Monthly Archives: April 2017

Predicting House and Senate Votes: How it Works

My model for predicting congressional votes is fairly simple.  It includes two steps: The first predicts the probability a given lawmaker will vote in favor of a bill based on peer announcements; the second runs a Monte Carlo simulation using the resultant “yes” probabilities to determine the likelihood that the given bill earns 218 yeas.

Logistic Regression

Dependent variable: Announced yes/no votes, found from available whip counts for high-profile bills — these counts come either from engaged Twitter users who actively track lawmaker statements or from news organizations, such as The Hill, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

Independent variables: First and second DW-NOMINATE scores and various caucus membership (ie, House Freedom Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, etc).  I’ll be testing other variables to see whether they add significant explanatory/predictive value.

I then run 1,000 bootstrapped predictions and, for lawmakers undecided or otherwise mum on their support for a bill, use the mean probability of the results for the ensuing step.

Monte Carlo Simulation

With the probabilities and presumed actuals (lawmakers could change their minds or vote against their public stance at the behest of party leadership), I simulate the congressional vote 100,000 times to determine the bill’s likelihood of passing (or attaining x numbers of votes).

 

safe spaces

Illiberal Leftists

The Far-Left and Far-Right Have All Too Much in Common 

Far too many liberals and Democrats forget that authoritarianism is a horseshoe.  The extremes of both ends of the political spectrum tend towards totalitarianism wherein the state suppresses, to the best of its ability, the viewpoints of dissidents and critics.  This can be done in many ways – governments can pass laws forbidding contrarian speech, condone violence and physical retribution against those speaking in opposition, or it can discriminately apply frivolous labels meant to “poison the well” or otherwise taint the perspectives of those who stand against empowered group.  All of these methods serve the same end purpose: Monopolizing thoughts and ideas.

While it is of course easiest to pursue any of these avenues while in the majority and holding the seats of power, plural or minority factions can embrace the latter two means of muzzling nonconformists in efforts to squelch opposition and create a homogenous group.  Donald Trump has, throughout the course of the past 18 months, encouraged violence against protesters and applied meaningless and incorrect monikers to outlets and individuals who disagree with him.  See how he and his supporters deride the “mainstream media” as “fake news” or dismiss liberals as “libtards” or “communists” or “treasonous insurgents.”  Many (but not enough) have railed against such labelling and suppression of ideas, especially when it comes to the media as the news organizations help educate a wanting electorate.  But what Democrats, facing the brunt of this well-poisoning, seem to ignore is that such silencing also occurs in their own ranks

College campuses have been the focal-point for leftist censorship, and rightly so.  Students care too much about “microaggressions” and other slights to feelings and, as a result have sought to curtail free speech and free expression.  But these illiberal sentiments continue once students descend from the ivory towers.  Leftists, those on the fringes of the Democratic Party and liberalism, continue the college belief that speech with which they disagree – or speech which they find, in any way, racist, sexist, or condescending – should be banned.  How is that any different from the illiberal ideas of Trump, who blacklisted outlets critical of him, or his supporters, who want to see constitutionally-protected speech (such as flag-burning) outlawed because they disagree with the argument being presented?



These leftists also love to quickly and easily dismiss speakers with different views.  Innumerable speakers have been disinvited from schools because of potentially offensive viewpoints.  Not even liberals are immune from leftist censorship: When the illiberal left is faced with disagreements from Democrats or other liberals, they don’t try to have a dialogue or come to an understanding with the other party.  Rather, the illiberal left condemns critics as “racist” or “condescending” or “intolerant.”  Many antagonists are simply ignored by virtue of being a “straight white man” (I’ve been told my opinions or use of logic aren’t welcome because I’m white and rationality is somehow, and I kid you not, a racial construction).  Suddenly, immutable characteristics, rather than being something to defend and protect, are reason to dismiss opinions and thoughts just because they hail from a historically privileged demographic.

