Tag: Barack Obama

They Don’t Want a Welfare State; They Want a Plunder State

The strange thing about the 2014 election is that Obama seems to have taken it as a mandate … for more liberal polices. In addition to unilateral immigration “reform”, he has just released his budget proposal, which has massive tax hikes and spending hikes, no hint of entitlement reform and claims it will find $640 billion in deficit reduction (a paltry amount over the time frame) from tax hikes, immigration reform and, I believe, money imported from Narnia. It’s a fantasy budget that is making the hard-core liberals at Vox swoon but has connection to reality. And it puts the lie to the idea that Obama is a “conservative” as one newly-retired blogger has argued.

Here’s the thing, though. Liberals have long said that what they favor is a European-style welfare state (such as the one that imploded in Greece). Obama says this and his budget makes noises in this direction and is being praised as a step in that direction.

But the Democrats do not want a European welfare state. As much as they claim they do, that’s not what they want and not what they are advocating. If they really wanted a welfare state, they would be proposing something very different: huge tax hikes on the middle class.

The United States has one of the most progressive tax systems in the world, being very reliant on the wealthy for revenue. The European welfare states, by contrast, are more regressive, having flatter taxes and relying on VATs and sales taxes that are regressive. They have to be that way because you simply can’t finance a welfare state by taxing the 1%.

A welfare state financed by the rich doesn’t even work politically. When everyone is paying taxes, there is more support for a welfare state because everyone is pitching in. The perception is that you’re getting out something related to what you paid in, which is why Social Security and Medicare are popular in this country (both financed by a regressive tax that is denounced by Democrats for not soaking the rich enough). But a system that is dependent on taxing the rich isn’t a welfare state, it’s a plunder state. And as I’ve pointed out before, most people don’t want that. They don’t want to feel like they’re living on someone else’s dime or on stolen property. The Communists discovered this 70 years ago when they tried to “redistribute” estates to the commoners only to discover that the commoners didn’t want that wealth if it was stolen.

The gripping hand, of course, is that there isn’t any support for a huge middle-class-funded welfare state either, which Vermont discovered when they had to abandon their experiment in single-payer healthcare. And so the Democrats keep trying to sneak their welfare state through the backdoor. First it was taxes on the savings in 529 plans, which was quickly killed. Now it’s a tax on overseas earnings. Tomorrow, it will be more sin taxes.

(And if that fails, I expect them to embrace Modern Monetary Theory, currently being pushed by Bernie Sanders. This theory says that government shouldn’t worry about deficits; it can just print money. Taxes only exist to keep the rich from getting too rich. Seriously, that’s what it says. It’s like a politician’s wet dream: spend whatever you like and never worry about the bills.)

Thankfully, none of this is going to fly with the Republican Congress. But Obama’s absurd tax-and-spend proposal is a sign that we are still running out of other people’s money.

Obama, Man of Contradictions

Last week, Alex put up a good takedown of the talking points from Obama’s State of Union Monarchial Address. But I’ve thinking about it for a week and there’s one thing I keep circling back to:

Almost everything that Obama claims credit for has come from policies he opposed.

A list of the things that Obama is claiming credit for it too long for a blog post since I’m pretty sure he’s now claiming credit for the sun continuing to rise. And that’s understandable: a good job description of “President of the United States” would be “someone who takes credit for anything good that happens”. But you can burrow down to several specific things he’s crowing about. And the striking this is that almost all of them are the result of policies he has opposed.

First, Obama took credit for the shrinking budget deficit. Putting aside that it’s easy to shrink a deficit after you’ve exploded it, the progress on the deficit, such as it is, has come from things Obama or his liberal travelers opposed — budget rescissions and the sequester. And it came without the thing they insisted was needed: massive tax hikes on the rich. The reason the deficit is smaller is because Republicans held the line on spending, keeping the level of spending flat for the last four years despite endless and repeated demands from Obama and the Democrats for ever more “stimulus” spending. The Keynesians out there, having caught their breath from screaming about how sequestration would wreck the economy, are now screaming that the 2009 stimulus finally worked, six years down the road. Whatever supports their bias, I guess.

(It should also be noted that the deficit may start rising again as soon as next year because of the failure to address entitlement spending.)

Obama also took credit for falling gas prices and booming oil production. But oil production on Federal land has actually fallen over his tenure. And he has opposed new energy projects like Keystone XL. His party has opposed fracking and just got it suspended in New York on dubious environmental justification. This is the man who, in 2012, specifically said we couldn’t drill our way out of this and that $2 gas was a fantasy. To be fair, I think the low in gas prices is temporary and prices will start rising again. But the overall point remains: increased oil production was not supposed to either be possible or to help with the energy crunch. And how does Obama reconcile this energy boom with his demand for restrictions on fossil fuel exploitation to combat global warming? He doesn’t. He simply talks out of both sides of his mouth.

