Friday, December 31, 2010

EPA Über Alles

There has been a long-standing controversy among serious people interested in the Constitution about whether or not the office of the President has become more powerful than the framers of the Constitution originally intended.  This is clearly true about the Supreme Court, the recognized dividing line on that matter being the case of Marbury vs. Madison. The growth of government in the past century has led to a constant expansion in the regulatory powers of the Executive Branch, part of which is the ability of the President to issue decrees that usually stay in place for at least the length of his administration, if not beyond.

A few years ago the brilliant scientists on the Supreme Court decided, against the objections of the Bush Administration, that the EPA has not only the power, but the duty to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars, and everywhere else. The decision was of course hailed by environmentalists and disdained by many others, and provided yet another good argument for limiting the term lengths of Supreme Court justices.  There was little disagreement on all sides that the EPA would not stop at simply regulating CO2 in cars, that it would seek to expand its power to regulate ever more aspects of American life under a more sympathetic president.

Early on in the Obama administration the EPA made noises that intended to do just that, and fast, but the subsequent negative reaction in the Congress (including Democrats in energy-producing states) and elsewhere made the agency back down temporarily.  At the time, President Obama said he wanted to see this happen, but he would prefer that it be accomplished by the action of Congress.  I think it would be safe to say that Obama doesn't feel much constrained in his actions by any antiquated notions about Congressional superiority that may have been originally intended in the Constitution.  Heading into the third year of his Presidency, Obama is clearly showing that he intends to bring about his agenda with or without the help of Congress, knowing that if the Republicans actually stiffen their spines and grow a pair, this is the only way he will be able to make that happen. The latest shot in this war is the announced intention by the EPA that it will seize control of the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and oil refineries from the state of Texas, after several years of that state's governor refusing to submit to the EPA's demands.

So now the question is, what exactly are the limits on the power of the EPA? It seems to me that the only limit at this point would be for the Congress to deny funding to the agency, short of passing new legislation that explicitly states what the agency can and can't do.  Even if there were court rulings against the EPA expanding its power, the past two years have shown us that the Obama administration feels no obligation at all to submit to federal court decisions--the lastest example being the "net neutrality" rules the FCC has announced, even though a federal court has ruled it has no such authority.  An earlier instance was the Energy Department ban on off-shore oil drilling, again in defiance of another federal court order.

Maybe this is overstating the case, but I have to wonder if we're still citizens in a constitutional republic, or are we now merely subjects in the United States of EPA.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Studio 54 President

In the 1970s, New York's Studio 54 was a nightclub that for a short time was a magical playland for people its owners thought were cool enough to allow into their exclusive den. It became famous as a place where the only rule was that there were no rules, and the only sin was to be boring. There was lots of open drug taking, barely hidden sexual encounters, and people sitting on the laps of perfect strangers.

In a few years the enterprise came crashing down like a disco Hindenburg, a mess of drug-addled mismanagement and law-breaking. After spending a little quality time with seriously uncool people like prosecutors and Treasury agents, the owners went to prison for 13 months. It's easy to think of the Studio 54 scene as more suited to ancient Rome than to the USA.

So now almost 30 years after the demise of the greatest disco that ever was, we've nearly wrapped up the first two years of a presidential administration that we were told early on was going to "change" things. Obama's presidency would be post-racial, post-partisan, transparent, scientific, and just; it would bring Americans together, heal the sick, and stop the seas from rising. The Democratic majorities in Congress vowed to work with the President to forge a new era of tranformative government and an end to corruption.

The fantasyland aspects of Obama's presidency would be amusing if his policies weren't proving to be so destructive. In a time of widespread and persistent unemployment, he has shown an appetite for high living (mostly at taxpayer expense) that is unique among Presidents, and insulting and demoralizing for struggling citizens.  He instructs us to save energy, then takes Air Force One on fuel-burning binges like a crazed Elvis in search of greasy sandwiches he had in some city somewhere that he can't remember. His first two years have seen budget deficits so huge they are barely comprehensible to the human mind; then he tells us his priority for the next two years of his term will be to cut spending. Except this week he says his priority is going to be jobs.  His foreign policy is at best cause for extreme concern, and he appears to think that the clearly growing Islamic terrorist war on the West is a bit of a problem, but nothing to get worked up about.  I could go on, but my teleprompter is stuck.

Since the November elections, Obama and his allies in Congress have gone for broke in the lame duck session, and managed to get some of what they wanted passed. There's been a bit of noise in the media about Obama as a "comeback kid," that he's back, that sort of thing.  The Republicans as usual were happy enough to oblige, many of them apparently still in denial about what the election results meant.  It may be that Obama is confident that even though the Republicans will essentially have the upper hand in Congress come January, they'll find a way to screw things up, and he'll be able to continue on his long march towards the great leftist dreams of more spending, more government, and more control.

