What Snowden and North Korea Have In Common

What do the Snowden leaks and the North Korean attack on Sony have in common?  (Other than large authoritarian patrons, that is.)

They’re both textbook examples of hostile foreign intelligence operations, Snowden targeting the NSA, the Norks tarketing Sony.

First, target the opposition with damaging leaks.  These aren’t just routine leaks that make an organization look bad to people who don’t like them anyway.  They’re leaks designed to separate the target from its friends.  In the case of the NSA, it was driving a wedge between the NSA and the American public who depend on a robust intelligence-gathering operation for national protection.  In Sony’s case, it was the release of emails between a studio head and a very successful producer making fun of the president, with a racial element, and complaints about the behavior of some of the more popular people in Hollywood.  This had the effect of separating the studio from its natural allies in liberal Hollywood.

The leaks might have done some mostly transient damage on their own.  But really, they were just wrong-footing the target, and making it both emotionally difficult and politically unpopular to come to their defense when the real attack happened.  When George Clooney tries to “explain” why nobody came to Sony’s defense, he’s totally missing that part – Sony had been effectively isolated already.  Once Amy Pascal got caught assuming that President Obama only like movies with black actors, or with black themes, nobody wanted to be on their side.

So now, momentarily unpopular, the target is trying to figure out how to deal with the PR tsunami they’re on the wrong side of.  Sony is used to defining the narrative, the NSA used to not being a part of any narrative.  This is unfamiliar territory for them.

At that point, the actual attack part of the operation.  In the case of the NSA, this meant revealing foreign intelligence operations, the kind of things we expect our intelligence services to be doing, damaging relationships with our allies,  revealing sources and methods to our enemies, and forcing the agency to defend itself for doing its job.

In the case of Sony, the attack was different – threaten the theater’s revenue stream and make sure that it got the message about what is and isn’t acceptable to produce, and make them look weak and feckless in the process.  The weak point was the theater chains.  It’s been rightly pointed out that once they decided not to show the film, there wasn’t much Sony could do about regular distribution.  But none of that mattered, as Sony took the additional PR hit of looking as though it was directly caving to pressure from the guy Jonah Goldberg likes to call, the Pillsbury Doughboy from Hell.

If all this sounds familiar to critics of President Obama who are also conversant with political theory, it should.  Some of these elements are part and parcel of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” in the political arena.  Not for nothing are some of my friends currently and formerly in the intelligence community among the foremost admirers of Alinsky’s genius, if not his aims or the effect he’s had on the US political culture.  Much of what he did amounts to applying hostile intelligence operations to domestic politics.

Personally, I think this transition is incredibly poisonous to the body politic.  It’s helpful to have a default position of “distrust” when it comes to foreign countries, even our allies.  (When someone asks why we would spy on our friends, the correct response is, “To make sure they still are.)  Countries all have diverse interests which won’t necessarily coincide with ours, their foreign policy decision-making processes are usually at-best translucent and often opaque.  It’s entirely reasonable to believe that, short of the actual annihilation of humanity, countries are in competition at a very basic level.

Little if any of that should hold for fellow Americans of different political parties.  Our system, as an open one, only works if we can basically trust that everyone has the country’s best interests at heart, even has basically the same goals in mind, and we’re more or less arguing over how to get there.  The problem with Alinskyite politics isn’t that it’s effective – it’s that its effectiveness comes at the price of an overarching sense of community and trust that’s necessary for the country’s politics to operate.  I know for a fact there are plenty of conservatives who think that Obama is working for the enemy, and while I don’t share that mindset, I also don’t think he always puts the country’s goals first, or thinks that US power and prosperity are necessarily good things – he’s as much said so on any number of occasions.  What’s worse, the Alinsky Attitude leads him to try to criminalize political opposition, something that’s never really happened before here in the US.  When you treat routine political opposition like activity hostile to the country, the mutual suspicions you engender are liable to linger on for a long time.

In any case, what is so clear in the realm of domestic politics, or in the Sony case, should be equally clear in the Snowden Operation.  But it’s also another reason as to why the motives of the leaker matter.  And what’s more, you can start to figure some of this out before the actual attack happens.

In either case, if we had been thinking, “You know, the guys leaking this stuff might not really have our best interests at heart, and maybe we want to discount our level of outrage over this accordingly,” the second part of the attack would have been blunted, because we would have see Part II with eyes more sympathetic to the target.

