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Sunday, July 23, 2017

This Won't Age Well

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is supposedly starting to get his team ready so that he can run again for president in 2020.  I'm not making this up.  I saw it reported on the internet, so it must be so, right? 

It's hard to imagine that Sanders could actually be pondering another run for the White House.  He was too old in 2016, and he will be four years older in 2020.  I realize that many of the other names put forward for the Dems are old too (like Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren).  Indeed, President Trump will be pretty old by 2020 too.

If Sanders runs, I do have a great campaign slogan for him:  "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up."

If you don't like that one, how about "At least he is more honest than his wife."

The View of the Middle East From Germany

Joschka Fischer was the foreign minister of Germany for six years until 2012.  This weekend he wrote an article discussing the "next" war in the Middle East.  Fischer provides a rather surface analysis and then announces that the war coming after the defeat of ISIS is the confrontation between the Shiite Muslims led by Iran and the Sunni Muslims led by Saudi Arabia.  Fischer says that the Russians have lined up with Iran and the USA has moved to support the Saudis.  That's basically Fischer's entire prediction except to say that any war that confronts Iran will be much worse than any of the prior fighting in the Middle East.

To say that the former German foreign minister is simplistic is not enough.  There are just too many points he glosses over or omits entirely.  Think of just a few:

1.  There has already been a recent war confronting Iran.  From 1980 to 1988, Iran and Iraq were at war.  The fighting was mostly directed at soldiers on the front rather than through attacks on civilians.  The death toll was lower than that in the current Syrian civil war. 

2.  There are many countries in the region which are neither clearly Sunni or Shiite.  For example, Syria is about 75% Sunni, but it has been ruled by the Assad family and its supporters (who are Shiites) for nearly 50 years.  Lebanon has sizeable Sunni and Shiite communities as well as a large Christian component.  Iraq has a Shiite majority which is now in control.  Under Saddam Hussein, however, the Sunnis ruled the country.  Where do these countries line up in this coming Sunni/Shiite war?  Fischer doesn't even mention this.

3.  There are Sunni groups that align with Iran and Shiites who align with the Saudis or other Sunnis.  A good example is the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.  These are Sunni Arabs, but they often coordinate with the Iranians.  Right now, they appear to be starting a terror uprising in Israel in order to drive a wedge between the Israelis and their new Sunni "allies" of the Saudis, Jordanians and Egyptians.  This will get attention for the Palestinians but it will serve the strategic purposes of Iran rather than the PA.

4.  Fischer favorably mentions the US withdrawal from the region under Obama.  Somehow, he misses the resulting rise of ISIS that flowed into the vacuum which was left.  Fischer clearly seems to support another American disengagement once the ISIS threat is over.  Of course, Fischer give no reason why such a disengagement would be a good policy.

I do wonder how a person with such a surface view of this region could have led German foreign policy for six years.  He's so bad that he makes John Kerry look like a deep thinker.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

New Jersey Raises the Smoking Age

New Jersey has now made it illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 21.  Think about that.  You can't smoke or drink in the Garden State until you're 21.  The New Jersey legislature also passed a bill that would have barred anyone under the age of 18 from getting married (even with parental permission.)  That bill was vetoed by governor Christie.  On the other hand, if you are 14 and want an abortion, you can get one in New Jersey without even telling your parents.  Why is it that someone is old enough for one but not for the other?  Which is a more important decision:  1) to smoke or not or 2) to have an abortion? 

If someone can explain this with a reason other than that the left wants no restrictions of any sort on abortion, please let me know.  I'm curious to hear the logic.

A "Better Deal" Still The Same Old One

The Democrats are giving up on their current "Resistance" slogan which has not worked in all those special elections that they lost.  The party has a new slogan:  "A Better Deal!"  It's an obvious play off of the New Deal that Franklin Roosevelt put forward 80 years ago.  I doubt that there are many voters who remember the actual New Deal, and I strongly suspect that most voters don't even know what the New Deal included.  Still, this is the big step that the Dems have come up with to improve their message.

So what does the Better Deal include?  According to early reports, it's an economic package of infrastructure spending of 1 trillion dollars over ten years and raising the minimum wage to fifteen bucks.  This is a rather strange pair.  The Trump agenda item is to spend 1 trillion dollars on infrastructure over the next ten years, but the Democrats have been opposing that up until now.  To say the least, it's rather bizarre for the Dems to adopt the same idea as part of their own plan after opposing it for the last six months.  The minimum wage increase sounds good, but while it will raise low wages it will also destroy a huge number of the jobs affected.  The 15 dollar minimum wage was passed in Seattle and studies have shown that income among low wage workers declined by 12% because many had hours cut back and others lost their jobs completely to automation.  If the higher minimum wage doesn't work in super-liberal Seattle, how will it work across the country?

What the Better Deal really shows is that the Democrats still have no ideas of their own.  They always say that their problem is messaging.  They're wrong.  The problem is lack of message.  No matter how you say it, nothing does not turn into something.

182 vs. 100 -- President Trump's First Half Year

When the first 100 days ended for President Trump, the media went crazy with analysis.  Back when Franklin Roosevelt first took office, 100 days became a big deal in looking at what a new president accomplishes.  Now that it's been half a year for the President in office, there has been something akin to a yawn from the media.  That seems silly to me.  I think we ought to look at President Trump's achievements and failures for the first eighth of his term.  Here's a non-exclusive list of both:

Achievements:

1.  Trump has rolled back unnecessary regulations to an extent unseen in American history.  Congress passed about 15 bills that undid major regulations of the Obama era.  Things that were nothing more than blatant power grabs by the federal government but which achieved no positive results for the country were erased when signed into law by the President.  The Trump team also put on hold a whole series of other regulations that had not yet been completed.  All of this took a major burden off of the economy and the American people.

2.  Trump unleashed the American energy industry.  In the space of six months, the President ended the war on coal waged by the Democrats, he vastly simplified the procedures for getting drilling permits, he opened off shore land for exploration, he promoted American energy exports, and he opened federal lands for reasonable exploration.  As a result, American energy imports are falling and our exports are growing.  The cost of energy has fallen while more of the amount spent on energy is staying here in the USA rather than funding oil-producing countries hostile to the USA.  As this continues, many tens of thousands of new good jobs will be created here.

3.  Trump ended trade deals that were not beneficial to the USA while not starting the trade wars that so many of his enemies predicted.  We are negotiating now with China for new trade agreements.  We are also negotiating with a great many other countries for new trade deals.  Meanwhile, while on his foreign trips, the President has announced big trade deals that will result in a great many new jobs in the USA.

4.  Trump made clear that the USA would enforce our immigration laws, a move which has cut the number of illegals entering the country by more than half.  He has also focused the deportation efforts on those with criminal records.  This has been a contentious area of policy, so it is unclear where things like the border wall, DACA, and other deportation efforts will end up, but so far, Trump's policies have been a success.

5.  Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement.  That agreement has no enforcement mechanism, and even were it fully implemented (which is highly unlikely) it would not have materially affected global temperatures.  Nevertheless, this basically do-nothing agreement would have cost the USA tens or hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 20 years and would have hobbled our ability to compete with companies in places like China and India.

6.  In foreign affairs, Trump achieved two major things in the Middle East:  first, he got 50 Muslim nations to get together to condemn terrorism.  Second, he presided over the crushing of ISIS which has lost Mosul and is about to lose its capital of Raqqa.  Trump also restored respect for America's positions by blasting the Assad forces in Syria for their use of chemical weapons.  No longer are American red lines an idle threat.  Trump also restored balance to the US position in the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Israel went from being slapped around by Obama to being treated like the friend and ally which that country is under Trump.  In Europe, the jury is still out.  Trump has gotten more NATO countries to put up the cash they agreed to spend on their militaries.  Much of the rest of the relations with that continent remain to be developed.

Failures:

1.  Any list of failures for the President has to begin with the obvious one, the failure to repeal Obamacare.  I'm not sure if this is a Trump failure or the failure of Republican senators, but Trump has to share in the responsibility even if the senators are mostly to blame.  This could still change, but I doubt it.

2.  Message control -- Trump has let himself get sidetracked often, particularly in his tweets.  I am not one who thinks that he should stop tweeting, but I do think that he should stay on message.  For example, if Jeff Sessions is about to announce a major bust of the worst gang in the USA, it is not the time to attack Sessions for his recusal in the Russia matter.  Trump keeps stepping on good news and having the media cover "problems" whether real of imagined. 

3.  The Russia investigation -- To the extent that after a year of investigation there is still nothing tying the President to any collusion with Russia, this could be called a success.  On the other hand, to the extent that the White House has been unable to get this issue behind it, I rate the issue a failure by Trump.  To be clear, it is also a failure for the media which has managed to make itself look petty and silly through most of the stories.  Still, Trump needs to do better on this subject moving forward.

