Archive for November, 2013

Daily Glimpse November 22, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • Some Conservative Advice for Chris Christie
    A reminder that he needs to embrace coalition politics, too: Now, that’s not a deal breaker. You feel the same way about us. There is nothing that says we conservatives can’t grow to like and/or trust you. Maybe we just got off on the wrong foot. So, in that spirit, let’s share our feelings. … […]
  • Hope In Geneva
    “Iran Talks on Rocks As Two Sides Needle Each Other:” Still, the lack of any direct contact between American and Iranian negotiations on the second day of what is supposed to be a three-day conference was striking. American officials say the talks can be extended through the weekend if a deal was close at hand, […]
  • Why Change The Rules When You Can Ignore Them?
    That’s what Will Baude argues at Volokh: What has the Senate actually done so far, with respect to the filibuster? Some of the reports of what happened today say that the Senate has adopted “new rules” eliminating the filibuster for some purposes. I’m not sure that’s true, in a formal sense. As I understand what happened, the […]
  • Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future
    By looking at the pre-antibiotics past.  With the lifetime of new drugs being shorter and shorter (how much of that is a result of longer and longer test cycles?), drug companies aren’t producing very many of them anymore: I’ve been taking a Coursera course on Nanotech 101.  Faster, please.
  • Nasty As Well As Incompetent
    The always must-read Walter Russell Mead discusses Thomas Edsall’s New York Times op-ed, where Edsall blames mean-spirited white racism for Obamacare’s failures: Middle America isn’t frothing over Obamacare because we are a nation of racist policy wonks who did the math and hate the blacks. The public is angry first (as Edsall mostly seems to understand) […]
  • Hickenlooper Joins Stapleton’s PERA Lawsuit
    I know for a fact that the governor’s office is legitimately worried about the parlous state of PERA’s finances.  Here’s some evidence: Gov. John Hickenlooper has filed a brief in support of Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s lawsuit seeking information about employee benefits in the state’s pension system. The Democratic governor’s brief asks the Colorado Supreme […]
  • Say Goodbye to the Monroe Doctrine ?
    John Kerry, you’re no John Quincy Adams. Secretary of State John Kerry declared that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over” as he expressed chagrin over U.S. willingness to claim the power to repel European intervention in the Western Hemisphere for 190 years. Kerry’s declaration to the Organization of American States during a speech […]

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The Incredible Shrinking Senate

Harry Reid (D-Mendacity) continues the abdication of Senatorial privilege and responsibility to the executive with his mid-session revision of the Senate rules regarding nominations:

The partisan battles that have paralyzed Washington in recent years took a historic turn Thursday, as Senate Democrats eliminated filibusters for most presidential nominations, severely curtailing the political leverage of the Republican minority in the Senate and assuring an escalation of partisan warfare.

Saying that “enough is enough,” President Obama welcomed the end of what he called the abuse of the Senate’s advise and consent function, which he said had turned into “a reckless and relentless tool” to grind the gears of government to a halt.

While “neither party has been blameless for these tactics,” Obama said in a statement to reporters at the White House, “today’s pattern of obstruction . . . just isn’t normal; it’s not what our founders envisioned.” He cited filibusters against executive branch appointments and judicial nominees on grounds that he said were based simply on opposition to “the policies that the American people voted for in the last election.”

“This isn’t obstruction on substance, on qualifications,” he said. “It’s just to gum up the works.”

I can’t add much to what the redoubtable Dan Hannan said almost immediately afterwards during an interview on Fox News.  He remarked that the president was lacking in one of the most important qualities of public service – the humility of the knowledge that you are passing through institutions that are bigger than you, and that changing the rules because you don’t get your own way is paving the way for what the Founders would have called arbitrary rule.

Of greater interest to me is why the President of the United States has anything at all to say about Senate rules is beyond me.  I understand this is a president who feels the obligation to opine on just about anything, down to and including local criminal cases.  (The singular exception to this garrulousness seems to have been the Iranian democracy movement in 2009.)  But this is more than that.  This is collaboration with Senate leadership to transfer more and more power to the executive branch.  Over time, the Senate will find itself less and less able to exercise its role as part of a co-equal branch of government.

We already saw some of that during the 17% “shutdown” of the federal government, which affected so little of its functions that President Obama found it necessary to go out of his way to inconvenience citizens in order to remind them that there was actually a “shutdown” in progress.

There is no reason at all to believe that this is a temporary change.  Since it can only be changed by the majority, it is hard to imagine circumstances under which the majority would cede additional power to the minority. Indeed, since the Senate minority’s leverage in any negotiation derives almost exclusively from its ability to filibuster, the incentive will be for the majority to continue to roll back the filibuster from more and more cases.

