Monthly Archives: January 2016

News Flash: Nothing’s changed.

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goodbadA letter to The Wall Street Journal described as ironic the transformation of campus radicals from avatars of dissenting viewpoints during the 1960s into oppressive enforcers of political correctness today.

Interesting, but wrong.

Leftist thugs of the ‘60s were no different from those of today. They may have carried—may still carry—signs saying “dissent is patriotic,” but their definition of dissent was and is restrictive, an endorsement applicable to their views alone and allowing only the expression of things they want to hear.

Then and now, the Left has followed a prescribed program, awarding the self-flattering label of “dissent” to what is really nothing but a campaign to exterminate all viewpoints the Left finds inharmonious with its wishes of the moment.

All this is pertinent because another respected Wisconsin institution, Lawrence University, is busily seeking ways to bargain with students who probably ought to just be told it’s time to grow up.

The eternal urge to punish competing ideas may be the province of academia even more than of politics, but academics not deceived by their sector’s carefully crafted self-image ought to have apprehended two things long ago.

First, the surrender to leftist bullying, dressed up respectably as a commitment to “diversity,” in fact permits only conformity. Second, insistence on the suppression of competing views betrays a fundamental insecurity that can be defeated by anyone willing to endure the unpleasantness of witnessing a tantrum.

Lawrence has made the odd gesture of apologizing for offensive graffiti on campus—as if someone were under the impression that a serious university might condone racist graffiti—and  has   pledged to  hire an Associate Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion. Director of Pandering, for short.

A hint for college administrators everywhere: Conceding to bullies doesn’t make them go away.

Russ Feingold: Foreign-Policy Pit Bull

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puppy(Note to first-time readers:  We’re being sarcastic here.)

Those privileged to observe ex-Senator Russ Feingold over the years are familiar with his insouciant flitting all over the map on high-profile issues, sometimes taking different positions on the same issue in the same town on the same day.

We recall an amazed colleague, back when synthetic Bovine Growth Hormone was the scary non-issue du jour, hearing Feingold tell a Madison breakfast audience that BGH was “an economic issue, not an environmental issue,” and a Madison luncheon audience that it was “an environmental issue, not an economic issue,”—or vice-versa. It was a long time ago.

Some things don’t change with the passage of time, and yearning to get back into the U.S. Senate, Feingold has clearly perceived the necessity of being on both sides where foreign policy is concerned.

On the Iran nuclear deal, for instance, Feingold somehow senses advantage in playing the role of a stupefyingly naïve squish. This must be tailored for Madison audiences, with the expectation that Rusty’s media allies won’t dwell on it.

But to return to the Senate, Feingold must defeat Ron Johnson, who defies most expectations of contemporary Washington by exhibiting actual seriousness as chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Some hard-line stuff will be required, Russ realizes: “Burkina Faso!  Yeah, that’s it!”
(Note to first-time readers: We’re doing it again.)

Islamic extremists in Burkina Faso have been doing what Islamic extremists do, providing an opening for our ex-Senator to flex his national-security muscles by pointing out that if you think Iran developing nuclear weapons is our biggest foreign policy worry, your foreign-policy sophistication is a bit deficient.

Devotees of logical consistency can look forward to a very long campaign.

EPA = Extreme Political Agenda

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dirty_riverFighting back against the Environmental Protection Agency has always been complicated, public relations-wise. Luckily, the EPA is making things easier for its critics.

Last year saw the agency’s malfeasance in turning a couple of Western rivers mustard yellow with toxic mine waste.  This year the agency is in federal court over its plan to regulate most of the U.S. landmass—dry land included—as “waters of the United States.” (Government auditors found separately last month that the EPA violated federal lobbying law by manufacturing fake grassroots support for this empire-building plan.)

And last week brought another personnel problem.

Susan Hedman, with roots in Wisconsin academia, was the administrator of the EPA’s Region V, which includes Wisconsin and Michigan.

But last week the longtime lefty activist was prevailed upon to throw herself under the bus after performing indifferently in addressing—dismissing would be closer—the public health calamity in Flint, Michigan, whose municipal water supply has been unsafe for human consumption since early 2014.

One key message from Hedman’s relative inattention may be that the EPA’s regulatory zeal is activated less by real-time human health concerns than by the Left’s ideological agenda, pursued to the extent possible away from the regulated public’s prying eyes.

The EPA has been a rat’s nest of the email abuse—ranking officials using aliases and private accounts to conceal public business—that’s ensnared numerous agency personnel less famous than the ex-secretary of state. One even skipped the country when investigators closed in on his surreptitious email plotting to sabotage an application for mining permits.

