Ryan Care taught me one thing…

The collapse of Ryan Care was probably the first big failure of the young Trump administration (not counting the tweets-4D chess and all that). And to that, as on many things, I’m of two minds.  For all of its flaws, being able to block grant Medicaid funds to the states and capping its growth would be a major victory; a major reform of a major entitlement program.  Just that would have been a major administration accomplishment.

On the other hand…the bill was seriously flawed in virtually every other way and didn’t meet the President’s goal of providing coverage for everyone.  And even worse than the flaws of the bill, it revealed how amateurish the Republican House was.  It was like they had not even considered the idea of writing a health care bill until a few weeks ago.  And when they did, they repeated every bad Democratic mistake in doing it by keeping the bill writing secret to exclude… not Democrats but the real enemy; other Republicans.  And in fact, it was Republicans that ultimately killed their own reform plan.  Democrats just had to sit by and eat popcorn.

This of course, is yet another example of why the GOP has the amply deserved moniker of the stupid party.  Democrats usually have a handy bill just sitting on the hard drive of Democratic Congressional servers just waiting for a crisis.  You know, so they cannot waste it.  School shooting?  Just hit print and run out to the House floor waving a fully written Gun Control bill, “for the children.”

With Republicans, after passing multiple repeal bills during the Obama years, including having a full replacement bill in committee in 2013, the Options Act, suddenly became the proverbial deer in the headlights; “Wait we won?  That wasn’t supposed to happen!”

So after thinking that the GOP had at least a draft of a consensus plan tucked away waiting for its own opportunity, it soon became obvious that there had probably been not a single meeting or discussion on it until recently.  So after crafting a bill in secret with zero input from any effected groups, it turned out there was no constituency for the bill.  Even the late lamented Options Act had buy in from several conservative think tanks, and Tea Party groups.  No conservative groups even had a peek at it until it was unveiled.

Sorry, but that’s not how you do things.

But…none of that was the “one thing” that Ryan Care taught me.

Have you ever noticed that you never hear the left clamoring for Medicaid for all? Since Medicaid has no premiums, co pays, or deductibles, it’s truly free healthcare (from the consumer point of view). Meanwhile regular Medicare has an 80/20 cost share. Medicaid has lower provider reimbursement rates than Medicare so in theory it should be cheaper. Why shouldn’t the left/liberals/Democrats like Medicaid as the basis of a national healthcare plan over Medicare?

The other day I was on a forum discussing the late, unlamented Ryan plan, and how it weans off Medicaid funds to the states with a different formula over the years. Some left leaning poster complained that means the states would have to raise taxes to make up the difference!  Well duh, but if you’re liberal, shouldn’t that be a feature rather than a bug?  Don’t those guys love taxes, the higher the better?  How could increasing taxes be a flaw in a health care reform plan if you’re liberal?

Epiphany time. Unlike Medicare, which is fully federally funded, states have to pitch in for the cost (not counting the expanded Obamacare version) for Medicaid. Medicare, or any fully federal plan is paid for by deficit spending, so no one is really paying for it (yet) but the states have to tax real money to pay for things like expanding healthcare for people in their own state.  That’s why even the bluest states don’t have their own universal healthcare plans. Vermont tried to do it and spent three years trying to make it work before abandoning it because of taxes.  California is attempting to do it now, and the lessons of its attempt on this regard will be instructive.  I’m not sure any state can afford both a 50 billion dollar bullet train to nowhere and single payer health insurance.

So the lesson?  That’s how you defang the left: Make them pay for it.  A Balanced Budget Amendment would do more to rein in the Democratic Party than any comparative cluster of policy reforms that will be undone by the next Democratic administration.  The basic tools in the Congress and in statehouses across the country are all there to make it happen. Democrats love the rhetoric of raising taxes on the rich but the reality is that the rich are much of their constituency, and it’s not clear how far that constituency is willing to go if every single thing the Democrats want they had to pay for up front.

I’d like to find out.

Who Watches the Intelligence “Experts?”

