Setting a SAFE course in uncertain times
The prime activity in DC these days is political warfare, and the prospects for balancing the budget or other constructive legislation seem bleak. Things may improve after the 2020 elections, but don’t count on it. So the question is, what can SAFE do now to effectively promote its “smaller, more focused, less costly government” agenda?
This is hardly a new challenge, as our little organization’s goals have often clashed with prevailing political trends. And SAFE has never seen fit to rely on a “better mousetrap” strategy, i.e., promulgating position statements and assuming the world would embrace them. Celebrate the past, plan for the future, 11/5/18.
SAFE is a small, all-volunteer “think tank,” which generates blog entries, newsletters, and letters to the editor & political leaders. Yet our members have sallied forth from the ivory tower with some regularity over the years to attend conferences, hearings, & public events; give talks and arrange speakers; and lobby for policy changes that we favor. What a great way to stay abreast of the latest thinking and gauge whether our ideas are gaining any traction.
At SAFE's board meeting last week (Aug. 9), we reviewed the current state of play. What’s been going on, how are the conflicts likely to play out, and has SAFE been taking sound positions on the right issues? Here’s a synopsis of the discussion.
I. Impeachment fever – Ever since January 2019 when the Democratic Party took control of the House of Representatives, the activity of investigating the president has been at the top of the House agenda – with the express or implied goal of establishing a plausible rationale for impeachment.
The initial hope was that “smoking gun” evidence of Russian collusion or obstruction of justice would emerge from the Mueller probe. After the written report became available, attention shifted to having Special Counsel Robert Mueller testify about and hopefully elaborate on the findings of the investigation.
Mueller testified before the House Judiciary & House Intelligence Committees on July 24. No new information was revealed and the general reaction was that his testimony would not be helpful for House Democrats trying to establish a basis for impeachment.
A concerted effort ensued to keep the subject alive by conducting further investigations. And by early August, a majority of House Democrats (but few if any Republicans) were reportedly on board with impeachment. Majority of House Democrats now support Trump impeachment inquiry, Alex Moe & Kyle Stewart, nbcnews.com, 8/2/19.
As an example of the reasoning involved, consider a column by Delaware’s lone representative in the House. Now is the time to start impeachment inquiry into Trump, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, News Journal, 7/28/19.
SAFE wrote Rep. Rochester to take issue with her reasoning. And the Conservative Caucus of Delaware tweeted similar sentiments: “DE Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester's call for Impeachment is unwarranted, unfounded, & unsound.”
To date, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has shied away from backing an actual vote on impeachment – which could only pass if nearly all House Democrats supported it – preferring to support investigations without this label. And Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the head of the House Judiciary Committee, has described the current state of affairs as “formal impeachment proceedings,” which seemingly originated spontaneously, i.e., didn’t require House approval.
According to Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, “Chairman Nadler is either uniformed about what a formal impeachment inquiry is or he is deliberately misleading the American public to score cheap political points.” Jerry Nadler gets called out for claiming “formal impeachment proceedings” underway, Leah Barkoukis, townhall.com, 8/9/19.
At the SAFE meeting, we discussed where things seem to be headed:
(1) What’s the likeliest outcome, a faux inquiry to continue the anti-Trump vitriol, or a real effort to begin impeachment proceedings? Our conclusion: House Democrats will try to “keep the subject warm,” but Speaker Pelosi is too savvy to let House Democrats be drawn into a “no win” battle that could dampen their electoral prospects in 2020.
(2) What are the chances for constructive legislation before the elections? Slim to none, we thought, on any topics of importance. Even when it comes to gun control legislation, an area in which Republicans are currently backpedaling after two horrific mass shooting attacks, Democrats will demand “too much” in order to avert an outcome that might result in the president receiving some credit for pulling the country together.
II. Bipartisan Budget Act - This 2-year budget deal happened much earlier in the cycle than the last one, with the result that four years of discretionary spending levels have been set in the space of 16 months. In both cases, the budget caps imposed pursuant to the Budget Control Act of 2011 were thrown out – clearing the way for increases in discretionary spending across the board. Both deals were negotiated by a small group, behind closed doors, and then rammed through Congress at the proverbial “last minute” to avert a looming deadline (this time the need to suspend or increase the debt limit). More shutdown drama, mediocre results, 2/12/18; Latest budget deal: faster process, similar results, 7/29/19.
Several budget process improvements have been suggested by the Senate Budget Committee, but we don’t think they would make a great deal of difference. In a nutshell, Congress can’t fix the fiscal problem without presidential leadership, yet its members aren’t disposed to give serious attention to the president’s inputs. Continuing efforts to improve the budget process, 8/5/19.
