Tag Archives: Barack Obama

‘You’re Fired,’ Trump Should Tell Richard Cordray

Under a dubious statute, the CFPB head can be dismissed only for cause—but there’s plenty of it.

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman

April 13, 2017, in the Wall Street Journal

The greatest mystery in Washington involves not Russian spies or wiretaps but Richard Cordray’s continued employment as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In the face of President Trump’s mandate for change, Mr. Cordray continues the Obama administration’s regulatory crusade against lenders, blocking access to the credit that supports so many small businesses and so much consumer spending.

Why would a president who made a TV show out of firing underlings now suffer a subordinate who refuses to get with the pro-growth agenda he campaigned on? If reports from the West Wing are to be believed, Mr. Trump’s unusual timidity is the result of overcautious legal and political advice.

Mr. Cordray is insulated from presidential control by a New Deal-era innovation: a statutory clause that allows the president to fire an independent agency head only “for cause,” meaning “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” In October a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down that restriction an infringement of the president’s constitutional authority to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

When Congress created the CFPB by passing the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, Judge Brett Kavanaugh explained, it broke with decades of historical practice. Generally the power of independent agencies is diffused among multiple commissioners or directors so as to reduce the risk of abuse. Unless he can be fired, Mr. Cordray, as the sole director of the CFPB, wields more unilateral power than any government official save the president.

The panel’s decision, however, was set aside in February when the full 11-judge court voted to rehear the case. White House lawyers are reportedly waiting to see how the litigation unfolds—a process that could go well past the end of Mr. Cordray’s term in mid-2018.

But it is a mistake to regard the twists and turns of that appeal as a reason to give Mr. Cordray a reprieve. Whatever the D.C. Circuit ultimately decides, no one disputes that the president may dismiss the CFPB director for cause. And the evidence is ample to support firing Mr. Cordray, on all three grounds permitted under law:

Inefficiency. Regulation, the Supreme Court has recognized, should seek to maximize economic efficiency through cost-benefit analysis. Yet the CFPB has pursued an agenda at odds with any clear-eyed view of economic growth and efficiency.

Its rules have made community banks and credit unions more reluctant to issue mortgages, particularly in rural areas, and accelerated consolidation of the industry, reducing competition. Its regulations have limited access to checking accounts, credit cards and other financial products, driving vulnerable Americans to depend on riskier sources of financial services and credit. The agency has even worse policies in the works, such as limits on consumer arbitration and payday lending.

Taken as a whole, the CFPB’s heavy-handed approach to regulation and enforcement has driven up the cost of borrowing, to the detriment of consumers and small businesses.

More prosaically, Mr. Cordray’s CFPB has botched basic administrative procedures meant to ensure efficiency in regulation. About a third of its rules were finalized before being published in the agency’s Unified Agenda, depriving the public of valuable notice and frustrating the regulatory review process. That haste has also led to serious errors: About a quarter of the CFPB’s rules have required correction after being finalized. Further, Mr. Cordray has specifically embraced “regulation through enforcement,” which forgoes orderly rule making entirely in favor of imposing penalties for newly contrived “violations.” This is no way to run a financial watchdog.

• Neglect of duty. Mr. Cordray allowed tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns to pile up for a lavish renovation of the CFPB’s Washington headquarters.

The agency also missed the major consumer-finance scandal of the past decade. It ignored years of complaints about an epidemic of unauthorized customer accounts at Wells Fargo . The CFPB galloped in to exact a penalty only after an investigation by California officials and other regulators was complete.

Malfeasance. What was the CFPB doing all that time? The bureau, it turns out, had spread its resources too thin, focusing on alleged discrimination in auto-dealer lending—an area that Congress specifically excluded from its purview. Not only did the agency run roughshod over that limitation, but its statistical analysis relied on dubious methods such as guessing borrowers’ race based on their surnames.

No such guesswork was required for the Merit Systems Protection Board and Government Accountability Office to find that the CFPB itself had become a hotbed of race and sex discrimination. As early as 2013, a report by Deloitte Consulting revealed that the agency’s internal performance reviews were biased against minority employees, many of whom also reported discrimination at the agency. Years later, claims of discrimination persist, particularly among black employees. Mr. Cordray failed to resolve these issues even years after initial reports.

Any of these things would be sufficient to dismiss Mr. Cordray for cause. All of them together make it necessary to do so.

