186,000 reasons to smile (and one to worry about)

In the quest to get America back to making things, it was good news to find that manufacturers added 17,000 jobs in December. That brought the 2014 growth in that sector to 186,000, continuing the steady growth in that sector since the job market hit bottom there in 2009-10. When you consider that 2012 predictions saw the manufacturing sector losing jobs through this decade, having a very positive number nearly halfway through is a good sign.

Naturally Barack Obama tried to take some credit for this during a speech at a Ford plant near Detroit last week. As I noted in a piece I wrote for the Patriot Post, it’s ironic that the plant was idled due to slow sales of hybrids and small cars built there, but the auto industry has played a part in the resurgence of manufacturing jobs in America. This is particularly true in the construction and expansion of “transplant” auto plants in the South by a number of foreign automakers.

But there has been criticism of Obama from his political peers. As a carryover from my American Certified days I often quote Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, because his organization is strongly influenced by Big Labor and presumably supported Obama in both his elections. Yet Paul is none too happy with Obama’s progress:

Manufacturing job growth slowed to 17,000 in December, which portends some of the challenges an overly strong dollar, weak global demand, and high goods trade deficits may bring in 2015. While President Obama is touting factory job gains and our Congressional leaders are looking for ways to rebuild the middle class, what’s missing for manufacturing is good policy.

Congress and the president need to hold China and Japan accountable for currency manipulation and mercantilism, and invest in our infrastructure. New innovation institutes are a good thing, but their presence alone won’t bring manufacturing back. And as the president enters the final half of his second term, he’s falling way behind his goal to create one million new manufacturing jobs.

The innovation institutes Paul refers to are public-private partnerships being created around the country in various fields, in the most recent case advanced composites. But Obama lags behind on his promised 1 million new manufacturing jobs for this term as it nears the halfway mark as he’s created just 283,000. It’s great if you’re one of those newly employed workers, but his policies are leaving a lot of chips on the table. In fact, National Association of Manufacturers economist Chad Moutray frets that:

…manufacturers still face a number of challenges, ranging from slowing global growth to a still-cautious consumer to the prospect of increased interest rates. With the start of the 114th Congress, manufacturers are optimistic that there will be positive developments on various critical pro-growth measures, including comprehensive tax reform, trade promotion authority and a long-term reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, and focusing on important infrastructure priorities like building the Keystone XL pipeline and addressing the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

While manufacturers would like to see these measures, attaining some of them may be tough sledding in a conservative Congress. There are a number of representatives and conservative groups who don’t want to give the President fast track trade authority, wish to see the Export-Import Bank mothballed out of existence, and will not consider increasing the federal gasoline tax – an action for which Moutray uses the euphemism “addressing the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.” These actions may benefit the large manufacturers but won’t help the bread and butter industries solely serving the domestic market like the 24-employee machining shop or the plastics plant that employs 80.

Turning to the state level, our local manufacturing (so to speak) of poultry has a big week coming up. On Wednesday morning, the final deadline to submit new regulations to the Maryland Register for the January 23 printing will pass. You may recall that the December 1, 2014 Maryland Register featured the new Phosphorus Management Tool regulations as proposed (page 1432 overall, page 18 on the PDF file.) The new regulations were not in the January 9 edition, so January 23 may be the last chance to get these published under the O’Malley administration due to the deadline being set in MOM’s waning days.

Yet I’m hearing the rumors that a legislative bill is in the works, to be introduced in the coming days by liberal Democrats from across the bridge. Doing this legislatively would perhaps buy a few months for local farmers because such a bill would probably take effect in the first of October if not for the almost certain veto from Governor Hogan. If Democrats hold together, though, they would have enough votes to override the veto in January 2016, at which time the bill would belatedly take effect. Still, it will be difficult to stop such a bill given the lack of Republicans and common-sense Democrats in the General Assembly. To sustain a Hogan veto would take 57 House members and 19 Senators, necessitating seven Democrats in the House and five in the Senate to join all the Republicans.

We haven’t received the data yet to know whether the installation of Bob Culver as County Executive was enough to break an 11-month job losing streak year-over-year here in Wicomico County, but his task would be that much tougher with these regulations put in place.

Harris explains his vote for Boehner

Needless to say, many conservatives around the country are disappointed (but not surprised) that the House of Representatives they elected to be the counterweight to Barack Obama decided to elect as its Speaker an insider who has shown little fortitude in fighting for the cause of limited government.

Included in that number who re-elected Boehner as Speaker was our own representative, Andy Harris. He took to social media to explain why, but I think it’s relevant to express my thoughts on why his assessment was incorrect by dividing his statement into portions.

In November, Speaker Boehner was re-nominated by the Republican House Conference without a single opponent stepping forward. That was the appropriate time for an alternative to step forward and be considered by House Republicans.

A lot changed in two months. The House vote occurred on November 13, before Barack Obama followed through on his pledge to take executive action on immigration and before the CRomnibus bill was voted on – in fact, the idea was hatched around that time. It was his handling of these two events and unwillingness to take a stand which included any slim prospect of a government shutdown which angered a number of conservatives. Too many things were taken off the table.

So the timing argument isn’t one which holds water with me.

Today’s vote on the House floor was simply whether Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner was going to be Speaker of the House.

Wrong. There was no chance Pelosi was going to be Speaker. The idea was to bring a second ballot in the hopes that Boehner would see the light, withdraw his name, and allow a compromise candidate to emerge. As Erick Erickson wrote, fellow Ohioan Jim Jordan may have been that guy.

I hope that we can now move forward and work with the Senate to pass common-sense conservative policies. If Speaker Boehner does not deliver on his promises, a Republican House Conference can be called by 50 members and I would join in that call.

Color me extremely, extremely skeptical on that one. We have a four-year track record of a lack of leadership and of kicking multiple cans down the road. And I can already see the excuses.

Over the summer: “We can’t call a conference now – we’re in the middle of working on the FY2016 budget and it would be a distraction.”

