Tag: Donald Trump

Not Watching the SOTU

No, I won’t be watching Trump’s State of the Union address tonight. I will probably read the transcript so that I can properly comment on it. This had less do with Trump and more to do with my disgust with the dreary spectacle, a feeling that dates all the way back to the Clinton Administration. Kevin Williamson put it perfectly four years ago:

The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.

I used to fisk the SOTU but it’s gotten tiresome. Every President promises things he can’t possibly deliver, boasts about things he deserved little to no credit for and basks in the undeserved adulation of his party. Trump has only put that into slightly sharper focus. If he said he would go up there and stand silently while tweeting the whole thing, I might actually warm to the guy.

Occasionally, I have tuned it to see the response of the opposing party. But this year, the Democratic Party — have sensed the mood of the people turning against the establishment, against oligarchs, against entrenched power — have gone with … Joe Kennedy. Yeah, another damned Kennedy. In this case, a Kennedy who is vehemently anti-marijuana to boot.

So double no thank you.

The Return of the Shutdown

It’s baaaack:

Much of the federal government officially shut down early Saturday morning after Senate Democrats, showing remarkable solidarity in the face of a clear political danger, blocked consideration of a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating.

The shutdown, coming one year to the day after President Trump took office, set off a new round of partisan recriminations and posed risks for both parties. It came after a fruitless last-minute negotiating session at the White House between Mr. Trump and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader.

With just 50 senators voting in favor, Senate Republican leaders fell well short of the 60 votes necessary to proceed on the spending measure, which had passed the House on Thursday. Five conservative state Democrats voted for the spending measure. Five Republicans voted against it, although one of those, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, did so for procedural reasons.

The basics are this: the Democrats will not agree to a continuing resolution without a fix to the DACA situation (a problem I warned about back in September when Trump struck his crap deal with the Democrats). It seemed that there was a deal on immigration earlier this week but after a handshake deal with Schumer, Trump changed his mind apparently on the urging of the more anti-immigration members of his staff. He then indicated that he would not agree to an immigration deal until after a continuing resolution was passed. The Administration’s shifting narrative has left the Senate GOPers scrambling around, trying to figure out what exactly the President’s stance is.

Right now, everyone is trying to find someone to blame. As far as that goes, I would allocate the blame thusly:

Chuck Schumer (20%) — Schumer made passage of the CR conditional on a DACA agreement. I support DACA (as do the vast majority of Americans, including Republicans). But this is the big hangup. Even attaching six years of CHIP funding couldn’t get him on board.

Mitch McConnel (30%) – Flake effectively called McConnell out, saying they should put together a deal and send it Trump and let him sign or veto it. Unfortunately, that chance may have passed. With the shutdown in effect, Trump will feel that his manhood is at stake. Which means #1 is:

Trump (50%) – Trump killed a bipartisan deal on DACA, which plunged us into this abyss. He has given no indication to his own party what his intentions are. And by making immigration his signature issue, he has put that as the stumbling block before everything. In past government shutdowns, the President played a key role, making it clear what he wanted, what he might concede on, what he might not. In the Gingrich-Clinton shutdown, Clinton was constantly negotiating with the GOP and you knew what his stance was. In the Obama-Ryan shutdown, both sides were clear on their intentions. Hell, if you go back to the Carter shutdowns, it was clear where everyone stood on the abortion funding issue. Having a White House with no clear agenda is the biggest problem right now.

It’s hard to give the Democrats most of the blame here when the Republicans control both houses and the White House. They’re being dumb to shut down the government over DACA but the Republicans are more dumb not only for failing to come up with a deal but for kicking down the road again back in September.

In any case, the big question is where do we go from here and … I have no idea. The logical course is for the Senate to make a deal without Trump and then hope he’ll sign it. But Republicans are too cowardly and Democrats too craven for that right now. So I expect this one to last for a while.

Wrong is not Unconstitutional

I’m a bit bumfuzzled by last week’s judicial decision on DACA. A federal judge suspended Trump’s efforts to end DACA. Doug Mataconis gets into the weeds of the federal issue, notably the issue of “equitable estoppel” — the idea that it is unfair to DACA recipients to have had the government make promises to them, have them act on those promises and then have the rug jerked out from under them. I understand those arguments, to the extent I can. But ultimately, it seems absurd that Trump can not undo by executive order what Obama did by executive order.