If Mr. Cordray were to challenge his firing, we have little doubt the courts would support Mr. Trump. Assuming the courts even agreed that they have the power to review a presidential finding of cause for dismissal—which is far from established—they would still grant it substantial deference. The president would prevail, so long as he has documented his findings, explained his reasoning, and satisfied any due-process concerns by affording Mr. Cordray an opportunity to respond.

As far as Mr. Cordray is concerned, no further caution is required. What the president needs is resolve, and his famous TV catchphrase.

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/youre-fired-trump-should-tell-richard-cordray-1492124207

Five Ways to Restore the Separation of Powers

The worst legacy of the Obama administration may be disdain for the Constitution’s separation of powers. President Obama’s actions have created dangerous stress fractures in our constitutional architecture, making it imperative that the Trump administration and Republican Congress commence immediate repairs.

The Constitution separates power in two ways: among the three branches of the federal government and between the federal government and states. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, separation creates “a double security” for liberty because “different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.”

The Obama administration has spurned this core constitutional principle, aggrandizing executive power at the expense of Congress and states. It has rewritten laws, disregarding its constitutional duty to faithfully execute them.

ObamaCare’s implementation provides multiple examples: delaying statutory deadlines, extending tax credits to groups Congress never included, exempting unions from fees, expanding hardship waivers beyond recognition and granting “transition relief” for preferred employers.

Mr. Obama even usurped Congress’s power of the purse, spending billions for “cost-sharing subsidies” that pay ObamaCare insurers for subsidizing deductibles and copays. Congress never appropriated money for these subsidies, so the administration shifted money appropriated for other purposes. The House sued to defend its constitutional prerogative, and in May a federal court ruled against the administration, which has appealed.

Mr. Obama also exempted five million illegal immigrants from deportation, though Congress had unambiguously declared them deportable. He waived the mandatory work requirement of the 1996 welfare reform. He redefined sexual discrimination under Title IX, forcing schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms of their non-biological gender, and threatening to withdraw funds if colleges refuse to reduce due process protections for individuals accused of sexual assault.

The president has exhibited particular antipathy toward the Senate’s advice-and-consent duty. In Noel Canning v. NLRB (2014), the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the administration violated separation of powers by making unilateral appointments to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was in session. And the president unilaterally committed the nation to an unpopular nuclear deal with Iran, bypassing the Senate’s treaty ratification power.

Mr. Obama’s actions have also shattered federalism. The administration rewrote the 1970 Clean Air Act, commanding states to revamp their electricity generation and distribution infrastructure. It rewrote the 1972 Clean Water Act, claiming vast new power to regulate ditches and streams under the risible notion that they are “navigable waters.” It has refused to enforce existing federal drug laws, emboldening states to legalize marijuana.

The media and academy enabled the administration’s unconstitutional behavior because they support its policy agenda. But the Framers expected members of Congress to jealously defend congressional power against executive encroachment—even from a president of the same political party. As Madison observed, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.”

This principle disappeared during the past eight years. In his 2014 State of the Union address, the president vowed to implement his agenda “wherever and whenever I can” without congressional involvement—to thunderous applause by Democrats. In November 2014, Democratic Senators urged the president to vastly expand his unilateral amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The Trump administration and GOP Congress should resist the temptation to follow this Constitution-be-damned playbook. The greatest gift Republicans could give Americans is a restored separation of powers. But this cannot be accomplished by merely rescinding the Obama administration’s unconstitutional executive orders. While this is a necessary step, Congress should enact additional reforms.

First, Congress can amend the 1996 Congressional Review Act to require affirmative approval of major executive-branch regulations. The law now allows regulations to go into effect automatically if Congress does not disapprove them. The act has been used only once to overturn a regulation because it requires passage of a joint resolution of disapproval—which must be signed by the president. This requirement should be inverted: If Congress does not affirmatively approve a regulation, it never goes into effect.

Second, Congress could prohibit “Chevron deference,” in which federal courts defer to executive branch interpretations of ambiguous statutes. Chevron deference is a judge-made doctrine that has aggrandized executive power, ostensibly to implement Congress’s intent. If Congress denounces such deference, it can simultaneously reduce executive power and encourage itself to legislate with greater specificity.