Instead of bugging Merkel’s phones (which now, it seems, may not have happened at all) being seen as yet another diabolical plot by an agency bent on being the World Repository for Everything You’ve Ever Said or Written, they would have seemed like what they look like now – the kind of thing you want your spy agencies up to.   Sure, we got there eventually, more or less, but in the interim Putin was able to make all kinds of mischief in Ukraine and elsewhere, while our intelligence community was busily defending its right to exist.

Instead of thinking, “Wow, I sure don’t want to stand up for those guys,” much of Hollywood would have instead been scrambling to find some way to help their competitor, or potential future employer or partner find a way to distribute their movie, and we would have been thinking, “Wow, this sure stinks for Sony to be stuck in this position, doesn’t it?”  From what I saw on social media, people were upset at being dictated to by Kim, but felt betrayed by Sony, and only to a much lesser extent by the theater chains.

What does this mean for the next time?  Mostly, it means that motives matter, and need to be taken into account.  And it means that people who fall for the initial narrative – mostly libertarians over the NSA, and liberals over Sony – are getting played by our enemies.  We’re trained by our political culture not to look at motives; questions about motives are seen as ad hominem, secondary to the issue at best, and gutter politics at worst.  It’s another reason to hate what Chicago Gangster Government has done to us, but it’s really just good, basic counterintelligence work, which is what we’re dealing with when we’re dealing with foreign governments and their agents.

The irony is that the kind of Stage 1 attack is, at heart, ad hominem about motives.  The NSA must have nefarious motives for collecting phone metadata.  Sony must be populated with jerks (above and beyond normal Hollywood standards) and racists (of the wrong sort).

We can yell at each other, divide ourselves up into red team and blue team, fight tooth and nail for this or that office or over this or that bill.  But when a foreign entity launches an attack of any kind – even, or perhaps especially – one that seeks to divide us, we need to have the self-discipline not to bite.  There’s nothing the matter with questioning the motives of those whose first goal is to get us to question our neighbors.

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Presidential Statements & Presidential Silence

I guess I’m glad the president finally condemned attacks on policemen with the same vehemence he usually reserves for Israeli housing construction.

One normally only condemns that which requires condemnation, something about which there exists doubt as to its moral status. When he finds it necessary to remind us that the cold-blooded murder of police officers is a bad thing, to whom, exactly, is he speaking? Not to me, nor to anyone I personally know. We already have no doubts on that score.  It means that there’s almost nothing he could say that would be strong enough.

Why has he put himself in this rhetorical box to begin with? No comment should be necessary. The only reason we were waiting for one from him is because he’s opened his mouth so many times, on so many other subjects, that to *not* say something here would carry its own weight.

That doesn’t even touch on the quality of Obama’s comments about the Cambridge Police, the New York Police, or the Ferguson Police, all of which have tended to assume that there was some police misconduct, even in the absence of credible evidence to that effect.

I think that people who claim that Obama is in large part personally responsible for either the police murders, or the environment that makes them acceptable to some people, are going too far. I do think he’s in some small part responsible.  People don’t talk unless they believe that their words will have some effect, Presidents especially so.  In the past, that meant that presidents weighed their words and the occasions for them carefully.

Not everything requires a presidential comment.  In this case, he’s got enough on his plate trying to manage the executive branch of the federal government without trying to be the country’s police commissioner, to be sure.

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My Very Own Chinese Hacker Story

As told on Grassroots Radio Colorado last night:

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This was the picture they hacked:

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Keystone XL 2015

Today, Harry Reid’s Senate committed one more act of legislative malpractice by failing to override a filibuster of the bill to move the Keystone XL pipeline forward.  The vote was taken for the sole purpose of giving political cover to nearly former Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who’s in a runoff election.  Much of her campaign has been based on her effectiveness in representing Louisiana’s interests.  Louisianans overwhelmingly support the pipeline.  But Harry Reid has willingly run interference for a White House that doesn’t want to make a decision, and risk alienating either the blue-collar wing or the environmental wing of its coalition. So the trick was to get to 59 votes, but not 60.

Apparently the Democrats thought Landrieu might be able to make some use of it.  I’m not sure what failure was supposed to prove, but the fact that it was done at all proves that Harry Reid, like Dorothy, had the power to do so all the time.  The message that comes through loud and clear is, “We’ll do anything to hold onto a Senate seat.”