4.  North Korea -- The North Koreans now have nuclear weapons and an ICBM.  This is a terrible combination.  To be fair, the failure in stopping the NKs belongs to the Obama administration, but Trump has been unable to make any headway so far in stopping Kim Jung Un's march toward being a full nuclear power.  This is a work in progress, but so far, Trump has failed.

Open Item:

1.  Taxes and the Trump agenda -- The GOP Congress had better soon come up with a tax reform/cut measure if the economy is to get the needed boost.  Trump will need to display a great deal of presidential leadership if this is to be pushed through.  The same is true with regard to the rest of his agenda.

If you were to ask the mainstream media to rate Trump's first six months, you would likely be told that he had failed miserably.  That's just the usual Fake News narrative.  If Trump had walked on water at the Sea of Galilee during his visit to Israel, no doubt the New York Times would have been "Trump fails to perform the miracle of loaves and fishes during Israel visit."  The President can do nothing right in the eyes of the media.  A fair review of the first six months, however, shows a lot of positive accomplishments.  There's still a great deal more to do, though.  We will have to watch where things go from here.

UPDATE -- OK, OK -- I get it.  I left off Neil Gorsuch being nominated to the Supreme Court and his successful confirmation.  This is one of the President's most important accomplishments.  You can stop the email now.

Things Get Worse In Israel

Is this the Third Intifada?  The first two were waves of terror attacks by Palestinians on Israelis.  They were stopped by Israel's building the separation barrier that prevented armed terrorists from the West Bank region coming into Israel to carry out attacks.  They also required heightened security measures to stop the attacks. 

I ask this question after two things that happened in the last 24 hours.  The first was a terror attack on an Israeli family that had gathered to celebrate the birth of a new grandchild at the grandparents' home.  A Palestinian teen entered the home through an unlocked front door and began stabbing family members at random.  The grandfather and two of his children were killed.  The grandmother was wounded.  The terrorist was shot by a neighbor who rushed to help after hearing the noise; the terrorist will recover.  This is the kind of horrible terror attack that has not been seen recently in Israel.  The second event is the announcement by Palestinian president Abbas that he is "freezing" all contact with Israel because of the installation of metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount.  While this is not an actual endorsement of the terror attack, it is about as close as Abbas will come to that (at least in English).

There is no reason for there to be another organized terror wave like the first two Intifadas.  The Palestinians gained nothing from the first two.  Nevertheless, this may be a response to the end of the era during which the Palestinians relied on president Obama to pressure the Israelis.

Let's go back to 1999-2000 for the moment.  At that time, the Israelis offered the Palestinians roughly 99% of what they sought in exchange for real peace and recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.  Yassir Arafat who was leading the Palestinians at the time rejected the offer and launched the first Intifada.  A great many people died, but there was no Palestinian gains made.  In fact, there were substantial losses for the Palestinians. 

I hope this is not the start of a new terror wave.  There is no real reason for it to happen now.  Clearly, the installation of metal detectors (which will protect everyone on the Temple Mount) is not the real reason.

Nonsense About The Attorney General

In the annals of Fake News, the Washington Post is trying to win the Bullizer Prize with its latest attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The headlines scream that intelligence reveals that Sessions actually discussed campaign related matters with the Russian ambassador after denying that.  Not really.
 
Here's the main claim of the Washington Post:
 
A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.
 
Notice two key things about what this claims:
 
1.  The unnamed source is a "former" official.  That means it's an Obama era official who is not even necessarily in the intelligence field.  Someone like Susan Rice comes to mind, but we don't know who it is since the Post chooses not to disclose that.  It's just another of those stories from people who would love to undermine the Trump administration anonymously.
 
2.  More important, the subject of discussion is not the campaign or collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.  Rather it is "Trump's positions on Russia-related issues" and "prospects" for relations with Russia under Trump.  These are exactly the things one would think any campaign would discuss with a Russian ambassador.  I'm sure someone from the Hillary campaign discussed her views on Russia with the Russian ambassador and how things would go under a Hillary administration.  There's nothing wrong with discussing that either.
 
On top of this, Sessions never said anything to the contrary.  He denied any discussions of collusion.  He admitted, however, that he had spoken to the ambassador.
 
The whole story is built up to look like some big news, but basically it is just more fake BS.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Spicer Resigns

According to reports, Sean Spicer resigned as the White House spokesman today.  Spicer disagreed with the President's naming of Anthony Scarramuci as White House Communications Director earlier today.

I don't get why the media considers this a big deal.  It's been know for over a month that Spicer was leaving his role as White House Spokesman.  Here's an excerpt from a Time magazine article from June 17th, more than a month ago:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is eyeing ceding the podium in the coming weeks to take on the role of Senior Advisor for Communications on a full-time basis, according to two officials.
Spicer began the Administration acting in both the press secretary and communications director capacities and returned to wearing the two hats last month after Mike Dubke departed the White House.
 
For the last month, all but one of the daily briefings have been handled by Sara Huckabee Sanders.  Spicer was already mostly out as White House Spokesman.  We know the reason given by the media as to why Spicer is leaving.  Who knows the actual truth.
 
Earlier today, we got the usual stories of chaos in the White House.  The funny thing is that not a single one mentioned Spicer as possibly leaving. 
 
The biggest loss with Spicer leaving is that the extremely funny Twitter parody account, Sean Spicier, will no longer be around.  Whoever wrote "Spicier" had a wicked sense of humor.  I don't know if the real Spicer will be missed by many, but without a doubt the loss of the parody account will be a major blow to many.

Terrorist vs. Terrorist

In the region along the border between Lebanon and Syria, the Assad forces and the Hezbollah terrorists have launched an attack on the soldiers of the al Nusra front.  Until last year, the al Nusra front was the official Syrian affiliate of al Qaeda.  At that point, al Nusra supposedly broke away from al Qaeda and formed its own renamed group.  Despite that name change, al Nusra is still a group of terrorists as far as I can tell.  So we have Shiite Muslim terrorists (Hezbollah) attacking Sunni Muslim terrorists (al Nusra) with the involvement of the army of a state terrorist (Assad).  Probably the best possible outcome would be if they would all just kill each other.  Still, having one terrorist fight another is, for the time being, a good result for the rest of us.

It is important to point out that the fighting is near the northeast corner of Lebanon.  It is NOT in the region where there is a cease fire arranged by the USA and Russia.

A Slow Day -- The Media Is Back To Chaos

It must be a slow news day; there are a series of stories about how the White House is in turmoil.  Whenever there is nothing else to say that is negative about the President, the media turns to reporting chaos among his staff.  We had chaos on his team when he announced as a candidate.  There was chaos on his team during the primaries.  There was chaos reported for the Republican convention.  There was chaos reported in the campaign against Hillary.  The transition team was said to be in chaos.  The White House staff has been in chaos according to the media from the day the administration began.  Just today, I saw the fifth wave of stories about how Steve Bannon is departing the White House.  Then I saw an article about how the President's personal legal team had surprise resignations of top people; it turned out that the spokesman for the legal team left, hardly a big deal.  Over the last six months, stories have abounded about how Reince Priebus would be out in a day or so, Kellyanne Conway was being shown the door, and Jared Kushner was being bounced as well.  Of course, none of that happened.  For all the talk of chaos, the White House has gotten a lot accomplished, but that is never part of the story.

I wonder how long the chaos stories will go on.  My guess is that after the President finishes his second term there will be a series of stories about how there is chaos in the committee building the Trump presidential library.  They will be phony then just as they have been all along.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Two Days In A Row with 2020

For the second day in a row, there are a slew of articles about Democrats planning to run for president in 2020.  Two who got mentioned today are Maxine Waters a congressman from California and Chris Murphy the junior senator from my own state of Connecticut.  It's hysterical.

Waters is certainly a strident member of the far left of the party.  She's also African American and that might help her.  On the other hand, Waters is usually unable to talk in sentences that make sense for more than 30 seconds at a time.  She deals in fake news and seems unable to discern reality whenever I've seen her interviewed.  She's also rather decrepit.  Sure, she's younger than Bernie Sanders, but so is Methuselah.  At least she has a ready made campaign slogan:  "Still waters don't run!"

Unlike Waters, Murphy is a young guy.  Nevertheless, with Murphy the perpetual question is always whether he knows what he is saying is bogus and he is just lying, or if he is so divorced from reality that he actually believes much of what he says.  I don't pretend to know for certain what will appeal to American voters; for example, I though Rubio would wipe the floor with Trump in the GOP primaries last time.  I feel fairly confident, however, that no group of voters could strongly support Chris Murphy for president.  I've seen him deal with TV interviews.  If the questioner is totally supportive (like on MSNBC), Murphy is fine when he can stick to his talking points.  If there is any confrontation or real questioning of Murphy, however, he seems to roll up into a ball to try to hide from reality.  This is not a guy who will engender confidence.  Murphy too, has a ready made campaign slogan:  "I'm Chris Murphy, and with me in the White House whatever can go wrong will go wrong."