The one bright spot is that three Democrat senators, Manchin (WV), Levin (MI), and Pryor (AR) voted with the Republicans.  Since the Senate has traditionally operated in a less party-line fashion than the House, there’s some hope than in a future negotiation, some majority members might be persuaded to restore nomination filibusters as the price for votes on some other issue.  If the Republicans don’t take the Senate back in 2014, though, we’ll be looking at a Decade of Reid, and an increasing number of younger senators who will long not with nostalgia, but with contempt, at the more collegial days gone by.

Harry Reid has been consistently willing to shrink the Senate as a body in order to cede power to a friendly president.  He may have responsibilities to a president of his party.  Even in the 1950s, Allen Drury would write in Advise and Consent that the Senate Majority leader’s job was, in part, to pilot the President’s program through the Senate.

But Harry Reid is not Prime Minister.  He’s Majority Leader of the US Senate, elected by the Senate Majority, with responsibilities to that body that extend beyond any transient partisan advantage he can gain by ceding them to the President.

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Daily Glimpse November 19, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • Why We Still Read Lincoln
    On the 150th of the Gettysburg Address, from Walter Berns of AEI: Of course, Lincoln did great things; greater than anything done by Wilson or Roosevelt, or Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy; he freed the slaves and saved the Union, and because he saved the Union he was able free the slaves. Beyond this, however, it […]

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November 19, 1863 + 150

Today is the 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  There will be a great deal written about the speech itself, so I’m going to take a slightly different tack.

In 1982, Jacques Barzun was invited to give the Annual Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture, on the anniversary of the Address, to Gettysburg College.  His topic was “Lincoln’s Philosophical Vision,” and he broke it down into three parts: everyday life, ethics and morals, and man’s place in the universe.  I can’t find the whole speech online, but there is much in it that is relevant to today’s politics.

The fanatical temper on either side springs from the philosophy opposite to perspectivism – the philosophy of absolutism: according to it, once an important purpose has been adopted, nothing must stop its immediate carrying out – and damn the consequences.  Such thinkers are proud of their “principle” and they forge ahead thinking it is the only principle in the case.
Lincoln was a man of principle, too, but he understood how to handle principles – in the plural – in a world of actuality.  Just one year before the war broke out, he plainly told his first great audience in the east that he thought slavery wrong and that there was “no middle ground between the right and the wrong.”  But he went on to say: “Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States?”  Lincoln wanted to stiffen resistance against the compromisers such as Senator Douglas, who was “groping” for “sophistical contrivances” that would in the end perpetuate slavery.
The lesson here is to beware of what absolutists call principles.  Principles necessarily take the form of abstract words… Such words…lack contents you can name, concrete reference to the world of fact and behavior.  That is the reason why the great English writer Dorothy Sayers said, “The first thing a principle does is to kill somebody.”  Her conclusion follows from the absolutist temper…Of such stuff are made the idealist, the crusader, the revolutionist.  He not only wants instant gratification, but he is also ever-ready to believe that his opponents are wrong on purpose, knowingly and wickedly; he is incapable of saying with Lincoln, “the southerners are just what we would be in their situation.”

And, as importantly:

One more word must be said about pragmatism by way of introducing the second part of Lincoln’s philosophy.  The word pragma, a Greek root, means “the thing done,” the upshot. Pragmatism therefore means the doctrine that all human thought is fundamentally directed at doing, at some desired action, now or in future.  The pragmatic test asks: What concrete difference would it make if this idea or that idea, this policy or that policy, were taken as the true one?  It is the test that mankind has used for thousands of years in accumulating what we call the truths of experience.

Lincoln was above all a practical politician, who wanted to work within the existing political system to effect change, but wasn’t willing to let its limitations be its demise.  He was also one who sought to understand where the other guy was coming from, even as he understood the profoundly moral nature of politics.

The deep irony of the current age is that President Obama, who pretends to Lincoln’s mantle, has based his entire political outlook on believing that his opponents are wrong on purpose, knowingly and wickedly, and being willing to say so, loudly and longly.

At the same time, there’s a small but loud group of Republicans who reject Lincoln’s pragmatism in the name of principle, without realizing that life often consists of sorting out conflicting principles.

The anniversary of that short, profound, complex speech couldn’t come at a better time.

