Nuclear Politics at Brown

Secretary of State John Kerry’s international security adviser, Joseph Cirincione, was recently at Brown University to promote his boss’s work in Iran, and to attack members of the opposing party as cynical opportunists who’d risk the world’s security for a cheap political point:

The framework meets all the U.S. goals, he said. If the final agreement “is close to what the framework is, we’re in pretty good shape.” 

Politics and ideology are behind most of the opposition. Republicans do not want to give a Democratic president what some people believe “could be the most significant foreign policy achievement in over 20 years,” he said.

Nothing that I’ve read about this deal supports Cirincione’s claims, including this Mortimer Zuckerman commentary in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.  Indeed, Cirincione’s statement that “if you do not get the agreement, you can forget about reducing the nuclear dangers in the world” strikes me as completely inverted, as does his assertion about the political opportunism.

But even a mildly critical mind should flag that “most significant foreign policy achievement in over 20 years” phrase.  If Cirincione, his boss, and his boss’s boss actually believe that an agreement would be such a huge achievement, they’ve got obvious incentive to be able to proclaim that one has been reached.  As Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner put it, the administration “appears to want a deal at any cost.”  If that’s the case, the risk isn’t just in not “reducing the nuclear dangers in the world,” but actually making them much, much worse.

It’s fair to assume both sides of the domestic debate are playing politics, to some degree or another.  That being the case, I look forward to reading about an event at Brown offering the opposing view, in an article of the same size and prominence in the Providence Journal. 

Jack Reed and Political Journalism

Maybe it’s a small omission that triggered a personal peeve, or maybe it’s a glimpse of a more profound problem, but something bothered me about this item from Ted Nesi’s weekly Saturday column:

It will be nearly two years before we find out who wins the Maryland U.S. Senate seat being given up by Barbara Mikulski, but we already know one winner: Jack Reed. That’s because the retirements of both Mikulski and California’s Barbara Boxer mean come 2017 Reed will be the 7th most senior Democrat in the U.S. Senate, where seniority is the coin of the realm. It’s possible Reed could ascend even further up the ranks before long, since the terms of 74-year-old Patrick Leahy and 75-year-old Harry Reid both expire in 2016, with 81-year-old Dianne Feinstein close behind in 2018. It’s conceivable Reed, who turned 65 last fall, could someday be the most senior senator of all; if he retires at the same age as the late T.F. Green, Reed will be in the Senate until 2043.

Notice the possibility that isn’t mentioned anywhere in that blurb?

Look, we all know Rhode Island has nearly reached the point that democracy is a game of pretend.  Arguably, it’s already there for the state’s federal seats.  But shouldn’t political journalists be among those pretending?  Behaving as if a politician’s seat is permanent goes a long way toward discouraging competition even to begin.

Destructive Policies, Waning Influence

Let’s be honest.  This would be a healthy thing for the country:

 If the trend since 2010 — dropping an average of two spots a year — continues, Rhode Island will be relegated to a single House seat [in the U.S. Congress] when the 2020 U.S. Census is tabulated.

If you’ve got a state that can’t keep the population it has and to which others don’t move, it’s clearly doing something — a lot of things — wrong.

Obviously, things don’t have to be this way.  Rhode Island has the natural advantages to thrive, but the thing is… it won’t.  An hour of listening to politicians shift blame and utter falsehoods concerning energy costs, yesterday, was an instructive exercise.

They want to do what they want to do, whether for friends or for ideology, and no amount of pain for the rest of us will penetrate that personal interest.  Worse: We’ve proven unable to overcome their institutional (and probably corrupt) advantages to make the electoral system work as it should.

At least in the case of Congress, there’s a formula to force some acknowledgement of the “these boots were made for walking” vote.

It’s Supposed to Be People’s Job to Make Us Less Stupid

A first-pass post on that genius “MIT professor and Obamacare architect” Jonathan Gruber could be in the category of “imagine if a Republican consultant had said this.”

In case some of you get your news mainly from Rhode Island and/or mainstream national sources, I should explain that Gruber was deeply involved in the policy and marketing development of ObamaCare, and he’s apparently made it a regular part of his speaking engagements to point out how the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats deceived the American people to get the legislation into law.  Here’s one incident, and here’s another.

Inasmuch as the planners consider us too stupid to make decisions for our own good, they decided that they might as well leverage that stupidity to slip things into ObamaCare that would have sunk the legislation if the politicians had been forthright about them.

But a first-pass post wouldn’t get to the most egregious part of the story — namely, that there are people whose job it is to tell the rest of us what’s important in policy debates and other current events.  Where were they?