Right now, I'm not sure in what party Dwayne Johnson (the Rock) would run if he takes seriously his claim that he will run for the presidency.  Clearly, Johnson would be a major step up from either Waters or Murphy.

An New Way of Rebuilding Infrastructure

Two of the big initiatives of President Trump are the rebuilding of America's infrastructure and the revision of the tax code.  It well may be that there is a way to combine these which will make both easier and more productive.

Let's start with infrastructure.  President Trump wants to spend one trillion dollars on these projects for highways, bridges, airports, railroads, ports and other infrastructure.  That's a lot of money.  True, the expenditure is to be made over ten years, but it's still 100 billion bucks each year.  It's money that the federal government doesn't really have; we would have to borrow it, thereby adding to the national debt.  Some in Congress want to raise taxes to pay for this expenditure, but that would just slow the economy and be counterproductive in job creation.  Higher taxes would also, most likely, lead to lower tax revenues if the economy falls into recession.

On taxes, a big issue is the more than two trillion dollars held by American corporations overseas so as to avoid US taxes.  Profits earned abroad are not taxed until those profits are brought into the USA.  This works to encourage companies to use their funds held overseas on investments made outside the USA.  In that way, the money is never taxed by the USA.  Bringing that money into the USA would provide a major boost to the American economy.

There is also the issue regarding infrastructure of government waste and inefficiency.  A construction project built by a private owner is generally done much more efficiently than one done by a government agency.  For example, the Long Island Railroad (a public agency in New York) built a train repair facility some years back on which the total cost ended up coming in at 250% of the estimated cost.  The overrun was more than a quarter of a billion dollars.  Private companies never have overruns like that.  Their costs may be underestimated, but not in numbers like the public ones are.  Private companies work to reduce cost overruns; most public owners don't even try.  As a result, President Trump has said that he would like to get private industry involved in building new infrastructure in order to keep costs in line.

Put all three of these points together and there may well be a way to achieve all three goals.  It would involve four simple points:

1.  The federal government would compile a list of infrastructure projects which are needed.

2.  The Congress would pass an amendment to the corporate tax code that lowers the tax rate temporarily on repatriated profits from 35% to 25%.  In addition, profits held overseas as of January 1, 2020 would be subject to a tax of 35% whether or not they are brought back into the USA.  There would be a tax credit offered of 80% of the repatriated money invested by American business in the approved infrastructure projects on the list mentioned above.

3.  Companies would be able to undertake projects on the approved list.  Initial design and construction parameters would need to be approved by the appropriate federal, state and local agencies but those approvals would have to be streamlined so that the process takes no more than six months after application.  Safety, environmental and workability requirements would be set up front.  The government would be unable to order changes after initial approval absent the consent of the Secretaries of Commerce and Transportation.  The process to get consent would also be subject to limitations guaranteeing swift action one way or the other.

4.  After construction of the infrastructure, the company building the project would be able to monetize the end product with things like airport user fees, rental of concessions in train stations, tolls on bridges and highways, etc.  After twenty years or some other appropriate time, the ownership of the project would revert to the federal or state government (depending on the project.)

Think what this would accomplish. 

a.  Companies with cash overseas would be heavily encouraged to bring their money home.  This would raise tax revenue for the federal government. 

b.  Companies would also be heavily encouraged to invest in infrastructure projects.  Imagine a $1 billion improvement at the Kansas City airport paid for with private funds by company A.  That company would really only be investing 200 million dollars since 800 million would come back as a tax credit on taxes otherwise due for bringing the cash into the USA. 

c.  Since the tax rate is only 25%, companies would also bring a great deal more cash back to the USA than needed for the infrastructure projects.  This would be an enormous boost to the economy.

d.  Infrastructure projects would be built by private companies with all the additional cost and schedule control that such a move entails.  Without a doubt, this would save billions in costs.

e.  The companies building the projects would get a stream of income which would more than pay them back for their 20% of costs not covered by the tax credit. 

f.  Literally hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure projects would go forward with no cost to the federal or local governments.

This would be the proverbial win-win situation for the country.  I was involved for many years with public construction.  It is a broken process which almost never works to produce a project on time or on budget.  Instead, we end up with results like the huge new transit station in lower Manhattan that came in years late, way over budget and with a leaking roof that makes the result in need of repair even before it opens. 

NOTE:  To be fair, the idea to use some of the money held by companies overseas for infrastructure is one I heard on a radio talk show.  I expanded it and added in the other components.  I would give credit to the caller who mentioned it, but I did not catch his name.

The Trump Interview With The New York Times

President Trump gave an interview to three New York Times reporters that made big news yesterday.  Among other things, the President said that he would not have appointed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General had he known that Sessions would recuse himself from all investigations into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  The President also supposedly warned that the special prosecutor better not go too far afield in his investigations.

President Trump fully understood to whom he was talking.  Why would he say these things, particularly to reporters for the Times?  Without a doubt, his statements put pressure on Sessions.  There have already been numerous predictions that Sessions will resign (although I doubt that will happen.)  Further, no doubt his warning to Mueller, the special prosecutor, will actually push Mueller to do just what Trump warned against.  So, again, why did Trump say this?

Some people undoubtedly believe that it was just Trump being himself and displaying his own anger at the situation.  I don't.  President Trump has made it through a lifetime of being in the public eye.  He made it through a presidential campaign.  He knows full well what happens in these situations.  These statements are very unlikely to have been a slip of the tongue.  They were not inadvertent.  He meant to say this.  So, again, why did Trump do this?

My guess is that we are about to see some sort of offensive from the White House on the investigation front.  Ever since the news about the meeting between the President's son and that Russian lawyer, the White House has been playing defense on this subject.  I predict there will be some bombshell coming shortly.  We will have to wait and see.

John McCain

Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with a rather aggressive form of cancer in his brain.  We wish him a speedy recovery. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Already??????

Kamala Harris is a Democrat senator from California.  She has been in the Senate for six months.  According to media reports, she is also raising money for a run for president in 2020.  Oh boy.

What do we really know about senator Harris?  First, we have the most important items as far as many Democrats are concerned:  1. She's a woman.  2. Her mother was of Indian heritage.  3.  Her father was of Jamaican heritage.  That makes her the first South Asian/Caribbean American in the Senate.

The second thing we know is that senator Harris is a lawyer.  After graduating from law school, she failed the bar exam more than once but kept trying to pass until she finally managed to do so.  (That doesn't bode well for level of intelligence.)  Despite her difficulties with the bar exam, Harris made it to be in the District Attorney's office in San Francisco (although I wonder if it was her ethnicity or her legal prowess that got her that job.)  Then she became the Attorney General of California for two terms.

The third thing we know about senator Harris is that she has essentially no experience doing anything other than working in government.  One has to wonder how she understands the every day struggles of ordinary Americans (if she has any clue about that at all.)

The last thing we know about Harris is that she has accomplished nothing in Washington.  That's not surprising since she's only been there six months.

So given these facts, why would anyone think that Harris would make a good president?  Her ethnicity cannot by itself be enough, right?  We tried that and got Obama.  That was more than enough for the country.  Shouldn't we want a president who can either demonstrate some sort of life achievements either in or out of government?  Remember, one big reason Hillary Clinton lost is that after decades of being in the public eye, there were no accomplishments that were hers (as opposed to her husband's.) 

The Democrats already tried to win with a woman, thinking that gender alone would draw all sorts of women to vote for her.  It didn't work.  President Obama was able to draw extra turnout from the African American community that put him over the top in 2012.  Will that same draw be there when the candidate's background is half south Asian and half Jamaican?  I don't see why.

It is way too early for anyone to be campaigning for president.  Still, Harris is already making the effort.  Most likely, it will be a waste of time.

Either Propaganda or Total Idiocy

There's an article in Foreign Policy by Michael Axworthy which argues that regime change in Iran would be a disaster for the region and the world.  Axworthy actually contends that any American move designed to lessen the influence of the Iranians is the biggest danger to peace in that region.  Iran, according to Axworthy, is a stabilizing force in the Middle East with no hegemonic or military aims outside its borders.

When I read this, I considered whether this was just Iranian propaganda or a manifestation of total idiocy garbed with the language of a so-called foreign policy expert.  I'm still not sure of the answer.  I do know, however, that the article is (in non-diplomatic language) total BS.

Think about the idea of Iran as a stabilizing force in the Middle East.  This is the same country that armed those who were fighting US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan a few years ago.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of American servicemen were killed or wounded by IEDs prepared or paid for by Iran.  This is the same country that funded the Houthi rebels in Yemen.  The civil war in that country still rages; it would have ended long ago but for Iran's constant and substantial support for these rebels.  Iran is also the country that has engaged in a vigorous trade with North Korea regarding missiles and components needed for the manufacture of nuclear weapons.  Supposedly, that's stabilizing and non-militaristic?  Iran is also the principal supporter of the terrorists of Hezbollah and the war criminal Bashir al Assad and his faction in Syria.  Remember, Assad and his forces are responsible for hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties across Syria, and Iran applauds Assad's every move.  Itan is also the country that sent terrorists to Argentina to blow up targets connected to the Jewish community in Buenos Aires.  When over 100 were killed in that attack, how did that stabilize the Middle East?

