Archive for October, 2009

Sailing to Byzantium

I’ve always been a sucker for the Byzantine Empire.  I’ll write a more extensive review of the new book, Lost to the West, soon, but for the moment, I want to focus on one particular emperor, the last of the Macedonian Dynasty, and the last truly great emperor Byzantium produced, Basil II.  Basil took power by overthrowing a regent who wanted the crown for himself, and by putting down rebellion by a couple of successful generals who had similar ideas.  After the second rebellion, Basil met with its leader.  The meeting is recorded by Michael Psellus, in his Chronographia:

After this Basil proceeded to question him, as a man accustomed to command, about his Empire, how it could be preserved free from dissension. Sclerus had an answer to this, although it was not the sort of advice one would expect from a general; in fact, it sounded more like a diabolical plot. ‘Cut down,’ he said, ‘the governors who become overproud. Let no generals on campaign have too many resources. Exhaust them [the aristocracy – ed.] with unjust exactions, to keep them busied with their own affairs. Admit no woman to the imperial councils. Be accessible to no one. Share with few your most intimate plans.’

First, let’s make the obligatory noises about how Obama’s no Byzantine Emperor.  True enough.  Imperial legitimacy came not from the people, but from the blade of a sword.  And women’s relationship to society has – thankfully – changed somewhat since the 10th Century.  But to power politics is power politics, and Sclerus’s advice boils down to this: suppress the institutions that might cause you trouble, and don’t let anyone figure out what you’re up to.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the posting where I read it, but the author proposed that Obama runs his foreign policy through personal advisers and special envoys – often to the exclusion of the traditional military and foreign policy apparatus – to avoid sharing his overall vision with anyone else.  That this doesn’t require a conspiracy, merely a clever plan by a good politician to avoid opposition to what would be unpopular ideas.

Hey, it’s happened before.

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Zelaya Returns, Indeed

This explains this.  It’s one thing to have the administration pushing quietly and unsuccessfully for the return of a would-be dictator over the rule of law.  It’s another thing entirely to have succeeded, in contradiction to Congress’s own legal research.

People of Iran, you are the cavalry.

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Coast to Coast to Taxes

Ben DeGrow follows up on a John Fund piece in the Wall Street Journal last week, discussing a couple of ballot initiatives in Maine and Washington State.  The closely mirror our own Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits budget growth to inflation + population growth.  Ben sees these as almost more of a bellwether than the NY-23, and New Jersey & Virginia governor’s races.  The referenda, I-1033 in Washington and Ballot Question #4 in Maine, however, both appear to be going down to defeat, in large part because of massive spending by the opposition.

In Washington, opponents have dumped $3 million into the race in the last month, moving I-1033 from 13 points up to 12 points down in SurveyUSA polls.  This despite significant differences between Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights and I-1033, detailed by sponsor Tim Eyman:

Colorado’s TABOR is a constitutional amendment — it couldn’t be amended by the Legislature; I-1033, like I-601, is a law, providing the Legislature with flexibility to change it. TABOR encompassed every government – school districts, library districts, fire districts, ports, public utility districts, etc. I-1033 focuses only on the state, counties and cities. TABOR put a limit on every governmental account and every tax dollar received, including transportation funds, pension funds, capital budgets, workman’s compensation, unemployment insurance funds, federal funds, etc. I-1033, like I-601, only addresses the general fund, the account that state, counties, and cities have the most trouble showing fiscal discipline with. TABOR didn’t allow rainy day funds. I-1033, like I-601, gives ‘first bite’ of excess tax revenues to the rainy day fund. TABOR didn’t exclude federal funds; I-1033 explicitly does. TABOR prohibited governments from borrowing money except with voter approval; I-1033, like I-601, has nothing like that. TABOR required voter approval for any tax and fee increase by any government; I-1033, like I-601, doesn’t.

Despite all these difference, the SEIU, the education establishment, and other big-government groups still can’t swallow limits on government growth, and asking the people first before taking more of their money.  Has Washington passed the tipping point where the patronage groups have enough money to defeat any efforts to limit them?  According to the resident lefties, and the Seattle P-I, Eyman’s initiatives have tended to poll worse than they perform on election day.  Probably the Bradley effect.  So there’s still some hope the thing will pass.