Some believe talking about reducing deficits is a waste of time because no progress will be achieved until a crisis hits. If action is deferred until then, however, the damage may be devastating - perhaps fatal. We owe it to future generations to keep trying, even if our efforts may prove futile. Is a financial crisis inevitable? John Merrifield, spectator.org, 8/3/18.
Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) voted against the BPBA on grounds that he could not, in good conscience, continue to approve the addition of ever more billions to deficits and debt. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to have another conversation with him on the fiscal problem. We plan to pursue this matter. Note to DE members, 8/5/19 (see response from Sen. Coons at the end.)
III. Democratic primary debates – Your faithful scribe watched substantial portions of the first (June 26-27) and second (July 30-31) round of these debates, but the other participants essentially passed on them (i.e., only saw snippets that were aired by commentators afterwards). Maybe the debates will get more interesting when there are fewer candidates, all on the stage at the same time, but the prospect of ten more debates between now and the Iowa caucus drew a collective groan.
According to the polls, Joe Biden has been the front runner since he declared himself a candidate, but the SAFE consensus remains that he’s not going to be the winner. Too old – too gaffe prone – not who the real decision makers in the Democratic Party (left-wing activists and “super delegates”) want. Tucker Carlson of Fox News expressed the same conclusion in his review of the Democratic primaries aired on August 9.
If not Biden, then who? Bernie Sanders has lost the novelty he enjoyed in 2016 because half a dozen candidates have now embraced his Socialist ideas. Elizabeth Warren is running a good campaign and has picked up ground, but she comes across as too “preachy.” Kamala Harris launched a successful attack on Biden in debate one, but was herself slammed (by Tulsi Gabbard) in debate two for her record as California AG. Etc.
In terms of issues vs. personalities, the differences between the candidates is primarily a matter of tone vs. substance. In general, the Democratic candidates seem to be staking out positions that are left of center within the Democratic Party membership, notably by backing “Medicare for All” proposals that would (either quickly or gradually) replace private healthcare insurance plans that many Americans want to keep. Supporting free healthcare for illegal immigrants is also a likely loser.
One common complaint about the debates is that almost all the questions have a leftist premise. Accordingly, we reviewed a more balanced list of questions, which could potentially be asked in future debates. (The list was adapted from “Real questions that might shed some light,” Robert Knight, townhall.com, 8/6/19.)
ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: Nearly one million people have crossed illegally into the United States in the last fiscal year. Border Patrol is overwhelmed and has effectively lost control. Query: How many illegal aliens should we allow to cross our southern border before it’s too many? Is there any limit you would support?
At the first Democratic debate, all candidates raised their hands when asked if they would give free healthcare to illegal immigrants. Is this your position today? And how would this “right” be paid for?
HEALTHCARE - Under the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans have been forced to pay more for less healthcare insurance (HCI) coverage. How do we know “Medicare for All” wouldn’t make things even worse by eliminating employer HCI plans that many people rely on? Can you name any government programs that operate as efficiently and cost-effectively as their private sector counterparts?
CRIME: A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that racial disparities in police shootings stem from disparities in criminal behavior, not police bias. As the Wall Street Journal’s Jason L. Riley reports, “young black men commit homicides at nearly 10 times the rate of white and Hispanic young men combined” and most of the victims are of the same race as the shooter. Given this evidence, what’s your view on the Black Lives Matter movement? And would you take a walk after dark in most inner city neighborhoods?
HERITAGE - Do you think statues of America’s founders such as slaveholders Washington and Jefferson should be torn down, schools and cities renamed, and textbooks rewritten to exclude them?
TAXES: Until recently, this country had the highest corporate tax rates in the world. These rates were cut by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but now some of you want to reverse these cuts. Why would that make sense?
ENERGY: The proposed New Green Deal would return us to Medieval energy sources such as windmills, making electric power far more expensive and less reliable than it is currently. A crash program to create a carbon-neutral economy (no use of fossil fuels) would be enormously expensive, and would disrupt big sectors of the economy such as manufacturing, transportation, and energy production. Would such a program deliver economic benefits; how would it affect this country’s competitive position in the global economy?
MINIMUM WAGE: Studies show that when the minimum wage is raised, people on the lowest rungs of the employment ladder fall off and unemployment rises. Lifting the minimum wage to $15, as some jurisdictions have done, has resulted in the closure of businesses. How does that help the poor and working poor?
Is it likely that any questions like these will actually be asked during the primary debates? Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt to suggest them.
IV. Google et al. – A recent entry concluded that “big Tech” has a built-in liberal bias that it may well be exercising to influence content accessible on the internet.” Time to crack down on Google? 7/8/19 (see reader feedback at end).
