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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

It Has Been Quite A Day

It's not often that we see such dueling narratives in the news as we did today.  There was more nonsense thrown out into the mix on the Russia Trump story and the Obama spied on Trump story than one could ever have imagined.

First we got a story from the AP disclosing the shocking news (gasp!) that about 15 years ago, Paul Mana fort worked for a Russian rich guy and mentioned in a memo at that time that a particular action might make the Russian government look good.  Supposedly, this is supposed to have some impact on what happened 15 years later during the last presidential campaign when Manafort was the head of the Trump campaign for three months.

Second, we got some real news.  The head of the House Intelligence committee announced that he had received information from a member of the intelligence services who gave him transcripts of surveillance which had nothing to do with Russia but which included conversations had by members of the Trump transition team and perhaps Trump himself.  The transcripts provided to the congressman by this whistle blower, if verified, mean that the testimony from the other day of the head of the FBI is now called into question.  The point of these transcripts is that they identify by name the Trump transition personnel, something which is a crime under federal law.  It is a development which strongly supports the position taken by President Trump that he was the subject of government surveillance by the Obama administration.

This second development was so surprising that it left the Democrats momentarily speechless.  Imagine, after weeks of relentless attacks by the Democrats on Trump for daring to say that Obama had him spied on, this latest news is showing that Trump was correct.  The chief Democrat on the Intelligence Committee had a press conference in which he kept saying that the release of the new evidence undermines the investigation.  It was a funny press conference, roughly the equivalent of a police chief complaining that obtaining key evidence that unmasks the killer in a murder investigation somehow was undermining that investigation.

By a few hours later, we got the third bit of news.  The same Democrat who was so confounded by the second item suddenly told the media that he understands that the FBI now has some proof of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Of course, Congressman Schiff wouldn't disclose what information the FBI had, what his source for the announcement was, or really anything else.  It seemed like an outrageous attempt to take back control of the narrative that had been lost when the proof that the Obamacrats had spied on Trump and his people became public.  There is, as of yet, no reason to believe any of this.

One thing is certain:  this issue is coming to a head.  We will either soon see actual proof from the FBI of collusion between Trump and the Russians or we will know that the Democrats are just making up lies about it.  My money is on the Democrats telling lies.  Remember, the investigation started last July.  We've been told by the heads fo the intelligence agencies who led the effort for the next seven months that there is absolutely no evidence of collusion.  That was repeated by the head of the FBI the other day.  I doubt something new just showed up amazingly at the point when Trump's charges against the Obamacrats are being shown to be true.

A Little Comedy From the Left

There's not a lot that's funny in the news these days.  There's a great deal that's false, but that's really not funny.  There's even more that's horrible, and that's certainly not funny.  (For example, it's hard to laugh at Syria.)  That's why I thought it really great that Real Clear Politics republished a piece by former National Security Adviser Susan Rice.  The column originally appeared in the Washington Post.  Here's the headline of the piece (which is really all you need to read.)

When White House Twists The Truth, We're All Less Safe

Are you laughing yet?  You should be.  Remember, Susan Rice's most memorable moment came in September of 2012.  On that day, she represented the Obama White House on five Sunday morning news shows.  It was a few days after the terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans, including our ambassador to Libya, dead.  Rice went from show to show and told the nation that there had been no terror attack; rather, there had just been a spontaneous riot as a result of a youtube video about the prophet Muhammed.  The fact that nobody in Libya had seen the video seemed to have escaped Rice's attention.  So did the fact that the supposed spontaneous rioters had been armed with heavy weapons like mortars and RPGs.  (Perhaps she thinks that people carry small artillery with them when they go out for a walk in Benghazi. -- That's Chicago, not Benghazi.)  The reality is that Rice went on every major network news show that day and lied.  Next to "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan," it was the clearest example of a lie told by the Obamacrats during the Obama years.  And now Rice is warning against the Trump White House "twisting" the truth?

I used to wonder if Susan Rice had any common sense.  I guess I don't have to wonder anymore.  The answer seems clearly to be a loud NO.  For her to write this article proves she's a fool.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The GOP Meeting This Morning

President Trump is going to Capitol Hill to meet with the House Republicans this morning at their weekly conference.  Depending on the news source you follow, this is either a "last ditch attempt to save" the Obamacare repeal/replacement bill or a "move to button up the last few votes to assure passage" of the bill.  Is the bill in trouble?  I doubt it.  Most House Republicans will agree that doing nothing is not an option, and that is the other choice available if the bill is not passed.  There already is going to be an amendment that will make some important changes to the original draft bill.  The changes will bring premiums down for older Americans and it will get rid of some of the Obamacare taxes this year rather than next year, among other things.