Come next fall: “We can’t call a conference now because it would handicap our nominee in 2016. The media would have a field day.”

In 2016: “It’s too close to the election, we can’t risk the infighting and distractions.” And so on. It would be a waiting game where they would hope to outlast our side.

I have no problem standing up for conservative principles to the Speaker and Republican leadership, such as my vote against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, as well as my votes against the Ryan-Murray budget deal and debt ceiling increases.

But you voted for the CRomnibus, while civil libertarians dislike your vote for CISPA and FISA, so both these items you cite are somewhat mixed bags on the whole.

Please know that I will continue to fight for conservative values and Maryland’s First District in the 114th Congress.

You’re not off to a good start.

I go back to something I highlighted in a previous post on this subject, which reprinted a letter from the Wicomico Society of Patriots:

I am aware that it is potentially politically dangerous for Andy Harris to vote against Boehner. If Boehner were to win anyway, then he can retaliate by removing people from their prestigious positions. Andy Harris is on the appropriations committee, one of the most powerful committees. However, we did not vote for Andy Harris so that he could protect his political power in DC. We voted for Andy Harris to stop the Obama agenda. Boehner has been completely ineffectual in stopping Obama.

Sadly. John Boehner is the kind of leader who would be so petty as to punish conservative opponents – whose constituencies are the backbone of the Republican Party – so he’s no leader at all. If only he would exhibit the same backbone to the opposition. It will be worth checking out what happens to the 25 Republicans who did not support Boehner – locally Rep. Scott Rigell, who represents the Eastern Shore of Virginia, was among those opposed.

As for Harris, the questions have to be asked: is this the first major signal of the slide toward the center exhibited by those who have become comfortable inside the Beltway? And how much of an effect will it have on his 2016 prospects? It’s early but if there’s a sentiment underneath the surface that says a more conservative alternative would get the grassroots support that is needed to overcome Andy’s financial advantage – basically, that campaign would have to begin in the next few weeks given the 2016 primary is tentatively scheduled for April 5.

It’s clear that in its current configuration the First District is a Republican stronghold as Harris won in 2012 with 63% of the vote only to breach the 70% threshold in November – yet against a completely unknown, underfunded, and outclassed opponent Harris got just 78% of the primary vote in 2014. (Harris was unopposed in the primary in 2012 and beat Rob Fisher with 67% in 2010.) So Harris does have his detractors and hasn’t faced a “name” Republican opponent since his primary win (with 43%) over then-Congressman Wayne Gilchrest and fellow State Senator E.J. Pipkin.

There’s also been the sentiment that the Eastern Shore needs “one of ours” in the House. While Harris is not a stranger to the Eastern Shore, one part of the reason we were represented by Frank Kratovil for two years was Frank’s successful case that he had “Eastern Shore values” because he lived here (albeit as a come-here who lived almost within sight of the Bay Bridge.)

Perhaps the two saving graces that Andy will have is distance from the election and the slight chance that Boehner figures out the reason we elected more Republicans to the House. But that light you might see looking toward Washington is that of a whole lot of bridges burning.

GO Friday: Farewell, Guantanamo

January 2, 2015 · Posted in GO Friday · Comments Off 

It’s been over a year since I featured a Friday guest opinion, but it’s a new year and I thought this first workday (for some) of 2015 would be a good place to (hopefully) kickstart the series back up. There are a lot of people out there who I would love to see here as guest commentators.

This guest, though, is someone familiar to my readers as his pursuits over the last year have attracted my attention on a few occasions. But my writing about Richard Douglas began when he a candidate for U.S. Senate in the 2012 campaign. In the intervening time, I’ve noted that he is also knowledgeable on foreign affairs, having been senior counsel to two U.S. Senate committees as well as serving in the George W. Bush administration at the Pentagon.

Simply put, Richard’s got a pretty good understanding of this situation so his words may well become reality in 2015.

**********

Bet on this: full U.S. withdrawal from Guantanamo Bay Naval Station is part of the Obama deal with Cuba’s Raul Castro to re-establish U.S.-Cuban relations. The only issue left to negotiate is how much our departure will cost the U.S. taxpayer.

The U.S. Navy began visiting Guantanamo during the 19th century. After our 1898 victory over Spain we moved into this fine Cuban harbor for good. Guantanamo was a familiar destination to American sailors, coast guard personnel, and marines long before the first post-9/11 detainees arrived. It has hosted U.S. military training for decades, and also served as a holding area for Haitians and Cubans hoping to reach the U.S.

Since Fidel Castro shot his way to power in the 1950s, he has demanded U.S. withdrawal from Guantanamo. Given what we have heard from President Obama lately about Cuba policy, Fidel is likely to get his wish, and soon. The Administration is probably already formulating withdrawal plans.

What are the likely contours of such a plan? Here is a prediction, based upon our President’s affection for unilateral action and our experience leaving Panama.

First the President will assert that he requires no new Congressional authority to withdraw from Guantanamo or return the base to Cuba. The last U.S.-Cuba treaty dealing with Guantanamo entered into force in 1934 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mr. Obama will announce that he is free to abrogate or abandon that treaty without Congressional assistance, or in spite of Congressional interference. If pressed, he might cite as precedent President George W. Bush’s 2002 withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty with the Soviet Union over Congressional objections, or President Jimmy Carter’s unilateral abandonment of Taiwan.

In 1999 U.S. forces left Panama, completing a process set in motion by President Carter’s 1977 decision to cede the Canal to the Republic of Panama. Withdrawal of U.S. forces from foreign lands can be an expensive proposition: in Panama, the U.S. was obliged to perform environmental remediation and explosive ordnance disposal before transfer. Cuba will make similar demands upon the U.S. taxpayer before transfer of Guantanamo, and the Administration will almost certainly agree to them.

At Guantanamo, ordnance and environmental cleanup will be just the beginning. Cuba will also ask the U.S. to remove thousands of land mines which Cuba, itself, planted along the Guantanamo fence. Taxpayers will also be on the hook to improve U.S.-built port facilities and airfields there, and to fund retirement of Cubans who lose their naval station jobs owing to the turnover.

