Breaking Up the Order

I’ve been toying with a post on Trump’s foreign policy so far but it keeps running aground on the problem that Trumps doesn’t seem to have a foreign policy apart from pissing off all our allies and sucking up to Russia. In the past few weeks:

  • Trump rejected free trade ideals at the G-20, causing a major rift between us and our major economic partners. I understand being opposed to TPP or even NAFTA. But the principle of free trade is something we should commit to whole-heartedly.
  • Trump hurled baseless accusations that the British GCHQ wire-tapped Trump tower at Obama’s behest, an accusation so stupid the Administration eventually had to apologize for it. I have no doubt the British spy on us, just as we spy on them. But you can’t just run around randomly accusing our allies of spying on you because you misunderstood a Breitbart post. In hearings yesterday, multiple members of the intelligence community indicated there was absolutely no basis to Trump’s accusations.
  • The Secretary of State will reportedly skip out on a critical NATO in order to meet with Russia.
  • FBI Directory Comey indicated that they are investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia (not ties between Trump himself and Russia; a critical distinction). Trump responded with his usual blarney.
  • Trump had a bad meeting with Angel Merkel, head of one of our key military and economic partners.
  • He had an awkward meeting with the Irish PM.
  • Has still not filled many key positions at the State Department, including critical ambassadorships.

None of this is particularly lethal to the country, of course. But it betrays an Administration that remains inept, amateurish and unable to learn.

We’re two months into the Trump years. I understand he’s an outsider but so far we are seeing little indication that he’s learning how this works or has any inclination of learning how it works. I raised this same criticism during the campaign: my problem with Trump was less that he was ignorant about government but that he showed no inclination to learn. And we’re still seeing that he has no inclination to learn.

And it also exposes, yet again, the hypocrisy of at least half the criticism of Obama over the last eight years. If half of this stuff had happened under Obama, the Right Wing would be foaming at the mouth about how he was turning his back on our allies and undoing seven decades of building a functional peaceful prosperous international order.

(The hypocrisy goes way beyond that, of course. We heard for years about Obama’s expensive trips but now hear nothing about Trump spending twice as much to go to Mar-A-Lago every weekend. Ivanka is getting a security clearance and an office despite not having a position; you can imagine the fury if Chelsea had done the same. Pundits raged about Obama’s golfing and have nothing to say on Trump’s golfing. These things didn’t matter so much to me — any time a President spends on a golf course is time he’s not spending interfering with our lives. But some consistency … any consistency .. would be nice.)

Gorsuch Hearings Start Today

The confirmation hearings for Gorsuch will start today. So far, I have been impressed. I doubt I will agree with him on everything, but he seems to have a sharp mind and a strong judicial philosophy.

The Democrats are in a bind here because their base wants them to hold their breath until they turn blue but they don’t really have a reason to oppose him. They’ve been trying to go through his decisions and even some of the legal arguments he made as a lawyer but nothing has stuck. I expect some hysterics. But ultimately, I expect him to be confirmed. Say 65-35.

All that wolf crying…

Is not really going to go anywhere, and that is because as many of us that saw the hysteria sans any evidence pointed out: it was all bullshit. There is no way that if this story even had an inkling of a chance of being true – based on evidence, that is, not the pipe dreams of a bunch of idiots with an agenda to deflect from the real issues – that we wouldn’t have been given the facts by now. The democrats play dirty. They care not a damn if they destroy the country if it keeps them in power, so if they had proof, that proof would already have been released by their operatives in the deep state bureaucracy.

This Russia thing was started as a distraction from the revelations of how corrupt the DNC and the Clinton campaign were, and it got legs after the people in the Obama administration that tapped the Trump campaign – to find dirt no doubt – started pretending there was something going on there. We now know that the democrat delusion and their knee jerk reaction after losing an election they felt certain they had already stolen, was all bullshit. Oh sure, they are still talking about Trump being a Russian stooge, despite the fact that unlike them he has been though with Russia and is pro fracking – something that impacts the economy of Russia which is mostly centered around the sale of oil and natural gas far more than anything we could do otherwise in a real negative way – because the objective here has from the start been to deligitimize his election in the eyes of the low information voter. The usual dnc operatives with bylines were more than happy to go along with the bullshit because they too wanted some magical event to give them president Hillary. After the attempts to coerce the electoral college, convince people that we should suddenly look at the popular vote and not the legal election, and a bunch of other madness (remember this doozy?) all went nowhere and the left was left unable to steal the election, they decided that they needed to undermine the presidency.

