The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Impeachment? Hardly an option

Some people have been talking about impeaching Pres. Obama. But this is totally impractical. And it's not for the reasons that such as Charles Hurt of The Washington Times give. Yes, impeaching Obama is really a scheme that can't be done. And Speaker John Boehner is right to dismiss it out of hand, even if such as Sarah Palin have called for it. (In fact, most of the impeachment talk comes from Democrats these days — trying to use this as a way of rallying their base!) But Hurt's reason — that the GOP is very bad at getting its ideas accepted by the American public — is not the real reason.

The real reason is that our Constitution makes it impossible to impeach a president and win, unless you can get substantially unanimous agreement. To get two thirds of the Senate to agree to convict a president like Obama, who still retains a lot of popularity, is an impossible task. The Senate would not remove Bill Clinton, who lied before a grand jury, and it is very clear that no Democratic Senator (and right now they are a majority, and even the most optimistic polls for the GOP do not expect the Democratic numbers after November's election to be reduced below the middle forties, certainly not below 33, which would be necessary to get an impeachment through!) will vote to convict Pres. Obama.

So even if the House voted to impeach, all that would do is get some Obama supporters to be angry. It would not actually remove the President. So what good would that do?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Walter Russell Mead hits it right on the head

A post dated yesterday on Walter Russell Mead's blog, “The American Interest,” is of great interest. When we compare all the media condemnation of moves by George W. Bush with the absence of comments on Barack Obama, the contrast is amazing:

The reckless and thoughtless Libya intervention just keeps looking worse. But don’t read the critics to see how horrible things are: as the government announces that the U.S. has officially evacuated its embassy in Tripoli this morning, the latest State Department travel advisory for the country says it all:

The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable. The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution. Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation. Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country. In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya. Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya. Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death. U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.

Sporadic episodes of civil unrest have occurred throughout the country and attacks by armed groups can occur in many different areas; hotels frequented by westerners have been caught in the crossfire. Armed clashes have occurred in the areas near Tripoli International Airport, Airport Road, and Swani Road. Checkpoints controlled by militias are common outside of Tripoli, and at times inside the capital. Closures or threats of closures of international airports occur regularly, whether for maintenance, labor, or security-related incidents. Along with airports, seaports and roads can close with little or no warning. U.S. citizens should closely monitor news and check with airlines to try to travel out of Libya as quickly and safely as possible.

The status of the country’s interim government remains uncertain. The newly elected Council of Representatives is scheduled to convene by August 4, but political jockeying continues over where and when to seat the parliament. Heavy clashes between rival factions erupted in May 2014 in Benghazi and other eastern cities. In Tripoli, armed groups have contested territory near Tripoli International Airport since July 13, rendering the airport non-operational. State security institutions lack basic capabilities to prevent conflict, and there remains a possibility of further escalation.

Throw in the resulting civil war in Mali and the scattering of insurgents and weapons to the four winds, and you have a classic exhibition of reckless incompetence—of American arrogance, ignorance, carelessness and moralism combining in a toxic stew to sink a fragile country we never understood.

Luckily for America’s self-esteem, it was liberal Democrats that produced this particular shambles. If Republicans had done this, the media would be on the administration non-stop, perhaps comparing Samantha Power to Paul Wolfowitz—a well-meaning humanitarian way over her head who wrecked a country out of misguided ideology. There might also be some pointed questions for future presidential candidates who supported this fiasco. But since both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have their fingerprints all over Libya, there isn’t a lot of press hunger for a detailed, unsparing autopsy into this stinking corpse of policy flub.

The key to all this ignoring of the foreign policy debacle follows:

If Obama were a Republican, the press and the weekly news shows would be ringing with hyperbolic, apocalyptic denunciations of the clueless incumbent who had failed to learn the most basic lessons of Iraq. Indeed, the MSM right now would be howling that Obama was stupider than Bush. Bush, our Journolist friends would now be saying ad nauseam, at least had the excuse that he didn’t know what happens when you overthrow a paranoid, genocidal, economically incompetent Arab tyrant in an artificial post-colonial state. But Obama did—or, the press would nastily say, he would have done if he’d been doing his job instead of hitting the golf course or yakking it up with his glitzy pals at late night bull sessions. The ad hominem attacks would never stop, and all the tangled threads of incompetence and failure would be endlessly and expertly picked at in long New Yorker articles, NYT thumbsuckers, and chin-strokings on all the Sabbath gasbag shows.

Why, the ever-admirable tribunes of a free and unbiased press would be asking non-stop, didn’t this poor excuse for a President learn from what happened in Iraq? When you upend an insane and murderous dictator who has crushed his people for decades under an incompetent and quirky regime, you’d better realize that there is no effective state or civil society under the hard shell of dictatorial rule. Remove the dictator and you get chaos and anarchy. Wasn’t this President paying attention during the last ten years?

Mead concedes that there is some reason to withhold criticism:

Some of the criticism would be exaggerated and unfair; the Monday morning quarterbacks never really understand just how complicated and tragic this poor world really is, not to mention how hard it is to make life and death decisions in real time in the center of the non-stop political firestorm that is Washington today. And the MSM attracts more than its share of deeply inexperienced but entitled, self-regarding blowhards who love to pontificate about how stupid all those poor fools who have actual jobs and responsibilities actually are.