Look, I’m in favor of extending DACA. And it frustrates me no end that Trump apparently nixed a deal last week on advice from rat-toad Stephen Miller. But he is will within his authority to undo Obama’s executive orders. In fact, most of Trump’s “accomplishments” in his first year have simply been rescinding Obama executive orders. Live by the pen and the phone, die by the pen and the phone. I opposed Obama’s DACA order precisely for that reason: that this is something that should be done through Congress. Yeah, Trump’s being a jerk by treating the Dreamers this way. But Obama was just as big a jerk by getting the Dreamers to believe that they were taken care of when they, in fact, were not.

I have been saying this now for 15 years and the lesson is still not sinking in: executive power is not a way to run a government. The Democrats still haven’t learned this lesson; their leadership voted just last week to give Trump expanded surveillance powers. But the danger to DACA recipients is the result of depending on the executive to right all the wrongs in our country. What one king can do another can undo. And that is no way to run a country.

The Wolff Book

Look, I understand it’s the BIG NEWS now that Michael Wolff wrote a book that purports to chronicle Trump’s rise to power and first year in office. But having read excerpts from it, it crosses me as as bit … exaggerated (and frankly, sloppy). I think it’s quite likely that Trump didn’t really want to be President and I think it’s quite likely that his Administration, especially in the early days, was marked by chaos, backstabbing and incompetence. But the picture he paints is one of complete dysfunction which I’m not seeing. Like it or not, this Administration has gotten some things done. Blunderingly, haltingly and while pissing two-thirds of the country off. But they did put in a travel restriction, they did cut taxes, they did get judges appointed, they have rolled back some regulation, they are ending a lot of immigration programs and may move on trade soon. Whether you like what they’re doing or not — and I have many issues — this is not an Administration in complete paralysis.

Moreover, think it would be dangerous for Trump opponents to read this and underestimate the relative order that Kelly has brought to things. There is a tendency of the “resistance” to buy any story about Trump as long as it’s bad, to see his tweets as a diagnostic of what’s going on inside the White House. And there’s been a recent and foolish tendency to try to diagnose Trump as having a mental disease. But NeverTrumper David Brooks cautions against this:

Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade.

It’s almost as if there are two White Houses. There’s the Potemkin White House, which we tend to focus on: Trump berserk in front of the TV, the lawyers working the Russian investigation and the press operation. Then there is the Invisible White House that you never hear about, which is getting more effective at managing around the distracted boss.

I mention these inconvenient observations because the anti-Trump movement, of which I’m a proud member, seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us.

Exactly. The internet has been buzzing about a recent report that Trump only works at most about 7 hours a day and spends most of his time watching television and talking on the phone. Let’s assume that’s true. And? What does this mean, exactly? Many celebrity politicians get bored with politics once they realize how limited their power is. I have long predicted that this would happen with Trump. The descriptions of Trump cross me less as a Howard Hughes type madman gradually retreating to his lair and more of a man who really doesn’t want to be President and is happy to turn as much responsibility over to his staff as possible. This is probably for the best, but it is a double-edged sword. Trump’s staff are unelected, only accountable to him and free to pursue their own agendas. Many of the policies we see being enacted are still bad ideas. And the possibility that Trump is an unstable person looms over us. So, sure, there is reason for concern. But the recent spate of articles calling for the 25th Amendment to be invoked are still, one year into this Administration, premature. This is not a situation for panic. Yet.

Our friend Thrill read the book and has more detail. But my limited time has become even more limited now that I’m teaching so I will probably not find the time to slog through it. Nevertheless, I will recommend taking it a grain of salt. Hell, I recommend taking any story about the inner workings of this Administration with a grain of salt.

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.

Iran Explodes Again

It took a while for the American media to catch on, but there are anti-government and anti-fundamentalist protests erupting all over Iran:

The largest public display of discontent in Iran since the 2009 Green Movement has brought about a series of tweets from US President Donald Trump, pushback from the Iranian government and a scene that might have been unfathomable a decade ago — protesters challenging the rule of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Nominally, the protests are about Iran’s bad economy. But I suspect, as in 2009, there is more to it than that: a younger generation that chafes under the iron rule of the mullahs and wants Iran to move into … well, at least the 19th century. Trump has tweeted in support of it, a move I am a bit dubious of. The Iranians have a long memory of how the US propped up the Shah and it would be easy for the government to cast the protests as US meddling. However … well, I’ll get into that in a second.

