Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The FAA and the Sequester

Some people on the left are upset that Congress and the President gave up a major bargaining chip by voting to ease air congestion. These people are politically tone deaf.

The message they wanted to send was that flight delays were all the fault of Republicans refusing to raise taxes. That message did not get out. Even a left-leaning media would not take so partisan a viewpoint. After all, the networks are more affected than the rest of us.

The story that came out was that the cuts and the delays they caused were politically motivated. The FAA had their budget cut. They could have targeted the cuts, taking more money from overstaffed airports and less from understaffed ones. Instead they cut all airports equally, guaranteeing delays.

There was no way for the Democrats to spin this story as an example of Republicans' refusal to raise taxes. If the Democrats had stood firm then the public would have blamed them for their single-minded pursuit of tax hikes.

The President and Congressional Democrats took the only path available to them and voted to alleviate the delays.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Obama and Guns

When he ran in 2008, Barack Obama insisted that he was not anti-gun. Many gun-rights advocates did not trust him on this. They believed that he was deeply anti-gun but hid his true motives in order to get elected. Recent events have justified these fears. After the shootings at Sandy Hook, Obama proposed an anti-gun agenda that could have been written in the 1990s. He then used his bully pulpit to make gun control legislation the centerpiece of his second term.

So, where are we now?

Three states have passed restrictive gun legislation. My prediction is that it will be ignored, especially the New York ban on "high capacity" magazines. The original legislation banned nearly every semi-automatic pistol ever made. The statute was amended to allow magazines that can hold more bullets as long as they are not transported that way.

As far as Congress, it was obvious from the start that actually passing any meaningful measures was going to be difficult if not impossible. The House refused to introduce any legislation until the Senate passed something.

In the Senate it quickly became obvious that bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines did not have enough votes. Mandatory background checks were pushed as the only thing that could pass.

Despite political reality, the President kept pushing his whole package, seemingly oblivious to events.

Some political observers suspected Obama of playing the long game. He would push gun control through the Senate in the hope that it would die in the Republican-controlled House. Then he would use this as a campaign wedge in 2014 to defeat the Republicans and regain control of both houses.

If true, this policy now lies in tatters. The Senate failed to pass anything, even a moderate background check. Most Republicans voted against it but a few were for and a few Democrats voted against. That will make it very difficult for the President to use the vote against the Republicans.

A bigger problem is that the country is not behind the President. While one poll found that 90% of the country supports background checks, only 8% things that gun control is the nation's top priority. And that poll was taken before the events of last week.

There is also a political issue to the vote that goes beyond the NRA. Immigration reform is coming and is likely to be decisive. Some Senators know that they will be voting against the wishes of their constituents. They feel that they can survive one divisive vote but not two. These Senators rightly believe that immigration is the more pressing issue.

The Sandy Hook push was an emotional appeal made possible because of the immediacy of the tragedy. After the Boston Marathon bombing, the fertilizer plant explosion, and the death of one bomber and apprehension of the other one, Sandy Hook seems a lot less urgent.

For now, the President will get nothing on gun-control on the national level. Most politicians would face reality and drop the issue but Obama is particularly stubborn. Expect him to bring the issue up again.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Moving on Already?

I have seen two columns talking about how we have already moved on from the horrific bombings in Boston. Granted the number of dead is fewer than some killed in mass gun-related killings but are we really ready to move on after a day? What's going on?

I suspect that part of it is that the left hasn't been able to make an object lesson of it yet. The Sandy Hook shooting is still being used to advance unrelated gun-control measures. The Giffords shooting was originally used to tarnish Sarah Palin and is currently being used as an additional push for gun-control. Those incidents are being kept alive because they are politically useful.

So far there is nothing in the Boston bombing that can be used to advance an agenda. It can't even be blamed on global warming. So we are moving on.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Shameless in the Senate

Prior to yesterday's Senate vote on advancing a gun-control measure to debate, family members of victims from the Sandy Hook shooting put on a big show. They produced pictures of the victims. They told stories about loss. They pulled out all the stops.

Then the Senate voted advancing on the bill.