There was congressional testimony on July 16, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), that these companies have the power – if they so choose – to shift millions of votes in the 2020 elections without anyone being the wiser. Dr. Robert Epstein: 15 million votes [could] be [undetectably] shifted [by] Big Tech, Erin Coates, westernjournal.com, 8/9/19.
Perhaps this claim is overstated, but we believe the potential for harm is considerable – and something should be done about it. A subsequent entry discussed several possible solutions. Options to combat computer tech bias, 7/22/19.
•Break Google up (under antitrust laws) on grounds that it has gotten too big and effectively monopolized the market (Sen. Elizabeth Warren et al.) – Such action is not warranted by Google’s business practices, particularly as other search services are available, nor would it necessarily solve the bias problem.
•Mandate impartiality and audit compliance for those who claim to be access facilitators versus publishers. (Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO) The effective result would be to create a public censorship board to replace Google’s judgment.
•SAFE’s suggestion: Subject Google’s decisions on content policing, etc. to judicial (versus regulatory) review, but do so on a limited basis that would not create a lucrative strike suit racket against the wealthy Big Tech companies. See table below.
V. Climate Conference – UD Climatologist David Legate was one of the speakers at the 13th International Conference on Climate Change, Heartland Institute, 7/26/19. Here’s a link to a video (15:42) of his talk (panel 1, no. 3), plus videos of all the other activities of the day.
John Greer attended the conference, which was held in the Trump Hotel (formerly a big post office) in DC. His observations on the event will be reported in the next (circa Oct. 1) SAFE newsletter, so we won’t attempt to preview them now. Suffice it to say that the evidence undergirding the Manmade Global Warming Theory (MMGWT) continues to seem unpersuasive, particularly as a basis for the proposed expenditure of trillions of dollars to replace the global energy infrastructure on a crash basis.
If this seems so clear to us (based on conscientiously following the reports of the scientific debate and research), why has it been so hard to win the argument? As one small example, SAFE has had zero success thus far in trying to interest members of the Delaware General Assembly – or even the GOP caucus – in hearing a presentation by Dr. Legates et al. about what the evidence actually establishes about the MMGWT and what gaps exist in the current understanding of the causes and timing of global climate changes. It’s as though our political leaders are reluctant to hear the climate realist side of the story, lest they be branded as “science deniers” or troublemakers.
At bottom, claims that the debate about the MMGWT is over aren’t based on science, they are based on politics. And the other side has been winning the argument based on domination of the media and educational narrative, not the relevant evidence. If climate realists want to win the argument, they may ultimately need to challenge the “facts” about global warming that are being taught in schools.
VI. Appeal of Bloom Energy permit – John Nichols and other critics have been battling Bloom Energy for years, and the latest campaign is to oppose replacement of fuel cells at two utility scale generation facilities (Red Lion and Brookside) that were constructed and are being operated under an arrangement with Delmarva Power.
Bloom applied to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) in October for a construction permit covering the proposed work, and an uninformative public hearing was held on January 10. Bloom Energy proposes to replace fuel cells at QFCP facilities, 1/21/19.
On April 25, DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin issued an order granting the permit; on May 6, John Nichols filed an appeal to the Environmental Appeals Board (an independent body, which operates under DNREC’s aegis). The grounds for appeal are the failure of DNREC to do the following:
#Involve the Delaware Public Service Commission in the review after it was pointed out that such involvement was necessary to assess the effects of the project on the ongoing QFCP tariff and thereby ensure that the economic interests of DP ratepayers would be protected.
#Review disposal plans for the old fuel cells, potentially representing some 6 million pounds of electronic waste.
#Review disposal procedures for toxic sulfur canisters, the majority of which are created in the Coastal Zone at the Red Lion facility and disposed of in a manner that was not disclosed in the original Coastal Zone application.
#Evaluate air quality issues associated with decoking of the Bloom Energy fuel cells [a periodic operating necessity].
A hearing of the appeal is scheduled for Sept. 24, subject to satisfying a series of intervening requirements (witness and exhibit lists, prehearing conference, and rebuttal of a motion to dismiss that DNREC plans to file). All this to achieve a 2-way dialog about various disputed points in the Bloom application, which objective was blocked by the ground-rules for the Jan. 10 public hearing.
Time will tell what comes of this effort, stay tuned.
VII. RMLC (Sept. 20) - SAFE is sponsoring another speaker for the Retired Men’s Luncheon Club. A preview follows, and your support in attending the lunch and inviting others to do so would be appreciated.
Following decades of educational experience as Principal of St. Mark’s High School and Founding President of the Charter School of Wilmington, Ron Russo continues with the Caesar Rodney Institute to weigh in on educational policies. He will explain that money is not the solution to improving schools and that if you live or work in Delaware you are impacted by the school system. Teaching is a profession but education is a business. Member Bill Whipple arranged for this program.