The key to the argument for the Republicans seems to be this:  they promised for many years to get rid of Obamacare if they had power.  If the House Republicans vote against the bill, they will violate that promise.  On the other hand, if the bill passes, the only thing that will be assured is that the Senate will then take up consideration of the bill.  It is clear that the Senate is going to make changes to the basic bill.  That means that after the Senate passes the bill (if it does-- which I assume it will), the bill will go to conference where a final agreement will be made.  Everyone in both houses then gets to vote again.  Those who do not like the final bill can vote no then with the cover of having voted yes the first time. 

The media is in a full frenzy of reporting to try to make the bill look like it has no chance.  Of course, these are the same people who told us that Hillary was inevitable and that she could bring Democrat control of the House and Senate too.  Hopefully, the Republicans in DC understand this.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What Will Russia Do If The War In Syria Expands?

There's been war in Syria for the last five years.  The country is in ruins.  Half a million people have died.  Millions more are refugees both within and without Syria.  There are foreign forces fighting in Syria for Iran, Russia, the Hezbollah terrorists, Turkey, the Kurdish militias, the USA and an assortment of individuals who joined ISIS.  Right now there seem to be at least five Syrian sides to the civil war:  the Assad forces which are the remnants of the pre-war government/army; ISIS; the other Sunni terrorist groups like the al-Nusra front which grew out of al Qaeda (under an ever-changing series of names; the Sunni Arab non-terrorist forces and the Syrian Kurdish forces.  Russia, Iran and Hezbollah support Assad and target mostly the non-terrorist Sunnis as well as the Kurds.  The Turks seem to have chosen the Kurds as their main target but they also oppose ISIS and, to a lesser extent, the Assad forces.  The Kurdish militias that have come from abroad support the local Kurds.  The American forces seem focused on destroying ISIS and trying to keep the Kurds and the Turks from fighting.  Simply put, it's a mess.

The problem is that it is a mess that seems about to get worse.  The Assad forces seem to be moving towards starting a confrontation with Israel.  Assad has been strengthening his position against domestic opponents for some time.  A year and a half ago, it looked like Assad was about to be ousted.  Then the Russians and the Iranians poured in forces to support their guy and the Assad forces regrouped and rallied.  During this time, the Kurdish forces also strengthened their position, but the Kurds have not gone beyond the traditional Kurdish areas of the country which they now mostly control.  The various terrorists and the non-terrorist Sunnis, however, have been getting battered.  So Assad seems to be picking a fight with the Israelis.  In the last week, Syrian anti-aircraft weapons were fired at Israeli planes.  Nothing was hit despite Syrian claims to the contrary.  (The Assad forces always claim to have shot down Israeli planes, but somehow they never do.)  Still, just by firing on Israeli planes, Assad has upped the ante.  The Israeli defense minister said yesterday that if the Syrian anti-aircraft systems fire at Israeli planes, the Israeli Air Force would be forced to destroy them.  Imagine the reaction if Israeli planes wipe out Syria's anti-aircraft systems.  Such a move might force the hand of Iran which has substantial troops near the Syrian - Israeli border.  Would the Iranians dare to throw their troops into a battle against Israel?  Such a move could lead to major casualties and a major and embarrassing loss for the Iranians.  More likely, the Iranians would have their client terror group, Hezbollah, launch some of its 100,000 missiles that are aimed at Israel.  We that to happen, the Israelis would, no doubt, move against the Hezbollah positions in Lebanon in order to take out as many of the remaining missiles as possible.  The Israelis would suffer losses, but they could take out the Hezbollah forces as well as the Iranians. 

Let's stop here for a moment.  It may sound strange to say, but in a battle between Israel on the one side and Assad, Iran and Hezbollah on the other side, most of the Sunni Arab states would be rooting for the Israelis to win.  I doubt that we would see any active participation by countries like Saudi Arabia or Jordan in the fighting, but they are all so upset by the Iranian moves towards hegemony in the region, that they would like to see Iran defeated.