But the key to the whole point being made follows:

But luckily for Team Obama, the mainstream press would rather die than subject liberal Democrats to the critiques it reserves for the GOP. So instead, as Libya writhes in agony, reputations and careers move on. The news is so bad, and the President’s foreign policy is collapsing on so many fronts, that it is impossible to keep the story off the front pages. “Smart diplomacy” has become a punch line, and the dream Team Obama had of making Democrats the go-to national security party is as dead as the passenger pigeon. But what the press can do for the White House it still, with some honorable exceptions, labors to accomplish: it will, when it must, report the dots. But it will try not to connect them, and it will do what it can to let all the people involved in the Libya debacle move on to the next and higher stage of their careers.

Of course, Hillary's march to the Presidency cannot be impeded. And Obama's greatness must me proclaimed to the world.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Moral equivalence?

Rick Bayan is the owner of a blog called "The New Moderate," with which I often agree and, even when I disagree with him, which I appreciate for his attempts to find a “moderate” position. Today he put out a post entitled “Itching for Another World War” which discusses a number of things, but a large piece of it discusses the fighting now going on between Israel and Hamas. And unbelievably, his conclusion is rather hard to take:

For now, let’s focus on Israel and its implacable adversaries. Both sides have been going at it with alarming gusto, and of course both sides claim to be victims. Hamas militants have been firing away at Israel mindlessly and persistently, like mosquitoes tormenting a sweaty horse, giving Israel a perfect excuse to fire back. Israel, no longer the plucky underdog of its early decades, has been spilling mostly-innocent Arab blood in the Gaza Strip, an Arab-occupied, Hamas-dominated patch of real estate the size of Philadelphia.

So who’s to blame? The obvious answer, at least from The New Moderate’s perspective, is both sides.

He correctly identifies the problem, I think, when he writes:

Hamas, like all Islamic terror groups, is guilty of refusing to accept the validity of Israeli statehood. What will it take for these Muslim militants to stop begrudging the Jewish people, dispersed and oppressed for nearly two thousand years, a New Jersey-sized slice of turf occupying roughly half their ancestral homeland, with a little extra desert thrown in for good measure? Where were the Jewish survivors of Nazi depredations supposed to establish a modern state for their people – Antarctica? The Jews earned their right to Israel through a combination of land purchases, grit and perseverance, and they’ve successfully defended it three times against staggering odds. The people we call Palestinians are simply Arabs who lived in an artificial state created from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. After the establishment of Israel in 1948, they were free to stay put or find a new home within a vast Arab dominion that stretches from Morocco to the Iranian border. Israelis have only Israel. This much is certain: if terror groups like Hamas stopped putting Israel in their crosshairs, the bloodshed in the so-called Holy Land would stop tomorrow.

He even recognizes the artificiality of the “Palestinian nationality.” But yet, he proceeds to write:

And what about Israel, now widely vilified (especially on the multiculti left) as a world-class imperialist oppressor of indigenous peoples? First of all, Israel must plead guilty to creating a caste system that relegated its resident Arabs to second-class status. Yes, Israel was founded as a Jewish state, and you can’t blame Israel’s Jews for wanting to keep it that way. But Israel can be shockingly, almost gleefully ruthless in lashing back at its enemies; that ruthlessness has been amply displayed during the ongoing blockade and siege of Gaza. You’d think a civilized people who endured centuries of persecution at the hands of ethnic majorities would show a little more sensitivity toward the minorities in their midst – at least toward the civilians who suffer most from Israeli overkill. I’ll never forget the chilling words of an extremist rabbi who declared that “a million Arabs aren’t worth one Jewish fingernail.”

Now first of all, he refers to “a caste system that relegated its resident Arabs to second-class status.” I really wonder what he means there. There are Arabs in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), and Arabs in the highest court of the land. By what measure are they “second-class”? On all matters where religion matters, the Jews run their own affairs, and Christians and Muslims run theirs. It's not like Saudi Arabia, where public celebration of Christmas can get you in trouble with the law. As for that rabbi who said “a million Arabs aren’t worth one Jewish fingernail,” this was one extremist — it hardly represents the views of the Israeli government.

So how can Rick Bayan say there is guilt on both sides? Hamas is killing innocent civilians, deliberately. Israel is firing back at the enemy, and, yes, killing innocent civilians, but warnings have been given in advance so they could have left, and they didn't. This is hardly a case of equally sharing the blame. I see not a single thing that Israel is doing in this war that they aren't forced to do, and that any other country would do in a similar situation.

How can a “moderate” criticize Israel in this battle?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A great day for foes of Obamacare

The Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit has issued a ruling in the case of Halbig v. Sebelius, which says that the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act (a. k. a. Obamacare) can only apply in states that have created their own exchanges, a clear interpretation of the plain language of the Act, which makes total sense. Meanwhile, the 4th Circuit, in the case of King v. Burwell, has ruled the opposite way. When two appeals courts have issued rulings so sharply in conflict, this guarantees that the Supreme Court will get to settle this. If Halbig is sustained by the Supreme Court, many other parts of the Act will fail to apply in all those states which use the federal exchange. So this could send Obamacare crashing down.

It's a case of bad drafting, because the Congress and President Obama were in such a hurry to force this down the throats of the American people. If they had been willing to work things out, and not dismiss the Republicans' efforts to change the plan, perhaps a clearer bill would have passed, but it might not have met Obama's demand to give health care that covers certain things to everyone whether they want it or not. Of course, that would have been a better bill, though Obama would not have liked it as much. But now he may be left with such a mess that the Act will have to be repealed and the government will start over. And that is good news.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Uncertainty is scary

Polls I have seen recently show the Republican Party leading in exactly enough states to win 51 seats in the Senate — a bare majority. But they are going up and down. Just a day or two ago, the total predicted was 52. By November, it could go up and down some more. And if the Senate divides 50-50, Vice-President Biden gets to vote, so the Democrats win on anything that divides strictly on party lines. With a Democratic Senate, President Obama can appoint whomever he wants to courts and other agencies; with a Republican Senate, he can be stopped. So it is scary that the totals are so close. If the polls had predicted a 55-45 Senate, we could know what we might expect — even a couple of states going the other way from the prediction would not make a difference. But we are up in the air for a few more months. (Of course, this is counting as Democrats the two independents who caucus with them. Sen. Bernard Sanders is a self-declared Socialist, so he's not going to come over to the GOP side. But Sen. Angus King might be persuaded. If the Senate does divide 50-50, you can be sure both parties are going to make a big play to get Sen. King to join their caucus!)

