There is an interesting controversy brewing on Capitol Hill where Missouri Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., wants California Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Ca) criminally charged after Hunter took down a painting by one of Clay’s constituents that contains insulting images of police as pigs and other animals. The question is what the crime might be in such a circumstance since the painting was not damaged. It is analogous to the recent controversy at the University of Pennsylvania where students pulled down a portrait of William Shakespeare and replaced it with a portrait of a black feminist author. The painting (as in this case) was brought undamaged to the office. Of course, this is the removal of art from a Capitol building.
It is not uncommon for presidents to rush through regulations and changes in their final months or even days in office. Thus, the move of President Obama to protect pristine areas from drilling is not unprecedented, particularly as the continuation of his long-standing policies on the environment. However, as I discussed yesterday on NPR, the President made a move that runs against the grain of tradition this week. Obama negated the regulations underlying the dormant National Security Entry-Exit Registration System or NSEERS program. That was not action to advance a positive policy but a purely obstructionist move targeting your successor. There was no reason to destroy the structure except to delay any effort of President-Elect Donald Trump to carry out his campaign pledges to tighten entry rules and impose greater scrutiny of people coming from Muslim countries. NSEERS would have given Trump a readily available structure and pro-immigration groups lobbied Obama to destroy the program. It was a move that was reminiscent of General William Tecumseh Sherman. General Sherman famously left a scorched earth behind his March to the Sea and Obama appears intent to leave the same charred path for his successor.
There is a basic rule about “talking points”: you follow them but do not quote them as talking points. That lesson seems to have escaped former House Speaker and Trump confidant Newt Gingrich who has caused a stir by revealing that President-elect Donald Trump is now disclaiming his pledge to “drain the swamp.” Instead, Trump is focusing on working with Congress to get his priorities through in rapid succession from opening up new drilling to rescinding Obamacare. Update: Donald Trump has denied Gingrich’s representation and Gingrich now says that he simply got it wrong.
There is a hopeful report out this week that the cost of solar energy has dropped so dramatically that it is not cheaper than wind power in emerging markets like China and India. Indeed, Popular Mechanics is now calling solar energy the “cheapest energy” option. In Chile, electricity is being produced by solar power for $29.10 per megawatt hour–half the price of power produced by coal. These countries are seeing the benefits in the investment into alternative energy sources in both cost and the environment. The pledge of the Trump Administration to expand drilling and “clean coal” use runs against the trend in other countries.
Democratic leaders have suddenly discovered that the Electoral College is anti-democratic and have called for its elimination. I have long been a critic of the Electoral College, though I understand the concerns of those who fear that the loss of the institution would reduce presidential elections to the choice of states like California and New York. However, the interesting result of this election (where Hillary Clinton won the popular) was a ground swell of calls for the elimination of the Electoral College. The hue and cry for reform gave hope for critics (despite the obvious opportunism and hypocrisy from some quarters) but a recent Gallup poll indicates that an inverse move has also occurred as many have come to appreciate the counter-majoritarian impact of institution in this election. The net results appears to be an increase in support for the Electoral College.
We recently discussed how minority leader Nancy Pelosi fought off a challenge after the disastrous election losses for the Democrats and then promptly declared that the “people [do not] want a new direction.” The statement was widely ridiculed as evidence of how out-of-touch the leadership of the Democratic Party had become and how insulated the members are from voters. Now, retiring Senate minority leader Harry Reid has suggested the same party line that there is no need to change direction after the election.
We recently discussed how Democrats seeking the removal of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were called “sexist” for merely seeking change after the disastrous 2016 election. Democratic leaders engineered the primary selection of Hillary Clinton despite polls showing that voters did not want an establishment figure and had deep seated misgivings about Clinton’s honestly and integrity. One of those leaders who has been most criticized over the years has been Nancy Pelosi. However, democratic members overwhelmingly elected Pelosi again as minority leader in what was seen as a slap in the face of those who want to see serious change in the party. Within a couple days of her reelection, Pelosi went on the air to declare that everyone is wrong and people really do not want a new direction. They want the same leadership like her to pursue the very same course that has led to historic losses under her leadership in the House. It was the same dismissive logic applied by the Democratic National Committee and Democratic leadership (including Pelosi) in engineering the nomination of Hillary Clinton, the ultimate establishment figure when polls showed an overriding preference for an outsider and record low favorability numbers for Clinton (particularly on issues of honesty). The question is whether the obvious anger inside and outside the party will galvanize into continued opposition. The establishment seems to be betting on people forgetting about serious reforms or wanting other options than the current duopoly of power held by the Republicans and Democrats. Retaining the very same leadership in both parties may be just what reformers had hoped: a clear signal that any changes in Washington will require the continuation of the popular movement seen in the last election.