Recently in Politics, Government & Public Policy Category
I've seen at least three stories in the past two days about low morale at important government agencies. Obviously this isn't all President Obama's fault, but in this day and age where does the buck stop anyway?
Here's a bit about low morale at the Secret Service:
The Secret Service has decided to remove four of its most senior officials while a fifth has decided to retire, the biggest management shake-up at the troubled agency since its director resigned in October after a string of security lapses, according to people familiar with internal discussions. ...
A scathing report by a DHS-appointed panel in December concluded that the agency was suffering from low morale among the rank-and-file and was "starved for leadership."
Here's some humiliating testimony from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen who admits that IRS employees have low morale because they're being required to obey the law.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified Wednesday that the ongoing investigations by Congress into the IRS targeting scandal are having the effect of lowering morale at the tax-collection agency.
Koskinen testified at a House subcommittee on Wednesday, and was asked by a Democrat how IRS workers were holding up under all the pressure from House Republicans seeking emails and other documents. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said a top IRS lawyer told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week that pressure to respond to Congress's inquiries is putting a strain on workers, and Koskinen agreed.
"When they... are subject to depositions and recorded interviews, it sends -- these are all career people -- it has a deleterious effect on morale because they thought they were actually doing what they were asked to do," Koskinen said.
"Morale in the military is swiftly sinking, with the troops losing both their sense of mission and their faith that their superiors, political leaders - and the nation - still have their best interest at heart," said the Military Times. "Troops say morale has sharply declined over the last five years, and most of those in uniform today believe their quality of life will only get worse."
For example, according to the Military Times survey, in 2009, 91 percent of active-duty service members said their overall quality of life was good or excellent. In 2014, that percentage declined significantly to 56 percent.
"When nearly every category surveyed reveals a significant dip from 2009 to today, we must all take notice and ask, why is morale so low and what can we do to fix it?" said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in response to the Military Times survey. McCain added that it "requires immediate attention and action" by the White House, Pentagon and Congress.
And finally, a story about generally low morale across the Obama administration.
How bad is federal employee morale?
The good news tells the story.
In the 2014 government-wide survey of federal employees, positive responses dropped for 35 questions and increased for just 10 compared with 2013.
As bad as that is, it's a marked improvement compared with the three-year trend in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. From 2011 to 2014, positive responses dropped on 64 questions and increased for none.
Some people are incensed that the bipartisan omnibus spending bill doesn't defund Obamacare, but I think that's a mistaken instinct. "Defunding" is a gimmick move that is played from a weak hand -- because "defunding" is all you've got. With Republicans in control of Congress, they have a lot more options available than turning Obamacare into another funding fight.
There are several items in the bill that are big wins for America:
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE: One of the GOP's favorite targets will see its budget slashed by $345.6 million. The nation's tax agency also would be banned from targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs.
The bill once again prohibits new standards that would ban the use of cheaper, less energy efficient incandescent bulbs.
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH:
The nation's premier medical research agency would receive $30.3 billion, a $150 million overall increase.
The bill stops assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it becomes a member of the United Nations or UN agencies without an agreement with Israel. It also prohibits funds for Hamas.
For the first time, the benefits of current retirees could be severely cut, part of an effort to save some of the nation's most distressed pension plans. The change would alter 40 years of federal law and could affect millions of workers, many of them part of a shrinking corps of middle-income employees in businesses such as trucking, construction and supermarkets.
The pension change is a big, inevitable change that's been a long time in coming. Pensions can't defy mathematics forever.
From a comment by Cicero Skip over at Ace:
During the 3-1/2 years of World War 2 that started with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and ended with the Surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945, "We the People of the U.S.A." produced the following: 22 aircraft carriers, 8 battleships, 48 cruisers, 349 destroyers, 420 destroyer escorts, 203 submarines, 34 million tons of merchant ships, 100,000 fighter aircraft, 98,000 bombers, 24,000 transport aircraft, 58,000 training aircraft, 93,000 tanks, 257,000 artillery pieces, 105,000 mortars, 3,000,000 machine guns, and 2,500,000 military trucks.
