Category: Decline of Western Civilization

The Apocalypse Will Be Tweeted

OK, that headline is a bit over the top. But last night, our President — who constantly tells us he doesn’t watch TV — tweeted this out ten minutes after Fox News did a segment on North Korea’s nuclear button:

The reaction to the tweet has been, as the reaction to Trump’s tweets always is, a bit hysterical. He’s not about to plunge us into war. He doesn’t literally have a nuclear button nor is he likely to push it anytime soon. This is Trump being Trump: always having to be the center of attention, always having to tweet about something he sees on TV, always saying things partially in jest, partially in anger and partially because he can.

However, the continual childishness, pettiness and silliness of the President is something to be concerned about. It always has been. Julian Sanchez:

A lot of Trumpers are trying to make the case that the President has had a great first year because he cut taxes … eventually. And he got judges approved — although an unprecedented number have been rejected by his own Congress for being grossly unqualified. And he cut regulations — although many of those were actually cut by Obama. I can see that. But Trump hasn’t done anything really revolutionary. He’s basically adopted the Republican agenda. There are few Republicans out there who wouldn’t have signed off on a tax cut or appointed judges. And there are many who made have made the tax cut less fiscally reckless or had an actual health reform plan. But sure, fine, you got a tax cut. And the world hasn’t burned up. Yet.

But … here is my concern. I feel that over the last year, the President eroded many of the political, diplomatic and legal norms that hold our world together. There is a human tendency to take things for granted and to start nitpicking at the minor concerns of the things that keep us safe from major concerns. For example, anti-vaxxers fret about the possible side effects of the vaccines that protects us from diseases that have killed millions. Anti-NATO people worry about the cost of an alliance that has maintained the longest peace in Europe … ever. We become spoiled. We expect the world to just function without a continuous ongoing effort to maintain the status quo. We forget that the Four Horseman are always ready to ride and that barbarism is only a few weeks away at the best of times. Political, social and cultural norms can sometimes be wrong, misguided or unnecessary. But they do not spring from holes in the ground; they are the result of decades of trying to make the world work better.

At some point, Trump’s erosion of norms going to bite us in the ass very hard. At some point, we will need to alert the world to a serious geopolitical threat and they won’t listen to us. At some point, we may need to engage in military action and people will think it’s just Trump being a toddler. At some point, we will lean on those norms that hold our civilization together and, instead of propping us up, they will yield.

Just because we haven’t yet paid a price for having a President who spends half the day watching Fox News and rage-tweeting about it doesn’t mean that price won’t have to be paid.

RIP the GOP

I wrote most of this Saturday morning but have let it set for a few days so that I could cool off and read more sober opinions of the GOP “tax cut”. Reflection has not changed my opinion much so the post now goes, largely unaltered except for the paragraph slamming the Democrats.

On Friday night, the GOP engaged in act of legislative chicanery that makes Obamacare look like the Magna Carta. Early in the morning, they passed a half-baked, half-assed “tax reform” bill that literally had hand-written corrections on it. This bill had no hearings, had not been read and rewrites a massive section of the US economy.

What we do know about it makes it one of the most irresponsible pieces of legislation I can remember. It purports to be “tax reform” but it doesn’t actually reform taxes very much. It doesn’t eliminate any rules — in fact, it expands them. It has some good changes — faster expensing and depreciation, better child tax credit, putting some Obama Admin regs into writing. But mostly it simply cuts tax rates and uses various pieces of gimmickry to get the hole it blows in the budget down to $1.5 trillion. And that topline number is largely garbage. It is unlikely that future Congresses — Republican or Democrat — will allow the planned tax hikes on the middle class to occur. I would estimate the cost of this tax cut as “more many than you can shake a stick at”. And this is when we are already facing trillions of dollars in future deficits. As I have said many times, a tax cut that runs up debt is not a tax cut. It’s simply a shell game, moving the burden from current taxpayers to future ones.

That’s apart from the other things that the bill does. Reconciliation may change things but the current iteration would hit higher education with taxes, hit high-tax states and hit students loan debtors. It repeals the Obamacare mandate, which will result in millions of people losing in insurance and probably tip insurance markets into a death spiral (since community rating and pre-existing protections are still in place, people can now wait until they’re sick to buy insurance).

You can see, in the smoldering wreckage, the vision of real tax reform. One that eliminated loopholes and cut the rate down to its actual effective rate of 25%. One that had the Rubio-Lee Amendment to give more money to families with children (our fertility rate has now plunged below replacement level). But in their rush to pass anything, the GOP put together this Frankensteinian monstrosity.