Not long ago, Iran attacked and captured a disabled American navy ship in international waters.  Sure, the Iranians released the crew after a few hours, but first they violated the Geneva convention by humiliating the sailors in a variety of ways. 

Iran today is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism.  Axworthy thinks that's stabilizing?

Seriously, one has to wonder how a magazine that is supposed to consider foreign policy questions in a serious manner could put such nonsense onto its website.  I guess I should soon expect a sequel soon from "expert" Axworthy.  I already know the title of the piece:  "Hitler and Stalin -- misunderstood leaders just trying to survive in a harsh world."

Let's See About Taxes

The GOP is about to embark on a tax cutting exercise.  It's important for the senators and congressmen to pay attention to a few rules in this process:

1.  Keep it all simple.  The bill will need to be explained, something that was not really done with the healthcare bills.  No doubt the Democrats will scream about how this is just a gift to the rich, and there has to be a coherent answer to that charge.  More than just an answer, there has to be an affirmative case made for the tax law changes.

2.  The focus needs to be on business taxes.  Those are the taxes that are hurting our economy in a major way.  The USA has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world.  It means that every time a company has to decide where to put a new facility, the USA starts by being burdened by its high tax rate.  Also, there is a huge pot of money kept by American companies outside of the USA to avoid American taxes.  It's all legal, but it is something that needs to end.  A change in the law on that point could bring something like one and one-half trillion dollars into the US economy.  That alone ought to means an uptick in the growth rate of 2% or more for a number of years.

3.  Ignore the CBO and the deficit.  Surely, the CBO will score the tax change bill and will find that it will add to the deficit.  There are two reasons for this:  first, the CBO never looks at the resulting economic growth and additional tax revenues that this will generate.  Instead, the CBO assumes that growth will remain unchanged (which is totally wrong.)  Second, the CBO also assumes that all the cash held by US companies overseas will be brought back to the USA and then taxed at 35%.  This is a ridiculous assumption.  The reason there is more than two trillion bucks held overseas is that companies refuse to bring their profits back to the USA just so they can avoid paying the tax.  If the tax on profits brought back to the USA is dropped for a year to 7%, the net effect will be to have something like 1.5 trillion in cash brought back to the USA and the treasury will actually get extra revenue of over 100 billion dollars from the taxes on those funds.  The economy will also get an enormous boost and that will generate hundreds of billions of dollars of extra tax revenues as well. 

4.  Give the taxes a ten year life span.  To use reconciliation, the senators must either produce a bill which the CBO considers deficit neutral or else put a ten year limit on the provisions.  As discussed in item 3, there is no way to get a bill that the CBO will consider deficit neutral.  The GOP shouldn't even try for this.  It would be a waste of time.

5.  Forget the border adjustment tax.  There are those in the House who want to impose taxes on imports in the nature of a national sales tax.  This may be a good idea, but it is too complicated to explain the benefits easily and it offers the demagogues among the Democrats a target at which to shoot.

6.  Promote business investment with a provision allowing the expensing of most new equipment and facilities.  Of all the items that promote economic growth, business investment is the most important.  Providing a push for that sort of investment will give the country the most bang for the buck.

7.  Try to simplify the current tax rates and structure.  This covers both personal and business taxes.  Special provisions in the code that benefit one group or another should be deleted.  This alone will make the code much fairer.  The money raised by closing the loopholes can be given to every taxpayer by raising the personal exemption or by lowering the rates a bit.  If this becomes too complicated, however, the effort should be dropped so that the business tax plan can be adopted.

The mantra of the GOP should be economic growth and better and more jobs for Americans.  It is a message that can be explained easily, and it contrasts well against the Democrats message that the economy just can't do better than now.  The Democrats' new normal is just too bleak to accept.

Will Metal Detectors Lead To Riots?

After a terrorist attack last week, the mosque on the Temple mount in Jerusalem was closed for prayers.  It was quickly reopened, but the police put metal detectors at the entrances to the plaza in front of the mosque in order to keep guns and knives from being brought into the area.  That seems like a reasonable precaution to take.  Nevertheless, the Moslem religious authority which controls the mosque is up in arms about it and is moving to incite a riot in protest.  Today, the religious authority announced that all mosques in Jerusalem aside from the one at issue will be closed on Friday.  This will swell the numbers of people coming to pray into huge crowds.

The whole thing seems rather strange.  There is no religious objection to using metal detectors.  They are used in similar fashion for security at the two holiest sites in Islam which are in Saudi Arabia.  No one objects there.  There is no discrimination involved.  Everyone who wants to visit the Temple mount has to pass through the detectors.  There is nothing immodest or intrusive about the detectors.  One walks through and all that happens is that the machine beeps if it detects metal like a gun or a knife.  The detectors are not inside the mosques; they do not affect prayer services.  The only problem appears to be that the decision to install the metal detectors was made by the Jerusalem police.

Many times small things lead to big problems.  Here, however, we seem to be witnessing an event where the Islamic religious leadership in Jerusalem is actively trying to create problems for no valid reason at all.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Living With Obamacare

It seems very likely now that America is going to be stuck with Obamacare for a bit longer.  The Republicans in the senate could not get 50 out of 52 to agree on a replacement bill.  The few who refused to go along are now responsible for keeping the disaster that is Obamacare in place.  But what does this really mean?

1.  Millions of people will soon either have no choice in health insurance or no ability to buy health insurance at all.  Fully one-quarter of the counties in the USA now have just one company that offers health insurance for sale.  That means something like 30 million people have just one policy from which to pick.  It also means that these same 30 million people have to pay whatever that one insurance company sets as the price for insurance.  On top of this, in a small but growing number of counties, there are no health insurers at all who offer individual policies.  People who live in those counties simply cannot buy individual health insurance.  If I were a Democrat, I would say, "people are going to die because of this mess."

2.  Millions more people have health insurance under Obamacare which is much more expensive than the policies they had in the years prior to the law.  As of today, the average policy is $3000 more expensive than before the law.  Contrast this to the savings of $2500 that president Obama promised would be the result.  The bottom line is that people are paying much, much more for insurance.

3.  Not only are people paying more for their insurance; they are also getting less.  The average deductible has risen by over 75% since the passage of Obamacare.  These deductibles have gotten so high that many people cannot go to the doctor because they simply cannot afford to do so after paying their insurance premiums.  Should I say it again?  "People are going to died because of this mess."

4.  The cost of Obamacare is enormous.  The taxes that were included in the Obamacare package do not produce enough income to pay for these enormous costs.  Over the next decade, it is estimated that Obamacare will add almost two trillion dollars to the deficit.

So tell me this:  why are the Democrats fighting to "preserve" Obamacare?  How is the USA benefitting from this mess?  Sure, the Democrats love to tell us stories about someone who had problems in the past because they lacked insurance.  A few anecdotes do not tell the story, however.  What is the good of getting coverage for a few million more people if the costs are so high that people cannot use that coverage?  What is the good of bankrupting the system and depriving millions more people of healthcare?

Since the GOP moved forward with its attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, the Democrats have waged a campaign of fear against that effort.  They screamed that Republicans were "slashing" Medicaid; but that was a lie.  They screamed that millions would die if the plan passed, but that was a lie.  They screamed that the plan would leave those with existing conditions with no coverage, but here too it was a blatant lie.  The Democrats were successful with their allies in the media in getting the public to believe these lies.  They got what they wanted; Obamacare is likely not going to be repealed.  Now, the Democrats are going to have to explain how all the bad things that are going to continue to happen came to pass.  They fought replacement.  They fought repeal.  They fought any change at all to Obamacare.  Now, they will want to blame the ensuing problems on the Republicans.  After all, the lies worked once, so why not try again? 

The real problem here is that it is everyday Americans who are going to suffer the consequences of this disaster.  We have dishonest and dishonorable Democrats and a few feckless Republicans who made this happen.  We should all remember this at the next election.

Playing out a Fantasy

For the second term of the Obama presidency, there was not much done in Congress.  Obama made speeches with generalized proposals, but bills to accomplish most of those proposals were not even introduced in Congress.  On a few other subject, one or another congressman or senator would introduce a bill, but they never got out of committee.  There was no push to get the bills through.  President Obama famously said that he would just go around Congress; he told us that he had a phone and a pen and would take executive action.  Even there, Obama did precious little. 

When it came time for the Democrats to explain why nothing was happening, the chose to blame "obstructionist" Republicans.  The problem with that explanation, of course, was that it wasn't true.  You can't block bills that don't exist.  The only high profile "obstruction" by the GOP came when Obama nominated Judge Garland to the Supreme Court.  On items like immigration, the Senate actually passed a bill in 2013, but it had no support in the House.  Obama and the Democrats made no effort to reach some sort of compromise with the House GOP.  The bill died, and the Democrats blamed Republican obstruction.

