Monday, December 19, 2016

Why Term Limits Won't Solve Anything

There's a lot of agitation around the issue of 'term limits for Congress'.  It sounds like a good idea — what we used to call 'LGOP':  Looks Good On Paper — but it misses the point, and won't solve the problem of Congressfolk getting filthy rich during their tenure.  What it will do is spread the wealth a little more evenly because Congress won't have as much time to amass wealth, and their successors will get their chance sooner.  The actual total amount won't change.

How does a Congressman (includes 'Congresswoman' in its generic form) become a millionaire?  They run for re-election.  Aided by 'name recognition', an incumbent has a huge advantage over any challenger absent a scandal.  It's axiomatic that unless the candidate is caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy, re-election is almost guaranteed.  An incumbent will gather lots of campaign contributions from those who wish to be seen as 'friends', yet be able to run the campaign relatively cheaply thanks to that name recognition.  What's left in the campaign chest the day after election day belongs to the candidate, and it could be substantial.  Add to this that campaign contributions can dribble in over the full course of a Congressman's term, and we're talking lots of money.

Beyond that, Congressmen pay for nothing or close to it.  Lunch in the Congressional dining room is cheaper than your cafeteria at work because it's subsidized by taxes.  Basically, you're buying lunch for Congress.  They get, in addition to a lush salary, an allowance for office expenses including their staff.  When it's time to vacation in Aruba, some constituent can always be found to offer a ride on a corporate jet because the Congressman needs to see how our foreign aid dollars are being spent, etc.  If you were banking $160,000 each year, you'd be a millionaire before your first term in the House was up.  Now you're an incumbent.

None of this would change with term limits.  Senators would run for a House seat; Representatives would seek Senate office.  When term limits kick in, there's always 'lobbying'.

Money will always flow toward Congress regardless of term limits.  There will always be bribes and graft.  The reason is simple:  Congress has the power to micro-manage the economy.  They get to decide if this company or that one lives or dies.  Naturally, if you're the owner or CEO of a company, you want to make sure that Congress decides 'lives' rather than 'dies'.  You will make sure your Congressman (all of them, actually) know your name and how much of their campaign war chest you've contributed.  If you support term limits for Congress because you want to get money out of politics, you're barking up the wrong tree.  To get money out of politics, get power out of politics first.

The key to Congress' power over business and the economy is the 'Interstate Commerce Clause':  Article I section 8 grants Congress the power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;".  Originally this was intended to empower Congress to prevent states colluding with each other in ways that would enrich them at the expense of other states.  Imagine Pennsylvania and New York charging tariffs or 'inspection fees' for tobacco shipments originating in Virginia and destined for Vermont.  We are supposed to be living in The Free-Trade Zone of the Americas and the Interstate Commerce clause was supposed to make it happen.  Instead, during the FDR administration when the President needed Constitutional authority for doing all manner of things, the I/C clause was re-interpreted to provide that authority and the Supreme Court, under FDR's threat to 'pack' it, buckled under.  The result is what you see today:  Congress can do anything with impunity.  Anything.  That's not what the I/C clause was supposed to empower.

How do we know that?  Article I section 8 reads "Congress shall have power to" and goes on to list 17 things Congress shall have power to do.  As the I/C clause is currently interpreted, Art.I sect.8 says "Congress can do these 16 things and whatever the Hell else it feels like doing."  In fact, most of Art.I sect.8 is now redundant because the I/C clause is all that's needed.  Could that have been what the Constitution's writers intended?  How ridiculous!

So what happens when we re-establish a proper understanding of the I/C clause or, better, simply abolish Congress' power over interstate commerce?  The Drug War goes away.  The FBI goes away.  The FDA goes away.  The FAA goes away.  A horde of three-letter agencies evaporate: DHS, TSA, CIA, HHS, SEC, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, and the list goes on and on.  None of them are included within Congress' powers granted in I(8). 

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) occupies forty (40) feet of shelf space when printed, filled with regulations promulgated by nameless and unaccountable agencies, all of which you are responsible for following under penalty of the law.

What would your tax bill look like if it didn't include the budget for the thousands of bureaus and agencies Congress never had the authority to create?  More importantly, how important would term limits for Congress be without them?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

I didn't vote for Donald Trump and I have a fairly low opinion of those who did.  I have a fairly low opinion of those who voted for Clinton also, but that's neither here nor there.

That said, there's something very wrong with people, primarily Democrats, who are calling for the Electoral College to be either (a) abolished altogether or failing that (b) subverted by subborning the electors to vote for someone other than to whom they are pledged.  If you look at the map of electoral districts won by the major candidates (nobody else, not even Gary Johnson, won any) you'll see that Trump won "flyover country" and Clinton won the major metropolitan areas and almost nothing else for either.  If each elector voted for the candidate that won the elector's district rather than the elector's state, it wouldn't have been 278-to-257.  It would have been 460-to-75.  Clinton's political career would have been over.  If you're a Democrat and you hate the Electoral College, I think that might be why.

People are asserting that the purpose of the Electoral College is to prevent a demagogue taking over.  No, the purpose of the Electoral College is to prevent cities taking over.  It's working.