As I pointed out before, only to have our resident trolls all go batshit on me for daring to say so: nothing will hurt the left more than Trump being successful at rolling back the nanny state, firing up the economy, and doing foreign policy different than the cock suckery of the Obama years. Any success is damaging to that moron Obama’s legacy (and those that defended it), and more importantly, to the left’s dogma. The left wants to believe they are the experts. The only ones that know what is right and how to make things work. Note I said want to believe, because any observation quickly should dissuade anyone but the most partisan or stupid person from any such delusion. Hence that Krugnuts prediction about economic doom turns into real stories like this, this, and this. The people that grow wealth all feel that things are going to get better. Even the ones that spout idiotic leftist shit all the time.

And do you remember Obama telling us we couldn’t drill ourselves out of high gas prices? Well, despite his administration’s best efforts, it is precisely the drilling – well, fracking – done in the US and Canada, that has driven down the price of oil, while preventing hostile countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and even that leftist tropical paradise of Venezuela from making like bandits at our expense. What about all that bullshit bracket filling during March madness? I sure as hell don’t miss that crap. And so on.

Anyway, back on topic. The left is desperate to make you believe only they are qualified to be in charge. hence this idiotic play to deligitimize the Trump presidency, of course for many of us it feels more like this. Me, I hope these morons keep at it. Be hysterical idiots. Throw tantrums and act all bitchy. Cry wolf. Sure low information voters might fall for it now, but more and more people are realizing what’s going on. The fact that the dnc operatives with bylines destroyed any credibility they might have had left alone is a major victory for freedom loving people. But the left refusing to accept their fantasy world has run into the real one, is priceless. This is gonna be great to watch. Pass the popcorn please.

Chuck Berry RIP

Damn, this sucks. From the article:

Chuck Berry, the singer, songwriter and guitar great who practically defined rock music with his impeccably twangy hits “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Memphis,” “My Ding-a-Ling” and “Sweet Little Sixteen,” has died. He was 90.

The singer/songwriter, whose classic “Johnny B. Goode” was chosen by Carl Sagan to be included on the golden record of Earth Sounds and Music launched with Voyager in 1977, died Saturday afternoon, St. Charles County Police Department confirmed. The cause of death was not revealed.

Maybe I am getting older and thus some influential people that had an impact on my life now passing away make it feel so, but I keep wondering why so many greats are dropping like flies.

Budget Blueprint Out

Trump released a blueprint of his budget for discretionary spending today. It includes a big increase in military spending but balances it with massive cuts to other agencies, particularly the EPA, NIH and HUD. Real cuts, not “slowing growth” cuts.

There is little chance that the Congress will pass this budget. In the end, they will come up with their own plan. There is a lot that alarms me. The big cut to NIH would be a blow to public health and scientific research, including the research we need to deal with things like Ebola. Cuts to EPA sound good but unless you’re also cutting regulations, that just means longer delays in EPA evaluations and clearances. The budget also guts climate science since we apparently don’t have to care anymore.

Other cuts, like HUD and that National Endowment for the Arts, seem more reasonable. The gripping hand is that, with big increases in military spending and no entitlement reform, even Trump’s budget does nothing to get our debt under control.

Of course, the Left, being the Left, has decided to focus their criticism as stupidly as possible. They are claiming that Trump is canceling Meals on Wheels.

Are they right? Is Trump canceling Meals on Wheels? No he isn’t.

One of the cuts in the budget is longer overdue cutting of the Community Development Block Grant Program. The CDBG is a $3 billion program that ostensibly goes to developing poor communities but mostly goes to graft, corruption and waste. It blows massive amounts of money on wasteful projects, sees a huge chunk disappear into administrative costs and, unsurprisingly, sends most of its funds to wealthy communities around DC that can, frankly, fund their God-damned white elephants.

