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The Latest Line of Koch

According to a largely overlooked report in The Washington Post, the “Koch network” is “turning away from partisan politics,” which strikes us as an intriguing development. The story has significant implications for President Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican party, and will surely be of hopeful interest to the Democratic party and the rest of the left, and it has a special local interest for us.
The multi-billionaire and big-bucks political donor to conservative causes Charles Koch has long been a leading villain of the conspiracy theories spun on the left, much as multi-billionaire and big bucks donor to liberal causes George Soros is the bogeyman of all the right’s conspiracy theories, which we’ve always found amusing.
It’s hard for us to believe that the headquarters of the diabolically ingenious organization secretly controlling everything is Koch Industries, which is located right next door to where we attended elementary school on the outskirts boring old Wichita, Kansas, and the company has always been a good neighbor. The local zoo’s award-winning ape exhibit was paid for by the Koch family, you can’t go to the city’s surprisingly excellent art museum or symphony orchestra or musical theater troupe without seeing Koch’s generosity prominently thanked in the program, the Friends University dance department that provides some of the the best of the city’s ballet offerings was started by the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation of his parents, and if you’re lucky to attend a Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball game they play in the very swank Charles Koch Arena, and the family has funded some charities for the poor as well. Wichita’s still a small enough enough town that we’ve had a couple of personal encounters with the internationally notorious Charles Koch, who lives not far from our parents’ swank retirement home over on the east side, and we’ve found him an affable fellow.
Koch has also spent a considerable chunk of his vast fortune funding anti-tax and pro-free market causes here and around the country and the world, which is why the left hates him so, but for the most part that’s been fine with us. The “tea party” movement that briefly fought for fiscal sanity was a genuine grassroots movements, but there’s no denying it was fertilized a bit by Koch’s money, and although the left recoiled in horror we wish it were still around. We’ve voted for most of the politicians that Koch has funded around here, and rooted for most the of ones he funded in other states and districts, and generally agree with his red-in-tooth-and-claw sort of capitalism. He’s carefully stayed out of the abortion politics and other social issues that are so contentious around here, and we think he’s been wise to do so.
There have been the occasional differences of opinion. Koch was a big backer of Gov.. Sam Brownback’s admittedly radical tax-and-budget-slashing agenda, which we eagerly voted for, but he continued to back it even after we had to begrudgingly admit it hadn’t worked out quite as promised. We’re also the sort of traditional Pax Americana Republicans who can’t agree with Koch’s characteristically Libertarian isolationist foreign policy, although we have to admit that’s one reason the conspiracy theories sound crazy. The one thing that Koch and Soros have agreed on over the years was their opposition to the Iraq War, and we note that despite their combined billions and alleged world-shaking influence they couldn’t stop that from happening.
Which makes it interesting to read in The Washington Post that Koch and his network of well-heeled and like-minded big bucks donors have “emphasized new investments in anti-poverty initiatives and reentry programs for former convicts.” At their annual meeting in a luxury resort the group “also announced a new education initiative.” Unstated but more important, they once again won’t be giving any money to the Trump campaign, much less the big bucks that Republican nominees used to get. Trump’s populist base will no doubt boast that it goes to show he can’t be bought, even by the most ideologically pure capitalist billionaires, but they’ll likely need both the money and the free market sort of voters it brings in.
Koch and his well-heeled buddies presumably like the tax bill Trump signed and the deregulations he’s ordered by executive action, as do we, for the most part, although they probably share our preference they’d been more carefully done. Trump’s military retreats from former spheres of American probably don’t bother them, either, although we think they should. On several other matters, though, Trump is estranged from both Koch’s libertarianism and our old-fashioned conservatism, which leaves the Republican party is in poor shape.
Trump’s trade wars are an affront to Koch’s free-market sensibilities, and although we’re not taking the same financial hit as our multi-national neighbor we share hit outrage. Koch is far more cool with mass immigrants than Trump seems to be, too, and although we don’t enjoy the same benefits of cheap labor neither do we support Trump’s panicked call for big and beautiful border wall. Over the two years Trump worked with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress the country racked up trillion dollar deficits, despite a booming economy that Trump frequently bragged about, and now that the Democrats have a majority in the House and growth is slowing that doesn’t look to get better, and we can hardly blame Koch and his well-heeled buddies for not wanting to fund more of that.
On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard defenders can rightly note that only likely alternative is the damned Democrats and George Soros and all the socialist conspiracies he’s funding, and we guess that Koch and most of his well-heeled buddies will agree with us that’s also pretty damned frightening. Even so, we’re pleased to see that our far richer and more influential neighbor has joined us here on the political sidelines, and we’ll be grateful if Koch can do for poor people and convicted felons as well as they’ve done for our local arts and sporting and economic ┬ácommunities, and we’ll try out best to chip in..

