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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Shocking pix prove that at Bain Capital, Romney and friends had access to at least $100 in cash

I'm shocked — shocked! — to learn that while working at a company with a two-word name, the second word of which is a synonym for "money," a young Mitt Romney had the bad taste to allow himself to be photographed touching some actual cash currency. As republished and described in the Boston Globe:

Despite the pressures at Bain Capital, Mitt Romney kept the atmosphere loose. One year, after posing for a photo for a firm brochure, the partners did another take, the second time holding $10 and $20 bills. From left, Fraser Bullock, Eric A. Kriss, Joshua Bekenstein, Mitt Romney, Coleman Andrews, Geoffrey S. Rehnert, and Robert F. White. (Provided by Bain Capital)

Mitt Romney & colleagues at Bain Capital in gag photo

Actually, if any of Bain Capital's deals ever were transacted using $10 and $20 bills, I really would be shocked.

But seriously, the Romney campaign should put this photo up on their website. If Obama wants to continue to run his 2012 reelection campaign on the notion that Obama is pro-job but anti-business despite double-digit real unemployment, that will be interesting to watch.

(Hat-tip: Karl @ Patterico's, in an interesting post about prospective Obama campaign strategies.)

Posted by Beldar at 10:12 PM in 2012 Election, Budget/economics, Obama, Politics (2011), Romney | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Federal courts refuse to hear challenge to Obama's Libyan intervention, but Congress should push back — with the power of the purse — over Obama's new Ugandan adventure

In a post about the Obama Administration's ridiculously stupid efforts to argue that the "kinetic military action" in Libya didn't trigger the War Powers Resolution and its associated reporting requirements and deadlines, I had this to say on May 21, 2011, immediately after "the day under 50 U.S.C. § 1544(b) by which Obama had to "terminate any [such] use of United States Armed Forces" if the War Powers Resolution were constitutional and enforceable:

I don't want to get into a protracted discussion on this post (or in its comments) about the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution. However, the expiration of this deadline is essentially certain to cause someone, somewhere, to jump into federal court asking for an injunction.

I am 100% certain that when that happens, there will be very technical, very tedious, and very fundamental preliminary motions. There will be challenges to standing — the right to bring suit by a particular person or entity, and/or the capacity in which that's being done. There will be challenges as to ripeness — whether this is something that has to be decided now at all, much less on an emergency injunction basis. And most of all, there will be challenges to justiciability — whether this is even the kind of dispute that the federal courts are in business to be deciding, and in particular whether this is the sort of "political question" that the federal courts are supposed to refuse to get involved in.

So as you're imagining the whole range of potential scenarios that could unfold from this — to the continuing chagrin of Barack Obama, progressive superhero who's now committed a set of unforced, imbecilic, spectacularly ironic mistakes on Libya — consider this one, because it might well happen:

Congress: Hey SCOTUS, make him stop it! Make him follow the law we passed to tell him how to do his Commander-in-Chief gig! Order those ships to come home and those planes to stop flying right now!

POTUS: No, no, SCOTUS, that's my gig alone, and neither you nor Congress can tell me how to do it.

SCOTUS: We're just not going to talk about this subject. Go away.

[Courthouse door slams closed; POTUS and Congress trudge away, grumbling and snarling at one another. Exeunt all.]

I actually think that's the single most likely scenario, if it were pressed that far by the appropriate principals — who themselves may be precisely the ones who refuse to seek judicial involvement, because Congress has an interest in leaving this entirely unresolved, too.

Today — on the very day the non-war war finally achieved the laudable (and bizarrely denied) goal of regime change via decapitation — in proceedings styled Kucinich v. Obama, it has turned out that my predictions about how the federal courts would refuse to even hear such a challenge were proved absolutely correct. From the Blog of Legal Times (link in original; hat-tip Above the Law and WSJ Law Blog):

A federal judge in Washington has dismissed a suit challenging the Obama administration's legal justification for military action against targets in Libya.

The suit, filed by a bipartisan group of congressmen in June in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, sought a ruling that the U.S. military strikes are unconstitutional without a congressional declaration of war....

Responding to the suit, the U.S. Justice Department said the claims raise political questions that federal district judges are not authorized to entertain and that the plaintiffs do not have standing to sue in the first place.

Walton agreed, ruling that the lawmakers do not have standing. He rejected the alleged injury the lawmakers claimed—that they have been deprived the ability to vote on a war declaration.

In a footnote, Walton questioned the plaintiffs’ decision to sue given legal precedent, he said, that didn't bode well for the members of Congress.

“While there may conceivably be some political benefit in suing the President and the Secretary of Defense, in light of shrinking judicial budgets, scarce judicial resources, and a heavy caseload, the Court finds it frustrating to expend time and effort adjudicating the relitigation of settled questions of law,” Walton said.

Take a step back. Pretend we don't have "Republican" and "Democrat" labels here, or even "conservative" and "liberal" labels, and that we're just looking at this solely as a test of power between the respective branches of the federal government.

Looking at it as part of that big picture, today's ruling granting the Administration's motion to dismiss made no new law at all: It didn't weigh or decide any facts at all; it didn't endorse Obama's argument that the War Powers Resolution wasn't implicated. It just announced that this handful of Congressmen lacked standing "either in their capacity as Members of the House of Representatives or because of their status as taxpayers" to challenge Obama's actions in federal court, even if the court assumed that all the facts they alleged were absolutely true.

This exact result was a predictable outcome, one that I (and many others) had in fact predicted — so predictable that the federal district judge who first heard it became rather grumpy about having to waste his time on it. (Indeed, one of the prior precedents on which Judge Walton relied was a 2002 case in which this same lead plaintiff, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, had tried to sue President George W. Bush over the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty without Congressional approval.) But is either today's court result or Kadafi's death likely to result in a new extra-legal precedent, an unenforceable but nevertheless notable practical precedent in the grand interplay of constitutional checks and balances in the 21st Century?

Naw, not so much. The mild and short-lived court scuffle between Obama and a handful of Congressmen here was just an isolated example of something we already knew:

If Congress, acting as Congress (as opposed to acting through its individual members who're trying to be litigants in court), declines to exercise the express powers granted Congress by the Constitution — chief among them, the power of the purse — to protect other express privileges and responsibilities also conferred upon Congress by the Constitution, including the exclusive power to "declare war," then we're not seeing an actual constitutional confrontation.

With the opposition to Obama's Libyan adventure, then, in Obama's silly efforts to claim the War Powers Resolution didn't really apply, in the resulting Congressional grumbling, and in this lawsuit, we've only seen a kabuki show intended to fool the easily fooled. Obama calculated that he could get away with something like the Libyan adventure — and this time, Congress has clearly let him. That is the only important take-away message.


UgandaBut as I've said here earlier this week, I do not think Congress should continue to let Obama get away with sending American ground forces into conflict in Uganda with neither Congressional approval nor even the merest hint of a shadow of a whisper of a threat (imminent or even just gathering) to significant American strategic interests. Such interests do not exist in Uganda. No, this particular frolicsome detour — which is indeed likely to become extremely "kinetic" at some times and places (since that's part of what Special Ops guys are known for, after all, and they're being sent specifically to catch and kill tyrants) — cannot possibly be justified under any theory other than that America is the world's policeman.

If the GOP and those Dems who opposed the Libyan adventure voted together, they could certainly override even a presidential veto of legislation defunding this sub-Saharan Africa adventure. And the GOP by itself, with its majority in the House, could certainly refuse to include funding for it in their next appropriations bill.