And so, by labelling as “racist” or “intolerant” or “bigoted” those who bother to disagree with the far-left, leftists alert other leftists than a speaker or writer is to be ignored.  It is de facto censorship within a community, creating an ideological echo-chamber and the makings of authoritarianism should the faction ever somehow come power.  Much as Trump and Trumpian thought is a cancer on conservatism, leftists and leftist thought are quickly becoming a leech on liberalism of which Democrats must be wary lest they follow the Republican Party down the road of authoritarianism.

trump tariffs

Trump, Tariffs, and How to Actually Revitalize the Economy

Trump knows nothing about the economy.

Donald Trump’s deep-seated idiocy and shocking ignorance prevent the altogether foolish man from understanding economic reality.  His willing stupidity has led His Accidency to routinely promise a return to industrial greatness, all premised on turning America’s back on globalization – the force that has led to unprecedented worldwide standard of living increases and 70 years without a major conflict – and returning to an economic policy that failed in 17th Century.

The president hopes to improve American manufacturing by levying tariffs on our trading partners, those whose goods contribute to a global supply chain that leads to affordable purchases.  His solution will hurt workers, consumers, and the economy.  If he were intellectually curious – a big ask for a man who assumes he knows more about ISIS than do the generals – he would quickly realize that to revitalize the American economy, we need significant investments in education, not a return to pathological protectionist plight.

Our perfidious president fails to understand that automation guts manufacturing’s demand for labor.  The computer – not China, not Mexico, not immigrants – takes jobs.  And there’s no rolling back such progress.  Technology’s relentless forward march will inevitably displace former industrial workers (capitalism: creative destruction).  Tariffs do not vanquish computers; angry 3am tweets don’t kill robots; all the campaign promises and bluster will not make Luddism successful for history’s first time.



Tariffs Don’t Work

In fact, Trump’s desired tariffs and other reworkings of trade pacts will hurt the economy, including (especially) the very workers from whose cultish trust Trump thrives.  Tariffs disrupt the global supply chain.  Trump wants, for instance, to slap a tariff on Chinese steel imports.  That raises the price of steel for all manufacturers that create products with steel, such as cars.  Such companies, paying more for supplies, stay profitable by laying off or refusing to hire new workers (to save labor costs) and increasing costs for consumers.

Suddenly, factory workers aren’t working because companies can’t afford to pay salaries.  Consumers slow their buying habits because of price increases – this further hurts workers because demand for goods creates demand for labor.  Fewer workers = less income; less income and more expensive goods = less buying; less buying = less demand for labor; less demand for labor = fewer workers.  It’s a vicious cycle, kicked into gear by ill-advised tariffs.

So tariffs don’t work.  (And there is no economic evidence or accepted/logical/rational theory that believes tariffs magically bring production back to America’s shores, so there’s no skirting tariffs’ negative externalities.)  Manufacturing jobs will increasingly be lost to automation and disrupting trade can’t change that.  What, then, can help displaced workers?



Education

In an economy that increasingly relies on new technology, we need a workforce prepared for new and innovative industries.  We can create that fairly easily.  Displaced workers should have a robust safety net and easy access to job retraining and continuing education programs.  The former, ideally, would work with local employers to train directly for demanded needs; the latter would help workers continually improve their skillset so that they can fluidly transition to new industries.  Future generations of workers can be prepared for the new economy by expanding coding and other STEM classes in middle and high school.  No more pottery or cooking – instead, let’s teach Python and biotechnology and 3D manufacturing.  This requires fiscal policy dedicated cultivating America’s human capital.  What could be a better use of money?

Rather than idiotically come up with moronic solutions meant to preserve outdated industries, our leaders need to look to the future.  Unfortunately, Donald Trump seems utterly incapable of grasping our modern economy.  He looks back to bygone days on which the sun has forever set.  Trump makes impossible promises and condescends to voters; for their part, voters must realize that only a charlatan promises a return to the past.  Instead, they too must look ahead and realize that the economy’s dynamic nature is its greatest asset.

trump syria strike

Trump’s Syria Strike: Needed, but Illegal

Trump attacked Syria, a needed, yet unconstitutional, move.