I would also expect President Obama to offer reparations and an apology to Cuba for the century-long U.S. occupation of Guantanamo, in spite of the fact that these and other U.S. payments will very likely end up in the pockets of the Castro brothers, corrupt Cuban government and Communist Party officials, and the international criminal organizations already enthusiastically awaiting departure of U.S. forces from Guantanamo.

Unlike Panama, we should expect no Cuban interest in a residual U.S. security presence at Guantanamo after turnover. Thus we must be prepared to see the U.S.-built facilities there used in disturbing ways. After withdrawal, Guantanamo’s harbor and airfields will become regular naval and air stopovers for adversaries like Russia and China, and possibly even for drug cartels transshipping deadly cargo to the U.S. or West Africa.

How could President Obama expect a Republican-led Congress to authorize or fund a handover of Guantanamo to the Cuban regime?

Insofar as legislative authorities are concerned for the transfer of U.S. buildings, fixtures, and equipment at Guantanamo to the Cubans, expect the Obama administration simply to announce that under existing law it already has authority to perform all necessary tasks. To advance his agenda, President Obama has not been timid about conjuring presidential authorities from existing law or the Constitution. Guantanamo will be no different.

Unless the new Congress acts to control it, to fund the transfer the President could simply siphon dollars from already-appropriated Pentagon, State Department, Homeland Security, and intelligence community regular budgets. In the federal budget there are dozens of places to squirrel away funding. Dollars Congress appropriates today for legitimate but vague Executive branch purposes may help fund withdrawal from Guantanamo Bay Naval Station tomorrow.

Many Americans are concerned about Obama overtures to Cuba. But a Cold War mainstay is coming to an end courtesy of the President. Perhaps it is worth recalling that Jimmy Carter’s Panama Canal Treaty partner, General Omar Torrijos, was also reviled by many as a socialist dictator. Thirty years after Torrijos perished in a plane crash, the Canal is in good hands and modernizing. Panama’s tragic history of dictatorship seems far away.

We can only hope that a similar evolution toward democracy and prosperity will be seen in Cuba. For now, prospects are not encouraging and the jury is out. But come what may, Americans should prepare themselves to say farewell to Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. Soon.

A look ahead: 2015 in Maryland

While many of the fiscal issues that dogged the state in 2014 are still around – and have continued to worsen with each revelation of another revenue shortfall – the personnel in place to address the problem has undergone significant changes thanks to a wave election which pulled Maryland into its tide.

At this time in 2013 when I wrote the look at 2014, the election seemed to be the molehill Anthony Brown thought it would be as the Maryland GOP was divided and despondent. But Larry Hogan’s Change Maryland movement was enough to overcome the built-in advantage in Democrat voter registration; meanwhile, Brown ran a highly uninspiring campaign that led to the lowest Democrat turnout on record. The drag from the top of the ticket allowed Republicans to pick up seven House seats and two Senate seats despite the gerrymandered redistricting done by Democrats after the 2010 elections.

November was the easy part, though – now Hogan has to govern. Job one will be finding $420 million to squeeze from this year’s budget, while the gap for next year is an estimated $750 million. While that number is daunting, it should be pointed out that the FY2015 state budget was $1.886 billion higher than the FY2014 version. That’s a 5.1% increase, so being $420 million short equates to a 1.07% cut. Simply holding the line on the budget for FY2016 and keeping it under $40 billion (in essence, level funding) should cover a lot of the problem. In fact, holding the budget to $40 billion rather than another 5.1% increase to match last year’s would net a difference of $1.224 billion – more than enough to cover the shortfall.

I realize it’s not as easy as I make it sound, but the budget is in Larry Hogan’s hands. The other key is a bill normally introduced immediately after the operating and capital budgets each year called the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, or BRFA. This is where the mandated spending that makes up over 80 percent of the budget is tweaked, and this is the bill for which Larry Hogan will have to sharpen his pencil and will want to keep a close eye on. Generally it is introduced by the administration’s request in the body which considers the other budget items. Although a version goes to both the House and Senate, by tradition budget consideration alternates yearly and 2015 will be the House’s turn.

And starting it in the House is important because a significant number of members are freshman legislators, many of whom were elected by receiving the message that voters were looking for change and fiscal responsibility. Over half of the Republicans in the House are newly-elected, with at least one appointee as well to replace Delegate Kelly Schulz, who was tapped to lead the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. This process will be a sidebar story as two current members of the General Assembly have already been chosen for positions in the new administration (Schulz and Senator Joe Getty.)

On a local level, the entirety of Wicomico County will be, for the first time in memory, represented in the House by a delegation entirely made up by freshmen. A combined 83 years of experience among six members was wiped out by a combination of redistricting, retirements, promotions, and electoral losses, leaving the county with five freshman representatives – Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes all begin their tenures next week. It’s perhaps a situation unique to the state; fortunately, the combined legislative experience of the county’s Senators is 28 years (20 for Addie Eckardt in the House and 4 years apiece for Jim Mathias in the House and Senate.)

Yet the change in leadership in the state could make things easier on the counties as well, provided Hogan makes the right departmental selections. As I pointed out yesterday regarding Wicomico County, a change at the Department of Planning could make county-level tier maps become more suited for local needs rather than state mandates. (Certainly counties with approved maps should consider tweaking them to address perceived inequities.) Hogan has also promised steps to allow fracking in western Maryland, to consider a plan to clean the Bay by addressing the sediment trapped behind the Conowingo Dam, and will maintain strident opposition to phosphorus regulations which would affect poultry production on the Eastern Shore. All these endeavors can be assisted with prudent selections at the departments of Environment and Agriculture.

All through the state government there’s an exciting potential for reform – if the right choices are made. Hogan’s early picks have been of a bipartisan nature, which may frustrate GOP activists who saw the same practice help to undermine the Ehrlich administration, but could be argued to be necessary with the political reality that a lot of Democrat votes went to electing Hogan. (Statewide Democrats down the ticket, on the other hand, were selected by comfortable margins.) That also becomes the price to pay for having a majority-Democrat General Assembly.