The defenders of this bill are citing all kinds of debunked horse manure to try to pretend that it’s not that bad. Just to address a few of these:

  • Tax cuts do not pay for themselves. In theory, this might work when marginal rates are very high. But in practice, we are well on the downslope of the Laffer Curve. Reagan’s tax cuts did not pay for themselves, which is why he had to raise taxes multiple times. Bush’s did not, which is how we ended up with the nation’s first trillion dollar deficit.
  • A lot of people are dragging out the “starve the beast” line, that decreased revenues will force spending cuts. This idea is pure garbage. It doesn’t work in theory. It doesn’t work in practice. If anything, starve the beast encourages more spending because the public gets the idea that government spending is free.
  • The stimulating effects of this tax cut on the economy are, at best, unclear. While tax cuts can stimulate the economy, broad rate cuts are a less than ideal way to do so. And this bill does nothing to eliminate the deadweight loss of the tax system since it doesn’t actually simplify the tax system.

We are on a dangerous fiscal course right now. Trump and his policies will eventually bring Democrats back to power. Democrats, being nearly as useless as Republicans, will not only not reverse the tax cuts, they will massively increase spending. As the debt soars out of control, the economy will be hurt and we will find ourselves facing down a financial crisis the likes of which we have never seen. If the trip to bankruptcy started with Bush and continued through Obama, it has now been given a jolt of gas from the GOP. After years of holding Obama to flat spending and cutting the deficit by two-thirds, they’ve thrown everything out the window. This year’s debt alone is slated to be around $800 billion.

The thing that I realized Friday night is that the GOP I knew and was a part of for so long is dead. This is now the party of Trump. Trump is financially irresponsible, amoral, filled with imagined resentments and doesn’t give a damn about anyone other than himself. That is the GOP now. They’ve blown another hole in the debt, are about to elect a child molester in Alabama, spend their time raging against “liberal elites” and no longer care about the debt as long as they get their damn tax cut.

I’m done with them. All the real conservatives are leaving the party. I’ve long been on the other side of the road, but this is where I burn the bridge.

I won’t vote Democrat, since they are almost as bad. One need only see the response to the GOP tax cut to realize that. Cries that it is a “war on America” or that “millions” will die as a result of it are not the statements of a sane party. And their alternative to GOP fiscal recklessness is … more fiscal recklessness.

There is no longer a conservative party in the United States. There’s the dumbass liberal party and the dumbass populist party. I will not be part of either of those.

NBC Takes Out The Trash, Oh, And Our President Is Still A Dope

Wow, Matt Lauer, an NBC staple for 25 years, was unceremoniously fired yesterday over the offence de jour of late, not respecting sexual boundaries;

Matt Lauer allegedly sexually assaulted a female NBC staffer during the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, sources told Page Six.

An NBC insider said Lauer’s alleged victim complained to HR on Monday: “This happened so quickly. She didn’t go to the media, she made a complaint to NBC’s human resources, and her evidence was so compelling that Matt was fired on Tuesday night. The victim says she has evidence that this has also happened to other women, but so far we don’t have evidence of that.”

Another source tells us that the decision to fire Lauer was made late Tuesday night by NBC News chairman Andy Lack.

Lauer’s firing comes amid rumors that several news outlets were working on stories about his alleged sexual misconduct.

The carnage of late is staggering; Roger Ailes, Bill Oreilly, Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Louis CK, Mark Halprin, John Lassiter. They say that with great power comes great responsibility, but apparently it also comes with an over eager sex drive and a total disregard for sexual propriety. On the flip side, me thinks that there also exists a gaggle of men who equally felt discomfited at a butt cheek pinch (or bicep grab) from a female higher up, but dismissed it because either, well, that’s what men do-shake it off, or because it would seem pretty girly to complain about such a thing to HR.

But I am troubled by a few things here; the mob mentality that now seems to permeate our social discourse, and the lack of circumspection when it comes to political figures.

I have no love for Lauer, a typical progressive shill just like 99.9% of all MSM personalities, but I wonder what happened to due process here, and how quickly the mob said ,”off with his head”, and the NBC suits complied. I mention this from a position of ,”I don’t have all the facts”, and freely admit that. Maybe, after this solo revelation, several other NBC co workers came forward with equally disturbing statements, maybe after calling him in he admitted everything, maybe the local authorities are ready to drop a criminal complaint on his ass and NBC was taking preemptive measures. But the article says the victim reported it on Monday, and he was fired on Tuesday, no ,”We are suspending Lauer pending our own due diligence”, nope, it was as simple as ,”She said this, we believe her, and that is that”.

