Tag: Paul Ryan

The Lost Opportunity

I was asked the other day what the worst aspect of the Trump candidacy is. And after thinking about it, I decided that the worst part may be the lost opportunity.

Republicans went into 2016 with a majority in both houses, a majority of state houses, a majority of governorships and a golden opportunity to defeat a weak, compromised Democratic presidential candidate. Had they nominated someone like Rubio (maybe not him specifically, but someone of that ilk), they wouldn’t be fearing an electoral disaster but wondering just how big his landslide would be.

But its worse than that.

Over the last few months, Speaker Ryan has been rolling out his agenda called “A Better Way”. It has detailed Republican plans for addressing national security, poverty, the economy, Constitutional law, health care and taxes. While I disagree with some of its points, it’s a massively superior agenda to the Far Left nonsense that Clinton has been rolling out.

This is precisely what I’ve wanted the GOP to do for years: not to just oppose Democrats, but to propose a positive alternative agenda; to give people something to vote for. A decent candidate using this agenda would be absolutely crushing Clinton and building toward a 1994 style revolution. And let’s remember, that revolution resulted in a balanced budget, a booming economy and a huge decline in poverty.

This is the worst part of Trump. Trump himself has no policies. He seems to just parrot whatever has been whispered in his ear most recently. Maybe if he were elected, he’d enact parts of the Better Way, but I doubt it. As it is, however, his personality and lack of managerial skill is dooming the GOP, possibly to minority status.

I really hope the GOP can regroup in 2020. Because if it’s a choice between the GOP’s “Better Way” and the Democrats Marxism Light, I know which bodes for a better future.

War of the Memes

This piece of crap has been spreading through my Facebook and Twitter feeds like a particularly aggressive form of gonorrhea.


There’s a lot wrong here. First of all, Clinton raised taxes on everyone, not just the rich. Second, the Clinton economy was a product of Republican budget control, NAFTA (passed with Republican help) and the .com boom (enabled by lots of deregulation). Third, Bush cut taxes for everyone. But a spendthrift administration, a real estate bubble and horrible monetary policy from the Fed wrecked the economy anyway. Sorry, liberals, it’s just not that simple.

But, hey. Two can play this mindless meme game. Here’s mine. And it has the advantage of being a little more grounded in reality (click to embiggen).


Want Help? Ask Conservatives

Everyone know that only Democrats care about minorities. Everyone knows that only Democrats care about the poor. Everyone know that only Democrats care about women. Republicans just like to cruise around in their limos laughing at the plight of those less fortunate than them. Meanwhile, Democrats can’t sleep at night because they are so worried about the oppressed masses. Right? Right?

Let me introduce you to Shaneen Allen:

Last October, Shaneen Allen, 27, was pulled over in Atlantic County, N.J. The officer who pulled her over says she made an unsafe lane change. During the stop, Allen informed the officer that she was a resident of Pennsylvania and had a conceal carry permit in her home state. She also had a handgun in her car. Had she been in Pennsylvania, having the gun in the car would have been perfectly legal. But Allen was pulled over in New Jersey, home to some of the strictest gun control laws in the United States.

Allen is a black single mother. She has two kids. She has no prior criminal record. Before her arrest, she worked as a phlebobotomist. After she was robbed two times in the span of about a year, she purchased the gun to protect herself and her family. There is zero evidence that Allen intended to use the gun for any other purpose. Yet Allen was arrested. She spent 40 days in jail before she was released on bail. She’s now facing a felony charge that, if convicted, would bring a three-year mandatory minimum prison term.

There is a wide prosecutorial discretion here (more on that in a moment) but it looks like the prosecutor is going to throw the book at her. Allen is the kind of person the Left is supposed to be in a tizzy over — a single working mom doing her best who is about to be crushed by the system. But the liberal Ecosphere has said little, if anything, about her. You know who is taking up her cause? If you said conservatives and libertarians, move to the front of the class. Here is National Review, for example, trying to make her case a national issue. True, this is because conservatives believe in gun rights and the second amendment. But they also believe in justice. And there is a growing awareness of the massive disparities in how gun laws are enforced.

As it turns out, Allen’s case isn’t unusual at all. Although white people occasionally do become the victims of overly broad gun laws (for example, see the outrageous prosecution of Brian Aitken, also in New Jersey), the typical person arrested for gun crimes is more likely to have the complexion of Shaneen Allen than, say, Sarah Palin. Last year, 47.3 percent of those convicted for federal gun crimes were black — a racial disparity larger than any other class of federal crimes, including drug crimes. In a 2011 report on mandatory minimum sentencing for gun crimes, the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that blacks were far more likely to be charged and convicted of federal gun crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences. They were also more likely to be hit with “enhancement” penalties that added to their sentences. In fact, the racial discrepancy for mandatory minimums was even higher than the aforementioned disparity for federal gun crimes in general.

This isn’t just a matter of black people committing more crimes. In cases where the prosecution is discretionary — such as the enhancement penalties — this is far more likely to happen to black criminals than white ones. And conservatives like Rand Paul have been making this point more and more forcefully of late.

Oh, speaking of Rand Paul … Just last week, Jon Stewart discovered civil asset forfeiture, the process by which the government can seize your property or money by alleging it has committed a crime (that’s not a typo; they literally charge the property with a crime). It will surprise no one that while asset forfeiture casts a wide net, it also has a tendency to fall heaviest on minorities and on poor people who can’t fight back. Anyone want to guess the party affiliation of the man who has proposed to overhaul asset forfeiture law and give people greater civil service protections?

