Squashed

A blog of politics, law, religion, and the tricky spots where they collide.

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Solyndra

This whole Solyndra thing looks bad. It’s embarrassing. But let’s keep it in context.

First, the energy department loan guarantees weren’t supposed to be rock-solid investments. If they were likely to be profitable, the private sector could have handled it just fine. The whole point of the loans were to stimulate a green energy sector to both create jobs, clean up our energy consumption, and ensure that the U.S. is relevant in the world green-energy manufacturing market.

Second, the guys who are most angry about how quickly the Solyndra deal went through are the same guys who were complaining about how slowly the stimulus eked out. If you want the stimulus to have an immediate and rapid effect, you have less time for diligent review. This is a trade off.

Third, the whole point of a bet is that you might lose. The smart money is sometimes wrong. If I bet $200 against your $100 that a fairly-flipped coin will come up heads—you should take the bet. You have an expected payout of 150%. Even though it’s a great bet, there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll walk away with nothing. Losing a bet does not mean it was an inherently bad bet. The energy department has guaranteed $35.9 billion in loans. Check them out. One was Solyndra. Another was Tesla. The loss at Solyndra is roughly 1.5% of the total guarantee.

Fourth, Solyndra got creamed in large part by Chinese competition. We subsidized Solynda. China out-subsidized us. On one hand, it’s too bad our solar panel company got creamed. On the other hand … it was awfully nice of China to buy us all those solar panels.

Fifth, of course Solyndra’s people donated a lot of money to the Obama campaign and had a lot of contacts with the energy department. Is it any surprise that people in the green industry business donated to a democrat? And is it any surprise that people seeking a loan guarantee would have contact with the person they’re hoping will guarantee it? There may be a smoking gun showing serious impropriety. Wake me up when you find it.

It’s too bad about Solyndra. And it’s really to bad about those awkward and now-ironic statements about how awesome Solyndra was. But this is not the epic scandal you are looking for.

A new approach from the Obama administration

The Obama administration has pioneered the much maligned “lead from the back” legislative strategy. In the healthcare debates, for example, he acted less like a star player and more like a referee. On one hand, nobody likes the ref. On the other hand, he’s gotten results. The stimulus, the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, the DADT repeal. While the process has been frustrating, the results have led (and will continue to lead) to very tangible help for millions of people.

(There were some big misses too. I would have liked to see a comprehensive global-warming legislation and a sane immigration policy. In the current climate, I’m not sure either is possible. Raising energy costs during the recession is not a politically viable option. And, since economic suffering has given rise to xenophobia, I’d be afraid of any immigration bill that made it through Congress.)

That ended when the Republicans took power. Obama has fairly well held the line in ensuring there aren’t substantial cuts to his core priorities. And we’re even seeing some military cuts—which are awfully nice. But this is all playing defense. Nothing new is getting done.

The Obama administration has switched tactics again. He’s proposed the American Jobs act and laid out a credible deficit reduction plan. Both solid (and fairly moderate) legislative proposals. Neither has a chance of passing in its current form. However, they may well give moderates in Congress the political cover they need to address a comprehensive tax reform that includes some revenue increases. And that would be another legislative victory for the Obama administration.

In the meantime, rallying public support around good ideas will refocus the national political conversation.

virtualephemera:

obamafamily:

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and his family walk to board Air Force One after cutting short by a day their vacation on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts August 26, 2011. Obama and his family will cut short their vacation and return to the White House on Friday, before Hurricane Irene hits the U.S. East Coast, the White House said. (via Photo from Reuters Pictures)

When I see pictures of the president and First Lady with their young daughters, it really puts into perspective how ridiculous the debate about presidential vacations is. Sure, he’s the leader of the Free World. He’s also a father of young children who probably sees them far less often than they’d like. So he had a lighter schedule of public events for a few days so he could see his family a little more than he does the rest of the year. Is that too much to ask? Especially when you consider the amount of work that he still had on his plate this week.

The controversy over the President says a lot more about our thoughts about executive power than it does about any particular President’s vacationing habits.

First of all, it’s a fake controversy. The left was angry about George W. Bush when he went on vacation. The right is angry when Obama takes a vacation. This is particularly absurd when we consider that neither side seems to like anything the opposing side’s Presidents do. When Bush was on vacation, the left could have been all, “At least he’s not there to screw up the country.” Instead, they were like, “Get back to Washington and do things we hate!” It’s the same way with Obama.