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Daily Glimpse November 18, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • China Offers Administrative Fix to Labor Camps
    Via Quartz: The question now is what exactly abolishing laojiao will entail. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the government has considered replacing it with another system, which also allows long-term detention without trial but with some new rights like access to counsel. “It is therefore unclear, after the government ‘stops using’ the system, whether it will be reformed, […]

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Tidbits from the Gessler Campaign

One of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination to unseat sitting Governor John Hickenlooper is Secretary of State Scott Gessler.  Gessler has been a solid conservative, and has taken his share of arrows from Colorado’s progressive left for his insistence on ballot integrity and his resistance to the HB1013, the Democrat Weaponization of Voter Fraud Act of 2013.

This isn’t a post with an extended analysis of the governor’s race, but I did want to mention a couple of interesting items that haven’t gotten the play that I think they should have, mostly because they’re good stories.

First, Gessler essentially suspended much of his field operation (calls for contributions presumably went on as usual) in order to redeploy his staff on behalf of the Douglas County School Board reform candidates.  Those were important races not just for Douglas County, but also with state and national implications.  The unions essentially tossed everything they had into those races, reducing support to their Denver and Jefferson County candidates.  They were gambling that even if they lost there, a win in DougCo would send a warning message to other school boards.  They lost that gamble, in part because of the field support that Gessler gave them.

This is called, “leadership.”  To be sure, it wasn’t entirely selfless.  The information and visibility gained in a Republican-dense county will be helpful in both primary and general election campaigns.  But showing up for a fight that nobody would blame you for sitting out builds loyalty, and shows a willingness to sacrifice for the team.  In 1966, Richard Nixon campaigned all over the US for Republican Congressional candidates, all of whom won, and all of whom remembered it in 1968.  That Gessler was willing to do the same speaks well of him.  To the extent that there’s a concern here, it’s that he hasn’t done a better job of publicizing this story.

That actually could be a serious concern, since one of Gessler’s potential picks for Lieutenant Governor, State Rep. Calrice Navarro-Ratzlaff of Pueblo, is seen by many as more moderate than Gessler.  Now, that would be, in my mind, a silly reason not to support Scott.  Lt. Governors operate at the behest of the Governor.  And as this chart shows, in Colorado, that post is a launching pad to obscurity.  You have to go back to the 2nd Eisenhower Administration to find a Lt. Governor who was later elected to a significant statewide position in his own right.  This isn’t Reagan positioning Bush as his successor.

As a district captain, I have to retain strict neutrality when it comes to primary races, but that doesn’t preclude me from writing about interesting and informative aspects of the race.

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Changes to PERA’s Assumptions Not All Good News

Friday, the PERA Board decided to make two significant changes to their actuarial assumptions.  First, they lowered their expected return on their portfolio from 8% to a more realistic 7.5%.  Second, they lowered their inflation expectation from 3.5% to 2.8%.

This is being advertised as a more realistic set of assumptions, in effect, an admission against interest that outside players such as Treasurer Walker Stapleton have been agitating for for some time.  The lower rate of return will, according to the Denver Post report, raise the unfunded liability from $23 billion to $29 billion.

It’s true that the 7,5% rate is more conservative than 8%, and closer to the average rate of return being assumed by most public pension funds around the country.  On that basis, the change is to be welcomed.  But for a long time, I’ve felt that the rate of return was very much out of line.

In fact, the lower rate of return should have no effect on the unfunded liability.  The only reason that the unfunded liability will grow is that PERA will use the lower rate of return as the new discount rate.  Of course, as we’ve discussed before, the discount rate should be independent of the rate of return; it should be the state’s long-term cost of borrowing, or even the risk-free rate of return, the 30-year US Treasury rate.

In addition, many of the benefits of the lower rate of return are more than offset by the lower inflation rate.  Before, the real rate of return was 8 – 3.5, or 4.5%; now it’s 7.5 – 2.8, or 4.7%.  PERA is decreasing the increase in future liabilities here, by lowering the expected future increase in salaries.  This means that the net effect of both changes is to increase the real rate of return.

Unfortunately, we won’t know exactly how this plays out until PERA releases its next CAFR – next July, 8 months from now.

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Daily Glimpse November 14, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • Putting African “Power Pimps” Out of Business
    What do you do when you have cell phones but no power? It’s hard to imagine the concept of a “power pimp” in Africa unless you have lived there. But it makes sense and cents on a continent that lacks a unified power system. There is basically no electric power in most rural places unless […]
  • Tea Party Despair and ObamaCare
    A piece from a few weeks ago that’s still valid: Despair is a contagion that can kill a political movement. As Pete Wehnerbrilliantly noted here earlier today in his piece about the Tea Party mindset, the apocalyptic view of the ObamaCare defunding fight has led many conservatives to take an all-or-nothing position that sees greater value […]
  • Fed Really, Really Wants to End Too Big to Fail
    Barry Ritholtz at Bloomberg notices consensus at the Fed on at least one policy issue: Perhaps most notable is Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard W. Fisher’s remarks, Ending ‘Too Big to Fail,’ earlier this year. A conservative who dislikes government intervention in markets and despises bailouts, Fisher is concerned that TBTF will eventually require more of both. […]