I just wish November would come already!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Ukraine war

Unfortunately, with the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukrainian airspace, the Ukraine war is beginning to affect the lives of many people who have no connection with Ukraine or Russia. It is really a senseless war. Ukraine was given a set of boundaries that include a number of people whose language is not Ukrainian, but Russian, and whose cultural loyalties are to Russia, not to Ukraine. There is far less of a difference between Czechs and Slovaks, and they agreed to separate peacefully. It would seem that the same solution should have been pursued in Ukraine. But Ukrainian nationalism, a feeling for “integrity of borders,” and Vladimir Putin's ego have all been allowed to enter into this dispute. Clearly, this war will have to play itself out now. But it is too bad it had to start.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hobby Lobby, mandates, and the right way to do insurance

The big problem that led to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case is the decision by the authors of the so-called Affordable Care Act, a. k. a. “Obamacare,” to rely on compulsion, rather than assistance, to achieve its goal — and, of course, having the wrong goal: universal coverage, rather than coverage for all who want it. Since it mandated employers’ provision of insurance, it had to determine what was required to comply, and having some people set up minimum requirements that conflicted with others’ religious scruples is what caused the conflict that Hobby Lobby was all about.

Now, suppose that the goal was, as I think it should be, coverage for all who want it rather than universal coverage. Then nobody would be penalized with fines, either for failure to provide coverage or for failure to enroll. If a person’s employer did not provide coverage, or the person was unemployed, the government would provide a subsidy that can only be used to purchase health insurance. The amount of this subsidy could be keyed to income, of course. If a person’s employer provided coverage, but this coverage did not include something the government deemed essential, the government would provide a subsidy to enable the person to buy a supplemental policy that would cover those conditions and products that the government deemed essential but the employer-provided insurance policy did not cover. (Thus none of the Hobby Lobby-type conflicts.)

Some raise the argument that with the elimination of limitations on coverage for pre-existing conditions, people will decline to buy insurance until they are sick. There is an easy fix to this, which does not involve fining people. Simply use a rule similar to the one that parts of Medicare have: If you were eligible for insurance but did not choose to buy it, when you do buy it you will be liable for an increased premium.

Can anyone find fault with this way of doing it?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sarah Palin calls for impeachment

Former Governor Sarah Palin has called for the impeachment of President Barack Obama. It's a crazy call. Yes, if you asked me whether Pres. Obama has done things worthy of impeachment, I would have to say “yes.” But any impeachment can only remove a President if it can get 67 votes in the Senate. And in a Democratic Senate, with only 45 Republicans, does anyone think 22 Democrats will vote to remove Pres. Obama? It just won't happen. The only way to proceed is through the courts, getting Obama's violations of the Constitution and laws reversed by the judicial system, and possibly, with actions like the Boehner lawsuit, invalidating other unconstiutional acts. And of course refusing to pass any legislation that Obama proposes unless it makes some concessions to the views of others than extreme liberals, so nothing gets done to further destroy our economy in the 2½ years remaining of the Obama presidency, until January, 2017, when (hopefully) Chris Christie or another Republican moves into the White House.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The case for Boehner's suit

Ron Christie has written a post entitled Why Boehner’s Lawsuit Against Obama Could Work in The Daily Beast, which is a good summary of the case for John Boehner's suit. It bears repeating:

The Speaker’s suit is not some political stunt, and could actually be successful.

Since Speaker John Boehner announced his intention late last month to sue President Obama for overstepping his legal authority, his supporters have frequently noted how few executive orders he’s actually handed down. To date, Obama has only issued 182, while the predecessor he likes to blame for everything issued 291.

But the real issue, of course, is not the number of executive orders issued during one’s presidency but rather their legality. And it’s here that Boehner and company have a real, substantive case against the president.

Obama has issued at least 32 legislative fixes to the Affordable Care Act, softened laws against illegal immigration, and stripped the work requirement from President Clinton’s welfare reform—all with the stroke of his pen. In 2012, perhaps emboldened by the apparent inability of Congress to stop him, Obama declared the United States Senate to be in recess in order to install three nominees on the National Labor Relations Board.

The Supreme Court recently curbed Obama’s ability to circumvent Congress, and now Boehner is readying a lawsuit to do the same. On June 26, 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Obama had violated the Constitution by naming those three nominees to the NLRB.

On the same day the Supreme Court invalidated Obama’s recess appointments, he doubled down on his vision of executive authority by flippantly dismissing Boehner’s lawsuit. “So sue me,” the president told reporters when asked about the suit. Fortunately, Boehner has elected to ignore this display of petulance and continue with his landmark attempt to sue the president.

While Obama and his cheerleaders in the media sneer at the notion of executive overreach, noted constitutional scholar and George Washington Law School Professor Jonathan Turley believes Boehner’s suit could prevail. “I think there is a case against the president for exceeding his authority…I happen to agree with the president on many of his priorities and policies, but as I testified in Congress, I think that he has crossed the constitutional line,” Turley told MSNBC the day Boehner announced his suit.