Something else to watch in Maryland will be how much more Second Amendment erosion takes place under newly-elected Attorney General Brian Frosh. A gun grabber in the Maryland Senate, Frosh now takes a bigger role and it will be up to Hogan to prove his Second Amendment bona fides by championing the eventual repeal or overturn in court of the ill-considered Firearm Safety Act of 2013 – although the law may see its day in federal court first.

Another probable line of demarcation will be how to deal with the certainty of more illegal aliens thanks to Barack Obama’s policies of amnesty. With Maryland’s reputation as a sanctuary state, anything short of a localized get-tough approach will be a further drain on the budget and another headache for Hogan.

All this and I haven’t even touched on economic development or educational reform, which will also be items to watch in 2015 but currently have far too many known and unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase. On the latter, Hogan has made it known he’ll work to strengthen charter schools but true reform is probably some years away.

The story of 2015 in Maryland will be the story of how Larry Hogan leads after he takes the oath of office January 21. By then we’ll have some idea of what the priorities of the General Assembly will be as they’ll have already put a week of session under their belts and the hearing process should be underway on the highest-priority items. Success may be as simple as plugging the financial hole by tightening the state’s fiscal belt and the faster that happens, the more of the conservative agenda could be debated.

A pair of projects, from opposite sides

December 22, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, National politics, Politics · 1 Comment 

There are always those who use film as the best means to illustrate an issue. I’m not one of those, but I admire those who make the attempt and a couple projects in need of funding piqued my interest as they deal with problems on opposite sides of the country.

Given the distance from their Indiegogo goal, Chris and Lisa Burgard need more help in following up on a project they did several years ago called “Border.” As they note:

Back then, we filmed and documented armed narcotics traffickers breaking into the country, women being abused and tortured under rape trees, children being used by drug cartels to move product and people across the border, American ranchers routinely finding dead bodies, sometimes murdered women.  Lawlessness and violence were so bad that ranchers and their wives had to carry semiautomatic weapons in order to safely feed livestock on their own property.

The new film, tentatively titled “Beyond the Border,” promises “to expose the truth about this new wave of illegal immigration and the danger that has spread far beyond our southern border and into the American heartland.” This “movie Barack Obama doesn’t want you to see” goes against the politically correct narrative promoted by the amnesty lobby and Chamber of Commerce types that all our immigrants just want to improve their economic lot (conveniently, at a lower labor cost than they might pay comparable American workers.) Instead, the most recent influx of border-crossers is blamed for overwhelming the legal system and spreading the deadly EV-D68 enterovirus to American children.

I have my Facebook friend John LaRosa to thank for bringing my attention to “Beyond the Border” above, but the below had a little more advertising firepower than a Facebook post, so they are somewhat closer to their goal. It’s also a subject a little closer to my heart since I grew up 90 minutes (and within the reach of their sports teams and radio stations) south of Detroit. Yes, this Maryland transplant still roots for his Tigers and Lions.

I watched the original film and one thing which leaped out at me was the role of government in the demise of the city through bad planning, bad choices, and bad apples in charge. But we’re told Detroit is a city on the rebound.

As Executive Producer Ben Howe describes it, though:

Detroit is often framed as a lost cause but we never hear the whole story. What brought the city to this point? Not chance, but incompetence, corporate cronyism, greed, and above all, corruption.

To the people of Detroit, this is a personal reality – a reality about the homes and lives they built, and some have lost, and that all want back and improved. They want to see their city thrive again. They will not concede to defeat and despair. The Detroit Project will spotlight the people experiencing the bankruptcy first-hand, and most importantly, the people who are doing something about it.

We intend to fearlessly engage with those in power that claim to be working on behalf of the people. We will investigate how city planners are spending public money, what projects are in the works, and what they believe the focus of city efforts should be.

Is Detroit headed for a future of prosperity that harkens back to her earlier years? Or are they going down the same troubled path that brought them to the brink? Who do you trust to answer those questions? Someone has to hold the policy makers accountable. Together with your help, that is precisely what we intend to do.

Over the last half-century the region that we consider Detroit has spread out over countless suburbs in surrounding counties, with bedroom communities spreading out from Oakland and Macomb counties on the north to Ann Arbor on the west to Monroe toward the south. It’s created somewhat of a donut effect as entire blocks of inner-city Detroit were abandoned to the elements and certain remaining homes in the city proper can literally be purchased for less than $100. Indeed, it’s a tale of people who once drove from the suburbs downtown to work now mainly commuting from one suburb to another – only returning downtown to catch the aforementioned Tigers or Lions before retreating back out I-75, I-94, or I-96 – and the reasons deserve a thorough investigation.

These are just two examples which piqued my interest. But elements of both could actually be applied locally as illegal immigrants have made their way to our area, settling in a city which has seen its own share of tough economic times but whose downtown is enjoying a little bit of a renaissance which is hoped will continue with the opening of new entertainment venues and plans for more residential development. I don’t think we quite need a film in these veins about Salisbury but the lessons learned could be illustrative.

The required renovation of Andy Harris

For the four years he has been in office, Andy Harris has generally enjoyed the support of his conservative Eastern Shore constituents. He’s not had a serious primary challenge since he was elected and garnered over 70% of the vote in 2014 against Democrat Bill Tilghman, whose centrist posture was well right of mainstream Democrats but far out of step with the district.

But since that resounding November victory, Andy’s actions in Congress during the lame duck session have earned him further enmity from the strong libertarian wing of the party and alienated conservatives as well.

By inserting a provision into the so-called CRomnibus bill preventing the District of Columbia from enacting its Proposition 71 marijuana legalization, Harris again became the target of District residents and leaders who demanded a tourism boycott of Andy’s Eastern Shore district earlier this summer. Accusations of being in the pocket of Big Pharma followed, but Harris defended the role of Congress spelled out in the Constitution [Article 1, Section 8] as overseer of the District’s affairs.