The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property. State law enforcement agencies will have to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property. Finally, the legislation would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.

It’s not perfect. But it’s a huge improvement over the existing regime, where local law enforcement can bypass state regs by turning the seized money over to federal agents, who take a cut and give it directly back the law enforcement agencies.

But there’s still more. Let’s move away from crime and toward poverty itself. Last week, Paul Ryan suggested a new set of policies to try to reduce poverty. He would consolidate numerous programs into block grants to the states, expand the EITC, reduce regulations and push criminal sentencing reform. Even some liberals are admitting these are good ideas. They will reward work and expand opportunity — the two things the poor need a hell of a lot more than slightly larger piles of government cash.

There’s been some controversy over Ryan’s proposal to have chronically poor people meet with councilors who will help them improve their lives. But as Megan McArdle points out, while the chronically poor are a small part of the poor, they consume a huge chunk of the benefits. And it is chronic generational poverty that is the true suffering. Ryan’s plan sounds a bit too paternalistic to me. But it’s got to be better than the absent father method our current system upholds where we just throw money at poor people and hope it will magically make them unpoor.

So in just the last week, we’ve seen conservatives oppose arbitrary ruinous enforcement of gun laws, oppose asset forfeiture and propose a new version of welfare reform (after the last one lifted millions out of poverty). You add this to the ongoing push for school choice and you have a platform that would greatly enhance freedom and opportunity for millions of people, most of who are poorer and darker-skinned than your typical Republican.

And the Democratic Party? Well, their big issue right now is trying to save the corporate welfare that is the Ex-Im bank.

Look, I’m not going to pretend the Republican Party is perfect on these issues or any other issue. And there are plenty of Democrats who support the above policies. What I am going to suggest, however, is that the caricature of the GOP specifically and conservatives in general as uncaring racist sociopaths is absurd.

Update: This isn’t strictly related, but you know how Democrats have been whining about the cost of higher ed and the burden it is imposing on the middle class? Well evil conservative Republican Mitch Daniels is not whining, he’s doing something about it.

Ryan Unloads

Paul Ryan unloaded on the IRS commissioner during last week’s hearings. It’s pretty sweet:

I’ll tell you what really got me about this video: the arrogant smug look on that fuck Koskinen’s face. That’s the look of a man who knows he’s full of it and who knows he has Democrats on the committee who will carry his water for him. He clearly doesn’t give a damn that he has lied to Congress, misled them, mysteriously lost documentation. And he has the arrogance to insist he and his criminal agency have done nothing wrong.

Ryan has a critical point: we are expected to maintain our records for seven years (at least). If we can not document some expense or deduction, the law assumes that we have committed a crime (and under Sarbanes-Oxley, corporations face felony charges for losing emails). But the IRS is now demanding the presumption of innocence .. for them. The insist that we give them the benefit of a doubt that they never give us.

Here’s what we should do with the IRS: burn it to the ground. I don’t mean literally (although that would be fun). I mean dismantle and replace it with a completely new agency. We need something like the IRS to make sure people pay their taxes. But we do not need an agency that is so consumed with its own vanity, so drunk on its own power and so convinced of its own superiority that it can act in this fashion.

Whether or not there is something to the IRS scandal is kind of a sideshow at this point. We have a rogue unaccountable agency that can not document its own behavior but can seize the property of American citizens and make their lives hell. Get rid of it. Kill it. Drive a stake through its heart. And build a new revenue agency that is accountable, consistent and serves the people rather than servicing them the way a bull services a cow.

A Tale of Two Budgets

Earlier this week, Alex posted on the first Senate budget in four years. I have little to add to his criticism. The Democrats claim it continues the good work of the last two years — you know, the flat spending that they have continually claimed is going to ruin the economy and that their budget undoes. Remember that last point: our economy is supposed to be falling into ruin right now because of the payroll tax hike and the sequester. We have yet to see post-sequester numbers, but February saw solid gains in jobs and consumer spending. If the economy continues to move, it will be solid evidence that “austerity”, such as it is, is not necessarily ruinous.

But even liberals, if they are honest, have to be disappointed with this budget. In contrasting it against Ryan’s budget, which I’ll get to in a moment, Ezra Klein notes:

But even given that difference in objective, Murray’s budget is deeply, even excessively, respectful of existing institutions. If the problem of Ryan’s budget is that it wants to do far too much, the problem with Murray’s budget is that it is almost entirely devoted to saying what it won’t do, and it gets very vague when the topic turns to what it will.

If the budget is vague about what it would change, it is specific and effusive about what it will keep. A tremendous amount of the budget document is, in fact, an appreciation of what the federal government is already doing.

About all we really know of this budget is the top lines: It plans $975 billion in tax increases, though it doesn’t say precisely how it will get there, and it plans $975 billion in spending cuts, though it doesn’t say precisely where they will come from.

So Ryan’s budget is preferable, right? Well, not exactly. It keeps all of the Obamacare tax hikes. It proposes tax reform but, again, is not specific in how it is going to cut rates without getting rid of cherished deductions (probably because it can’t). It relies on the CBO’s very optimistic growth projections to keep revenue up.