That brings us to the key question:  what would the Russians do?  Russia has naval and air bases in Syria and supports the Assad regime.  Would it stand by and watch Israeli forces pulverize its ally?  On the other hand, Russia has warm relations with the Israelis at the moment.  Indeed, the Israeli prime minister has visited with president Putin of Russia four times in the last 18 months, and there have been major efforts to coordinate the Russian and Israeli forces in the region so that there are no accidental confrontations.  Would Putin put his country's forces in harm's way when the adversary has local dominance?  What would Putin do if his forces were thrown into the battle and then defeated by Israel?  How would that look to the world?  Putin may be prepared to invade a poorly armed country like Ukraine, but a major foreign adventure against a well equipped adversary like Israel might not appeal much to the Kremlin.

Then there's the other wild card in the situation.  What would the USA do if the Russians were to join a battle against Israel?  Would President Trump sit by if the Israelis needed American help to fend off Russia?

The point of all of this is simple:  the move by Assad to try to confront the Israelis is incredibly dangerous for world peace.  Assad may be a psychotic killer who cares for nothing other than remaining in power.  Russia, however, has to make a move now.  Putin needs to "explain" to Assad that if he confronts Israel, he will be on his own.  Iran needs to join in that "explanation".  At that point, Assad will understand that he cannot hope to profit from a battle against Israel.

It's a frightening situation right now.  Fortunately, we don't have the do-nothing Obama in office anymore.  Were he still there, the Russians would understand that the USA would do nothing, no matter what happened.  The unpredictability of President Trump should keep things calmer than they otherwise would be.  Let's hope that the parties all realize that.

Making Something Out of Nothing

The FBI director testified today before a congressional committee.  If you follow the mainstream media, you would think that the hearing produced big news:  the FBI confirmed that there is an investigation into Russian interference with last fall's election and also any connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Let's stop here.  Is there any sentient being in the USA who didn't know that already?  For month after month, we have been told that the FBI has been investigating Russian attempts to influence the election.  We've also been told that there was an investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  FBI director Comey just said this before Congress today; it's not news, but rather a repetition of old stuff.

But let's take this one step further.  Three weeks ago, President Trump tweeted that his campaign had been the subject of surveillance from the government.  At that point, the media and the Democrats went crazy denying that there had been any such investigation.  "There was no wiretapping! There was no investigation!" they shouted.  Now, FBI director Comey testifies that indeed there was a government investigation since July of 2016.  That means that on that point, President Trump was correct and the media/Democrat denials were wrong. 

There has also been some important items in today's testimony that no one seems to be covering.  First, it was confirmed that there was absolutely no interference by the Russians with the votes themselves.  Second, director Comey said that Russian president Vladimir Putin absolutely hates Hillary Clinton and that Comey believes that is what motivated the Russian involvement.  Third, Comey offered no proof of any connection or coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Fourth, Comey pointed out that he had been authorized by the DOJ to confirm the existence of the investigation.  That means that the Trump Justice Department had nothing to hide.

The hearing is continuing, so maybe there will be some news from it later in the day.  At this point, however, the media coverage is dishonest.  It's the rough equivalent of Comey testifying that Donald Trump won the election last November and the media making a big deal out of it as if it were real news.

What Is The Case Against Neil Gorsuch?

The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch begin in Washington today.  The case for the judge is easy:  he has a brilliant mind, has a great educational and experiential background, thinks and writes clearly, and strongly supports the Constitution.  The case against him, however, seems hard to understand.  That was why I read the column by senator Elizabeth Warren from the Boston Globe in which she describes her reasons to oppose the nomination.  Senator Warren was a professor at my alma mater, Harvard Law School, prior to entering the Senate.  I figured that if these is a case to be made against judge Gorsuch, she would be the one to do it.  She fails miserably.

Here's how Warren starts her piece:

WHEN JUSTICE Antonin Scalia died last year, giant corporations and their right-wing buddies spent millions of dollars to keep the Supreme Court seat open so that Donald Trump could fill the vacancy. It was only the latest step in their campaign to tilt our courts in favor of big corporations and the wealthy. Now, the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is their reward.

Warren goes on to explain how Gorsuch is a tool of big business.

