An “independent”, agenda-setting bureaucracy 10/24/16

There is an op-ed article today in the WSJ, unfortunately behind the firewall, that unwittingly lays bare the unconstitutionality of the regulatory state as it currently exists in the US. The article was written by former Chairman of the SEC, Arthur Levitt Jr., and is ostensibly a critique of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call for current SEC Chairman Mary Jo White to be removed for failing to implement a “rule” regarding corporate political donations that Warren favors. Levitt correctly calls out Warren for improperly trying to influence the SEC’s “agenda”, but his reasoning reveals the mindset of these unelected bureaucrats and how shamelessly unmoored from the Constitution the regulatory state has become.

Levitt says:

No rule—no matter how merited—is worth the damage that would be caused if the SEC were compelled by political intimidation to write it. That’s not how good regulations emerge, and what’s worse, it would poison the regulatory process for all time. The moment the SEC loses its ability to set its own agenda is the moment it loses its ability to protect the investing public.

The SEC does not operate as a pass-through entity for Congress, merely following congressional direction. Rather, it’s an independent agency, and its chairman is empowered to set the agenda for the agency’s work. This agenda takes shape in many forms—rule makings, speeches and enforcement actions—and must be set by the chairman, not Congress. This is by design.

Say what? The “agenda” of unelected bureaucrats agency “must be” set by themselves and not by the elected members of Congress? Perhaps Levitt would like to point out where in the Constitution such bureaucrats have been granted this rather awesome power. Contrary to what Levitt seems to think, that the SEC is supposed to operate as a “pass-through” entity for Congress, following its direction, is the only way it can operate that would justify its existence.

Levitt goes on to say:

That’s not to say the agency should be free from congressional oversight. Throughout its history, politicians from both parties have sought to influence its work. That’s to be expected, and a good regulator welcomes outside views, especially those coming from elected leaders who write the laws the SEC implements. Ultimately, Congress holds the power to pass laws requiring agency action; and that option is available to Sen. Warren.

But Congress must respect the SEC’s independence, and thus freedom, to focus on a fixed agenda. Once confirmed to lead the SEC, its chairman has a singular goal: To meet the agency’s mandate to protect investors, facilitate capital formation, and ensure fair and orderly markets.

Well, isn’t that generous. Good regulators should “welcome” the “outside” views of elected representatives, the very people who are actually empowered by the Constitution to write legislation.

Levitt is of course correct to inform Warren that if she wants to impose a new law, Congress has the power to do exactly that through actual legislation. But it is precisely the vaguely defined regulatory “mandate” that Levitt himself embraces which allows the likes of Warren to think that she can impose new laws without the hassle of actually going through the constitutional process.

This is an excellent example of how pervasive and shameless the undemocratic, unconstitutional mindset that typifies the regulatory bureaucracy has become.

(This link may or may not work to get the article…not sure:

The long, slow death of a Republic 7/4/15

Three years ago I contributed several pieces to a 4th of July series here at ATiM celebrating American independence. I had hoped they would provide some sense of the way I feel about the birth of America, and perhaps spark those feelings in others, especially about the Founding Fathers who made that birth not only possible at all but an actual reality. Usually when I contemplate the birth of the US on Independence Day, I am genuinely filled with a mixture of gratitude, responsibility, and pride. Gratitude to both the people who risked, and sometimes gave, their lives to make it all happen, and to Providence (to use the lingo of the Founders) for landing me in this, a singular nation with an identity grounded not just in history but in unique philosophical ideals. Responsibility to help protect the legacy that has been given to us. And pride in knowing just what it is that has made this a nation of such promise. This year, however, I feel quite different.

When Ben Franklin left Independence Hall at the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he was asked by a woman outside “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A monarchy or a republic?” Franklin replied “A republic. If you can keep it.” The implication of Franklin’s response was prophetic.

A republic is defined as “a state or nation in which the supreme power rests in all the citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives elected, directly or indirectly, by them and responsible to them.” And it is certainly true that we retain the forms, the institutional manifestations, of the Republic that Franklin and his fellow delegates created. We still have a legislative branch comprised of two elected houses of congress. We still have an executive branch headed by an elected president. We still have a judicial branch headed by a Supreme Court comprised of 9 judges, appointed by the president and approved by congress. We still have the several states, with their own constitutions and forms of government. But we no longer operate under true republican rule, nor are the people any longer committed to protecting against the things that the structure of our government was supposed to protect against. Hence while we retain the forms of a republic, we have forfeited the substance of what it means to be a republic, and have become a nation of the ruled.