Republicans have solidly supported building the pipeline, and will have no such aversion to embarrassing the White House, so it’s a fair bet that it will come up for a vote in the new Congress.  How will it fare?

On the surface, things look pretty good.  Supporters only need to get one more vote to move it to the President’s desk.  Can they?

We can safely assume that all 54 Republicans will vote for the pipeline.  So they need to find six Democrats to go along. Here’s the list of today’s Democrat aye votes:

Carper (D-DE)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Warner (D-VA)
Bennet (D-CO)
Casey (D-PA)
Donnelly (D-IN)
Manchin (D-WV)
Heitkamp (D-ND)
Tester (D-MT)

Begich (D-AK)
Hagan (D-NC)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Pryor (D-AR)
Walsh (D-MT)

Of the 14 ayes, five won’t be around for the next session, because they were or will have been voted out of office:

Begich (D-AK)
Hagan (D-NC)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Pryor (D-AR)
Walsh (D-MT)

That leaves these six:

Carper (D-DE)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Warner (D-VA)
Bennet (D-CO)
Casey (D-PA)
Donnelly (D-IN)
Manchin (D-WV)
Heitkamp (D-ND)
Tester (D-MT)

Only one, Colorado’s own Michael Bennet, is up for re-election in 2016, so he’s probably a safe bet to stay in the Yes column.  Gov. Hickenlooper’s reticence to take a position notwithstanding, Keystone remains popular here in Colorado.  All the other Democrats up for re-election in 2016 voted No, which tells you that Dems either think those are safe seats, or that people in those states will have forgotten this vote by then.  In any event, there’s little reason for them to change their votes to yes between now and 2016.

Casey, Donnelly, and Manchin all come from states with substantial coal production.  These are fossil-fuel friendly states, these guys are up in 2018, and none of them won their seats by being economic suicidalists.  McCaskill has been a vocal supporter of the pipeline in the past, as well.  That gets us to five, and leaves us with:

Carper (D-DE)
Warner (D-VA)
Heitkamp (D-ND)
Tester (D-MT)

Warner also comes from a coal-producing state, and that part of Virginia almost delivered the election to Gillespie this year.  Almost, but not quite.  Warner doesn’t need to run again until 2020, and his colleague, Tim Kaine, voted No.  Carper voted yes, but issued a pretty weasily statement back in 2013.  I wouldn’t count on him.

Honestly, I think either Tester of Heitkamp could stay as Yes votes, and largely for the same reasons – they’re Democrat senators in increasingly Republican states.  Montana just elected its first Republican senator in 100 years; Tester must be paying attention.  Rob Port sees the vote as bad news for Heitkamp.

If Reid does decide to run for re-election, he could be facing a stiff challenge from jaw-droppingly popular Governor Sandoval, who would likely make much of whatever arm-twisting Reid needed to do to keep 41 members in line.  On the other hand, he only needs to hold on to one of these senators, 2016 could be a good year for Dems, and it’s always more fun to be on the good side of a petulant Majority Leader with a long memory than on his bad side.

Still, it looks as though Reid could have his work cut out for him.

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The March To The Sea

One hundred fifty years ago today, Gen. William T. Sherman quit Atlanta, and began his March to the Sea.  The March was decisive in breaking the spirit of the slave-holding South, but Sherman always saw it as a repositioning of his army to prepare it for action in the Carolinas.  The army conducted itself with remarkable discipline.  It did not, contrary to the assertions of my Georgian 8th grade history teacher Miss Davis, salt the earth as they went.

Victor Davis Hanson describes the March better than anyone:

How in a moral sense could the March to the Sea be too barbaric in destroying Southern property yet at the same time not effective enough in killing Confederate soldiers? How could Sherman’s men be too lax in freeing slaves? How could his march be considered too easy when Grant and Lincoln–men known for neither timidity nor hysteria–feared for the very destruction of Sherman’s army when he requested permission to attempt it? And how else could Sherman move his colossal army to the east and be in position to march northward other than by living off the land and destroying property? Was he to pay for the food of slaveowners in prized Federal dollars with promises that such capital would not be forwarded to purchase more bullets for Lee and Johnston? Were his men to eat hardtack while secessionists fared better? Keep clear of railroads, as locomotives sped by with food, ammunition, and guns to kill Northerners in Virginia? Bypass slaveowning plantationists in a war to end slavery?