Most importantly, it also punts on the most important issues. Medicare reform is put off for ten years. Social Security reform is not mentioned. Making the math work requires heavy reductions in discretionary spending which are not the cause of our budget woes.

It also relies on two things that are simply not going to happen under this President: a repeal of Obamacare and huge reduction in tax rates. Look, I can appreciate that the Republicans are trying to contrast their vision against the Presidents. But a plan that has no chance of passing — and only works if those undoable things are done — is not really a serious plan.

These are steps in the right direction. We seem to be returning to a budget process rather than a self-created series of bullshit crises. So I’m hoping a bargain can be struck. But a real bargain — a Simpson-Bowles style one — has to rely on something that is in neither plan: near term reform of both Social Security and Medicare. Until that’s on the tabls, we’re just chipping away at the problem and hoping an economic boom allows to paste over the deficiencies.

Update: Of course, when it comes to bullshit budget plans, no one does it better than the Congressional Regressive Caucus, whose plan was praised by Paul Krugman today. It calls for an immediate 6% spending hike which they claim will bring us back to full employment within a year.

Yeah, ‘cuz that worked so well last time.

Boehner Flinches from the Abyss

So for all of the stress, the House GOP leadership (including Paul Ryan), a minority of Republican Congressmen, and a majority of Democrats
passed the tax deal they were offered by the Senate. The Rich (less than 1% of the population) got tagged with a 4.6% increase (horrors!) and caps were placed on deductions, among other meaningless items.

I suppose it is palatable since we have at least gotten the remainder of Bush’s tax cuts to remain permanent. Even Grover Norquist has twisted this and basically said that since the tax cuts had expired, those Republicans who voted for this deal were voting for a tax cut, not an increase. Interesting contortion.

But then there’s virtually no spending cut in this deal. The increased revenue is not going to make a dent in the deficit. For all the drama, we slapped a few million wealthy people with a small tax raise and refused to address the fact that spending is out of control. It’s a pathetic failure of the entire political establishment.

It is easy to blast Boehner today, but what choice did he have? Yes, I personally believed it would have been best to go over the cliff and let the chips fall where they may. However, I knew that Boehner wouldn’t do that. He didn’t want to take the blame for tax increases on the middle class (it’s going to happen eventually anyway) and it was too tempting to target the unpopular minority that is top earners. Also, he likes grand, useless compromises for some reason.

On the bright side, around 2/3 of the House GOP broke with Boehner on this deal and hence have political cover. Boehner has set himself up beautifully for the inevitable coup and primary challenge that he has coming.

I would say that he was courageous to do this IF I actually believed that the deal means anything. It doesn’t. It’s too little, too late, and still comes across as a major defeat for the GOP. We could have gotten a tax deal as useless as this one weeks ago and not had the brinksmanship that managed to make Obama look like a triumphant, responsible statesman.

Boehner must not be returned as the Speaker of the House, even if means leaving the post vacant. The real fight is going to be over the debt ceiling and Boehner cannot be counted on to do right either by his party or the nation.

Election 2012: V. The Post Party Era

(This is my long-promised fifth and final post spelling out my thoughts on the 2012 Presidential election. I actually penned this during the conventions but it wasn’t right. It was only during the second debate that everything came together. I doubt my decision will surprise anyone, but I dare say my reasoning may set a few cats amongst a few pigeons.)

So do I want Democrats who arrest, detain, bomb, and surveil like Republicans, or Republicans who spend like Democrats? – Ken at Popehat

Here’s the thing: I have long resisted the portrayal of Obama as a radical Islamic atheist crypto-Marxist Kenyan colonialist. This is not because I have a particular affinity for the man or his policies. Or even because I care too much about “the tone”. It’s because there is a far more succinct and accurate description of Barack Obama.

A Republican.

I can hear the howls of outrage, but let me make my case. He’s certainly not a culture conservative or anything like that. And his associates would want nothing to do with conservatives and conservatives nothing to do with his associates (although I’m told that Bill Ayers and David Koch would make a good doubles team). But when I really narrow it down to the policies Barack Obama has enacted, I keep circling back to the inevitable conclusion: were it not for the letter after his name, they could easily be mistaken for those of a Republican.

Think of the big policies we have objected to under Obama. Think of them clearly and think about how the Republicans have legislated over the last decade. Not what the Republicans have said. Not what they have promised us. But the actual nuts and bolts policies they have pursued and enacted — first under Bush, then when they took back Congress in 2010 and now what is promised by Romney. I know people are tired of Bush but the policies of the GOP have not really changed over the last twelve years: from the year 2000 to the present, they are a continuous unbroken surrender to — or embrace of — Big Government. And I can not but come to the conclusion that the differences between Obama and the Republican Party are relatively small:

Let’s go through them, shall we?

The Stimulus: Surely, this piece of Keynesian waste could only have happened under Obama, right? Well, George Bush engaged in two rounds of stimulus as the financial crisis began, including tax rebates to people not paying taxes. When the GOP took the House in 2010, one of the first things they did was cut a deal to extend unemployment benefits and the Bush tax cuts — most of which reduce lower income people’s taxes to zero or less. They also cut payrolls taxes on the employee side as a stimulus measure. Cuts to the Ex-Im Bank, farm subsidies and transportation have found opposition in the GOP because of the supposed economic impact. Mitt Romney has already come out in favor of higher defense spending under the guise of stimulating the economy. Why is that necessarily better than “green energy”?