(Speaking of global warming, Obama touted the agreement with China. But as I pointed out at the time, the CO2 reductions under that agreement are ones we were likely to meet anyway due to things that having nothing to do with Barack Obama: increased fracking and improvements in energy efficiency in the private sector.)

The biggest boast from Obama was about the economy, which had its healthiest quarter in 15 years. Obama is spiking the football on the economy and that’s understandable, given the howling recession he inherited. But the improvement of the economy came not when we got the stimulus, not when we got Obamacare, not when we passed Dodd-Frank but when we stopped persuing Obama’s agenda. Stimulus spending stopped. Subsidies stopped. Keynesian bullshit stopped. And suddenly, we’re doing better.

In fact, we’re just now finding out that a particularly vital piece of liberal received wisdom may have been garbage:

How much did cutting unemployment benefits help the labor market?

Quite a bit. There is a new NBER Working Paper on this topic by Hagedorn, Manovskii, and Mitman, showing (once again) that most supply curves slope upward, here is one key part from the abstract:

In levels, 1.8 million additional jobs were created in 2014 due to the benefit cut. Almost 1 million of these jobs were filled by workers from out of the labor force who would not have participated in the labor market had benefit extensions been reauthorized.

There is an ungated copy here (pdf). Like the sequester, this is another area where the Keynesian analysts simply have not proven a good guide to understanding recent macroeconomic events.

You see that? When the Republicans said that extended unemployment benefits were keeping people out of work, they were pilloried for it as heartless ignorant savages. We were told it was cruel to cut off unemployment benefits based on half-baked theories of labor. Now this is only a working paper, not a refereed one. But the simple fact is that the labor market has surged as unemployment benefits were cut off.

I’m willing to give Obama credit for some things. It’s true that more people are insured. But that tends to happen when you make being uninsured against the law (excuse me, subject to a tax). And the expense of insuring those people has proven as steep as skeptics predicted. And I’ll give him some credit for drawing down our overseas commitments (although the idea that we are out of Afghanistan is laughable). And … um … I’ll even give him credit for part of the achievements above. He did, after all, agree to the sequester. I’ll agree that the stock market is booming. But it wouldn’t be if Obama had gotten his demands for more taxes on capital gains, a financial transactions tax and a push to address income inequality.

But Obama’s biggest achievements are not his … or at least not his alone. The lion’s share of the credit has to go to the Republican Congress for ignoring everything he wanted to do. They didn’t restrict energy exploration, they didn’t pass more dunder-headed stimulus spending, they did hold spending flat, they did cut off unemployment benefits. Every single one of those things was predicted to be a disaster and yet none of those disasters have materialized. And now Obama and his Keynesian allies want to claim credit.

I don’t expect this to matter to the Democrats. Keynesian economics, command-and-control regulation, the wisdom of the welfare state — these things are articles of faith. But the evidence that they work — least of all that they deserve credit for the “Obama economy” — is scant to say the least.

A Recovery About Nothing

As you know, there are signs — tentative ones — that our economy is beginning to recover from Great Depression II. It’s about on schedule — I thought we would need about five years to crawl out of the hole we were in. But we had 5% growth in Q3 and unemployment continues to edge down (although the U6 remains high). Projections for 2015 are cautiously optimistic, barring a major war or something (which, with Obama, is always on the cards).

I have noted, however, that this recovery runs against the dogma we’ve been hearing from the Keynesians and pseudo-Keynesians on the Left Wing. According to them, the “austerity” of the last few years (i.e., flat spending) should have caused us to have a double-dip recession. David Harsanyi expands on this:

But if activist policies really have as big an impact on our economic fortunes as Washington operatives claim, I only have one question: What policy did Barack Obama enact to initiate this astonishing turnaround? We should definitely replicate it.

Because those who’ve been paying attention these past few years may have noticed that the predominant agenda of Washington has been to do nothing. It was only when the tinkering and superfluous stimulus spending wound down that fortunes began to turn around. So it’s perplexing how the same pundits who cautioned us about gridlock’s traumatizing effects now ignore its existence.

For instance, Paul Krugman wrote a column titled “The Obama Recovery.” The problem is that the author failed to justify his headline. It begins like this:

“Suppose that for some reason you decided to start hitting yourself in the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You’d feel pretty bad. Correspondingly, you’d probably feel a lot better if and when you finally stopped. What would that improvement in your condition tell you?”

Suppose you tell us what the bat represents, because spending in current dollars has remained steady since 2010, and spending as a percentage of GDP has gone down. In 2009, 125 bills were enacted into law. In 2010, 258. After that, Congress, year by year, became one of the least productive in history. And the more unproductive Washington became the more the economy began to improve.

Krugman argues that the recession lingered because government hadn’t hired enough people to do taxpayer-funded busywork. The baseball bat. But then he undercuts this notion by pointing out that there was an explosion of public-sector hiring under George W. Bush—the man he claims caused the entire mess in the first place. Krugman also ignores the stimulus, because it screws up his imaginary “austerity” timeline. He then spends most of the column debunking austerity’s success in Britain.