Naturally, everyone is scrambling to claim credit for the protests. The Trumpists are claiming that Trump has inspired the protests because reasons. The Obamaists are given him credit because of the nuclear deal, which made it harder for the Iranian government to blame us for their spectacular incompetence and corruption. The Obama explanation sounds a little more plausible to me. I’ve never been convinced that sanctions do anything but empower dictators at the expense of the populace (see, e.g., North Korea, Cuba, Russia and Iran). We saw, with the collapse of the Communist Block, how a little bit of prosperity can fuel demands for true freedom. However …

OK, here’s the thing about that last two paragraphs. It’s tempting to try to wedge this is into our political tribalism. But the world does not revolve around the United States. Maybe Trump’s open support or Obama’s silence make a difference, but I really doubt it. The US will get blamed for the protests no matter what we do. And I don’t think the protesters really care what the President of the United States says. They’re far more concerned with what’s going on in their own country. And maybe Obama’s nuclear deal or Trump’s [insert something Trump didn’t do which he’ll claim credit for anyway] made a difference. But again, the protests happened when the sanctions were still in place.

No, I think this has way more to do with … stay with me here … Iran and the Iranians. They have a large population of young people who don’t want to live under a theocratic regime. This undercurrent has always been there — people I know who’ve been to Iran tell me it is far more pro-US than the media would have you believe. For example, they held vigils for the fallen on 9/11. I don’t think Iran’s going to become a secular Western non-Israel-hating state anytime soon. But we’ve seen a lot of baby steps toward a more moderate regime. And one of these days — maybe now, maybe ten years from now — we’re going to a big step in that direction.

So what should we do? Again, I don’t think it will make a huge difference what we do. But tempered statements of support for the people are probably fine. Maybe we can even hint at moderating sanctions further with regime change.

I’m just glad we’ve spent the last 20 years ignoring the neocon morons who wanted us to start bombing.

The Tax Bill Passes

So, it happened. The GOP got the votes for the tax bill and it passed both houses today. Trump is guaranteed to sign it.

The reconciliation process fixed some of the flaws in the bill but many of the others — the explosion of debt, the blow to individual insurance markets, the half-baked territorial tax, the BS budget gimmicks that make the bill seem smaller than it actually is — remain. The cut in the corporate tax rate is good as are some of the simplifications. But it’s not the radical reform we needed. In the end, however, the deficit remains my primary concern. This is yet another example of how the GOP has abandoned even the pretense of fiscal conservatism.

That having been said, the reactions from the Left Wing are nothing short of hysterical. Seemingly, every liberal blog out there is calling this a betrayal, a plundering of America, the end of freedom, the end of America, the end of the world. The GOP tax cut bill is irresponsible, but if the “resistance” wants to be taken seriously, they need to knock it off with this apocalyptic bullshit. A bill can be bad and not be the end of the world. And hearing cries about “the process” from people who cheered Obamacare and “fiscal responsibility” from people who thought the stimulus was too small is laughable. This will not be the panacea the Republicans are claiming; but neither will it be armageddon. It’s simply one more step on our way to full fiscal insolvency, a process that’s been going, almost without pause, for 15 years.

What I think really bothers the Left is that Trump finally has an accomplishment he can claim. Frankly, he’s welcome to it.

That last part has been harped on by the Trumpaloos as proof of Trump’s genius. But I have a hard time believing any Republican President wouldn’t have gotten this tax cut through. And they might have gotten a much better and more responsible bill.

I know my blogging has fallen dramatically since Trump’s election. I’ve gone from posting almost every day to maybe once a week. The reason is because I can’t think of much to say. Trump is bad, the Democrats are stupid and the GOP is reckless. Each day of 2017 has been just a rerun of those realities. There are only so many ways I can say the same thing.

Hopefully, 2018 will see some changes. I suspect — or maybe hope is the right word — that the GOP will begin to resist Trump’s worst tendencies now that they’ve gotten their judges and their tax cuts. But we shall see.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, folks.


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.