Third, Congress can augment its institutional authority by expanding its contempt power. The criminal contempt statute should require the U.S. attorney to convene a grand jury upon referral by the House or Senate without exercising prosecutorial discretion. Congress should also extend the civil contempt statute to the House, not merely the Senate, and enact a new law specifying a process for using Congress’s longstanding (but rarely invoked) inherent contempt authority.

Fourth, Congress can require that all major international commitments be ratified by treaty. A statute defining the proper dividing line between treaties and executive agreements would reassert the Senate’s constitutional role, provide clarification to the judiciary, and encourage communication and negotiation between Congress and the president.

Fifth, Congress can enact a law further restricting its ability to coerce states into adopting federal policies or commanding state officials to carry them out. While the courts have ultimate say on the contours of these federalism doctrines, a law could force greater consensus and debate, provide guidelines on Congress’s use of its powers, and signal to the judiciary a reinvigorated commitment to federalism.

Restoring separation of powers is necessary and possible. It should be the highest priority of the Trump administration and Congress.

Mr. Rivkin and Ms. Foley practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C. Ms. Foley is also a professor of constitutional law at Florida International University College of Law.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/five-ways-to-restore-the-separation-of-powers-1482192048

Trump Can Ax the Clean Power Plan by Executive Order

President Obama pledged to wield a pen and phone during his second term rather than engage with Congress. The slew of executive orders, enforcement memorandums, regulations and “Dear Colleague” letters comprised an unprecedented assertion of executive authority. Equally unparalleled is the ease with which the Obama agenda can be dismantled. Among the first actions on President Trump’s chopping block should be the Clean Power Plan.

In 2009 Congress rejected a cap-and-trade scheme to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency then devised a nearly identical scheme to mandate shifting electricity generation from disfavored facilities, like those powered by coal, to those the EPA prefers, like natural gas and renewables. No statute authorized the EPA to seize regulatory control of the nation’s energy sector. The agency instead discovered, in an all-but-forgotten 1970s-era provision of the Clean Air Act, that it had that power all along.

To support its preferred policy, the agency was compelled to “interpret” the statute in a way that contradicts what it acknowledges is the “literal” reading of the text and clashes with decades of its own regulations. It also nullifies language blocking regulation for power plants because they are already regulated under an alternative program. By mangling the Clean Air Act to intrude on areas it was never meant to, the regulation violates the constitutional bar on commandeering the states to carry out federal policy.

These defects are why the Supreme Court put the EPA’s plan on hold while an appeals court in Washington, D.C., considers challenges brought by the energy industry and 27 states. These legal challenges now appear to have been overtaken by events. President Trump can immediately issue an executive order to adopt a new energy policy that respects the states’ role in regulating energy markets and that prioritizes making electricity affordable and reliable. Such an order should direct the EPA to cease all efforts to enforce and implement the Clean Power Plan. The agency would then extend all of the regulation’s deadlines, enter an administrative stay and commence regulatory proceedings to rescind the previous order.

That would leave the D.C. appeals court—which some supporters of the plan are still counting on for a Hail Mary save—or the Supreme Court with little choice but to send the legal challenges back to the agency. While the Clean Power Plan could technically linger in the Code of Federal Regulations for a year or so, it would have no legal force.

When an agency changes course, it must provide a reasoned explanation to address factual findings supporting its prior policy. In certain instances that requirement may impose a real burden. For example, a rule rescinding the EPA’s “Endangerment Finding” regarding the effects of greenhouse gases would have to address the evidence underlying it. A failure to provide a satisfactory explanation of a change in policy may render a rule “arbitrary and capricious” and vulnerable to legal challenge.

Environmentalist groups have already vowed to bring suit to defend the Clean Power Plan, but a challenge would be toothless. The aggressive legal positions underlying the Obama administration’s most controversial rules—including the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the United States rule, and the FCC’s Open Internet order—will make it easier to rescind them. That’s because rejecting the assertion of legal authority underlying such a rule is enough to justify a policy change. If the agency’s view is that it simply lacks the power to carry out a rule, then it follows that the rule must be withdrawn.

Even if a court were to find that the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act underlying the plan is permissible, that would still not compel the Trump EPA to accept that interpretation as the only permissible one. And even if a court were to rule—erroneously, in our view—that the Clean Power Plan does not violate the Constitution’s vertical separation of powers, that would still not absolve the executive branch of the responsibility to consider that constitutional issue for itself and then act accordingly.