Given that it is the Republicans who are his opposition, that may well happen. If it begins to look that way in the early months of next year, though,  I believe the anger from serious conservatives and the tea party types will reach a point where it will be obvious to even Republicans that compromising with the Democrats will be politically fatal.  If the Republicans walk the conservative line (a big if), and Obama is unable to effectively deal with that, his chances for accomplishing much more of his agenda will diminish rapidly.

So there he'll be, still the President, once the center of a great big party that was all about him, becoming more and more of an embarrassment to people who supported him in the voting booth, in the media, and in their hearts. Maybe he'll have feelings like those Studio 54 owners must have felt as they watched their wonderful dreams and beautiful parties die, killed by their own excess and stupidity.  Maybe.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Vacation Time

Charles Krauthammer is frequently sharp and insightful in his commentary, especially when his subject is the uber-jungle of foreign policy. I think he also has potential as a boxing promoter: 

Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama.

Compare this with Bill Clinton, greatest of all comeback kids, who, at a news conference a full five months after his shellacking in 1994, was reduced to plaintively protesting that "the president is relevant here." He had been so humiliatingly sidelined that he did not really recover until late 1995 when he outmaneuvered Newt Gingrich in the government-shutdown showdown.

Okay, in this corner we have Kid Obama, fresh from a shellacking and fighting mad for a comeback, facing his challengers, Crying John Boehner and his Congressional Weenies.  In secret, they come up with a deal that is despised by a large chunk of leftists, conservatives and tea partiers, and that would be impossible after the new Congress is sworn in.

I suppose there's a victory in there for somebody, but I don't know who. Obama does get to spend yet more of those billions he so loves wasting, but he's basically just admitted that the past eight years of liberal tantrums about the Bush tax cuts were horseshit. The only victory I see for Boehner is that his performance in the past month will make him a cinch for winning the part of 
Blanche DuBois in the next revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. The financial markets are whistling a hopeful tune but on a clear day anyone who cares to look can see all the way to Greece, and it's not a pretty sight.

Charles Krauthammer had a giddy spell about Obama early on but quickly regained his balance, and he's been largely unceasing in his criticism of Obama since.  I don't what's going on with him lately, but he does seem to have occasional bouts of a sort of contrarian romanticism.  Maybe it's of a piece with his love of baseball, taking joy in underdogs and so forth.  What do I know, he's the psychiatrist.  But if he keeps sounding like David Brooks, I'll have to tune him out for a while.

So now Obama's off to Hawaii to meet the family.  I suppose a few thousand of their closest friends will be there to enjoy a low-cal bacchinalia planned by Michelle.  In D.C., the Congress is finishing up whatever damage to the Republic they can yet manage to accomplish in the waning days of their terms.  Well, Merry Christmas for them!  And for those who will be returning to Washington in January, they have two more years to find ways to annoy us and ruin our lives, all with great pay and benefits.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Wizard of Uz

Every President has certain personal characteristics that become part of his public identity. For instance, think of Jimmy Carter's toothy smile, Reagan's tendency to ramble, or the odd way with English that both Bushes displayed.  These characteristics are, of course, sometimes used in taunting by a President's detractors.

To me, one of the defining things about Obama is his extreme reliance on teleprompters.  Without them, he seems lost addressing any crowd bigger than a coffeehouse poetry group.  When he is forced to speak impromptu, as in interviews or press conferences, his speech slows to short phrases, often punctuated by uh's or mangled words as he struggles to get his thoughts out of his mouth.  

Speaking off-the-cuff isn't easy for a lot of people, of course.  Obama does have any good politician's requisite ability to pose straw man arguments and avoid answering questions.  But what I've noticed most when I've read transcripts of his press conferences is how unorganized his thoughts are. This can be confusing to anyone trying to reconcile this trait with the claims many of his supporters have made about his alleged brilliance.

One area where he is direct and precise is when he expresses his disdain for his opponents.  From his "bitter and clingy" comments about middle-American voters during the campaign, to his "I don't want to hear a lot of talking [from Republicans]" during the Obamacare runup, it is clear that he has little regard for anyone who disagrees with his agenda.  Now in recent days we have this gem from his press conference about the tax rates deal:

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me use a couple of analogies. I've said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts. I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage-takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed.

It's a real stretch to compare elected Senators and Congressman engaging in legislative deliberation to "hostage takers."  Earlier in the same press conference he referred to hypothetical efforts by Republicans to obstruct his agenda as "bomb throwing."  This is a strange way for a President to talk about opponents who are taking some political risks of their own in making a deal with him (a bad deal, in my opinion).

The next few years are looking to be difficult ones for this country, domestically as well as abroad.  Some people might think it would be a good idea in times like these for a President to at least not make enemies unnecessarily, even if he can't actually make friends, so that he might have some breathing room in the event of a major crisis.  From what I've seen, though, that doesn't seem to be the sort of thought that crosses Obama's mind, and it could bring trouble for him eventually.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Wile E. Coyote Factor

Maybe it's an indication that I watched too much TV as a kid, but lately the political scene in Washington keeps reminding me of cartoon characters.  A few weeks back I formulated my Bullwinkle Factor view of the Presidency. Watching the Republicans at work in the Congress since the elections has led me to another postulate that I'm going to name in honor of the world's favorite cartoon canine.