We put 16.1 million men in uniform in the various armed services, invaded Africa, invaded Sicily and Italy, won the battle for the Atlantic, planned and executed D-Day, marched across the Pacific and Europe, developed the atomic bomb, and ultimately conquered Japan and Germany.
It's worth noting, that during the almost exact amount of time, the Obama Administration couldn't even build a web site that worked.
Instead of comparing these accomplishments to the Obamacare website, compare them to the past 13 years of "combat operations" we've suffered through in the Middle East.
Yesterday President Obama issued an executive order declaring that up to five million illegal immigrants will not be deported, and will eventually be given work visas. It seems obvious that the President exceeded his authority, and he did so for at least three reasons: to ease the suffering of millions of people, to win Hispanic affection for the Democrats, and to poke the Republicans in the eye.
Republicans are up in arms over the President's imperial overreach, and their anger is justified. The President intentionally provoked it.
However, everyone needs to settle down. It's important to remember that there are more than ten million people here in the country illegally, and the vast majority of them have committed no crime other than their illegal presence. They're already here, and there's no practical way to "make them leave", no matter how strongly you feel about it. It's just not going to happen. America is not going to forcibly deport ten million people. This executive order didn't "create facts on the ground", it responded to facts on the ground: the people are already here.
Furthermore, President Obama could have Constitutionally issued pardons to each illegal immigrant individually if he wanted to, and there's nothing Congress or any future president could have done about it.
So, while the method and motivation behind this amnesty are troubling, it isn't the end of the republic. 99% of these illegal immigrants will make great Americans. The fact is, America's ambivalence to illegal immigration has led us to where we are now, and we really have no choice but to regularize their presence. If there's a national consensus to avoid this situation in the future, then Congress will have to pass some laws that will actually prevent it, and we citizens will have to elect presidents who will enforce those laws.
I recently received a review copy of "Healing the Heart of Democracy" by Parker J. Palmer and I learned from its perspective, but I fundamentally disagree with Dr. Palmer's main thesis. The book is a high-minded appeal to heal the divisions that polarize American democracy, and although it's inspiring perhaps I'm too much of a cynic to buy in.
Dr. Palmer lays out his thesis best in the introduction:
But these days, "We the People" have a great deal of trouble talking across our lines of difference about the common good -- so much trouble that many of us doubt the very concept of a "common good." Deformed by a divisive political culture, we're less inclined to differ with each other honestly than to demonize each other mercilessly. That's why it's so seductive to gather with folks who share our view of what's wrong and do little more than complain about all those "wrongdoers" who aren't in the room.
If we want to "create a politics worthy of the human spirit," [the book's subtitle -- MW] we must find ways to bridge our differences, whether they are defined by age, gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology. Then we must seen patches of common ground on the issues we care most about. This is more than a feel-good exercise. If we cannot reach a rough consensus on what most of us want, we have no way to hold our elected officials accountable to the will of the people.
Whew, there's a lot there! Where to begin? First, let me applaud Dr. Palmer for his aspiration. At the micro-level, no one would want a family, church, or workplace as fractured as the American citizenry as a whole. So wouldn't it be nice if we citizens could agree more with each other? However, even this aspiration immediately undercuts Dr. Palmer's thesis: we get to choose our church and workplace, and we get to politely avoid controversial topics when among family. As a result of these choices, we "gather with folks who share our view of what's wrong" in order to create a more pleasant environment for ourselves.
Reading the book (and having just searched the index), it appears to me that Dr. Palmer neglects to consider the impact of the median voter theorem on America's two-party political system. This impact is two-fold (at least) as it relates to his thesis.
- The median voter is defined based on one or more issues that are not accepted as part of the "common good".
- The two parties will always be fighting for the median voter.