Britain’s “austerity”, incidentally, was called austerity when the UK economy was stagnant. When it began to recover, the exact same budgets were described as having abandoned austerity. With the Keynesians, it’s always heads they win, tails we lose.

This recession was not about a lack of demand or a lack of spending. It was about the huge amount of debt that the American people had dug themselves into. That debt has declined — mortgage debt is down and consumer debt is down. Student and public debts have risen but not as sharply. In short, we’re finally getting out from under the 16,000 pound boulder that was the Housing Bubble. And, who knows? Maybe things would be better if we didn’t have the 10,000 pound boulder of federal debt and the 2,000 pound barbell of student loans.

OK, I’m letting that metaphor get away from me.

Anyway, our gridlocked do-nothing Congress has failed to pass a “jobs” bill, has failed to enact “temporary” stimulus and has cut programs to “build the economy”. And the result is the healthiest economic numbers in a decade.

Funny how well we can do when our government stops “helping” us. Now imagine if we could get them to stop giving us “free” healthcare and regulating our every move.

I am CRomnibus, Hear Me Roar!

While we weren’t watching, Congress quietly passed a continuing resolution/omnibus bill to avoid a government shutdown and fund the government through FY 2015. The bill basically keeps spending flat and funds everything except the Department of Homeland Security, which will be the stage for a fight over Obama’s immigration orders.

I don’t have a problem with the budget, per se. Flat spending is OK, especially with revenues growing. Addressing the long-term problem is going to require entitlement reform, which is unlikely to happen while Obama is in the White House. But, as I said a month ago, I’d prefer the Republicans put together a reform package to balance the budget long term and force Obama to veto it.

What’s really gotten attention, however, are the riders on the bill, which are laws unrelated to the budget itself. I’ll go through them quickly.

  • The most controversial is the effort to block marijuana legalization in DC. It forbids the DC government from funding marijuana regulation. I think you can probably guess that I hate this provision. The DC voters decided to legalize pot. It’s ridiculous for Congress to override them like this and a worrisome sign that Republicans are going to fall on the wrong side of history. Again.
  • The bill increases the limits on what people can donate to political parties. I don’t really have a problem with this since organizations can give tens of millions if they want.
  • They have given some schools flexibility in how they meet the new nutrition requirements for school lunches. Considering that I think these new requirements are based on junk science and are going to leave active kids starving, I’ll take this baby step on the way to repealing the regulations completely.
  • They blocked the EPA from adding the sage grouse to the endangered species list. I don’t know much about this issue, but my impression is that the grouse is declining but not in danger of extinction.
  • They forbad the government from spending money painting portraits of government officials and committee chairs. Good. Let them pay for their own damn portraits. We pay them enough.
  • They extended the time that incandescent bulbs can be manufactured. Considering that I’m typing this by the dim light of a worthless CFC bulb, I’m fine with this.
  • They required the WIC program to include more fresh veggies. Sure.
  • They forestalled requiring truckers to get more sleep. I’m supportive of this law because I know someone who was nearly killed by a sleepy long-haul truck driver. This is one of those rare times I think the incentives are lined up badly and we need a regulation. Not that I expect truckers to obey it anyway; a trucker friend once showed me how to fake the logs to make it look like you’re getting the required sleep.
  • Some clean water rules are delayed in farming areas. Sure.
  • Gitmo prisoners can’t come to the United States. I’ve indicated that I would prefer these guys be tried, but that idea isn’t going anywhere.
  • They rolled back a provision of Dodd-Frank that forbids banks from using FDIC-backed money to trade in derivatives. This was one of the few Dodd-Frank provisions I liked. If banks want to play financial games, that’s fine. But I don’t want to have to bail them out when it inevitably blows up in their faces.
  • The bill blocks the IRS from targeting certain groups. This is fine, but I don’t see any reason why the IRS would obey a second law forbidding them from doing what they’re already doing.
  • The bill mandates sexual harassment training for Hill staffers. Sure. Everyone else in the country has to get sexual harassment training. Why should Congress be exempt?
  • So, a mixed bag overall. But what’s hilarious is that the liberals are screaming bloody murder over this, as if attaching unrelated riders to a budget bill is something that was invented this week. Our government has constantly done this. There’s even a phrase for it: land-mine legislation. Huge encroachments on our liberty are passed this way all the time.

    And to complain about the DC marijuana initiative being shut down this way is blazing hypocrisy. Yes, I think it was a bad thing to do. But when Barack Obama used the “stimulus” bill to shut down the DC Voucher program, we didn’t hear a peep out out of the liberals. So should the government of DC only have sovereignty when they’re doing something you like?

    I think we know the answer to that.

    What Really Matter to the Media

    We’ve frequently complained about the media’s reluctance to cover Obama fuckups and scandals. From IRS harassment to the inflation of Obamacare numbers, they’ve shown a reticence to take him on until they basically have no choice.