The other interesting point is that with the media, it is all about ratings, but with politics, it is all about votes. A sad state of affairs, TV personalities must have character, must exhibit qualities the average man must emulate, must be honorable, respected, and wholesome. Politicians, OTOH, its all about ,”What he can do for me?”. Conyers, Franken, Moore (and Trump for that matter) still alive and kicking. We don’t care (or don’t care enough)that they are pigs, he is our pig and will due our bidding.

Getting shamed in the court of public opinion, bad enough, but getting fired at a gig you had for 25 years (Oreilly can relate), that is really bad, and done at supersonic speed. I hope Lauer has a good lawyer. If allegations can be proven and fall within criminal boundaries, bring it, but there will be innocent fall out over this current push to clean house and get rid of the perverts (and they made fun of Pence when he said he never is alone with any female not his wife). I hope any man, Lauer included (maybe a stretch) who falls victim to the avalanche of the sexual protocol police, and is innocent, sues the holy hell out of not only his accuser, but his employer if fired. Yes, deviants, need to be identified and ostracized, but knee jerk indignation (another awful shooting, more gun control is needed, there, now I feel better) without due process is nobody’s friend.

The Weinstein Affair

So last week, the story broke that Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s biggest hitters, has been sexually harassing and abusing women for decades:

An investigation by The New York Times found previously undisclosed allegations against Mr. Weinstein stretching over nearly three decades, documented through interviews with current and former employees and film industry workers, as well as legal records, emails and internal documents from the businesses he has run, Miramax and the Weinstein Company.

During that time, after being confronted with allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact, Mr. Weinstein has reached at least eight settlements with women, according to two company officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. Among the recipients, The Times found, were a young assistant in New York in 1990, an actress in 1997, an assistant in London in 1998, an Italian model in 2015 and Ms. O’Connor shortly after, according to records and those familiar with the agreements.

Since the story broke, Weinstein had made an unconvincing defense of his behavior, the Weinstein company has fired him and his lawyer has quit. Reactions are ranging from outrageous “everyone knew” to absurd “no on knew”. I can’t judge what other people knew or didn’t know. But it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that Weinstein was not only a sexual predator but allowed to get away with it for decades. This is, after all, the industry that once gave child rapist Roman Polanski a standing ovation. This is, after all, the industry, that blacklisted Rose McGowan for speaking out on sexism. This is an industry that has made a chilling phrase — the casting couch — into a joke. I guarantee you that Weinstein is not unique or even that unusual. This is just the tip of a loathsome iceberg. And the reaction we are seeing from his company his co-workers is not a response to his behavior but a response to the revelation of his behavior.

Naturally, this being 2017, everyone is trying to find a political angle. Weinstein was a big donor to Democrats, so … something. I think that’s a bit rich coming from the party that nominated and elected Donald Trump to the White House. But in any case, Weinstein’s misbehavior means nothing as far as politics goes. There are plenty of rich people who donate to political parties and there may be three or four who don’t have some pattern of abusive behavior in their past. If you want to hit the Democrats for their hypocrisy on Trump, Weinstein should not be who you talk about. You should talk about Ted Kennedy. Or Chris Dodd. Or Bill Clinton. Or John Edwards. Or Mel Reynolds. People they have elected to public office and blindly supported through multiple allegations of misconduct. You should talk about the way they disparaged victims like Juanita Broaddrick and even willing partners like Monica Lewinsky. You should talk about their ties to Jeffrey Epstein.

The horrible truth is that … in his perverse way … Donald Trump was kinda right on the Pussy Tape. He was wrong that women let you grope them if you’re rich and famous; they merely bear it in silence. No, it’s everyone else who let’s you do it. It’s fellow politicians, it’s political followers, it’s fans, it’s producers, it’s actors, it’s the press, it’s the media. Until that changes, powerful men like Weinstein and Trump and Clinton will do whatever they are allowed to do.

Las Vegas

Jesus.

I won’t post observations until we have more facts. But this is just awful, no matter what. 50 dead, 400 injured. Lone gunman in a hotel shooting fish in a barrel at a concert.

Update: The Daily Beast is detailing the victims. As I have said with previous incidents, I will not mention the perpetrator by name:

Arpaio Free

I guess it won’t come as any surprise to readers of this blog that I am no fan of “Sheriff Joe”. Funnily enough, my conservative temperament tends to side against people who routinely ignore violent crime to pursue illegal immigration, whose myriad abuses have resulted in multiple deaths and $140 million in settlements and compound their illegal actions by ignoring a court order. The later finally resulted in a misdemeanor conviction for contempt of court although sentence had yet to be passed. Arpaio claims this was an Obama vendetta, but the case was about as clear-cut as cases get: brought by a federal judge, referred to the DOJ and pursued by career lawyers in Public Integrity.