As for the charge that Sherman’s brand of war was amoral, if we forget for a moment what constitutes “morality” in war and examine acts of violence per se against Southern civilians, we learn that there were few, if any, gratuitous murders on the march. There seem also to have been less than half a dozen rapes, a fact acknowledged by both sides. Any killing outside of battle was strictly military execution in response to the shooting of Northern prisoners. The real anomaly seems to be that Sherman brought more than sixty thousand young men through one of the richest areas of the enemy South without unchecked killing or mayhem. After the war a Confederate officer remarked of the march through Georgia: “The Federal army generally behaved very well in this State. I don’t think there was ever an army in the world that would have behaved better, on a similar expedition, in an enemy country. Our army certainly wouldn’t.”

If you haven’t read Hanson’s description in The Soul of Battle, you’re missing out.

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So we made a thoroughfare for Freedom and her train,
Sixty miles in latitude, three hundred to the main;
Treason fled before us, for resistance was in vain,
While we were marching through Georgia. 

Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
Hurrah! Hurrah! The flag that makes you free!
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

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Nose. Face. Spite.

Tuesday’s elections here in Colorado did not quite mirror those in the rest of the country.  Yes, we elected Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) to replace Sen. Mark Udall (D-Birth Control).  But we also re-elected Gov. John Hickenlooper, and left the State House of Representatives in Democrat hands, while winning the statewide down-ticket races handily, and narrowly retaking the State Senate.  In fact, I don’t think many people saw the State House of Reps. as a reasonable goal before the election, so coming so close in that was really a surprise week of suspense.

Statewide, Republican House candidates outpolled Democrats by 189,000 votes, but Democrats will hang on, probably 34-31.  There were an unusual number of close races, and in a number of cases, the Libertarian candidate got more votes than the Democrat’s margin of victory.  This has led to the usual back-and-forth between Republicans and Libertarians, with Republicans blaming the Libertarians for running, and Libertarians arguing that their voters were never ever ever getting back together with Republicans.

The events in HD29 make a very strong case for politics as a team sport.  Libertarian-minded Republican Susan Kochevar got into the race late, and ended up losing by about 1500 votes to the Democrat, Tracy Kraft-Tharp. The Libertarian candidate got about 1900 votes.

Kochevar isn’t just about as libertarian as any Republican, she’s about as libertarian as any Libertarian.

In order to defend this, some Libertarians have shown a flexibility worthy of the doowopoly they complain about.  In the course of one FB post, a leading Colorado Libertarian argued that what happened in HD29 wasn’t the fault of:

  1. Susan, who had no control over what the Libertarian Party does – this is true
  2. The Libertarian Party, who nominated a candidate in that race before Susan entered, and were powerless to remove him from the ballot once nominated – this is also true, but with caveats
  3. The Libertarian candidate, who stayed in the race
  4. Those who voted for the Libertarian candidate

Apparently, the fact that 1900 people voted for a particular candidate just…happened.  Nobody was responsible for what they did.  As I understand libertarian philosophy, that conclusion may be in violation of it.

Number 2) is true, as far as it goes.  In fact, the main proponent of this argument points to the Republican party’s impotence in the face of Dan Maes winning the 2010 nomination for governor.  Yes, it’s true that, once nominated, Maes couldn’t be pulled from the ballot.  But the party went through a very public show of trying to persuade him to withdraw, and explaining that he wouldn’t be getting any monetary support at the expense of other who knew how to make fundraising phone calls.  The bulk of the party faithful, unhappy though they were with what appeared to be Tancredo’s opportunism, nevertheless ended up voting for him on the American Constitution Party line, because he seemed the only viable conservative candidate in the race.  The Libertarian Party apparently shrugged and said, “Well, what can we do?”

While it’s a lot to ask of a candidate to step back in favor of a more electable nominee who shares his political philosophy, it’s not unheard of.  People in Kansas may be able to advise us about that.

Even if we just focus on the people who voted for the Libertarian, we’re left with two options, neither of which really exonerates them.  Either: 1) they didn’t know what they were doing, and just voted for the guy with an (L) by his name, in which case they were voting tribally.  I am reliably informed – ad nauseum – by this same Libertarian figure, that only doowopoly voters do that.  So we know that can’t be true.