In an advanced society like ours, people can’t possibly keep up with the minutia of 1,000-page bills.  It’s presumptuous even to assume that a majority of people in a busy, diverse society can be expected to trace the economics of such bills even if they find out about their provisions.  Whole industries and professions exist to translate the news into the basic concepts that everybody can understand, in order to help us make better decisions for ourselves and for our republic.

In this case, one such industry is organized labor, which didn’t really begin grumbling about their objections until after the debate was over, probably because they expected a friendly administration to open up loopholes or exemptions for their members later.

The industry that deserves the most criticism, though, is the one whose reason for being is to inform all of us: the news media.  According to Gruber, then-Senator John Kerry (D, MA) was the one teaching him lessons in the stupidity of the American people.  That means not only that Kerry knew a majority of Americans wouldn’t understand the deceptive mechanisms in the law, but that high-level Democrats knew the news media would either (1) not understand economics any better than the average American, or (2) not report to the average American what the administration was actually trying to do.

So which is it?  To use the term of Jonathan Gruber: Are American journalists stupid or complicit?

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 46 (Congressional Debates)

Rob Paquin and Bob Plain discuss the candidates for U.S. Congress from Rhode Island (mostly by way of the issues).

Mark Zaccaria on Issues Facing the US Senate

After his campaign announcement, Republican Senatorial candidate Mark Zaccaria answered questions posed by Anchor Rising on the subjects of:

The guiding principle and vision of American foreign policy.
Where to go on Obamacare, from where we now are.
The institutional way to deal with executive overreach.
The gulf between the elites and the people, on illegal immigration.

Mark Zaccaria Announces for Senate

Mark Zaccaria: “[Y]our taxes, your food and your housing costs are all up as a result of what the Federal Government has done, and Jack Reed has voted yes for every single one of those increases, certainly during the last couple of terms. I contend that Rhode Islanders are ready to vote no, and it’s about high time.

But they have to have a choice to be able to do that, to be able to vote for better monetary policy, or smaller government that costs less, so that it takes less money out of your pockets. You have to have that alternative on the ballot. I hope to be the face of that message to the hard-working, tax-paying men and women of Rhode Island during this campaign.

There is another way, folks. We can do that. And I will be making that point, to anyone who will listen to me, every day between now and the fourth of November…you don’t have to vote for the guy you voted for last time. In fact, it might be better if you voted for somebody new.”

What the Republican Establishment Needs to Take Away From Eric Cantor’s Loss

GOP voters are much less likely than Democratic party voters (or Democratic party elites, for that matter) to reject economics. They thus realize that the intra-coalition deal where the establishment gets an immigration amnesty and lower wages for everyone, while the rest of the GOP gets to listen to the establishment elite posture ineffectively on other issues but never actually achieve anything, isn’t a good one.

If Wall Street/Chamber of Commerce types are interested in helping to build a stronger Republican party at the national level, their path forward is this: Invest some energy into an issue or two other than amnesty.

IRS Targeting and Unethical Whitehouse

Many readers have likely seen or heard of this, already, but it’s worth putting on the record, here.  Bradley Smith and David Keating, with the Center for Competitive Politics, have filed a complaint against several Democrat Senators who, they say, used their offices to try to press the IRS to engage in crass electoral intimidation by targeting conservative groups:

The complaint documents how the senators improperly interfered with IRS adjudications to further their party’s electoral prospects. They pressured the IRS to undertake income-tax investigations of specific organizations, to find that specific organizations were in violation of the law, to reach predetermined results pertaining to pending applications by individual organizations for nonprofit status, and to adopt specific regulatory interpretations and policies to further their campaign goals.

It isn’t surprising to learn that on the list is Rhode Island’s own Sheldon Whitehouse.  It also isn’t difficult to imagine the aristocratic Senator seeking to pervert the nation’s tax agency as a campaign weapon.

In the rhetoric, the policies, and the demeanor of Democrats of Whitehouse’s ilk is the unavoidable impression that they believe they’re wiser than everybody else, and when somebody believes that about their countrymen, it’s only rational that democracy should not be permitted to move the nation in a direction that the wise ones know to be incorrect or (worse) gauche.

Akash Chougule: CBO in February, Confounding Liberals and Vindicating Conservatives

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) spent February releasing research findings that showed the flaws of progressive policies.

The Rhode Islandification of the United States

Wall Street Journal reporter David Wessel tweets the information that a record 2,999 Americans renounced their citizenship in 2013, mostly (he says) for tax reasons.

We should be clear-eyed about the fact that this is around one one-thousandth of a percent of the population (while admitting the likelihood that they account for quite a bit more of government revenue than that). Still, the stunner is the comparison to other years:

That’s a very dramatic change in the annual number of expatriates, almost like the canary in the coal mine of American hope. The dip during the election year looks like a pause to watch for signs of change.

Which makes me think of Rhode Island. On net, almost 4,000 Rhode Islanders left for other states, last year.