For years, the Democrats told each other that the GOP was blocking every move they wanted to make.  The GOP was "the party of NO".  But, of course, it wasn't true.  You can't block proposals when there are no proposals.

So now we have GOP control in Congress.  The Democrats have decided to live out their fantasy.  They are trying to block everything.  I'm not talking about the unified Democrat response on healthcare.  For that bill, there is a policy difference.  It may be an idiotic position, but there is a basis for that position.  No, I'm talking about how the Democrats are trying to block every nomination made by President Trump.  In the last two weeks, the Senate Democrats slow walked a judicial nomination so that it took up nearly a week of Senate time to get it passed.  When the vote came, the judge was confirmed UNANIMOUSLY.  First, the Democrats forced a one week delay and then they all voted for the judge anyway.  Whose purpose does that serve?  It certainly is not something good for the American people.

As a result of the non-stop opposition by the Senate Democrats to every nominee, we have huge numbers of vacant positions in the government.  There are literally hundreds of nominees who are just waiting to go to work.  Some of those nominees are for under-secretaries in the Defense and State Departments.  With all that is going on in the world, don't we want to have people in place who focus on particular problems or regions?  Do the Democrats actually want to keep our foreign policy under pressure due to lack of people to carry it out?  Remember, these are not positions for which there are great policy differences between the parties.  They both oppose terrorism, for example.  So why block the appointments?  The only real answer is that the Democrats are living out the fantasy that the GOP somehow blocked Obama and that this is some sort of childish payback.

In mid August, the Senate and the House will go on a three week recess.  At that point, President Trump should just appoint all these people to recess appointments.  They can take their positions for at least a year and a half, and the Senate can still decide whether or not to confirm them for full positions.  It's a drastic step, but one that is within Trump's powers.  It really ought to be done.

The Latest Death of the Death of Obamacare

The media tells us that the Senate GOP healthcare bill is now dead.  The GOP is moving on to just repealing Obamacare with a time delay to allow for the replacement to be reached over a longer time.

Who knows the truth?  Certainly not the media.  They told us at great length that the repeal/replace effort was dead when the bill was pulled from the calendar in the House.  A month later, a slightly different bill passed.  Then they told us that the effort was dead when there were GOP opponents of the first version of the bill.  It came back, though.  Now it may be dead, or it may just be moving towards yet another resurrection.

I intend to wait and see.

In the meantime, the idea of repealing with no replacement but with time to come up with a replacement puts extra pressure on everyone to finally agree on a new plan.  Will it work?  Maybe.  It would be nice if at least a few Democrats would stop opposing everything and get involved in crafting that replacement.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Now It's Lies On CSpan

I just happened to turn on C-Span coverage of speeches on the Senate floor to see Jeff Merkley, the Democrat from Oregon, deliver a statement about climate change.  He made his speech into a quiz of sorts, but strangely (or maybe predictably) he was less than honest in what he said.

Here's a good example:  the senator asked why American Airlines had to cancel about twenty flights in Arizona during a few day period in June.  The correct answer was "high temperatures".  At a certain point, you see, the hotter air does not provide sufficient lift for some small commuter planes to take off safely.  For the senator, this is proof of global warming.  But here's what our friend the senator left out.  A year ago in June there were more flights canceled due to high temperatures in the same airport.  Ten years ago, there were more flights canceled due to high temperatures in that airport.  If we are watching ever increasing global warming, why did the number of cancelled flights decrease?  There was no mention of this.

The senator then went on to ask in which country the world's largest floating solar power installation is located.  To be fair, it may well be that it's nice to know that answer, but what difference does it make?  Is a floating power plant better than one on land?  NOPE.  So why worry about where the biggest floating one is?

I just get annoyed when this nonsense gets pushed by people who should know better.

Have They Been Asleep?

The New York Times has a long article today disclosing that Iran has become the dominant foreign power in Iraq.  Why does this surprise anyone?  Remember these few facts:

1.  Iraq has a Shiite majority.  The Sunnis are about 15% fewer in number.  Both groups are Arabs, though, while the Iranians are ethnic Persians.

2.  For many decades prior to the US invasion, the Sunnis held power in Baghdad.  In the 1980s the two countries fought a long and bloody war.  The Iraqi leader at the time, Saddam Hussein downplayed the religious statistic and instead emphasized the ethnic differences during that war.

3.  A big chunk of the Sunnis in Iraq are ethnic Kurds rather than Arabs, so among Arabs the Shiite majority is even more pronounced.

4.  After the US invasion, America pushed for democratic elections to select a government.  The Shiite supported candidates won and then led a long effort to remove all Sunnis from positions of power and influence.

5.  Under president Obama, the USA just left Iraq completely.  Obama sat by while the Shiites in Baghdad ousted the Sunnis.  He also sat by while the Iranians moved in to promote religious enmity and to coopt many Shiite groups to the Iranian cause.  With little or no opposition, Iran established a very strong position in Iraq.

6.  When ISIS appeared around 2014, they came as Sunni warriors.  For ISIS, the Shiites were infidels in much the same way that Christians and Yazidis were.  Only once the brutality of the ISIS forces was established did president Obama put his toe back into the waters of Iraq.

7.  Since Obama finally got around to opposing ISIS, the USA has fought on the side of the Iraqi government (which is firmly allied with Iran.)  America did nothing to break that Iranian-Iraqi alliance.  Instead, we just fought against ISIS.

8.  Anyone paying attention for the last four years would realize that Iraq was and is in the orbit of Iran. 

It's an amazing thing that the Times can publish articles now about how Iran is in control of much of Iraq.  Where have they been for the last four years?  Actually, I guess I can answer my own question.  For the first three and a half of those years, Obama was still president, so the Times would never say anything that might reflect poorly on Obama and his policies.  Now that Trump is in office, the Times is shocked, shocked to find that the Iranians have such a foothold in Iraq.

Are They Kidding In Califormia?

The California Legislature just passed a bill that bars prosecution of anyone under the age of 18 for prostitution.  The idea is that this will keep these kids out of jail and make their lives better.  The reality, however, is that with this move, California has legalized child prostitution.  You have to wonder how many 15 and 16 year old girls and boys will become prostitutes now that they cannot be arrested.

Think about this for a moment.  Right now, the left is making a big push to outlaw marriage by people who are 16 or younger.  At the same time they seek to bar these people from marrying, they are now allowing them to work as prostitutes.  Am I the only one who sees this as completely illogical?  If these kids are too young to make good decisions about marriage, why are they old enough to make good decisions about prostitution? 

Are they so jaded in California that the concept of 15 year old hookers no longer shocks their consciences?  Have they lost any concept of basic morality?

The whole subject is appalling.

Let's Celebrate

I learned this morning that today is World Emoji Day.  Somehow, I missed this until the actual day was upon us.  How could that happen?

It's bad enough that people spend inordinate amounts of time texting each other.  No matter where you look, it always seems as if there's someone there on his or her phone reading or sending a text.  Real life passes by, but the text messages still are in control.  To have a special day for emojis, however, is totally going off the deep end.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bobbit?

There's a law professor named Bobbit at Columbia Law School who is written up by Yahoo News today as predicting that President Trump will resign because of the meeting his son had with a Russian lawyer.  Why?  Professor Bobbit says it is because the President wanted to create a dynasty and his son's problems will prevent this.

In the annals of stupid comments, this one ranks up there near the top.  It's so bad that I started think that maybe the professor's wife's name is Lorena, but this time she went for the brain.

How Many Will Die Without Health Insurance?

The way the debate about the new Senate GOP healthcare bill is going, a casual listener would think that there is some sort of right under the Constitution to health insurance.  Remember, the bill, like Obamacare, deals with insurance, not healthcare.  The Democrats argue that people will die from lack of insurance.  Not one or two people, according to the Democrats, but millions.  It's total nonsense.

It's pretty clear that the GOP bill leaves most of the expansion of insurance coverage under Obamacare.  That expansion came when the coverage of Medicaid was greatly increased.  Both the Senate and the House versions of the GOP bills provide that anyone on Medicaid now will keep that coverage into the future.  No one will be bounced out of the program (except for those who got coverage illegally through fraud and the like.)  So now ask your self this:  prior to Obamacare, how many people died because they lacked health insurance?  It may sound like a silly question, but it's actually the most important question you could ask any Democrat who says people will die under the GOP bill.  Prior to Obamacare, how many people died each year due to lack of health insurance.

The answer may surprise you.  Most likely you will get a blank stare or you will get a speech how uncaring you are.  There won't be a coherent answer, however, because they don't have one.  Is it possible to find a story about someone who succumbed to illness after running up huge hospital bills?  Sure.  On the other hand, is it possible to find stories of hospitals that threw patients out because they were unable to pay their bills?  I've never heard of any.  It doesn't mean someone couldn't dredge up an example like this (although I doubt it), but it does illustrate that no one died due to lack of insurance.