Which leaves us with option 2):  they knew what they were doing and deliberately chose NOT to vote to have a libertarian voice and vote in the legislature, because that person had an (R) by her name.  If that’s true, it means that the Libertarians came within 216 votes of costing them everything they say they want in the legislature.  That’s the margin that  Joe “Whistles-And-Call-Boxes” Salazar (D-Defenselessness) won re-election by.  Had he lost, Kochevar would have been the potential 33rd member of the Republican caucus.  Along with Justin Everett, they would have been the swing votes on every bill coming through the State House of Representatives. And according to Libertarian electoral strategy – such as it is – that’s exactly what they say they want.

This is exactly the fallacy of “statement voting:” votes aren’t to make a statement, they’re to elect a legislator.  The Libertarian candidate got 5% of the vote, but the Libertarians voters missed out on a chance to get 100% of the swing seat in the State House.

I’m not one of these people who thinks that just because it was a 3-way race in which the Democrat won with less than 50% of the vote, that automatically means that the Libertarian “cost” the Republican the election. Libertarians are pretty orthogonal to the two main parties: liberal on social issues, free-market on economic ones, more or less isolationist on foreign policy.  Historically, most Libertarians voters (if by “voters” we mean, “people who answer pre-election polls”) have ended up abandoning their third-party quixotism to vote Republican, making the ones who don’t look really stubborn.  Instead, maybe they disagree with both parties on enough matters to make them go their own way.  And indeed, Libertarian stalwarts have increasingly been making that case that the only way they can make a difference is by building up their own party’s vote.

But consider this.  Those who voted Libertarian instead of Republican took a major step towards devaluing the only currency they have – their votes.  If you’re a sliver of the electorate, and your entire strategy derives from being the 6% that might add to someone’s 47% to put them over the top, don’t you want to do everything possible to make sure one side doesn’t get to 50% of the electorate?  That’s what HB13-1303 and HB14-1164 (a.k.a. the Vote Fraud Weaponization Acts of 2013 and 2014) were all about, with their same-day registration and all-mail balloting.  In fact, here’s a staffer for none other than the very same Joe Salazar, at 5:30, not seeming disturbed at all by the idea that someone might vote in Oregon and vote in Colorado in the same election.

If there’s one party that’s determined to undermine the election process, and another that’s trying to preserve its integrity, why on earth would you not vote for the party that’s trying to make sure that whatever “statement” you’re trying to make with your ballot remains meaningful?

Consider on other point.  If you spend your time complaining that the doowopoly never nominates anyone libertarian enough for you, and then one party nominates a LIABLE (Libertarian In All But Label), and you continue to split your vote along partisan lines, then you’re setting up a bad incentive system there.  I realize that for some Libertarians, that too is a win, since it encourages a libertarian exodus from the Republican party.  Somewhere down that line, Nirvana may lie, but along the way you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities to make things better.

The irony is that Libertarians may have been saved from their inability to take yes for an answer by’s 216-vote margin in a race where they didn’t even run a candidate, and whose staffer seems determined to make them ever more irrelevant.

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25 Years

Twenty-five years ago tonight, I stood in my apartment in Arlington, Virginia, and watched Berlin free itself.

It was a moment I really never thought I would see.

The Wall had been built in 1961, five years before I was born, so to me, it was eternal.  It was built to prevent the East German dictatorship from turning into a land without a people.  Berliners, and Germans in general, were using the Allied Sectors as an escape hatch in growing numbers, and the East Germans were putting pressure on the Soviets to do something about it. Having found Kennedy weak, Khrushchev acted.  The wall went up, and the city divided.

Escapes – successful and failed – became the stuff of legend.  People tunneled under, jumped over, drove through, and just sneaked across.  Checkpoint Charlie – the official crossing between East and West – assumed a mythic status in the Cold War imagination, for exchanges, infiltrations, and releases both real and fictional.

Over time, the embarrassment of the Wall exceeded the embarrassment of the East German exodus:

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The Wall, built in 1961, just like the tyranny that put it there, was a fixture.  And then, it wasn’t.

Now, there are pieces of the wall all over the world, although, perhaps surprisingly, not in every former Soviet bloc country.  Pictures of these segments invariably show the spray-painted western side, because it’s more visually arresting and more colorful.  That’s almost always the side that’s displayed, where the little plaques explaining the history are placed, as well.