The Ocean State’s civic problems may be too deeply entrenched, at this point, for there to be any hope of a turnaround, but the rest of the United States should take the warning before allowing President Obama and Congress to continue moving the nation in our direction.

Best Day Ever for a Reminder of How Mainstream a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment Is

With Clay Pell Jr. announcing his 2014 campaign for Governor of Rhode Island on the same day that President Barack Obama will be delivering his 2014 state of the Union message, this may be the best day ever to remind people that Mr. Pell’s grandfather and Democratic Party legend, Senator Claiborne Pell, voted for a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution, motivated by fiscal circumstances milder than those faced by the country now…

Today, annual deficits run-up by the Federal government are much larger than the figure of $221 billion cited by Senator Pell in his explanation of his vote in favor of the 1986 balanced budget amendment. 2011 will be the third year in a row where the Federal deficit exceeds $1 trillion dollars, with no return to 1986 levels anticipated (in inflation adjusted dollars) in the next five years projected by the Office of Management and Budget.

By 1994, Senator Pell believed that the projected lowering of annual deficits to 2.3% of GDP made a balanced budget amendment unnecessary, but today, deficits are much larger than 2.3% of GDP and are larger as a percentage of GDP than they were when Senator Pell voted to send a balanced budget amendment to the states…

Believe it or not, the balanced budget amendment tradition is still alive and well in Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation. In 2011, Rhode Island Congressmen David Cicilline and James Langevin both co-sponsored a balanced budget amendment, similar to the one voted for by Senator Pell (though containing some different exceptions for when it is to be applied, and a few more items excluded from the definition of balance), although neither Congressman has signed on to a similar amendment, with multiple Democratic sponsors, introduced in the 2013 Congressional session.

Rhue Reis Announces For Congress in the Second District

Rhue Reis of North Kingstown formally announced his campaign for Rhode Island’s Second District Congressional seat yesterday afternoon. Coverage of Mr. Reis’ campaign kickoff is available from Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio

Reis is an opponent of Obamacare and says he wants a smaller federal government. Asked where he’d make cuts, he points to social programs, as well as the federal departments of Education, Energy, and Defense. On his Web site, Reis says, “The role of government must return to what I believe the Founders envisioned it to be. That is, one that is limited by the enumerated powers of the US Constitution, which leaves substantial governing responsibilities to the states.”

Andrew Augustus of WPRO (630AM)…

“I’m tired of seeing our representation in the House unable to use the simplest organizational tools to bring about cooperative efforts for the good of the nation,” said Reis…

“These career members of government have grown increasingly distant from the Constituents they’re supposed to represent. That’s because their survival in the cushy precincts of public service is far more dependent on what goes on inside the Washington Beltway”…

…and Tom Mooney of the Projo

“Mr. Langevin is so ingrained in the adversarial relationship between the political parties in Washington that the really works for his caucus’ leadership, not for his constitutents. If that’s what it means to be a professional politician, why would you hire one?”

UPDATED: Who Gets to Use Auto Dealer License Plates?

Congressman Cicilline recently had personal items stolen from his personal vehicle, one bearing used dealer license plates. Attempts to get an explanation from the Congressman have been unreturned, so we ask it again here.

RI Senator Works for Fundamental Corruption for Partisan Advantage

When Sheldon Whitehouse won his election to the U.S. Senate from Rhode Island, I was hopeful that his being such a caricature of the rich New England liberal would leave him vulnerable to future challenge from a down-to-earth regular-guy/gal candidate with common-sense conservative ideas and values. That has yet to be tested, but Whitehouse’s status as far-left commentator Rachel Maddow’s “political crush” suggests that he’s been working to make my reasoning more plausible, not less.

And now, there he is, the name that Bradley Smith plucks, in a Wall Street Journal essay, from the vast selection of the federal government, as the face for a willingness to bring fundamental political corruption to the IRS for partisan advantage:

Why is the IRS regulating political activity at all?

The answer is that many Democratic politicians and progressive activists think new rules limiting political speech by nonprofits will benefit Democrats politically. …

Nobody will admit that the goal is to hamper the political opposition. To make the case for IRS regulation of politics, these progressives, such as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) and the Campaign Legal Center, have promulgated three myths.

The irony is that, throughout the secondary-school and college courses designed to convince me that liberal policies were not only more intelligent, but also more moral, because supportive of The People, was a repeated sneer against “aristocrats.” Well, here you go, folks: an actual aristocrat who wants to make it more difficult for The People to organize in support of their own views, if their own views conflict with his.

Chafee Admin Won’t Let Rhode Islanders Keep Cancelled Health Insurance Policies That May or May Not Have Been Cancelled and May or May Not Still Exist

What does it mean if you’re barred from keeping a plan that may not exist?