    Well, you’ll be pleased to find out that the media has found a scandal they can get exercised about: some staffer saying something dumb:

    Five days after Elizabeth Lauten published a Facebook post criticizing the outfits worn by President Barack Obama’s daughters, the previously obscure Republican Hill staffer is being inundated with threatening messages and major media outlets are pouring resources into tracking her moves and digging into her past.

    Two network news vans camped outside of Lauten’s parents home in North Carolina on Tuesday, one day after she resigned as communication director for Rep. Steven Fincher (R., Tenn.) due to the controversy. Lauten was not at the house.

    That morning, the Washington Post also assigned one of its foreign affairs correspondents to comb through an archive of columns Lauten wrote for her college newspaper in 2006 and 2007. The investigation found that Lauten had supported intervention in Darfur, criticized Facebook as an invasion of privacy, and warned people against “making race an issue.”

    Lauten must have done something really awful to merit this kind of attention. Here is the entirety of what she said:

    Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.

    The response was a storm of criticism and threats on social media, segments on major news networks and a resignation from her job.

    Look. I get that the children of politicians are off limits. I’ve never said anything about Obama’s daughters. And there really hasn’t been much to say. They’ve been mostly out of sight and have always crossed me as fine young ladies. They did have a bit of “daaaaad” body language going on during the turkey pardoning. I joked about it (at Obama’s expense) but I didn’t see anything worthy of criticizing. Lauten’s comment crosses me as a dumb over-reaction to nothing.

    But what is the reaction to her comment but a dumb over-reaction to nothing. Lauten’s comment is not racist or particularly cruel. It’s certainly not as harsh as the kind of criticisms that were frequently thrown at, say, the Bush daughters or John Robert’s kids:

    Hemingway:

    Now, Lauten is in communications and her job presumably included an assumption that she wouldn’t embarrass her boss. Besides, in a city where you can keep your job even if you’re involved in serious scandals at the IRS, State Department, Veterans Affairs or the Department of Justice, an actual job loss is refreshing, in its own way. She even gave a full-throated apology — within hours of the initial post — for being mean, not one of these “I’m sorry if” constructions that politicians frequently use.

    Still, what in the world was the media doing reporting on this non-story and firing up the mob? The Washington Free Beacon reported that “major media outlets are pouring resources into tracking her moves and digging into her past.” This included two network news vans camping outside of her parents’ home in North Carolina and a search of Lauten’s leaked juvenile records and college writings.

    This is insanity and each and every person involved should be ashamed of himself or herself. If you were involved, you are a big part of what’s wrong with journalism and you need to check yourself.

    Hemingway goes on to compare WaPo’s non-coverage of the Kermit Gosnell mass murder and their non-coverage of the HRC head’s arrest for child molestation charges to nearly a dozen articles about someone no one had ever heard of sniping on Facebook. She notes the hours of media coverage against their non-coverage of Jonathan Gruber. She notes, as I did, their hypocrisy when it came to criticizing the Bush daughters. Or Bristol Palin. Or Willow Palin. Hell, the Left Wing Echosphere just erupted in a huge feeding frenzy over a drunken brawl the Palin family got into because … Palin! The gleefully played audio of Bristol tearfully talking to the cops.

    I have really come to hate these social media jihads against people who say something dumb. We all say dumb things. Probably thousands of people have said something dumber or meaner than what Lauten said. But all it takes is for one comment to “go viral” and someone’s life gets wrecked.

    Enough. It’s one thing to call someone out and ask for an apology. It’s another to hound them relentlessly. With someone in a position of real power, fire away. But let’s stop singling out random individuals for unending harassment because their particular dumb comment, in the sea of dumb comments out there, happened to get our attention.

    We Sometimes Forget That We’re The President

    The man really is like an innocent but clueless bystander within his own Administration. He should probably organize a protest against the man in charge or something. Maybe he’s good at that?

    President Barack Obama said Monday he wants to ensure the U.S. isn’t building a “militarized culture” within police departments, while maintaining federal programs that provide the type of military-style equipment that were used to dispel racially charged protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

    Don’t forget that Obama is the exact same guy whose DHS labeled returning American veterans as potential terrorists even as their returning weapons were sent to small town police departments to fight, um, terrorists, whose CIA blew up an American citizen on foreign soil without due process, and whose Bureau of Land Management showed up in full battle array ready to gun down a rancher and dozens of his supporters over a few stray cows.

    Something tells me that Obama doesn’t have a problem, in theory, with militarizing law enforcement as long as his own special groups and interests aren’t the ones being made war upon.

    Turkeys and Drumsticks 2014

    For seven years running, I have taken advantage of the Thanksgiving Holiday to give out my awards for Turkey of the Year and Golden Drumsticks. The latter are for those who exemplify the best traits in our public sphere. The former are for those who exemplify silliness and stupidity. I rarely give them out to someone who is evil; they are reserved for those who regularly make me shake my head and wonder what they’re thinking. It’s a sort of “thank you” for making blogging easier.