In the first case, any issue for which there is common ground among voters will not be the deciding factor for the median voter. The two parties may disagree on this issue (even vehemently), but the voters with strong opinions will have already gravitated to their chosen sides and will not be the median voter. Alternatively, an issue which is accepted by a sizable majority of the population will simply not be in the political spotlight. No one fights over common ground, so it's easy to ignore it. Dr. Palmer appears to do so, and makes no allowance for the huge shifts in common ground that have occurred over the past century. Issues that were once contentious are not anymore: alcohol prohibition, women's suffrage, entering World War 2, capitalism vs. communism, engagement with China, civil rights for black Americans, no-fault divorce, tolerance of homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, contraception (and for unmarried women). The list goes on and on. Within the past century these issues were politically divisive, but now our political system has successfully settled them -- many people still disagree with the majority consensus, and they're free to do so, but the divisions have few political implications. The "common ground" of American politics is huge.
As for the second implication, conflict over the median voter is not a sign of sickness, it's a sign that our democracy is working as intended. It's great for everyone to remain civil and on-topic, but the two parties should vigorously contest the issues that matter to the median voter. Eventually one position will convince enough people that the dividing line will shift and the issue at hand will no longer be a concern for the median voter. This is how the system is supposed to work.
For example, Dr. Palmer makes a brief mention of abortion but focuses entirely on a personal emotions surrounding the issue without considering the underlying political environment. The primary reason that abortion is so divisive is that Roe v. Wade undermined the normal political process by decreeing that abortion is a Constitutional right -- the Supreme Court basically took the ball away from the game and thereby prevented the citizenry from gradually reaching consensus. This was a dangerous precedent, and one way that we Americans can help improve our political climate is to strongly prefer that our differences be resolved by legislation rather than by the courts.
Finally , Dr. Palmer's list of differences is mis-aimed: "age, gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology". This list accuses the American citizenry of harboring deep divisions due to surface-level bigotry -- a severe misdiagnosis. It's true that some Americans are unreasoning bigots, but for the most part our disagreements are due to significant, substantial differences in our goals and beliefs. Dr. Palmer throws in the word "ideology", which in modern usage is an epithet, to discredit the legitimacy of the political disagreements. Some divisions do line up around the characteristics Dr. Palmer lists, but it's not the characteristics per se that cause the differences; cause-and-effect may run the other way entirely, or the characteristics and underlying beliefs may simply be coincident.
Ultimately, "Healing the Heart of Democracy" is a well-meaning book, but it rings hollow by relying on an underlying belief in the inherent goodness of mankind. I don't history bears out that belief, and I think that our competitive two-party political system with its separation-of-powers is a brilliant approach to mitigating our inherent selfishness. Disagreements should be civil and purposeful, but contentious politicking is not a new thing -- it's been around for millennium and isn't going anywhere. Rather than attempting to fix the surface-level symptoms of our divisions, America would be best-served by strengthening our separation-of-powers, increasing transparency, eliminating politicization in the bureaucracy, and ensuring clean elections.
Obamacare has decimated elected Democrats around the country but it's been good for at least one person: Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber has been paid millions of dollars as a "consultant" for the federal government and numerous state governments. It's pretty offensive that a person with such little respect for the American public has so flagrantly enriched himself at the public trough.
Those "stupid" people have been extremely generous to Mr. Gruber. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2010 investigated the $297,600 that the Department of Health and Human Services paid Mr. Gruber to sing the praises of the health care scheme. Congress -- or part of Congress -- was concerned that this payoff violated a federal law against paid government propaganda, but the GAO said it wasn't a violation because Mr. Gruber had written his propaganda on his own time. Officially, he was paid only to "analyze various health care reform proposals and identify cost and coverage implications."
This is an extraordinarily lucrative enterprise in the age of Obamacare that Mr. Gruber himself brought about. Individual states have lavished taxpayer cash on Mr. Gruber in return for cookie-cutter reports that describe the impact of Obamacare for each of the several states.
Minnesota, for example, used federal Obamacare grants to pay Mr. Gruber to attend one meeting, participate in a biweekly email list and print a copy of the report, all for $329,000. Wisconsin paid Mr. Gruber $400,000 for the same material, requested by the office of then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. When the report was presented, Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, didn't want Mr. Gruber at the news conference. Vermont is paying him another $400,000. Such a deal!