The Budding Federalism of Sen. Whitehouse?

Last week, Ted Nesi interviewed RI Senator Sheldon Whitehouse about the ongoing problems with the ACA Health care rollout. Said Whitehouse, “I think it’s been a botch, and when you consider that little Rhode Island can get it right, it’s frustrating that the federal government didn’t.”

Today, Erika Niedowski reports that Senator Whitehouse, during some hearings in the Senate, remarked that it’s “‘a little nervy to be complaining that the federal government didn’t do it for you well enough’ when states could have ‘simply saddled up and done it’ themselves.”

Seems like Senator Whitehouse is implying (admitting?) that, just perhaps, smaller units of government are more effective than larger ones, even when it comes to implementing grand schemes.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 7 (Shutdown, Pensions, and More)

Andrew Morse discusses the federal shutdown and Rhode Island politics with Bob Plain for a full half hour of News 10 Wingmen.

The Deal Expected to Pass

Fund the government until January 15…extend the debt ceiling until February 7…budget conference for fiscal negotiations later this year…keep sequestration intact (from National Review Online).

About those approve/disapprove reports

The news media under President Obama has been proving that it’s not going to be very much protection against tyranny, unless it comes in a retro fascist costume from the early Twentieth Century. A man targeted by the Obama Administration as a fall-guy for Benghazi disappears into prison for a year? Not much noise. The administration drives people off federal land, even out of their homes, to prove a political point? Hardly worthy of note.

The one-sided perspective extends even to poll results about blame for the government shutdown. Tom Kludt phrases it in the terms of the media’s common wisdom: “Republicans continue to absorb the bulk of the blame.”

That’s not an accurate statement. The poll in question didn’t ask respondents to pick a side; it asked about approval and disapproval. Yes, 74% disapprove of the Republicans’ handling of the issue, but 61% disapprove of the Democrats’. Much of the difference, I’d propose, has simply to do with the skewed way in which current events are presented to the population. (How many Americans know, for example, that Republicans in the House have voted eleven times to fund the government?)

Much of it also has to do with the lack of specificity for “approval.” The “liberal” category’s view of the Democrats is comparable with the “very conservative” category’s view of the Republicans. It would be difficult for the Democrats to take any harder line, however, while many conservatives disapprove of the Republicans because of a presumed weakness and likelihood to cave.

Most people don’t desire to swim against the tide, especially when complicated subjects blend with overheated rhetoric, as in politics. It would be more accurate to say, of the poll, that Americans are blaming both sides for the shutdown, but that wouldn’t serve the political ends of the people doing the reporting.

A Patrick Kennedy glimpse of American lawmaking

Former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy gave students at Texas State University some insight into how the United States Congress works out its differences and hones bills down to well-deliberated new laws, regarding his mental-health-parity legislation:

“I called my dad and said, ‘Dad, it’s sitting in the Senate, it’s not passing, you got to call somebody.’ Of course my dad had lots of favors to call in,” he said. “He called, and Chris Dodd said: ‘I’ve got just the answer.’ ”

The mental health bill passed the Senate after it was tacked on to the federal bank bailout, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, in September 2008.

So, as Rhode Islanders may recall, the healthcare-related bill became a necessary appendage to an economy-related bill. The timing of this anecdote is especially auspicious, given Democrats’ and media’s heated insistence that it is inappropriate for House Republicans to link healthcare-related policy with budget legislation.

Kennedy also called for more civility in politics, while passing off barbs against the Bible Belt and Texas.

What Senate Democrats Have Most Recently Rejected

Six-month extension of government funding…debt limit increase through January…two year medical device tax delay…income verification for Obamacare subsidies…sequestration cut flexibility…sequester level of $967 billion (says Politico).

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 6 (Shutdown)

Justin Katz and Bob Plain talk government shutdown and extremists on 10 News Conference.

The Unfavorable Republicans

Gallup released a poll today talking about how Republicans have sunk to a new low in the favorability ratings. Now, I hate to be one of those people who simply “blame the media” for everything. At its heart, every individual and every group needs to take some accountability for its own failures and shortcomings. However, […]

The Federal Government Shuts Down the Lively Experiment

Barricades blocking the Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence, Rhode Island, offer an early lesson of what can happen when we forget that the government and the people are not the same thing.

All the GOP’s Fault?

In any standoff, doesn’t it take two to tango? And if you think it’s ridiculous to hold up the debt ceiling in order to get changes to the Affordable Care Act, let me ask this. If the Republicans simply approved the debt ceiling increase and then minutes later said, “Ok, let’s talk about changes to ACA now” what do you think would be the reaction from the Democrats? Yep, crickets. I hate horse-trading as much as anyone else but unfortunately, this is how it works.

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