Kevn McCarthy and Jeb Hensarling decides if he even wants the job of House Majority Leader, and as fellow Texan Pete Sessions throws his hat into the ring, it is interesting to take a look at the man who started this dance so to speak. The man who defeated a sitting House Majority Leader for the first time since the position was created just before the turn of the last century, Professor David Brat. He was outspent 40 to 1, although he did have some talk radio hosts like Ingraham, Mark Levin and Anne Coulter on his side. An economics professor and a devout Roman Catholic, he ran partly on immigration reform – against it to be more precise. Anger at the GOP by its very supporters is clearly far greater than the GOP orthodoxy has calculated or even bothered to consider. Within most of the media, the Tea Party has been seen as a fringe, a branch of the Republican Party that will eventually wither and return to its roots. This view is no longer possible and the biggest surprise of all seems to be within the Republican party itself. How the party reacts to this will be fascinating. Pundits are already claiming that Cantor’s stunning defeat shows you can’t play to both wings of the party. What no one seems to be saying yet, is maybe David Brat connected with voters in Virginia in a way Cantor is no longer able to.

Consider Brat’s reference to the “Republican Party of Virginia Creed” and its six principles: unqualified support for free enterprise; equal rights, justice, and opportunities for all individuals who in turn must assume their responsibilities in a free society that offers them those very rights; true fiscal responsibility at all levels of government; strict observation of constitutional limitations; a strong national defense as the best preserver of peace; and faith in God as essential to the moral fiber of the nation, as recognized by the Founding Fathers. Maybe this up to now unknown college professor has reminded the GOP and the nation of the principles that guided the US at its birth and as it grew into the world leader it has long since been. Maybe David Brat is an inconvenient truth for both parties, but to Republican voters in Virginia and many elsewhere, he’s a truth that bears listening to.

The Senate’s quality of equal representation is a problem for President Obama. All the voters in New York and California, presumed liberal and Democrats in the majority by the frustrated Commander In Chief, only get two senators each. Just like Alaska or Wyoming, the latter state being the example Obama used at a fundraiser in Chicago this past week. Does the President feel that all that gridlock would magically unwind if Senate seats were apportioned by population, making the upper chamber more like the House of Representatives? One hopes his frustrations wouldn’t lead him that far, but it is clear that he is certainly not beyond criticising the Founding Fathers, and especially Roger Sherman, the man most responsible for the Connecticut or Great Compromise of 1787.

To resolve the split among states between the Virginia plan, which favored delegates based on a state’s population, and the New Jersey plan, which favored an equal number of delegates, the idea was arrived at to split what was to have been a single chamber into two houses. The lower chamber would have proportional representation and the upper, equal representation. The authors of this compromise were Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth. Roger Sherman’s life is not merely inspriing, it is astonishing. A self-taught man who established himself at a young age in commerce and local politics in Connecticut, he was asked to read for the bar exam and ended up as justice of the Superior Court of Connecticut from which he departed to join Congress. He is the only person to sign The Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Association, The Articles of Confederation and The United States Constitution. He is,of course, a Founding Father and the internal checks and balances between the House of Representatives and the Senate are, in part, the work of his practicality and genius. The Constitution stands over two centuries later as a shimmering example of men like Roger Sherman and their genius, while other attempts at forging Democratic Representative Governments around the world have risen and fallen or collapsed before they could even get a good start.

Roger Sherman’s father, a parish minister whose personal library was the intellectual food for his son’s journey and who died long before he could witness his achievements, was educated at Harvard. Obama had to read some history while at Harvard we can presume. While complaining at that fundraiser in Chicago, perhaps he forgot Thomas Jeffreson’s famous words of introduction, ” This is Roger Sherman, of Connectict, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.”