Yet while the libertarians of the Shore make up a small slice of the constituency – a Libertarian candidate ran in the First District for three successive elections from 2008-12, but never received even 5% of the vote – the conservatives are upset about Andy’s vote in favor of CRomnibus. That segment of the electorate is Andy’s bread and butter.

In the TEA Party community, there are whispers about who could challenge Andy from the right, as several feel he is on the same glide path that Wayne Gilchrest took during his long Congressional career. His 2008 primary defeat (by Harris) came after a bitter campaign where Andy stuck the “liberal” tag successfully on the longtime pol as well as fellow Maryland Senate opponent E. J. Pipkin.

Ironically, a politician long allied with Pipkin could be a prospect to make that challenge. Michael Smigiel, a delegate who was defeated in the 2014 District 36 GOP primary, is popular among the TEA Party community for his strong Second Amendment stance. But it would be difficult for anyone to raise the money Andy has at his disposal and Harris has bolstered his profile among local elected officials and the state Republican party by being generous with his campaign funds through A Great Maryland PAC.

It’s also worth mentioning for context that CRomnibus is probably roughly the same deal which would have been made if the budget were completed in regular order, given the partisan divide between the House and Senate.

Instead, while most functions of the government will continue through next September, the Department of Homeland Security budget has a February expiration date. This sets up a showdown between Congress and Barack Obama regarding the latter’s executive actions to give de facto amnesty to millions of illegal aliens; however, some hardliners already feel the damage is done.

In response to a lengthy Facebook post by Harris explaining his CRomnibus stance, though, local activists summed up the frustration TEA party activists felt, noting:

  • “(Harris) does a nice job of listing those riders and amendments that might seem to gain the approbation of the conservative and Republican audiences, while omitting anything that might serve as a balance – what effectively was the PRICE paid for what was had, the PRICE of ‘compromise.’”
  • “It is rather sad that Andy thinks that he can list a few paltry gains and that will make us overlook the whole thousand page monstrosity. The obvious question is that if he got in a few tidbits that he wanted, then who else got in their tidbits and what are those?  I would imagine that they will far outweigh any small gains that he is bragging about.”

These activists agree one way Harris could help to restore his image would be to take the lead in the conservative grassroots push to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Bear in mind that this could come at some cost as Andy serves on the Appropriations Committee and a Boehner victory over any challenger for whom Andy shows support could bring repercussions such as the stripping of his position there, but on balance I believe a potential sacrifice such as that is worth the opportunity to have a stronger conservative leader as Speaker. It’s a sentiment shared by commentators at American Thinker, WorldNetDaily, and RedState.

On November 4, people hungry for real change went to the polls to reject the Democratic Senate and place Republicans firmly in control of Congress. The events leading to the CRonmibus, though, shook the confidence that Washington would depart from its business-as-usual benefits to the ruling class by allowing the outgoing defeated members one last hurrah. While all of this blame cannot be laid at the feet of John Boehner, there is a mood in this country that a strong counterbalance is needed to the increasing use of Executive Branch power by Barack Obama, particularly on immigration and Obamacare. The fear of many conservatives, particularly those in the First District, is that John Boehner doesn’t have the spine to rein in the executive.

Just like in 2008, when Andy Harris first ran for Congress, the potential is there in 2016 for state elected officials to “run from cover” as their Delegate or Senate seats aren’t on the ballot. During the similar 2012 election, 7 members of the Maryland General Assembly ran for Congress – one for the Senate and six for various Congressional seats. While none were successful overall, two won their party primary and ran through November.

No member of Congress is universally loved, and being a representative at any level of government means you won’t please everyone. But there’s a growing number who want Andy Harris to be a conservative leader and not just talk a good game.

Who’s out may be as important as who’s in

Recently I’ve posted about three likely entrants into the 2016 Presidential race – Jeb Bush and Dr. Ben Carson on the Republican side and Jim Webb representing the Democrats. Naturally with an open seat the interest in the job increases, since there’s no incumbent with his built-in advantages to contend with. This opens the field to a lot of potential contenders who passed on the 2012 race for various reasons. Recall that many of those who ran in 2012 on the GOP side are still active in the political arena – Newt Gingrich with his production group, Rick Santorum with Patriot Voices, Mitt Romney with endorsements and help with financial support, and Rick Perry with his RickPAC, among others.

Obviously Democrats were silent in 2012, but it’s been known that grassroots movements have sprung up for Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren (who’s trying to tell her supporters “no”) while Martin O’Malley began his own PAC for 2014. Joe Biden claims he “honest to God hasn’t made up my mind” about running.

On the GOP side, these aforementioned contenders have one thing in common: except for Perry, who did not seek another term and leaves next month, they are not currently serving in office. (On the other hand, among the Democrats only Webb and Clinton are out of office, although O’Malley joins that group January 21.) Yet the GOP has an extremely deep bench of current governors, many of which are in their second term and have national name recognition: in alphabetical order, the group includes Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, John Kasich in Ohio, Mike Pence of Indiana, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

In recent years, our presidents have tended to be former governors: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter all came from that background. Obviously their tenures in the Oval Office were a mixed bag of success, but Americans tend to be more confident that those who ran a state can run a federal government. (The only recent exceptions to this were 2012 with Mitt Romney and 1988, where Vice-President Bush defeated Michael Dukakis. Maybe being governor of Massachusetts works as a disqualifier.)

With the large potential field of governors, it may be just as important to know who’s out. When you have a state to run for another four years, the excuses for trips to Iowa and New Hampshire are fewer. It’s not to say that governors who want the brass ring won’t try and make that effort, but as we’ve seen with Martin O’Malley and his frequent journeys to New Hampshire and Iowa in his second term, there is the potential for losing focus on your real job. It was enough to cost his anointed successor his election, for the dubious gain of polling at 1 percent or less in most 2016 Presidential polls.

