Archives for: October 2015

Debate Three: CNBC Faceplants

I was carving pumpkins and doing other things last night, so only caught bits of the debate. So only a few thoughts:

First, it’s time to winnow the field. It’s been nice having this big collection of politicians around. But it’s time to end the silly fantasies and cut the field down to, at most, seven candidates.

Second, the biggest cheers were for attacking the moderators. The moderators did do a poor job and kept interrupting each other and the candidates. Going after them is a cheap cheer, but a fun one.

Third, my impression of the candidates? Trump is still a joke. Carson is nice but has little clue about policy. Fiorina can debate but has yet to advance a coherent policy platform. Bush is sinking rapidly. I don’t care for Cruz or Huckabee. And I’m unclear on what Kasich, Paul and Christie are still doing around. Rubio still crosses me as the best candidate.

One final point I want to make: I am sick of all these bullshit tax cut plans. Every candidate, it seems, has some plan to massively cut taxes. And they are all huge steaming piles of excrement.

Not a single one of those plans is likely to happen. And they never should happen because we are still running a deficit with huge obligations for Social Security and Medicare bearing down on us. If the Republicans cut spending far enough to start running a surplus, then we can talk about tax cuts. Until then, this talk of trillion dollar tax cuts is a good reason to not take any of these guys seriously. It’s a good reason to hope for divided government.

Revenue-neutral tax reform would be fine. In fact, you could actually have tax reform that increases revenue but benefits the economy by eliminating the deadweight loss of our tax code (e.g., Reagan’s 1986 tax reform). I am all in favor of a massive overhaul of our tax system. But not one that blows trillion dollar holes in our finances.

When I raise this point, the usual responses are that “the tax cuts will pay for themselves” or “we need to starve the beast”. The former is only true when tax rates are extremely high — 70-90%. Just ask Kansas. To makeup the revenue of these tax cuts, we would need growth rates in excess of 10%. No one thinks this is going to happen.

I have addressed the later theory before:

Starve the Beast was the theory that if we cut taxes, it would force the government to cut spending because the resulting deficit would be unsustainable (this was before people decided that the Laffer Curve was, in fact, the Laffer Line and that all tax cuts paid for themselves). Starve the Beast sounded tempting, especially to faux conservatives who were big on tax cuts and not so big on cutting spending. But it ran aground on several rocks:

First, spending cuts don’t just fall from the sky. You have to actually cut spending at some point. And the people who had to cut spending were the same people trying to force themselves to cut spending. It was like trying to lose weight by eating a box of doughnuts hoping that will force you to go the gym.

Second, the lesson Congress learned from Starve the Beast wasn’t that they couldn’t tolerate big deficits. The lesson they learned was that they could. As a result, we’re now enjoying our fourth straight year of trillion dollar deficits.

Third, and this is a point I keep harping on, Starve the Beast made spending painless for the taxpayer. This was especially true in the Bush years when we started two wars and put in a prescription drug program while removing millions from the tax rolls. The impression given to the taxpayers was that wars and drug programs were free, or at least were paid for by somebody else (somebody rich). It has continued in the Obama years, with spending and taxes being manipulated so that Obamacare appears to decrease the deficit when it, in fact, does not and tax hikes only acceptable if they hit the dreaded rich.

I keep saying this and I am going to keep saying it: the most important aspect of any government budget is that spending should hurt. Spending should hurt either in cutting other services or in raising taxes. If you aren’t doing either of those things, you are giving people government on the cheap. And they will have no incentive, none whatsover, to support spending cuts.

Would you turn down services that are discounted 40-100%?

One of the problems we face in balancing the budget is that spending cuts are popular in general and unpopular in detail. When you ask people what spending they support cutting, the only thing that even gets 50% is foreign aide. But a big reason for that is that, for most Americans, government spending doesn’t hurt them. They can support all these wonderful things confident that the money for it will come out of somebody else’s pocket.

Until one of these guys puts forward a concrete plan to cut spending and balance the budget, I’m going to ignore their NeverNeverLand tax cut proposals. And I’m not going to take them seriously as responsible conservatives. A responsible conservative balances the budget first. Then … maybe … he talks about tax cuts.

Memogate Resurfaces

A little over a year ago, I wrote about a movie being made about Memogate, based on Mary Mapes’ book. Just to refresh your memory, Memogate was when CBS ran a story of supposed documents proving that George W. Bush skipped out on his Air National Guard Service. It became quickly obvious that the memos were forgeries.