If Obamacare made such a big difference in keeping people alive, you would think that there would be a big drop in the death rate in the USA when Obamacare went into full effect.  Guess what?  There's no meaningful change from the years prior to Obamacare.  In other words, Obamacare did not make a meaningful difference in keeping people alive.

What all this means is that the Democrats' arguments about how the GOP bill will kill people is just another Democrat healthcare lie.  But it's worse than a lie.  It's a dishonest scare tactic.  It's something designed to frighten those who don't understand how dishonest it truly is.  That is unforgiveable.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Left's Thought Police Strike Again

I never fail to be amazed by just how Stalinist the left can be in enforcing its dogma.  The latest move comes as a faculty committee at Harvard endorsed a plan to ban all students from joining fraternities, sororities or exclusionary clubs whether on or off campus.  There's a 22 page report the committee put out, but let me summarize it in a few words:  "fraternities evil, must be destroyed."

It's a basic liberty of all Americans that they have the right of free association.  It's part of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  That right means that the government cannot stop free association, and Harvard is not clearly part of the government, although there are many ties between the two.  Nevertheless, it seems bizarre that Harvard would want to ban students from exercising their right of free association. 

Imagine the reaction of these same faculty members if Harvard were to require weekly attendance by students of Christian services.  The outrage would be overwhelming.  How about if Harvard decided that students could not take part in any race-based organizations.  Sure, that might include the KKK but it would also cover the black students association or the Chinese students association.  Again, the faculty would go berserk even though these organizations are by definition "exclusionary."  So what is it about fraternities and sororities that so bothers the faculty?  The truth is that these professors don't dislike the actual fraternities at Harvard, but rather they dislike their idea of what they think these organizations really do.  Any group with limited membership naturally excludes some people.  If you don't take everyone who applies, someone has to be left out.  Those who are left out, then, are victims in the ideology of the left.  Those who get in, therefore, are victimizers and they must be punished.

Look, I don't care if there are fraternities or finals clubs or whatever you want to call them at Harvard.  When I was there, I never saw much impact from them, but, of course, I was in the law school and not an undergraduate.  I do care, however, if the leftist faculty decides to impose its dogma on the students in a way that violates their basic right of free association.  These supposedly well educated people should understand that the rights of Americans ought not be trampled no matter what the cause.  We cannot destroy liberty for any reason.  We need to support and fight for liberty and freedom.

The Cruz Amendment

With the GOP healthcare bill in the Senate coming to the fore, it's worth taking a look at the so-called Cruz amendment.  This would allow insurance companies to sell policies that do not meet all the minimum requirements set by the government so long as they also sell policies that do meet those requirements.  This needs a bit of background explanation.

1.  Obamacare included a long list of provisions that had to be included in all policies sold to individuals.  Things like pediatric dental services, maternity coverage, no lifetime maximum payouts and the like fall in this category.  As a result, people who would never need these services had to buy insurance that covered them.  A 60 year old widow with no children had to get coverage for her childrens' teeth (even though she has no children) and for possible maternity costs (even though she is past child bearing years.)

2.  The Senate GOP bill removes some of the many required provisions and lets states decide on certain other ones.  Nevertheless, the bulk of the requirements still must be met.

3.  The Cruz amendment would allow insurers not to meet all the required provisions so long as they sold policies that met all of them.  States, of course, would still set minimums for insurance within their borders.  Thus, if New York did not want policies sold which had a lifetime maximum under the policy, it could require that.  Pennsylvania could disagree and allow such policies within that state, although it could set levels for which those maximums would be allowed.  For example, the state could require that all policies have at least a $250,000 annual maximum. 

It's worth remembering that this sort of maximum payout was extremely common for many years prior to Obamacare especially in policies aimed at those unlikely to need more.  For example, colleges often sold health insurance for students with annual maximum coverage.  In my state prior to Obamacare, the University of Connecticut health policies cost students under $150 per month with a $250,000 annual maximum payout.  These are affordable policies for young people who often opt not to buy the more expensive policies that meet all the requirements. 

Other requirements are also unnecessary for many.  Should gay couples pay for maternity care or should they be allowed to opt out?

Many people argue that letting insurers sell policies that don't meet all the requirements will raise costs for everyone else.  Shouldn't those who might need to coverage be the ones to pay for it, however?  Why should people without children pay for dental coverage for kids?  Why should older families pay for maternity?  By letting people pick and choose the coverages they want, the costs for many will go down.

This was the way it worked prior to Obamacare.  I know that my employer paid extra each year to buy policies that had no annual maximum.  No one ever benefitted from that decision, but it was a choice made by the company, not the government.  So long as it is possible for anyone to buy a policy which includes all of the various requirements, no one else is being frozen out of coverage.  Those policies will cost more, but they will provide more. 

All in all, this seems like a reasonable course of action to me.

The "Travel Ban" Ruling

Another day brings more moves on the President's executive order temporarily barring entry to the USA for citizens from a few countries with terrorism problems.  The EO was barred by a district court in Hawaii, that ruling was affirmed by the 9th Circuit, and then the Supreme Court reversed that and let the EO stand with one exception:  people who are "close family members" of those already in America cannot be barred under this EO.  Normally, a Supreme Court ruling would end the matter, but the opponents would not stop.  They went back to the court in Hawaii and asked for the judge to modify the exception as interpreted by the government.  The Hawaiian federal court properly denied the request.  The case is still before the Supreme Court, and the local judge does not have jurisdiction.  There followed an appeal to the 9th Circuit which affirmed what the local court did, but since it did not like the result in the Supreme Court, it gave the litigants instructions on what they could do to have the Hawaiian district court hear the matter.  The opponents went back for a third time to the Hawaiian judge who, this time, expanded the exception for close family members to include anyone related to the person seeking admission by defining cousins to be within the exception.  The court didn't even limit it to first cousins.

So what was the next move?  The government has now appealed the matter and gone directly to the Supreme Court for a ruling.  My prediction is that the Supreme Court (acting through Justice Kennedy) will overturn the order of the Hawaiian district court.  I doubt that the Justices of the Supreme Court will look kindly on a district court judge changing the meaning of their order.  We will soon see what happens.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Using The Courts For Good?

I just read an article in Fortune about a person claiming to be a reporter who is suing because she was blocked by President Trump on Twitter.  Under the rules on Twitter, any user can block any other user.  When this happens, communication between the two gets cut off.  Tweets sent out by either party are not seen by the other.  Supposedly, (and there's no way to know for sure), the President blocked this woman on Twitter.  She now claims that by blocking her, the President harmed her career, so she is suing.

I've seen frivolous lawsuits over the years, but this one really takes first prize for stupidity.  It's the rough equivalent of a waiter suing someone who doesn't come to the restaurant where the waiter works on the grounds that the decision not to use the restaurant lowers the waiter's potential tip income.  Everyone, by definition, has the right to choose not to go to a particular restaurant.  You cannot sue because of the decision.  Similarly, everyone, by definition, has the right to block someone else on Twitter.  Again, you cannot sue because of that action.  Freedom of speech is also freedom not to speak to someone.

 

The Nonsense Stretch

I just read an article in which a person claiming to be a law professor explains why the meeting between the President's son and that Russian lawyer may constitute a crime.  I see no reason to embarrass the "professor" by putting forth his name, but some of the crazier bits of so called legal reasoning have to be examined.

According to the prof, no foreign person or state can provide anything of value to a US election campaign.  Accepting that "thing of value" is a crime, or so he claims.  And what is a "thing of value"?  The prof says that anything that a campaign might need meets that test. 

Think about that for a moment.  How many presidential candidates take foreign trips to burnish their foreign policy credentials?  The answer is all of them.  Candidate A goes to Europe or Asia or elsewhere and meets with the leader of the country.  If in 2015 or 2016, Marco Rubio went to France and met with the president Hollande, Rubio was receiving something that his campaign needed:  a good bit of news from the French president.  If Bernie Sanders went to Japan and met with the prime minister, he too got a boost for his candidacy from speaking to the guy.  Was this a violation of the law?  Of course not.

Now assume that the prime minister of Israel sent a representative to the USA in 2016 with the offer to have the representative brief any presidential candidate who wanted to hear Israel's position regarding regional issues.  If Ted Cruz met with that representative in Dallas, was that a crime?  If Hillary Clinton met with that same representative in New York, was that a crime?  Nope.  They both got something of value, but clearly no one would contend that this was a criminal action.

Now suppose that Ukraine sent an envoy to the USA to brief the presidential candidates in secret about the country's position regarding dealing with the Russian invasion of that country.  If John Kasich met with the envoy to learn the position of Ukraine, he certainly got something of value from a foreign government.  Is it a crime?  Again the answer is no.