Bashar al-Assad is a monster.  His atrocities have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions.  He’s committed war-crimes, most notably multiple chemical gas attacks against Syrian rebels, resulting in hundreds of death and unimaginable agony for women, children, and all dissidents.  Make no mistake: Assad belongs behind bars; regime change – democratization – is absolutely necessary.  The despot must not remain.

American intervention has long been needed.  Our failure to act over the course of four years has condemned too many to suffering or death.  It’s allowed Russia to assert itself into the region to support the autocratic regime, nominally in the name of fighting ISIS, but actually fighting Syrian rebels.  We need to act, but, as a nation of laws, we must only do so with respect to domestic and international law/

Trump’s surprise airstrikes that followed a dramatic policy shift, overturning in just 48 hours beliefs he held since 2013, are illegal.  They find no justification in domestic or international law.  Let’s break it down.



Domestic

Congress, not the president, has the power to declare war.  Such a constitutional design emerged from the Founders’ brilliant separation of powers.  There are, of course, exceptions to this general rule: The president “is bound” to respond to any attack on the country regardless of congressional approval for such actions.  But the true extent of the president’s unilateral authority remains hotly contested with constitutional purists giving the president little war-making leeway while some analysts declare that to preserve national security and promote national security interests, the president has broad powers to commit military strikes without receiving explicit approval from Congress.

The Supreme Court has not fully grappled with or solved this difficult balancing act.  That said, Justice Robert Jackson’s concurrence in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer guides constitutional and jurisprudential thinking on the subject.  He divides executive power into three categories:

  1. Full congressional approval. “When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.”
  1. When Congress has been silent. “When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely upon his own independent powers, but there is a zone of twilight in which he and Congress may have concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain.”
  1. When the president acts against the wishes of Congress. “When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.”

Into which bucket did Trump’s action fall?  Certainly not the first – though President Obama (and likely President Trump) use an early-2000s authorized use of military force (AUMF) to fight ISIS, though many analysts do not believe the AUMF covers ISIS engagements, that certainly does not cover attacking a standing regime that poses no international terror threat.  Likewise, his actions probably don’t fall into the third bucket.  Congress has not explicitly forbidden strikes against Assad or the Syrian regime.  Back in 2013, both chambers refused to consider an AUMF desired by Obama and many members still in power today voiced their opposition to such an action.  That may be the “implied will” of some members, but certainly not the chamber writ large, especially given that in recent days, many representatives and senators have supported some sort of American action to punish Assad for his most recent war-crime.  It could, however, be easily and validly argued that since, in 2013, 100 representatives urged Obama to receive explicit authorization from Congress before attacking Syria, Congress would expect the same request after a less horrendous gas attack in a more complication geopolitical situation.  Trump’s actions probably fall into the “twilight zone,” the most difficult to analyze.



The White House Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) provides justification for executive action.  Though, as Jack Goldsmith (from whose writing much of the following paragraphs is based) notes, the legal reasoning presented by the OLC carries no judicial weight, it still serves roughly as precedent for administrations as they grapple with unilateral executive military authority, especially action in the “twilight zone.”  In interpreting Article II, the OLC “sets forth a two-part test for determining when a presidential use of military force abroad is consistent with the Constitution”:

  1. Does the president have “presumptive authority to use force unilaterally”?
  1. What is the (anticipated) nature of the strike or engagement?

America’s “national interest” permeates answers to the first question.  The OLC believes the president can unilaterally act if doing so furthers the “national interest,” especially if such an action does not risk dragging America into a long-term engagement (ie, if the action is of limited nature and scope).  Trump’s actions quite likely fulfill the second question’s requirements.  A one-time airstrike against Syrian airfields that gave advanced notice to other state actors whose military supplies and assets lived near the targets risks little escalation.  Of course, Trump being Trump, there’s much uncertainty as to whether he is content with a single airstrike.  The favorable news coverage he’s received might push him into further action; such speculation, though, is not reason to question whether this strike broke the OLC’s second test.