Or, if you prefer a more acerbic conclusion, taxpayers paid Jonathan Gruber in the mid-six-figures to lie to them, and then brag about it to all of his friends and fans later.
Republicans managed to avoid any embarrassing gaffes this year and finally won control of Congress from a faltering Democratic Party. It's common for midterm elections in a president's second term to go against his party, and this election was no exception. The Democrats were thoroughly repudiated by voters, in a sign that President Obama has done little to lift up his party despite his two strong presidential wins.
Riding a powerful wave of voter discontent, resurgent Republicans captured control of the Senate and tightened their grip on the House Tuesday night in elections certain to complicate President Barack Obama's final two years in office.
Republicans also did well in governorships across the country, though the final tally isn't known yet.
There were 36 gubernatorial elections on the ballot, and several incumbents struggled against challengers. Tom Wolf captured the Pennsylvania statehouse for the Democrats, defeating Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn lost in Illinois, Obama's home state. Republican Larry Hogan scored one of the night's biggest upsets, in Maryland.
Republican Charlie Baker was elected governor of Massachusetts. Maine's blunt-speaking Republican governor, Paul LePage, won a second term after a three-way race that focused on whether he was a divisive presence in state government.
So now the real question is: can the Republicans govern? We know that the Democrats were incompetent and more obsessed with protecting Obama's image than running the country. Hopefully the Republicans will focus their energy on effective governance and not on merely embarrassing the President.
Here are a few things to look for in the coming weeks and months:
- How do the demographics of the vote break down? Did Republicans make any gains with women, blacks, or Hispanics?
- Will Obama nominate an attorney general during the lame duck session?
- Will Obama follow through on his immigration agenda?
- Will any liberal Supreme Court justices resign so that Obama can make an appointment during the lame duck session?
- Will the Republicans force Democrats to vote on a straight repeal of Obamacare?
- Will the Republicans force Obama to veto a law authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline?
- Will we ever get to the bottom of the IRS abuse from 2012? Or Benghazi? Or Fast and Furious? Or any of the other scandals the Senate Democrats helped bury?
- Will the Republicans waste their governing opportunity chasing scandals that no one cares about anymore?
Finally, the AP story notes that "the elections' $4 billion price tag spending was unprecedented for a non-presidential year", but is that really a lot of money to spend disputing the governing direction of the most powerful nation on the planet? Coca Cola's marketing budget exceeded $4 billion in 2011.
You should read the whole thing and wince at every critical hit: "President Obama, Ebola and the total collapse of credibility":
Less than two weeks ago, the government told us that the Ebola virus couldn't spread here.
Also, the Internal Revenue Service isn't targeting, the Islamic State is JV, Iraq is secure, the National Security Agency isn't eavesdropping, Benghazi was about a video, the economy is getting better and you can keep your health plan.
The crisis of confidence in government has now reached epidemic levels, just in time for the government to bungle a possible actual epidemic.
The most important question (assuming we don't all get Ebola and die) is whether or not President Obama has fundamentally broken the bureaucracy. Eight years of this behavior create patterns that will be hard to undo -- and it's not like the civil service was working perfectly in 2008 anyway.
My biggest problem with the so-called "War on Poverty" is that it seems more intended to keep bureaucrats employed and grievance-mongers busy than to actually alleviate poverty. For proof, just consider the quantity of money wasted every year (emphasis mine).
Since its beginning, U.S. taxpayers have spent $22 trillion on Johnson's War on Poverty (in constant 2012 dollars). Adjusting for inflation, that's three times more than was spent on all military wars since the American Revolution.
The federal government currently runs more than 80 means-tested welfare programs. These programs provide cash, food, housing and medical care to low-income Americans. Federal and state spending on these programs last year was $943 billion. (These figures do not include Social Security, Medicare, or Unemployment Insurance.)
Over 100 million people, about one third of the U.S. population, received aid from at least one welfare program at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient in 2013. If converted into cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all poverty in the U.S.