A Republican stimulus might not have taken the same form as Obama’s (although 1/3 of Obama’s stimulus was tax cuts). But to argue that the Stimulus was something the GOP would not have done seems absurd given the policies pursued by Bush, supported by the GOP Congress and promised by Romney. Had John Mccain or Mitt Romney been President in 2009, I have little doubt we would have gotten something very similar.

The Bailouts and Crony Capitalism: I’ve been over this before, but it’s always worth remembering: TARP was started under Bush, supported by Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and many Republicans. GM was handed money by Bush and Romney’s alternative was a “controlled bankruptcy” similar to what Obama did. In fact, he made this specific point during the second debate. The big difference might have been more money for investors and less for unions. That’s not nothing, but it’s not a lot either.

The only Republican in the primary who proposed something different was John Huntsman, who said we should break up the big banks through increasing fees. And he got almost as many votes for President as I did. Numerous conservatives hoped Romney would embrace the Huntsman plan to eliminate the need for bailouts. He has not. And needless to say, Barack Obama hasn’t either. More to the point, Obama has allowed the big banks to get bigger than ever.

Obamacare: All of you know that Obamacare, in its initial form, was Romneycare. But Romneycare is not something that fell out of the sky onto Massachusetts. The particulars were hashed out by conservatives in the 90’s as an alternative to Hillarycare. Massachusetts was a test-bed for a plan many conservative thought should eventually be a national policy. And if McCain and especially Romney had been elected in 2008, I have little doubt they would have pushed it on us (although I doubt it would have passed; if Obamacare came from a Republican, the Left would suddenly have realized what a huge payout to big business it was). Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal is basically Obamacare for seniors — a private insurance market with premium support. That may be an improvement over the current monopsony. But let’s not pretend it’s the free market.

I suspect that if Romney wins the election, the GOP will make a big show of trying to repeal Obamacare. But once that fails (and it will fail, since Democrats are likely to keep the Senate) they will mostly tinker with Obamacare; maybe cut some subsidies or, if we’re lucky, allow major medical to qualify as the baseline insurance. I am extremely dubious that they will change much.

The fact is that these policies have been popular among a certain faction of the Republican Party for a very long time. These policies are popular with Romney and with the people he has surrounded himself with. If it had been called McCaincare, it would have had their support. And once they file the serial numbers off and call it Romneycare II, it will again.

Foreign Policy: As I said in my earlier post, the Romney-Ryan position on Obama’s foreign policy is that they would do the same thing, only more.

Jobs: Barack Obama does not have experience in the private sector and that has, as much as anything, hampered his management of the economy. But neither of the guys on the Romney-Ryan ticket have much private experience either. Ryan, of course, has been in public service his entire life. And Romney’s experience has mostly consisted of buying up businesses, finding legal and financial loopholes to make money, and selling them. His experience with rescuing the Salt Lake City games from the abyss is a positive for his management ability. But Congress is not an Olympic Games. Nor is the corner dry cleaner.

I want to make it clear: there’s nothing wrong with Romney’s work at Bain Capital, really. Private capital helps move our economy and some businesses need overhauls and reform. But my brother, who employs only himself, knows more about the problems facing a small business than Mitt Romney does.

Romney has promised he will create jobs from the top down by overhauling regulation and cutting taxes on businesses. But that’s the same thing, basically, that Obama is promising. And I extremely dubious of either candidate’s ability to deliver. Those tax loopholes and regulations are there for a reason: powerful businesses, include many backers of Obama and Romney, want them there. And neither of these men has shown the ability to stand up to them. Have you hear either man talk about the CPSC?

Maybe this is a slight net in favor of Romney since we can only guess what Romney might do and we have four years of Obama not doing anything to go on. But this particular issue is almost entirely dependent on Congress. If Congress passes the massive regulatory and tax overhaul we do desperately need, I do not see either President vetoing it.

Welfare: Welfare spending has now crossed the $1 trillion threshold. However, it was under the Bush Administration that food stamp requirements were relaxed and Medicaid was expanded. And the Republicans have now controlled the House for two years. The only move they made on anti-poverty spending was to extend unemployment benefits and fight against further reform. Now we are supposed to believe they will reign in anti-poverty spending?

The Budget: Obama’s biggest failure as President, in my view, was running away form Simpson-Bowles. There is simply no excuse for ignoring the recommendations of his own damned debt commission. Had he embraced the outline two years ago, the debt ceiling fight might have resulted in a real solution instead of kicking the can a couple of trillion down the road. This failure alone is good enough reason for anyone to vote against him.

But … Paul Ryan was on the Simpson-Bowles panel and voted against it even after getting concessions on Medicare. And Romney has criticized Obama for abandoning S-B while not offering a substantive alternative. Romney has promised to increase Medicare spending by $716 billion and military spending by $2 trillion. He has promised to increase Pell grants, education spending and federal job training. The only substantive budget cut he’s identifies is PBS (maybe). Obama is, of course, promising the same, only with more money for energy boondoggles and less for military hardware.

Both sides support extending 80% of the Bush tax cuts. Both sides support tax reform with their mouths while proposing more tax credits and complications with their pens. This is not a debate over solutions. This is quibbling over 1% of the problem. The house is on fire and they’re arguing about whether we should use the red fire hose or the blue fire hose.

If our debt is brought under control, it will not be because of Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. It will because of Congressional figures like Tom Coburn who are trying to broker a deal outside of the White House.