    We’ll start with the Turkeys of the Year. For reference, the past winners are:

    2007: Alberto Gonzalez, Nancy Pelosi, Hugo Chavez

    2008: Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin’s critics, Hillary Clinton, Congress, Joe Biden

    2009: Mike Steele, Glen Beck, the State Department, Sarah Palin, Andrew Sullivan.

    2010: Janet Napolitano and TSA, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, MSNBC, Lower Merion Schools, California Voters.

    2011: Nancy Pelosi, Republican Presidential Field, Occupy Wall Street, Anthony Weiner, the Eurozone.

    2012: The Culture Warriors, Unions, The Poll Unskewers, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, MSNBC

    2013: Healthcare.gov, the Platinum Coin, the Shutdown Caucus, the National park Service, Fiscal Cliff Panic Mongers.

    For this year, I picked:

    Jonathan Gruber: #3 was in the lead most of the year. Then #2 took over earlier this month. But the millionaire consultant from MIT has to take the top prize now. The thing about Gruber is not that he made comments that support Halbig. It’s not that he helped create Obamacare. It’s not even that he called the voters stupid. It’s that he revealed the ugly reality that undergirds of much of the progressive movement in this country: the belief that Americans are stupid, that leaders are wise and that the latter must lead the former to good choices through deception, obfuscation and coercion. The most common thing I read on liberal message boards after Grubergate was “Hey, he’s right!” There is a large section of the Left Wing that thinks we need to be ruled by a technocratic elite. Gruber pulled back the veil. And that he looked like a horse’s ass into the bargain was just gravy.

    Lamenting Democrats: In the wake of yet another electoral shellacking, the professional whining class went into overdrive, trying to find something, anything to blame for their loss. Random articles about science topics would start with lamenting that evil Republicans were taking over the Senate. Robert Reich screamed that Republicans might use reconciliation to do stuff (reconciliation being a legitimate tactic up until November 3). A thousand articles sprang up about “how to talk to your crazy right-wing uncle/parents/cousin/neighbor/imaginary friend at Thanksgiving about Issue X” (hint: don’t).

    I’ve been disappointed by elections. But I hope I never get to the point where the results of an election make me gnash my teeth and rend my garments in such hilarious fashion.

    Barack Obama: The only reason his approval ratings aren’t at record lows is because of mindless Democrat loyalty. The economy continues to improve despite the Republicans rejecting every “jobs bill” he proposes. His party got crushed in the election. And his response to this was to … implement immigration reform through executive action (polls show Americans support the policy, but oppose the means). His White House is also becoming famous for what are called “bad optics” and would be called scandalous if Bush were doing it: fund-raising while the Ukraine is in turmoil, having a huge dinner while Ferguson is burning, golfing right after a press conference on an ISIS beheading. He has earned the low poll numbers. And earned a place on this list.

    Jim Ardis: Earlier this year, Ardis persuaded a judge to launch a raid on a house because one of the inhabitants was … mocking him on Twitter. He apparently still thinks this was a fine idea. Jim Ardis … meet the Streisand Effect.

    (One infuriating note: a judge has upheld the drug charges that resulted from the raid finding drugs in the house. Because warrants to arrest parody account holders are apparently just fine.)

    Paul Krugman: Another year for Krugman, another set of factually-challenged opinion pieces apparently written by unpaid interns. My favorite was his assertion that Halbig represented “corruption” in the courts, a claim the indispensable Walter Olson demolishes here. As several bloggers noted, Krugman was a big supporter of the Platinum Coin Caper, where he said, essentially, that we should concentrate on the letter of the law, not the spirit, the opposite of what he’s saying now.

    Note, also. This year is coming a cropper for things Krugmans believes in. The Picketty analysis of inequality appears to be badly flawed. And Keynesian ideas are failing all over the globe.

    Dishonorable Mention: Wendy Davis, whoever is doing PR for the Ferguson Police, the Ferguson rioters, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the Secret Service, Mary Landrieu, Everytown USA.

    Now the Golden Drumsticks, awarded to those who best exemplified what is right with the world. Here are the past awards, the first round from West Virginia Rebel.

    2007: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ron Paul, Barack Obama, David Petraeus, Juan Carlos, Burma’s monks

    2008: US Military, Jeff Flake, Ron Paul, Republican Governors, Barack Obama

    2009: The American Fighting Man, Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd, George W. Bush

    2010: The Tea Party, Chris Christie, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the Next Wave of Republicans, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, The American Soldiers

    2011: Seal Team Six, Mark Kelly, The Arab Spring (ugh), the Technicians at Fukushima

    2012: Down Ballots, The Sandy Responders, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, Mathew Inman

    2013: Francis I, Edward Snowden, Rand Paul, The American Military, The Institute for Justice

    For this year, I picked:

    Ebola Responders: In the face of a colossal healthcare crisis and one of the most terrifying diseases out there, Africa has been flooded with volunteers risking their lives to help. Hundreds of healthcare workers in Africa, including Humarr Khan, have been killed trying to comfort or save the dying. Even in this country, we’ve seen nurses and doctors work hard to care for Ebola victims, including two nurses who were infected in Dallas and mercifully saved by modern medicine.