President Obama may soon come to understand that the presidential pen and phone is a double-edged sword.

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman, who practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C., represent the state of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality in their challenge to the Clean Power Plan.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-can-ax-the-clean-power-plan-by-executive-order-1479679923

‘Clean Power’ Plays and the Last Stand for Federalism

By DAVID B. RIVKIN, JR. and ANDREW M. GROSSMAN

Sept. 25, 2016, in the Wall Street Journal

After Congress turned down President Obama ’s request to enact a law regulating power plants’ greenhouse-gas emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency turned to the states—not with a request, but with instructions to carry out the president’s energy policy. The EPA’s “Clean Power Plan” now faces the scrutiny of the nation’s chief regulatory review court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

If the Constitution’s federalism is to endure, the Clean Power Plan must be struck down.

The Constitution establishes a federal government of limited and enumerated powers while the states retain a plenary “police power,” subject only to the specific limitations of federal law. This is what Justice Anthony Kennedy called the Constitution’s “genius”: It “split the atom of sovereignty” to ensure accountability when meeting both local and national concerns, while fostering rivalry between the two levels to curb excessive political ambition that might threaten liberty.

Only in recent decades did politicians learn how to realize their ambitions through collusion. The federal government now entices states with transfer payments to establish and administer social-welfare programs. And, in schemes that the courts describe as “cooperative federalism,” it offers states the choice to regulate their citizens according to federal dictates, as an alternative to the feds regulating directly and having states get out of the way.

Even these approaches were not enough for the Obama administration to cajole the states to carry out its energy agenda. So it resolved to obliterate one of the last vestiges of the Constitution’s vertical separation of powers: the bar on federal commandeering of the states and their officials to carry out federal policy.

The Clean Power Plan is enormously complicated, but its overall approach is straightforward. Previous emissions regulations have focused on reducing emissions from particular facilities, but this one relies on shifting electricity generation from disfavored facilities (coal-fired power plants) to those the EPA prefers (natural gas and renewables). The EPA then determined what, in its view, is the maximum amount of such shifting that each of the nation’s regional electric grids could possibly accommodate and calculated the emissions reductions.

Parcel those figures out by state, factor in additional reductions due to estimated efficiency improvements at older plants, and the result is state-specific reduction targets. The states can elect to achieve those targets themselves—or, if they decline, the EPA will do it for them. “Textbook cooperative federalism,” says the EPA.

Not quite. Whether or not the states choose to implement the plan directly, it leaves them no choice but to carry out the EPA’s federal climate policy. That’s because the EPA can destroy but not create. It can regulate emissions of existing facilities, but it lacks the legal authority to facilitate the construction and integration of new power sources, which is ultimately the only way to achieve the plan’s aggressive targets.

That duty falls to the states, which the plan depends upon to carry out what the EPA calls their “responsibility to maintain a reliable electric system.” Doing nothing, as in the cooperative federalism scenario, is not an option.

So this is how the plan works: The EPA pushes coal-fired plants off the grid, and then counts on the states to ensure that the resulting reductions in capacity are matched by increases in EPA-preferred forms of power generation. State agencies will have to be involved in decommissioning coal-fired plants, addressing replacement capacity—like wind turbines and solar arrays—addressing transmission and integration issues, and undertaking all manner of related regulatory proceedings. All this to carry out federal policy.

The Clean Power Plan implicates every evil associated with unconstitutional commandeering. It dragoons states into administering federal law, irrespective of their citizens’ views. It destroys accountability, by directing the brunt of public disapproval for increased electricity costs and lost jobs onto state officials, when the federal government deserves the blame. And it subverts the horizontal separation of powers, by allowing the executive branch to act where Congress has refused to legislate.

One can only wonder what will be left of our constitutional order if the plan passes judicial muster.

The federal government would no longer be a government of limited powers, but instead be able to compel the states to do its bidding in any area. The states, in turn, would be reduced to puppets of a federal ventriloquist, carrying out the dirty work for which federal actors wish to avoid accountability. And the federal executive, in many instances, could effectively create new law by working through the states, free of the need to win over Congress.

So it is difficult to imagine a U.S. where the Clean Power Plan is the law of the land. It would not be the same country, or the same Constitution, that Americans have enjoyed all these years.