(Note: this is typical of programs that purport to develop communities up to and including the grandaddy of all “community development” pork barrels — public subsidies for sports stadiums. It’s odd how often governments decide that the best way to develop a community is to throw money at their rich friends.)

With such a juicy slice of government pork-barrel spending in danger, the Democrats had to find some way to save it. And so they scoured the budget until they found something. It turns out that one of the many things the CDBG program gives money to is Meals on Wheels.

Meals on Wheels is a great program. But their national program only gets 3% of their funding from government grants. Almost all of the rest of their funding comes from private sources. And a huge amount of its costs are covered by volunteers. So even if Meals on Wheels never saw another red cent of federal money, they would still be able to do almost everything they do right now.

This nonsense is typical of attempts to cut government spending. The federal government does not run a Federal Cat Kicking Program or a National Dog Beating Program. Almost all of its programs have noble intentions. Or at least noble labels. So even if a program is wasteful, it purports to fight illiteracy or feed the hungry or build communities. The people who benefit from a federal program — in the case of CDBG, that would be rich DC-area governments — are very invested in making sure it stays funded. By contrast, the people pay for it — that would be the rest of us us — only see a tiny part of their paychecks go to that particular program. And so Trump’s proposal to kill the wasteful CDBG program are cast as, “DONALD TRUMP IS TRYING TO STARVE SENIORS AND THIS PROGRAM ONLY COSTS YOU TWO CENTS A DAY!!” And, of course, our worthless media repeat that lie until the program is saved.

This is why we ended up with the sequester. Because the alternative to a dumb misguided across-the-board spending cut was no spending cut at all. Trump would be far better off simply setting a cap on how much discretionary spending he will accept before a veto and then let Congress squabble about where the money’s going. And if the Left really cares about Meals on Wheels, they can pony up another 3% of its funding themselves.

First Return Out

So Rachel Maddow had a HUGE announcement tonight that she had secured two pages of one of Trump’s tax returns, apparently leaked to MSNBC in violation of federal law. I didn’t watch her broadcast since I have a low tolerance for her smugness. I knew how it would go: twenty minutes of connect-the-dots condescending intro, a dud of a revelation and back-patting for the remainder. Well, I was right:

Donald Trump earned more than $150 million in the year 2005—and paid just a small percentage of that in regular federal income taxes. Daily Beast contributor David Cay Johnston has obtained what appear to be the first two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal income tax return, and published an analysis of those pages on his website, DCReport.org. The Daily Beast could not independently verify these documents.

The documents show Trump and his wife Melania paying $5.3 million in regular federal income tax—a rate of less than 4% However, the Trumps paid an additional $31 million in the “alternative minimum tax,” or AMT. Trump has previously called for the elimination of this tax.

This is less than a nothingburger. This almost makes Trump look good. So much so that almost everyone in my feeds think that Trump himself was the source of the leak (the White House responded almost instantaneously to the report). 2005 was the last year Trump has a big business deal, selling off two of his assets. It was also before several sources insist he became entangled with Russian interests.

A large segment of the Left, having realize what a dud this was, are now praising Maddow for “keeping the issue at the forefront”. Pfft. The issue was never a big deal for Trump’s supporters. I think we can now make the argument that Trump should release all of his tax returns. But that argument has not changed.

Thoughts on the CBO Scoring

I haven’t written much about the Republican healthcare plan because it’s fairly obvious that it’s never going to happen. Another nail was put in the coffin yesterday when the CBO released their analysis of the Republican healthcare plan. The bottom line is that it would cut spending by $800 billion over ten years, cut taxes by $500 billion over ten years but increase the number of uninsured by about 24 million through both cuts to Medicaid and the elimination of the insurance mandate. The reaction has been about what you’d expect: conservative touting the deficit reduction and downplaying the uninsured numbers; liberals doing the opposite and accusing Republicans of literally murdering people to get “tax cuts for the rich”.

A few thoughts on this:

First of all, I would take any projections about the number of insured with several large helpings of salt. This number is infamously difficult to project. The CBO previously overestimated how many people were going to enroll in the Obamacare exchanges to the tune of 8-10 million. A lot will depend on what’s happening with the economy, what the states do, etc.