The documents were such obvious forgeries that some of the liberal bloggers were the first to proclaim them as such. They were very evidently written on Microsoft office and printed on a laser printer. You can read Megan McArdle who goes point-by-point through CBS’s story and Mapes’ subsequent book pointing out that it was obviously a bad a story and any journalist who wasn’t sick the day they taught journalism in journalism school would have seen it.

When it came to the movie itself, I said this:

The thing is, I can confidently predict two things about this movie: it will be praised by the media and it will flop. This happens all the time with these liberal “issue” movies.

This movie will flop. It will make about a hundredth of what that shitty Shade of Grey movie is going to make. Because no one wants to see a movie about how poor poor Dan Rather and poor Mary Mapes were really the good guys when they put obviously forged documents on the air to try to influence an election. No one wants to hear their excuse-making about vast right wing conspiracies.

Still … it’s a good illustration of how the Left, including the Hollywood Left, are still suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome.

It’s a year later and they’re still suffering from it, having been stimulated into a relapse by the Presidential campaign of Jeb Bush. Last night, Rather appeared on Maddow’s show. After a 20-minute segment in which she said the issue of whether the documents were real or not was “never really resolved” and that nobody was ever able to really say whether they were fake, she had Rather out to say that the story was true and the documents have never been proven to be forgeries.

This is bullshit. McArdle again:

The defenses mounted by Mapes and others amounted to saying, “Well, there were machines that did proportional fonts, and you could order a ball with a ‘th’ key or solder one on, and maybe the kerning is an artifact of the faxing of the documents.” All of this is true, but … at some point, as a journalist and presumably as a movie producer, you start having to ask yourself: What’s the likely story? That a Texas Air National Guard commander who couldn’t type found a typist who had ordered a custom machine that just happened to match the defaults in Microsoft Word? Or that the document was typed in Microsoft Word? The best journalistic bet is the easy, likely thing, not the ultra-long-shot coincidence.

Exactly. As I noted above, liberal bloggers were among the first to recognize that the documents were obvious forgeries, ham-fisted forgeries. CBS’s own experts recognized that they weren’t real. The forgery was so obvious that I know liberals, to this day, who think that the Killian documents were faked by the Bush campaign to discredit the stories about his Air National Guard service.

Now I will grant Rather and Maddow that there no notarized photographs of Bill Burkett actually forging the documents. But the burden of proof was on CBS. And they failed spectacularly.

Now, I expect this from Maddow. She claims she isn’t a Democrat but she is an openly anti-Republican hack with an openly anti-Republican show who nurses old grudges against conservatives and Republicans. Fine. But Rather was … or at least claimed to be … a journalist. For him to still be backing this story proves that CBS was absolutely right to fire his narcissistic ass. Hell, they should fire him a second time just to the point clear.

(As for the movie, it just had a limited opening to good-but-not-great reviews (65% on Rotten Tomatoes) with some Oscar buzz for the leads. It will go wider soon. I expect it to flop. You can read McArdle’s follow-up review here.)

Republicans Compromise With Themselves

I’m old enough to remember when a budget deal meant that Democrats got tax hikes and Republicans got spending cuts. But, apparently, a budget deal now means both sides get spending hikes:

The measure under discussion would suspend the current $18.1 trillion debt limit through March 2017.

The budget side of the deal is aimed at undoing automatic spending cuts which are a byproduct of a 2011 budget and debt deal and the failure of Washington to subsequently tackle the government’s fiscal woes. GOP defense hawks are a driving force, intent on reversing the automatic cuts and getting more money for the military.

The focus is on setting a new overall spending limit for agencies whose operating budgets are set by Congress each year. It will be up to the House and Senate Appropriations committees to produce a detailed omnibus spending bill by the Dec. 11 deadline.

The tentative pact anticipates designating further increases for the Pentagon as emergency war funds that can be made exempt from budget caps. Offsetting spending cuts that would pay for domestic spending increases included curbs on certain Medicare payments for outpatient services provided by hospitals and an extension of a 2-percentage-point cut in Medicare payments to doctors through the end of a 10-year budget.

There’s also a drawdown from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, reforms to crop insurance, and savings reaped from a Justice Department funds for crime victims and involving assets seized from criminals.

Negotiators looked to address two other key issues as well: a shortfall looming next year in Social Security payments to the disabled and a large increase for many retirees in Medicare premiums and deductibles for doctors’ visits and other outpatient care.

There’s a few good things here: putting the debt limit past the election and cutting farm subsidies. But it also contains some head-scratchers: increases in defense spending, increases in domestic spending and drawing down the strategic petroleum reserve at a time when oil is incredibly cheap.