The other day my wife had me check out an interview she was watching on Hannity since she wanted my feedback.  The interview was with William Binney, a former NSA official who worked for the agency over 30 years.  You figure, a guy like that, with that kind of background, should have some sort of credibility right?

Maybe not.

Just a few observations, other than the obvious one that Hannity really should shut up for a second and let his guests speak.  At 6:20 Binney, in response to a question by Hannity, “so every phone conversation I’ve had in my life you believe has been taped?” Binney responds, “Without warrants, yes that’s right.”

Color me skeptical, but I find it hard to believe that a lifetime of Sean Hannity phone calls has been recorded and are sitting in storage out in Utah, or anywhere.  Maybe I’m naive, but that seems implausible to me.  I just can’t imagine that the technology and storage capacity was there, starting in the 1970’s to record and store every single phone call of a teenage Sean Hannity.  Now? Possibly, but going back decades?  Or maybe Binney didn’t really mean Hannity’s entire life and misunderstood the question.  Or maybe, since he has 30 plus years with the NSA I should shut up since he should know what he’s talking about.

But then at 6:28 he blows any credibility I might have given him when he references the story of former military linguists Adrienne Kinne and David Faulk, “whistleblowers” who made the claim that the US Intelligence Community was deliberately targeting US military and civilians working in Iraq.  This blew up into a big national story for a few days in 2008. And although it’s mostly forgotten now, every so often it’s trotted out in the media as an example of the US Intelligence Community spying on innocent civilians as a routine fact of life and this incident just happened to have been outed by brave whistleblowers speaking truth to power.

I happen to have some peripheral knowledge of that incident and know that the media narrative of it is false.  So why should I trust Binney if he’s bringing that issue up?  More to the point, Binney was out of government by then, so what particular insider knowledge would he have of that incident?

This of course, is just one example of a problem I’m seeing with National Security and Intelligence experts, who go on cable news and, depending on the network, take totally opposite positions on an issue from other National Security and Intelligence experts. It’s by no means unusual for commentators to disagree on cable TV.  I mean, that’s the business model right?  But unlike other commentators and so called experts, commentators on Intelligence issues are trading on their exclusive access to the Intelligence Community and their access to classified information.  But rather than being honest brokers of that kind of access and expertise, they seem to be doing the same thing other cable news talking heads do: exploit their credibility to please the host of whatever show they’re on, in order to get more bookings.

Another “National Security Expert” guest of Hannity’s is LTC Tony Shaffer. Shaffer seems to be more of a wild card than Binney.  He’s claimed that President Obama watched the attack on the consulate at Benghazi from the situation room.  Explosive news if true, but how would Shaffer had known?  It sounds like something he just blurted out.  But Shaffer’s most recent wild eyed claim was that retired NSA and other IC types did the actual hacking of the DNC and gave the information to Wikileaks. Another earth shaking claim if true, but where’s the evidence?  What’s even the basis of the claim?

Another one who plays that game is Malcom Nance, a former Naval Cryptologic Technician and Arabic linguist.  He is also billed as an all-around National Security expert.  He actually has an impressive resume, but when you want to be called to be on panels on MSNBC or the BBC, you have to pick a side, which lead to this tweet a few months ago after the Wikileaks release of John Podesta’s emails:

Now there were no “obvious forgeries” in the Podesta emails.  Even months later, all the information we have on them is that they are authentic. But if a “National Security Expert” tells you they’re “obvious forgeries,” why wouldn’t the average person just accept that? But calling them forgeries, backed up by Nance’s resume, makes good copy; particularly on MSNBC.  That was the kind of national security expertise they want on that network.

Like Nance, John Schindler got his start in the Navy as a Cryptologic Warfare Officer and was a professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College until yada yada yada, and now he runs a National Security blog The XX Committee. Schindler isn’t a cable news whore, but he uses social media in much the same way.

Now…is this just an old friend who is a crusty old liberal and hates Trump, or is this an indication of some cabal in the Intelligence Community that has the goods on Trump and is just waiting for their moment to strike?  Clearly Schindler wants us to think the latter, but who knows?