We could "solve" poverty for one-fifth the current price if we eliminated all our means-tested programs (and all the bureaucrats who run them) and simply wrote checks to the families below the poverty line. It seems like this kind of money-saving, welfare-enhancing program is just the kind of thing that could win support from a majority of Americans.
As for structure, my preference would be one or more negative income tax brackets that reward people for working.
Is it ever better to make a quick decision than to take your time and be more deliberative? This anonymously-sourced account of President Obama's deliberations about ISIS portrays the President as very thoughtful and concerned with making "the right decision", and he seems keenly aware that his opponents (myself included) view him as indecisive. In my opinion, the President is wrong to ignore the emotional dimension of leadership -- sometimes you can make the best decision at the wrong time and come out worse than if you had made a worse decision at the right time.
"Oh, it's a shame when you have a wan, diffident, professorial president with no foreign policy other than 'don't do stupid things,' " guests recalled [Obama] saying, sarcastically imitating his adversaries. "I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn't make for good theater." ...
It was clear to the guests how aware Mr. Obama was of the critics who have charged him with demonstrating a lack of leadership. He brought up the criticism more than once with an edge of resentment in his voice.
"He's definitely feeling it," said one guest. At one point, Mr. Obama noted acidly that President Ronald Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon only to have hundreds of them killed in a terrorist attack because of terrible planning, and then withdrew the remaining ones, leaving behind a civil war that lasted years. But Reagan, he noted, is hailed as a titan striding the earth.
"He's not a softy," Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and attended the dinner Monday, said of Mr. Obama. "I think part of the problem with some of his critics is they think he's a softy. He's not a softy. But he's a person who tries to think through these events so you can draw some long-term conclusions."
President Reagan was a master of the emotional side of leadership, a talent that President Obama appears to completely lack -- or intentionally avoid. I can relate to the President: acting on emotion is not something that comes naturally to me -- my tendency is to sideline my emotions and attempt to make decisions based on reason alone. However, I've come to realize that when it comes to leading others it's critical to engage emotionally with your team, and decisiveness is an important component of that engagement.
The new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal/Annenberg Poll finds 62% of Americans support Obama taking action against ISIS.
But fully 68% of his countrymen say they have "very little" or "just some" confidence that Obama will achieve his newly-discovered strategic goals of degrading and defeating ISIS through bombing and an international coalition.
Perhaps worse, only slightly more than one-in-four (28%) have "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of confidence their president will achieve the murderous group's demise.
Part of the faith deficit stems from Obama's chronic tardiness, in person and in policy. You may recall for years now, even after the deadly Benghazi attack proved him delusional, Obama's been touting how badly al Qaeda's leadership had been "decimated" and how dead Osama bin Laden was.
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Ezra Klein spends two paragraphs describing how President Obama divides America but candidate Obama didn't, but why is this true?
This all speaks to a point that the White House never forgets: President Obama's speeches polarize in a way candidate Obama's didn't. Obama's supporters often want to see their president "leading," but the White House knows that when Obama leads, his critics become even less likely to follow. The evidence political scientists have gathered documenting this dynamic is overwhelming, and Frances Lee lays it out well here:
If Obama's speeches aren't as dramatic as they used to be, this is why: the White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better. It is as likely to infuriate conservatives as it is to inspire liberals. And in a country riven by political polarization, widening that divide can take hard problems and make them impossible problems.
So why is the country "riven by political polarization"? 10 possible explanations:
- Racial prejudice: lots of people either love or hate President Obama because of his skin color. Since the President's skin color has remained the same these feelings have intensified over time, leading to polarization.
- Reaction to performance: Americans had only a vague sense of candidate Obama's agenda/competence, but now that we've seen him in action for 6+ years you either love him or hate him.
- Bandwagon bias: we're each surrounded by like-minded people who reinforce and magnify our otherwise moderate opinions.
- Choice-supportive bias: we all tend to interpret evidence in a way that vindicates our past actions. However, it seems that there are a lot of people who voted for Obama once or twice in the past and aren't too fond of him now.