There are perhaps 15 to 20 figures in national politics who could potentially run for President on the Republican side – far more than the Democrats boast. Of course, only one can win a party’s nomination, but beyond that there are only three or four who can be in the top tier and raise the money necessary to wage a national campaign. (It’s something that Martin O’Malley is finding out firsthand on the Democrat side, since he’s not one of those.) It’s been claimed on a grassroots level that the last two Republican campaigns were decided when the “establishment” settled on one candidate before the activists did – that group split their allegiances and votes several ways until it was too late. By the time Rick Santorum outlasted Gingrich, Perry, et. al. he was no more than the highest loser because at that point the nomination was just about sealed for Mitt Romney. Romney may have been the best candidate for 2012, but he wasn’t good enough to get the nearly 3.6 million who passed on voting for Barack Obama a second time to come on board.

People like to keep their options open, but since the announcements of who’s in seem to be receding farther and farther from the actual election, it may help those of us on the Right who would like to select a candidate to know who won’t be running. Obviously there will be a few ardent supporters who will pine for that candidate to reconsider – as far-left populist Democrats are finding with Elizabeth Warren – but we could save a lot of wasted money and effort by finding out who won’t make a half-hearted attempt at an early date.

To the left, the world is not enough

I’ve probably given as many pixels to failed candidate Rick Weiland as anyone outside his native South Dakota, but it’s because I think he’s very useful as a gauge of reactionary liberalism in a part of the nation which has maintained a streak of populism surprising for such a rural area. While the South has gone almost completely Republican, those in the rural Midwest will occasionally elect Democrats they deem to be centrists or populists on a statewide level. South Dakota has rejected Weiland several times, but it doesn’t mean he’ll stop trying and to me that exhibits precisely how the far left operates and why it’s important to hear about their desires. (He could also use the money since he can’t manage his campaign funds, but I digress.)

So yesterday, in the wake of the debate about CRomnibus, I received a missive called “We can’t breathe!” from which I quote in part:

The revenge of the money changers is in full swing in Congress today.

Let the big banks have their swaps back. Let Las Vegas advertise itself with your tax dollars. Increase by 1000% the amount billionaires can contribute to buy off our political parties.

Men of color are not the only ones they have in a choke-hold – now they’ve got all of us – and it’s way past time to tell them none of us can breathe!

Emboldened by the Obama-haters they just elected, Wall Street is readying the nooses for Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. They think they can’t be stopped.

But WE can stop them!

24 states allow initiatives and referendums – 24 states where you can show them exactly what you think of their choke-hold on the rest of us.

So let’s put what they are doing to us on the ballot in those 24 states and find out who is right.

(snip)

Help us close down the debt on my just completed Senate campaign, and fire up our initiative and referendum team. Because we are going to turn our little state into a laboratory for direct democracy.

A laboratory and an export market.

Let’s put Citizens United, Ferguson, and Big Bank plutocracy on trial at the ballot box.

Because when you go down fighting instead of whimpering, a funny thing often happens: people notice, then they think a little, and pretty soon they’re fighting too.

If you have to vote on it you have to think about it.  So let’s put our ideas directly on the ballot and pick a fight. (All emphasis in original.)

This is the mirror-reverse of the strategy Maryland Republicans tried in 2012 to petition already-enacted legislation to referendum, which failed. Looking back, I wonder if the Maryland Republican Party isn’t kicking itself for not placing the “bathroom bill” or 2013 gun bill on the ballot this year – we may have even had a more shocking victory by repealing both laws. (The counter-argument, of course, is the “sleeping dog” school of thought which liked the Democrats’ low turnout – perhaps the inclusion of those ballot measures would have hurt Larry Hogan’s chances by bringing out more liberal Democrats.)

It’s also true that, even in the face of a Republican wave election, four states that had a minimum wage increase on the ballot, including the aforementioned South Dakota, passed these measures while electing Republican Senators – in Alaska and Arkansas the Democrats seeking re-election to the Senate were defeated on that same ballot. (Nebraska was the fourth state.) Again, this shows the streak of populism which occurs in the Midwest.

Obviously Weiland sees a trend, exhibited in his home state, where direct democracy can succeed in accomplishing those things a representative republic would not. As the minimum wage example shows, people can be fooled into voting against their best interests – that’s why we were founded as a Constitutional republic.

Weiland’s mindset is shared by a lot of people, though. Witness the populist appeal to Southern voters espoused by the writer of the linked New Republic piece, Michael A. Cooper, Jr., who pleads with his party:

Speaking as a southerner, we need help, not from the DCCC but from government to deal with issues like homelessness and drug addiction.

These aren’t esoteric concerns Beltway liberals tut-tut about like global warming or political correctness, but true pocketbook issues which unfortunately tend to affect the poorest among us. Conservatives would prefer these issues be dealt with on more of a faith-based level through private charity but it can also be addressed by local and state governments. (By the way, thanks to Jackie Wellfonder for bringing the New Republic piece to my attention just in time for me to add it in because it fit the point so well.)

Just as the right has its TEA Party movement which has cooled to the mainstream Republican party – and for good reason – many activists on the left are embracing their new savior as Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose populist screed against Wall Street has won the backing of elements of the Democrat Party who think Barack Obama sold them out and Hillary Clinton is too close to the right wing. They are also fed up with the government, but stare at the problem from the other side of the fence because they want the power of government to regulate corporatism out of existence, or rein it in as fascism dictates.

Meanwhile, while these Warren acolytes whine about what Barack Obama is not providing them, they fail to see that many of their goals are being realized anyway. Truly it’s the Right that’s not being served.

As the new year arrives and Republicans take over Congress (along with the governor’s chair in Annapolis) we will begin to see all the stories and tales of woe unreported on over the last six years. There’s a lot of work to do, and Republican leaders in Congress didn’t get off on the right foot by passing CRomnibus. We must demand, now that we’ve granted them the opportunity to complete the FY2016 budget in regular order as they’ve wished to do for several years, that our priorities be the ones funded and the mistakes of the last six years deleted.