Regulation: Obama passed Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. But the Republicans passed Sarbanes-Oxley, one of the most financially destructive pieces of legislation in American history. Has either of these men spoken out against SOX? Moreover, Obama has actually passed fewer and less expensive regulations than Bush did (the link is a year old; I’m dubious that Obama passed more regulations over a GOP Congress; on the flip side, many Dodd-Frank provisions have yet to be enacted). Remember … in the first debate, Romney came out in favor of regulation. And his record in Massachusetts is not that of a deregulator.

Corruption: The Left keeps trying to persuade me to vote for Obama because Romney will welcome lobbyists back into the White House. I find this argument to be both ignorant and hilarious.

Other Issues: Many issues were not discussed at the debates because both sides agree. Both sides support the War on Drugs. Both sides support indefinite detention and the NDAA. Both sides supported SOPA until the population screamed bloody murder. Both sides support free trade when it suits them but wallow in anti-China rhetoric. Neither is a real friend of science. What does it tell when you Elon Musk and an energy drink company have more ambitious space exploration programs than NASA? And neither side wants to address the problems in our criminal justice system.

Let’s look at that last point. One of the most telling parts of the debate the other night was when the candidates were asked about gun control. Both quickly segued to other issues since gun control, as an issue, went out with parachute pants (little noticed point: in the debate, Obama acknowledged that the second amendment is for self-defense). But neither mentioned that crime is down to levels not seen in half a century. Neither mentioned one of the biggest drivers of poverty, job destruction, violence and despair in our cities: the War on Drugs:

A check in the “Have you ever been arrested?” box is a handy way for an employer to winnow down a stack of job applications. Why take the risk? In New York City, half a million people are stopped and questioned by police each year without probable cause. In some communities, nine in ten residents have been stopped. Aggressive stop-and-frisk policies have lead to thousands of arrests of people who have done nothing wrong, or have been tricked by police into committing a misdemeanor.

What are the substantive differences between these two parties? Abortion? Gay marriage? Unions? Let’s be honest: almost everyone in this election is voting against the other guy. What, apart from your distate for his supporters, is driving that?

It’s been quipped that Obama’s first term is really “Bush’s third term” and I think there’s something to that. Obama has been better on foreign policy; worse on domestic. A huge fraction of his blunders have been continuing old policies. But I could very easily imagine the last four years having unfolded in a similar fashion under Bush, McCain or Romney (with the possible exception of the two SCOTUS appointees). So is that the choice we face for the next four years? Bush 4A or Bush 4B?

I have voted Libertarian in the last two elections. I had that luxury since I lived in Texas, which was not a swing state. And, frankly, Pennsylvania isn’t a swing state so I have that luxury again. But I would vote for Gary Johnson even if I were in a swing state; even if mine were the only vote preventing either a Romney presidency or an Obama presidency. I recognize and respect the case to be made that one should vote for the lesser of two evils (although read Mataconis here). I’m just not seeing that either of these is the lesser. Again, see the epigraph that starts this post: do I want Republicans who spend like Democrats or Democrats who bomb like Republicans?

This isn’t a purist decision. I disagree with Johnson on plenty. And it’s not a fit of pique, either. I make the decision affirmatively. I don’t believe that either of these men will be a disaster for this country. Obama will be neutralized by a Republican House. And for all my barbs, I was relieved that Romney won the GOP nomination. I don’t think he is crazy or dangerous and I’ll be fine if he wins the election. And his surge since the first debate has been because millions of Americans have come to the same conclusion.

But neither do I believe that either man is the one to get us out of the hole we’re in. Either way, I think we’re going to get four more years of kicking the can down the road and hoping that the economy magically rescues the system.

Moreover, I think the Presidential race is possibly the least important election this year. Of far greater import:

1) Congress. Helping the GOP retain Congress is a far more critical battle than the White House. While I described Republican policies as a continuous decade-long surrender to Big Government, there have been some hopeful signs in the last two years. Just enough that I want them to keep hold of the House, especially.

I’ll be voting for my Republican congressman (I’m still unsure if I can pinch my nose tightly enough to vote for former Democrat and abortion absolutist Bob Smith for the Senate). One of the neglected stories of the last few weeks is the huge surge in the Democrats’ prospects of keeping the Senate, including a likely victory for Elizabeth Warren. As far as Massachusetts moderates go, it’s much more important to me for Scott Brown to win than for Mitt Romney to.

2) Ballot issues: Washington and Colorado are trying to legalize marijuana. Both initiatives have gotten key endorsements from law enforcement but are facing stiff entrenched opposition. In California, Prop 35, which purports to battle “trafficking” is polling well but shouldn’t be: it is such a badly written piece of legislation that simply renting a room to a prostitute could get someone arrested. Props 30 and 38 propose to raise taxes (yes, again) while Prop 32 would limit the power of unions. Prop 37 would label GM foods. In Maryland, there are two critical ballot initiatives coming up: one on gay marriage and one on Maryland’s obscene gerrymandering. Virginia has a critical question on eminent domain. Give me victories on all of these and I’d take Jill Stein in the White House (Ok, not really).

Probably the most important fight this year is going on in Michigan. The unions are trying to get an amendment passed that would bar Michigan forever from being a right to work state or limiting union bargaining power. This is a bill that may finally kill Michigan’s government. Have you heard a peep about it? This is far more important than the White House fight.