“When the president went to Congress and said he would go it alone, it obviously raises a concern,” Turley added. “There’s no license for going it alone in our system, and what he’s done is very problematic. He has shifted $454 million of the ACA from appropriated purpose to another purpose. He’s told agencies not to enforce some laws, like immigration laws. He has effectively rewritten laws through the active interpretation that I find very problematic. While I happen to agree with him, I voted for him, I think this is a problem.”

This from a supporter of President Obama, yet!

While Professor Turley has identified a serious constitutional problem, David Rivkin and Professor Elizabeth Price Foley, the legal masterminds behind the suit, say they believe that the lawsuit has precedent.

They point to a pivotal case brought by five Colorado legislators who sought the ability to challenge a state constitutional amendment in federal court. The case, Kerr v. Hickenlooper, was brought before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals this year and decided in favor of the legislators and their ability to challenge the legality of the executive branch. This, Rivkin and Foley argue, should worry Obama supporters who scoff at Boehner’s impending legal challenge.

Rivkin and Foley also point to Raines v. Byrd, a 1977 Supreme Court decision. In that ruling, the justices held that a prior case before the high court

namely Coleman v. Miller,

… “stood for the proposition that legislators whose votes would have been sufficient to defeat…a specific legislative act have standing to sue if that legislative action goes into effect (or does not go into effect), on the ground that their votes have been completely nullified.”

This, although Raines v. Byrd found that the legislators in that specific case did not have standing.

Memo to White House Counsel’s Office: Boehner and his colleagues in the House can easily argue that the president’s unilateral rewrite of sections of the Affordable Care Act has essentially nullified the votes cast in the House of Representatives to pass the bill.

“Professor Foley and I believe that, consistent with the existing case law, the House of Representatives would be able to gain standing to challenge a number of President Obama’s unconstitutional suspensions of law, which have nullified the House of Representatives’ legislative authority, thereby inflicting institutional injury on it,” Rivkin told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.

He continued: “A lawsuit challenging anyone of these actions by the President and that meets the other three elements of our four-part test — explicit legislative authorization, no private plaintiff available and no proportionate political ‘self-help’ available — would have an excellent chance of success.”

Of course, nobody can tell how the Supreme Court will rule. But I would hope that the Court will see things as Rivkin and Foley have. And Coleman v. Miller, decided by the Supreme Court in the past and interpreted in Raines v. Byrd, seems to make it a reasonable hope.

Boehner will soon submit a resolution to the House of Representatives stating that the president has failed to faithfully execute the law. The Speaker contends that Congress — and by extension the American people — have been harmed by Obama’s unilateral decision to rewrite, ignore or modify laws as he sees fit. And if Obama can act lawlessly and bypass Congress now, the precedent has been set for a Republican president to do the same in future years.

Boehner’s lawsuit is no mere political stunt. Rivkin and Foley have provided a strong legal framework for Boehner to succeed in his lawsuit on the merits. And it will be interesting to see if Obama realizes this and offers a legal defense for unilateral actions, or remains stubbornly dismissive of Boehner and his efforts.

I could not have said it better myself, so I simply repost it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The right to free contraception?

The opponents of the Supreme Court's decision in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case seem to think that there is this tremendous need for women to have totally free access to contraception. Apparently contraception is so important to women's health that no woman should be forced to pay even a small amount (since I have seen a statement that the contraceptives in question are available for as low as $9 a month!) I cannot see why contraception is more important than anti-hypertensives, anti-diabetic drugs, etc. Nobody seems to think those need be provided free.

If the regulation in question required all drugs to be provided free, and Hobby Lobby were simply asking for exclusion of the four methods of contraception to which they object, this might be more rightly a question of women's rights vs. religious freedom, but it is not. The Obama administration has somehow declared that women's rights include the right to free contraception, and if men do not have the right to free Viagra, it seems if anything that the administration is being discriminatory. But apparently it is all right to discriminate against men, as it is not to discriminate against women.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Boehner's lawsuit

It is interesting to see that Democrats are going out of their way to paint Speaker John Boehner's lawsuit against President Obama as frivolous and even “nutty.” They point to the large number of executive orders that were issued by Republican presidents; Paul Begala, who used the “nutty” term, even points to Speaker Boehner's acquiescence in President George W. Bush's executive orders and holds them out as evidence that Boehner is a hypocrite, objecting to executive orders only if a Democratic president issues them.

But there are executive orders and executive orders. The point is that nobody, not even John Boehner, is challenging a President's right to issue executive orders. If a President issues an order that is in accordance with the President's Constitutional powers and Congress-passed legislation, this is just fine. It is when he issues executive orders which contravene legislation which the Congress has passed and a President has signed into law, then he has violated his Constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” (Art. II, Sec. 3, clause 5 of the Constitution)

Some might argue that the House of Representatives should instead resort to the impeachmment power which the Constitution grants to the House. The problem is that all of us know that no Democrat, and there are 55 of them, in the Senate will vote for conviction. Sixty-seven Senatorial votes are needed, and even if all Republicans vote to convict, there are only forty-five. We have seen, in the case of Bill Clinton, that the impeachment power is quite toothless. Politics trumps the Constitution in the impeachment proceedings. Bill Clinton lied before a Grand Jury, and could not be convicted. So John Boehner needs to go a different route. But how the courts will rule is uncertain. This technique has not, to my knowledge, been tried before. And even if a court finds for Boehner, will President Obama defy it? I suspect he will. But all we can do is wait and see how this plays out.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Obama's feud with Congressional Republicans

A column by Peter Berkowitz is a great answer to those “stop suing and start legislating” columns that I’ve been seeing recently, and so it is useful to quote it.