James Moran, Democratic representative for the Commonwealth of Virginia, has got the government’s role regarding the economy quite clear. “The fact is that this is the Board of Directors for the largest economic entity in the world.” Did you believe that people like James Moran were your elected representatives? Sorry, they are the board, or The Board if you will; and not just any of the multiple committees and boards that populate the beltway. No, he means The Board that apparently runs the economy. That’s right, Congress runs the economy. Not individual citizens choosing what to build and what to buy. Not business: small, large and medium. No, Congress does. Naturally enough with this worldview, he wants a raise. It seems a $174,000 salary doesn’t make ends meet. Never mind that $174,000 will get you a home – a very reasonaable home at that – in South Carolina, Wisconsin and a couple of dozen other states, including West Virginia if not in Virginia. It almost gets you one in Texas, based on the average selling price. But it’s not enough when you’re running the world’s largest economic entity.

Mr. Moran’s plan – he is not running for reelection – is to introduce a measure that would provide members of Congress with a per diem to supplement their pay; a legacy for his legislative colleagues if you will. So how much might this allowance amount to given the base pay is almost two hundred thousand dollars? Well, how much wealth does Congress create? No one can deny that they redistribute wealth, preferably back to their own district, but that’s another matter altogether. If you believe Locke’s notion that good government provides just enough law to enable each of us to pursue our interests in freedom and security, then Congress has come a long, long way from the founding father’s conception of the republic they were forging. Government’s spreading zeal has clearly destroyed far more wealth than any it may have created by providing clear and concise rules that allow us to get on with our lives. Locke’s conception of a rational contract between citizens and their government, to whom they cautiously relinquish powers and rights, must be kept in mind with each advance that governments make. Whether immense or less so; like a daily allowance.

Have you even had time to bunker down and start filling out all those forms? And do you have a soft little spot in your heart for those “career civil servants who are dedicated to serving the American taxpayer in a fair and impartial manner” in the words of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen? The commisioner was facing an angry Congress, angry House Republicans to be exact, who are investigating the possibility that conservative political groups like the Tea Party were deliberately targeted for tax audits. So we have the possiblity that the IRS is politicized and uses its long arm to seek out political opponents and Commissioner Koskinen was desperately trying to assure us all that once the half-dozen or so investigations are done we’ll all feel warm and trusting towards our hard working tax men and women.

Pardon me if I don’t react with shock. The question seems more to be when has the IRS not been politicized in the last 50 or 60 odd years? Or in other words, who in which administration has succumbed to the temptation to use such a powerful weapon like the IRS with its endless banks of data on just about every citizen in the country? So yes, there is ample opportunity for finger pointing but it seems that all pointed fingers, if you will, lead back to 1111 Constitution Avenue NW. As William Buckley wrote several decades ago, “the trouble with policing tax-exempt organizations is that it simply cannot be done with justice.”

Think of it this way; from who is the IRS really independent? The powers that be in Washington or the taxpayers? How close do you live to 1111 Constitution Avenue NW? It is helpful to recall the rather severe wording of the Sixteenth Amendment, “the Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on income, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” Now that’s rather shocking in its blunt display of power. Do we need taxes? Unfortunately, yes. Do we need a system for imposing – and taxes are always an imposition – and levying them that sits a little closer to the millions of taxpayers around the country? This latest scandal seems to suggest a big yes. So, how are your taxes going?

Today, President Obama took it upon himself and his pen to sign an order raising the minimum wage for federal worker to $10.10. He said, “Nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty,” adding, “While Congress decides what it’s going to do . . . today I’m going to do what I can to help raise working Americans’ wages.”

Without any regard to Congress, the president explained his decision, “Wherever I can act on my own without Congress, by using my pen to take executive actions . . . that’s what I’m going to do.”

Flashback to 2008, Obama tells America, “The biggest problems that we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not going through Congress at all. And that’s what I intend to reverse when I’m President of the United States of America.”

Pot meet Kettle. We can’t go back, but we can’t forget all of these un-truths moving forward. Obama, Biden, Clinton have got to go. It’s difficult to wrap my head around the fact that people re-elected him. The more people see how much hasn’t changed at all or changed for the better, is an opportunity to redirect the future. Obama’s statements today are perfect example of this.