In 1887 congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided to create the Interstate Commerce Commission, the first regulatory agency in the nation. Nearly 130 years later we now have countless federal agencies. And I mean literally countless. Any attempt to identify exactly how many federal agencies now exist proves fruitless. Some lists will be qualified as “major” regulatory agencies, so as to be able to provide a definitive list. (14 regulatory agencies on that one.) Others, such as Wikipedia, settle for providing “examples” (28 of them) of “independent” agencies – not to be confused with independent regulatory agencies, it reminds us – a comprehensive list, apparently, being impossible to provide. A totally different Wikipedia entry on federal agencies explains the problem:

Legislative definitions of a federal agency are varied, and even contradictory, and the official United States Government Manual offers no definition. While the Administrative Procedure Act definition of “agency” applies to most executive branch agencies, Congress may define an agency however it chooses in enabling legislation, and subsequent litigation, often involving the Freedom of Information Act and the Government in the Sunshine Act, further cloud attempts to enumerate a list of agencies.

And these agencies, however many there actually are, are not populated with elected representatives. They are comprised of both career bureaucrats and political appointees. They are not us.

It is certainly the case that many of these agencies don’t really exercise any real power. For example the US Women’s Bureau, enabled by Public Law 66-259; 29 U.S.C. 11-16.29, doesn’t seem to do much of anything noteworthy except provide a living for its employees. But many others exercise nearly unchecked power to make laws which are never voted on by congress. The people, us, have virtually no say over these laws. The administrative state rules us. We do not rule it.

Defenders of the administrative state will say that is bunk. They will say that we have authorized these agencies through congress, and that they are merely enforcing laws that congress has written. They will also say that the agencies are not making law, but rather establishing “rules” that define their enforcement policies. That is indeed how the administrative state justifies its existence under a constitution that neither contemplates nor authorizes the existence of a law-making bureaucracy. But reality on the ground shows that it is that justification that is bunk.

An example. The Environmental Protection Agency is right now promulgating “rules” regulating carbon dioxide emissions. It does so ostensibly under the authority of the Clean Air Act which requires regulation of “air pollutants”. The Clean Air Act was written and passed in 1963. For over 40 years no one, not the original authors of the act, not any subsequent congress, not “the people”, not even the EPA itself thought of carbon dioxide as an “air pollutant”. Which is not a surprise at all. Pollution is defined as “the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause adverse change.” But carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas the presence of which is vital to life on earth. It is naturally produced by all living beings that have lungs, through the simple act of breathing. It is absorbed by plants during photosynthesis. It is, again, essential to the existence of life on earth.

But due to the rise of “climate change” alarmism, carbon dioxide has now been classified by he EPA as an “air pollutant”. There was no vote. No congressional law. No popular referendum. In fact it wasn’t even the EPA itself that originally designated it as a air pollutant under its authority. It was sued by 11 states which claimed the the Clean Air Act required the EPA to regulate carbon emissions, and despite losing in the lower courts, by a 5-4 vote the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, forcing the EPA into regulation. Of course, under a new administration that promotes climate alarmism, the EPA has embraced its newfound ability to write legislation regulating carbon. But it is perfectly clear that it is, in fact, writing legislation, not simply enforcing existing law. President Obama essentially ended any pretense to the contrary when he demanded that congress either pass carbon related climate change legislation or face the threat of him doing it unilaterally via the EPA. Which he has now done. One doesn’t ask for new legislation to enforce if one thinks that it already exists and needs to be enforced. The notion that Obama is just enforcing existing law is an obvious ruse.

That is just one particularly infamous example, but this is how the administrative state routinely operates, on big issues and small, constantly writing and re-writing the “rules” to impose whatever desires it currently might have, regardless of whether or not the law itself has changed, and often precisely because the law hasn’t been changed. There are so many regulatory actions that it is impossible for the average citizen to have any idea what his government is doing. The Federal Register publishes between 2,500 and 4,500 new “rules” every single year. The effects of these regulations, laws really, permeates every area of American life. There is not an industry in existence that is left untouched by the federal bureaucracy. Even the most basic and simple of our daily actions are governed by regulatory “rules”.

In Federalist 62 James Madison wrote:

It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.

The federal bureaucracy fails on both fronts. Not only is it making laws so voluminous and incoherent that they cannot be read or understood (or even known, to be honest) by the people, but they aren’t even made by men of their own choice. It would be easy to blame this on the institutions of government itself, and certainly there is blame to be laid there. Presidents have routinely expanded executive power through the creative use of the federal bureaucracy. Congress could stop it if wanted to by simply passing laws eliminating the agencies, but instead it does the opposite, not only creating more agencies but writing deliberately vague legislation that invites regulatory agencies to fill in the blanks with its own will. And the Supreme Court has long since ceased apply the law or constitution, choosing instead to rule based on political preferences.