My point is, I’m not sure that we can take these Intelligence and Security experts at face value.  They all seem to have agendas, whether commercial or personal, and because of the nature of their expertise, they are more or less unchallenged.  They are usually the only ones on a cable news panel that have held a security clearance so it makes them hard to challenge.  And frankly, that even goes for me too.  I dismissed Binney because of his take on the Kinne and Faulk story but I’m not willing to share anything about my issues with it.  So why trust me?

Don’t trust me, but you’re better off not trusting any of these “experts” until you can discern their real motives and agendas. And even then…

Is Demography Still Destiny?

A friend who is aware of my interest in the link between demographic change and political change slipped me this article, Why Demography Does Not Equal Destiny.  You don’t hear much these days about demographics in politics since last November 9th, other than the talk about that new group that politicos recently discovered; the white working class.  Who are these guys and where did they come from?

So it’s no surprise there is a lot of handwringing among the Demographics=Destiny crowd.  The article summarizes its main points:

  1. Demographic change is not evenly dispersed in states and voting districts throughout the country.
  2. Voting behavior is not static. Voters more readily change which party they support than the demography-is-destiny models anticipated.
  3. Despite the large change in the demographic composition of the electorate, most voters still do not self-identify as liberals. In fact, liberals remain bronze medalists in the ideological breakdown of the electorate—ever since the question was first asked decades ago.

I don’t disagree with the generalities of these points.  In fact I share them to a degree and wrote about the snags and hiccups on the way to permanent Democratic rule over two years ago. Most voters are not liberal, at least they are not self-identified ones, and the purging of the moderate wing that began in 2010 has left the Democratic Party with few moderates for mainstream Americans to identify with.  Political decisions matter too, and President Obama’s decision to go make Obamacare, rather than “comprehensive immigration reform” his first massive push doomed his party to an easy opening for attack.  The Tea Party sprang up to fight Obamacare and the political cost for moderate blue dog Democrats to vote for it was the loss of their seats, leaving a smaller, and more left leaning Democratic Party in its wake.

So for the past few years, the Democratic Party has been hurt more by stupid political decisions than helped by Demographic change.  Nobody told them that they had to make a granny with 30 years of criminal investigations and corruption behind her the party’s nominee.

However…

Even though the Democrats nominated the worst candidate possible she still won the popular vote by 3 million votes.  That really brings truth to the old saying about yellow dog Democrats; they would vote for a dog if it was running on the Democratic ticket. But that goes to Point One; demographic change is not evenly dispersed.  No it isn’t.  Particularly when you consider that the Hillary’s popular vote lead is entirely attributable to California.  Without California, Trump won the popular vote by 1.4 million votes.  That’s the power of demographics.

California is the textbook case, and the canary in the coal mine on unbridled Demographic change. The Center for Immigration Studies did a study comparing California from 1970 to 2008. Just a few observations:

Legal and illegal immigrants went from 9 to 27%.

Went from 7th most educated workforce to 50th (that’s dead last for the California educated!).

Went from 25th in income inequality to 6th.

Conclusion?  If you try to replicate Latin America in California, don’t be surprised if you get something that looks very much like…Latin America; high income inequality, with a very wealthy and educated elite with a large poor and uneducated mass of people, and of course, one party rule. California has successfully duplicated the Mexican model. And California, which has for decades been the early adopter of future American trends, shows us what the entire country will look like in a few decades.

So yes, other things matter too, not just demographics, however as California demonstrates, all things being equal, over time demographic change is probably the largest single determinate.  Demographically speaking, as Ann Coulter pointed out, “If the same country that voted in 1980 had voted in 2012, Romney would have won a bigger landslide than Reagan did.”

In the Trump, Black Swan era, it’s easy to dismiss demographic change as having an effect on our politics, but there it is, chugging along, year after year, turning the United States into California.