Sometimes a speech is just a speech. And sometimes it furnishes a window on a politician’s temperament and provides clarifying insight into how he understands political opponents, his office, and fellow citizens.

In a prepared statement delivered last Monday in the Rose Garden, a frustrated President Obama belittled House Republicans for blocking efforts to reform U.S. immigration policies, promised aggressive executive action in the face of congressional inaction and, in vowing to accomplish the nation’s business, casually assumed the people’s trust.

His apparent aim was to show that he is in charge and relevant. Yet far from serving to reassure an anxious public that the country was in capable hands, the president’s Rose Garden remarks showcased the very qualities of mind and character that have done so much to cast doubt on his ability to keep the rousing promise that he made in 2008: to bring the country together by finding pragmatic solutions to the problems that beset the nation.

The president’s formal statement on immigration reform illustrated his penchant for reducing conservative opposition to his policies to the selfish quest for partisan political advantage. Conservatives, in his account, are engaged in nothing but “obstruction” — not only to his preferred reforms but to all reform. Portraying House Republicans as implacable foes who have placed stymieing him ahead of helping the nation, the president ruled out any possibility that viewpoints other than his own can be sincerely held.

Actually, it seems that most “progressives” seem to think that no viewpoints other than their own can be sincerely held. It's not just Pres. Obama; if you look at Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's recent Supreme Court dissents, it seems she believes the same thing.

Obama also patted himself on the back for exercising restraint in having “held off on pressuring” presumably reasonable GOP leaders “for a long time to give Speaker Boehner the space he needed to get his fellow Republicans on board.”

But the Republican leadership has failed, according to the president, because they’re cowards. He managed to condemn all Republicans — the reasonable and unreasonable ones — by declaring that reasonable Republicans “have proven again and again that they're unwilling to stand up to the Tea Party in order to do what's best for the country.”

Of course the president is a spectator by choice to the drama taking place within Congress. Other options are available to him. He might have, for example, reached out to Tea Party-affiliated Republicans by inviting them to the White House one by one, or in small groups, for face-to-face conversations in which, in the search for common ground, he could press his case and they theirs.

In the Rose Garden, Obama indicated why he considers such an option out of the question: Opponents of the Senate immigration bill, he believes, have no legitimate argument while the legislation he champions is, in his eyes, constructive beyond any reasonable doubt.

But is that true?

Critics affiliated with the Tea Party contend that last year’s Senate bill — passed with Republican support and embraced by the president — neglects border security and therefore won’t really do anything to stem the flow of illegal immigration. They also say that the legislation cedes extensive authority to unelected and unaccountable officials; unfairly awards lawbreakers while disadvantaging immigrants who follow lawful procedures; is unwieldy and all but impossible to understand; will prove much more costly than the price tag affixed to it; and grants amnesty without making adequate provision for providing the education that millions of new citizens will need to exercise their rights responsibly.

Some of these arguments may be overstated or on balance wrong. None, though, as the president determinedly suggests, are simply unreasonable.

In addition, the president’s Rose Garden statement displays a disdain for the separation of powers. To show his determination to act on behalf of the public despite Congress’s unwillingness or inability to pass comprehensive legislation, the former University of Chicago professor of constitutional law declared that he takes “executive action only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing.”

But the Constitution does not vest the president with the power to take executive action just because of congressional inaction, no matter how strongly he disapproves. The Constitution certainly does not vest him with the power to rewrite old laws or write new ones, and that’s true regardless of how urgently he believes the nation needs them.

Nor does the Constitution leave the president powerless in the present circumstances. It gives him extraordinary means — vastly greater than those of any other citizen — to converse with members of Congress, to cajole and twist arms, and to find ways to work with the nation’s lawmakers — particularly skeptical Republicans — to take action that both sides can see as better than the status quo. However, this vital power, the power of persuasion that comes with occupying the White House, is one the president has truculently refused to exercise.

When he burst on the scene as a national candidate, Barack Obama inflated expectations to impossible heights, promising a fundamental transformation of America. To the extent that he swallowed his own rhetoric whole, it’s understandable that he would be frustrated at having his every initiative second-guessed or opposed by a determined minority party. But succumbing to frustration in the face of robust dissent is unbecoming of the chief executive of a liberal democracy.

The president was correct to declare in the Rose Garden that this is no time for demagoguery. And he is right that with a surge of unaccompanied children on our border we confront “an actual humanitarian crisis.” But by insisting that this “only underscores the need to drop the politics,” Obama continues to play politics. For him to demand, moreover, that now we have only one choice, which is to “fix our immigration system once and for all,” is an example of the very demagoguery he decries.

The president does have another choice. It involves an approach that is authentically liberal and democratic. In the present circumstances, instead of railing against conservatives it would be the better part of wisdom for him to announce his determination to enlist lawmakers — particularly those who have stood against him — in the fashioning of incremental reform that specifically addresses the present crisis.

The president might begin with a speech. If he wants the speech to succeed, though, he will need to do some soul-searching — and possibly consult speechwriters outside the White House cocoon — and craft it based on a revised and more reasonable understanding of his political opponents, his office, and the quality of his leadership over the last 5½ years.