- Distrust: people perceive that President Obama's words and actions don't match, so when he gives a speech it highlights a new position of his to distrust. If he keeps his mouth shut the distrust is less focused and specific.
- Divide and conquer: people and groups of people have been intentionally manipulated into conflict with each other to serve some hidden purpose. But now we're too divided to accomplish anything?
- Limitations of the presidency: candidate Obama could please listeners with his speeches because he could say anything he wanted, but President Obama is constrained by the realities of the office he now holds. E.g., Obama can't go to Ferguson to give a speech because then people will expect him, as President, to solve their problems, which he can't do.
- New speechwriters: maybe President Obama's speechwriters just aren't as proficient as the ones who worked on his campaign.
- Degradation of capability: maybe President Obama has lost some of the ability that he possessed six years ago.
- Apathy: maybe candidate Obama cared more about winning the presidency than President Obama cares about executing the office. He just isn't trying that hard.
For now, if I were a member of Congress I'd zero out the IRS's travel and conference budget -- the service spent tens of millions of dollars on videos spoofing Star Trek, Gilligan's Island, etc. in past years, for conferences held in cushy locations like Anaheim -- and look at other ways to make the agency pay.
Targeting Americans is unforgivable; covering it up is worse, and if the IRS has made it impossible to target the individuals responsible, then the IRS as a whole should pay the price. That's not an ideal solution, but such misbehavior should not go unpunished.
My view is different. I don't think the IRS or its employees need to be punished... bureaucracies are best understood as psychopaths whose fixations and behavior are inwardly focused and governed by their internal rules and culture. Like psychopaths, you can't really "reform" them. Fortunately, unlike human psychopaths, you can disband a harmful bureaucracy and start over. I've called this institutional capital punishment, and I think it's the only way to properly resolve the IRS debacle.
Obviously America needs an agency to collect tax revenue, but the IRS -- its rules, its internal culture -- are so broken that it can't be trusted to do the job any more. This doesn't mean that the employees are bad people, but they're working in a bad, broken system. Rather than trying to fix the psychopathic system, just "execute" it and start over from scratch with a new tax collection agency.
Roll Call has broken the news that the CBO has announced that it can no longer project the costs of Obamacare. All the CBO estimates for Obamacare over the past five years have turned out to be nonsense. Short version: President Obama has made so many unilateral modifications to the law that no one can figure out what the heck is going on anymore.
In its latest report on the law, the Congressional Budget Office said it is no longer possible to assess the overall fiscal impact of the law. That conclusion came as a surprise to some fiscal experts in Washington and is drawing concern. And without a clear picture of the law's overall financing, it could make it politically easier to continue delaying pieces of it, including revenue raisers, because any resulting cost increases might be hidden.
Charles Blahous, a senior research fellow at George Mason University's free market-oriented Mercatus Center, calls the CBO's inability to estimate the net effect of the law "a real problem."
"The ACA's financing provisions were assumed to be effective so as to get a favorable score out of CBO upon enactment, but no one is keeping track of whether they're being enforced," says Blahous, a public trustee for Social Security and Medicare. "We receive occasional updates on the gross costs of the law, but none on whether the previously projected savings provisions are producing what was originally projected."
As a result, Blahous says, "there's no barrier to continually rolling back the financing mechanisms without the effect on the ACA's finances ever being fully disclosed."
Three million Californians are newly insured thanks to Obamacare, but they can't find any doctors willing to take them. One of the big philosophical problems with Obamacare is that it makes the assumption that getting someone health insurance will inevitably lead to that person getting health care. That isn't true.
Thinn Ong was thrilled to qualify for a subsidy on the health care exchange. She is paying $200 a month in premiums. But the single mother of two is asking, what for?
"Yeah, I sign it. I got it. But where's my doctor? Who's my doctor? I don't know," said a frustrated Ong.
Nguyen said the newly insured patients checked the physicians' lists they were provided and were told they weren't accepting new patients or they did not participate in the plan.
Dr. Kevin Grumbach of UCSF called the phenomenon "medical homelessness," where patients are caught adrift in a system woefully short of primary care doctors.