Maine is another story.  There, as Ben points out, a similar prop failed a couple of years ago, and now they’re back again with another try.  Polling also has this one down, and for much the same reason.  The opponents have outspent supporters 10-1.

These two point out a reason that ballot initiatives are different from elections.  Ballot initiatives tend to be narrow, elections are about broad coalitions.  For that reason alone, ballot initiatives tend to attract more one-sided money.  So there’s a dual effect here.  More money on a narrower issue almost certainly means more volatility.

As a test of Obama’s staying power, I still like elections better than referendums.

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So three Republicans–a Muslim, a Jew, and a Catholic walk into a gay bar . . . just Denver Metro Young Republicans!

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Denver Republicans and the Hispanic Community

The Virginia GOP’s ability to adapt is one reason it’s getting ready to mop the floor with the Virginia Democrats in less than a week.  If the Colorado party is going to do the same, it’s going to have to…do the same.  Which is one reason that it’s cool to see the party attracting the Hispanic community.

Right now, the Denver party’s 2nd Vice Chairman is Frank Tijerina, and I learned just last night that Edgar Antillon is running in HD-35 this cycle.  Add to that recently announced Robert Ramirez in Westminster’s HD-29, and it’s clear that the party will have a more Hispanic face in the future. Frank’s is high-powered, and I look forward to working with him here in Denver.

Edgar was actually pretty funny, stepping up to the platform and starting his speech in Spanish, only to interrupt himself, with “Just kidding.”  Brought everyone up short with a good laugh.  I’m not a fan of identity politics per se, but Edgar’s running as a Republican who also is Hispanic, not as a Hispanic who happens to be a Republican, and that really makes all the difference.

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Good Luck…

finding that flu vaccine.  Good thing you won’t have to wait for that hip surgery.

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Mark Udall and J Street

View From a Height has learned from a very reliable source that as of now, Sen. Mark Udall will not be removing his name from J Street’s Dinner host committee.  His reasoning is as follows:

  1. Udall is reluctant to bring more attention to the controversy by removing his name
  2. Sen Udall will not attend the dinner, nor endorse or support J Street as an organization
  3. Udall doesn’t want to embarrass General Jones
  4. The press covering the issue seems interested in embarrassing the administration

My reactions:

  1. This is about as weasily as it gets.  By staying on the host committee, he leaves open the option of endorsing them in the future if it’s worthwhile, if indeed being on the host committee isn’t already in effect an endorsement.  Staying on it certainly supports J Street as an organization.
  2. The administration’s sending Jones has accomplished its goal of stopping the bleeding.
  3. What press inquiries can he be referring to?  The coverage has been on Powerline, the Weekly Standard blog, and the Commentary Magazine blog, Contentions.  The Washington Post finally has a piece on it in tomorrow’s paper, but the MSM appears to be several weeks behind the curve, as usual, but is unlikely to be seeking to embarrass the administration.
  4. If the administration hadn’t sent Jones and invited J Street to host its conference call, while excluding the WZO, it wouldn’t be embarassed.
  5. Adding more attention?  If there already are press inquiries, then the attention’s already there.  If there aren’t, then he ought to be able to slip out un-noticed.  One would think that with the WaPo finally picking up on the controversy, Senator Udall may be overstating his national importance, a truly bipartisan condition not unknown to senators.
  6. Senator Udall was one of 76 (or 71, accounts differ) Senators who did sign a letter back in August urging the administration to back off its pressure on Israel for a settlement freeze.  This suggests that, like a number of those listed on the host committee, he was placed there by staff who didn’t examine J Street’s positions very carefully.
  7. Unlike most of the other mainstream Jewish organizations, including AIPAC, J Street has an explicit and unapologetically partisan domestic political agenda, tied to a PAC.  It is banking on enough liberal Jews being seduced by its heroic (in their eyes) liberalism that they are willing to marry themselves to that agenda, while overlooking or excusing its harmful positions vis-a-vis Israel.
  8. It is also banking on liberal Jews’ unwillingness to defer to Israel on matters of its national security, while more hawkish American Jews have generally done so for dovish Israeli governments.  Here it’s important to recall that J Street is an American political organization, not an Israeli one, whose job it is to lobby the American government.  It’s one thing to argue that dovish policies are wrong, another to argue that a dovish American administration should actively undermine a determined Israeli government
  9. So J Street’s goal is threefold.  It aims to promote the left-wing agenda domestically, weaken American’s support for Israel, and divide the Jewish c8mmunity in America in order to do so.