This is a confrontation that needs to be had. Even though the scale and risks and expenses of the sub-Saharan Africa adventure may be smaller than what we're doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, or even Libya, the Uganda operation pits the Executive's and the Legislature's respective responsibilities and powers against one another far more vividly: This isn't a Cold War-era "proxy war" like that conducted over Nicaragua in opposition to the Soviet Union's challenge to the Monroe Doctrine and American interests close to home. No one in Uganda is pursuing WMD capabilities or harboring and supporting terrorists; it has no oil wealth or other strategically important position or resources. It has nothing at all, in fact, except some very bad African men who are regularly and enthusiastically killing and terrorizing other Africans.

Ugandan flagIf Barack Obama wants to host a telethon to raise private contributions to help the victims, that would be peachy. If he wants to propose sanctions or other legislation, or encourage Congressional resolutions on relevant topics, or even to try to gather support from our allies and other countries whose interests are more directly involved, or who simply share our humanitarian concerns, I'll not say a word of criticism. And I am, in general, a strong supporter of a strong Executive Branch, with a great deal of practical and implied power to respond to emergencies, conduct American foreign policy, and direct the U.S. military as Commander-in-Chief both in and out of war.

But this is too much. This is genuinely unprecedented, and the practical precedent it threatens to set is a bad one. The GOP presidential candidates need to start talking about this, because it's a mark of how fundamentally flippant Barack Obama is when it comes to his execution of his Oath of Office and the Constitution. But Congress needs to push back, current electoral politics notwithstanding, because all of its members, Republican and Democrat, have an institutional duty to respect and preserve Congress' proper role in our system of checks and balances.

Posted by Beldar at 07:01 PM in Congress, Current Affairs, Foreign Policy, Global War on Terror, Law (2011), Obama, Politics (2011), SCOTUS & federal courts | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Beldar on Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan

I commend to you in its entirety this post by my friend Dafydd ab Hugh at Big Lizards — a discussion of Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan that Dafydd entitled, "Nein, nein, nein." Dafydd argues that Congress would inevitably raise a national sales tax once it got that fiscal camel's nose under the tent; that the addition of a national sales tax would encourage states and municipalities to raise their own existing sales taxes; and that our more urgent national problem is spending, while more modest tax reforms could probably suffice for the near term. He concludes:

Herman Cain is a great guy, so far as I can tell; and he can do a great service by focusing debate on what really matters right now: the existential threat posed to the United States by Barack H. Obama and the demented Democrats. He might make a good vice president; one hopes he can learn to handle a bureaucracy in time to run for the big chair again in eight years. But right now, his only trick — 9, 9, 9 — is just a catchy and clever red herring.

I reprint here, too, my own critique (slightly edited) that I left as a comment on Dafydd's post at Big Lizards:

Let's just presume for a moment that as a policy matter, Mr. Cain is correct, and that we should abandon our current federal revenue-raising system in favor of his 9-9-9 plan. Let's leave aside our objections over such matters as whether sales taxes/VATs are regressive, or whether they make it too easy for the government to raise taxes in the future. Let's join in Mr. Cain's optimistic assumptions about how the economy's better performance would make up any revenue gaps between his plan and what's currently in place. Just assume with me for a moment, in other words, that we all want the kind of reform Cain proposes, where we go to a flat tax on businesses, a flat tax on individuals, and a flat national sales tax.

And assume we set out to figure out the optimum rates for each of those three kinds of flat-rate taxes, to accomplish a Goldilocks ("just right") combination of those three, so that they produce as much revenue as the federal government now takes in. Yet those numbers must redistribute the burden of that revenue-raising in a simpler, more transparent, and more equitable way, one that also better encourages business development than our current tax code (and its maze of tax breaks and complexities). Mr. Cain's plan purports to do all of these things, if we accept it at face value.

What are the odds that the optimum number for each of these three new types of federal taxation — each very different from one another — would happen to be the very same single-digit integer?

This isn't economics. It's a gimmick. This is national economic "plan" that was obviously reverse-engineered from a catchy slogan.

Mr. Cain can't tell you why 9-9-9 would be better or worse than 8.311 - 12.897 - 5.135. No one's ever run the numbers on anything except 9-9-9 because those are the numbers that had to be accepted in order for the name to be catchy.

I'm in favor of big, bold reforms. I'm very wary of either a national sales tax or a national business VAT for the same sorts of reasons Dafydd has mentioned. But I'm not going to bother taking seriously something this gimmicky; it's not serious enough to trigger a discussion on any of the policy pros and cons of these kinds of taxation in general, because this plan is tied to rates that were picked specifically and solely because they can be easily chanted by a crowd/mob.

In tonight's GOP presidential debate from Nevada (which I recorded but didn't watch live, and which I have paused as I write this), CNN's Anderson Cooper presided over a very intentional and methodical skewering of Mr. Cain's 9-9-9 plan by every other candidate on stage. One criticism that most of the other candidates voiced — and that both Rick Perry and Mitt Romney hit particularly hard — was that taxpayers/voters would rebel against being required to pay both a state sales tax and a national sales tax.

Somehow, Cain couldn't manage to quite frame the "apples versus oranges" metaphor persuasively, although it's a perfectly valid and logical response: Mr. Cain's plan, at least if you take it at face value and accept its underlying assumptions, wouldn't change taxpayers' existing state tax burdens at all, and Cain argues that the federal taxes that his 9-9-9 plan would replace wouldn't extract any additional revenue out of the tax base, but that it would instead redistribute the same overall federal tax burden more equitably and in a way that encouraged economic growth. So I thought that particular line of attack — while probably quite effective, as perceived by many in the audience — was not terribly fair, and indeed was calculated to exploit confusion and ignorance of either federalism in general or the details of Mr. Cain's plan in particular. Probably by tomorrow Mr. Cain will have figured out how to make the "apples and oranges" metaphor work more smoothly than he did tonight, despite several attempts.

But there are plenty of other concerns and criticisms that are fair to raise, and that lots of people besides Mr. Cain's opponents also find troubling. Dafydd's point is undeniable: what's urgent is that we address current spending, then the mathematically and actuarially certain on-coming train of Baby-Boomer-driven entitlement spending. For purposes of addressing our distressing and chronic unemployment, sputtering economy, and growing stagflation, the other urgent high priority is releasing business from the crush of new Obama-era federal regulations — most of which stifle economic development with inadequate or even no benefit in return — and, of course, the slaying of the worst dragon spawned by Obama, his signature infliction upon the Republic, Obamacare. Doing those things would make for an ambitious agenda for any new Congress and POTUS to undertake before the 2014 elections. And perhaps our new president could then undertake further and more radical alteration of the tax code by gathering a mandate for in that campaign season.

Posted by Beldar at 03:13 AM in 2012 Election, Budget/economics, Politics (2011) | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Friday, October 14, 2011


I am an unapologetic hawk when it comes to protecting American interests abroad. And I define those interests broadly.

After Saddam's fall, Mumar Kadafi gave up his WMD program and permitted western inspectors to confirm that; in effect, he negotiated a parole under which he could reasonably hope to avoid a fate like Saddam's so long as he behaved himself. But early this year, when he turned heavy weapons on random city blocks filled with his own countrymen — not just those who were protesting, but those who were convenient to kill — Kadafi violated his parole.