 

 

 

“Democracies Don’t End Well”

That pearl of wisdom, democracies don’t end well, came from none other than renowned political philosopher Rob Schneider.  I came across this nugget in my twitter feed about two and a half years ago from a radio interview that Rob Schneider was doing to promote a stand up bit in Philly.  I moved it into long term storage and only recently had time to go back and look at it; to remind myself why I was saving it in the first place. Long time readers of this blog may know that one of the first posts I did when starting this blog was a review of Rob Schneider’s then new TV show, ¡Rob!  The review wasn’t exactly a kind one and the show lasted only 8 episodes before mercifully being put down.  However the review I wrote lived on.  For years, it showed up as my second most popular post (beaten only be the one I wrote on my first time with a male dental hygienist) and low carb frozen Lean Cuisine meals.

But getting back to Schneider’s observation; no, it’s by no means original.  In fact in an earlier age (meaning virtually every other time period until the modern era) it was considered a truism.  Other thinkers had expressed the same thought.

“A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”  Alexander Fraser Tytler

Of course, this wasn’t merely an enlightenment sentiment.  The ancients thought much the same thing.

Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.”Plato

The founding fathers were explicit in their disdain for democracy.  They intended to create a Republic, not a democracy.

“Democracy is the most vile form of government. … democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”  -James Madison

“We are a Republic. Real Liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy.”  -Alexander Hamilton

“A simple democracy is the devil’s own government.” –Benjamin Rush

Can you imagine a contemporary American political figure making such an observation in public?  He would be outside the bounds of decent conversation.

That’s unfortunate because now seems like a good time to have a public conversation about it. I’ve never, in my life time, seen the Democrats in general and liberals in particular, reject the outcome of an election and plot to overturn it.  Starting with the rubric of fake news, the Russians-did-it, Calexit, The attempted Electoral College coup, boycotting the inauguration and now CNN gives a step by step guide on how to assassinate Trump and keep Democrats in charge.

This is CNN.

If ever there was a news story that perfectly expressed the wish that the heart makes over at CNN, it’s this one; explaining how they could  overturn the election and keep the Democrats in power for the next four…ah who am I kidding?  To keep them in power forever.  In fact, I was very nearly holding my breath until the inauguration was over, thinking that a CNN cap wearing assassin might try to do some damage.

We’re in uncharted territory here.  Half the country, including its major institutions such as the media and academia, flat out rejects the results of the election.  The last time Democrats rejected the results of a Presidential election we had a civil war.  Although I don’t see one on the offing yet, the precedent being established here is a dangerous one.

For all of his flaws, Obama was not the guy to tap his scepter and decide to remain in power “for the good of the country.”  But  we’ve just raised a generation of snowflakes whose political identity has been inculcated in an environment in which every authority source in their world (the media. social media, and academia mostly) have spent the past two months telling them that the election was illegitimate and concocting schemes to try to subvert it.

So would the next Democratic President (and there will be one) give up power to a non-establishment Republican?  Or establishment one for that matter? Would the country follow him, or reject him as an American Caesar, trying to overturn a Democratic government?  There is every reason to think that our peaceful transfer of power days are coming to a close.

Well Mr. Franklin, and Mr. Schneider, we’ve had a Republic, and it looks like there is a possibility we won’t be keeping it after all.

Giffords Anniversary: It’s Gotten Worse Since Then

On this day in 2011, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot and seriously injured by a crazed gunman.  As the anniversary that kicked off one of the most vicious media smear campaigns in recent media history, probably unrivaled until 2016 when Donald Trump became “literally Hitler,” it’s worth looking back and just how corrupt the media can be.

The day following the assassination attempt I wrote a post about the absolute insanity that erupted from the left/main stream media in the wake of that shooting.  I went back to read it to see if, 6 years later, it still holds up.  It does.  Just a brief excerpt:

“With the Tucson shooting of Arizona Representative Gabrielle  Giffords, the mainstream media  and the leftie blogosphere wasted no time in drawing conclusions and blame for the shooting:  The Tea Party, Sarah Palin (of course!) and the climate of heated political rhetoric.  Of course, any examples used are borrowed strictly from the right.  Although I heard comparisons to Timothy McVeigh, for a bombing that occurred in 1995, I’ve yet to hear mention of the Discovery channel gunman, who actually credited a left political agenda to his rampage; when that occurred only last September.

