Tag: Donald Trump

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.

The CFPB Slap Fight

There is a bizarre power struggle going on with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The former director has resigned and we currently have two acting directors claiming to be the head of the CFPB. One is the former deputy director, Leandra English. The other is a Trump appointee Mike Mulvaney. National Review breaks it down:

What has happened is this: The director of the bureau, Richard Cordray, has resigned. President Donald Trump has named his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, acting director until a permanent director can be confirmed by the Senate. But Cordray’s deputy, Leandra English, has attempted to block that appointment, offering a very novel interpretation of the bureaucratic rule holding that the deputy director operates as acting director in the event the director becomes unavailable. She is arguing that the director’s resignation makes him “unavailable” and hence makes her acting director. But a resignation doesn’t make a director unavailable — it makes him no longer the director.

Only the most gullible liberals are taking English’s oddball legal argument seriously. English is being represented in the matter by private counsel, the bureau’s own general counsel having concluded that the Trump administration has the better case, with “better case” here meaning “plain statutory authority.” The CFPB is established in law as an “executive agency” and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 explicitly empowers the president to name an acting director when there is a vacancy in a position requiring presidential nomination and Senate confirmation. The law is not ambiguous on the point.

A federal judge has now ruled in Mulvaney’s favor. Needless to say, the Democrats are taking English’s side and proclaiming that … something … in the law that created the CFPB enables English to proclaim herself Defender of the Faith. Ultimately, this fight is not necessarily about who heads the CFPB but about who the agency is accountable to. The Republicans want it to be accountable to the President. The Democrats want it to be accountable to no one. This is why the Court of Appeals declared the structure of the CFPB to be unconstitutional. Because federal law does not allow for regulatory agencies to declare themselves as independent fiefdoms.

You can probably tell I’m with Trump on this. Having a federal agency beyond executive control is not only unconstitutional, it’s a terrible idea. This is illustrated perfectly by the terror Democrats have of what it will do under a Trump appointee’s control. We have enough problems with federal agencies acting like feudal lords, issuing regulations and laws without any approval of Congress. Having one that can appoint its own leadership is a bit too far. Trump’s Acting Director should stand (although Trump should submit a nominee to Congress immediately). Presidents have long had the power to appoint acting heads of departments following resignations. There is no reason for the CFPB to be different.

This nonsense and the hand-over-heart tear-streaked cries of support of Democrats for English illustrates all that is wrong with the “Resistance”. Trump is going to appoint a CFPB head at some point. So this Acting Director stuff is just temporary at best. It’s provoking a needless, silly and ultimately futile fight for no reason other than to virtue signal. It’s inside-the-Beltway crap and will, frankly, only strengthen Trump’s hand with the general public. I understand why the Democrats are choosing this fight — they want the CFPB to be independent. But it’s a stupid, pointless and damaging fight to pick. If you want the CFPB to reflect liberal values, then maybe nominate someone for President who is not so personally, ethically and politically challenged that she can’t beat an incontinent hamster.

In other words, elections have consequences. This is one of them.

Turkeys and Drumsticks 2017

For ten years running, I have taken advantage of the Thanksgiving Holiday to give out my awards for Turkey of the Year and Golden Drumsticks. The latter are for those who exemplify the best traits in our public sphere. The former are for those who exemplify silliness and stupidity. I rarely give them out to someone who is evil; they are reserved for those who regularly make me shake my head and wonder what they’re thinking. It’s a sort of “thank you” for making blogging easier.

Read more… »

Bad Night for the GOP

I try not to read too much into off-year elections but last night’s was a debacle for the GOP. The Virginia governor’s race was a wipeout and, as of this morning, the state legislature may tip to the Democrats. At minimum, Virginia Democrats will now have veto power for the first time in over 25 years and had their biggest night in four decades. The New Jersey governorship and New York mayoral race went against the GOP. Other state legislative races and mayoral races went against the GOP. It was bad night for them, a clean sweep by the Democrats.

Trump’s popularity hasn’t changed that much since election day. He’s still got most of the GOP behind him and most of the Democrats against him. Moderates have shifted against him but he’s still polling in the high 30’s, lower than election day but not drastically so. I’ve noted before that Trump’s performance in 2016 was terrible. It was the worst performance in a post-incumbent election in American history (i.e., an election where a two-term incumbent President is retiring). Now we’re seeing what would have happened had his opponent not been almost equally despised. With a meh candidate, Virginia shifted almost five points to the Democrats, enough for the gubernatorial election to become a rout and the legislature to tip. The Democrats won young people by nearly 40 points, a huge shift from 2012 and even 2016. An advantage of even a tenth that size would have given Clinton the election.

Here’s another thing: the Democrats are not popular. Their approval rating is the lowest in their history. So this was not a stampede toward Democrats, much as they’d like it to be. This was a backlash against Trump without the tempering influence of Clinton hate.