I think it’s more interesting that we’re concerned that the country will somehow collapse if the President is out for a few days. It’s true that the President has enormous power and influence—but the position was explicitly designed to keep the President from being a king. The guy’s job, theoretically, is to shake a lot of hands, sign things, and appoint qualified people to do the day-to-day work of running the country

Realistically, of course, if the President were to go AWOL, it would be a catastrophe. Nevertheless we have a system set up to run itself without a lot of active management by the President. Have we given up on the limited Presidency?

virtualephemera:

obamafamily:

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and his family walk to board Air Force One after cutting short by a day their vacation on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts August 26, 2011. Obama and his family will cut short their vacation and return to the White House on Friday, before Hurricane Irene hits the U.S. East Coast, the White House said. (via Photo from Reuters Pictures)

When I see pictures of the president and First Lady with their young daughters, it really puts into perspective how ridiculous the debate about presidential vacations is. Sure, he’s the leader of the Free World. He’s also a father of young children who probably sees them far less often than they’d like. So he had a lighter schedule of public events for a few days so he could see his family a little more than he does the rest of the year. Is that too much to ask? Especially when you consider the amount of work that he still had on his plate this week.

The controversy over the President says a lot more about our thoughts about executive power than it does about any particular President’s vacationing habits.

First of all, it’s a fake controversy. The left was angry about George W. Bush when he went on vacation. The right is angry when Obama takes a vacation. This is particularly absurd when we consider that neither side seems to like anything the opposing side’s Presidents do. When Bush was on vacation, the left could have been all, “At least he’s not there to screw up the country.” Instead, they were like, “Get back to Washington and do things we hate!” It’s the same way with Obama.

I think it’s more interesting that we’re concerned that the country will somehow collapse if the President is out for a few days. It’s true that the President has enormous power and influence—but the position was explicitly designed to keep the President from being a king. The guy’s job, theoretically, is to shake a lot of hands, sign things, and appoint qualified people to do the day-to-day work of running the country

Realistically, of course, if the President were to go AWOL, it would be a catastrophe. Nevertheless we have a system set up to run itself without a lot of active management by the President. Have we given up on the limited Presidency?

"Obama needs to lead"

We hear this a lot—usually from legislators criticizing Obama for failure to take a more active role in the legislative process.

When it comes from the Republicans, disregard it. They don’t want Obama to take a strong leadership stance. When they say it, they mean, “Why don’t you lead the way through that mine field? We’re right behind you, honest. We would never consider shooting you in the back unless the opportunity arose.”

It’s a bit more complicated when it comes from Democratic legislators. Obama is the leader of the executive branch. Leading the Democrats in the legislator is somebody else’s job. This isn’t to say that Obama can’t or shouldn’t put his weight behind certain initiatives—but Obama’s weight shouldn’t be necessary unless the Democratic leadership has already failed. When the Democrats accuse Obama of failing to lead, they mean, “Obama needs to take over leadership because we suck at it.” Or maybe they mean, “We can’t get this done—but maybe Obama can do the impossible.”

It’s generally phrased as a criticism of Obama—but the criticism that there isn’t anybody in the world other than Obama who could get the job done is back-handed praise.

The Clean Fleets Program

As regular readers know, one of my favorite drums to beat is how successful the Obama administration has been in smaller, less dramatic programs that quietly significantly advance progressive goals.1 The Clean Fleets Program behind the link will help companies replace about 20,000 dirty vehicles with 20,000 cleaner vehicles. This isn’t going to stop global warming—but it should take a small bite out of our greenhouse gas emissions. And—since we’re not sufficiently energized and organized to make cap and trade legislation politically viable—tackling the problem piecemeal will do more than failing to tackle it comprehensively.


  1. For Marco and perhaps one or two others who will get the analogy: The Republicans base defenses have wreaked havoc on Obama’s krogoths, but around 200 Sumos got through the breach and are wreaking absolute havoc, killin’ their d00dz. 

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

Barack Obama (via azspot, kateoplis, and correlationstonone

This text has been circulating today along, along with the implication that President Obama has abandoned the principles on which he campaigned by authorizing a military attack with out an authorization for the use of force from Congress. I don’t think it’s anything that exciting.