That’s a mistake, and it’s one that reprises a mistake we made during the Cold War itself.  American tourists were often disappointed.  ”It’s just a wall,” they’d complain, after having seen it.  They should showcase the drab, dull grey side instead.  For the West, the Wall was just a wall; for the East, it was a prison.  Let the spectators see the other side first, and have to circle around to see the colors.

In a very real sense, the wall isn’t gone.  Forty years of separation, 28 years of the Wall, effected a lasting societal change:

Not everyone is happy about this change.  During the Day at the Capitol for the JCRC, in the House gallery, I sat next to an older gentleman, representing one of the JCRC’s organizations.  It turned out he was a retired American diplomat, back from a long-term posting in Leipzig, in the former East Germany.  To break the ice, I mentioned something about the Leipzig Trade Fair, and then offered what I assumed was a fairly innocuous observation about how the people there are better off since the fall of Communism.  At first, I wasn’t sure he had heard me, so I tried again.

In fact, I had stumbled across not an American patriot, but a Communist fellow-traveler.  What followed was an hour-long discussion that could have happened during my college days, complete with assertions that East Germany was free for certain values of “free.”  With representatives like that, it at once became clear to me why it took 70 years to win the Cold War.

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Republicans – A State-Level Powerhouse on a National Scale

The Republicans are now America’s majority party at all levels of government, proving at least as adept as the Democrats in adapting to local conditions.

The facts are indisputable.  Republicans control nearly 2/3 of the governorships, will end up with 54 Senate seats, and a postwar high in House seats, possibly as many as 250.

The takeover of state legislative chambers has been breathtaking.  From the plugin below, you can see that it has been going on for some time, but really finished off the Dems in the South in 2010.

From its founding until 1994, the Republicans had really been a sectional party, able to compete effectively in the north and west, but locked out of the south.  In his four presidential elections, FDR won well over 90% of the vote in the Solid South.  (In none of those did the Republican nominee break 5%.  In 1944, Roosevelt fell below the 90% line, but the Republican Thomas Dewey finished third, behind the Southern Democratic Party, which didn’t actually nominate anyone.)

As the party moved south, it increasingly ceded the northeast to the Democrats, but the party was never entirely moribund there, either.

The price of this national success was something that the Democratic Party has been struggling with since its inception – the regions of the country are, in many ways, not very much like each other.  It makes governing as a party hard, because it creates a tension between the objectives of the national party and the desires of one’s constituents back home.  But it’s part of the design of our system that deserves to be celebrated, rather than denigrated.

The Democrats traditionally dealt with this problem by uniting around the one thing that every political party can agree on – staying in power.  So much so that they have come to stand for little else. They’ve been so good at uniting around power that, had it not been for Reconstruction, it’s almost certain that the country would have found itself with a Democrat president long before Grover Cleveland won the 1884 election.

Sometimes, a party is able to overcome that tension long enough to get things done.  The Democrats used a large House majority and 60 votes in the Senate to pass Obamacare, and promptly proved the limits of that strategy.  But on the flip side, I’m fond of pointing out that Jesse Helms couldn’t have won in Minnesota, and Rudy Boschwitz couldn’t have won in North Carolina, but they both helped pass the Reagan tax cuts.

The question is, now that they are a national party, can the Republicans find a reason for governing that unites these various regions? It’s a question they’re going to have to answer if they want to win the White House and actually govern.

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Denver Jobs Market – Mile-Hi Unemployment

With the 2014 mid-terms mercifully (almost) behind us, it’s time to start thinking about the next cycle – the May 2015 Denver municipal elections.  All City Council seats and the Mayor will be up for election.  You can already hear them touting Denver’s remarkable recovery from the recovery, and no doubt will be citing the city’s reported 4.2% unemployment rate in their campaigns.

If only it were so.

Over on Watchdog Wire, I’ve been keeping track of the Colorado unemployment rate, if you adjust for the state’s increasing population and decreasing labor rate participation.  The situation is even more disconnected in Denver.  I’m going to go through this in some detail, because it’s worth doing that once.  Future posts will certainly shorthand this.

First, here’s the nominal unemployment rate, as reported in most of the media:

Looks pretty good.  We’ve been on a nice, downward trajectory since early 2010, and we’re almost back to pre-recesssion levels.  Also, take this chance to note the seasonality of Denver’s employment, mostly around the school year and holiday retail.