But he will not do so. He seriously believes that his is the only way to see things. It is clear that he has about as much likelihood of doing this as he does of resigning the Presidency.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Telling Boehner to pass laws

Yet another person has written a post saying: “Dear Speaker Boehner: Do your job instead.” That was the actual title of a post by Sally Kohn of CNN. Of course, she is described as a “progressive activist, columnist and television commentator.” And so as far as she is concerned, President Obama is just doing his job. She does not see him as violating law after law passed by Congress and the Constitution he was sworn to “preserve, protect, and defend.” She has no problem with his executive orders, which she points out were fewer in number than those of “Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and President George W. Bush.” What she does not point out was that their executive orders were in conformity with law and the Constitution. They never issued orders directing that laws duly passed by Congress — such as our immigration laws and even the “Obamacare” law that he considers his pride and joy — not be fully enforced.

And what is most amazing is her directive to John Boehner to “pass laws to help rather than jeering from the sidelines and rooting for America to fail so you can blame it on President Obama.” John Boehner would like to “pass laws to help,” but he knows that anything his House passes will be shot down by the Senate.

Let us give an example. Kohn refers to a jobs bill that did pass the House. She of course derides it by saying,

You assert that you have passed jobs bills that President Obama and the Democratic Senate are ignoring, but frankly the word “jobs” as you use it there is questionable. Your “jobs” bills include legislation to repeal Obamacare, through which 20 million Americans now have health insurance, cut food stamps for poor Americans and reduce government regulations on fracking.

Meanwhile, President Obama proposed an actual jobs bill that would have created construction jobs to modernize our deteriorating roads and airports, provided tax credits for employers that hired returning veterans, extended unemployment benefits, which also spurs spending, and cut payroll taxes for 98% of American businesses. But that jobs bill was killed by Republican opposition in Congress.

Which approach would have actually created jobs? Clearly, Kohn thinks the second. But repealing Obamacare, in fact, would create millions of jobs, simply because employers are not now hiring people due to the onerous burden that Obamacare places on them. Reducing government regulations of fracking would create jobs in the petroleum industry. And on the other hand, extending unemployment benefits encourages people who might look for work not to. Boehner's bill would have created jobs; Obama's would not. All I can say is, Sally Kohn, you don't know what you're talking about.

Kohn wants Boehner to pass bills, but not bills that would actually help the country; she wants Boehner to pass bills like Obamacare — which she has the gall to describe as a good thing! — to hasten the president's destruction of our economy. But then, what can you expect of a “progressive activist, columnist and television commentator”?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The biggest threat to sanity in the GOP

The poll that I cited yesterday certainly had some good news. But one thing is troubling. And I do not mean the fact that Rand Paul was first; he has some hard-core supporters, mostly former supporters of his father, but they will never number enough to take the nomination. (I like some of the ideas that are subsumed by the term “libertarianism,” but the Pauls' isolationism and anti-Israel sentiments turn me off; the elder Paul also brought his libertarianism to the point of near-anarchy, though the younger seems to be rather more reasonable.)

No, I have no fear that Rand Paul will be the nominee. He will do as well as Ron Paul did in 2012, at best. What I consider the biggest threat to sanity is that apparently the Santorum/Perry/Huckabee Religious Right has settled on its candidate: Mike Huckabee, who finished in a tie for second, equal to Chris Christie's position. If there is anything that could get me to vote for a non-Republican in 2016, it would be the nomination of Huckabee (or another one of the Religious Right, but he is the leader among those). I don't mean I would vote for a Democrat such as Hillary Clinton — my vote would go to some third-party candidate. But unless the people favoring Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, etc. (who are all meritorious candidates, to be sure) coalesce behind Chris Christie, Huckabee could be nominated. And that would be a disaster.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Christie's recovery

Shortly after the tempest in a teapot that some people have termed “Bridgegate,” Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey's standing in the polls took a nosedive. The attempts to discredit him because of the actions of some overzealous underlings was taking its toll in the views of too many people. But it is clear that as people realize that the true test of what kind of President Christie will be is what he is doing as Governor of his state (and his conduct as head of the Republican Governors' Association), they are coming back into his camp. A recent poll shows Rand Paul leading with 11%, consistent with other polls that have been taken in the past couple of months, but Christie is tied for second, only one point behind. True, it's a logjam: seven candidates have at least 8% in the poll! But the fact that Christie is only one point off the lead is a sign that he's making a recovery; a month ago, another poll showed Rand Paul at 14% with Christie in a tie for sixth, at 8%, six points behind Paul.

It is clear that as people come to their senses and make their decisions based on what really matters, Chris Christie's merit will carry the day.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Is this the stupidest editorial running?

A newspaper in San Antonio, Texas, the Express-News, just ran an editorial stating:

House Speaker John Boehner is reportedly preparing legislation allowing the House to sue the president over his use of executive actions.

The president, his supporters say, has used these only because Congress has failed to act on, well, just about anything of substance. There is some evidence that the real name of the game is denying the president any victory. Pure political brinkmanship, in other words.

Separation of powers is a weighty topic that should be considered when events warrant — on NSA spying, for instance, or going to war without explicit congressional approval. We have doubts that the president's executive actions in question rise to that level.

Boehner is likely pursuing this legislation with some confidence, given the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last week that slapped the president down for use of recess appointments.

Presidents from both parties have done recess appointments. Legislators have tried to prevent these by conducting pro-forma sessions in which essentially no business is conducted.

A unanimous high court said these pro-forma sessions can't be considered recesses and that the president acted unconstitutionally. It ignored the abuse of power the pro-forma sessions represent.

Abuse of power? Apparently the Express-News believes that a president should have untrammelled right to do anything he wants, and that it is an abuse of power for the Senate to use its Constitutional power to take an equal part in the appointments process; the constitutional phrase is “advice and consent.”

What should tie all these issues together for the public is whether the president, in the face of congressional inaction, has the authority to act on his own on various issues. On nominations, on immigration and on EPA regulations, for instance.

But there's a cure that Boehner avoids. Congress could govern.