Perhaps we can also do our part in using the referendum system in advancing conservative causes as well. Two can play that game, and it’s just as important to motivate our voters as it is for the other side to buy theirs.

Opening fodder

While Ben Carson made a splash on the GOP side by strongly hinting he was in the 2016 Presidential fray, he stopped short of actually launching an exploratory committee. The first major candidate – at least one who has a shot at being in the top couple tiers, anyway – to form an exploratory committee is Democrat Jim Webb, the former Reagan administration official who later became a Democratic senator from Virginia. Daniel Larison at The American Conservative has some thoughts on this challenge to presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, but Webb has his own explanation at his newly-christened website.

And while it’s probably the longest of shots to oppose the Clinton machine, Webb does have somewhat of an opening according to Harry Enten at fivethirtyeight.com. He points out that Hillary’s support is weakest in the political center, where Webb’s pro-military but populist message may resonate. As David Freedlander writes at the Daily Beast:

And Clinton, (Webb’s) aides insist, is a non-factor.

“It ain’t about Hillary,” said Mudcat Saunders, a longtime Virginia strategist who worked on Webb’s Senate campaign. “It’s about bring the American dream to the forefront once again for working people and small business. The working people and small business – they haven’t had any representation in years. And they know it.

Americans want to do something about this coin-operated government.”

In a lot of respects, Webb hearkens back to the old Democratic party, the one which was just as liberal as it is today but was pro-military and pro-American. Ronald Reagan led those voters to the Republican Party and many of them stayed. For those who hang on to their faith in the old-style Democratic party and the song and dance about their support for the working man – the sort of Democrat who still resides mainly in rural areas like this one – Webb may be an appealing option. Take this excerpt from his introductory video as an example, one where Webb points out that he’s no stranger to long-shot campaigns since he defeated George Allen in 2006 to win his one term as Senator.

With enough financial support to conduct a first-class campaign, I have no doubt that we can put these issues squarely before the American people and gain their support. The 2016 election is two years away, but serious campaigning will begin very soon. The first primaries are about a year away. Your early support will be crucial as I evaluate whether we might overcome what many commentators see as nearly impossible odds.

We are starting with very little funding and no full-time staff, but I’ve been here before. In February, 2006 I announced for the Senate only nine months before the election against an entrenched incumbent. We had no money and no staff. We were more than 30 points behind in the polls. I promised to work on the same themes I am putting before you now: reorient our national security policy, work toward true economic fairness and social justice, and demand good governance, including a proper balance between the Presidency and the Congress. We won. And despite the paralysis in our government, we delivered on these promises, in measurable, lasting ways.

In 2007, I gave the response to President Bush’s State of the Union address. I put economic fairness for our working people and small business owners at the front of my response, noting the immense and ever-growing disparities in income between corporate executives and those who do the hard work. When I graduated from college the average corporate CEO made twenty times what his workers made. Today that number is greater than 300 times. The inequalities between top and bottom in our country are greater than at any time in the last hundred years. And the disparities between those at the very top and the rest of our society have only grown larger since the economic crash of late 2008 and early 2009.

With over 30,000 views in the first few days, the video is indeed portraying a very populist message that would appeal to the vast number of voters who fall for the class envy trap. (Dirty little secret: CEO pay is much higher now because many are paid in large part with stock options, thanks to the push a couple decades ago to more directly tie CEO salaries to company profitability and financial performance. In terms of actual salary, the ratio is far lower.)

It’s doubtful that Jim Webb is the obstacle to an eventual Hillary coronation that Barack Obama was in 2008, and at this point he’s probably in the same low tier of probability that Martin O’Malley rests on, well behind Joe Biden and miles in arrears to Hillary. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jim in the mid-single digits in early polls as an outsider who has military experience, as opposed to most others in the Democratic field. He may be the catalyst for another Operation Chaos on the Democratic side.

Under the radar

After he lost the 2012 Senatorial primary to Dan Bongino, Richard Douglas has kept a somewhat low profile. Eschewing a possible run for Attorney General this year, Douglas has instead focused on particular issues such as the Bladensburg Peace Cross earlier this year and his latest, a criticism of Maryland’s two sitting Senators for a lack of action on freeing Marylander Alan Gross from a Cuban prison.

In today’s Daily Record (11/19), I was astonished to read the Capital News Service whitewash of the Maryland U.S. congressional delegation’s record of failure on Alan Gross.

Marylander Gross remains in a Cuban jail because Maryland’s weak, irresolute U.S. Senators have done precisely nothing to force our weak, irresolute President to make Cuba howl. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski have used none of the tools available to majority-party senators, or in Mikulski’s case, to the chair of the Senate’s most powerful standing committee, to bludgeon the Obama White House into meaningful action to free their fellow Marylander.

To try to force presidential action, Cardin and Mikulski could easily have blocked Obama legislative priorities, Obama executive nominations, treaties, senior bureaucratic promotion lists, and spending bills. But they didn’t, and these are glaring omissions in the Capitol Hill playbook. They confirm that Cardin and Mikulski have pulled their punches with their ideological teammate in the White House.

Whitewash can’t conceal the truth. Maryland’s U.S. Senators and the White House have shown weakness and a lack of resolve on Mr. Gross. That same brand of weakness and lack of resolve helped put Russian troops in Ukraine, and allows Islamist terrorists to murder Americans almost at will.

In January, the new Republican majority in the Senate could finally force President Obama to break a sweat over Alan Gross, five long years into his imprisonment. We’ll see. But what a pity that Maryland’s U.S. Senators, clucking furiously on the sidelines, have utterly failed to use the tools which the Framers gave them to force Obama to do his job.

Douglas was quite critical of Cardin in his 2012 run, but hadn’t really had much need to be critical of Maryland’s senior Senator. It’s Mikulski’s seat which will be at stake in 2016, though, and Douglas’s statewide experience may lead some to ask whether he’s thinking of challenging Mikulski. With the Senate political landscape being almost exactly the opposite of 2014′s (where Republicans will have at least 24 seats to defend against just 10 for Democrats) the chance to pull an upset in Maryland is intriguing in the wake of Larry Hogan’s win.