The point is that when all that is transferred is information, there is not and, indeed, cannot be a crime committed.  Candidates are allowed to engage in free speech, even with foreigners.

On the other hand, money or something else that has a high monetary value (like bars of gold) do constitute a "thing of value" without being speech of any sort.  Federal law bans candidates from taking cash or cash equivalents from foreign governments or their representatives. 

At the meeting with the Russian lawyer, no one from the Trump organization received anything of value, not even information.  For this reason, there is no way in which the meeting could constitute a criminal act, not even in the imagination of some second rate law professor (if he were being honest).

Stretching the facts is a time honored job of lawyers and law professors.  Stretching is one thing, though, and inventing new laws is something completely different.

The Media Mighties Make Mistakes

I usually like what Charles Krauthammer has to say.  Unlike so many other pundits, Krauthammer is intelligent, insightful, and fact-based in his opinions.  His latest view, however, seems way off base to me.  Krauthammer now says that the Trump defense in the Russia/Trump collusion hysteria has collapsed with the release of the emails between Donald Trump, Jr. and a British publicist.  Because the President's son was clearly glad to attend a meeting with a Russian lawyer who supposedly had dirt on Hillary Clinton, the President (or so Krauthammer says) can no longer say the entire story is a Democrat ploy to explain Hillary's shocking loss. 

We can discuss Krauthammer's position, but I think he misses the main point.  The investigations involve a supposed Trump/Russia collusion, not a Trump,Jr./Russia collusion.  In other words, there is nothing here that ties the President to any of this.  Indeed, it is uniformly reported that President Trump knew nothing of any of this.  Further, nothing that was done by Don, Jr. was criminal or even close to it.  All he did was go to a meeting that was a total bust.  Nothing came from it unlike the collusion between the Hillary campaign and the Ukrainian government to try to take down Trump.  So what do we have:

1. The 2016 primaries were rigged.  Hillary Clinton and the DNC worked together to make sure that she won and Bernie Sanders lost.  This made a mockery of our free elections.  No action has been taken and none is contemplated in response.

2.  The Democrats hired Fusion GPS which had a former British spy create a phony "dossier" about Donald Trump including supposed acts Trump did in Moscow.  It is well established that this dossier is completely false.  The dossier, however, made its way to the FBI and later to the media.  The former investigated and the later published.  No action has been taken and none is contemplated in response.

3.  Someone hacked the DNC email accounts early in the Spring of 2016.  No one from the US intelligence agencies has been able to investigate the DNC computers, but we are still told that the main intelligence agencies think (based in part upon what the DNC tells them) that the hacker was working for the Russians.  This material was leaked through Wikileaks.  It is because of this hack that we know just how closely the DNC worked with Clinton to defeat Sanders (like feeding Hillary debate questions ahead of time).  There was also a phishing attack on the email account of John Podesta, the head of Hillary's campaign.  Podesta fell for the attack.  No one knows who did that hack, not even the myriad of US intelligence agencies.  Podesta's emails were also released to the public during the campaign.  President Obama and the government were fully aware of all of this from the Spring of 2016 onwards.  Obama took no action to stop it other than to tell Russian president Putin at one point to "cut it out".  That was all.

4.  Months after the DNC and Podesta were hacked, Donald Trump, Jr. got invited to meet with a Russian lawyer to hear dirt on Hillary.  He readily agreed to the meeting.  It turned out that the word about what the Russian lawyer knew was false; she wanted to talk about the Magnitsky Act which has nothing to do with the election.  President Trump was unaware of the meeting.  If you're a member of the mainstream media, this email exchange by the President's son is likely an impeachable offense by the President even though he was not involved with it in any way.

5.  To date, there have been two instances of actual collusion found between American presidential candidates/campaigns and the Russians.  First, while Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton approved the sale of a huge chunk of America's known uranium deposits to a Russian-government-related company at roughly the same time that the partner of that company made multi-million dollar contributions to the Clinton Foundation.  The contribution was made to the Canadian arm of the Clinton Foundation because contributions in that country were not made public.  Second, John Podesta, the head of the Clinton campaign, received something like thirty-five million dollars in "investments" in a company with which he was involved from a Russian government related enterprise.  Somehow, Podesta managed to overlook this 35 million when filing his disclosure reports with the government.  No action has been taken on either bit of collusion.

 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Showing Their Stripes

I just saw the list of Emmy nominees for 2017.  For the most part, it's the usual mix of shows I haven't seen and wouldn't watch.  I guess my taste in TV just isn't edgy enough to like the things that the industry voters like.  One thing is certain, however, there will be no dearth of politics at the awards ceremony.  You can tell that from the nominees.

For example, "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee" got nominated for an award.  Think about that. Samantha Bee puts on a show each week which would better be called "Adventures in left-wing snarkiness".  She's not engaging or likeable.  Her jokes aren't funny.  It's just a half hour of nastiness that masquerades as comedy. 

You have to understand that the problem is not Samatha Bee's subject matter or even her point of view.  John Oliver also has a weekly show of the same sort on HBO.  He is just as liberal as Bee and he covers mostly the same subjects.  The difference, however, is that Oliver is sometimes genuinely funny.  He doesn't radiate anger and upset and nastiness only then to pretend what was said was comedy.  No, Hollywood is nominating a hate-monger in Samantha Bee for its highest honor.

The Emmy nomination also went to Alec Baldwin for Saturday Night Live.  That means he is being nominated for his portrayal of President Trump.  The first time I saw that schtick, it was mildly amusing.  The second time it was less amusing.  By the seventh time, it was just boring.  It has no imagination.  It's not a very good portrayal of Trump.  it's not funny.  So why did it get nominated?  Easy, it's a way for the voters of the television industry to stick it to Trump.  At least, that's what they must think.  Still, no one will care.

Some day, the Hollywood crowd may come to realize that they do themselves no good by putting themselves so strongly on one side of America's political wars.  They should keep the Emmys to recognize what talent there is that appears on TV rather than using them for political purposes.

This Is The Stuff You Never Hear About

There was a final agreement announced today among Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  NO, it wasn't a peace deal.  It was a water deal.  There are going to be the following items built:

1.  a desalinization plant in Aqaba in Jordan.
2.  a pipeline to bring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.
3.  additional water infrastructure that will deliver water to Palestinian and Israeli users.

This is a key example of cooperation in the Middle East among parties from whom one would not expect to see such cooperation.  It was brought about under the auspices of the USA, especially President Trump's new envoy for promoting negotiations between the enemies in the region.

Think about what this deal does.  It supplies a major new source of water for the Jordanians.  The cost of getting the water and constructing the plant, however, is defrayed by about half because Israel is participating in the program.  Nearly all of the Israeli half of the water produced is to be distributed to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  On top of this, the falling levels of the Dead Sea (which are the result of diversion of water away from the Sea of Galilee in Syria and Jordan) will be dealt with, and the status of the Dead Sea will be preserved.  The announcement does not talk about energy, but it would be surprising if the 1800 foot drop of the sea water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea is not used to run turbines and generate clean, renewable hydro-energy.

In short, everyone involved in the project comes out ahead.  No wonder the mainstream media is not mentioning this.   

So What Does It Mean?

A big chunk of ice broke off an ice shelf in Antarctica creating the biggest ice berg ever measured.  That "biggest ever" title sounds more impressive than it is.  We haven't been able to measure these ice bergs for very long.  One hundred years ago, we only knew about new ice bergs when they floated into waters where shipping was passing.  That could be years after the berg was formed and long after it started to melt.  Nevertheless, the media breathlessly reported that a huge ice berg had been formed.  The initial reports came with commentary from various government officials who deal with weather/climate and other scientists who all said that the formation of the ice berg was normal and unrelated to man-made global warming.

That, however, was a few days ago, before the media got involved.  Today, the new ice berg is a "hint of impending disaster" according to the New York Times.  Other media outlets see the ice berg as proof of man made global warming (although they never say how the one proves the other.)  It's ridiculous.  Ice bergs are nothing new.  They are the end points of polar glaciers.  The ice flow hits the sea and eventually breaks off to form an ice berg. 

If it were up to these media fools, there would be a remake of "Titanic" in which the hero is a climate scientist done in by the ice berg whose creation he failed to prevent.  By the way, if that movie gets made, I want royalties for the idea.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Is this China's Answer on North Korea?

Taiwan reported today that the Chinese aircraft carrier sailed into the Taiwanese air defense zone.  This is an area which the Taiwanese government has declared to be a defensive perimeter around the island nation.  Since Taiwan and China have been officially at war since the end of World War II, this is a provocative move by the Chinese government which considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province of China.

Were China to attack Taiwan, the USA is likely to come to the defense of the Taiwanese.  In many ways, the voyage of the Chinese carrier is similar to the ones made by American ships and planes through the zones declared by China in the South China Sea.  Both are meant to show disdain for the claims of sovereignty of the nation establishing the zone.  Of course, the Chinese zones in the South China Sea have already been declared illegal and invalid by the international court in the Hague.  China does not accept that decision, however.