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Daily Glimpse November 13, 2013

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • 100 Best, 100(+) Years Ago
    The perishability of immortality. The 100 Best Novels, as selected in 1898: Sometime editor of the Illustrated London News, an authority on the Brontës and Napoleon, Clement K. Shorter was in the middle of a flourishing career when this list appeared in the monthly journal called The Bookman. He doesn’t explain what exactly makes a book one of […]
  • State And Local Government Austerity Is Over
    So says Bill McBride over at Calculated Risk: The blue bars are for residential investment (RI), and RI was a significant drag on GDP for several years. Now RI has been adding added to GDP growth. The red bars are the contribution from state and local governments.  Although not as big a drag as the housing […]
  • The Case for Kurdistan
    It’s not just cynical manipulation, or at least, it doesn’t have to be: The Kurds scattered contiguously across Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, are a group whose interests make them a natural partner to the US in the Middle East. While they are Sunni Muslims, the Kurds identify overwhelmingly with their cultural and linguistic heritage, […]
  • Republicans, Some Democrats Backed Failing Energy Company
    It turns out there’s an energy boondoggle worse than Solyndra out there: Public support for the United States Enrichment Corp. far exceeds what was lost on the infamous Solyndra solar energy boondoggle, and funding provided ostensibly to build a new plant will almost certainly yield the same results for taxpayers — nothing. The company has […]
  • Why Ken Cuccinelli Really Lost
    Rich Shaftan, an experienced political consultant, brings a sober analysis to the table, dispelling myths and drawing lessons.  Everything I’ve seen from Rick is level-headed and devoid of the blamethrowing that’s become far too common in these post-mortems.  Among the key items: THE “REPUBLICAN PARTY SCREWED CUCCINELLI” MYTH The Republican Governor’s Association put $8 Million […]

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Who’s Funding Hudak Defenders’ Scare Tactics?

We’re not quite sure, that’s who.

Complete Colorado reported Friday on another attempt to scare Jefferson County residents away from signing recall petitions for State Senator Evie Hudak (D).  “Democracy Defense Fund,” which had previously been responsible for door-hangers claiming that signature-gatherers were criminals, is now using robocalls for the same purpose.

A poster on the Grassroots Radio Facebook page found the TRACER record for the Democracy Defense Fund, registered on October 10, 2013, for the purpose of opposing the SD19 recall.  While the principals for DDF are local to Colorado, the Fund’s entire $25,000 bankroll came on an October 18 donation from a group named Environmental Majority, out of Washington, DC.

The PAC is expressly partisan, and solely focused on elections.

The $25,000 expenditure represents more than it had spent in the 2014 cycle up to this point.  Not more than it had spent on specific races.  More than it had spent, period.

The PAC reported receipts of roughly $29,000 in the first half of the year, about $23,600 came through the site ActBlue, which serves as a small-donor platform for progressive and Democrat causes, sort of a partisan Piryx.  Of the $21,000 spent, about $9300 went to the Massachusetts special Senate election to replace John Kerry; just under $6000 went to the New Virginia PAC, other money went to various Democrat digital consulting firms. Small Potatoes.

Yet, with just over $8000 cash on hand reported at the end of June 2013, the Fund found $25,000 for scare-robocalls and scare-door-hangers in the Hudak recall race.  Admittedly, Hudak has a 100% Lifetime rating from the Colorado Conservation Voters.  But still, she’s a state senator, not a Congressman or a US Senator, and Environmental Majority states:

Our objective is straightforward: elect a pro-environment Democratic majority in the United States Congress and raise the political importance of environmental issues, especially climate change.

It appears that the decision to funnel the money through Environmental Majority, rather than immediately through Democracy Defense Fund, may have been deliberately made in order to avoid disclosure until after the signature-gathering period ended.  DDF has already been fined $50 for being late on one reporting deadline, but according to TRACER, their next filing would be due November 25.  The Hudak recall effort has until December 2 to turn in its petitions.

Since 2013 is an odd-numbered year, it appears that the FEC will only require Environmental Majority to file a new report by January 31 of next year, well after the Hudak signatures have been gathered or haven’t been.  This means that we may well not know who’s been funding the scare tactics that Hudak’s defenders have been using until the issue of there being a recall election at all is settled.

UPDATE: Colorado Observer notes that Environmental Majority has also given $5000 to Stand With Evie.

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