Unfortunately, the number of jobs hasn’t kept pace with the population growth:

Since the previous peak of employment, in 2008, Denver has 15,000 more jobs, but around 90,000 more people.  So why is the unemployment rate down?  Because a smaller percentage of the population considers itself part of the labor force:

At its peak, in June 2008, 57.1% of the population considered itself part of the labor force – meaning that those people were either working or looking for work.  Since then, the percentage has declined, even as Denver’s population has increased substantially.  What would the labor force look like if participation had kept pace with population growth?

That’s about 40,000 people who would be int he labor force who aren’t.  If we counted those people as being in the labor force, what would the unemployment rate look like?  Honestly, it looks like depression-level unemployment:

That’s right, just under 14.5% unemployment for the City and County of Denver, if people hadn’t exited the labor force in such numbers over the last few years.  In order for the real unemployment rate to match the stated unemployment rate of 4.2%, Denver would need to have created about 38,000 more jobs than it has.

When this calculation is made nationally, one counter-argument has been that as the Baby Boomers get older, Americans are basically aging out of the work force, with a higher percentage of the population 65 or older.  Those people naturally shouldn’t be counted in the labor force.  But that argument doesn’t hold for Denver.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Here in Denver, according to Census estimates, the percentage of the population that’s 18-64 has increased since the recession, as the city enacts pro-density zoning and planning policies:

It’s not much of a difference: 65% to 68.5%, but it certainly doesn’t sustain a story of large families and urban retirees.

Either many people working aren’t being counted in the employment figures, or else the employment situation – and thus the state of Denver’s economy, is far more fragile than we’re being told.  Either way, this has serious policy implications for the route that Denver’s government is taking.  The increase in population is not an accident – it’s the result of a deliberate policy of densification.  And if the increase in property values and “recovery” in jobs is for an increasingly narrow portion of the city, it also means that fewer and fewer people will be paying the higher and higher taxes needed to pay for politicians’ desiderata, making Denver less and less friendly for the middle class.

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Hickenlooper’s Bullying Attitude

John Hickenlooper likes to affect an aw-shucks demeanor, although there are times when his body language reminds me more of the Trivago Guy than a governor.  It’s disarming, and plays into his general image as a regular guy, and reinforces people’s impression that he’s a centrist.  True or false, that impression is one of his greatest political assets.

Unfortunately, Hickenlooper has a bit of a touchy streak when he’s treated like the politician that he is, and has been for over a decade.  That touchiness seems to have trickled down into his campaign.  Earlier this year, one of his staffers threatened to have Watchdog.org reporter Arthur Kane arrested when he showed up at a campaign office seeking income tax records that had been released to other media outlets.

And earlier this week, a campaign supporters pushed, blocked, and stalked Ellie Reynolds, a tracker for Revealing Politics.  As can be seen in the video below, one of Hickenlooper’s campaign workers, identified as Political Organizer Preston Dickey, follows Reynolds to a nearby coffee shop and then to her car:

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Hickenlooper can be seen standing literally a few feet away, either oblivious to or passively approving of the behavior of his supporters.  And here I thought we weren’t supposed to push girls around.

These are not isolated incidents. In March of 2013, Evan Ebel, out on parole, shot and killed Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections.  Hickenlooper was obviously deeply affected by the killing.  It turned out that Jack Ebel, Evan’s father, was a contributor to Hickenlooper’s campaign.  There is absolutely no reason to believe there was any connection between that fact and Evan Ebel’s parole.  Nevertheless, Hickenlooper got testy with 9News reporter Brandon Rittiman when Rittiman asked him about it on camera.  It’s unpleasant, to say the least, but it’s what reporters do, and Rittiman all but apologized for having to ask the question as part of his job.

I’ve had my own experience with Hickenlooper’s wrath.  After I recorded him admitting that Amendment 66 money could go to PERA, I have it on excellent authority that he blew his stack and took it out on a lobbyist who was unconnected to the incident.

The world is full of politicians who have tempers, and some of them can be very effective with them.  Lyndon Johnson was known to lose his cool – sometimes even for real, not just for effect – but generally had his way with a friendly Congress.  Any number of big city mayors know how to put on a show behind closed doors.  Knowing how and when to intimidate enemies and even friends is a valuable tool in an executive’s toolbox.  But that generally happens away from the cameras.  It isn’t done in public, and it sure doesn’t trickle down to how staffers treat the public.

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