"Insurance coverage is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to assure that people get access to care when they need it," Grumbach said.
Those who can't find a doctor are supposed to lodge a complaint with state regulators, who have been denying the existence of a doctor shortage for months.
Divorce is never pretty and my point here isn't to focus on the relationship between Tony Podesta and Heather Miller Podesta. Their relationship is their business. What is of public interest, however, is that the Podesta divorce proceedings reveal a lot about the Washington power culture. It is revolting that our government is structured in such a way that parasitical lobbyists can enrich themselves by building labyrinthine laws and regulations to dole out favors to politically-connected rent-seekers. Argh! Sorry for all the buzzwords.
Our country and our civilization are being strangled by over-regulation. I'm not against all regulation, but even the Library of Congress has no idea how many laws, regulations, and court decisions there are.
As government expands, extending its reach to every aspect of business, every sector of the economy, private citizens and corporations require sherpas to lead them through the mountains of regulations and tax provisions, to discover exemptions and special favors and other forms of relief or favoritism to improve the bottom line. And who better to act as sherpas than the relatives of the Democrats who impose the regulations and tax provisions in the first place, who better than the lively proprietors of a family business operating in the luxurious and morally uncomplicated world of the caste of limousine liberals who dominate politics, culture, news, and finance.
Corporations give to Democratic politicians, avoiding the scrutiny of liberal attack dogs in the media and nonprofit sectors, and enjoying the ego boost that comes with being on the "right side of history." Then those corporations hire the Podestas to get them out of the Rube Goldberg traps the Democrats have enacted into law. John's innovation was to establish a corporate-funded think tank where the burdensome policies would be concocted, and whose staff would go on to man the regulatory agencies that put their wool-headed ideas into practice. And to whom do the corporations turn when they find themselves on the receiving end of all this uplift, all this do-goodery, all this progress, hope, and change? Why, to the man in the red Prada loafers, and to his flamboyantly patterned wife.
This story by Dan Balz and Scott Clement about some midterm election poll results makes several errors in discussing some results as causes rather than effects. I believe this confusion of cause and effect is a result of the tendency for political reporters to view elections as sporting events, but a historical voting trend is very different from a batting average.
The first example is in the second paragraph:
Midterm elections generally favor the party that does not hold the White House, which gives the GOP a head start this year.
It is true that the party that doesn't hold the White House generally does better in midterm elections, especially if the President is in his second term. However, this historical fact doesn't "give the GOP a head start". The GOP's projected advantage lines up with this historical trend, but isn't caused by it. Both the historical trend and the GOP's projected advantage in 2014 are effects with common causes: inevitable dissatisfaction with whoever has been running the country recently.
In the next example, I will bold the confusion:
The poll shows broad dissatisfaction with Washington politicians. Just 22 percent say they are inclined to reelect their representatives in Congress. Almost seven in 10 Americans (68 percent) say they are inclined to look around for someone new this fall, the highest percentage recorded in a Post-ABC poll.
That does not mean the fall elections will mean defeat for significant numbers of House members, given the high reelection rates for incumbents and the polarized voting patterns of recent years.
As in the first example, high reelection rates for incumbents is a historical trend that is likely to continue in 2014, but the trend doesn't cause itself. The trend is an effect of "polarized voting patterns" as well as the human tendency to stick with "the devil you know".
With President Obama and Congress at loggerheads on major issues and little prospect for legislative action on major initiatives, the president's approval ratings have shown little change since earlier this year.
Here, it's not entirely clear if the authors are implying a cause-and-effect, or which way it's going. By my observation, it appears that the more President Obama "achieves" the less popular he becomes. That lowered popularity is partly the cause of the lack of legislative action, not the effect of it. If Obama were widely popular, he would have more success pressuring Congress.
All but about two-dozen House districts are occupied by someone from the same party as the presidential candidate who carried the district in 2012, which makes it harder for the opposing party to pick them off.