The implications of this for the GOP have to be frightening. Without Clinton as a foil, Trump’s unpopularity could completely sink the party. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen solid conservatives like McCain and Flake leave the party. Now we’re seeing decent Republicans run out of office because people hate Trump so much.

If this keeps up, the Republicans will be dead in the cities, dead in the suburbs and only alive because of rural support. We will see a shriveled husk of a party devoid of conservatives, devoid of moderates and comprised entirely of Trumpist populism. This would be a party unable to stop the Democrats from going Full Metal Socialist. Their only accomplishment would be ranting on raving on Sean Hannity’s show, which is apparently now the apotheosis of political achievement for Republicans these days.

Trump is not going to change course in response to this election. His response to the election was to immediately stab Gillespie in the back and I’m sure he’ll stab every Republican if he feels the need. He’s not a Republican. He only used them to vault into office. If the Democrats take Congress, he’ll claim credit then happily sign off on single payer healthcare as long as it had his name on it (as shown by his spineless deal on DACA).

Yeah, it’s just one election. We’ll see what happens next year. And, come 2020, the Democrats are going to need an actual Presidential candidate, who might be a fiasco in his or her own right. But you can’t help but be alarmed by where this is going. In 2016, Warren Meyer said the Republicans had chained themselves to a suicide bomber. It may turn out that it just took a bit longer for the bomb to go off.

First Indictments Down

It’s Manafort and Gates:

Paul Manafort and his former business associate were indicted on Monday on money laundering, tax and foreign lobbying charges, a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over President Trump’s first year in office.

Mr. Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, and his longtime associate Rick Gates, surrendered to the FBI on Monday. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said Mr. Manafort laundered more than $18 million to buy properties and services.

“Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States without paying taxes on that income,” the indictment reads.

Mr. Gates is accused of transferring more than $3 million from offshore accounts. The two are also charged with making false statements.

“As part of the scheme, Manafort and Gates repeatedly provided false information to financial bookkeepers, tax accountants and legal counsel, among others,” the indictment read.

Right now, this is a little less than a giant conspiracy to enthrone Trump. This is about what we expected: Manafort concealed his work for a Russian puppet, tried to hide the money and has now gotten burned. But, as far as I can tell, most of the charges are for things that long pre-date his association with Trump.

That having been said, this is a big deal. The supposed swamp-draining President’s former campaign manager is facing very serious federal charges. This would explain why the Administration suddenly decided to make a big deal about the Uranium One deal and call for Mueller to step down. I suspect more is coming, but it may be quite some time. Manafort was fairly long-hanging fruit, his misdeeds discovered quickly. We’ll see what else comes out.

The Clinton Files

Remember the Steele dossier? Sure you do. This was the file that Buzzfeed ran back in January detailing a mix of rumors and innuendo about Trump’s ties to Russia. At the time, it wasn’t clear where this came from. The dossier was compiled by Christopher Steele working for a company called Fusion GPS. But who hired them to compile that dossier?

Turns out: the Clintons.

Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research.

After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the firm in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Prior to that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by a still unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.

The Clinton campaign and the DNC, through the law firm, continued to fund Fusion GPS’s research through the end of October 2016, days before Election Day.

So no deep state. No Obama coup. Just the Clintons up to their usual shit, trying to smear their opponent. The Clintons have a long history here, highlighted by things like Alma Powell’s struggles with depression suddenly becoming news, Newt Gingrich’s first divorce morphing into him serving papers to his sick wife, Bush’s DWI arrested coming to light days before the 2000 election, the sudden interest in Jeremiah Wright, Bernie Sanders’ 40-year old essays, etc., etc. The curious thing was that they couldn’t get the media to bite. As I noted in post above, this dossier was shopped around to the media but they refused to run it because so little of it could be verified. Some of it has since been verified (the conversations with Russian officials) but not the more dramatic allegations (financial ties, peeing hookers).

This is just a reminder that while Trump may be a dumpster fire, his opponent was hardly a shining bastion of decency and decorum. The Clintons spent real money trying to get dirt on Trump and then tried to shop around a file containing spectacular but unsubstantiated allegations. They tried to shop around a file so speculative that the media, all of whom hated Trump, refused to touch it. Do we have any doubts as to what Clinton would be doing right now where she in office with the powers of the FBI, NSA and CIA at her disposal?

Another Gold Star Feud

One of themes I keep returning to on Twitter is this:

Yes, the media has it in for Trump and will happily blow up even minor gaffes into major crises. Our entire media-political establishment has gotten twitchy and panicky about everything.

But, good Lord does Trump make it easy for them.

I have no idea what was said on the call between Trump and the family of La David Johnson. A Democratic Congresswoman says he said some dumb things and couldn’t remember the soldier’s name. The family has vaguely confirmed this; the Administration has vaguely denied it. I suspect that the family — like most Gold Star families — would rather keep politics away from their tragedy. If forced, I would guess that Trump tried to say something nice but bungled it — i.e., intended to commend Johnson’s bravery but it came out wrong. And now, being Trump, he’s refusing to let it go.