But… that’s the nature of our biased news environment.  It’s so ubiquitous that most viewers wouldn’t even question that Tea Party inspired heated political rhetoric is at root of this shooting.  Why should they?  Every Sunday morning news show I watched today asked that same question.  Any soul searching required will be requested of the right, not the left.  Their overheated political rhetoric is just fine.  Of course the new media and the internet make that more difficult to pull off.   Now, there are multiple voices.  People aren’t limited to what the big three networks think are the right questions, and what they think of as newsworthy. 

And the Democrats have been fairly explicit on where they want to put the blame for this shooting:

One veteran Democratic operative, who blames overheated rhetoric for the shooting, said President Barack Obama should carefully but forcefully do what his predecessor did.

 “They need to deftly pin this on the tea partiers,” said the Democrat. “Just like the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people.””

Of course the whole thing got started off by Paul Krugman’s infamous post at The New York Times:

“A Democratic Congresswoman has been shot in the head; another dozen were also shot.

We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was. She’s been the target of violence before. And for those wondering why a Blue Dog Democrat, the kind Republicans might be able to work with, might be a target, the answer is that she’s a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona, precisely because the Republicans nominated a Tea Party activist. (Her father says that “the whole Tea Party” was her enemy.) And yes, she was on Sarah Palin’s infamous “crosshairs” list.

Just yesterday, Ezra Klein remarked that opposition to health reform was getting scary. Actually, it’s been scary for quite a while, in a way that already reminded many of us of the climate that preceded the Oklahoma City bombing.”

At the time that post and all the subsequent reaction seemed unprecedented, but now of course, particularly after the past election season and current soft coup attempts by the media, it seems business as usual.  We have a new phrase to describe the Jared Loughner-Sarah Palin connection: Fake News.

It was an issue of great personal eye opening disappointment for me as well.  As a long time science fiction fan, I grew up reading the likes of Robert Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle.  They were generally right leaning libertarian types, with a lot of rugged individualism thrown into their stories, although their stories were nonpolitical. I read of course left leaning science fiction writers as well, such as Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Kim Stanley Robinson, Joe Haldeman, and Fredrick Pohl. These guys told great stories and didn’t let their personal politics get in the way of that.  So I just didn’t expect the world of science fiction to so reflect the utter debasing of our political discourse.  I expected it to be above that.

Well it turns out it isn’t.  Or it least these days it isn’t.  I used to be a regular reader of SF author John Scalzi’s website Whatever.  At the time, I thought it would be fun to be on a site with other science fiction fans, but the Giffords shooting quickly disabused me of that.  The comments from Scalzi on the shooting can best be described as Krugman lite.  In other words: despicable.  I can understand Krugman being Krugman, but I honestly and naively expected Science Fiction writers to be better than that.

They’re not.

Now days Scalzi gets a lot of mockery from the Alt Right on their sites.  It’s richly deserved.  And Scalzi, Krugman, and the media in general have only gotten worse.  So far, there is no bottom.

A Couple of Quick Economic Fixes

With Donald Trump’s ascension to the throne taking of the oath of office imminent, I thought there were a few quick economic fixes that the upcoming Trump administration might be open to that the outgoing Obama administration never would have been.

Stop paying interest on bank reserves

The Fed should reduce or eliminate the interest rate it pays on the roughly $2.5 trillion of banks’ excess reserves. There may have been some good economic theories prior to the financial crisis as to why we should pay banks to not lend money, however the practical effect of that is that banks have far less incentive to loan out money than it did.  So no surprise, it’s now harder to secure business loans.  From the banks point of view, it’s a win/win.  They either don’t loan out money for a small interest rate, or loan the money out for a larger interest rate. If the practice of paying interest by the FED on excess interest vanished, banks would keep less cash on deposit at the Fed. The liberated funds would probably flow mainly into the money markets, but some would probably find their way into increased lending—which would give the economy a little boost.