— Bud Norman

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At Least You Can’t Call It Trumpcare

The Senate’s Republicans unveiled their plan for America’s health care on Thursday, and although it’s an admirably short 142 pages there’s a lot consider about the policy and political implications. As President Donald Trump once infamously said, “Who knew health care could be so complicated?”
The policy implications alone will take weeks of debate among people who actually have some idea what they’re talking about to sort out, but the previously unannounced bill is currently scheduled for a vote early next week. So far as we can tell from the news reports that concern themselves with the boring policy stuff, the Senate Republicans’ repeal and replaces some elements of the existing unpopular Obamacare law, differs somewhat from the even more unpopular bill that was passed by the House of Representatives’ Republicans, and will predictably leave some people better off and others worse off. Calculating how likely it is that this all comes out according to the greatest good to the greatest number of people is pretty damned complicated, as even the most greenhorn politician by now knows, and it looks as if we’ll just have to wait until we’re old and sick and to see how all that turns out,
We like to think ourselves far more savvy about the political implications of any given policy, but in this case that’s also pretty darned complicated. That unpopular Obamacare law has been the metaphorical Moby Dick to the Republicans’ Captain Ahab ever since the Democrats took momentary advantage of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and a Democratic president to force the hated legislation down the throats of a reluctant American populace without a single Republican vote. Now there’s a momentary majority of Republicans in the House and Senate and a Republican in the White, so that unpopular Obamacare should be right in the aim of the Republicans’ harpoon, but it’s unlikely they’ll join to pass and unpopular bill of their own.
So far as we can tell both the House and Senate bills allow people to choose a wider range of policy options from a more competitive insurance market, and after a couple of years they’ll let the rest of the country free from paying the subsidies to government-created high risk markets, which is fine with our free-market sensibilities. After that, though, hey’ll also cut loose the beneficiaries of those markets, some of whom voted a straight Republican ticket last time around, and we’re not sure hot they’ll take it.. Planned Parenthood won’t receive any funds for a year, which the right will love and the left will loathe, and certain insurance industry subsidies will continue for a while and a lot of spending will eventually be spent at the state level, and there’s something for every conservative Republican to hate and something that every liberal Democrat will have to admit could have been worse.
Which makes it a tough news cycle for the Republicans. As hated as the Obamacare still is, and well deserves to be, the Republican alternatives from both the House and Senate have even more unpopular. The House bill results in a tax break for wealthier Americans, which might make economic sense but is hard to explain in a headline, and there’s no getting around that some telegenically sympathetic Americans would wind up without health care and on national news as a result, so it will take a pretty noticeable decline in a lot of Americans’ insurance premiums to offset the Republicans’ public relations damage. Both the House and Senate bills retain the unsustainable rules about giving the same priced coverage to pre-existing conditions and for now provide the billions of dollars of subsidies that props that up, but no one on the left is going to give the Republicans credit for that nor acknowledge how unsustainable that will be over is the long run.
There’s a lot for an old-fashioned Republican to like in both the House and Senate bills, but there’s enough to hate that the House bill passed by despite numerous defections and the Senate bill might not get to a simple majority, and all the talk radio hosts were fuming that it wasn’t the full repeal and replacement of Obamacare that they’d been chasing after for eight long years. We’d have to see some district-level polling to decide how we’d vote if we were one of the entire House or that third of the Senate was up re-election. What with those Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate and a Republican in White House the Republicans should be able to ram anything they want down the American public’s throats in the same way the Democrats did with that damned Obamacare law, but of course that’s also complicated.
Trump ran for the president on a solemn pledge to repeal and a replacement that hated Obamacare law, but except for assurances that it would provide coverage for everyone at a far lower cost and be so great it would make your head spin he wasn’t very clear on what it would look. He spoke admiringly of Scotland’s fully nationalized health care system, seemed to endorse Canada’s slightly-less-socialized single payer system, and bragged that unlike every other Republican he wouldn’t make any cuts in in Medicaid or other entitlement programs. Unlike the previous scenario when Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and a president in the White House were ramming things down the American public’s throat, a sufficient number of traditionally conservative Republican senators are taking a principled stand and the president is going his populist ways.
Trump celebrated the passage of the House bill with a beer bash at the White House, even though he’s a tee-totaler himself and the House passing a bill isn’t even a halfway marker toward getting something done. After that budget-cutting bill was celebrated he “tweeted” that more federal money should be spent on health, and it was leaked from pretty much every traditional conservative that Trump had called the House bill “mean” in a tense meeting with the House Republicans, and it’s not yet clear how he’ll respond to a similar Republican bill,
On the night before the Senate Republicans unveiled their health care bill Trump was revving another enthusiastic campaign rally, some eight months after the campaign was supposed to have ended, Trump said he was hopeful would that it would have “heart.” A news cycle isn’t nearly long to discern Trump’s thinking, so for now we’ll have to see if the legislation as sufficient heart to satisfy Trump. All of Trump’s most strident defenders on talk radio and other outposts of the conservative media find it all too bleeding-heart, many of his voters find it potentially life-threatening, and we can only guess where Trump will wind up. We can’t imagine the Democrats seizing this golden opportunity to kiss up to Trump for that single payer system they’ve always dreamed of, or Trump abandoning that portion of the Republican party that’s all he’s got left at the moment, so we expect some desultory compromise on America’s health care.
We’ll hope that it somehow works out with that greatest good for the greatest number, and given how awful that Obamacare law was we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if something better did somehow come to pass.