But the real fault lies in we the people. It was the people that elected Franklin Roosevelt 4 times despite his expansive and unconstitutional use and abuse of the federal regulatory bureaucracy to do things that congress would not do. It is the people that elected Barack Obama twice, despite his open contempt for congress’ role as the voice of the people, proclaiming “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” It is the people that elected a congress that thinks that knowing what is in legislation is what comes after having passed it. Franklin’s cynicism about the people was well founded. He gave us a Republic and we have frittered it away.

On this Fourth of July, our Independence Day, it might be useful to read through the Declaration of Independence, and remember what its purpose was. It was not merely a declaration of America’s independence from Britain, but it was also a justification for the Declaration itself. While the first few lines are the most remembered from grade school civics lessons, the body of the document is comprised largely of a list of transgressions that King George III was said to have rained down upon the colonists, compelling them to revolt. It is worth noting one of them in particular.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

A better description of the modern regulatory state has never been written. It is high time we took Jefferson’s lead and declare our independence from it.

If It Saves One Life

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  I doubt any of the rest of you are interested in this phenomenon but I’ve found it to be very true in my own experience.  Once tragedy strikes, especially one we believe could have been prevented, we tend to change our minds about numerous things.  That old saying “if it saves one life it’s worth it”, which the guy quoted below actually says at the end of his testimony, and most of us know is not a very legitimate tool to use to bring about change, suddenly has meaning.

When I think back to the Health Care debate and why it was so important to me, Daniel’s story about his sister’s death, matched my own perception of that debate at the time because of my niece’s death.  During the years I fought for health care reform I met hundreds of people whose stories were similar to my own.  And honestly, they weren’t all hot-headed progressives (and I’m not either although I do get hot-headed about health care inefficiencies).  Most of them were simply hard working Americans who had a terrible story to tell about a health care system that had failed.

I think this is one of the reasons so many of the provisions in the ACA are popular while the bill itself isn’t.  Some of us can imagine what it would be like to not have these new regulations or know someone who is benefiting from them now.  And so even though the bill is a mess in so many ways, they’re grateful for it in other ways.  It’s interesting to me that the polling is so skewed.

Anyway, my point really is just that while I really am not impressed with the bill that became the ACA, either during it’s development or now, I still can’t help but be grateful that someone elses family won’t have to suffer the same terrible loss that we suffered.  That brings it down to the most personal level which is exactly what Daniels is talking about.  This is when, right or wrong, people look to their government for help…………………most of us don’t really have anywhere else to go to find the same kind of resolution to an injustice.  If the ACA had been in effect at the end of 2007 chances are very likely my niece would be alive today………………that’s a really life altering scenario to think about.

There’s a part of me that wishes things were different because I know it’s not necessarily fair to the rest of you who make it through life without this kind of event or are able to separate your logical and principled selves from needing or desiring any kind of assistance yourself.  The idea that a man like Daniel, could now be attempting to influence a debate about background checks tells me all I need to know about reality.

WASHINGTON — Elvin Daniel, 56, is a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association, an avid hunter and a self-described “constitutional conservative” from a small town in Illinois. He became an unlikely witness for the Democrats on Wednesday at the first-ever Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence against women.

Daniel choked back tears at the hearing as he recounted the story of his sister, Zina, who was shot and killed by her estranged ex-husband in 2012. After her ex slashed her tires and physically threatened her, Zina had obtained a restraining order against him, which should have prohibited him under federal law from buying a gun. But he was able to purchase a gun online, where private sellers are not required to conduct background checks.

“Now I’m helping to care for my two nieces who lost their mother and who will have to grow up without her,” Daniel told the committee. “I’m here today for Zina and for the stories like Zina’s that happen every day because of the serious gap in our gun laws that continue to put women’s lives in danger.”

American women account for 84 percent of all female gun victims in the developed world, and more than a quarter of female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by an intimate partner.

The two bills being considered in the Senate, introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), would strengthen federal gun prohibitions for convicted domestic abusers and those deemed by a judge to be a physical threat to a woman. Klobuchar’s bill would include physically abusive dating partners and convicted stalkers in the category of persons who are prohibited from buying or possessing a gun. Blumenthal’s bill would ban guns for those who have been issued a temporary restraining order by a judge for domestic violence.

All the provisions being discussed are supported by a majority of Americans, according to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll. But gun limits are difficult for Congress to pass, even when they are broadly supported by voters, due to the strong opposition of the well-funded and well-organized gun rights lobby. A popular bill that would have closed gaping holes in the federal background checks system fell just short last year of the 60 votes it needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.