    Here’s a little thing about me: I tend to dislike movies about dystopias. Not because I think a dystopia won’t happen or because I’m ignorant about the dark side of human nature. I dislike them because they usually ignore the flip side of human nature: our capacity to be generous, brave and compassionate.

    Francis I: He continues to shake up the religious world while adhering closely to Catholic doctrine. My initial impression of him remains unchanged. He is just a good man.

    Rand Paul: Paul gave a speech earlier this year that was a rebuke to the neocons: defining a foreign policy that defends our interests while avoiding senseless overseas debacles. He is pushing the Republicans toward reforms of our criminal justice system, our surveillance state and our War on Drugs. I’m a bit worried whether he’ll hold up to the pressure of special interests, especially if he has Presidential aspirations. But right now, he’s doing good.

    David Brat and the Republican Candidates: “A monarch’s neck should always have a noose around it—it keeps him upright.” – Robert A. Heinlein. I’m not sure what to make of Brat at this point, but I think his defeat of Cantor is an important reminder to the Republicans of what will happen if the get stupid again. Among the other Republicans running for office this year, there was barely a gaffe to be heard. In fact, the biggest War on Women complaint was about Mark Udall, criticized by his own supporters for talking too much about the War on Women. In general, they stuck to the bread and butter themes of the economy, Obamacare and big government. Let’s hope they deliver.

    The Supreme Court: It’s always a mixed year from the Court, but this year they gave us good decisions in Riley, Hobby Lobby, Harris v. Quinn, McCullen v. Coakley, NLRB v. Noel Canning, Town of Greece v. Galloway, Schuette v. BAMN and McCutcheon. They continued their streak of unanimously rejecting Obama’s power grabs. You can check on this year’s key decisions here. There are a few I had issues with but most were solid.

    Honorable Mentions: marijuana decriminalization efforts, Scott Walker, Charlie Baker (anyone who defeat Martha Coakley gets a mention), the American military

    Put your nominees in the comments. And I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.

    The Amnesty that Dare Not Speak Its Name

    So Obama gave his big speech last night about immigration. The big change is he will extend temporary legal status to about 4-5 million illegal immigrants. To qualify, they will have to have been here five years, have US citizen relatives and have not broken the law (I mean, other than the ones they broke getting here). There is no path to legal status, a green card or citizenship (at least, not yet). And, of course, the next President could undo it.

    I’ve made it clear where I stand on this: we need to make it easier for people to legally come here and work; we need to make it harder for people to come here illegally; people who came here illegally should not be moved to the front of the line when it comes to getting legal status. The underlying problem is that we have a broken immigration system. We have a system where coming to America to work involves a long, drawn-out, frustrating and expensive process and becomes a big driver of illegal immigration. Until we fix that, illegal immigration is still going to be a problem. I’m also sympathetic to the arguments that our immigration policy shouldn’t break up families or send people back to countries they’ve never lived in.

    But …

    All that having been said, I still don’t like what the President is doing.

    First, he is doing this by executive fiat without any consultation with Congress. Now I absolutely agree that Congress has dropped the ball on this. Over and over again, they have refused to do anything about our immigration mess. But this does not make the President’s unilateral action wise or even constitutional. Our Constitution does not have a “Congress are being assholes” clause. In fact, the Justice Department informed Obama, they day before his speech, that his actions were of dubious legality. When your own justice department tells you that, that translates into plain english as “this is fucking illegal.”

    Even if you assume that he has the authority to act here, that still doesn’t make it right. He’s not even giving Congress a chance to do something about immigration. Obama told the last Congress to stall on immigration until after the election. He has not given the lame duck Congress a chance to act nor has he given the new Congress a chance to act. If he were doing this six months into a Republican Congress, he might have a point. But then again, the new Congress is unlikely to give him the kind of immigration reform he wants. Thus, the petulant act.

    Second, Obama can dress this up all he wants. He can claim this isn’t an amnesty. But as noted Matt Welch — a supporter of massively expanded immigration — this is amnesty. When you say you will not deport people who break the law, that’s pretty much the definition of amnesty.

    My fellow supporters of vastly increased legal immigration to this country do not, I believe, further their cause by retreating into soft-focus euphemism (DREAMers!) or sidestepping uncomfortable language just because it has proven politically effective for people on the other side of the issue.

    If you recognized the existence of more than 10 million unpermitted residents in this country as the product more of prohibition than of criminality, and acted upon that insight foremostly by expanding and deregulating legal immigration, then I predict the word “amnesty” would start to lose some of its negative potency. People really resent line-jumpers when the queue stretches back as far as the eye can see; speed up that process and our national debate would look a lot more reasoned and thoughtful.