So, to clarify -- the essential plot of every Roadrunner cartoon was to follow the ever-failing Coyote in his efforts to capture the Roadrunner, using any means he could contrive except what would work best, his natural talent as a predator. How is this like the Republicans, then?

More to the point, how is it not?  To anyone with eyes to see, the message of the voters in November was that we want the Republicans to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes and spending, and limit the growth and power of government.  I would liken this message to the Coyote's talents as a predator. If the Republicans clearly and effectively pursue these goals they will likely gain control of the Senate, and probably the White House, in 2012. Not easily accomplished, of course, but any progress in this direction can only win them more support among sane members of our population.

Anyone who has watched the Republicans in the last 20 years, of course, knows that their greatest talent is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Merely days after the election, John Boehner made noises that he was looking for a compromise with Obama on the tax rates question.  This notion was quickly slapped down by conservative opinion, Boehner backtracked, and conservative gurus such as Michael Medved assured the restless that this was an abberation, that Boehner was committed to doing the right thing.

Now here it is just weeks before Christmas, and what to our wondering eyes should appear?  The Republican leadership and the President have met in secret and hammered out a deal.  The tax rates would be extended but for only two years, and in exchange the Republicans would allow the President to spend yet more billions for another 13 months of unemployment compensation, and to raise taxes elsewhere (the estate tax).  This is the best deal that the Republicans could possibly get at this point, they tell us.

The reaction from conservatives and the tea party element has been slow at first, but it is gaining momentum.  They hate it.  This deal and other behavior from the Republican leadership is confirming their suspicions that the leadership still doesn't understand the magnitude of what happened on November 2nd.  Establishment Republicans in and out of Congress are trying to calm things down, apparently suffering the delusion that they are actually in control of events here.

What is most amazing about this is that the Democrats are within spitting distance of open revolt against the President, and not only on the question of tax rates.  At this writing the Democrats in the House have voted to not approve the compromise as it stands, and it is doubtful that there will be enough votes for it in the Senate, either.  So the Republicans may yet come out ahead in this in spite of their own efforts, as the Democrats rip each other to shreds over any perceived betrayal by Obama of their cherished leftist ideals.

Chalk it up to my youthful overexposure to television, but to me the best possible deal to be gotten here would be witnessing the President self-destruct like some malevolent alien on Star Trek, climaxing in a great explosion that leaves no trace of the trouble before.  That probably won't happen, but I do think that if the Republicans don't get their act together, we're going to see a political bloodbath in both parties come 2012.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Butt Out, Butthead

Our hero receives orders from a competing Master of the Universe, Julian Assange:

The whole chain of command who was aware of this order [spying on the UN], and approved it, must resign if the US is to be seen to be a credible nation that obeys the rule of law. The order is so serious it may well have been put to the president for approval.

Obama must answer what he knew about this illegal order and when. If he refuses to answer or there is evidence he approved of these actions, he must resign.

Aside from the amusing spectacle of a receiver of stolen documents demanding someone else resign for illegal conduct, on this point I'd say to Mr. Assange: screw you.  He's our President, not yours.  If he's going to resign it will be because the American people demand it, not some foreign couch-surfing anarchist clown.

Seriously, our President has vacations to plan, he doesn't need crap like this.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hold Your Tongue While We Grab Your Balls

Okay, so you're a new presidential administration and you've just suffered a historic defeat in your first mid-term elections. What do you do?  Tack to the center and try to find common ground with your opposition, hoping for a better outcome next time?

Apparently, if you're the Obama administration, you make a point of finding a way to piss off anyone who has a grandmother, 3-year old child, or a crotch, and might be planning to take a commercial flight in the United States.

The parade of incompetence from this administration since the November 2nd "shellacking" has been stunning.  I wish I could figure out a way to keep track on a spreadsheet or database, because the truth is that in the past few weeks I've been overwhelmed in trying to understand it all.  From the TSA crotch-grabs, WikiLeaks impotence, botched terrorist trial, floundering foreign policy, announcement of extended oil drilling bans, and on and on, to the apparent unwillingness of the President and his administration to even begin to care that they look more and more like a government operating without consent from the governed--is it really possible that they can't do anything right?

In the past day or two there has been news of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over renewing the current tax rates.  If this is evidence of some new administration pragmatism, I will be amazed.  I'm afraid that instead we're going to be witnessing the sort of Republican cave-in that has made them so well-loved by conservatives and libertarians all over the nation. We'll find out about that soon enough.

If the President and his administration continue to show themselves to be so completely incapable of governing as they have in the past month, I think the idea that this President should leave before the end of his term will become much more commonplace than it is now.

For another take see Peter Ferrara's latest.