3) Us. One of the encouraging things about the last few years is that the American people are waking up. For all the criticism of the Tea Party, serious solutions to the debt issue would not be on the table at all if it weren’t for them. This was not, contra the Left, an astroturf effort to get Republicans back in office. The Tea Partiers are serious about changing the fiscal trajectory of this country. I’ve talked to many who have told me they will accept spending cuts; they will accept entitlement cuts; some will even accept higher taxes … if it’s part of a real solution. That’s far more thought, wisdom and patriotism than you will get from the entire sneering staff of MSNBC, CNN and PBS combined.

Even more encouraging was the battle over SOPA. This was a bad bill that had bi-partisan support. But the American public woke up. And people of all political persuasions took our government by the heels and shook them while yelling, “Stop it!”. And our politicians listened.

I’m not sold on the benefit of a protest vote. But a protest vote as part of a rising tide of opposition to the dimwit policies of our government? That’s something I can vote for. Maybe Johnson gets 1% this year. That’s enough to raise an eyebrow but not to make either party sweat. But if it can be built on, it’s enough scare some people. Ross Perot may have been crazier than a shithouse rat, but I strongly believe his influence on two elections scared the pants off our political establishment to the point where Bill Clinton was suddenly a budget hawk (although, to be fair, Bill Clinton was pretty easily talked out of his pants).

No matter who wins on November 6, it will be up to us to hold their feet to the fire. Both parties have promised debt reduction and an improved economy. We have to hold them to it not just at the ballot box but in unceasing unending relentless pressure. No spending bill should move through the house without a million phone calls. No Patriot Act renewal should pass without a million letters in opposition. If Congress makes a Grand Bargain on the budget, we have to make sure that neither of these guys dares to veto it. Every time Obama or Romney decides to bomb someone without Congressional authority, there should be pickets outside manned by everyone: liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. We all need to manning the trenches. We can’t ignore bad behavior because it’s “our” guy or only jump on bad behavior when it’s “their” guy.

This is not a fight of liberal against conservative. This is not a struggle of Democrat against Republican. The idea that either of our political parties gives a sweaty utility closet fuck about our liberty is absurd. This is a war of government against all of us. A war of the busybodies against those of us who want to be left the hell alone. How we get to freedom, what particular freedoms we emphasize, where we curtail that freedom so that society may function: that is a subject for vigorous debate. But by letting ourselves be duped into supporting Nanny Blue or Nanny Red, we have forgotten to hold the line; we have ceded ground to the idea that government should be able to do whatever the hell it wants … as long as it’s our guys in charge.

(And, I’m going to be frank, the liberals have been worse at this dereliction of citizenship. Obama’s War on Terror excesses have not generated a fraction of the anger among liberals that Bush’s spending did among conservatives. If George Bush had drone-bombed a 16-year-old, they would have been trashing the streets.)

That is why I refuse to vote for either of these guys. It only encourages them. It only persuades them that their infringements on our liberties — be they economic, social or legal — will be tolerated, approved and rewarded. It only persuades them that they can talk liberty on the campaign while they kill it in the legislature.

And it’s why, no matter which guy wins, I will spend the next four years tweeting, blogging, writing and raging against the machine in this little corner of the internet (well, in my spare time. I also need to work, eat, sleep, raise Sal 11000 Beta, go to the bathroom).

If Romney wins, we can’t do what we did with Bush and go happily to sleep. And if Obama wins, we can not sink into despair. The fight never ends. But nor is it ever hopeless. Ever since we recognized that governments were necessary, free people have been fighting to keep the monster under control. And, despite recent setbacks, our record over the last few centuries is very very good.

That monster needs to be held at bay, no matter which face it’s wearing for for the next four years. And if we keep our eyes open and our powder dry, it will be.

Prelude to a Convention

Last week, the media and various Democrats cried foul over Paul Ryan’s speech. In particular, they focused on five “lies” that he told and went into their usual post-truth case of the vapors. We went back and forth in the comments, but it’s worth putting the case against and the case for. To be blunt, some of these are disagreements over interpretation, not disagreements over fact. For examples, the fact-checkers call Ryan out for blaming only Obama for the debt downgrade by … blaming only Republicans for it (Moody’s blamed everyone).

You can call these lies if you want. I call it standard-grade political bullshit. I expect more from Ryan because I respect him. But that sort of truth-shading can be found anywhere. To pick one example almost at random, why don’t we try the President:

Time’s flattering cover profile of the president, headlined “What Obama Knows Now,” is filled with questionable assertions ceding whole chunks of factual policy narrative to Democrats, such as that “virtually all economists” agreed that the stimulus was necessary (tell that to these 200 economists, including a handful of Nobel laureates).

But Tim Carney really gets into this:

Obama’s pattern is this: Make a promise; break the promise; insist that you’ve kept the promise, and hope the press gives you a free pass. When called out, resort to absurd word parsing. This is how Obama campaigns, and it is how he governs.

Candidate Obama said lobbyists wouldn’t work in his administration or fund his campaign. But about 60 registered lobbyists landed senior jobs in his administration, including a Goldman Sachs lobbyist as Treasury Department chief of staff.

Still, in his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama said, “we’ve excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs.” When I pressed the White House on this, it defended the claim, writing: “As the President said we have turned away lobbyists for many, many positions.”

This sleight of hand is not a one-off. Obama does it over and over.