— Bud Norman

Overselling Obamacare and Trumpcare

From our birth up until the Indiana primary of last year or so we were as steadfastly Republican a soul as you’re likely to find even here in deep-red Kansas, so of course we’ve been anxiously awaiting the repeal of Obamacare for coming up on eight long years now, but president-elect Donald Trump’s latest statements to The Washington Post on the subject are not reassuring. He’s long promised repeal, and by now we don’t doubt him a bit about that, but he’s also promising a replacement that would provide “lower numbers, much lower deductibles” and “insurance for everybody.” Which sounds great, especially when he insists we believe him, because that he can tell us, OK?, but we can’t help suspecting it sounds a bit too great.
Being street-savvy and wised-up sorts of erstwhile Republicans we were never fooled by President Barack Obama’s assurances that his eponymous Obamacare would save the average American family $2,500 a year and insure everybody and not add a single dime to the national debt, or any of that blather about how if you like your plan you can keep your plan and if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, and along with every last Republican Senator and Representative in Congress, even the ones from those wimpy northeastern states and districts, we were against it all along. It sounded so convincing, what with those well-crafted phrases delivered in that smooth baritone voice, but the numbers never did add up. Given all the same ongoing laws of probability and supply and demand and the rest of darned reality, we’re doubtful that Trump will be any more able to deliver on a promise of both lower deductibles and universal coverage. Liberals more honest than Obama have always acknowledged that universal coverage will entail greater universal costs, more honest conservatives than Trump have always countered that leaving free people to pursue their self-interests will results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people even if there are some costs entailed, but the more demagogic types on both ends of the spectrum will always promise that no such hard choices need be made.
Feel free to disagree, as there are arguments aplenty to be made, but our prairie Republican instincts incline us to side with free people pursuing their own self-interests and the government having as little to do with it as possible. We don’t want people dying in the street, and are quite willing to limp along with a health care system that pays for indigent emergency care through whatever convoluted and no doubt costly means the pre- and post-Obamacare systems provided, bit if you’re claiming to have come up with something so ingenious that it can simultaneously cover everyone and lower everyone’s costs we’re going to be skeptical no matter what party you’re claiming to represent.
As usual with Trump’s triumphant claims, there was a follow-up interview with a more well-spoken spokesman who reassured all us conservatives, as the term was formerly defined, that Trump was actually talking about such free-market reforms as eliminating interstate competition in the insurance market. That does seem a good idea to us, as do some other of those free-market reforms he mentioned, but even that more well-spoken spokesman didn’t attempt to explain how they’d wind up with both lower deductibles and universal coverage. Presumably he meant to imply that such free-market reforms would lower health insurance premiums and other costs to point there was “universal access,” which is what the the Republicans have always called their best effort at the greatest good for the greatest number of people, but we wish he’d just gone with that persuasively honest term, which at least won’t wind up seeming so ridiculous as all that nonsense about Obamacare’s big savings and debt-neutrality and keeping your plan and doctor.
Hating Obamacare is such a longstanding habit by now that almost any other national health care policy will seem a welcome relief, however, and we’ll hold out hope that the mostly pre-Trumpian Republicans in Congress will continue hating it for the some doctrinaire reasons and be suspicious of any newly peddled snake oil claims about everything working out well for everyone.