Obama had just been asked about the circumstances under which the U.S. might attack Iran. Thus the presumed attack implicitly hung on some potential threat to the United States. Obama said that a distant threat such as the continued development of a nuclear program would require a Congressional consultation but an imminent threat (such as a nuclear missile being moved to the launch pad) would not. The standard for preemptive (but defensive) attacks is “imminent threat to the nation”. In adopting this answer, Obama seems to be implicitly accepting the War Powers Resolution.

The Libya situation hinged on a different issue. There was no time for a formal congressional consultation. The President needed to either act immediately or not act at all. He chose immediate action, purportedly to prevent violence against Libyan civilians. Whether or not we think he made a good choice, it’s pretty clear that there wasn’t any additional time for deliberation. Consultation was not possible. The requirements of the War Powers Resolution were met.

The War Powers Resolution is an explicit Congressional authorization for the use of force in a situation exactly like that in Libya. I doubt even Candidate Obama would dispute that. Because Congress already acted, it’s not even a unilateral action by the President. The action was pre-approved.

(via correlationstonone-deactivated2)

Unions are Important

Jeff and I have been going back and forth on unions—and it looks like we’ve finally gotten to the crux of the issue. It’s a question of influence.

Jeff lists a variety of examples where the SEIU seems to have benefitted from it’s close support of the Obama administration.. (As discussed earlier, the SEIU spent a lot of resources helping Obama in the election—though any implication that the SEIU gave millions to the Obama campaign is false.) Jeff concludes:

SEUI bought A LOT of access. Oh, and as noted above, it also bought some administration positions.

I don’t entirely agree. The SEIU was the first big union to back Obama. Compared to the other unions, the SEIU and Obama have a lot of common ground. If Andy Stern became Obama’s go to guy on unions by being there before everybody else, he did a good job of figuring out how to position himself at the right time. And if Obama puts some labor guys on the National Labor Relations Board … isn’t that entirely proper?

But Jeff’s larger point is exactly right. While the SEIU may not have bought the positions—but they certainly expected a quid pro quo for their extensive support. You can tell that much from Andy Sterns braggadocio. (Though I would interpret it as Stern trying to justify such extreme costs.) While I think the Obama campaign drew a broad enough level of support that it doesn’t owe a lot of debts to special interests, there’s no question that we have a tradition in the country of giving ambassadorship and such to big supporters. (This has happened less in the current administration—but I won’t say it hasn’t happen at all.) Money can buy access—particularly in smaller elections.

Jeff and I agree that the ability of a small group of people to wield out-sized power due to political donations or political horse-trading is a serious problem. Public sector unions are neither the only nor the most powerful power-brokers. (Incidentally, the SEIU is not a public sector union. And frankly, if public sector unions really wielded outsized influence, we’d pay teachers better.) And it’s not the only group expecting influence for campaign support. And, as Jeff implies, the SEIU brass may sometimes be more concerned with advancing itself than with its 1.5 million members, just as corporate officers might not always represent the shareholders. Too much money in politics from too few people causes problems. This problem is offset by large numbers of small donations. A healthy middle class is critical to a healthy democracy.

We’re losing that middle class. Unions are preventing it from disappearing entirely. We need a solid base of middle income folk who produce, consume, pay taxes, and have enough power to assert themselves politically, but not enough power to lord over everybody else.

Mike Huckabee … defends the first couple on issues like healthy eating and the president’s citizenship.

Mike Huckabee full of love for President Barack Obama - Maggie Haberman - POLITICO.com

Um … Politico? Those aren’t actual issues. There aren’t real arguments against healthy eating being a generally good thing. And the President’s citizenship is only an “issue” in the way that a CIA plot to hide the truth about extraterrestrial life is an issue.

I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he’s proud of what he accomplished on health care by giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions. He’s right.

Barack Obama, sinking the political equivalent of a half-court shot.

Whether or not you like Obama personally or politically, you should be able to admire this manuever. Romney would likely be the most electable of the Republican hopefuls in 2012 … if he makes it through the primaries. With a single statement, Obama has at once demonstrated his willingness to adopt good ideas from political opponents and severely damaged Romney’s chances of surviving the primary.