From the first word to the last, Warren's column is nonsense.  It wasn't millions of dollars from big corporations that kept Scalia's seat open.  It was a decision made by the Republican leadership of the Senate that no vote would be held until the next president was in office.  That is something that is normal in the last year of a president's term.  Senators almost never approve a new Supreme Court justice during the last few months of a president's term.  Senator McConnell, the GOP leader, announced that position almost immediately after the death of justice Scalia.  He did it with no action by giant corporations or "right-wing buddies".  He did it without so much as ten dollars being involved, and certainly not millions of dollars.  But senator Warren wants to paint Gorsuch as the result of a conspiracy by big corporations, so she just makes up new facts.  That's not an "argument"; rather, it's a lie.

And what does Warren point to in support of her claim that Gorsuch is a tool of big business?  Gorsuch sees no reason to defer to the administrative bodies of the federal government with regard to rule making.  Think about that.  Congress has given agencies like the EPA or the FDA the ability to make rules that have the force of law.  In doing so, Congress has ceded part of its legislative authority to unelected bureaucrats who often seem more interested in amassing power for their agencies than in respecting the proper limits of their roles.  Gorsuch does not believe that the judiciary has to cede any of its authority to these same people.  The opinions of these regulatory bodies need not get special authority or respect from the courts.  Senator Warren may think that administrative agencies are better than the people of the USA or the constitutional officers of the USA, but judge Gorsuch does not.  That view by the judge is not as a tool of big business; rather, it is one that would limit the vast power of the administrative state.  In short, it's a good thing for our democracy.

There is one thing that Warren's column makes clear.  There is no cogent and valid argument to be made against judge Gorsuch.  Barring some surprise at the hearings, Neil Gorsuch will soon be a justice of the Supreme Court.  He will be a fine selection for the Court.  Oh, and there is one other thing that the column makes clear:  senator Warren -- who obviously knows better -- is prepared to say anything to advance her political goals.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fake Punditry in Action -- 7

The latest installment of fake punditry in action comes from Joy Ann Reid writing in the Daily Beast.  This one is so fake that it's funny.  Reid's point is that Obamacare is working well and that it is a GOP lie to say that the system is imploding.  Here are a few of her more hilarious points:

1.  The system is not collapsing because about 12 million people signed up for insurance on the exchanges in 2016.  Even Reid had to admit that this number was millions lower than what had been projected by the government.  She says, however, that the system cannot be collapsing if people are signing up.  What a hoot!  Reid ignores the fact (that's right the FACT) that the law requires each American to have health insurance.  There's a substantial fine for those who don't buy insurance.  The real point is not that 12 million people obeyed the law, but that tens of millions chose NOT to obey the law and to go without insurance.  It is a testament to how Obamacare is failing.

2.  There is no lack of insurance providers in the system because a judge ruled that Aetna may have left a few exchanges because the government did not approve its merger with Humana.  It's another howler.  Here are some facts Reid ignores:  First, there were 22 coop companies set up under Obamacare to offer insurance.  At least 20 have closed because they could not survive in the market.  There are many insurance companies that have withdrawn from the exchanges and more will depart at the end of 2017 if nothing is changed.  Nearly a quarter of the counties in the USA have only one insurance company offering plans to residents, and a growing number of counties have NO insurance companies selling plans.  This is a lot more than just Aetna withdrawing from a few states.  Even a moron like Reid must understand that.

3.  The rise in premiums is unimportant because the subsidies go up with the premiums.  This one is so dumb that you can tell that Reid gets her health insurance from her employer.  She obviously doesn't buy it herself.  For 2017, insurance premiums went up across the country by double digit percentages.  In some states, the rise was over 100%.  And guess what; not all those who bought plans qualified for subsidies.  I just looked on the Connecticut exchange for what it would cost today to buy a Silver plan for a single person age 60 with an annual income of $55,000.  The lowest cost Silver plan with a $4000 deductible is over $950 per month or over $11,500 per year.  That's over 20% of this person's total income, and it provides no coverage until another $4000 is spent.  That person making $55,000 gets no subsidies.  But what if the person makes $10,000 less; he or she has an annual income of $45,000.  For that person, the cost for the same health plan is about $6000 less.  That person still pays roughly $5000 for a plan that provides no benefit until $4000 is spent.  Neither of these two people is rich; in Connecticut, the median household income was over $66,000 last year.  The point is that those who get no subsidies (which is about a quarter of those who buy on the exchanges) are getting hit with enormous premiums, and those who get subsidies are also being hit with enormous premiums.  Literally, millions of people are being priced out of the market even with the subsidies.