Though the second criterion is likely fulfilled to legal satisfaction, the first is not.  What “national interest” is Trump defending or promoting by attacking Syria?  We have few assets in the state – just 1,000 troops.  Regional stability and peace could satisfy the test, though pointing to such actions, a step removed from the immediate national interest, puts the president on still shakier ground.  Even those are lacking in Trump’s actions.  Risking Syrian, Russian, and Iranian retribution or escalation would greatly destabilize the Middle East.  Similarly, a central argument against overthrowing Assad is the fear that doing so would create a power vacuum form which ISIS or another extremist organization could emerge, especially if in the process chemical weapons are dispersed among disparate and antagonistic parties.  Little immediate regional stability can be gained.  Attacking Assad should discourage further use of chemical weapons, therein promoting peace, but the opposite could be true as well.  Assad could react by refusing to help fight ISIS, putting Russia in an uncomfortable position of naked regime support without the guise of fighting terrorism.  The lack of clear consequences is another reason why unilateral action should not have been taken: These questions and discussions should be debated by the body with war-declaring authority so we can publicly examine all potential consequences and act without haste.  Neither our national interest nor the region’s stability are augmented by unilateral executive action, meaning that Trump’s strikes fall short of the OLC test.



It’s important to note that by its very executive branch nature, the OLC takes an expansive viewpoint of executive authority.  The office seeks to make legal broad presidential power – their reasoning might not be accepted by a court of law.  If actions fail to meet lenient OLC tests, they almost certainly wouldn’t find favor by constitutional jurists.  Therefore, it’s reasonable and logical to conclude that while Trump’s actions fell in the “twilight zone” of authority, his actions are unconstitutional.  His strike needed congressional approval.

International Law

Trump’s actions also break international law.   As Marty Lederman notes, “done in the absence of a U.N. Security Council resolution, and without any apparent justification of self-defense (as the Pentagon explained, its function is to “deter the regime from using chemical weapons again,” presumably against Syrian nationals),” Trump’s attack “violate Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, which requires the U.S. and all other signatory states to ‘refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.’”  The UN charter is a treaty and thus the supreme law of the land.  Violating the treaty without congressional authority (Whitney v. Robertson, Chae Chan Ping v. US, and Breard v. Greene) is tantamount to violating Article VI of the Constitution.

This is notably different from Obama’s actions in Libya because, despite having no congressional authorization, he had cover from the United Nations Security Council.  Similarly, using President Bill Clinton’s Kosovo bombing as precedent does little to make legal the Syria strike.  Ashley Deeks, another Lawfare blogger, emphasized the important distinction between a legitimate and a lawful action.  Humanitarian concerns make legitimate any American actions, but legitimacy does not equate with legal.  Another glaring difference immediately emerges: NATO and the EU both condoned military action in Kosovo; no international organization approved such action against the Assad regime.  So while the Kosovo precedent further strengthens the legitimacy of the strike, it doesn’t address legal questions, leaving Trump in violation of international law.



Conclusion

The United States needed to attack or otherwise punish Assad.  However, the use of military force requires congressional authorization, an argument made repeatedly by the likes of Paul Ryan in 2013.  There is no domestic legal or argued precedent for such unilateral behavior.  International law similarly provides no such cover.  As a nation of laws and process, we must follow those principles even when facing monsters.  Trump violated the Constitution.  He must immediately ask Congress for an AUMF and not act in Syria again until he has such authorization.

jason chaffetz donald trump

Jason Chaffetz is the Worst Person in Congress

Dereliction of Duty Spawned by Rabid Partisan Allegiance

Jason Chaffetz is a surprisingly unscrupulous man.  Charged with the awesome role as the House Oversight Chairman, he’s extended his power in a decidedly partisan – and entirely unprincipled and wasteful – manner.  Chaffetz launched numerous high profile investigations into Hillary Clinton’s emails, charity, and alleged Benghazi…something (Republicans are never quite clear on what Clinton supposedly did wrong surrounding the tragedy).  All of these investigations, which cost taxpayers millions of dollars, yielded zero evidence of any improprieties or political ammunition effective on any aside from the nation’s most ignorant (so much for fiscal conservatism).  Even after the election, on Inauguration Day, Chaffetz, in a crude message, announced that he will continue the fruitless and politically motivation witch hunt into Clinton’s affairs.  Based on this irrational activity and clear desire to throw his political power into nothing-burgers, surely Chaffetz would jump at the opportunity to use his committee to investigate actual improprieties.  Right?