Obama has also made claims — basically unchallenged — that Libya wasn’t really a war, that he hasn’t raised taxes on the middle class and that Obamacare cuts the budget deficit (it does, technically, but only over the span considered by the CBO and only if the SGR cuts are included). And that’s not to mention his outright lies on the War on Drugs, lies backed up by his lackies at the Center for American Regress. When these statements are addressed by the fact checkers, they do not apply the same rigorous standard they applied to Ryan. Instead, they delve into the subtleties about how what had he said was technically true … for a politician.

Look, I think we should call politicians out when they lie by omission or commission. I wasn’t happy with some of the things Ryan said. All I ask is that the standard be applied to everyone: Republican, Democrat, liberal conservative or fascist-anarchist.

As I watch what DNC coverage I have time for, I’ll be keeping an eye on the fact-checkers and see if they apply the same standard to Obama/Biden that they did to Ryan. I suspect their coverage will be highly superficial. Mine won’t be.

Election 2012: I. Why We Should Vote For Mitt Romney

(This is the first of five posts I will put up over the next two weeks, exploring my thoughts on the Presidential election. Parts 1 and 2 will be reasons to vote for and against Mitt Romney; Parts 3 and 4 will be reasons to vote for and against Barack Obama. Part 5 will wrap up. Keep in mind, this is my thinking as we go through the conventions. It’s likely that things will change between now and Election Day. A few guidelines before we start.

1. I’m not a Republican anymore. I define myself as a conservative-libertarian but I’m not convinced those interests are served by the GOP in its present form. If I thought electing Ralph Nader would be best for this country, I’d endorse him.

2. I’m not going to endorse that idiot Ralph Nader. Just so we’re clear.

3. These posts are about the candidates themselves. “He’s not Obama” is not a reason to vote for Mitt Romney. “He’s not Mitt Romney” is not a reason to vote for Barack Obama. I’m sick of these “the other side can’t win” arguments. This is sort of a stream of consciousness as I think about both men.)

So Mitt Romney is now the official nominee. I will say, going in, he would not be my top choice or even in my top 50. But of the weak field we had this year, he was the best option. And I don’t think he’d be a disaster if elected.

So why should we vote for Mitt Romney? Well, here’s a few reasons off the top of my head:

Repealing Obamacare: There are parts of Obamacare that are not horrible. There are slivers that could form part of a much more sensible healthcare reform. But we don’t get those parts; we get the whole convoluted overwrought thing. And, despite the CBO’s optimism, I’m convinced that the whole thing will make the healthcare system far worse, far more expensive and far more unaccountable. If Obama is re-elected, Obamacare — or some version of it — is here to stay. Electing Mitt is our best chance to get rid of it.

Will Mitt Romney and the GOP repeal Obamcare? That’s the $716 billion question. Given current projections, doing so would inflate the near-term deficit. And, as I previously noted, there are parts of Obamacare that are popular. It will be very easy for the Democrats to demagogue throwing 25-year-olds off their parents’ insurance or restoring the ability of insurance companies to rescind coverage or deny coverage. The fact is that repealing Obamacare will throw millions out of insurance plans. Does the GOP have the stomach for that? Can they overcome an almost certain Democratic filibuster? There’s only one way to find out.

Romney the Chameleon: Mitt is not an ideologue. He may sounds like one this year, but his history reveals a man centered on one idea: getting elected. And the only thing he wants more than to be elected is to be re-elected. To that end, he’ll say what the GOP wants to hear. But, in the end, he’s going to try to find things that work, even if the contradicts GOP canon (we all saw how well Bush fulfilled his promises). As we’ve seen before, he has no problem misrepresenting his policies. He’ll have no problem cutting Medicare while demagoguing Medicare cuts or raises taxes while saying he’s cutting them. Maybe an unprincipled man is just what this country needs.

I’m not being sarcastic here; I’m being totally honest. Political principles can be very dangerous things, especially given the commitment of the GOP to some bad ideas (e.g., cutting taxes to fix the deficit; federal personhood; aggressive foreign policy). Someone who can placate the party base while pursuing doable practical policies can govern effectively. The question is going to be: How will Romney govern against how he has campaigned?

Mitt is at least vaguely familiar with the private sector: Let’s not confuse running Bain Capital with starting a small business. But Mitt has made tough decisions — shuttering unprofitable factories, for instance — that are critical to a functional economy. He at least listens.

I think Mitt also has a slightly better notion of what’s wrong with the economy — that we’re working out from under a huge pile of debt. Now he’s officially opposed the policies that could help, like Quantitative Easement. But if there is a candidate out there who understands that the government needs to quit trying to help and let things recover on their own, it’s Mitt.

Only Nixon Could Go To China: This will be a recurring theme in these posts. The basic idea is that only a Republican can advance liberal ideas and only a Democrat can advance conservative ideas. The catch phrase reflect the reality of Nixon making nice with communist China. Had a liberal President made peace with China, he would have been pilloried for it. But because Nixon was such a staunch anti-communist, his detente was possible.

We have seen this throughout the last twenty years. A Republican would never been able to get NAFTA or Welfare Reform passed or reined in government spending the way Bill Clinton did. A Democrat would have not been able to jack up spending and pass a zillion regulations the way Bush did. A Republican would not have been able to ramp up War on Terror excesses the way Obama has. They would have been pilloried by the opposition. Politicians do move in ways the other party opposes: Obama on gay marriage; Clinton on abortion; Bush on tax cuts. But there are a number of key issues where the opposition is simply too entrenched, the issues too easy to demagogue.