At that point, we were confronted with (a) a genocidal scofflaw no longer even pretending to adhere to basic tenets of civilization, who (b) had a demonstrated history of chasing weapons of mass destruction, who (c) also had a demonstrated history of sponsoring successful international terrorism against America and its allies, and who (d) still had untold billions of petrodollars to spend on that goal, the accomplishment of which (e) had again become his best hope for remaining in power. No, he posed no imminent threat to the United States, but Kadafi had reemerged as the most imminent threat to acquire (or in the case of chemical and biological weapons, reacquire) and then use WMDs against America (or to feed them to terrorist groups who'd do that). The danger he posed was exactly the kind of "grave and gathering danger," even short of imminent threat to the U.S., which America showed itself determined to confront and neutralize when we deposed Saddam.

I've mocked Obama for his ridiculous mangling of the War Powers Resolution's plain terms in an attempt to insist that it was inapplicable, but I think the WPR is unconstitutional anyway, so I was only mildly critical of Obama's commitment of U.S. armed forces, without Congress' consent, to try to force Kadafi out of power. Of course I agreed that our NATO allies, especially France and Italy, ought to bear a disproportionate share of the costs since it was their short- and middle-term oil and gas supplies that were threatened by Libyan instability, and I supported coordinating our armed forces and theirs under NATO's flag. But it was disingenuous and foolish to pretend we weren't doing the most difficult and dangerous missions, or to deny that our military forces were essential prerequisites for even such limited air action as Britain and France have been able to manage. It was cosmically stupid to pretend that we weren't trying to get rid of Kadafi himself, and that we were just "protecting innocent civilians." And I'm clear-eyed about the dangers of Kadafi being replaced by something as bad or worse, but that was no longer an acceptable justification for permitting him to remain in power.

So although I have not been a fan of Obama's ridiculous lies and misrepresentations about our Libyan mission, and although I think he's bungled almost every aspect of its management, I was nevertheless ultimately supportive of that mission. I think that leaves me in a fairly modest minority of Americans, even of Republicans or conservatives.

But Uganda?


From out of nowhere — Uganda on a Friday afternoon?

If George W. Bush had purported to commit many dozens of U.S. special forces personnel to Uganda, 99% of all Democrats in America, including 100% of their elected officials, would have been screaming for Dubya's impeachment continuously, very loudly, and in perfect unison. And they would not have had a trivial argument to support impeachment, conviction, and removal from office — in sharp contrast to every other suggestion of impeachable offenses by anyone in that administration throughout its eight years of service.

America has no strategic interests in Uganda. Not even with the broadest possible definition of "strategic interests" do we have them in Uganda. This is a pure humanitarian mission, one in which we've picked winners and losers and are now enforcing that choice at the point of American bayonets. If this mission is critical for the United States, then there is no bully, no despot, whose local crimes against his own people is outside our vital strategic interests. We are indeed to be the world's policeman.

Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) is the chump of the day, having been completely snookered by the Obama Administration into speaking out in favor of this mission. A well-intentioned sucker is ultimately just a sucker, and Inhofe should certainly know better than this.

Obama seems determined to outdo Bill Clinton's foolishness in Somalia — to learn none of the lessons, and to repeat all of Clinton's deadly mistakes.

The United States House of Representatives should vote to de-fund this mission immediately and send that bill to the Senate. The GOP members of the Senate should permit no other business — refuse unanimous consent to everything — until that defunding bill is put to an up-or-down vote. The mushy and muddled support that kept Congress from ever reacting to Obama's mishandling of the Libyan adventure should not, and I think will not, save Obama from a constitutional confrontation this time. We should have it, and Obama should lose it.

Posted by Beldar at 06:08 PM in Congress, Current Affairs, History, Obama | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Beldar on Tuesday's GOP debate

Stephen Green's drunkblogging of the GOP debate was inspired tonight, although for the cultural references to Bad Lip Reading, you'll need to watch the Perry and Bachmann videos presently linked here. I posted my own mid-debate reactions as a comment at Patterico's starting here, and I'll reprint them here (slightly edited for clarity):


Congresswoman Bachmann is exceeding my expectations for her (which were very, very low), but it doesn’t matter for this primary.

Rose & Co.’s contempt for Ron Paul is palpable. They wish he were elsewhere. They clearly see themselves as having to give a turn to the crazy old uncle, whose rantings they then time to the second before interrupting and moving on. Curiously, he seems vaguely flattered by this instead of being offended.

The only person on stage who would be an interesting companion on a two-person non-campaign road trip is Newt. He’d be fascinating, and at the end of the trip I’d be glad I have my own place to go home to (and he to his).

Cain isn’t hurting himself. I think he may lock up the Veep nomination before anyone locks up the top spot — that would be novel.

Santorum has fought, and mostly mastered, a tendency to sound bitter over the fact that he’s not gaining any ground despite solid debate performances from the beginning.

Is it possible that Gov. Perry doesn’t practice for these things at all? He’s obviously nervous and ill-at-ease; he looks as though someone from Gov. Romney’s camp is administering painful electric shocks to the soles of his feet at random moments.

Rose & Co. are reflexively liberal but they’re working hard to avoid a circus, and the result is a tone and atmosphere that reflects well on the entire field. (Not what Rose & Co. intended, but I’ll settle for any happy unintended consequence.)

During the long passage with Romney over 2008 & TARP, I thought Gov. Romney had seized the moment fairly effectively. He has a terribly difficult tightrope to travel on this topic, and at the end of the day, if he were to become the nominee, there are still going to be a whole lot of conservatives who will react to his answers as being double-talk or flip-flops. In this forum, though, and in particular against Gov. Perry, he’s demonstrating a genuinely impressive verbal dexterity; and just as there are some who will be discomforted by the substance of his answer, there are others (including, in theory, some fair number of independents) who will be comforted.

So far, I think Gov. Romney’s helped himself again, and that from a strategic posture where he’d be winning merely by not obviously losing.

[Then, in about three-quarters in, I added:]

I’m running a few minutes behind on my DVR playback, but I finally thought I heard Perry deliver a good line on a strong point that he had indeed effectively tied to his own record in Texas — and he ends it this way:

You free up this country’s entrepreneurs, where they know that they can risk their capital and have a chance to have a return on investment, and all of this conversation [about free trade] we’re having today becomes substantially less impactful.

“Substantially less impactful." Sigh.

[Then, addressing a fellow Texan and Perry supporter after the debate was over:]

Dustin, I’ll grant you that Gov. Perry was better in the second half of this debate than in the first half, and somewhat better overall than he’s been in previous debates. I don’t think he made up any significant ground, though.

He’s got money and organization sufficient to stay in the race for many, many more weeks even if he doesn’t improve in the public opinion polling. But every night like tonight is an irretrievable missed opportunity for him, and unless he really catches fire or Romney commits a serious unforced error very soon, it’s hard to project a plausible path for him to become the nominee.

I have not given up on his candidacy, and we’re quite a ways from even the first meaningful vote being cast or the first delegate selected. But Gov. Perry hasn’t begun running a presidential-level campaign yet. His candidacy begins to resemble John Connally’s in 1980 or Phil Graham’s in 1996.

Posted by Beldar at 01:29 AM in 2012 Election, Politics (2011) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Beldar's last-ditch plea to House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI): Accept a GOP presidential draft from the conspiracy of present circumstances

Chairman Ryan, I already credit you with being a true public servant. You are already deeply involved in a career that demands inordinate personal and familial sacrifices. I'm a father of four, mine slightly older than yours, and I know that Duty (Writ Large) has already claimed more than its share of your life, at the expense of time spent with your family and friends. I can only imagine how little time you ever have left just for you.