Hillary Clinton probably ought to do time for her contemptuous handling of secret intelligence, but in a broader sense it’s already proven that far from being a unique offender, she is absolutely typical of government-in-secret, Obama-style.

It hurts so good

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iowaRegular readers are familiar with our generic rejection of conspiracy theories, on the principle that like-minded people will instinctively behave in ways that advance their mutual interests with no need for whispered meetings in dark alleys.

More and more, though, it looks necessary to refine that principle by stipulating that policy does not equal conspiracy as the secret—and potentially deadly—email practices of the current administration look more and more like conscious policy rather than complacency or shoddy judgment.

Did we say “potentially deadly?”  How else to describe the use of unsecured, private email by the Secretary of Defense, as described last week by The New York Times?

Secretary Ash Carter’s malpractice is no different from that of the former Secretary of State, where exposure of secret information to foreign hackers is concerned. But disclosure to foreign hackers appears coincidental, if appalling. The real point seems to be non-disclosure to U.S. citizens with a legitimate interest in administration policy, and the administration’s deliberate, illegal policy of frustrating that interest.

Last month the Energy and Environment Legal Institute went to federal court over private, back-channel emails used by the Environmental Protection Agency for illegal collusion with the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council to devise un-achievable regulatory standards designed to force fossil-fueled power plants out of business.

Last Friday, The Wall Street Journal’s formidable Kimberley Strassel listed, in addition to Secretary Carter, eight prominent administration officials including cabinet secretaries, known to have used unsecure private email and/or aliases for official business, evidently to thwart lawful access. Hundreds of lesser officials have been similarly implicated.

Ironically, Strassel noted, “in seeking to keep government business secret from Americans, officials make it more available to foreign enemies.”

It gives new meaning to the phrase, “all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

The unions’ last stand?

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wood_gavelFor good or ill since the beginning of the 20th century, political and policy ideas that get traction in Wisconsin tend to catch on elsewhere. And sometimes when they lose traction here, they start losing it elsewhere, too.

Take public employee unionization.

Rejected by such Liberal icons as Franklin D. Roosevelt, government unions found fertile ground in Wisconsin a little more than half a century ago. By the 1980s they were unquestionably the most dominant force in Wisconsin politics—more dominant than either party—and it was only in 2011 that they were knocked from that perch by the legislative termination of their privilege to collect mandatory dues from workers who weren’t necessarily willing to pay.

Any Wisconsin resident who doubts this assertion of basic constitutional freedom was a big deal must have moved here from another country within the past few months.
And now the underlying principles of Wisconsin’s seismic political shift are being tested in an equally unlikely place: California. There is no doubt that the Left considers this a very big deal.

Mother Jones—okay, subtlety is not their long suit—says the challenge, heard Monday in oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, “threatens to strike a devastating blow to the nation’s labor movement.”

Granted, Mother Jones always thinks the Supreme Court is a lot more conservative than it really is, but it’s clear these people are genuinely afraid. So afraid that they’re prepared to suggest a win for the plaintiffs, who want out from under compulsory union fees, could cut off funding for groups representing “child abuse investigators.”

That would be, ummm…yes, the unions whose fees the child abuse investigators currently have no choice but to pay.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin is preparing reforms of the civil service system it perfected a century ago.  You listening, California?

A needed demonstration

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capitolSince history’s turning points are seldom recognizable when they occur, you may want to keep an old calendar and mark the dates between mid-December and last Thursday. In a few years, look back and ponder whether you lived through one of the more crucial turning points since Midway.

Discussed here last week, the omnibus federal spending bill a week before Christmas was no copybook civics lesson but it put roadblocks in front of some destructive administration ideas. We re-plow that ground today because it’s apparent that the good parts of the omnibus bill weren’t happenstance and might be the cutting edge of a new trend.

Last week, the Republican Congress put a bill gutting Obamacare—repealing its core provisions—on the president’s desk. Naturally he vetoed it; that’s not the point.

The point is the GOP made him deny the will of the people, preserving a law the majority of Americans despise. It starkly demonstrated what will happen if another Democrat is allowed to succeed Obama.  Such demonstrations are invaluable.

Last week we mentioned the December omnibus bill blocking an IRS initiative to restrict political activity by non-profit groups like those targeted for harassment by Lois Lerner’s crew.  Last Thursday, all by itself, the IRS withdrew a proposal to collect more information, including Social Security numbers—of donors to non-profits that might engage in politics. Looks like IRS has stronger political instincts than the chief executive.

All in all, not a bad three weeks. And if the Midway analogy seems overwrought, consider whether the future viability of this nation as a republic of free people was more deeply jeopardized by the Imperial Japanese Navy, or by the current administration.

Curiouser and curiouser…

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books_scaleQ:  If Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were petrified of Paul Ryan achieving the maximum Conservative reform possible without a Republican White House, what would they do?