At the time of the vote the Senate did not know the contents of the bill. It was not released until later. They did know one important thing about it, though - the bill would not have stopped the Sandy Hook shooting and it is unlikely to stop future mass shootings.

This was shameless exploitation of the dead to advance an anti-gun agenda.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Margaret Thatcher and the Left

The initial reaction to the passing of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was fairly a straightforward acknowledgement of her accomplishments. They were impressive. She took an ailing country that was considered to be in permanent decline and brought it back to life. Along the way she reversed the course of domestic socialism and, along with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, stopped the spread in international communism. There is no question that Great Britain was better and stronger when she left office than when she began.

But, her life and accomplishments are a repudiation to today's progressives. Thatcher not only reversed the progressive accomplishments, she proved that her economic theories are correct. So the left had to minimize Thatcher.

The first step was the insistence that today's right has gotten so polarized that they would reject Thatcher. One example given was the VAT (Value Added Tax). Thatcher replaced the high income tax with the VAT. Mitt Romney suggested something similar and was criticized for it. The fact that it was the Republican candidate who suggested it and one of his weak rivals who criticized it shows that a VAT can get mainstream Republican support. The fact that the republican Party is broad enough that you can find someone, somewhere who rejects any single policy does not mean that Thatcher was out of step with today's conservatives. And that's ignoring the fact that she was not an American politician.

Fareed Zakaria makes a strong case for why Thatcherism would not work today. This is an attempt to compartmentalize Thatcher. We can acknowledge her accomplishments but ignore the lessons because she lived in a different time. Zakaria points to some specifics such as the high income tax rates internationally and the number of businesses owned and operated by the British government.

If you look at generalities instead of specifics then you find that Thatcher is still very relevant. The Progressives are obsessed with income inequality and taxing the wealthy. Given a free rein, they would reestablish the tax rates of the 1970s which Zakaria admits were a drag on the economy.

It is true that the days of socialism are past but the real issue was not government ownership of business, it was government intrusion into every facet of daily life. The modern progressives have discovered that it is much easier to dictate how businesses are run than to run them. The regulatory state is on the upswing and becoming worse than it ever was during the Reagan/Thatcher days.

Thatcher and Reagan continue to be relevant to the modern day despite efforts to compartmentalize them.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Second Term Headaches

A president's second term seldom goes as well as his first. He has a shorter honeymoon and has less political capital to work with. Presidents spend their first term pushing their agenda so there is little left to push in a second term. Mistakes from the first term usually catch up with a president in his second term. the second half of the second term is often the worst because senators who came into office on the president's original coattails are up for reelection. Accordingly, the opposition party usually makes gains in Congress.

Even by these standards, President Obama's second term is off to a terrible start.

His first term ended on a high note when he forced his terms on Congress to prevent the Fiscal Cliff. That made him cocky and let him think that he could dictate terms for avoiding the sequester. He couldn't. The sequester has gone badly for him. The immediate cuts looked like political stunts (I wonder why?). The real cuts are emerging slowly and have no sense of urgency to them.

Gun control has emerged as his major policy initiative. Since he never said a word about this in 2012 and denied being against guns in 2008, he has no mandate on this. It is obvious that most of his proposals will never pass the Senate to say nothing of the House and this could come back to haunt him when red-state senators run for reelection.

Obama's victory in the Fiscal Cliff negotiations is coming back to hurt him, too. He continues to insist on additional tax hikes allowing the Republicans to complain about his lack of serious cuts to go with the tax increases he already got.

The economy continues to under-perform. New bubbles are forming such as with the sub-prime car loans. Obama has suggested that the country return to the practices that led to the housing bubble as a way of promoting economic recovery.

But his real failures are overseas. The Arab Spring produced a mess. Egypt has become more repressive and threatens to fall apart. Muslim extremists are gaining power in Libya. Syria is a humanitarian disaster far worse than Iraq and likely to eventually end up with an anti-American extremist government.

Obama's first round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was a total failure so he had to backtrack on his preconditions for negotiation.

Iran continues to work on nuclear weapons. North Korea already has them and is threatening to use them on the US.

Worst of all, at the Easter egg roll, a president who is known for his basketball game only got 2 out of 10 tries.

And all of that is just in Obama's first three months.