Your countrymen — all of them who care to look — do indeed see your sacrifice, and we applaud it, and we are grateful.

Yet history's greatest civilization today stands essentially leaderless. You understand perfectly both the perils it faces and the urgency of those perils.

You have not been unreasonable to hope that someone else of your approximate caliber, with your same general mix of philosophies, capabilities, and principles, would step forward to lead our party in November 2012, and then our Nation and the world. You've had good reasons to hope you could defer the most severe of personal sacrifices for a few more years, until your kids are older — and it's not like you've been slacking in your current day-job!

But we approach the absolute drop-dead deadlines for 2012 presidential candidacies to announce. And Mr. Ryan, while we have several plausible candidates for our party's nomination, all of whom would be a substantial improvement over Obama, none of them, frankly, is of your caliber. And you know that. They all have in common a burning desire to be president, a quality conventionally thought (with good reason) to be an essential prerequisite for a candidate. But in most other respects, and specifically on the issues on which the 2012 election ought to be fought, as a potential nominee of our party you would surpass any of them.

And here's the clencher, Mr. Ryan: Not one of them has your capacity to parlay a transformational, watershed election victory into a transformational, watershed presidency, because none of them has your capacity to lead a leaderless country into the difficult reforms that are essential to rescue our civilization.

The circumstances of the 2010 election conspired to put you in the chair of the most important committee of the only part of Congress controlled by our party — to do there the most important work that could possibly be done now, which has been to tourniquet the worst of our federal fiscal hemorrhages, and to lay out a credible alternative to the Democrats' continued pillaging of our national fisc and our children's futures. Speaker Boehner has been in the role of Gen. George Marshall, to your Gen. Dwight Eisenhower at D-Day. And you've been nothing short of brilliant in that role. 

But November 2012 is first and foremost about regaining the presidency. The leadership which is essential for those reforms to be implemented must come from the White House. Again, you know this perfectly well — as well or better than anyone.

Despite your reasonable hopes, no one of your caliber is stepping up in the required way, to the required degree, for that job. And you have always been best-positioned among them anyway.

Circumstances have naturally and irresistibly conspired to draft you, Mr. Ryan — to take you from the chair of the House Budget Committee into the 2012 presidential race, and thence to the White House in January 2013. Fate is screaming at you, Mr. Ryan. Unplug your ears, and even though it is more than we can in good conscience demand of you, be true to your own destiny and do now the necessary.

Accept the draft of circumstances. Or resign not just your own children, but all of ours, to a fate in which they're to be led, if at all, only by people chosen from a preselected pool comprising only those who desperately want that job (regardless of their qualifications for actually doing it).

Posted by Beldar at 04:38 PM in 2012 Election, Budget/economics, Obama, Ryan | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Friday, October 07, 2011

Beldar on Cain's surging popularity

What follows is a republication here (slightly edited) of a comment I left on a post by my blogospheric friend Aaron Worthing at Patterico's Pontifications. Aaron's subject was Herman Cain's surge in the GOP presidential polling.


I like Mr. Cain, and I like him better the more I see of him. There is no doubt that he has a big future, if he wants one, in GOP electoral politics, even though he lost the only previous election he’s ever run (for a U.S. Senate seat from Georgia). He would certainly make a fine cabinet officer, and I can imagine many scenarios in which he would be an acceptable GOP vice presidential nominee (he’s said he’d be okay with that if the nominee were anyone but Perry, a hint Romney can hardly ignore).

I can entertain, patiently and with good cheer, arguments that for purposes of how Mr. Cain would govern as POTUS, the fact that he has no prior government experience in any capacity is a feature and not a bug. I have a hard time understanding why it’s a feature for him when inexperience has been such a spectacularly obvious bug with Barack Obama, but okay — let’s set aside for the nonce the question of how Mr. Cain would govern.

Focus on the necessary predicate question: Can Herman Cain get elected?

The answer to that is plainly “no,” and that is not something that I think can be plausibly argued otherwise. It would not just be risky, but inexcusably naive and reckless to run a political novice against Barack Obama’s $2B (direct expenditures; multiply that by five, perhaps, on indirect money) campaign juggernaut.

Oh, I know the meme of the moment is that Obama has lost his magic, yada yada. All I can say is at this same point in the cycle, Bush-41 was thought to not only be magical but invulnerable, and he ended up losing. Military commanders teach us not to plan based on our perception of the enemy’s likely intentions but based on the enemy’s likely capabilities. Obama’s demonstrated capabilities as a candidate include (a) soundly beating, in a siege-war Democratic primary, the same Clinton machine that had whipped Bush-41; and (b) even more soundly beating the McCain-Palin ticket, who top member was supposed to be the GOP alternative who was most attractive to centrists/independents.

I like the GOP’s chances to take the White House. I don’t like those chances so much that I’m willing to bet the ranch — to risk having to endure four more years of Obama — on a guy who’s never won an election anywhere for anything. Expecting someone with no political experience to beat Obama is expecting the kind of miracle that only happens in Hollywood scripts (e.g., Kevin Kline’s “Dave“). In the real world, the political novice just gets slaughtered.

Since Obama has nothing to run on but a bad record, his only path to re-election is to convince just enough voters that he’s the lesser of two evils. His entire extended campaign strategy — embracing not just the formal campaign structure but all the fellow travelers, Soros babies, the entire MSM, Hollywood, etc. — will depend on demonizing the GOP nominee, whoever that is. You think that’s already happening? No. Remember the level of frenzied demonization that attached to Sarah Palin within the first 90 seconds after McCain’s selection of her became public. We’re going to see that again, but for closer to a full year and at the additional volume that ten times the money will buy. Does anyone really think Herman Cain is the best choice to weather that firestorm?

Mr. Cain is due serious credit for his improvement in the polls. Nevertheless: no GOP candidate, no front-runner of the day or week or month, has yet moved out ahead of the pack in terms of deep, committed support. Gov. Romney started the campaign with the most loyal supporters, and he remains the candidate whose support is least likely to switch of everyone currently in the race. But that’s somewhere in the 15-20% range of likely GOP primary voters, enough to keep Romney in the top tier to the end but not enough to run away with it unless something important changes.

Which it probably will. I don’t know what. Could be Perry dramatically outperforming expectations at the next couple of debates. Could be someone else who’s previously ruled out running, reconsidering. (Draft Paul Ryan!)

But handicapping it just from today’s perspective, I’d say a potential Romney-Cain ticket has the best odds on the board.

Posted by Beldar at 07:26 PM in 2012 Election, Obama, Politics (2011) | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Harry Reid destroys decades of Senate tradition to spare Obama & Dems from embarrassment [update: Over tractor dust!]

Our constitutional democracy is premised on the assumption that with each national election every other year, we re-tally the desires and opinions of voters. The results re-determine the composition of the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate with each election. And each such Congress is new and distinct, and it is given a unique number to identify it through history. Because no Congress can bind the hands of any future Congress (unless it goes through the intentionally cumbersome process of amending the Constitution, which will require supermajority votes in Congress and the active concurrence of three-fourths of the states' legislatures), each such new Congress is free to amend or re-write entirely the rules by which the respective chambers operate.

In consistent practice going back nearly to the ratification of the Constitution, however, those rules are not casually amended in the United States Senate. And if they are amended at all, they are, traditionally, amended only at the start of a new Congress — not in the midst of one.