J Street’s donation to the state party is an emblem of its alliance with ProgressNow and the far left-wing of the Democratic party. Just as  ProgressNow began small, and built into a major force in the state, J Street will try to do the same.  People who judge their eventual effectiveness in legitimizing their views about Israel by their current size are underestimating them.

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J Street and the Colorado Delegation

The following is the text of a Letter to the Editor that I wrote, and that the Intermountain Jewish News published today (not available online):

Over the past several decades, both the Democratic and Republican parties have prided themselves on their support for Israel.  Now, a group that calls itself – a little too loudly – “pro-Israel” threatens the liberal Democratic wing of that support.  And some Colorado legislators appear to be taken in.

J Street is holding its first national conference in DC next week, and is hosting its annual banquet on October 27.  Four Democratic Colorado Congressmen and Senator Mark Udall are on the host committee.

Founded in 2007, J Street poses as a “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” lobby, founded specifically to provide an alternative to what it calls the “right-wing dominated” AIPAC.  (AIPAC defers to the citizens of Israel in foreign policy, and is certainly not right-wing.  Its former president, Steve Grossman, chaired Howard Dean’s Presidential campaign.

By contrast, J Street has adopted a comprehensive platform of appeasement.  It accepts Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.  It equates Israel’s Operation Cast Lead and Hamas’s terror rockets.  It supports the division of Jerusalem.  None of these positions draws even a plurality of American Jews.  Collectively, only a small minority approves.

Until a last-minute cancellation, J Street had scheduled to appear a “street poet” who had compared Guantanamo to Auschwitz, and had accused Israelis of tattooing numbers on the arms of Gazan children.  Slightly less repugnant is J Street Advisory Board member Henry Siegman’s insidious comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa.

No wonder that board members of NIAC, lobbyists for Saudi Arabia, and PR flacks for campus anti-Israel campaigns have contributed upwards of tens of thousands of dollars to support J Street’s agenda.

So suspect is J Street that Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, turned down an offer to lend his credibility to the group by appearing, noting that “certain policies of the organization may impair the interests of Israel.”  What other “pro-Israel” group would he refuse to address on that basis?

J Street’s ultimate agenda is to buy acceptance to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party through its PAC, and then use that credibility to mainstream certain destructive policy positions.  At the same time, Jewish liberals will be less likely to question a solidly liberal lobbying group.

Both would do well to steer clear.  J Street represents only a small minority of American Jews, and American Jews have many other options for helping to elect liberal Democrats to office.

In the last week, over a dozen Congressional members of the dinner’s Host Committee have removed their names from the list.  Neither Republican representative, nor Senator Michael Bennet, appears ever to have been on the list, and Rep. John Salazar (CD-3) has withdrawn.

This leaves Representatives Diana DeGette, Jared Polis, Betsy Markey, Ed Perlmutter, and Senator Mark Udall.  I personally believe that their presence is in response to J Street PAC’s $1000 contribution in 2008 to the Colorado Democratic Party, and that they signed up believing that they were attending a function at a mainstream, pro-Israel, Jewish organization.  They, too, should withdraw.

Israel cannot become a partisan issue; too much would then hinge on American electoral politics.  Colorado Democrats should step back from this attempt to seduce them away from their principles.

I would also point out that the State Democratic Party was the only state party to receive any money from J Street during the 2008 cycle.  Those familiar with the Colorado Model and the genesis of J Street may be able to figure out why.

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Scozzafava Should Withdraw

By now, it should be clear that Dede Scozzafava cannot win in NY Congressional District 23 (NY-23).  It’s a fairly conservative district, with a history of voting Republican, so there’s no need to run someone just to show the party colors.

With a viable alternative still in the race, and gaining rapidly, Mrs. Scozzafava should put personal ambition aside – for the moment – and withdraw from the race.