On the other hand, this move by the Chinese may be their response to the American pressure to do something about North Korea.  This may be China's way of telling the Trump administration to back off or there could be problems in many places all at once, not just with North Korea.

In many ways, these kinds of moves by China are the result of eight years of failure by the USA to assert its national interests.  China is not going to just accept American power without a struggle.

 

Throwing In The Towel

It's another day in Trump/Russia conspiracy land.  It seems, however, that after the disclosure of the emails of the President's son, the Democrat/media complex has run out of supposed blockbusters.  They took their best shot, and now they seem to be throwing in the towel.

Let me illustrate.  Jeffrey Toobin is a legal "expert" who writes in The New Yorker, a hotbed of anti-Trump hysteria.  Toobin has "found" criminal behavior whenever the possible perpetrator is a Republican and "found" no crime if the perp is a Democrat.  Today, he goes through the supposed "implications" of the latest emails and comes to this conclusion:

 In total, the newly disclosed Trump, Jr., e-mails do not prove that any crimes were committed, but they make Mueller’s to-do list even longer.

In other words, even the guy who always finds crime can't find one here.  All he can tell us is that the special prosecutor will have more to look at.

It must have killed Toobin to write that sentence.  Here he is undermining the whole edifice being built on these emails.  Certified morons like former Democrat vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine made public statements about how the emails show perjury and treason (when actually, that statement shows only that Kaine does not understand criminal law or else is choosing intentionally to lie.)  Toobin knows that the "leaders" of his party are claiming all sorts of criminal activity and he is disagreeing, indeed he is making those leaders look foolish.

If there is nothing else here, the Democrats and the media will have to throw in the towel.

 

Criminality without Crime

Yesterday and today, there have been many articles and statements by people in the media as well as elected Democrats calling what the President's son did a criminal act.  One congressman called it perjury.  Another called it treason.  Some in the media have called it obstruction of justice.  All this is strange, since the proper legal description of what happened is that no crime of any sort was committed.

The media/Democrat complex has waited so long for anything that might show collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia that they are going berserk with the emails that Trump, Jr. released yesterday.  As a result they are not just using hyperbole, they are out and out lying about what the import of these emails really is.

Let's start with a basic fact:  it is not a crime by itself for a person in a political campaign to speak to a foreign agent.  If it were, many in the Hillary Clinton campaign would need to be indicted because that campaign colluded with the Ukrainian government to gather anti-Trump data.  The point here is that American political campaigns are free to gather information from any source.  There are limits on sources of money for campaigns, but it would be unconstitutional to limit the ability of campaigns to speak to people, no matter who they are.  That is not to say that a politician can speak with someone and agree to commit a crime like a senator selling his or her vote in exchange for cash.  Normal political discussions and activities, however, are not crimes.  I point this out because it means that even had Donald Trump, Jr. met with an actual Russian agent to discuss damaging information about Hillary Clinton, it would not be a crime.

Of course, Trump, Jr. did not meet with an actual Russian agent.  Nor was any information damaging to Hillary Clinton discussed.  All the emails indicate is that he went to the meeting with a Russian attorney in hopes of hearing that sort of information.  Clearly, that is not a crime of any sort.

Let's put this in the context of a serious crime.  Suppose you went to your neighbor's house and knocked on the door.  Suppose further that on the way over to the neighbor's house, you thought you would hit the neighbor over the head with a book you were carrying.  You were going to assault your neighbor.  When you get there, no one is home.  You don't see your neighbor.  You don't hit anyone.  No crime has been committed. 

When the act involved is not a crime by itself, like a person in a political campaign gathering dirt about the opposition, it is certainly not a crime if that act is thwarted.

So, there is no perjury.  That would require knowing false testimony under oath.  There is no testimony here of any sort.  It is not obstruction of justice.  That would require direct actions to prevent federal authorities from investigating possible criminal activity.  That just did not happen.  There is no treason.  It's ridiculous to even have to explain what treason is.  The claim is just pure stupidity.

The problem is not that the fools leveling these charges don't know what is required for the crimes about which they are screaming.  No, the problem is that they know full well what is required for these crimes to be committed.  The media and the Democrats know there is not crime here, but they level the charges anyway.  That is the problem. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

If You Like Your Lies, You Can Keep Your Lies

What is it about healthcare that makes Democrats tell lie after lie after lie.  When Obamacare was up for a vote, we got the triple lies of Obama:
1.  If you like your policy, you can keep your policy.  (I and about six million other people were forced to give up their policies, despite Obama's lie.)
2.  If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.  (Again, millions of people were forced into new policies in which their doctors were no longer available.)
3.  Each family will save $2500 per year in premiums.  (Instead, the average premium has gone up by $3000 per year.  On top of that, the average deductible has gone up by another $3500, making the cost for the average family some $6500 more per year.)

Now, the GOP in the Senate has a bill before it and we are getting more lies from Democrats and their allies in the media.

1.  The Dems and the media say the GOP bill slashes Medicaid and people on Medicaid now will lose coverage.  The truth, however, is that the GOP Senate bill raises Medicaid spending by over $100 billion; there are no cuts.  Further, any person currently on Medicaid is guaranteed to keep eligibility into the future under the bill.

2.  The Dems and the media like to say that people will die if the bill passes.  This too is a lie.  No one who wants it, will be left without insurance. 

It's really ridiculous that these lies get stated and no one pushes back against them.

The Problem of Israeli Political Schizophrenia

The Israeli Labor Party just elected a new leader, Avi Gabbay.  The Labor Party was for decades the dominant political force in Israel.  It ruled the country from Israeli independence in 1948 until 1977 when the Likud won its first election.  Labor came back into power at various times after that.  In the last 15 years, however, the Labor Party has gotten smaller and smaller.  It is now a mere shadow of its former self.

It's not hard to understand how this came about.  All you have to do is listen to what the new leader has to say about one issue:  the future of Jerusalem.  Gabbay's position is at best schizophrenic.  He says he supports keeping Jerusalem unified while at the same time advocating for turning over control of the city's Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinian Authority.  I'm not making this up; these are the man's actual views.  He wants to splinter control of the city but to keep it unified.  That's like advocating a crack down on gun crimes while calling for a holiday on gun law enforcement.  There is no way to reconcile the two pieces of this position.

Without a doubt, the voters in Israel can see the internal contradiction in the Labor party positions.  Most likely, this sort of nonsense will consign Labor to the sidelines for the foreseeable future.  The party may even disappear.  It's a strange end for a party that was so strong not all that long ago.

Now We See The Emails

This morning, Donald Trump, Jr. released the email chain that led to his meeting with a Russian lawyer over a year ago.  The media is in a tizzy about this, but there seems to be no reason for the story to raise any concerns.  Let's review what we know:

1.  The President's son had a meeting with a Russian lawyer.  It was short and a waste of time.  The Russian lawyer had no opposition research or other info about Hillary Clinton.  She wanted to talk about adoption of Russian orphans by Americans.  Jared Kushner was at the meeting for about 7 minutes.  Paul Manafort was also there but paid no attention.

2.  The Russian lawyer at the meeting has no apparent ties to the Russian government.

3.  President Trump had no knowledge of the meeting or of what transpired.

4.  The meeting was set up by Trump, jr. because he was told that he would be getting info about Hillary's fund raising from illegal sources.

5.  A British public relations guy who contacted Trump, Jr. to set up the meeting said that the lawyer had info about misdeeds by the Clinton campaign.  This story was supposedly the result of a Russian prosecutor telling someone in a meeting that the Kremlin had such information.  The Russian man to whom this was told, in turn told his son who is a Russian pop star.  The pop star then told the British PR guy.  He then told Trump, Jr.  (To be fair, this really doesn't sound much like an attempt to form a clandestine link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.  Most channels of this sort would not go through a pop star or five people.)

6.  The Russian lawyer says she has no ties to the Kremlin or knowledge of anything about Hillary Clinton, etc.

The story keeps getting more complicated, but its basic essence has not changed.  No information was given by the Russians to Trump, Jr.  There is no evidence that any channel was established between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Nothing happened.

I mention this because the reaction to the matter has been insane.  I was sitting in a waiting room this morning when the email chain was released by Trump, Jr.  The TV in the waiting room had The View on the screen.  You had to hear the reaction.  One of the ladies said that Trump, Jr. had committed perjury.  Another said he may have obstructed justice.  What morons!  Trump Jr. never testified about the contact, so he couldn't have committed perjury which is lying under oath.  As far as we know, no FBI agent or other government agent ever asked Trump Jr. about the meeting so he could not have obstructed justice.  No, all that happened is that Joy Behar and her fellow lefties decided to use some of the words they know have been used in the past.  I doubt they even know what they were saying.  The best thing, I guess, was when one of them told the audience that the cover up is worse than the crime.  What crime?  What cover up?

We have really reached a point where it seems to be all nonsense all the time.