Among the U.S. Senate's most hallowed original traditions — one of the characteristics, indeed, of the Senate that most distinguished its operations and temperature from the House of Representatives — was the tradition of unlimited debate. It stood intact from the first convocation of the Senate until 1917, when the Democratic Senate majority of the newly convened 65th Congress passed the cloture rule, Senate Rule XXII, through which filibusters could be forcibly ended by the vote of two-thirds of all senators "present and voting." Rule XXII was left essentially unchanged, and no more radical change in the nature of the Senate was accomplished until 1975, when a newly elected Democratic majority in the Senate changed the cloture requirement to three-fifths of all senators "duly chosen and sworn." This meant a filibuster could be ended with 61 votes (assuming no vacancies in the Senate, and regardless of how many were on the floor to vote) instead of potentially requiring 67 votes (assuming all 100 senators were on the floor and voting).

Frustrated by their inability to get Bush-43 judicial nominees an up-or-down vote against Democratic opposition in the Senate, Republicans proposed a mid-Congress interpretation of Rule XXII in 2004-2005 that would exempt from its scope, by ruling of the chair (confirmed by a bare majority vote of the Senate), all votes on judicial nominations. This proposal, called the "constitutional option" by its proponents (which included me) and the "nuclear option" by its opponents (which included Harry Reid), would have effectively ended filibusters altogether for judicial nominees, who would be guaranteed an up-of-down vote so that the Senate could perform its constitutional advice-and-consent function; it would not have affected filibusters on legislation or other votes. Democrats, however, went ballistic. The resulting debate ended with the infamous "Gang of 14 compromise" on a series of pending nominees. (Basically John McCain and a handful of other Republicans got snookered — again, and as usual — by trusting Democratic counterparts who insisted they were acting in good faith and could be relied upon.)


But even when cloture is invoked, and a filibuster is thereby ended, Rule XXII, as it's existed since 1917, doesn't provide for an immediate vote. Rather, Rule XXII, as accurately summarized in a helpful glossary on the Senate website, "limit[s] consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours." Indeed, Rule XXII specifies precisely what may and may not be done during those 30 additional hours. And until today, those 30 additional hours have included an opportunity for the side that's lost the cloture vote to engage in one last organized effort to make its political points — to the nation, and in theory to anyone from the opposing camp who's willing to reconsider.

Specifically, Rule XXII said that except under some very narrow conditions rarely ever satisfied (involving prior submission of amendments before the cloture vote on a strict timetable), and

[e]xcept by unanimous consent, no amendment shall be proposed after the vote to bring the debate to a close ....

In practice, that "except by unanimous consent" requirement has always been read by senators from both parties to permit a senator to at least seek unanimous consent, even if he has zero expectation of getting it. [Editing note: My original understanding of this turned out to be not quite right. McConnell was relying on language from Rule XXII regarding amendments pre-filed before the cloture vote, language that I omitted here but quoted below. See the series of updates below for full details. — Beldar]

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) While ostensibly seeking that unanimous consent, a senator can say things like Mitch McConnell has been saying for the last couple of days on the senate floor after Reid had pushed through a cloture vote ending debate on a bill to retaliate against China for its currency manipulation. Under longstanding rule and tradition, McConnell was free to say, "I ask unanimous consent that we amend the bill on which cloture has just been granted to incorporate President Obama's oh-so-urgent new jobs bill, which President Obama is traveling around the country to complain we're not voting on yet." McConnell wanted to make Democrats vote against giving "unanimous consent" — precisely because that would mean putting them on record as voting against even the consideration of Obama's version of the jobs bill (which no senate Democrat actually supports), at the very same time Obama's out lying to the public about the reasons his bill can't get passed.

Everyone understands this is political theater. In McConnell's case, it represents his determination, as Senate minority leader, that such request for unanimous consent was an effective use of the minority's portion of the 30 remaining hours of post-cloture-vote debate.


But today, though, Harry Reid threw a fit on the floor of the Senate — a massive temper tantrum from nowhere, without warning, that did vastly more to permanently degrade the traditions and collegiality of the United States Senate than anything and everything the Republicans proposed regarding judicial nominees in 2005. As a mis-headlined, long, somewhat disjointed, but substantively excellent article at TheHill.com reports:

In a shocking development Thursday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) triggered a rarely used procedural option informally called the “nuclear option” to change the Senate rules.

Reid and 50 members of his caucus voted to change Senate rules unilaterally to prevent Republicans from forcing votes on uncomfortable amendments after the chamber has voted to move to final passage of a bill.

Reid’s coup passed by a vote of 51-48, leaving Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fuming.

This was not remotely "bipartisan," this was hyperpartisan. Reid couldn't even get all of the Senate's Democrats to go along.

Reid’s move strips the minority of the power of forcing politically-charged procedural votes after the Senate has voted to cut off a potential filibuster and move to a final vote, which the Senate did on the China measure Tuesday morning, 62-38.

Reid said motions to suspend the rules after the Senate votes to end debate — motions which do not need unanimous consent — are tantamount to a renewed filibuster after a cloture vote.

“The Republican Senators have filed nine motions to suspend the rules to consider further amendments but the same logic that allows for nine such motions could lead to the consideration of 99 such amendments,” Reid argued before springing his move.

Reid said Republicans could force an “endless vote-a-rama” after the Senate has voted to move to final passage.

That is another example of Harry Reid telling America a bald-faced lie. Once cloture has been voted, it's 30 hours of further proceedings, no matter how those 30 hours are spent. There's nothing "endless" about 30 hours.

This is about shutting down argument, pure and simple. It's not just "Shut UP!" politics, it's "Shut up NOW, damn-your-soul!" politics. And it's despicable.

It's not unconstitutional. The Senate Rules, including Rule XXII, are "extra-constitutional." But it's nevertheless a big damned deal in the history of the United States Senate, and it amounts to pissing on the minority party just because, for now, the majority can, even if they have to break decades and decades of bipartisan tradition to do so:

McConnell, visibly angry and shaken, said Reid’s action Thursday evening threatened the powers of the minority that distinguish the upper chamber from the House of Representatives.

“We are fundamentally turning the Senate into the House,” he cried on the Senate floor. “The minority’s out of business.”

And Reid already knows the cosmic truth that's right around the corner in January 2013: Payback is going to be a real bitch this time.

Reid said he resisted pressure from junior Democrats to “massively change” the Senate rules in the 112th Congress, when Democrats had a larger majority in hopes that Republicans could be persuaded to ease their use of obstructionist tactics.

But Reid admitted that he did not take the action lightly and may regret it in the future.

“Am I 100-percent sure that I’m right?" he asked. "No, but I feel pretty comfortable with what we’ve done. There has to be some end to the dilatory tactics.”

Senate Republicans said Reid is right to worry.

“Just wait until they get into the minority!” one GOP staffer growled.

Reid is a complete and utter fool. He's barely tolerable as Polonius to Obama's Hamlet, but at least Polonius didn't use his stewardship of Elsinore to batter the castle down to its foundations.


UPDATE (Fri Oct 7 @ 12:45am): Ryan Grimm and Michael McAuliff at the Puffington Host report the precise straw that broke the camel's back, i.e., that triggered Reid's tantrum. They say (boldface mine) that after losing on the cloture vote,

McConnell then apparently settled on a consolation prize of forcing the Democrats to take tough post-cloture votes, including on the president's jobs bill and on a measure to bar the EPA from regulating farm dust.