Paul Ryan has made some noises against it, but this sounds more like he wants to get us back onto a normal budget process as opposed to the “budget by crisis” method we’ve been using for the last few years. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have hinted at a filibuster but that’s not going to happen with a budget bill. Absent a massive revolt, it looks like this is what we’ve got.

Update: Looks like the deal passed the house, with mostly Democratic support.

Democratic Fantasies

As the Presidential debates have unfolded over the last few weeks, something has become increasingly apparent to me: the Democratic Party is currently living Fantasy World.

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t think this was the case. After all, the media are filled with stories about how crazy the Republicans are. They’re actually going to nominate Donald Trump or Ben Carson! Never mind that the Democrats have been consistently losing at the Congressional, Senate, gubernatorial and state legislature levels. It’s a new Democratic era! Just look at the demographics!

But I want you to consider where the Democratic Presidential candidates are on the issues:

  • In the Democratic Party, there is no longer a debate over whether the federal government should guarantee “free” college to everyone. The debate is over whether this free college should be made available to the children of rich people or not.
  • Free daycare and mandated maternity leave are no longer up for debate. The question among the Democrats is how much of these things we are going to get.
  • Expanding the broken Social Security system is now the mainstream view in the Democratic Party.
  • There is no longer any debate about whether there should be more gun control. It’s about whether we should consider Australia-style gun confiscation. Bernie Sanders was pilloried for having the temerity to suggest that liberal gun control wouldn’t fly in the entire country.
  • All of this, of course, will be paid for with “taxes on the rich”. Of course, even if you raised taxes on the rich, even if you confiscated all of their income, it wouldn’t pay for all of this. Bernie Sanders’ agenda would cost a cool $18 trillion over the next decade. I’m old enough to remember when the Democrat were worried about the deficit.

The thing is, these view are out of step with clear majorities of the American public. For example, most Americans oppose more gun control and, even for those who want more, this is a low-priority issue. And by a huge majority, they blame mass shootings on mental health issues, not a lack of gun control.

You may remember that, a few years ago, the media buzzword was “epistemic closure”. This was the idea that the Republicans had encased themselves in a bubble of Fox News media so that they never heard any dissenting views. And while there is some legitimacy to this, it’s peanuts compared to what’s been happening with Democrats. Between NPR, MSNBC, Vox, HuffPo and other media, they have created an echo chamber that brooks little dissent and assumes that certain issues, like gun control, have basically been agreed upon by all “reasonable” people. The result is a party where Jim Webb’s left of center views have no place anymore. The results is a party where Bernie Sanders’ candidacy is doomed not because of his extreme socialism but because of his minimal moderation on gun control.

Doubtless once the primary is done, Clinton will try to tack right and proclaim herself to be a moderate. And doubtless the press will go along with this. There’s a problem though: Clinton has 25 years of her views on the record. She’s part of an Administration that has eight years on record. She’s made actual policy proposals that represent more big government and more spending.

President Clinton the Second is not inevitable.

DOJ: IRS is A-OK

Color me surprised:

The Justice Department won’t charge Lois Lerner, a former Internal Revenue Service official, over Tea Party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status, closing a nearly 2 1/2-year investigation with a determination that IRS officials bungled the matter but committed no crimes.

“Our investigation uncovered substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia, leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political viewpoints,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik wrote to Congress on Friday. “But poor management is not a crime.”

The announcement ends a major phase of the IRS controversy, angering Republicans and Tea Party activists who had pressed for prosecutions.

I guess it’s no surprise that the Obama Administration’s DOJ’s investigation cleared the Obama Administration’s IRS. But it’s important to note what the report does not say. It does not say that conservative organizations weren’t targeted. It merely concludes that this targeting was the result of incompetence rather than the result of criminal conspiracy.

The report is short. They interviewed a ton of people, looked over a few hundred thousand documents but could not find a smoking gun that indicated a deliberate political targeting of conservative organizations. What they did identify was a bumbling incompetent organization that took various shortcuts to do their job that resulted in targeting of political organizations.

(I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories for precisely this reason: government is too incompetent to organize a proper conspiracy. As Dave Barry once said regarding the supposed Roswell aliens:

It`s not that I don`t believe the government would TRY to hide dead aliens; it`s that I don`t think the government would SUCCEED, since every time the government tries to do anything secretly, as in the Iran-contra arms deal, it winds up displaying all the finesse and stealth of an exploding cigar at a state funeral. If there really WERE dead aliens, I figure, there also would be daily leaks about it from High Level Officials and huge arguments among influential congresspersons over whose district the multimillion-dollar Federal Dead Alien Storage Facility would be located in.