Unilaterally? The Express-News does not seem to understand that the House of Representatives and Senate are controlled by opposite parties, that anything the House passes will be turned down by a Democratic Senate, and that even if the GOP retakes the Senate in this November's elections, President Obama still has a veto power.

This lawsuit would attempt in the courts what the parties should settle at the ballot box — by winning the Senate and the White House, for instance — or by engaging in the give-and-take that real governing demands.

Harry Reid has shown that he is unwilling to “engag[e] in the give-and-take that real governing demands.” The House has passed legislation to mitigate the disaster that is Obamacare. Sen. Reid will not let it come up for a vote where it could be amended to produce some sort of compromise.

There are constitutional limits to both executive and legislative authority. But at its core, the argument for the public is really whether separation of powers means that one branch gets to infect another with its purposeful, partisan inaction.

The question prompts another: Where does the line start to sue Congress for its refusal to govern?

It is not that Congress refuses to govern. It is that anything one house of Congress might pass will be killed by the other. And it is also that we have a President who cannot see the error of his ways, and therefore would veto any legislation that might actually improve things.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Independence Day

Today is our country's 238th birthday. We can celebrate the fact that it has lasted so long. But it's not a truly happy birthday, with our country suffering abroad and at home because of the blunders, if not outright sabotage, of a president who does not have this country's best interests at heart. But we will survive the presidency of Barack Obama. We have survived a British invasion that burned our capital (and made the White House white in a move to cover the burn marks). We have survived a serious civil war that threatened to split the country in two. We have survived two World Wars that ended the existence of numerous other countries (while creating a number of new ones). And Obama's presidency is nothing compared to these.

I look forward to January 20, 2017, when Barack Obama will leave the White House. As prone as he has been to disregard the Constitution, I do not think he will blatantly disregard that part of it. While I hope that the next tenant will be Chris Christie, Scott Walker, or Jeb Bush, even Hillary Clinton would be an improvement. (This doesn't mean to be praise of her; it just means I believe she would be better, because of greater pragmatism and my belief that she would more faithfully abide by the Constitution than the current incumbent!) But meanwhile, we will have two more Independence Days with Obama in the White House. Let us hope that the American people have the strength to get through these days!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

And others agree!

Back on December 12, 2010, I posted a message entitled “My own rating of Presidents.” I thought at that time that the worst one we'd had within my lifetime was Bill Clinton. I subsequently revised my opinion, and on May 17, 2012 I posted a message here entitled “Obama: the worst of all Presidents? Perhaps not, but it's close!” At that time I thought perhaps that Jimmy Carter beat out Pres. Obama for the title of “worst in my lifetime,” both being much worse than Clinton. My opinion continued that way, and even as late as October 30, 2012, in a post entitled “Probably the best reason to support Romney,” I made the comment that “[o]nly Jimmy Carter, of those presidents whose terms of office have been within my lifetime, has been worse, I believe.” I subsequently changed my point of view. In the past year or so, Obama has beaten out Carter for “worst,” based on the fact that Carter at least tried to follow the Constitution, while Obama seems to feel that the Constitution doesn't apply to him.

The latest news is that a lot of Americans agree with me. A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University has found that 33% of the respondents ranked Obama as the worst since World War II — which is really the same time frame as my “worst in my lifetime,” since I was not quite three years old when WWII ended. This was a larger number than chose any other President. Now It is also true that George W. Bush and Richard Nixon, neither of whom I would call particularly bad, also ranked up there in this poll, but Obama was #1. And 40% now say that Bush was a better president than Obama has been so far — though an almost equal number say the reverse. An even bigger number, 45%, say we would be better off if Mitt Romney were president, and that exceeds the number who disagree by seven percentage points.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Larry Hogan for Governor of Maryland

Recently, toward the end of the two-month hiatus in my postings, there was a primary in Maryland. And one consequence of my being a Republican, a distinct minority in this state, is that while the Democrats had many, many contests from Governor down to County Council, I saw one single contest on my ballot: for Governor. For every other partisan position, there were either no candidates at all or exactly as many candidates as positions to fill, so every candidate was running unopposed. (There were contests for Board of Education and one judicial contest, but I never vote in the former and I had no knowledge of the candidates in the latter.)

For Governor, my choice became clear not long after I began investigating my options: first of all, two of the four candidates, Ron George and Charles Lollar, were hardly serious candidates, though I did get one piece of literature from George and none (until one arrived after Primary Day) from Larry Hogan, who was a serious candidate, and in fact the favored one. The real choice was between Hogan and David Craig.

Interestingly, one of the things that convinced me to vote for Hogan was Craig's campaign literature — in fact most of what convinced me to vote for Hogan was what his opponents, Craig and George, and their blogging supporters, said. One piece of Craig's literature began by proclaiming that he had a 100% rating from Right to Life and a high rating from the National Rifle Association — meaning that on both issues he was opposed to my own positions. However, I certainly have no problem voting for pro-gun, “pro-life” Republicans if they don't make these their chief issues, as I understand that I don't agree with any candidate on everything. But in Craig's case, he made these two the cornerstones of his campaign, and immediately lost me.

Other things that Craig, George, or their blogger supporters said turned me off as well, and turned me to a strong Hogan supporter. Hogan was Appointments Secretary in Governor Bob Ehrlich's administration, and he was criticized for daring to put (gasp!) Democrats in some appointed positions. Well, this being a Democratic-majority state, any Republican Governor is going to accomplish nothing if he refuses to accommodate some of the Democrats' wishes. Giving them a role in his administration was a good thing, as long as he generally pushed a Republican program, which he did.