Naturally, the prospect of a rematch of the two top GOP contenders from 2012 means Dan Bongino will be in the conversation as a possible contender. But will Bongino want to undergo yet another campaign, the third one in five years?

With the experience Douglas boasts as a former Chief Counsel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former General Counsel of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an election where cleaning up Barack Obama’s foreign policy messes may be a key issue, the prospect of someone with Richard’s expertise going up against Mikulski – or a new Democrat should Barb decide to retire – is quite interesting. Surely we will see in the coming months if it’s a race Richard wants to run.

A bad deal all around

There are actually a couple things I want to tie together in this piece – they may seem disparate at first, but I think there’s a common thread in something I write about on a frequent basis.

For a guy whose party took a good old-fashioned ass-kicking in the midterms, Barack Obama sure is governing like he didn’t hear any of the voters, whether they showed up or not. We may like these gasoline prices which are the lowest they have been through his time in office, but he’s still determined to decimate our economy in the name of combating global warming. It was a point Peter Ingemi (aka DaTechGuy) made with some hashtag and messaging suggestions today.

In order for our economy to grow, we need to use energy. Like it or not, the vast majority of energy sources for our needs in the near-term future will be fossil fuels – thanks to advances in technology, oil and natural gas prices are reasonably cheap and supplies are plentiful.

And even if you say that cutting our greenhouse gas emissions is a worthy goal, we still are allowing China – you know, that country which seems to send us every product under the sun that’s not made here anymore because manufacturers bailed on America a couple decades back – to continue to increase its emissions. They say they would like their emissions to “peak” around 2030 – of course, that’s no iron-clad guarantee and since when have communists ever told the truth or lived up to an agreement? It’s a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the Chinese and it lasts for 15 years – meanwhile, we cripple what little industry hasn’t abandoned us yet due to shortsighted government policies and the obvious feeling that corporations are cash cows for exploitation to increase spending.

So, just like Obamacare has become the descriptive term for bad health care policy, “Obama China deal” and “Obama EPA regulations” should become part of the political lexicon. Admittedly, it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as Obamacare but all three are detrimental to our economy.

EPA regulations restricting the use of fossil fuels would interrupt what’s been a promising rebirth of an American energy industry many thought was dying just a few short years ago. Instead, they are at a point where the need for workers is great as the industry continues to expand, and writer Marita Noon hit upon a great marriage of supply and demand just in time for Veterans Day. As she notes:

The U.S. oil-and-gas industry has added millions of jobs in the past few years and expects to add more and more—especially with the new energy-friendly Republican-controlled Congress. Just the Keystone pipeline — which is now likely to be built — will employ thousands. Increased access to reserves on federal lands will demand more personnel. But finding potential hires that fit the needs of the energy industry in the general labor pool is difficult, as they lack discipline, the ability to work in a team and, often, can’t pass a drug test.

Obviously our veterans have these qualities in spades thanks to their military experience, (Similarly, veterans have been integrated into a successful local construction firm led by one of their own.)

The question of climate change isn’t one of whether it occurs, as our planet has veered between ice age and warm periods ever since its creation untold eons ago. It’s always been one of responsibility and corrective action – my view is that the sun is the prime driver of the climate and we can’t do a whole lot about that fact. Just the fact that global temperature has held near-steady over the last 18 years and not constantly risen with the amount of carbon emissions punches a hole in a lot of the global warming theory, and is a prime reason they’ve gone to the term “climate disruption.” If we ceased using energy tomorrow it wouldn’t make a dime’s worth of difference to the climate but millions would starve.

Fortunately, what Obama has proposed with China isn’t binding until the Senate says so and a climate deal is probably dead on arrival in a GOP-controlled Senate. But the EPA and other regulators can provide a backhanded way of putting our end of the China deal in effect without lawmakers having a say.

The first of many

Back in August, I noted that Ben Carson had formed his own political action committee and predicted that he was going to take the next step:

I believe this step is the prelude to setting up the exploratory committee, regardless of how the fall elections go. No one wants to get in the ring this soon because many of those who are considering a 2016 bid have to make it through this year’s election first. Once the election and holidays pass us by, I would expect Carson to make a go of it.

Looks like Ben’s only waited for the election, as he’s airing a paid documentary in a number of media markets (including Baltimore and Washington) this weekend. Here’s a teaser from producer Armstrong Williams.

I didn’t watch the documentary (since no local station carried it and it’s not up on Youtube yet) but odds are the show will be long on sizzle and short on substance. That’s typical of the early stages in any political campaign, and the election begins sooner than you might think: in 14 to 15 months we’ll be anxiously awaiting the results of the Iowa caucuses on both sides to start weeding out the contenders who have made it that far by raising sufficient campaign funds to compete.

Obviously the question is whether Carson can compete, both financially and in the arena of ideas. I look at the Ben Carson campaign similarly to the Herman Cain effort in 2010-11, but there’s a key difference in that Cain had what I thought was a viable economic proposal in his 9-9-9 plan while Dr. Carson seems to have his support based on the fact he’s a God-fearing outsider. I don’t find anything wrong with that, but the lack of political experience is quite the hurdle to overcome – particularly given the fact our current failure of a president never served in an executive post unlike four of his immediate five predecessors, with the other serving as vice-president for eight years.

There are a number of current and soon-to-be-former Republican governors thought to be 2016 candidates who have a track record to run on, and more importantly have most of their skeletons out of the closet. Rumors of an extramarital affair did Cain in, and the Democrats already have latched onto a number of statements Carson has made in an effort to doom his nascent campaign.

Perhaps, though, Carson’s very early apparent entrance into the race is necessary to maintain momentum, and he will need a big early push to make it through a field from both parties salivating for an open seat and the chance to either undo Barack Obama’s damage or finish off the nation a little bit more.

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