The Obama Administration is not exactly known for their airtight conspiring.)

The report notes that Lerner took action in stopping this. But her actions came very late in the game and could have come much earlier had she been properly supervising her agency. That’s … not exactly an exoneration. They also note that they found no evidence that she deliberately crashed her hard drive, destroying thousands of documents. That’s … not exactly an exoneration either. So even on its own terms, this report isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Lerner or the IRS.

But I’m not seeing why we should take this on its own terms, really. Its main conclusion is that no IRS employees would go on record saying there was political targeting and that no documentation they saw drew this conclusion. It takes a lot of pride in noting that some of the IRS employees it interviewed were critical of Lerner or openly admitted to being Republicans. It’s almost overboard in its effort to portray itself as fair. But this crosses me as a very surface-level investigation.

Furthermore, the conclusions are very caged in the inability to prove criminal intent. I’m not in favor of bringing charges that ruin people’s lives when there is no hope of conviction. But I should note that this standard is usually not applied to civilians. If you fail to pay your taxes, the IRS won’t let you off the hook because there’s no evidence you did it on purpose. And they certainly won’t accept that your hard drive mysteriously crashed. That would bring an obstruction charge.

I’m also reminded of the mantra that it’s not the crime that ruins politicians, it’s the cover-up. The IRS played smart here, granting unfettered access to their employees and documents (apart from the hard drive that mysteriously crashed). By not overtly obstructing justice, they kept themselves clear of criminal charges.

So in the end, this report can be summed up as, “The IRS cooperated and we didn’t any convincing evidence of criminal activity. It looks more incompetence to us.”

That’s … not exactly an exoneration.

The Obligatory Star Wars Trailer Post

I have no idea if the film will be any good or not. Like the prequels (which I enjoyed more than most) it has a towering legacy to live up to. And I’m not sure I trust JJ Abrams. That having been said, the trailer pushes all the right buttons. For two minutes, I felt like I was a 11 years old again.

You can also watch John Boyega and his family react to the trailer. Boyega, like all the cast, is under strict edict not to disclose any details (he famously tweeted that his dad was making him wash all the dishes as punishment). So his reaction to the reveal of him holding a light saber is priceless.

I bring this up not just for Star Wars. I bring it up because of Lee. For those of you who don’t know, Lee worked in special effects. One of the films he worked on was Attack of the Clones. I think Jim may know the details, but Lee had a moment when he too realized his name was on a Star Wars movie. And I imagine his reaction was quite similar, whatever one thinks of the quality of the movie.

Star Wars is the closet the USA has come to creating a complete universe like Middle Earth or Narnia. It’s more fantasy world than sci-fi world. Let’s hope that Abrams is worthy of the legacy.

Unequal Prosperity

We talk a lot here about income inequality, so do the Democrats, but from an entirely different perspective. Listening to the last dem debate (where’s my medal?) they have revealed themselves to be 2 trick ponies; AGW and how they can screw over big business to assuage their unfounded guilt, and income inequality which is code for income redistribution and sticking it to those with a little bit of self respect who wanted to better themselves. That is it. Nothing about improving the economy,getting people off welfare roles and back to work, the national debt, protecting our civil liberties-including my right to own a gun if I want, even addressing the sad state of world affairs (where’s that global perspective they are so proud of?). Nope, their message is simple, soak the rich and those aspiring to be rich.

One of the regular writers over at Townhall, John Hawkins, wrote a great piece on income inequality, how here in America it is a smoke screen, a bumper sticker, with no validation except to garner more votes for those thieves willing to steal from you, it is very short and a great read.

The soup bone quote;

Because liberalism works obsessively to get different groups of people to hate each other and then offers to expand the power of government as a fix for the “problem” liberals created. It’s their standard operating procedure.

In this case, liberals are embracing envy, one of the seven deadly sins. Any time someone succeeds at ANYTHING, there will be people who resent it. They’ll feel like they deserved it more, like those who succeeded got lucky or they’ll just want what more successful people have.

It is an interesting dichotomy, where progressives loves taxes, are unfazed over mountainous debt, and rue income inequality, conservatives want lower taxation (understanding the the individual is a much better steward of his hard earned money), rue onerous national debt, and view income inequality as necessary in a free market system and a motivator to better one’s station in life.

I have commented before how free markets and entrepreneurship has lifted 400 million plus Chinese out of absolute poverty between 1981 and 2001, yes, there was less income inequality when every Chinese was poor and struggling to survive. But to the progressives, this was a much better system, equality for all, equal misery.