Well, it seems that most Republicans agreed with me (well, not most, but certainly more than there were Craig, George, or Lollar supporters individually), so Larry Hogan is the nominee, and has my support even more strongly for November than in the primary, though in this Democratic state, I realize he is definitely an underdog against Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the Democratic nominee. Brown won the Democratic primary even more decisively than Hogan did the Republican primary, receiving as many votes as his two significant opponents, Doug Gansler and Heather Mizeur, combined. Of course, Brown has going for him some of the same things that Barack Obama did in getting the Presidency: both are offspring of black fathers and white mothers, raised in white (or at least not black) neighborhoods, who became identified as black when they set up their political bases in black areas. I do have to say, however, that Anthony Brown is better-qualified to be Governor than was Obama to be president in 2008; eight years as Lieutenant Governor probably gave him some ideas of how a Governor can do his job.

My gripe with Brown does not concern his competence, however. He has been Martin O'Malley's Lieutenant Governor, and his entire campaign so far has made it clear that he intends to continue O'Malley's policies, which are in my mind mistaken. For example, one of O'Malley's first moves on becoming Governor was to raise the State sales tax 20%. He has pushed through things like a State version of the DREAM Act; although one of those things he pushed (legalizing gay marriage) I support, most of them are moves in the wrong direction. We need to change, and Hogan is the only candidate who even wants to change things. Thus Larry Hogan is my candidate for Governor.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

I'm back! And the recent Supreme Court decisions

It's been a two-month hiatus in my posts — I have been grappling with some medical issues and decided to devote my efforts elsewhere. My condition has not gotten better, but the news I heard today is encouraging enough that I can resume a few other activities that I have put aside.

I am very happy over three decisions that the Supreme Court announced in the past few days. National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning is an amazing sight. Even the two Justices that President Obama appointed, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, agreed that he had gone beyond the bounds of the Constitution. This decision was 9-0, unanimous! Even beyond the rebuke to President Obama, this is a noteworthy decision, because it defines the “recess appointment” power, which had never been treated in any Supreme Court case. The decision did not go as far as some conservatives wanted — they wanted it to restrict the power to filling vacancies that actually happened when the Senate was not in session — but the Court's ruling that when the Senate says it is in session, and is able to conduct business according to its own rules, the President cannot declare them to be in recess and make appointments speaks volumes.

The other two decisions were not unanimous, but 5-4, with all the Republican-appointed Justices in the majority and the Democratic-appointed ones in dissent. Jeffrey Toobin of CNN is right when he says:

Elections have consequences.

That's the message of Monday's rulings from the Supreme Court -- and, indeed, all decisions by nine justices whose ideologies reflect, with considerable precision, the views of the presidents who appointed them. Both the Hobby Lobby case -- which concerned the intersection of women's rights, religious freedom, and Obamacare -- and the Harris case, about the future of labor unions, were 5-4 decisions.

Five Republican appointees for the owners of Hobby Lobby (and against the unions). Four Democratic appointees for the Obama administration (and for the unions). Notably, too, three of those four Democratic appointees are women. (Of 112 people who have served on the Supreme Court, four have been women.)

As in so many cases before the justices, the legal issues in these cases were as much political as legal. Indeed, just like politicians, the justices try to frame the questions before them in as politically appealing ways as they can.

In Hobby Lobby, the issue was whether a privately held company, whose owners have strong religious convictions against abortion, can refuse to pay for certain forms of birth control which they regard as immoral. “The owners of many closely held corporations could not in good conscience provide such coverage,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority, and to force them to do so would violate federal law.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for the dissenters, framed the issue in an entirely different way. She and her colleagues saw Hobby Lobby as asking for -- and receiving -- a license from the court to discriminate against women. What, she asked, about companies that have religious objections to treating African-Americans equally -- or gay people? And, she asks, “how does the Court divine which religious beliefs are worthy of accommodation, and which are not?”

The same kind of conflict undergirds the union case. In that case, home care workers who are covered by a union contract demanded the freedom to refuse to pay dues -- which the conservative majority granted them. Is this, as Alito (again) held, simply a matter of preserving the freedom of speech rights of these employees? Or is it, as the dissenters, led by Justice Elena Kagan, said, a vehicle to starve unions of the dollars they need to survive -- and negotiate precisely these kinds of contracts?

But no one should be misled. When it comes to the most fundamental issues before the court, the most important factor is not the legal arguments but the identity of the judges -- and the presidents who appointed them. Republicans vote one way, Democrats another. It's true in Congress, and it's true on the other side of First Street as well -- in the marble temple of the United States Supreme Court.

Now I think Toobin favors the Democratic position. But I am very glad, based on these two decisions, to say that I am a Republican. The Hobby Lobby decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., was a blow for religious freedom, and while I would not, in my own religion, see anything wrong with providing contraceptive drugs, the fact that the owners of Hobby Lobby had strong religious beliefs that precluded this must be honored. Another day, it might be anti-circumcision laws, for example, which had been favored by many people in some parts of California. So I want to honor everyone's religous freedom rights, and this decision was a step in this direction. It said that you do not give up your religious freedom by forming a corporation, and one thing Toobin does not mention is that this decision also highlights the anti-corporate attitudes in the Democratic Party.

The other case is about another issue dear to my heart: labor unions' inordinate power. While I wish the Court had gone further and reversed its earlier Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision, in Harris v. Quinn the Court did rein in the power to collect dues from people who choose not to join. If Justice Kagan thinks it is “a vehicle to starve unions of the dollars they need to survive,” who else besides a labor union has the right to demand “the dollars they need to survive” of people who do not believe they are being served in any way by them?