Some may want to draw comparisons to what’s happened here, but the comparison doesn’t bear weight.  Colorado has seen its share of bigfooting by out-of-state interests, and not just on the Republican side.  But all of the candidates touted by arms of the national party are at least credible conservatives, who have a chance to earn the nomination in a fair fight, and who poll well against their opposition.  They may be exposed as ineffective campaigners once the race begins, but nobody’s going to confuse them with their Democrat opponents.

Scozzafava was appointed in the run-off because she had long service with the party and good connections.  These are not to be taken lightly, and many people who pay their dues, serving the party and its candidates faithfully, do so with the expectation that they’ll be given consideration when it’s “their turn.”  While that sort of thinking on the national level has given us Bob Dole and John McCain, it’s also the basis for a cohesive party structure.

But it’s also not enough.  As Mark Steyn put it in the Corner, the local Republican Party moguls chose to abandon the two-party system, and give the voters a choice between Dem and Demmer.  It’s an imitation of the sclerotic European party system, where the two main parties are indistinguishable, and in any case, the government is run by the bureaucracy.  The race stands as an example of the abandonment of principle by party powers-that-be who are more concerned about the final score than what that score is supposed to represent.

The Party Elders who put Mrs. Scozzafava in this position will never publicly ask her to step down.  At this point, they have too much of their own credibility at stake, and they absolutely had to know who they were nominating.  Caught between a rock of an unprincipled choice and the hard place of a disgruntled grass roots, no outcome there – short of an increasingly unlikely victory – will be a happy one for them.

Mrs. Scozzafava would be doing them, the party, and ultimately the county, a service by stepping aside.  At this point, who she throws her support behind probably doesn’t much matter.

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State Unemployment “Stabilizes,” Maybe

The state unemployment numbers came out today, and the papers are all agog that that the unemployment rate is down to 7.0%.  Now while that’s a lot better than the national rate of 9.8%, it’s also a little misleading.  Almost all of the improvement came from a reduction in the labor force – people ceasing to look for work.  While the number of people employed has stopped declining, the total labor force continues to fall:

The employment graph doesn’t start at 0 in order to better show the trends.  The red line is the unemployment rate, and it’s to the scale ont he right-hand side.  A couple of things stand out.  First off, the number of employed seems to have stabilized.  But it also seemed to have stabilized at least twice before: in mid-to-late ’08 and in Spring of this year.  We then got two large drop-offs.  There’s no guarantee that we’ve hit bottom yet, although we all hope to God we have.

The other interesting thing is the unemployment rate from Spring of ’07 to Spring of ’08.  It rose from about 3.5% to about 4.5%, even as the number of people employed was also rising, from about 2.56 million to almost 2.65 million.  Note that the number of people looking was rising even faster.  Which meant that at that point, even though we hadn’t felt the slowdown, new jobs weren’t being created fast enough to keep up with population growth.  Now, the unemployment rate is dropping, even though it’s almost entirely due to people dropping out of the market.  There’s considerably hidden labor inventory out there, and when it returns to the job hunt, the unemployment rate won’t be falling so quickly.

Note that these are all seasonally-adjusted numbers, too, so they already taking to account seasonal retail, summer jobs, and teachers’ summer vacations.

I’d also point out that here in Denver County, the seasonally-unadjusted were even worse, with the labor force dropping by over 3000, and the number of employed dropping by almost 2000.  Whatever the job market looks like elsewhere, we’re not creating jobs locally.

Here’s a graph I’ve updated since April:

It’s the state Unemployment Insurance Fund, and it’s a mess.  While we talk about PERA, and taxing Peter to pay for Paul’s rent-seeking appendectomy, the fund is in serious trouble.  It got almost no seasonal bump from the May solvency assessment, the numebr of claims paid has been skyrocketing (red), and the rolling 12-month payments by business (green) have been sloping downward because they’re not employing as many people.  The net result is a cliff-diving account balance (blue).  We were told that the account actuarily sound, but it should have been obvious at the time that we were facing not-normal circumstances.

And it’s even worse than it looks.  The feds kicked in an extra $127 million in exchange for SB 247 and more long-term commitments.  Some of us pointed out at the time that borrowing short to go long wasn’t really matching obligations to receipts, but like the true addict it is, the state government saw the federal dollar signs and just couldn’t say no.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Democrats in the legislature to admit they made a mistake.

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