In many ways, the GOP is being more honest here with their CBO analysis. As McArdle reminds us, the Democrats heavily gamed the CBO projections of Obamacare:

During the process of passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA, many of us complained that Democrats were gaming the CBO process, tossing out desperate cuts and pay-fors over and over until they got the score they wanted, in much the way video-gamers try to kill a hard boss. They ended up jamming in a bunch of provisions that made Obamacare’s finances look sturdier than they were, but realistically, had no hope of ever taking effect (among my favorites: a never-never long-term care program, and a requirement that everyone in the country had to issue 1099s to anyone who sold them more than a few hundred dollars worth of stuff). We certainly can’t accuse Republicans of that!

They also phased in the tax hikes years ahead of the spending hikes so that it appeared to balance over ten years even though it was running a deficit by the end of the window.

Second, if you want to know why so many people despise the Left, check out the verbiage being used to describe this. The Republicans are “taking away” people’s health insurance and “giving” money to the rich. They are “stealing from the poor and giving to the rich”. This is “class warfare” of the rich against the poor. This is high-grade horse manure but unfortunately what passes for thought in Left Wing circles. You can’t “take away” something that you’re giving to people free of charge. And you can’t “give” money to people that is already theirs. A more accurate description is that the Republicans are taking less from the rich to give to the poor. That’s fair enough and if you think that it is the government’s job, fine. But please stop with this “taking from the poor and giving to the rich” line. It’s nonsense and a mangling of the English language.

Third, ignore any claims that the Republicans are literally killing people here. We were told, when Obamacare passed, that lack of health insurance killed 100,000 Americans every year. If that had been the case, we should have seen a big drop in mortality since the bill was passed. We haven’t (in fact, mortality has ticked up a bit). The benefits of Medicaid, in particular, are highly disputed.

Fourth, I have no idea, given the inevitable lashing the GOP will endure, why they’ve written the bill this way. Since they’re going to be accused of murdering people anyway, why go with Obamacare Light?

Finally, let’s not forget something important. It’s not like the Republicans are fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. The ACA is teetering, with insurance rates skyrocketing, insurers pulling out of the exchanges and the beginnings of a death spiral in the individual insurance market. The problem with the ACA is that it did nothing whatsoever to make insurance “affordable”. All it did was shift the burden around, taking money from one group of people to make insurance “affordable” for another. But the price of health insurance remained what the price of health insurance is. And since numerous people are deciding they would rather pay the fine than astronomical insurance rates, the system is on the brink of collapse.

The Republican plan, however, does not address this problem at all. If anything, it makes it worse, replacing the Obamacare tax with higher insurance premiums for those currently uninsured, thus making the death spiral even steeper. It’s simply a terrible idea, both financially and politically. Because if the Republicans pass this law and the Obamacare markets collapse, they will take the blame for it.

Many are suggesting that the Republicans should just let Obamacare collapse so that the Democrats take the blame. I’m dubious about this. First of all, I don’t like using millions of people’s healthcare coverage as some kind of political tool. Second, the Republicans will almost certainly be blamed anyway. In fact, many liberals are blaming Republicans right now for eliminating the risk corridors — the subsidies paid out to insurance companies to keep the exchanges afloat. That’s how bizarre politics has gotten — Democrats accusing Republicans of killing poor people by their refusal to subsidize some of the largest businesses in America. Either way, Republicans are going to be blamed for the mess that Obama has created. I don’t see that there’s a good option here. But passing the AHCA is certainly a worse option than doing nothing.

Ultimately, our efforts at healthcare reform continue to founder on the same rocks: Americans can’t make up their minds what they want. Every healthcare system in the world balances tradeoffs. Ours gives up universal coverage and affordability for quick response and rapid technological innovation. Socialized systems are universal and “free” but sacrifice availability and demand heavy taxation. What the voters seem to want is insurance where they can get all the care they want, see any doctor they want but not have to pay any money for it. That’s simply not going to happen. And until someone — Republican or Democrat — acknowledges that, we will continue to stumble from bad plan to bad plan.