The NRA is already fighting Klobuchar’s bill, claiming that it “manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as ‘domestic violence’ and ‘stalking’ simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearm prohibitions.”

“If we can save just one life, that would be worth everything we’re going through,” Daniel said. “And I know we can save more than one life.”

Daniel’s Testimony and More is from Huffingpost which I realize is a very partisan source.  I read about it somewhere else but now can’t find the source.  At least it’s not Reuter’s Scott…………………LOL

Here’s a little less partisan one but still not the one I was looking for.

Hump Day Craziness

I read this yesterday and it lead me to some interesting questions.  Well, they were interesting to me anyway.  I’ve been fascinated with the different factions of the Republican Party and the increased number of Libertarians who primarily seem to vote Republican when there is no Libertarian around to vote for.  This piece mentions the possible break between Evangelical Christian Republicans and conservative Catholics over the new Pope’s recent comments regarding gays and poverty.  It appears to me that Libertarians have also broken with the Christian wing of the Republican Party over many social issues.   I’ve learned from our discussions here that Libertarians seem to be for both open borders and abortion, in some cases “on demand”, even I don’t believe in either of those suggestions, so is that to the left of me?

I guess I’m wondering where all this will eventually lead.  How hard will it be for Libertarians to vote for a Republican of the evangelical sort?  Is it just a case of voting for the lesser of two evils in a Presidential election, or even a local election?  When do your votes and principles collide?  I swallowed my objections and voted for Obama because of health care, and a couple of other accomplishments I supported,  rather than third party, which is what I normally do.  A big fat wasted vote either way really.

My thoughts rambled from the original piece but I wanted you guys to see how it got me thinking.  I’m finding it somewhat interesting that I tend to vote social issues and for the preservation of things such as Social Security, Medicare and other safety net protections.  There doesn’t seem to be that much difference to me in the reality of economic policy between the parties or for that matter even foreign policy now that many conservatives seem to be more isolationist than they were in the past, but I’m guessing the Libertarians/Conservatives here don’t agree and vote their pocket book, or is it all big vs small government and the demolition of the safety net that motivates y’all.  I’m curious.  It seems to me that the differences between us are more along the lines of priorities.  I think we all value similar things but just place more weight on some than others.  Or maybe I’m delusional.

I think it is a safe bet that if Pope Francis I lives more than a few years that Catholics will soon be kicked out of the Republican Party and resume their previous status as the semi-black race. The reason is simple. Pope Francis I is on the opposite side of the political divide from Pope John Paul II. The Polish pope was a Cold Warrior who basically took the Reagan-Thatcher line on left-leaning political movements in the Third World, including in Latin America. The Argentinian Jesuit pope isn’t a communist, but he advocates for the poor without any apology.

For now, conservative American Catholics are trying to parse the distinction, but it isn’t going to work. They are not going to be able to embrace The Slum Pope who wants to “make a mess” of the established order within the Church by encouraging young people to shake up the dioceses and force them to embrace the convicts, drug addicts, and the truly impoverished.

Our country is uniquely unable to appreciate this change specifically because our right wing succeeded in categorizing the left in the Third World (and, to an extent, even in Europe) as communist in sympathy. The right assumes that the Vatican is an ally in all things, but that is no longer even close to being the case. On so-called family values, the papacy is still reliably conservative, even if it can’t be counted on anymore to demonize homosexuality. But on economic issues, the papacy is now a dedicated enemy of the Republican Party.

Before long, the right will have no choice but to break from the pope, and then their opposition will grow to a point that the alliance between Catholics and evangelicals will not hold.

There sure has been a lot of talk lately about women.  I’ve been troubled by some of it as it seems we’re going backwards in some respects.  There are too many stories to link but between all the states enacting TRAP laws, all the strange definitions of rape, the mayor of San Diego’s bizarre harassment and who has and has not shielded him from investigation, the treatment of rape victims in the military,  USC redefining rape as not rape if there is no ejaculation (my personal favorite), who is and isn’t hot enough to either run for office or other more nefarious activities, etc. etc. that I’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on.  Maybe nothing ever really changed.  I’m concerned that so much of it has become political football.  I thought this piece on the subtleties of how a woman can succeed in the financial industry was pretty troubling.

Our youngest is working in another male dominated industry and is constantly trying to determine how to proceed on her merits while most of the men are attracted to her looks.  She has a few male mentors who seem to take her seriously so she’s focusing on that and trying to stay away from the guys who want to date her and stay focused on her work.  She’s discovering it’s an interesting dynamic that has many challenges.  She faced numerous challenges as a grad student but that was nothing compared to what she’s dealing with now.

It doesn’t help when other women give this kind of advice.