    Exactly. I lived in Texas for four years. We had a lot of people who did work for us that I’m sure were of questionable legal status. They worked hard, they took care of their families, they obeyed any laws unrelated to immigration. But they were still law-breakers. I want to see them get a chance to come to this country legally. I do not want to see them get that chance ahead of people who have obeyed the law.

    The laws against illegal immigration aren’t like a law against free speech or for discrimination. Coming to this country illegally is not an act of civil disobedience. This is a serious business.

    Finally, the President’s verbal gymnastics did not persuade me; they annoyed me. He argued very well that we need immigration reform. He didn’t persuade me at all that this was what we needed McArdle:

    As an act of rare semantic derring-do, this was a towering achievement. As a political speech, I don’t think it was very effective. It puts one in mind of the debate in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which ends when one side manages to prove that black is white — and gets themselves killed at the next pedestrian crosswalk.

    To be honest, it’s not clear to me that the president was trying to be persuasive. He seemed, rather, to be triple-dog-daring Republicans to jump off the bridge with him, and if history is any guide, they will probably oblige. But there’s a real risk that Democrats will come to regret having the president jump first.

    (McArdle also points out the significance that his speech was only broadcast on Univision. And that is a key point. A lot of this speech wasn’t about advancing policy; it was about trawling for latino votes. Expect the ability of the next President to undo Obama’s amnesty to become a big issues in 2016.)

    So what should Republicans do? The most common tactic I hear is recession — using the budget process to defund the President’s actions. I would support that but I think it’s small. A better idea would be for the Republicans to pass their own version of immigration reform and dare the President to veto it. Force his hand. Force him to choose his executive fiat over the legal and constitutional moves of the Congress. Show that Republicans are not a bunch of anti-immigrants racists; they just want the law to be obeyed.

    What Now?

    So now that the Republicans have taken back both houses of Congress, what should they do for the next two years? Nothing, argues National Review:

    The desire to prove Republicans can govern also makes them hostage to their opponents in the Democratic party and the media. It empowers Senator Harry Reid, whose dethroning was in large measure the point of the election. If Republicans proclaim that they have to govern now that they run Congress, they maximize the incentive for the Democrats to filibuster everything they can — and for President Obama to veto the remainder. Then the Democrats will explain that the Republicans are too extreme to get anything done.

    They’ll say that anyway. If the Republicans proposed poached eggs for breakfast, the Democrats would denounce them as dangerous extremists. And I don’t think NRO actually believes this argument because they later say Republicans should force the Democrats to filibuster/veto popular legislation.

    Even if Republicans passed this foolish test, it would do little for them. If voters come to believe that a Republican Congress and a Democratic president are doing a fine job of governing together, why wouldn’t they vote to continue the arrangement in 2016?

    Which brings us to the alternative course: building the case for Republican governance after 2016. That means being a responsible party, to be sure, just as the conventional wisdom has it. But part of that responsibility involves explaining what Republicans stand for — what, that is, they would do if they had the White House.

    So the Republicans shouldn’t govern. Instead, they should gear up for 2016 to take the White House and Congress at which point they will … what? … concentrate on keeping power?

    I’m sorry, but I really don’t care about the Republican Party one way or the other. Whether governing hurts or helps their prospects in 2016 is irrelevant to me and should be irrelevant to people who are not actual party operatives. We had a unified Republican government for six years and the result was the most massive expansion of government power since the New Deal.

    No. What we want from the Republicans is progress. What we want is for them to turn back the tide of government expansion. What we want is for them to … what’s that word … govern? The Republicans are on probation right now. It’s up for them to prove themselves worthy of getting power back.

    There is precedent for governing and winning elections at the same time: Republicans worked with President Clinton and kept Congress and won the White House twice as a result. But they didn’t win because they grandstanded. The won because the accomplished things — welfare reform, spending restraint, NAFTA — that made them worthy of winning all three branches of government.

    Nick Gillespie:

    Yet Republicans mistake the meaning of the midterms at their own peril. These elections were a particularly frank repudiation of Barack Obama and the past six years of failed stimulus, disastrous foreign policy, and rotten economic news. Even the president’s historic health-care reform remains a negative with voters. But if the GOP thinks it has a mandate to return to the equally unpopular bailout economics and social conservatism of the George W. Bush years, it too will be sent packing as early as the next election.

    You should read Nick’s entire piece, which breaks down the polling to show a decisive shift against big-government, in every respect.

    It’s not enough for the Republicans to not be Obama. “Not Obama” isn’t going to be a candidate in 2016. In fact, Obama won’t be a candidate in 2016 (savor that relief for a moment). If the Republicans want to earn our votes in 2016, they need to accomplish things. They need to prove themselves worthy. They need to show that they can get government out our hair, despite the man in the White House.