Restore the Taylor Rule

In 2013 Carnegie Mellon Professor Allan Meltzer testified at a Congressional hearing that in its “100-year life the Fed has produced “only two multi-year periods [1923-1928 and 1985-2002] during which inflation was low, real income and employment fluctuations were modest and recessions were mild.” The common denominator in those two periods was a monetary rule, first the “gold-exchange standard” and later “the Taylor rule.””

Well there is little chance that we’re going back to the gold standard, but the Taylor Rule is much more likely. The Taylor rule states that, “for each one-percent increase in inflation, the central bank tends to raise the nominal interest rate by more than one percentage point.” Locking in a rule like that again, might provide a little bit more stability to both the markets and the banking system.

Corporations repatriate overseas funds via tax free loans to the government

One of the Trump economic plans to bring home overseas profits from US corporations involve allowing US companies to repatriate profits back to the US by paying just a flat 10% or tax instead of the usual 35% US corporate tax rate. That’s not a bad idea, but there is another way to skin that same cat that also works into financing another Trump idea, the 1 Trillion dollar infrastructure proposal.

Instead of charging the 10% fee on returning corporate profits, let the companies offer the government long-term, no-interest financing in lieu of cash. Although an interest free loan to the government benefits more than just financing infrastructure, if you are going to spend money for infrastructure, doing it with no interest loans is not a bad way to do it.

Switch emphasis of Small business administration to new businesses

Economic research has shown that small businesses, just by virtue of being small businesses, don’t add to job growth, new businesses do. New businesses account for 3% US employment but 20% of new jobs.  So it seems that should be encouraged. Switching the mandate and focus of the Small Business Administration to focus on new companies (the type that are more likely to generate innovation) seems a better bet if you want to generate jobs than just keeping small businesses small.

Granted, these are all small scale ideas, but a good economic environment is made up of a lot of factors, some big, some small. The more little tweaks that are made to the overall economic environment of the country, the better.

 

 

Predictions for 2017

Given how well I did with my 2016 Predictions I thought I would give it another go and see what I thought would be likely for 2017.

At least 3 terrorist attacks in Western Europe resulting in double digit casualties.  Why?  Because Muslims will continue to be Muslim.

Angela Merkel wins the Nobel Peace Prize.  Because that is exactly the kind of retarded thing the Nobel Prize Committee would do.

Most of the ObamaCare (ACA) legislation will be repealed.  I say most because there are a few items that may be either too politically popular (keeping kids on their parent’s plan until 26) or were already part of Republican replacement plans (pre-existing conditions).

The FED will raise interest rates by at least three-quarters of a point.  The FED just recently raised the short term interest rates by a quarter of a point, the first increase in 2016.  This strikes me as a totally political decision, since Janet Yellen was a target of Trump and I’ve no doubt she’ll raise rates at least another ¾ of a point in 2017 in hopes of stalling the economy to punish Trump for his impertinence.

Articles of Impeachment against Donald Trump will be introduced in the House.  Why?  Because the Democrats are already talking about that now.  Waiting until Trump is President is merely a formality.

There will be at least one assassination attempt against Donald Trump this year. When the media has been promoting the “literally Hitler” meme for the past year, would it be surprising that some earnest liberals take the Dead Zone option and try to take Greg Stillson out?

Marine Le Pen will be elected President of France.  Although Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission predicted an establishment deal to elect a Muslim political party winning the Presidency of France, in real life the current populist uprising may hit the French shores quicker than you can say The Camp of the Saints. Brexit, Trump, and the constant Islamic terrorist attacks may cause a public revulsion where people will just say, “enough.”  In some ways, that would be a bigger deal than Trump winning the Presidency.  The French establishment has been fighting populist nationalism a lot longer than the American GOP-Democratic-Media alliance.  So if that goes, dominos will fall all over Europe with dismal prospects for the EU.  That would slide in nicely with another prediction of mine, that the EU will be mostly undone by 2020.

Not really a prediction, more of a certainty, but every foreign policy decision made by the Trump White House will be called either idiotic or ignorant.