Arpaio has been a hero in conservative circles for a while given his aggressive pursuit of illegal immigrants and his humiliation of prisoners. He shouldn’t be. The Phoenix New Times has been covering his abuses for years. Here’s a sampling:

Click the link, then scroll down. And while I would dubious of characterizing him as “one of the most racist evil men alive”, this thread also catalogues his abuses:

Web cams in women’s bathrooms, fake assassination attempts, using his office to spy on his opponents, detaining or arresting every Hispanic in sight, arresting reporters, denying critical care to prisoners (one instance of which results in the death of a baby). Call that “tough on crime” if you want. I call it lawlessness and thuggery.

This comes up because Donald Trump just pardoned him. While I support the use of the Presidential pardon, I am very conscious of ways it can be abused (e.g., Marc Rich). This falls into that category. Of all the people Trump could have pardoned, this is the first one he picks. I suspect its partially because he likes Arpaio (and David Clarke, another “hero” whose abuse of the law is legendary). And also partially Arpaio was an early Trump supporter.

So … to sum up … Trump just pardoned one of the most unlawful “lawmen” in America because he was a supporter.

So much for draining the swamp.

Trump’s Press Conference

I can not respond to that disgrace any better than Charles Krauthammer did:

I never thought I would see an American President fumble a response to Nazis. But here we are.

One of the biggest problems with Trump is that he has fucks like Bannon, Gorka and Miller whispering into his ear that the racists who marched through Charlottesville are his base, the people who got him elected. They are not. The White Supremacists managed to gather less people than would show up for a National March against Mayonnaise. Even that lunatic Farrakhan managed to get a thousand times as many for his Million Man March. They are a fringe. They are less than a percent of the people who voted for Trump. But Trump he been persuaded that they are the bulk of the GOP.

Charlottesville

This is a bit personal for me. I went to graduate school at the University of Virginia. Charlottesville is a great college town. I spent six of the happiest years of my life there. I met my wife there. I made lifelong friends there. I started my career as an astronomer there. It’s one of the few cities I would consider moving to from my current digs.

So to see a bunch of alt-right white-supremacist clowns walking around with tiki torches and chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans hurts. I absolutely support their right to free speech, of course. If people hold vile views, I want them to publicly own it. As fellow UVa Astronomy alum Phil Plait put it:

The proximate cause was Charlottesville’s decision to sell off some confederate monuments, part of a national movement to get rid of such monuments. While I am very attentive to history, I’m also aware that most of these monuments were erected as protests against the Civil Rights movement. So I’m not opposed to seeing them go.

Things got worse this afternoon. After counter-protests and some violent clashes caused the alt-right rally to break up, someone drove a car into the crowd. I won’t embed the video, but it’s easy to find. It looks deliberate to me. And if so, it was an act of terrorism. And I hope they throw the book at the piece of garbage who did it.

I suppose we should take some comfort in that The National Rally for Racist Pieces of Shit only managed to get a few hundred of these dopes. But that’s cold comfort when I see people being mowed down on a street I once walked down in a happy daze because a pretty girl had gone out on a date with me. Any Nazis are too many Nazis.

Update: A good and balanced first hand account.

Behind Closed Doors

I’ve mostly ignored Trump when he whines about leaks from his Administration. I suspect half the leaks are from him anyway. But I’m forced to agree with David Frum on the new leak of transcripts of the President’s conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

Thursday’s leak to The Washington Post of President Trump’s calls with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia will reverberate around the world. No leader will again speak candidly on the phone to Washington, D.C.—at least for the duration of this presidency, and perhaps for longer. If these calls can be leaked, any call can be leaked—and no leader dare say anything to the president of the United States that he or she would not wish to read in the news at home.

A lot of people are jumping up and down because Trump sounds rather foolish in the transcripts and it shows a lot of his claims about those calls to be lies. But the price of this … entertainment … is damage to our foreign relations. And it serves no actual purpose other than embarrassing Trump.

There are times when world leaders need to say things to each other in confidence; times when they need to do and say things that would be unpopular. Breaking this confidence hurts their ability to do so.

Now Defending Sessions

Having bashed Jeff Sessions last week, I’ll defend him this week. He was absolutely right to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. It’s something any moderately ethical AG would do. And it’s disgraceful that Trump is out there slamming his own AG for, as a far as I can tell, allowing an investigation into the President to proceed while not reviving a dead investigation of his defeated opponent.

I intensely disagree with Sessions, but he has been loyal to Trump form the beginning. This just shows, once again, that Trump loyalty only goes one way.