Wrong.  President Donald Trump’s innumerable scandals have already shrouded his young presidency in doubt and an air of illegitimacy.  Just a few weeks into his tenure, his approval rating dropped to 35 percent, lower than President Barack Obama’s at any point in his 8 years, and the lowest approval rating at this point in a presidential term since such data collection.  Trump’s scandals range from Russian interference in the election – a small act of war – to constitutional violations (Trump has violated both the foreign and the domestic emoluments clauses) worthy of impeachment.  Yet when asked whether he was concerned with Trump reaping financial rewards from unconstitutional behavior, Chaffetz responded, with a shrug: “He’s already rich.  He’s very rich. I don’t think that he ran for this office to line his pockets even more. I just don’t see it like that.”

That from the same individual who’s squandered taxpayer dollars trying – and failing – to prove that the Clintons used their charity, which literally saves millions of lives, to benefit financially while Hillary led the State Department.



It also demonstrates Chaffetz’s shocking ignorance and total inability to grasp the personality of his party’s leader – that, or a willful ignorance since his investigation could endanger Donald Trump’s presidency.  Trump, of course, acts only to “line his pockets even more.”  Back in 2000, Trump claimed that “it’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”  And he did just that.  The Trump campaign solicited and accepted millions of dollars from the working and middle class; they then took that money and paid Trump-owned firms and businesses millions of dollars.  After his victory, the pattern continued as Trump took the unprecedented action of refusing to fully divest from his sprawling web of businesses.  This has led to him and his companies reaping millions in benefits because of Trump’s position as president.

Trump’s DC hotel – his continued ownership of which violates its leasing agreement – has attracted an incredible amount of foreign business.  For instance, the Bahrain embassy held a lavish celebration at Trump’s DC hotel a few weeks after Trump’s surprise victory, likely spending millions at a venue from which Trump continues to profit.  Now, Trump has reversed an Obama-era stipulation that Bahrain must improve human rights conditions before purchasing US fighter jets.  President Trump, months after receiving a large windfall from a foreign government hosting an event at his property, made it easier for that foreign government to purchase fighter jets, human rights concerns be darned.  This is the exact type of dubious dealing that the Founders sought to curtail with the Foreign Emoluments Clause.  It’s a textbook constitutional violation, one that ought to be investigated by Jason Chaffetz’s committee, but one that won’t be because Chaffetz figures it couldn’t possibly harm us or the world if Trump becomes a little richer while in office.



Similarly, when asked about Jared Kushner’s family “exploring a $400 million deal with a Chinese company while he serves as a foreign policy adviser to the president,” Chaffetz determined that, too, does not merit an investigation because “I don’t see how that affects the average American and their taxpayer dollars.  Just the fact that a staff person’s family is making money? It’s not enough.”  Never mind that we’ve already seen kickbacks from the Trump administration to those who give him money (not to mention that Trump’s executive order that seeks to make legal his desired Muslim ban conveniently excludes countries in which he owns property).  Never mind that Kushner, a largely unsuccessful businessman thrust into the real estate limelight because his father was jailed, would see an extraordinary windfall from this deal at exactly the time he’s advising the president on how to proceed with North Korea and an increasingly regionally dominant China.

This amounts to a clear dereliction of duty.  Jason Chaffetz, who hounded Clinton for much less, frivolously spending taxpayer dollars as he did so, refuses to investigate Trump’s clear constitutional violations and extraordinary conflicts of interest that entangle Trump’s top advisers.  These conflicts risk America’s interest being put behind the financial interests of those running the executive branch.  It is precisely Jason Chaffetz’s duty to investigate such violations and conflicts to ensure that the executive branch works for Americans, not the solely the Trump clan.

Jason Chaffetz is a scoundrel, a weakling whose word means little and whose principles – or lack thereof – shaped a man motivated by partisan animosity, not love for country or a patriotic sense of duty.