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C., and represent the State of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality in their challenge to the Clean Power Plan.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/clean-power-plays-and-the-last-stand-for-federalism-1474841482

Pulling the Plug on Obama’s Power Plan

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is dead and will not be resurrected. The cause of death was hubris. As a result, the plan’s intended victims—including the national coal industry, the rule of law and state sovereignty—will live to fight another day.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court put President Obama’s signature climate initiative on hold while a lower court considers challenges brought by industry opponents and 27 states. That stay will remain in effect through the end of Mr. Obama’s presidency, until the Supreme Court has a chance to hear the case—in 2017 at the earliest. The stay sends the strongest possible signal that the court is prepared to strike down the Clean Power Plan on the merits, assuming the next president doesn’t revoke it.

Not since the court blocked President Harry Truman’s seizure of the steel industry has it so severely rebuked a president’s abuse of power.

The dubious legal premise of the Clean Power Plan was that Congress, in an all-but-forgotten 1970s-era provision of the Clean Air Act, had empowered the Environmental Protection Agency to displace the states in regulating power generation. The EPA, in turn, would use that authority to mandate a shift from fossil-fuel-fired plants to renewables. The effect would be to institute by fiat the “cap and trade” scheme for carbon emissions that the Obama administration failed to push through Congress in 2009.

The legal defects inherent in this scheme are legion. For one, in a ruling two years ago the court held that the EPA couldn’t conjure up authority to make “decisions of vast economic and political significance” absent a clear statement from Congress. Thus, the EPA may have the authority to require power plants to operate more efficiently and to install reasonable emissions-reduction technologies. But nothing authorizes the agency to pick winners (solar, wind) and losers (coal) and order generation to be shifted from one to the other, disrupting billion-dollar industries in the process.

The agency also overstepped its legal authority by using a tortured redefinition of “system of emission reduction.” That statutory term has always been taken to give authority to regulate plant-level equipment and practices. Instead the EPA contorted the term to apply to the entire power grid. That redefinition, while necessary for the EPA to mount its attack on traditional power sources, violates the rule that federal statutes must be interpreted, absent a clear indication to the contrary, to maintain the existing balance of power between the federal government and the states. Federal law has long recognized states’ primacy in regulating their electric utilities, the economic aspects of power generation and transmission, and electric reliability.

Worse, the Clean Power Plan commandeers the states and their officials to do the dirty work that the EPA can’t. The agency seeks to phase out coal-fired plants, but it lacks any ability to regulate electric reliability, control how and when plants are run, oversee the planning and construction of new generators and transmission lines, or take any other of the many steps necessary to bring the plan to fruition.

Only the states can do those things, and the plan simply assumes that they will: Because, if they refuse, and the federal government forces coal-plan retirements, the result would be catastrophic, featuring regular blackouts, threats to public health and safety and unprecedented spikes in electricity prices.

The EPA defended this approach before the Supreme Court during legal arguments leading up to Tuesday’s stay order as a “textbook exercise of cooperative federalism.” But the textbook—our Constitution as interpreted by the court in case after case—guarantees that the states can’t be dragooned into administering federal law and implementing federal policy. Their sovereignty and political accountability require that they have the power to decline any federal entreaty. The Clean Power Plan denies them that choice.

No doubt the court was swayed by evidence that the states already are laboring to accommodate the plan’s forced retirement and reduced utilization of massive amounts of generating capacity. Given the years that it takes to bring new capacity online, not even opponents of the plan could afford to wait for the conclusion of judicial review to begin carrying out the EPA’s mandate.

By all appearances, that was the Obama administration’s strategy for forcing the Clean Power Plan, legal warts and all, into effect. After the court ruled last term that the EPA’s rule regulating power plants’ hazardous air emissions was unlawful, the agency bragged that the judgment wouldn’t make a difference because the plants had already been forced to comply or retire during the years of litigation. The Clean Power Plan doubled down on that approach.

It’s one thing for a rule to be unlawful—which happens, and rarely merits a stay—but another for it to be lawless. This one was lawless. That is why the court had to act: to reassert the rule of law over an executive who believes himself above it.