The fact that all but two-dozen House districts voted for a Presidential candidate of the same party as the Representative they elected doesn't "make" it harder to pick the Representative off. That the prior election and the upcoming election are likely to have similar outcomes is an effect of the voting preferences of the district.
Historical voting patterns are not like batting averages, and trends do not self-perpetuate in a causal fashion. Voting instances are reflections of underlying beliefs at a point in time.
This is a big deal! Maybe it's time to move back to California? Ninth Circuit holds that California's gun carry prohibition is unconstitutional.
So holds today's Peruta v. County of San Diego (9th Cir. Feb. 13, 2014) (2-1 vote). The court concludes that California's broad limits on both open and concealed carry of loaded guns -- with no "shall-issue" licensing regime that assures law-abiding adults of a right to get licenses, but only a "good cause" regime under which no license need be given -- "impermissibly infringe on the Second Amendment right to bear arms in lawful self-defense." The Ninth Circuit thus joins the Seventh Circuit, and disagrees with the Second, Third, and Fourth Circuits. (State courts are also split on the subject.)
It's pretty worrying that government employees at critical agencies are using worse passwords than President Skroob. This laziness and obliviousness is yet another reason why the power of government should be limited rather than all-encompassing.
Some of the federal government's most sensitive data are protected by passwords that wouldn't pass muster for even the most basic civilian email account, according to a new congressional report.
Passwords like "password," "qwerty," and users' names have left Homeland Security Department data vulnerable, says a report released Tuesday by the Republican staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
And the password fiasco, the report says, is only the tip of the iceberg--plenty of other agencies have lost sensitive data as well.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission left nuclear-plant security details on a shared drive with no protection. Hackers swiped Information on the nation's dams--including their weaknesses and catastrophic potential if breached--from an Army Corps of Engineers database.
New research shows that "liberals" don't understand "conservatives" as well as "conservatives" understand "liberals". (I use quotes because the labels aren't my preferred way to characterize the viewpoints.) It's interesting to note how uncharitable the leftists are. These results line up pretty well with my observations of people in the wild.
One other point that I find really interesting and important about Haidt's work is his findings on the ability of different groups to empathize across these ideological divides. So in his book (p. 287) Haidt reports on the following experiment: after determining whether someone is liberal or conservative, he then has each person answer the standard battery of questions as if he were the opposite ideology. So, he would ask a liberal to answer the questions as if he were a "typical conservative" and vice-versa. What he finds is quite striking: "The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who describe themselves as 'very liberal.' The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives." In other words, moderates and conservatives can understand the liberal worldview and liberals are unable to relate to the conservative worldview, especially when it comes to questions of care and fairness.
In short, Haidt's research suggests that many liberals really do believe that conservatives are heartless bastards-or as a friend of mine once remarked, "Conservatives think that liberals are good people with bad ideas, whereas liberals think conservatives are bad people"-and very liberal people think that especially strongly. Haidt suggests that there is some truth to this.
James Taranto adds:
But there's a limitation to Haidt's experiments. Because his methodology is new, it has only been applied in the contemporary political context. Perhaps in a few decades it will be possible to determine the extent to which Haidt's findings reflect timeless truths about human nature as opposed to peculiarities of the present day. As time travel is a logical impossibility, Haidt cannot go back in time and gather data from earlier generations.
Obviously we're all always traveling through time, but we're limited to one direction: into the future.
Surprise! The FBI probe led by an Obama donor has leaked that there won't be any charges filed related to the Tea Party persecution. If the law really wasn't broken then that's a problem with the law itself. The proper remedy for this abuse by the IRS is institutional capital punishment: the IRS should be completely dissolved and replaced.
From the WSJ:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn't plan to file criminal charges over the Internal Revenue Service's heightened scrutiny of conservative groups, law-enforcement officials said, a move that likely will only intensify debate over the politically charged scandal.
The officials said investigators didn't find the kind of political bias or "enemy hunting" that would amount to a violation of criminal law. Instead, what emerged during the probe was evidence of a mismanaged bureaucracy enforcing rules about tax-exemption applications it didn't understand, according to the law-enforcement officials.