I have no doubt the other side knows their message is crap, but hey, it has worked over the years, so why change horses mid stream? To see the popularity of that ancient decrepit commie from Vermont, the guy who wants 90% taxation for the wealthy, clearly the almost 50% of folks that don’t pay any income taxes would like the gravy train to continue. But James Woods is probably right;

James Woods ✔ @RealJamesWoods
Basically Bernie is this commie scarecrow put up to make Hillary look palatable by comparison, right? There is no other rationale possible.
5:11 PM – 19 Oct 2015

Palatable, now there’s the word rarely associated with Hillary.

Trump’s Fence

I have been spending the last few days going back and forth with some Trump supporters over on another right leaning site. I keep asking for some qualifications or at least some positions beyond the fact that he is not a politician, has his own money thus eliminates the need to whore himself out, and does not give a damn what people think of him. Yes, I like all of those, but is there anything else in that suit of his? I keep listening to interviews (the latest on Sunday with Chris Wallace) but somehow answering various policy questions with ,”I want to be unpredictable” dazzles the believers as astute, compelling and insightful. They remind me of those 2008 Obama rallies where the teenage girls would get all wet in the loins from his mere appearance. Damn the qualification, I’m in love, leave me alone.

One of Trump’s biggest attention grabbers was his fence and how he was going to get Mexico to pay for it. Illegal immigration is a huge problem, but a fence is only part of the solution. Make no mistake, fences do work;

Hungary said Monday its shutdown of the border with Croatia had put a stop to the influx of migrants and refugees.

Only 41 people crossed into the EU member state on Sunday, the government said.

“The border closure is working, it has effectively stopped illegal border-crossing,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told reporters in Nagykanizsa, close to the Croatian border.

“The Hungarian government is determined to keep the measures in place as long as is needed,” he said.

“We are continuously monitoring the situation at the Slovenian, Croatian and Serbian borders, and are ready to react to any situation which might develop.”

The figure of 41 represents a new daily record low in 2015 for Hungary, which witnessed up to 10,000 people stream across its borders daily since the summer.

In a bid to stem the influx, Hungary sealed its Croatian border with a razor-wire fence early Saturday, barely a month after it shut its frontier with Serbia.

Given the influx of Obama refuges over running Europe, this was a wise move. But here’s the deal, given that the Mexican/US border is about 2000 miles, is it really possible to have this kind of success and reduction in illegal border crossers with a fence that long?

Building an impregnable wall along the border would cost about $20 billion. That is over half of the entire 2015 DHS budget, $38.2 billion. Doable, but is it prudent? The initial cost does not include maintenance. Cameras, drones, beefed up border patrol, all part of the pie. But even that, if I believed it would shut down the illegal border crossings to a trickle, even then I might consider it doing it. Now factor in the millions (pick your number) of illegals already here, and the ridiculous interpretation of the 14 Amendment that gave us anchor babies, no matter what we do, when we zig, they will zag.

But back to Trump. I want him to want this job as much as Hillary does, to put in the hours of preparation that she is putting in, to learn about how the political world works and understand that being a CEO, where you can get your way just by stomping your feet, does not prepare you for the presidency, where the separation of powers makes foot stomping pretty ineffective.

An interesting article in Barron’s this week recounts how several years ago a low level analyst wrote a report describing how one of Trumps properties was poorly funded and poorly run, giving it a “sell” recommendation with a possible bankruptcy in it’s future. Trump went after him personally, ruining his reputation and getting him fired, all for doing his job as an analyst. Turns out the guy was right, Trump did bankrupt the property (1 of his 4 bankruptcies over the years), and analyst had the last laugh suing Trump, which they settled out of court. We already have a petulant thin skinned crybaby in the White House, do we really want another one?

Yes, We Care About Your Damned E-Mails

Here’s a question for the floor. If the Clinton scandal is a phony baloney Republican scandal … if it’s true that we don’t care about Clinton’s damned e-mails … if it’s true that there’s nothing to hide …

Why does Clinton continue to lie her ass off about it? I’m being serious here. Clinton must surely know that the media are going to bury any real scandal. She must surely know that her voters don’t care. As I said before, she could strangle a puppy on live TV and the Democratic Party would still support her.

A few years ago, Gregg Easterbrook pointed out that the Clintons lie even when they don’t have to; even when honesty would be better than lying. It’s almost like the enjoy lying. Like this is a big game to them.

Remember something important: at the Democratic debate, Clinton said the enemy she was most proud of is the Republicans. This is a game. And it’s a game we will play over and over for the next four years if we are foolish enough to elect her.