There are a number of issues where this country needs to move “left”: the War on Drugs, medical marijuana, imprisonment and civil liberties. Obama can not move to the left on those issues; indeed, he’s gone hard right on all of them. But Mitt can. If there is any President who might back off of the War on Drugs, it’s going to have to be a “severe” Republican. In fact, Republicans like Chris Christie have been leading the charge on overhauling our drug laws. Hell, Mitt might even be able to make some market-oriented moves on global warming — as Bush did — instead of Obama’s cap-and-trade absurdity.

The Abyss: One impression I’ve gotten over the last few days is that the GOP may be … may be … coming to their senses. Susanna Martinez, Nikki Haley, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie … there’s been a parade of people who are actually interested in governing. The tone has been negative … any campaign against an incumbent will be … but the venom of 2004 and 2008 seems very diminished.

I worry that if Romney fails to win, the GOP will react by thinking they erred in going with a “RINO moderate” and go with some rockhead ideologue like Santorum or Bachmann. It’s nice that these people are principled. But it’s impossible to govern that way when the country is half Democrat and very concentrated on the center right.

The Debt: Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan has put the debt issue front and center. There are some issues with Ryan’s plan: it doesn’t balance the budget for a long time and cuts taxes before we’ve gotten our debt under control. But electing Romney would be a clear sign that we will not put up with trillion dollar deficits.


Anyway, discuss. But keep in mind this is about reasons to vote for Romney, not against Obama. I’ll put up that thread next week. What about Mitt Romney, specifically, excites you? What about Mitt Romney, specifically, makes you think he would be a good President? What about Mitt Romney, specifically, makes you think he can get the economy moving and balance the budget?

Running from the Cuts

It’s really pathetic that Team Obama is trying so hard to pretend they didn’t sorta maybe cut Medicare spending, unlike the evil evil Paul Ryan who … also … hasn’t … yet. You can read Avik Roy’s response here. The critical point is this:

Of [Obama’s] $716 billion in [Medicare] cuts, $415 billion come in the form of “updates to fee-for-service payment rates,” a euphemism for reducing Medicare’s payments to doctors and hospitals. But what happens when you reduce payments to doctors? Doctors stop being willing to see Medicare patients. And if you can’t actually get a doctor’s appointment, what does it really matter what your insurance plan covers on paper?

We already see this happening in the Medicaid program, where sick and injured children can’t get appointments to deal with urgent medical conditions, because Medicaid so severely underpays doctors relative to private insurers. By the end of this decade, under Obamacare, Medicare reimbursement rates are set to fall below those of Medicaid.

(Aside: The Obama people keep referring to their cuts as “savings”, a euphemism I find hilarious. Ryan also refers to his cuts as “savings” but because he has an R after his name and doesn’t want to socialize the whole smash, these become “savage, brutal, turing-grandma-into-fertilizer cuts”. But they are cuts. Don’t be ashamed of the word.)

Look, the reality is that Medicare is growing out of control and its “trust fund” will be exhausted in just a few years. Medicare spending is going to have be cut. As I said last week, that’s not even up for debate any more. The debate is over how. Ryan, to his credit, is trying to come up with a more sustainable system. Maybe it won’t work; maybe it’s a piece of shit. But it tackles the problem head on and admits to what it is doing.

By contrast, the Obama Administration is engaged in a great deal of deception. They are saying there are “no cuts in benefits” which is true as far as it goes. But the benefits are cut through the back door by cutting reimbursement rates (already near unsustainable levels) and hoping this, somehow, produces more efficiency in the system. IPAB is thrown in for good measure but we’ve already seen that Congress will happily override the IPAB any time a pet issue like breast cancer comes up.

The irony is that these cuts, such as they are, are unlikely to happen anyway. In fact, the AMA’s support for Obamacare was conditional on them not happening. Our politicians know what Roy does: that cuts of this magnitude would cause doctors to leave the system. They are barely able to keep up with the present reimbursement rates.

(In arguing this on another site, one liberal said this would lead to a decrease in “unnecessary procedures” and this was a good thing. Keep in mind: (a) that is rationing, by definition; (b) if providers leave the system, they’ll take a bunch of necessary procedures with them; and (c) every rate cut for the last 30 years has come with Medicare telling doctors to make it up with volume.)

I’m getting a little sick of this bullshit on Medicare. The Obama Administration already got called out by the CBO for claiming the $716 billion in “savings” for both deficit reduction and shoring up of the Medicare trust. Now they’re trying to pretend that this cuts are really going to happen but won’t result in decreased healthcare because … well, just because, that’s why!

I appreciate that the healthcare market is diseased. Over time, most industries see costs fall and quality go up. We have not seen this happen with healthcare (although, to be fair, it’s a lot more complicated than that). But the solution is not to cut prices and hope that some magic happens to improve healthcare quality. If Republicans suggested improving education by slashing teacher salaries in half, they’d be laughed off of the Capitol.

Medicare needs to be cut. Obama has to run away from that because seniors vote like hell. But if he’s going to do the necessary thing, he could do it in a sustainable way. He hasn’t and he won’t. And all the easy-on-the-eyes cliche-spouting senior advisors in the world aren’t going to change that.