As I said in my post on empathy, part of the job of the President is to make them feel like their concerns are being listened to. Bill Clinton was probably the best I’ve ever seen at this but most Presidents have at least some ability to look people in the eye and make them feel like they care. Trump is able to speak to people’s fears and prejudices, which is probably why he won. But he can’t speak to their higher aspirations, their hopes, their dreams … or their very real sorrows.

This is who he is. We shouldn’t act surprised anymore.

Trump Dumps On Iran

After weeks of hinting at it, Trump finally geeked:

President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to pull out of a deal freezing and reversing Iran’s nuclear program if Congress and US allies do not agree to strengthen it, as he unveiled a tough and comprehensive new policy toward the Islamic Republic.

“As I have said many times, the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” Trump said in a major speech at the White House.

In effect, Trump put the agreement in limbo without killing it off entirely as some backers had feared. But his strategy risks setting off a chain of unpredictable consequences that could end up derailing the deal anyway and eventually raise the risk of war between the US and Iran.

By decertifying the deal, Trump has sent it back to Congress, who can decide to get rid of the deal, remake the deal or send it back to him, at which point he can break it.

A few things to get out of the way: Trump is completely full of shit when he says Iran is violating the deal. The IAEA and every partner in the deal — including the United States — has confirmed that they are in compliance. They had done things we don’t like, such as continuing their missile program. But none of that violates the deal. In fact, the EU has already rejected Trump’s assessment and said they will continue to comply with the deal (EU companies are already doing billions in business with Iran).

Seen in that light, decertifying it like this is pure stupidity. The Iran deal is far from perfect but if we abrogate the deal, that does not restore sanctions. It makes it more likely for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon as they can now resume nuclear research, knowing it will have no effect on whether the US imposes sanctions or not. It also undermines our attempts to negotiate with North Korea (or any country that decides they want a nuke) because they now know that the US will simply back out of a deal even if they are in compliance. This is why almost everyone within Trump’s Administration opposed this move. But one of the running themes of Trump’s presidency is his hatred of Obama and his determination to undo anything Obama did, whether it was a good idea or a bad one. And so … the deal has to go, no matter what the consequences.

Part of this also goes back to Trump’s deluded belief that he’s a great deal-maker, a reputation that his career and the first nine months of his presidency show to be undeserved. As a businessman, his method of making deals was to stiff contractors and milk companies for money while driving them into bankruptcy. He thinks that’s how deals work: Trump does well; everyone else gets shafted. That’s why he sees NAFTA and TPP and Iran as bad deals; because the other side got something too. Real businessmen (and competent Presidents) know that good deals benefit both sides.

And if his history as a businessman weren’t evidence of his lousy deal-making ability, his Presidency has cemented it. With a Republican Congress, it has been highlighted by a failure to fix or repeal Obamacare, a total cave-in to the Democrats on DACA, a failure to reform the budget and a pending failure on tax reform. I realize that his defenders will blame the establishment, the GOP Congress, “the Deep State” and the establishment. But Trump has shown, repeatedly, that he is unfamiliar with policy and has no desire to learn, which makes negotiation impossible. The Republican Party — like all parties — has factions. Uniting those factions requires leadership from the top, which Trump is unable to provide. He expects deals to just sort of … happen.

The result of this decision will not be a better deal. It will be either the resumption of Iran’s nuclear program or a war. Such is the price we are paying for electing this vacuous egotistical idiotic hamster.

And to think what we could have had.

Update: One key point: the Iran deal would have been much more secure had it been made into a treaty and sent through Congress. That may not have happened, of course. But this serves as yet another illustration of why Obama’s Law of the Phone and a Pen was such a terrible idea.

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.

Willet for the Fifth

One of the few bright spots for the Trump Administration so far has been his nominations for the judiciary. Gorsuch has worked out well so far and other conservative justices are joining the ranks. To be fair, Trump is mainly working from a list produced by the Federalist Society. But that, in itself, shows a bit more wisdom than we’re used to seeing: he’s recognizing that he’s not a legal expert and should defer to those who are.

This week, he nominated Justice Don Willet, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, for the Fifth Circuit. It’s a great choice. While Willet’s court doesn’t deal with criminal matters, his decisions on civil matters have shown a libertarian bent. He’s also one of the more popular accounts on Twitter, where he stays away from hot button issues and mainly posts about history, the law and occasional humor. He has an inspiring
life story
, having been adopted, raised by a single mom and become the first college graduate in his family.

My only reservation is his lack of experience in criminal matters, which I think is something badly lacking in our judiciary. But hopefully he will bring the libertarian tendencies to that as well. We’ll see.