— Bud Norman

Oh-High-Oh

The good people of Ohio will vote today on a referendum called Issue 3, which would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana use and confer a legal marijuana-growing monopoly on the ┬ásmall group of wealthy investors who have largely bankrolled the public relations campaign for its passage. This is quite the dilemma for certain types of both conservatives and liberals, but we expect that even the most addled Buckeye potheads will be able to figure out that it’s a bad idea all around.
The more sober of the libertarian sort of conservatives will have to weigh their aversion to legal monopolies on anything against the prospect of legal weed, while the more fervent sort of liberals will have weigh their enthusiasm for both legal weed and legal monopolies against their aversion to small groups of wealthy investors getting rich on anything, and it will be interesting to see how they both choose. The social conservatives won’t find anything to like in the deal, of course, and those Democrats honest enough to admit they don’t mind a good public-private sweetheart deal so long as the state gets its cut won’t find anything wrong with it. So far as we can tell about the ideological composition of the Ohio electorate, this means the referendum could come down to the pothead vote.
If so, any hookah-huffing Ohioan should consider the question from a self-interested perspective and realize that a legal monopoly is always unlikely to meet his demand with a reliable and high-quality and cost-efficient supply better than the currently illegal and thus entirely free market. Should the referendum pass those tax dollars that are tempting even the straightest sorts of voters will be added to the price of a bag, monopolies tend to raise prices further yet, regulators regularly get involved to stifle innovations and further raise prices, and eventually there is a certain wistful nostalgia for the good old days of Prohibition and the friendly unincorporated neighborhood speakeasy and that old neighborhood hippie who always had The Allman Brothers playing during a deal. Given that almost nobody gets jailed for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana anymore, unless they happen to have some on them when they get busted for a more serious crime and have it added on the charges for the sake of plea bargain negotiations, an otherwise law-abiding marijuana enthusiast would not be better of if the referendum were to win.
We won’t be surprised if it does win, though. Public opinion has slowly crawled to a bare-majority support for legalized marijuana, those promised tax dollars are always tempting to voters, by now pretty much everyone knows someone who uses marijuana that they don’t care to send to jail, and such outrageous cronyism and corruption and convoluted capitalism as Issue 3 represents can be sold as responsible regulation of some ineradicable problem. Gambling used to be widely considered a social evil, and was as strictly forbidden as marijuana ostensibly remains in most jurisdictions, but the lure of tax dollars and the pervasiveness of gambling and the promises of sensible regulation have resulted in legal monopolies on “gaming” within a short drive of almost every American. We’ve got a big Indian casino just a few miles of high-speed Interstate south of our own very conservative city, although the office basketball pool and the weekly poker games in the buddy’s basement and the craps games that are said to still flourish on South Broadway remain as illegal as ever, and that referendum passed with the support of all the local business groups as well as all the liberals who hate every industry except the one that does nothing but separate suckers from their money.
All the local offices are still having basketball pools and the same old married guys are still sneaking away to weekly poker games and South Broadway will always be South Broadway, even if the big Indian casino south of town does draw a significant share of the local gambling market, and we expect that a similar legal arrangement regarding the marijuana market will yield similar results. We know a fellow who lives in a remote mountain town in Colorado where there are seven legal marijuana shops to serve a town with a year-round population of 2,300, and we take his word for it that most of the local vipers still patronize the same unlicensed and untaxed and unregulated and downright illegal dealers they bought from before “legalization.” Those promises of tax dollars won’t be kept, the promises of responsible regulation will prove even more overstated, and the inherent problems of an illegal market that can’t call the cops to resolve a grievance will remain.
If Ohioans decide not to send anyone to jail for smoking marijuana that will be fine by us, and neither will we worry if they choose to retain the current laws and continue to enforce them with the usual laxity. We hope they won’t decide on some middle ground that makes it legal for one person to sell the stuff but continues to make it illegal for others, though, as that sort of two-tier legal system does not serve the purpose of democracy and there is way too much of that going on already.

— Bud Norman