McConnell initially wanted 10 votes [on motions for unanimous consent to amend the China bill], and Democrats were willing to give him five. They ultimately settled on seven, a Democratic source said, and they told McConnell which ones they would accept.

That left the Democratic leaders in a sour mood to begin with, but then McConnell tried to insist on the farm dust measure offered by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).

"We accepted the embarrassing vote on the president's jobs bill," a Democratic leadership source said. "Then he tried to jam the farm dust bill up our ass."

The problem for Democrats with the dust measure is that many don't want to undercut the EPA, and they also don't want to be made to look ridiculous by seeming to regulate natural dust at the expense of jobs. The EPA, however, has insisted the entire issue of regulating farm dust is a "myth." The agency has proposed toughening the standards to regulate particulate matter in the air.

Tractor dust. Harry Reid destroyed decades of Senate tradition because he didn't want to be embarrassed by making his party go on record in favor of EPA regulation of tractor dust.

Clowns. Petty, ridiculous old men who are children, pretending to be leaders. Liars.

November 2012 can't come soon enough.


UPDATE (Fri Oct 7 @ 1:15am): Andrew Stiles has a very good post about today's events up at The Corner, but his interpretation of the rules issue is slightly different than mine. Perhaps I'm misinterpreting Rule XXII, or the facts I've relied upon from TheHill.com are slightly off, but I thought this was a literal, official amendment of Rule XXII — not merely a majority vote, with precedential effect, overruling the parliamentarian's interpretation of Rule XXII. Mr. Stiles' explanation seems to me to ignore the part of Rule XXII which already prohibits amendments, regardless of whether they're "germane," once cloture has been voted (unless there's unanimous consent). The distinction doesn't make much of a practical difference, except that if I'm right and there was a vote on amendment of Rule XXII, that would be more obviously a big deal. The problem with my interpretation of what's happened, though, is that I can't figure out how they could have changed the Senate Rules right now with only a bare majority vote: after cloture has been invoked, "a measure or motion to amend the Senate rules" requires an affirmative vote of "two-thirds of the Senators present and voting," the standard that dates back to 1917.


UPDATE (Fri Oct 7 @ 1:50am): This suggests that this wasn't a formal vote to change the Senate Rules, just a vote to overturn a decision of the chair (based on the ruling of the Parliamentarian), which would still effectively establish a new precedent for the Parliamentarian to rely upon in the future. But I'm not sure how that precedent will be expressed.

Maybe I was wrong, though, and maybe instead what McConnell was trying to do was not an amendment by unanimous consent, but rather something taking advantage of the language in the last half of this sentence from Rule XXII — language (beginning with "unless it had been submitted") which I assumed didn't apply (because it would take a lot of planning to set up):

Except by unanimous consent, no amendment shall be proposed after the vote to bring the debate to a close, unless it had been submitted in writing to the Journal Clerk by 1 o'clock p.m. on the day following the filing of the cloture motion if an amendment in the first degree, and unless it had been so submitted at least one hour prior to the beginning of the cloture vote if an amendment in the second degree. 

Are Republicans routinely pre-filing a bunch of such proposed amendments before every cloture vote now, specifically in order to take advantage of that "unless" language? Maybe so, since the Dems have become so hyper-aggressive in filing cloture motions at the merest hint of an intention to filibuster.

That link also reveals that the Dem senator who voted against Reid was Ben Nelson (D-NE), and that Sen. Boxer (D-CA) didn't vote.


UPDATE (Fri Oct 7 @ 2:35am): Last update tonight: My friend Dafydd ab Hugh emails to point out that I missed a "more apt, succinct, and literary phrase" to describe what kind of politics Reid is playing — one "from the apex of American arts and letters (or 'the arts and farces,' as Benny Hill was wont to say)":

He's right, as usual.


UPDATE (Fri Oct 7 @ 7:30am): Here (slightly edited and expanded) is what I've posted in a comment to Mr. Stiles' post at The Corner:

Having read the just-now-available Congressional Record at pages S6314-15, it does indeed appear that the GOP pre-filed nine bills as amendments to the China currency bill before the cloture motion was filed. So it was indeed the "unless it had been submitted" language from Rule XXII — quoted above — upon which McConnell intended to rely.

There had been negotiations off the record in which Reid and McConnell had agreed that the Dems would not contest votes on suspending the rules to permit seven of those nine amendments to be voted upon during the 30 hours of proceedings before the final vote (required by the cloture vote) on the China bill. However, McConnell apparently convinced the author of one of the seven upon which Reid had agreed, Sen. Paul, to withdraw his amendment so that there could instead be a vote on one of the nine pre-filed amendments that Reid really didn't want to have voted on — Sen. Johann's amendment that would prevent the EPA from regulating tractor dust.

That was the bit that sent Reid into his tantrum. He insisted that the Dems, having agreed to permit procedural votes on seven amendments from the minority out of the nine the minority had pre-filed, also get to pick which seven. McConnell wouldn't go along with that.

So at that point, Reid dropped an amendment he himself had sponsored and called up an amendment that Sen. Coburn had proposed, so that he himself — Reid, not Coburn! — could immediately object, via point of order, to Coburn's amendment.

The chair, relying on advice from the Parliamentarian (who relied upon the text of Senate Rule XXII and all past Senate precedents under it), promptly refused to sustain Reid's point of order.

It was that decision — the chair's refusal to sustain Reid's point of order that would block even an amendment that the Dems had agreed to allow a procedural vote upon — which Reid then appealed to the full Senate: "I appeal the ruling of the Chair and request the yeas and nays." That prompted McConnell's protest, quoted in some of the press, that "in a few moments the rules of the Senate will be effectively changed to lock out the minority party even more." And that's when Reid got his 51-48 vote, and Reid's point of order — that Coburn's proposed amendment was "a dilatory motion under Rule XXII" — was sustained by the full Senate (on a bare-knuckled bare-majority vote).

Mr. Stiles was much more right than I was, and for all practical purposes completely right, in his description, and I apologize for quibbling.

The precedent that this sets, then, is that notwithstanding the literal language of Rule XXII, the majority not only gets to confine proceedings to 30 hours after a cloture vote (with the minority's share of that 30 hours limited to half, at most), the majority also gets to dictate the content of those proceedings, and to exclude certain matters from mention or debate during those 30 hours on grounds that the majority just doesn't feel like listening to it. The new precedent doesn't only apply to pre-filed amendments that are not "germane" to the bill on which cloture has been granted: at least one of the amendments that Reid blocked with his point of order maneuver yesterday was concededly germane to the China trade/currency regulation bill. Others weren't, but so long as they'd been pre-filed on the deadlines specified in Rule XXII, even non-germane amendments had always been allowed before to be brought up at least as part of a motion to suspend the rules. But no longer: None of the amendments pre-filed by the GOP are going to be permitted to be raised on a motion to suspend the rules; and before yesterday's abysmal precedent, all nine of them should have been.

This is ugly, ugly business. The Dems should be deeply ashamed, but they are, literally, shameless.


UPDATE (Sun Oct 9 @ 7:30am): This report from TheHill.com adds a missing piece to the puzzle: Not only do the proposed amendments have to be pre-filed to be eligible for consideration (even via a motion to suspend the rules) after cloture has been invoked under Senate Rule XXII, but the Majority Leader selectively chooses among those pre-filed amendments to "fill the amendment tree":

More than majority leaders before him, Reid has used a tactic known as filling the amendment tree to block Republicans from offering politically charged amendments to legislation. He has done this to protect vulnerable members of his caucus from taking tough votes.