A:  Maybe they’d pretend Ryan was caving in to them, to drive a wedge between him and the Republican grassroots and undermine the most effective Conservative leader the House GOP has had in recent memory.

We can’t think of a better explanation for the surreal reaction of some Republicans to December’s omnibus federal budget legislation.  Voters who wouldn’t believe Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid if they said it’s warmer in the summertime practically trampled each other rushing to repeat Reid and Pelosi’s claims that Ryan had given Democrats just what they wanted in the budget bill.

Omnibus budgets are largely a gift of Reid-Pelosi misgovernment during the past decade and they’ll always include obnoxious provisions. But can serious adults believe the Democratic minority leaders would sabotage Ryan by publicly celebrating his actions if he was really letting them win?

Under a supposedly unsatisfactory GOP House leadership, the agency most destructive of the U.S. economy, the EPA, has lost more than one-fifth of its funding and more than 2,000 employees.  The omnibus bill cuts out $30 million the EPA wanted for legal defense of its extralegal actions.

The bill thwarts an Obamacare insurance company bailout, suspends its medical device tax and delays the “Cadillac Tax” on high-quality plans until 2020, long enough for repeal-and-replace to kick in.

The bill also pulls the plug on IRS attempts to throttle political activity by tax-exempt groups and bars the SEC from using regulation to force disclosure of corporate support for such organizations.

There are other things to like and plenty to dislike in the omnibus budget, but Pelosi and Reid would have less leverage if some GOP House members, posing for holy pictures, didn’t sneer at real progress because it’s less than perfect.  There isn’t much time left for growing up.

2015: goodbye and good riddance

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The world doesn’t become a different place because the numbers on the calendar change, but we allow ourselves a sigh of relief as 2015 shrinks in the rear-view mirror.

It was the year the “JV team” demonstrated it could strike the U.S. homeland with deadly effect. .

Ultimately more dangerous were threats growing within. The Left has tried to criminalize policy disagreements since the Reagan years, but in 2015 its totalitarian ambitions went fully on display.

Last year U.S. Senate Democrats voted to end First Amendment protection for political speech.

Last year Democrats running for president and their acolytes proposed punishing U.S. businesses acting lawfully to reduce their exposure to the developed world’s highest corporate taxes.

Last year congressional Democrats threatened prosecution as “racketeers” of global warming skeptics—people who have the nerve to say out loud that they doubt the stuff everyone exhales several times a minute is A) a hazardous pollutant; B) dictates Earth’s climate; and C) will destroy civilization if we don’t surrender the entire economy and all our thoughts to the EPA.

Last year the Democratic attorney general of New York actually initiated such a prosecution, which continues.

And shaking our confidence that the nation’s grown-ups will repel these assaults on constitutional liberty, last year was The Year of the Trumpnik, with a dismayingly large minority of potential Republican voters convinced that a reality-show huckster will be the nation’s savior specifically because he’s deliberately offensive and ignorant of critical issues..  If nothing else, Donald Trump’s candidacy verifies that the less one knows, the more certain of it one becomes.

The chances of 2016 being a better year are genuine but frail, resting wholly upon the fact that this year brings an opportunity to definitively banish the principal source of our discontent.  Squander it, and it may be a very long time before another opportunity appears.

Flat versus VAT

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Cutting taxesBen Carson emerged from his sinking poll numbers last week to offer a tax reform proposal that’s constructive in at least two ways.

First, Carson’s “flat tax” aligns with the sort of tax simplification that’s the essence of genuine reform. Nobody except maybe a few wind energy enthusiasts can still be uncertain that the current tax system is convoluted by design, as a self-perpetuating favor machine.

Second, Carson’s idea provides an illuminating contrast with a value-added tax (VAT), favored by candidates Cruz and Paul as a tradeoff to abolish the corporate income and payroll taxes.  Getting rid of those taxes sounds good, but the 20th century in Wisconsin could be regarded as an extended seminar in what you get by adopting one tax to eliminate another. (Answer: two taxes.)

A creation of European tax reformers—which may tell you something—a VAT adds a layer of taxation each time a raw material or a product goes through a new stage of production that makes it more valuable. In other words, it imposes a little penalty each time someone takes something and improves it. The consumer ultimately pays. And attractively low initial rates have a way of going higher.

Carson’s plan hardly meets with universal applause, and he has unfortunately danced a bit on details.

But he deserves credit for advancing the discussion of a policy issue that could yield big dividends in economic expansion while addressing the problem of too many people paying nothing, and thus having no stake in curtailing the expansion of government. At least GOP candidates are initiating discussion of a tax system we needn’t be ashamed of.