Messrs. Rivkin and Grossman practice appellate and constitutional law in Washington, D.C., and are counsel in the case on behalf of plan challengers. Mr. Rivkin served in the White House Counsel’s Office and the Justice Department in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/pulling-the-plug-on-obamas-power-plan-1455148680

Putin’s anti-Obama propaganda is ugly and desperate

By Paula J. Dobriansky and David B. Rivkin Jr. in the Washington Post

January 4, 2016, at 7:13 PM

Although international relations are not conducted under Marquess of Queensberry rules and political satire can be expected from one’s foes, intensely personal attacks on foreign leaders are uncommon except in wartime. While Soviet-era anti-American propaganda could be sharp, it did not employ slurs. But in recent years racist and scatological salvos against foreign leaders have become a staple of official Russian discourse.

Turkish, German and Ukrainian officials are cast as sycophantic stooges of the United States. While slamming Ankara at a December news conference for shooting down a Russian plane that violated Turkish airspace, Russian President Vladimir Putin opined that “the Turks decided to lick the Americans in a certain place.” Sergey Glaziev, a senior adviser to Putin, has called Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko “a Nazi Frankenstein,” and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin compared Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to “a rubber doll from a sex shop.”

The ugliest vilification campaign, however, has been reserved for President Obama. Anti-Obama tweets come openly from government officials. Rogozin, while commenting on Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, compared Obama to a Tuzik, Russian slang for a pathetic small dog. Irina Rodnina , a well-known Duma member, tweeted doctored images of Barack and Michelle Obama staring longingly at a banana.

Nobody in Russia gets to freelance propaganda-wise. Thus, anti-Obama rants, even when coming from prominent individuals outside government, have Putin’s imprimatur. Russian media personalities, including Dmitry Kiselyov, the host of the widely viewed “News of the Week” TV roundup, often deliver racist slurs, as compiled by Mikhail Klikushin on the Observer Web magazine. Evgeniy Satanovskiy, a Russian academic and frequent guest on Kiselyov’s program, recently also referred to Obama as a “monkey,” prompting derisive laughter and applause from the audience. Meanwhile, the famous nationalist comedian Mikhail Zadornov regularly deploys the term “schmoe” — a slang Russian prison acronym for a person who is so debased he deserves to be defecated upon — alongside Obama’s name. “Obama schmoe” has become ubiquitous enough to be scrawled on the runway of Russia’s Latakia air base in Syria.

Russia’s print and electronic media channels carry stories depicting Obama as lazy and incompetent. Shops sell bumper stickers, posters, T-shirts and cardboard cut-outs with images of Obama as an ape and a chimney sweep. One Russian city held a contest inviting children to kick Obama’s cardboard image. Obama has been burned in effigy on numerous occasions, and zoo animals have been named after him, including a black piglet at the Volgograd zoo.

This despicable onslaught is not just the random venting of a narcissistic Kremlin leader but also an indispensable component of Putin’s efforts to mobilize domestic support for his policies and enhance his standing. The fact that this propaganda campaign is working — Putin and his policies remain popular — is attributable to several factors.

First, the Kremlin controls the news and entertainment media. Journalists who have refused to toe the official line have been fired, jailed or killed. This state monopoly, particularly when combined with the palpable failure by the West to communicate effective rebuttals to Russian audiences, has enabled the regime to mold Russian perceptions on every major policy issue.

Second, these propaganda themes skillfully capitalize on nostalgia felt by the Russian people about Moscow’s imperial past, which is often perceived in a highly idealized light. The repression of the Soviet and Czarist periods has been played down, and a key related theme is that Russia has always been the victim of foreign machinations and intrigue.

But Putin’s propaganda campaign also bespeaks of certain desperation. The Russian economy is in free fall, buffeted by both falling oil prices and Western sanctions. Fuel shortages and the resulting disruption of deliveries of key commodities pose a particular challenge to the Kremlin. Corruption and mismanagement are rampant and have drawn the ire of the Russian people.

There is widespread labor unrest in cities where private-sector workers have not been paid for months at a time. There also have been months of strikes by long-distance truckers protesting extortionist road fees and corruption. Even fire and rescue first responders employed by the federal Ministry of Emergency Situations have not been paid in months. That emergency personnel in such major cities (and places where revolutions have started in Russia’s past) as St. Petersburg and Moscow, with responsibilities for handling public protests, have gone without pay underscores the precariousness of Russia’s finances and the risks it is forced to incur.

Against this backdrop, and lacking either democratic or ideological legitimacy, Putin’s government is increasingly brittle. As the Kremlin doubles down on its aggressive foreign policy and increases domestic repression, it has also intensified its global propaganda efforts. Moscow has heavily invested in its broadcasting assets, with the satellite network RT being the pivotal component, giving it an unprecedented ability to reach domestic and foreign audiences.