New details have emerged from a bias lawsuit filed by three former employees of Merrill Lynch against the company, which alleges that during training they were instructed to read a book called “Seducing the Boys Club: Uncensored Tactics From a Woman at the Top” and emulate its advice.

The tips in the book, published by New York Magazine’s The Cut, are truly shocking. “I play on [men’s] masculine pride and natural instincts to protect the weaker sex,” says a section of the book advising women on how to get men to do their work. “Unless he is morbidly obese, there is no man on earth who won’t puff up at this sentence: Wow, you look great. Been working out?” suggests a portion on diffusing tense situations.

On a lighter note the Anthony Weiner story is in another realm altogether in my opinion.  I guess I’d like to know why his wife is standing by him but it’s none of my business really.  Otherwise it seems to be a case of “consenting adults” which doesn’t bode well for his marriage or his candidacy but otherwise is just more creepily entertaining than anything else.

I wish I could share all the “Carlos Danger” jokes my husband has come up with, they’re hysterical, and just pop out of his mouth at the most inconvenient times.  He’s a true comic and I’ve thanked my lucky stars more than once that he makes me laugh.  Anyway we’ve had a lot of fun at Anthony Weiner’s expense around here.  I saw this and couldn’t resist.

Anthony Weiner Forever

Weiner forever

Sunday Funnies and Open Thread

I’m not going to say “I told you so” but I did have the feeling this was going to happen somewhere.  I just don’t think all civic responsibilities lend themselves that well to private enterprise.

It would be interesting to uncover what is happening in other states.  Maybe it’s going better than in these three.

Because the private sector can do everything better, more efficiently, and therefore more cheaply than government, many states have outsourced their prisons to private prison companies to generate cash, and to save money in their budgets. However, three states have now dumped the largest private prison company in the U.S., due to numerous, serious issues. According to ThinkProgress, Idaho cut ties with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), while Texas closed two CCA prisons of its own, and Mississippi ended their relationship with CCA as well. All of this happened within the last month. The problems these states were seeing ranged from inhumane conditions (including the use of prison gangs, denying access to medical care, bad food and sanitation, widespread abuse by guards, and more) to financial problems, such as falsifying hours to extract more money from the government, and deliberately understaffing the prisons.


Ralph Nader says it’s not just about privacy when we consider the NSA story, it’s about privatization of what were and maybe should still be government functions.

This is a stark example of the blurring of the line between corporate and governmental functions. Booz Allen Hamilton, the company that employed Mr. Snowden, earned over $5 billion in revenues in the last fiscal year, according to The Washington Post. The Carlyle Group, the majority owner of Booz Allen Hamilton, has made nearly $2 billion on its $910 million investment in “government consulting.” It is clear that “national security” is big business.

Given the value and importance of privacy to American ideals, it is disturbing how the terms “privatization” and “private sector” are deceptively used. Many Americans have been led to believe that corporations can and will do a better job handling certain vital tasks than the government can. Such is the ideology of privatization. But in practice, there is very little evidence to prove this notion. Instead, the term “privatization” has become a clever euphemism to draw attention away from a harsh truth. Public functions are being handed over to corporations in sweetheart deals while publicly owned assets such as minerals on public lands and research development breakthroughs are being given away at bargain basement prices.

These functions and assets—which belong to or are the responsibility of the taxpayers—are being used to make an increasingly small pool of top corporate executives very wealthy. And taxpayers are left footing the cleanup bill when corporate greed does not align with the public need.


And last, I hate that Paula Deen story.  I don’t follow her cooking show or know too much about her but I have watched her a few times when my husband flips through the channels.  She always seemed like a bit of a character to me.  If what everyone’s saying is true it sounds like she made some pretty inappropriate and even racist comments and then botched the apology.  Sheesh, I grew up with people who used the “n” word which was completely cringe worthy and caused a lot of family arguments and even tears on occasion.  But, and this is a big but, there are ways and then better ways to comment or make your point.  I thought this story had a perspective we don’t see in print very often.  It’s something I think about a lot.

When the story broke, media coverage was almost tabloid-like. Not surprising, considering it was the National Enquirer that broke the story. In this day and age, when people want easily digestible bites of information rather than well-detailed and supported fact-based news, many saw the titles and nothing more. Titles such as ‘Paula Deen Admits To Using The N-Word’ and ‘Paula Deen’s Apology for Using The N-Word Is Ridiculous.’ As a result, reactions weren’t much better. As one of my colleagues said, it’s as if someone popped the lid off Ugly and let it all spill out. On Facebook, one page posted a picture of Deen with the text of the alleged comment, captioned “Racist Tw*t… Yes you are.” The ensuing comments on the post ranged from civil discussion to “racist white trash c*nt,” “C*nt fucking retard,” and “shove a stick of butter up her ass.” Really?