    How does this break down into nuts and bolts? On the day after the election, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell laid out an agenda for the next two years. It includes approving the Keystone XL pipeline, tax reform and fast track trade authority. It also includes three changes to Obamacare: raising to 40 the hours needed to qualify as a full-time employee for the employer mandate, exempting veterans from counting toward the 50-employee mark that triggers the coverage mandate and repealing the medical device tax.

    These are all OK ideas and some of them — like fast track trade authority — are supported by the President. But it’s kind of small potatoes. It’ll make a nice first month, but it’s not exactly the Contract with America. I would prefer something a bit bolder.

    This would involved finding things that the Democrats or the President will support. There’s a strain of thought among conservatives, exemplified by the NRO piece above, that working with Democrats will give “legitimacy” to Obama. Nuts to that. The country needs things done. And if we can the President on board, great.

    But the Republicans should also pass legislation they know will be filibustered or vetoed. This could give the Democrats something to talk about in 2016 (“look at the extreme legislation we blocked!”). But I think it more likely, if Republicans are smart … OK, if they’re not too dumb … OK, if they’re not completely stupid … that it would give the Republicans something to run on in 2016. It would give the American people something to vote for, not just something to vote against. When the Republicans have run on a positive agenda — Reagan in 1980, Newt in 1994 — they have done well.

    As for specific issues: the first on that list would be entitlement reform. The President has indicated that he is open to it. It’s time to call his bluff. The deficit has been shrinking in recent years but will soon begin to blow up as the bill for Baby Boomer retirees comes do. The time to act is now, before we are back in the land of trillion dollar deficits.

    A lot of Republicans worry that overhauling Medicare and Social Security will open them up to attack from the Democrats. But here’s the thing: that’s going to happen anyway. The number of elections that have not included a Democrat “mediscare” campaign over the last forty years is precisely zero. The Democrats are going to demonize Republicans anyway. At the very least we could get something out of it. And if it costs the Republicans some seats, so be it. It would be worth it to slice trillions off our debt.

    The counter-argument is they should wait until the Republicans have the White House as well. That way, they won’t have to compromise with Democrats and accept a tax hike or defense spending cuts in return for entitlement reform. I find that hope ridiculously optimistic. It assumes that Republicans will take the White House and keep the Senate. And it assumes that they will take the political risk of entitlement reform once they have full power, which I find unlikely.

    Act now. At the very least, call the President’s bluff. Then you’ll have something to run on in 2016.

    The second priority should be regulatory reform, which is sucking a couple of trillion dollars out of the economy. Probably the most important regulatory reform is the repeal of Sarbanes-Oxley, which is strangling our economy, halting IPOs and a nightmare for businesses. It’s the poisonous spider at the center of the web of economic malaise. President Obama will probably oppose this. Good! Make him stand with the bureaucrats and trial lawyers! Over 60% of the American people think regulation is too onerous, including many independents. This is a winning issue for Republicans.

    Third would be an overhaul of the patent and copyright laws which are strangling innovation. The Republicans are open to this and the President is too, despite fierce opposition from trial lawyers. Reform could be passed in the first few months of 2015.

    Fourth, an overhaul of our drug policy, specifically a recognition of state laws on medical and recreational marijuana. The President has occasionally made noises on this and a majority of Americans now favor pot legalization. The Republicans can get ahead of the Democrats on this by embracing a federalist approach: states that keep pot illegal will still have the aide of the DEA in keeping it illegal; states that make it legal will be left alone. I have little hope the Republicans will do this, but it would be a great step for them.

    Fifth, an overhaul of Obama’s anti-terror powers. Justin Amash and Rand Paul give me hope that the GOP may be open to this. The best thing about reigning in Obama’s police state would be exposing the lie that the Democrats are the party of civil liberties and personal freedom.

    That’s just for starters. There are other things: more spending cuts, reigning in Obama’s foreign policy and executive power excesses, a symbolic repeal of Obamacare (symbolic because it will be vetoed). But I see the above as doable and I see it as proving the GOP’s supposed small-government bona fides. If they’re serious, they will do something along these lines.

    I have no doubt that the Republicans will run into opposition from the President. In fact, his petulant press conference seemed to promise that he would do what he wants on issues like immigration and only invite cooperation on his agenda. We’ll see what happens behind closed doors. This President has, on occasion, compromised with Republicans. But he has also been willing to take a my-way-or-the-highway approach, particularly when he had Congress for the first two years (Republicans were invited only to tweak details of Democratic legislation; kind of like being asked which arm you want the shark to bite off).

    But if the President is determined to pursue his agenda and won’t cooperate, then pass the legislation anyway. Force him to veto it. Force him to oppose. Force his party to go on record as the party of bigger taxes, more government and no reform. Force him to tie his former Secretary of State and Heir Apparent to his unpopular agenda.

    That’s something you can run in 2016. That’s something that might bring my vote in 2016. Until then, I will remain skeptical of the GOP and their commitment to small government.