Let's talk about "Russian hacking" and its effect on the election.  First, there's a difference between 'hacking' and 'leaking'.  Hacking implies gaining illicit entry to a computer and damaging it or stealing information.  If this happened, we don't know for sure who did it.  Leaking implies giving information to someone who isn't otherwise privy to it.  That did happen, no argument from anybody.  Do we have evidence that the Russians stole data from DNC computers and leaked it via WikiLeaks?  I haven't seen any, and if the FBI or CIA or NSA has such information, the President of the United States (to whom they all report) would have ordered them to make it public.  He hasn't.  What does that suggest to you?  It suggests to me that such 'evidence' does not exist.  Russia did not hack anybody's computer; Russia did not leak the DNC emails.  If they did, it would already have found its way to the International Criminal Court — and it hasn't.

Well, somebody did.  Who?  Who had motive and opportunity?  NSA certainly has and had all those emails.  That's what they do for a living: collect data.  CIA almost certainly has and had copies.  It's NSA's job to supply CIA with information they need — and information they just want.  Maybe CIA is as pissed off as the American Right at Secretary Clinton abandoning some of their 'assets' in Benghazi.  It makes more sense that CIA is the leak than that Russia is the leak, but please continue to blame Putin.  He's convenient if nothing else.

The thing that worries me the most, however, is the insistence by some that the electors should be 'briefed' on what the current administration 'believes' even if such belief has no basis in reality.  If that happens and enough electors decide Hillary Clinton reallyreally deserves to be the next President regardless of the fact that the vast majority of electoral districts chose someone else, there's going to be a backlash from the group that is most able to lash back.  Of the hundred million gun owners in this country, all but a tiny sliver live in red districts.  Of the 350 million (est.) guns they own, almost none of them are in blue districts.  Of the 800,000 police/sheriffs in this country, what percentage do you suppose would agree that Clinton should be chosen by the Electoral College on the basis of her winning all the big cities?

We could be looking down the barrel of the next civil war.

Sweet dreams, children.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Climate-Change Debate (sic)

We are in the Holocene ('entirely new') epoch of the Quaternary period of the Cenozoic ('recent life') era.  The Holocene began about 10,000 years ago when the last ice age ended.  We have been warming since then.  That is, we are currently living in an interglacial period, a warmer period that is sandwiched between two ice ages.  Global warming is thus not a recent development.  It is, in fact, the primary influence that has allowed our civilization to develop.

The current debate about 'global warming' stems from the theory that it is the result of human activity ('antropogenic global warming', AGW), that it constitutes a bad thing, and that it can be 'corrected' by human activity.  None of those positions seems entirely credible, and the science surrounding those claims is often highly speculative and emotion-driven.

James Lovelock in his book "The Gaia Hypothesis" suggests that the Earth (Gaia) is more than capable of seeing to her own defenses, does so regularly, and will correct imbalances although perhaps not in a way we would approve.  It is the fear that Gaia will correct us out of existence that drives the AGW hysteria.

Organisms either adapt or go extinct when faced with changes to their environments.  What we know from our experience is that our species adapts supremely well, in fact sometimes changing the environment to suit our present adaptation.  We have colonized the planet from pole to pole, almost literally.  We have been, briefly, to the deepest depths of the oceans and we are now venturing into space.  We travel farther and faster than any other terrestrial species.  We are at the top of the food chain, but all of that could change in unpredictable and possibly unpleasant ways, we are told by AGW alarmists, if we do not change our sinful ways.  Prime among our sins:  using fossil fuels that produce 'greenhouse gases' such as carbon dioxide and water vapor. 

Note that water vapor precipitates out of the atmosphere as rain, does so regularly, and has been doing so since the Earth first cooled from its pre-life Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB), 3.8 billion (with a 'b') years ago, forming Earth's oceans, and setting the stage for the development of planetary life.  If water vapor is a problem, it's news to Gaia.

Note further that carbon dioxide is the primary food for all earthly plant life, supplemented by water.  When carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increase, two things (among others) happen:  plants thrive and the oceans absorb additional carbon dioxide allowing organisms like coral to flourish.  At the same time environmentalists are complaining that corals are declining in the oceans, they are trying to starve them into extinction.

Plants, by the way, shit oxygen, and we are very happy that they do.  The molecules they retain are stored as carbohydrates, some of which are very pretty, while others are quite tasty.  It's hard to interpret these facts negatively, at least for me.

Now, it's true that dealing with eons and dealing with epochs are two entirely different matters, and that we mustn't confuse the two, but physical processes don't change with the passage of time.  Boyle's Law worked long before there was a species that produced Boyle and will work long after the human species goes extinct, if such be our fate.  It's also likely undeniable that eventually this planet will slip back into another ice age — that's why we're said to be in an interglacial period — and we'll really really wish we could provoke a little global warming... or a lot.

In fact, if GW is actually anthropogenic and if we can keep up the good work, perhaps we need never worry about glaciers advancing south and covering New York a mile deep in ice.  Again.

On the other hand, there could be worse things than New York covered by a mile of ice.  'New York not covered in ice' springs to mind.