All Americans should be outraged by the Kremlin’s messaging campaign and support a robust U.S. response. To present such a response effectively to global audiences, Congress should promptly enact bipartisan legislation proposed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking Democrat Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.) to revitalize America’s public diplomacy infrastructure. Winning the global battle of ideas is an essential part of fostering a stable democratic world order. Consistent with our core values, the United States must lead in challenging Moscow’s racist propaganda and highlighting the moral narrative of democracy, tolerance, human rights and rule of law.

Paula J. Dobriansky was undersecretary of state for global affairs from 2001 to 2009 and is a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. David B. Rivkin Jr. is a constitutional lawyer who served in the Justice Department and the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/putins-anti-obama-propaganda-is-ugly-and-desperate/2016/01/04/57647c48-b0c4-11e5-b820-eea4d64be2a1_story.html

Obama’s empty climate agreement

Paris is Copenhagen all over again — more presidential climate change grandstanding without concrete results.

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. & ANDREW M. GROSSMAN, 10 December 2015 in USA Today

The world is watching as diplomats in Paris hammer out the final details of a new climate agreement involving over 150 countries. The goal, said President Barack Obama, is “an agreement where … each nation has the confidence that other nations are meeting their commitments.”

But the world’s attention may be misplaced. There is no reason to believe that this agreement will conclude any differently from the last three, with nations reneging on commitments to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and to provide billions of dollars in foreign aid to finance reductions in the developing world.

That’s a big problem for the president: reciprocity has always been Congress’s chief concern when it comes to climate-related measures that threaten to drive up energy prices and sap the United States’ international competitiveness. The lack of binding commitments for developing nations like China and India is a big part of what killed consideration of one previous agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, in the Senate. And that, as well as general opposition to new greenhouse emissions regulations by congressional Republicans, presages the same result in Congress this time around.

Despite the messaging coming from the White House, as a legal matter, the president actually does need Congress’s support to complete any kind of meaningful deal. That legal reality is having serious consequences in Paris, where U.S. participation in the final deal is an overriding imperative. For one, it rules out any firm financial commitments. The Constitution, after all, assigns the power of the purse to Congress, and so the president cannot, on his own, set the U.S. foreign aid budget for years into the future.

Likewise, the president cannot unilaterally commit the US to binding emission-reduction targets. The Senate and executive branch have both understood for years that any “targets and timetables” for emissions must be put to a ratification vote. When the Senate ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, it extracted a promise from the George H.W. Bush administration to that effect. And when President Bill Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, it was failure to secure Senate ratification that blocked the U.S. from becoming a party and stopped it from becoming binding under U.S. law. In foreign-affairs law, these are extraordinarily strong precedent for the proposition that any binding reductions must be put to Congress.

The Obama administration’s solution to these seemingly intractable problems is to structure the deal as what it calls a “hybrid agreement.” Under this approach, only measures dealing with emissions reporting would be binding on parties. The rest would constitute what diplomats call “political commitments” — in other words, empty promises that are not legally enforceable. In short, the agreement will contain little in the way of substance.

That is not, however, how it will be touted to the American people. The administration, having identified the Paris agreement as a key plank of the president’s “climate legacy,” has sent a gaggle of senior officials to the negotiations and launched an all-out publicity barrage. The chief focus so far has been on the agreement’s longwinded aspirational language, including the likely-to-be-declared long-term goal of “decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century.” But that, like the other “commitments,” will have all the legal force of a fortune cookie message.

For those participating in the Paris talks, there should be a sense of déjà vu. The negotiations over the 2009 Copenhagen Accord marked the Obama administration’s climate-diplomacy debut, and the United States played a lead role in drafting the deal. Its key provisions? Aid payments to to developing nations and “quantified economy-wide emissions targets.” President Obama called it “meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough.” Structured to avoid the need for ratification, the accord was not legally enforceable and quickly came to be viewed, on its own terms, as a complete failure.

One that the president appears determined to repeat in Paris.

David B. Rivkin, Jr., who served in Republican administrations, and Andrew M. Grossman, who previously worked at The Heritage Foundation, are attorneys at Baker & Hostetler. 

Source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/12/10/paris-climate-change-constitution-treaty-column/76676732/