He did it on the China currency bill that was being debate when he triggered the nuclear option. Republicans had no recourse to force a vote on Obama’s jobs package than to offer a motion to suspend the rules after the Senate had already voted to move to final passage.

By changing the rules Thursday, Reid barred Republicans from forcing votes even on motions to suspend the rules to proceed to amendments designed to send a political message.

One GOP strategist said giving the minority an opportunity to vote on these message amendments “lets partisan steam out of the kettle.”

Now that Republicans have been deprived this outlet, they warn pressure will build up, threatening an explosion.

And once again recall: None of this has any possible impact one way or the other on when a vote will be taken on the China trade/currency bill: Rule XXII already prescribes that as being immediately after 30 hours of further proceedings, regardless of what those proceedings consist of.

So this is about shutting down political speech from the floor of the U.S. Senate — nothing else.


Posted by Beldar at 11:24 PM in Congress, Politics (2011) | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Obama Administration, women, and the nunc pro tunc son-of-a-bitch rule

Regular readers may recall that after law school and a one-year judicial clerkship, I spent six years in the early 1980s working as an associate in the Trial Department of Texas' oldest law firm, BigLaw stalwart Baker Botts. When I started there, in keeping with the practice of that firm at the time, I assisted more senior lawyers on some very big cases, but I was also handed a "docket" of my own — a collection of already-in-progress small and medium-sized cases deemed appropriate for handling by an associate — with the instruction to "do the necessary." When new cases of that sort came in, the department head or his assistant typically distributed those among the department's associates. This, in turn, was accomplished by walking into the chosen associate's office and dropping the file (typically comprising only a new lawsuit just served on a firm client and a transmittal memo) on the associate's desk, always with the instruction to "handle this to conclusion."

The firm wasn't prone to hiring idiots, so we knew that implicit in these dramatically sparse instructions was the expectation that we would seek guidance, instruction, inspiration, review, and criticism in connection with our own efforts to "do the necessary" and "handle to a conclusion." And the available teaching faculty included a very deep and very diverse set of several dozen Trial Department partners and associates whose experience ranged from other just-starting lawyers to senior partners with individual experience measured in decades and jury verdicts numbered in the hundreds.

It was a wonderful system. Through it, in some respects I taught myself my profession; and in other respects, through it I learned my profession studying at the knees or elbows of those with more, and sometimes great, mastery.


The system did have some dark aspects to it, though. And one of them related to the "up or out" nature of BigLaw associate status. Most associates didn't become partners; most left before they were up for partnership consideration, sometimes because they'd decided BigLaw wasn't for them, some because they wanted to go in-house with clients or become entrepreneurs; some wanted to change practices (e.g., by moving to a plaintiffs' personal injury firm); and a relatively small number were gently nudged into looking elsewhere because their performance was thought below the firm's expectations. And every time an associate left, his or her entire docket had to be re-assigned.

I remember discussing that process one day with a more senior associate whose advice I had sought in trying to figure out one of the personal injury defense cases I'd inherited from a just-departed associate whom I'll call "Bob." The case was dangerous; its development by Bob had been just barely adequate; and it urgently needed lots of work, much of which (like finding and working up expert witnesses) could have been done better if it had been started much earlier. "Wow," I commented, "I'm surprised the firm thinks I can handle this."

My older colleague said, "Well, you know, there's a benefit to you in getting to take over a case like this that's already so close to trial. Are you familiar with the 'nunc pro tunc son-of-a-bitch rule'?"

"The what?"

"You know the Latin phrase 'nunc pro tunc'?" he asked.

"Sure," I replied, "it means 'now for then.' Like with a revised judgment submitted for the purpose of completely replacing an earlier judgment that had some important error in it. Something the law deems a complete and retroactive replacement, as if the earlier version had never even existed. Neat phrase, powerful stuff! But what's that got to do with Bob handing over this case to me when he left the firm?"

"It means," he answered, "that Bob is your ready-made 'nunc pro tunc sun-of-a-bitch'!" But I continued to stare blankly at him.

"Look," he explained more patiently, "You took over handling twenty-something of Bob's other files, the whole docket for [Valued Firm Client from the Fortune 500 List], when he left. You've seen his work closely and in volume now. Was Bob a good lawyer?"

"Yes," I said truthfully. "This is the only case he was working on that really seemed to have gotten a bit beyond him."

"That's right," he said, "and while he was here, everyone liked Bob, and they all genuinely wish him well in his new job. He'll be a respected alumnus of this firm for the rest of his career, and we may refer some business his way or support him if he decides to run for some judgeship. Bob's a great guy, and a solid, competent lawyer. I mean that.

"But," he continued, "every case has the potential to go south in a hurry. This looks like one you're going to have to take all the way to a verdict; I don't think it can be settled at anything close to what our client is willing to pay, or that the client should be willing to pay. If you're not losing any cases —"

We both finished the sentence in unison: "— you're not trying enough cases!" This is a truism, a fundamental tenet of the trial lawyer's faith, already drilled into me when I'd been a mere summer clerk, and at more than one very fine law firm.

"And yet," the older associate continued, "you don't have to worry about the microscope only being put on you if you end up taking a thrashing from the jury, or about taking all the blame yourself, because Bob is ...." He waited for me to finish this thought too.

I answered hesitantly: "... the son-of-a-bitch who screwed this case up before I ever touched it?"

He made the "Charades" gesture: index finger to the tip of his nose. "Exactly! Bob's a great guy, but now he's gone. So if need be, he becomes a son-of-a-bitch. Retroactively. Just as if he'd always been a son-of-a-bitch. Nunc pro tunc, now for then. And it's an irrebutable presumption."

"Meaning," I said, "not just a presumption, but really a pre-determined conclusion that can't be challenged."

"Meaning exactly that, yes. And also meaning that Bob's not around anymore to rebut it. He'll probably never even hear about this. He'll never know that, for purposes of this case, 'Bob's a hale fellow well-met' got replaced with 'Bob was a lousy son-of-a-bitch who screwed this pooch beyond rescue.'"

I rubbed my chin and pondered this for a minute. Then I asked a question that seemed obvious, and was: "The nunc pro tunc son-of-a-bitch rule won't impress clients a bit, will it?"

"No," answered my slightly older and much wiser colleague. "This client's legal department in Chicago probably hasn't even noticed that you've taken over this file, despite your letter. We're all just fungible Baker Botts associates to them. You score no points at all by blaming Bob to them, so don't even think about it. You may have a nunc pro tunc son-of-a-bitch in waiting, but you still better win the case if it possibly can be won."

I thought a little more. "And the Trial Department head who assigned this case to me —"

"— knows exactly how big a challenge he just handed you," he confirmed. "The 'nunc pro tunc son-of-a-bitch rule' won't work on him, either, nor on anyone in the partnership who's evaluating your progress. You should always assume that they already know everything, but then point out everything important anyway, as a back-up and because you're supposed to, and then send them a memo as a back-up to that too. But yeah, they know they've just given you a big challenge, and they're waiting to see what you do with it."

"So who will the 'nunc pro tunc son-of-a-bitch rule' really help me with?" I asked.

"Only people who don't know any better," said my friend, "like, maybe, your parents or your girlfriend or your buddies at some other firm, when you're trying to explain to them how the firm's good client got tagged by the jury for umpty-ump million dollars while you were defending them." He stopped and seemed to contemplate the consequences of what he'd just said as if something new had occurred to him. "I guess," he finished, "it only works on people who are clueless and who are willing to be fooled."