There were cases where people made offending remarks about her weight, about her diabetes, about being southern. People called for her to be hanged and lynched. People called her a “cracker,” a “honkey,” and other vulgar, racist words for whites. People called her a bigot, a racist, a bitch, all while calling her that most vile word you can call a woman– a c*nt. I won’t even spell it out, I find it so offensive. Since when did it become socially acceptable to skewer someone with the same type of ignorant language you are accusing them of using?


I so want to write this kind of long(ish) sentence sometimes……haha

economic cartoon

evidence comic

women comic

Let’s do something strange and use science!

It is an article of faith among those on the political left and in the media (but I repeat myself) that the Republican party has moved significantly to the right in recent years. Depending on who you are talking to and what purpose they have at the moment, the alleged radicalism of the right either began with GWB (Bush shunned the UN on Iraq!) or has actually occurred in reaction to Obama’s rise to power (those insane Tea Partiers, don’t you know). As I have mentioned, I think this alleged movement is largely a myth, and that by any objective measure both the Republican party and the politics of the nation have actually been trending to the left for pretty much nearly a century.

But that discussion got me to thinking just what kind of objective measure might there be for such a thing, and how can we go about measuring it? It is actually quite a difficult question, kind of like objectively defining pornography. What is right and left can mean all kinds of different things, and is ultimately determined relative to the point of view of the determiner himself. To someone like Noam Chomsky, Bill Clinton was probably a rightwing fascist, while to Jonah Goldberg actual fascists were in fact members of the left. So you can see how this might be a problem.

But after thinking about it, the first measure that I came up with was government spending. We can easily see what kind of things the federal government has spent money on throughout history, and so if we can allocate various federal programs as favorites of the political left or right, and see how spending priorities have changed over time, that might give us some clue as to the direction in which the government itself, if not the political parties individually, have been trending.

This site is somewhat useful for this purpose. We can look at government spending broken down into various categories like defense, education, welfare, pensions, and interest, for various years going back all the way to 1792. Further breakdowns are possible as well.

Defense spending has, of course, long been a sacred cow for Republicans. This is not to say that D’s have no interest in defense, but trying to get R’s to agree to defense cuts has been virtually an impossible task. So it seems reasonable to me to categorize defense spending as a right wing priority. How has defense spending fared since, say, 1950 to pick a year somewhat randomly? Well, in 1950 defense spending comprised 54% of the federal budget. By 1970 that had dropped slightly to 48%. By 1990 it had dropped to only half of what it was in 1950, to 27% of the total federal budget. And by 2010 it had dropped further, albeit slightly, to 25%.

Welfare spending, on the other hand, has long been a priority of Democrats. Again, this is not to say that R’s have no interest in supporting welfare spending, but I think it is fair to say that it is a higher priority for the left than the right. So how has spending on welfare programs changed over the last 60 years? In 1950 spending on welfare programs made up 3.6% of all federal spending. By 1970 it had risen to 5.2%. By 1990, it had risen to 8%, and by 2010, it had nearly doubled again to 15%. (Go here for a more detailed view of what constitutes “welfare” on this site.)

So we see that since the middle of the last century, spending on a right-wing sacred cow, defense, has steadily decreased by roughly 50%, while spending on a left-wing sacred cow, welfare, has increased by more than 400%. So is this indicative of a national politics that has moved to the left, or the right? To me the data speaks for itself.

Of course defense and welfare spending are not the only possible spending measures, and spending itself is just one possible measure of political trends. Which gets me to the real point of this post. If we were to attempt to devise a scientific (who doesn’t like science?) and objective analysis of political trends, left or right, in the nation over the last 50 to 100 years, what type of measure would you all suggest?

The Wrong Focus?

According to US Postal Service financials, in 2007 the USPS posted a net loss of $5.1 billion. In 2008 it posted a loss of $2.8 billion. In 2009 the loss was $3.8 billion. In 2010 it posted a loss of $8.5 billion. In 2011 it posted a loss of $5 billion. In the most recent quarter this year, it reported a loss of $3.2 billion, bringing this year’s total loss to $6.2 billion.

So let’s add that all up. Since 2007 the USPS has lost a total of $31.4 billion.

Now, a question for the folks of ATiM: Who should the US taxpayer be more concerned about having to support with a taxpayer funded bailout, the US Postal Service or JPM Chase?

Next up…how much have taxpayers piled into Amtrak over the last 5 years?

Cradle to Grave

From the Obama campaign: Life of Julia

I’ll be honest. This makes my stomach churn. Every one of life’s moments, made possible by the benevolence of President Obama.

Poor Julia. Obama wants her dependent on him her entire life.

Update: Apparently this has taken off. Here’s the WSJ and The Atlantic

I Recommend WaPo’s ‘Spring Cleaning’ – 10 articles for conversation starters

I liked Milbanks’ take on the Cabinet –  except for the Big Four, they don’t do anything.  The Departments may be important, but the Cabinet members are mere figureheads, he claims.  He may have exaggerated (what else is new?), but I got the thrust of it.

Big Government vs. Small Government

There’s been a number of excellent posts recently that have touched on this issue of Big Government vs. Small Government, such as Fairlington Blade’s excellent post about his children, Into the Mystery, and the comments on lmsinca’s Columbus Day Open Thread, to cite two examples. I can’t give all the other comments and posts regarding the big government/small government dichotomy the full attention they deserve, but I thought I’d touch on a few things.

To quote Fairlington: “This is one case where I came in general agreement with small government conservatives. Then I saw what effective government could do. It opened my eyes.”He wrote this about Child Find, one of the many programs happening under the IDEA. And IDEA does a lot of important stuff in regards to intervention, special education, education of children with disabilities, and course recovery for remedial students. A lot of the money small, local, rural and urban school systems has to spend on children with disabilities comes from Federal programs, such as IDEA and Title I. I think, by and large, we get a good value for those tax dollars, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Last week, I got into a bit of a tête-à-tête with a few folks over on Plumline about how, opposed to the Britain and presumably all other enlightened nations, America leaves it’s poor and disadvantaged students to rot. I argued that we did not, and cited Title I specifically, although I could have cited IDEA as well. This was insufficient, because we weren’t currently, at a national level, buying all our poor students iPads or Android tablets right now. I think that’s a kind of shifting goal post test we’re always doomed to fail. It would turn out, if the Poor Children Get a Free iPad act was law, and we were buying every disadvantaged student an iPad for home use right now, the French would be buying 32 gigabyte tablets instead of 16 gigabytes, like we were in America, so we’d still be leaving our children to rot. But I digress.

My point is that, by and large, government is always growing. It’s always doing more, if not year over year then certainly decade over decade. And it’s a rare instance where our government does fund or have it’s finger in every area of our lives. We may not do it to the level of the UK, or Greece, or Spain—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, given what such over-extension may mean, long term, to their entitlement programs.

There are all sorts of programs and entitlements that are desirable, not all of them are infinitely fundable. Sometimes, what we already have cannot be responsibly funded, much less what we have plus what we additionally want to spend. Decisions have to be made about what gets money, and whether or not we tax more aggressively, or raise user fees, or take other actions to increase revenue that will probably be fine generally (if politically suicidal), but may also be counter-productive (I give you the 1990 luxury tax). While, ideally, we’d arrive at these decisions by rational compromise amongst sober policy wonks, that’s not actually required for checks and balances to work. The “hyper-partisanship” we see in our politics also works.

In the end, I tend to agree with Fairlington Blade. Effective government is a net positive, and, in fact, much more common than some may presume. It is imperfect, and will always be so, and the more problematic those imperfections are, the more a fine-grain sandpaper is not going to sand those imperfections away. That requires a Howitzer or an A-Bomb (hello, Tea Party!). But clearly, the momentum in government is to grow (in generally positive and beneficial ways). That gives us the ADA and the IDEA and Title I and OSHA and the EPA and the DHS and Medicare Part F,G,H,I,J,K,L,M,N,O,P.

For the most part, all that the small government types can hope to do (and all that they, in fact, end up doing) is restraining the otherwise unrestrained growth of government. They are barely able to constrain it to a level that promises to maybe be manageable (should a huge pot of money fall from the sky) in the future. They have managed, perhaps, to keep down to a level where our own austerity, if and when it happens, will not be as severe as it otherwise might have been. This is not a tremendous accomplishment for those small government types. It also means that more of the growth of government has been in generally positive and beneficial directions, and hard choices have been made. We may not have a government program to universally cover all or most of the costs associated with cancer, like we do with dialysis. But we have Title I and IDEA. And we may be in a better position to keep funding Child Find because we don’t currently buy every Title I student in the country an iPad.

I’m a fan of calmness. I like sober compromise. But if it takes a lot of shouting and yelling and nuclear options to get to the point where we fund a Title I over No Child Without an iPad, then that’s what it takes. We’ve picked the better of those two noble programs, and perhaps the one best left to the government, over the one best left to private charity and non-profits. That looks like hyper-partisanship. It sounds like hyper-partisanship. It means that IDEA does not have to be scuttled in 5 years due to unavoidable austerity. At least, that’s how it appears to me.

I don’t have time to track it backwards, but the same argument can be made for the tax the rich crowd. That is, they don’t tend to win the revenue argument all that much, so though they may sounds like class warriors, or hyper-partisans, they’re mostly just gate keepers ensuring that our government continues to collect at least some of the money it spends every year. Like the Tea Partiers, the Tax The Richers are engaged in a pitched battle to avoid crippling austerity measures. They really share many common goals, though it might not seem that way, when they’re busy fighting.

I mentioned I’d get back to the net value we get from IDEA, Title I, etc., and I will. First, these are programs that benefit our children—and they really do. In our school system, the Title I schools are well-equipped. The richer schools are more poorly equipped, because the funding isn’t there to buy them new equipment (and we can’t go get in debt to China to make-up the shortfalls in our yearly budget). I think they are consistent with the values of our nation overall (whatever that means) in that we value our children, we value our education, and we believe everybody can make a difference and contribute. But these programs just don’t fund specific classes or buy equipment. They provide an infrastructure to integrate national resources, to diffuse best practices is child identification, special education, remediation and course recovery to disparate school systems all across the country, and create efficiencies (yes, that’s right, efficiencies) that benefit every school system that participates, where there would be tremendous duplication of effort and resources (and random application of best practices) if every system or, worse, every school, tried to manage and administer and fund these programs in isolation.

There is also a great value in that these programs really help kids. And help parents. They help parents take care of and educate their children better than most parents could ever manage in a vacuum, often freeing up the parents to be productive and contributive (thus, recapturing some tax revenue) where they otherwise might not. And they help the kids become more productive and contributive members of society. No, it doesn’t keep all the bad kids out of prison or make every kid with special needs into a future MBA—but it does do those things. These programs do it to a degree where I think it’s a net benefit, financially and practically, to society at large, and at worse it would be a wash—a wash that includes a few less kids in prison, a few less kids in gangs, a few less people murdered, and a few more kids going on to college instead of dropping out in high school. And a few more parents able to hold down jobs, and a few more parents able to raise self-supporting and self-sustaining kids.

Still, I think it’s a mistake to consider effective government programs as purely the result of sober compromise or unanimity in purpose. If a program is worth it, it will probably come back and try again. And try again. And try again. And maybe it’ll get a little better each time, or a little more efficient, or find a way to lower the price tag. It may feel, depending on which side your own, that these people are crazy, and that this is horrible, and these people want children to die and poor people to starve or to chase all the rich people out of the country with confiscatory taxes . . . in my opinion, they are, in fact, checking and balancing. And checking again.

Gridlock and hyper-partisanship? That’s the combustion of fuel and air in the engine of democracy. When you have an agenda, that’s a pain in the ass. But when eventually get the next IDEA or Title I, it will almost certainly be more sustainable. It will be the better choice of the 5 other perfectly good choices that money could have gone to. Will it be perfect? No. But, as Winston Churchill said himself, “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried”.

I was a big fan of Bush’s broad outline for Social Security Reform (not really privatization), as is probably well-known by most of you. But it didn’t approach ever becoming a reality, as many Republicans and pretty much all Democrats pulled out all the stops to kill it before it had a chance to see a single sunrise. Was this hyper-partisanship? Well, if what the GOP is doing now is hyper-partisanship, I guess so. I think it was just the checks and balances of our system, imperfect though it may be, working exactly as it is supposed to. Not happy about it, but there it is.

One more note about Big Government vs. Small Government. Again, like Fairlington, I like efficient government. I like most government programs that don’t over-regulate and don’t provide perverse incentives for folks to become less or non-productive. I could imagine many more government programs that I would love to see—in an ideal world with infinite revenue. National broadband wireless, for one. I love the Internet. I love GPS. I love the Interstate system. I could go on and on. If we could pay for it, I’d like to see a lot more.

But I think we sometimes focus too much on the process. Small Government isn’t desirable in and of itself, for it’s own sake. Why would it be? Similarly, Big Government is not desirable in and of itself. Just cutting government programs to randomly cut programs serves very little purpose, just as creating government programs randomly would serve no purpose. I support the biggest government we can afford, and I support the smallest government we can get away with. Because it’s not about the process: it’s about what specifically works to accomplish specific goals. And lots of things work better at a national level, with a shared pool of funding, a certain level of centralization. Other things do not.

We shouldn’t be fighting, I don’t think, for smaller government. Or bigger government. In my opinion. But I think it’s better that we fight those proxy battles, via the Tea Party and maybe OWS, than not fight them at all.

Or, in conclusion, everybody’s awesome and I love you all. Smooch!

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