"I see," I said.


I thought of the nunc pro tunc son-of-a-bitch rule, and who it may be effective in fooling, when I watched the video of White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley blaming his immediate predecessor — famed ballet dancer, idiot savant investment banker, and Chicago-Way politician Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago — for reports that women staffers felt they had been "marginalized" by senior male members of the early Obama administration. If you can't figure out why I made that association, then you're precisely the sort of person the 'nunc pro tunc son-of-a-bitch rule' was created in order to influence.

Posted by Beldar at 06:52 PM in Current Affairs, Law (2011), Obama, Politics (2011), Trial Lawyer War Stories | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Political parties and science

I am often annoyed by those of my liberal friends who insist that Republicans are anti-science. I'm not anti-science, but I'm a Republican; and there's not a conflict between those two things as far as I'm concerned. I'm confident there's no causal relationship between the two, and I've never been persuaded that there's even a positive correlation. So I found fairly interesting this essay from Reason.com, which in turn is based in part on an interesting op-ed in USA Today from the editor of RealClearScience. Both make interesting reading.

Posted by Beldar at 11:58 PM in Science | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Beldar on Palin's announcement

On June 8, 2008 — months before John McCain surprised the world with his vice presidential nominee — I was writing about then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a potentially transformative choice for that position. No one, however, predicted how much of a national lightning rod she would become. I was disappointed in her decision to resign from her governorship after the 2008 election, but I was neither surprised nor disappointed at Gov. Palin's announcement today that she definitely will not be a candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

I am also sure that Gov. Palin is aware that Mark Begich — the former Anchorage mayor who snuck into the U.S. Senate on Obama's coattails in 2008 — is up for reelection in 2014. If Gov. Palin wishes to become a political candidate again (as opposed to a pundit and speaker), Begich's seat would be her next logical target.

Posted by Beldar at 06:35 PM in 2008 Election, McCain, Palin, Politics (2011) | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Fi$cal woes in ¢alifornia

It's not often that I link to Vanity Fair, but this article by financial writer Michael Lewis ("Liar's Poker," "Moneyball") is well worth it. Lewis' subject this time is the looming financial crisis at the state and, especially, local government level — one driven largely (but far from entirely) by unfunded pension liabilities. And it is very interesting, utterly terrifying, stuff, but characteristically for Lewis, it's explained in a very human way that's clear and extremely accessible. Lewis has a dry wit and a keen appreciation of the ironic. He explains financial issues through the voices of the colorful individuals he tends to write about. And because he has piqued your interest in those individuals, you tend follow his discussion of the financial issues easily and keenly too, because his subjects' fortunes (literally and figuratively) are being determined by those same financial issues.

Lewis' particular focus is on the poster-child for the problem, California, of which he notes:

California had organized itself, not accidentally, into highly partisan legislative districts. It elected highly partisan people to office and then required these people to reach a two-thirds majority to enact any new tax or meddle with big spending decisions. On the off chance that they found some common ground, it could be pulled out from under them by voters through the initiative process. Throw in term limits — no elected official now serves in California government long enough to fully understand it — and you have a recipe for generating maximum contempt for elected officials. Politicians are elected to get things done and are prevented by the system from doing it, leading the people to grow even more disgusted with them. "The vicious cycle of contempt," as Mark Paul calls it. California state government was designed mainly to maximize the likelihood that voters will continue to despise the people they elect.

But when you look below the surface, he adds, the system is actually very good at giving Californians what they want. “What all the polls show,” says Paul, “is that people want services and not to pay for them. And that’s exactly what they have now got.”

And therein lies a nasty problem. Don't read this article if you're already depressed. Lewis tries to salvage an upbeat ending, but that, too, is another as-yet-unfunded liability.

Despite that, Lewis' article ends up making a powerful conservative statement by necessary implication: What's killing paradise? Government overspending. How to fix that? Lewis doesn't ever say in so many words, but ... well, duh. The cure is obvious, but when and how it will begin being seriously administered, and what chaos will wrack the patient in the meantime (especially in its most afflicted extremities, like California), is still anything but clear.

Posted by Beldar at 06:52 AM in Budget/economics, Current Affairs, Politics (2011) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Ryan reviews Sachs' ode to nanny-statism, "The Price of Civilization"

Politicians are often credited with op-eds that are published in their names, and that may indeed express their views, but that were mostly written by a staff member or aide. This has been true at least since the days of the Greek and Roman democracies.

When I read Texas Gov. Rick Perry's recent and much-discussed op-ed about Obama's hostility to Israel, my assumption was that Perry didn't write its first draft, and may not have changed a comma in what someone else wrote on his behalf. Perry is nevertheless politically accountable for what it says to the same degree as if he had written it, and there's no reason to think his own views differ a whit from his ghost-writer's. (Indeed, the ghost-writer has failed in his job if his work varies from his principal's views.) Jen Rubin at the WaPo snarked that a "ghostwritten piece so far above [Perry's] current abilities highlights the concern" that "his own foreign policy views are rudimentary." I think that's harsh, but I take her point. Like all governors who run for president, Perry will have to struggle to establish foreign policy bona fides, and that can't be done solely through ghost-written op-eds.

But I was reminded of this topic — politicians and their ghost-writers — just now when I read this review of Jeffrey Sachs' new book, "The Price of Civilization," by someone of whom Ms. Rubin and I are both big fans: Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee. Having heard Mr. Ryan speak extemporaneously, I have no trouble believing that he, personally, penned lines like these:

In "The Price of Civilization," Mr. Sachs is asking the right questions. What is a life well lived? What should our government's role be in building a more virtuous society? What policies should it pursue to promote fulfilling lives for its citizens? If such questions direct us to the moral wisdom of our cultural traditions, they can indeed help to balance the excesses of capitalism and so help us to extend its benefits to all.

Yet Mr. Sachs's gospel of happiness draws not on the inspired tradition of the Founders but rather on the Utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. In the 1780s, Bentham proposed that "happiness," which he equated with "pleasure," could be mathematically measured. It was not sufficient, he thought, for government to protect our rights if it was to vouchsafe our pursuit of happiness. Government must instead quantify "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" and set policies and goals accordingly. There was a science to satisfaction, Bentham claimed, and it was a puzzle that trained experts could solve.

Channeling Bentham, Mr. Sachs calls for the establishment of a national metrics for life satisfaction and sets a 10-year goal to "raise America's happiness." Although the specific measures are hazy, the steps are clear: For people to be happy, their government must increasingly shield them from the challenges of life. The good life is thus defined as one of ever-more pleasure at the expense of work.

But happiness in this world results not from avoiding challenges but from meeting them. Happiness is the recompense of real effort, whether intellectual or physical, and of earned success. It comes from achievement — from doing something of economic, artistic or emotional value. The satisfaction to be taken in producing valuable things brings with it a lasting sense of personal fulfillment. Mr. Sachs's design for paternalistic government will only impede the pursuit of happiness.

Read the whole thing. This man has a talent for communication, and a passion for the ideas he's communicating, but the delivery is simple, fair, and respectful to the views of the skeptical reader. I think that's the secret to Ryan's effectiveness — not just as an explainer, but as a persuader.

And I still wish he were running for POTUS. So this blog's official position continues to be:

Draft Paul Ryan.

Posted by Beldar at 09:28 PM in 2012 Election, Books, Budget/economics, Politics (2011), Ryan | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack