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Distraction and Desperation

With less than six days before the midterm election polls close the news is even busier than usual.
Some lost and lonely loser in Florida stands accused of sending mail bombs to at last a dozen prominent Democratic politicians and activists, and another lost and lonely loser is in a Pennsylvania jail awaiting charges of slaughtering 11 Jews as they worshipped God in a Pittsburgh synagogue. An hilariously inept plot to frame the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” for ’70s-era sexual harassment has fallen apart, and is now the subject of a federal investigation of its own. There are the usual campaign issues, too, such an ongoing debate about mandating that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions which the Democrats seem to be winning and the Republicans are reduced to lying about. The economy continues to chug along well enough, but lately the stock markets have been up and down and mostly down.
Given all that, we’re not surprised that President Donald Trump is mostly talking about the impending invasion of Middle Eastern terrorists and Central American lepers who are marching the last 900 miles or so of their journey to America’s southern border, along with the rest of the invading army of dark-hued others who are already here. Trump is promising to send as many as 15,000 American troops to join the thousands of National Guardsmen and Border Patrol agents currently in place to turn back a few thousand unarmed and no doubt worn out asylum-seekers, and threatening to repeal the 14th amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship with an executive order. All the die-hard fans are cheering it on at Trump’s non-stop rallies and on certain conservative media, but to most of the rest of us it smacks of desperation.
The last invasion of the southern border by thousands of walking and unarmed asylum-seekers mostly petered out by the time it arrived at the border, with the usual Border Patrol contingent well able to handle the resulting 14 arrests for illegal immigration, and this one looks no scarier. Trump freely admits he has no proof that it’s being organized and funded some of those prominent Democratic politicians and activists who recently received pipe bombs in the mail, and none of those certain conservative media have yet to document any Middle Eastern terrorists or lepers, so more military power than we’re currently deploying against the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State combined seems an overreaction. We still like to think ourselves law-and-order conservatives, but we hail from a more hopeful era when even the most rock-ribbed Republicans thought that the border laws could be enforced without violating the Posse Comitatus Act or America’s treaty obligations to grant due process to the claims of asylum-seekers, and without building tent cities and orphaning children and all the other cruelties that today’s law-and-order crowd seem to crave.
Back in that more hopeful era the law-and-order sorts of rock-ribbed Republicans used to venerate the Constitution and insist it be interpreted according to its plain language, and to disdain the use of executive orders by power-grabbing presidents, but that’s no longer the case. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution plainly states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the state wherein they reside,” and way back in 1895, when there was a “Yellow Peril” that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act and long before the damned liberals infested the judicial system, the Supreme Court ruled that plain language meant that even though a impoverished cook named Wong Kim Ark was born to Chinese parents his birth on American soil had conferred him American citizenship. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the legal scholar who’s married to Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway and numerous other old-fashioned Republican types agree, and even many of the Republicans who think we would well be rid of birthright citizenship say that it shouldn’t be accomplished by the stroke of a presidential pen.
Trump in turn “tweeted” back that “Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the Majority rather than giving his opinions on Birthright Citizenship, something he knows nothing about!” The entirely autodidactic constitutional scholar then laid out his argument in two separate “tweets.”
“So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other. It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof.’ Many legal scholars agree …
“Harry Reid was right in 1993, before he and the Democrats went insane and started with the Open Borders (which brings massive Crime) “stuff.” Don’t forget the nasty term Anchor Babies. I will keep our Country safe. This case will be decided by the Supreme Court!”
Such elegant English prose is hard to argue with, but we’ll take a stab at it. Birthright citizenship might well be ended some day, and perhaps for good reason, but surely it makes some difference if it happens the constitutional way or or some other way. We have no more idea what “subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ than Trump does, but we suspect the Supreme Court of 1895 had a grasp of the concept, and we’ll dare Trump to say that only the citizens in the United States are subject to its jurisdiction. We’ll also note that White House press secretary couldn’t name of those legal scholars who agreed with Trump, and that don’t consider former Senator Harry Reid any sort of constitutional authority. The nasty term “Anchor Babies” refers to immigrants who bring their family into the country through the nastily-termed “chain migration,” and although that’s also a fair debate we’re disappointed that Trump prefers to discuss it in admittedly nasty terms. We’ll take Trump’s word for it that he’ll keep us safe, and we’ve little doubt that any executive-ordered alterations to the previous understanding of the 14th Amendment will be settled in the Supreme Court, and we’ll be interested to see how those plain-text originalists that Trump appointed rule on that.
In the meantime, Trump will have trouble distracting attention from all the rest of the news, little of which currently benefits his Republican party. The pipe bomber and the Synagogue shooter can’t credibly be blamed on the damned Democrats, as all the mail bombs were sent to his most frequent “tweet” targets, and he was snubbed by both Republican and Democratic public officials and some of the grieving families when he paid a consolatory visit to Philadelphia. The “Russia thing” chugs along, Obamacare is somehow polling better than the Trump tax cut, the stock market goes up and down, and that slow-walking invasion is still a thousand long miles away and the midterm elections are just five short days hence.

— Bud Norman

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In the Mean Times of Trump

Way back when we registered to vote as members of the Republican party on our 18th birthday it was the “party of Lincoln,” the Great Emancipator who preserved the Union by brutal means but then vowed to heal its wounds with “Malice toward none and charity toward all.” At this late date in our lives the Grand Old Party is the party of President Donald Trump, and we can’t help noticing the malicious and uncharitable turn it has lately taken.
Not just in the insult comic rhetoric Trump employs at his never-ending campaign rallies, or the mean-spirited and blatantly self-interested way he chooses to to enact even his most defensible policies, but also in our conversations with dear old Republican friends we used to consistently agree with. We used to agree on strict border enforcement policies, for instance, but these days we seem to disagree about whether the border laws can be strictly enforced without traumatizing thousands of children and perhaps losing track of hundreds of them, and whether that that pesky Constitution and its noisome judges and all those treaty obligations America has pledged its scared honor to in past administrations should have anything to do with it.
We’ve lately had a couple of conversations with conservative friends we have long known as good guys always willing to do a favor for a friend in need, and were surprised to hear them defending the family-separation policy even Trump had already disavowed and blamed on those darned Democrats. Neither had been informed by their favored news sources that the Trump administration is failing to meet a court order to reunite those those thousands of children with their parents, and and seemed to admit in sworn court proceedings that they weren’t entirely sure where all of those children were, and both of our friends were uncharacteristically callous to the fates of the children involved.
Both insisted all those Dickensian orphaned-by-Trump urchins of those sob sister stories in the mainstream media were better off than they ever were in the countries their parents had fled, and although the Trump administration isn’t letting anyone into the facilities where the children are known to be held they’re willing to take Trump’s word for it. They’re also both quite sure that almost all those people who made the perilous journey with their children to America to flee their undeniably dysfunctional home countries and apply for asylum according to America’s laws and longstanding sacred honor international treaty obligations did so to leech off America’s welfare system and join the notorious MS-13 gang. Neither was aware that Trump had “tweeted” a complaint about a formerly conservative Republican senator’s proposal to double the number of federal immigration judges in order to deal with a sudden backlog, and further groused that the existing law and the judges who enforced it and America’s longstanding sacred honor treaty obligations all had to go, and neither was much unsettled by our accepted assurances that it was from Trump’s own “twitter” feed and not “fake news” from their less-favored news sources.
Such is the state of “constitutional conservatism” in Trump’s Republican party.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric from the top of party is meaner yet. Last Thursday Trump regaled yet another large campaign rally crowd in Montana, ostensibly on behalf of a Republican Senate candidate he briefly mentioned, and he ratcheted up his insult comic shtick yet another notch. He got another big laugh be reporting his longstanding gag of calling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is “Pocahontas,” based on her past dubious claims of having Native American heritage, and sneaked in a jibe about how he’d have to confront her ever so gently because “we’re in the ‘#MeToo’ generation,” which protests the frequency of sexual harassment and sexual in America. We’re no fans of Warren, but by the gag seems very stale, and although we believe every male or female citizen deserves a fair hearing in the courts of public law and public opinion, we can’t help noticing how eager even our longtime and gentlemanly Republican friends suddenly seem to dismiss even the most plausible complaints about about fellow Republicans grabbing women by their wherever.
More bothersome yet, Trump also aimed his insults at past Republican nominees we proudly voted for. Trump didn’t dare mention the name of Arizona Sen. John McCain, but the draft-dodging reality show star with a lifelong career of self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement got about 6,000 Republicans in lustily boo a dying war hero and past Republican presidential nominee who had devoted his life to often painful public service. The booing was about McCain’s decisive vote to not repeal and replace the hated Obamacare law, but the bill wouldn’t have entirely repealed Obamacare and certainly didn’t replace with the everybody-covered-at-a-fraction-of-the-cost replacement that Trump promised during his pie-in-the-sky campaign, and no matter what you think about McCain’s vote the boos rang unmistakably mean to our ears.
Past Republican president and bona fide war hero and lifelong public servant George H.W. Bush is also dying, and without mentioning the name Trump also ridiculed Bush’s “thousand points of light speech.” The phrase was from a famous speech penned by Reagan’s speechwriter Peggy Noonan about the thousands of individual and collective efforts of America citizens to provide charity to the country’s poor, and Trump scoffed that he never understood what it was talking about, and not nearly so clear in meaning as “Make America Great Again” and “America First.” This struck us as the fourth-grade vocabulary understanding of political rhetoric of Trump and his die-hard fans, and malicious and uncharitable and downright mean.
Trump didn’t bring it up during the Montana rally, but he’s also feuded with previous Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and previous Republican President George W. Bush, and he’s even dared criticize President Ronald Reagan’s North American Free Trade Agreement and embrace of amnesty for illegal aliens and failure to pick Trump as the guy to negotiate the end of the Cold War, and he’s clearly contemptuous of pretty much the entire pre-Trump Republican party.
Trump has given President Richard Nixon a pass, but he’s currently seeking to undo the world trading order and western military alliances that President Dwight Eisenhower nurtured. Trump seems committed to the same sort of Smoot-Hawley protectionism that President Herbert Hoover used to create the Great Depressions, although we doubt he’s aware of any Republican party history prior to his birth, or perhaps his hostile takeover.
Trump always refers to his party’s first nominee as the “late, great Abraham Lincoln” — always adding that “late” part in case you haven’t heard the bad news about Honest Abe — but he doesn’t seem much of a fan. He infamously told a friendly interviewer that Democratic party founder unrepentant slave-holder and unabashed racist President Andrew Jackson could have averted at all that Civil War unpleasantness that happened under Lincoln’s watch. We don’t doubt that draft-dodging Trump would have pursued the civil war with the same brutality of Lincoln, and not lost a moment’s night sleep over it, but we can’t imagine him proposing to restore the Union with malice toward and none and charity toward all. Even our most kind-hearted Republican friends don’t seem to have much interest in that these days.
Which is a shame, because we and our Republican friends can continue to agree that the Democrats are as bad as ever and getting even crazier left by the moment. A Republican resistance is more needed than ever, but one that spoke of malice toward none and charity toward all and a thousand points would be preferable to one that seems to revel in its meanness. Our conservative friends cite the meanness on the left, our liberal friends say they’re only responding in kind, and we miss the Democratic party of such centrists as Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Sen. Scoop Jackson and the Republican party that existed so long before Trump.

— Bud Norman

Ryan and the Old School of Republicanism Bow Out

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced Wednesday that he won’t be running for re-election, so for now his vituperative critics on both the left and right won’t have him to kick around anymore. These days we’re not sure where we land on the political spectrum, but from our current position here on the sidelines we’re going to mostly miss the guy.
Not so long ago when we and our readers considered us rock-ribbed conservative Republicans, Ryan was our guy. He not only talked the necessary talk about averting America’s quickly accruing national debt and eventual bankruptcy, but walked the necessary walk along the perilous path of the painful entitlement reforms and budget cuts that are required to keep America solvent without even more painful tax increases. Such sensible if unappetizing prescriptions naturally outraged the left, which produced widely-seen advertisements depicting Ryan throwing your beloved grandma off a cliff, and he politely but quite resolutely endured the slanders to stand his ground.
Such civil defiance of the Democratic left naturally endeared Ryan to the tax-cutting and budget-balancing “tea party” Republican right of the time, and thus he wound up way back in 2012 as the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket with presidential nominee Mitt Romney to reassure the party’s conservative base that Romney was all right. Romney on his own seemed a sound enough Republican to us at the time, and we still think he’d have been a far better president than incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama, but he’d somehow once been governor of the loony left state of Massachusetts, and had wound up signing into law something that looked an awful lot like the hated-by-Republicans Obamacare act that Obama had signed, and his pick of the steadfastly anti-Obamacare Ryan as a running mate and potentially heartbeat-away-from-the-resident was reassuring to the those of us on the right as it was appalling to those of you on the left.
Both Romney and Ryan wound up enduring the slings and arrows of the left with the civility and calmly convincing arguments we’d come to expect from the best of the Republican party, but they also wound up losing to the hated Obama, and since then the Grand Old Party hasn’t been quite it as it once was. It turns out that a lot of those “tea party” types we once rallied with like their Medicare and Social Security more than they hate the welfare payments that account for a far smaller share of that once-scary national debt, and by 2016 a decisive plurality of the Republican party had concluded that civility and calmly convincing arguments were no longer a match for the slanderous slings and arrows of the left.
Which wound up with putatively Republican President Donald Trump. Trump ran on promises that he wouldn’t mess with any tea partier’s Medicaid or Social Security, somehow balance the budget without any tax increases, build a “big, beautiful” wall too keep Mexicans away and somehow force the Mexicans to pay for it, and he outdid even the right-wing talk radio hosts in talking tough about all those damned Democrats and left-wingers, and he didn’t bother with any of those dull but calmly convincing arguments. Trump wound up losing the popular election by a few million votes, so he eked out enough ballots in a few states Romney narrowly lost, including Ryan’s own Wisconsin, that the former casino mogul and reality show star wound up winning the electoral vote.
Since then it’s been a different American political landscape in general and a wholly different Republican party in particular, and at the moment neither Ryan nor ourselves seem to know where we fit in all of it. Like us Ryan took a principled Republican stand against Trump early in the Republican primary process, and even after Trump had secured his party’s nomination he gallantly declined to defend Trump’s outrageous statements on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women by their where-evers, but since Trump’s election he’s been more conciliatory.
Aside from the occasional criticisms of Trump’s crudity, he successfully guided a Republican tax-cut bill through the House which also passed the Senate and wound up with Trump claiming all the credit when signed it. He made good on a promise to get the House of Representatives to repeal the hated Obamacare law, although a slimmer Republican majority in the Senate couldn’t do the same and Trump never got to sign it, and he dutifully endured the opprobrium that the right heaped on the GOP ‘establishment” and never questioned the new party’s religious faith in Trump’s divine deal-making abilities. The one-time champion of fiscal sobriety also spared Trump the political problems of a government shutdown by helping passage of a deficit-funded and worse-than-Obama budget busting spending bill that didn’t address any of the nation’s looming fiscal woes or those ginned-up immigration problems Trump is always railing about, and willingly accepted the slanderous slings and arrows of the right.
None of this will placate the newly-fangled right that regards Trump as the epitome of au courant conservatism, and the stubbornly old-fashioned left will still revile him as the son of a bitch who threw your beloved grandmother off the cliff, but from our view on the sidelines we take a more sympathetic view of Ryan’s career.
Our lazy asses don’t have to worry about reelection, however, as we never stood a chance of getting elected to anything in the first place, so we’ll not sit in judgment of a poor politician such as Ryan. Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee in the last presidential election, after all, and despite everything we’ll readily forgive any Republicans who went ahead and voted for Trump. It was Trump’s populist campaign that made meaningful entitlement reform impossible, so we’ll generously assume that Ryan intended to keep the government operating just long enough to confront fiscal reality, and he generously allowed Trump to take credit for the big defense spending increase, and despite the rants of the right wing talk radio hosts he did persuade a majority of the House to repeal that damned Obamacare.
None of which will squelch the left’s glee at Ryan’s departure. Even as the recent Republicans decry Ryan as a “Republican in Name only” and “establishment” “deep state” “globalist” sell-out, the current Democrats still regard him as the guy who who pushed your beloved grandmother over the cliff. The more high-brow leftists still give Ryan credit for his civility and calmly stated arguments, but that’s all the more reason that Trump-loving Republicans will regarding him as a squishy sort of beta-male.
That scant plurality of remaining Trump-loving Republicans should note, though, that Ryan is just the most prominent of an unprecedented number establishment Republicans who no longer know where they fit on the political landscape and have decided not to seek reelection. At this relatively early point in the Trump era of the Republican party several GOP House seats in suburban districts and even a Senate seat in usually reliable Alabama have flipped to the Democrats, even the Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero was in danger of losing his own race, and no matter what uncivil taunts Trump might “tweet” that political landscape seems fraught for both the best and worst sorts of Republican candidate.
Ryan insists that he’s stepping down to spend more time his children, who have thus far known him as a “weekend dad,” and his more generous critics on both the left and right agree that he’s the decent sort of family man fellow who would take that into account. We’re sure it’s at least partially true, and we’ll wish him and the rest of his family well. Still, his temporary departure from the pubic stage doesn’t augur well for either the Republican Party or the rest of the political landscape, and the national debt is bigger than ever, and we expect an acrimonious outcome.

— Bud Norman

In Praise of America’s Least-Popular Man

The news has slowed down in the frigid holiday air, as it always does and always should, so we’ll seize the opportunity to say a few kind words about Kentucky’s Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. He’s probably the most hated politician in America, which makes our contrarian selves all the more warm to him, and we’re sure he could use some holiday cheer.
All the Democrats hate him, of course, because he’s not only a Republican but also the party’s Senate majority leader and thus bears the most blame for everything the Republicans did to thwart President Barack Obama during the eight years he was in office. Most Republicans also hate him, though, because all the talk radio hosts and the opinion journalists on Fox News have convinced them that McConnell and the rest of the dat-gummed Republican establishment didn’t do nearly enough thwarting. All the independents have a healthy suspicion of anyone from either party, so they also don’t bolster his horrid poll numbers.
We take a more pragmatic measure of man’s public service, on the other hand, and by our accounting McConnell’s done about as well as can be expected.
All those Democrats should be grateful for McConnell’s restraints on the Obama administration. For the first two Obama years there were big Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and there wasn’t much McConnell could do about it when they went for such big moves as Obamacare and that trillion-dollar “stimulus package” and various other budget-buusting do-goodery, which of course led to the not only a Republican majority in the House but a “tea party” majority at that. With the Democrats’ whittled-down Senate majority vulnerable to shrewd filibustering that soon led to half-trillion budget deficits of the George W. Bush administration, and although the Democrats lost the Senate and a lot of governorships and statehouse and county commission seats we suspect it would have been worst if the Democrats had been able to finish their to-do list.
All those Republicans, especially the Trump-loving ones who get their news exclusively from Fox and talk radio, should also give McConnell his due. There wasn’t much McConnell could do to stave off Obamacare and the “stimulus package” in those darks days of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi regime, but he somehow managed to convince the notoriously individualistic Republicans to stand together to deny those abominations a single Senate vote of bipartisan support. Even when the Republicans won a Senate majority to go along with a House majority there wasn’t much McConnell could do about Obama signing executive orders, but McConnell did play a key role in preventing hard-to-undo legislation and forcing Obama to sign executive orders that could just as easily be undone by any old future Republican president, and he did take a lot of heat for cooling a seat on the Supreme Court until any old future Republican president could make the appointment.
Those Trump-loving sorts of Republicans like to boast about all the Obama-era executive orders Trump has undone and that great Supreme Court pick he made, but they’re also the first to spit and cuss at the mention of McConnell’s name. They seem convinced that only Trump would have done what any old Republican president would have done, and that up until Trump the Grand Old Party was q quisling.
All those independents with their healthy of suspicion of anyone from either party should also acknowledge some gratitude to McConnell. He was a restraint on the excesses of the Democratic party during the Obama years, and in subtle but significant ways he’s also been a restraint on the worst excesses of the Trump years. He somehow managed to to herd all the Republican cats in the Senate to get on the big tax cut bill Trump wanted, which is probably going to bust the budget but maybe not to Obama-Reid-Pelosi levels, and he’s put all but Trump’s most egregious judicial nominees on a quick approval process, but he’s also had a more centrist influence. So far the Senate hasn’t authorized anything more than symbolic sums for Trump’s fantasy of a great translucent wall across the the Mexican border, the body remains committed to finding the truth about the “Russia thing,” and whatever quibbles you might have about his policies McConnell you will have to admit McConnell has carried them out in a quite gentlemanly way without any unnecessarily insulting “tweets.”
These days our healthy suspicion of anyone from either party is such that we find ourselves rooting for the effete establishments of both. We’re rooting for those Democrats who won’t go whole hog for Bernie Sanders-style socialism, rooting against the Trumpist Republicans, and hoping that the likes of Mitch McConnell and the rest of the gat-dummed establishment will stick around a while.

— Bud Norman

A Mixed Bag of Policy, Politics, and that Tax Bill

President Donald Trump at long last got a major piece of legislation to sign into law Wednesday, after the Republicans in congress rammed through a massive tax cut bill, but it remains to be seen if it will eventually count as a win. Trump and all those congressional Republicans are expecting the public will come to love the law, but for now it’s polling horribly and the Democrats are scoring the political points.
The bill runs more than 500 pages, and from our on-the-side-lines perspective it’s a rather mixed bag. Our guess is that the overall effect on the economy will be salutary, although not to the extent that the Republicans are hoping for, and that as usual the benefits won’t be equably distributed across the country, although not so inequitably as the Democrats are urging people to fear. Both parties should probably be hoping that it’s all largely forgotten by the time the next votes are cast in the mid-term elections.
The main feature of the bill is a slashing of the corporate tax rate from a world’s highest 35 percent to a more-typical-by-world-standards 21 percent, as  frankly and ill-advisedly admitted during a celebratory meeting with the congressional Republicans at the White House. Until then Trump had peddled the obvious fiction that the bill’s main feature is a big beautiful Christmas gift to America’s middle class, and he might come to wish he’d told the truth from the outset.
Although the Democrats were quite right to argue that few corporations pay that highest-in-the-world rate, it’s still true that all those deductions merely whittled that rate down and still left American corporations at a disadvantage in the competitive world market, and although it’s not likely to benefit the overall economy to the extent Republicans are hoping it won’t hurt and bit and will surely do some good. The stock markets had a slight downturn on Wednesday, but that’s because investors had already added in the anticipated passage of the bill during its recent record-setting runs, and we’ve no doubt there would have been a bloodbath of red if the bill hadn’t passed.
There’s a certain segment of the Democratic party and the more general left that resent anything that benefits corporations, but even such Democrats as President Barack Obama recognized that the economy can’t do without them for now and were also on board with a corporate tax cut. If that had been touted as the main feature of the bill, the Republicans might have coaxed a few votes from Democratic representatives and senators in districts and states where corporations are major employers and majors donors, which would have given some bipartisan cover in case things go wrong.
The bill also delivers some tax cuts to the middle class, although not all of it, and even many of the beneficiaries might conclude that it’s not as big and beautiful a Christmas gift as was promised. Despite all the populist rhetoric on both the left and the right the hate top 1 percent pay bear about half the country’s tax burden, the top 20 percent pick up 85 percent of the tab, and a full 60 percent pay either no federal income taxes or so little that any further cuts would only amount to little. If you’re in that 50-to-80 percent segment of the population that is paying you might get a notable if not princely amount each year until the cuts expire, but if you live in a nice house in a high-tax state or haven’t gotten around to having children or are paying rather receiving alimony or have other certain circumstances it might just turn out to be a tax hike.
How that turns out in the overall mid-term voting remains to be seen, but we will hazard a guess that those Republicans holding crucial House seats in such states as California and New York and Illinois are going to regret getting  rid of the state and local property tax deductions. The sorts of Republicans you find in those well-heeled districts with high-priced houses are already inclined to abhor the boorishness of Trump and his burn-it-down populism, and without a stake in a party-line Republican tax bill they won’t have any reason to support the party.
In those less well-heeled and more reliably Democratic districts the law is likely to further enflame the ever-raging fires of class resentment, no matter how salutary the overall economic consequences. All of those congressional Republicans have always denied that the law delivers a far bigger tax cut to the rich than it does the middle class, and Trump has assured his true believers that he’s going to take a huge hit because of it, but these arguments not only verifiably but also obviously untrue. The expert analyses of the bill vary wildly, and you can believe whichever you want based on how they share your ideological leanings until you complete your tax forms, but all of them agree that someone richer than you is going to reap bigger benefits than you.
That doesn’t bother us, as we’re the penurious but Republican sorts who harbor no class resentments, and we still hold out hope of snatching some small benefit from any overall salutary effect on the economy, but we do wish that Trump and all those congressional Republicans hadn’t so brazenly lied about it. The arguments for income inequality are complex and hard to make, but President Ronald Reagan persuasively made it during a longer and more thorough debate for his even bigger tax cut bill, and they always work better than a bald-faced lie. Trump’s lie that all the businesses he scandalously hasn’t divested himself of won’t benefit is particularly galling, and we can’t begrudge the Democrats the political points they’ll score because of that.
The law also repeals the provision of the “Obamacare” law that requires citizens to purchase not only health coverage but health care coverage of a certain type that may or may not be needed, which was the part we most hated about that hated law, but that’s also a mixed bag. Trump brags that he’s kept a campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, which is true enough because eliminating it’s individual mandate will ultimately sink the whole project, but because he hasn’t kept his campaign promise to replace Obamacare with something big and beautiful that will cover everyone at at a far lower cost it’s likely to end up with a lot of people losing coverage and many people more for what they’ve still got.
We do expect the effect on gross domestic product and unemployment numbers will be salutary, though, and hold out hope that some better health care policy will ensue from the coming calamity, so the Grand Old Party might yet survive all the public disapproval of the moment. During their big celebration party at the White House the congressional Republicans took turns lavishing praise on Trump in terms so obsequious they would have embarrassed a North Korean general, on the other, and in the long run the party will suffer consequences for such brazen lies as that.

— Bud Norman

Trump and the Stubborn Persistence of Obamacare

For more than eight long years we griped almost every day about almost everything President Barack Obama did, and were especially critical of his crackpot Obamacare law. Lately we’ve been griping almost every day about almost everything President Donald Trump does, though, and we even have some gripes about he’s going about undoing one of the worst mistakes of Obama’s administration.
Despite Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress and a Republican president in the White House, the Grand Old Party has thus far been unable to keep its seven-year-old promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, so Trump has chosen to hasten the crackpot system’s demise by executive action. First he signed an order that allows insurance companies to offer and consumers to choose low-premium but high-deductible programs that cover only catastrophic circumstances, which were previously disallowed by Obamacare, then he ordered a halt to federal subsidies for the low-income customers who have been forced to purchase the higher-premium but lower-deductible and more comprehensive coverage. Both moves would make perfect sense in an efficiently free market system of health care, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon, and both are admittedly designed to wreck the crackpot health care system we’ve wound up with instead.
Obama’s promises that Obamacare would save you thousands of dollars and allow you to keep your doctor and your plan and not add a dime to the federal deficit while covering everyone have since proved complete balderdash, just as we glumly predicted back when we were griping almost every day about Obama and Obamacare, but even then what our anti-authoritarian instincts most hated about the crackpot scheme was the tyrannical notion of government mandating that individuals purchase a product and then limiting their choices of what to buy. We’re therefore grateful that Trump that has struck a blow for the liberty of those young and healthy and relatively low-wage workers whose best bet on the health insurance market is a low-premium and high-deductible catastrophic plan, and we fondly recall those halcyon days when we were among them, but our middle-aged have to acknowledge that without their coerced subsidies the rest of the current system is destabilized.
An end to those federal subsidies for low-income workers stuck with the high-deductible coverage is on even more solid constitutional ground, as the crackpot Obamacare law didn’t include them and they’ve been paid all along by executive orders of very dubious constitutionality, but Trump proudly admits that it’s intended to hoist Obamacare on its own petard, although we doubt he’d recognize the Shakespearean reference. Without those subsidies many insurers will will have no choice but to pull out of many markets, leaving millions of Americans without any coverage at all, and millions more paying higher premiums for the plans they’re still stuck with under the still-existing Obamacare law.
Trump’s plan is that the resulting catastrophe will force the Democrats to come begging for some efficiently free market solution such as the Republicans have been promising for seven long years, which we’d much prefer over the long term, but in the short-term it seems unlikely to happen. The plan assumes that the public will blame Obama and his crackpot law’s inherent flaws, rather than Trump for faithfully executing it to the letter and thus blowing it up, and it seems a rare case when Trump has over-estimated the public’s intelligence. If Trump expects the congressional Democrats to be so moved by the plight of those uninsured and over-paying low income workers that they will come begging for a efficiently Republican free market solution, rather than allowing the press to pillory him for admittedly blowing things up and gleefully watching his approval ratings further plummet, we think he’s overestimating them as well. He can plausibly blame those congressional Republicans, but he won’t have anything to claim to credit for, and it will make a complicated mid-term election next year.
In any case we won’t be any closer to that efficiently free market health system we’ve yearned for far longer than the past seven years, what we’re stuck with instead will wind up imposing misery on millions of Americans earlier than necessary, and there will be plenty of blame to go around.

— Bud Norman

A Taxing Situation

Having failed in their efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, President Donald Trump and the congressional Republican majorities are moving on with plans to revamp America’s tax system. So far, at least, it doesn’t look any more promising than the previous crusade.
Which is a shame, as America’s tax system is badly in need of revamping, and the traditional Republican remedies are probably best. The system should be simplified, flattened, rid of deductions that serve only well-lobbied special interests, include more deductions that encourage investment in the broader economy, and that highest-in-the-world corporate tax rate especially needs lowering. If commensurate budget cuts could somehow be effected, so the already disastrous national debt didn’t explode, it would probably be helpful to lower every other tax in sight.
A Republican president and Republican majorities in Congress should be able to get it done, and even persuade a few centrist Democrats from well-heeled districts with big corporate donors to go along, but at this particular moment it seems a daunting task. Any attempt at serious tax reform is difficult, as all sorts of well-lobbied special interests immediately get involved, and there are lots of class resentments and economic theories to be considered, so that last time it happened was way back when President Ronald Reagan unified the Republican minorities in Congress and got more than a few centrist Democrats in well-heeled districts to go along.
This time around the Republican president is Trump, the leaders of the congressional Republican majorities inspire little more confidence, the Congressional Democrats are more unified in opposition to anything they might come up with, and the economic and political circumstances aren’t quite so ripe.
When Reagan offered his 461-page tax plan to Congress he knew every minute detail of it, and had spent the previous decades making a persuasive case to America for the sophisticated free market theories that inspired it, and with his experience as a past president of the Screen Actors Guild and two-term governor of California he knew the more down-and-dirty practical arguments to use with reluctant Republicans or potentially friendly centrist Democrats from well-heeled districts. The tax rate on the uppermost bracket was 70 percent at the time, which was steep even by the standards of the moribund European economies, cutting that by rate to 28 percent freed a lot of capital for pent-up investment in the private sector, and after the stagflation that had started in Nixon administration and lasted through the Ford and Carter administrations, most of the the country and enough Democrats were willing to roll the dice on those sophisticated free market economic theories.
When Trump unveiled his nine-page outline of how to revamp America’s tax system during a typically rambling speech in Indiana, we couldn’t shake a vague suspicion he didn’t understand a word of it. We had a hard time making sense of it ourselves, as did everyone else we’ve read, but everyone seems to agree with Trump’s opening unscripted that it does involve those “massive tax cuts” that Democrats are always accusing Republicans of yearning for.
During the speech Trump insisted the vaguely worded tax plan wouldn’t benefit himself, and he added his catchphrase “believe me,” which will surely endear him to his many lower-bracket fans, but until he releases his tax returns you’ll have to take him at his word, and by now most Americans don’t. Reagan had released his tax returns and put his relatively modest fortune into a blind trust, so he didn’t have that rhetorical problem. He could also make a case that taking a 70 percent cut from anybody who got lucky or smart enough to make it to that rarefied tax bracket was unfair, whereas Trump is stuck with a rate that went up and down and up again through the Clinton and Bush and Obama administrations and lands in a mid-30s range that strikes the more average earner as about fair. The relatively insignificant cuts proposed won’t unleash a relatively significant amount of capital into the private sector, too, and with Trump constantly boasting about how high the stock market indices and how low the unemployment rates are the populace probably isn’t in any mood for tax cuts for the rich at the moment.
Those Reagan tax cuts brought a promised doubling of federal revenue collections, but without any commensurate budget restraint the deficits and debt swelled. The broad economic expansion nonetheless continued long enough to get his vice president elected for a third term, and although a brief and relatively mild recession got President Bill Clinton he fiddled so slightly with the tax system that all that capital wound up investing in a technological revolution that has propelled the American through the desultory administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama and even into the era of Trump. That soak-the-rich mantra the Democrats are still loudly chanting is as stupid as ever, and we discern a few very good ideas in that nine-page outline about how to revamp the tax system, so we’ll hope for the best.
The highest corporate tax rate in the world is an obvious problem that every last Republican and at least a few centrist Democrats with corporate donors should want to solve, and there’s also a strong case to be made against estate taxes, but there was also a strong argument to be made for repealing and replacing Obamacare. Trump and the congressional leadership weren’t quite coordinated on how far to slash the corporate tax rate, both were failing to acknowledge that the actual corporate tax rate is much lower, given all the deductions their lobbyists have obtained, most of which do have a invigorating affect on the broader economy, and we can’t shake a suspicion that Trump is about to find out that tax reform is even harder than health care.
The Republican majorities in Congress are as always all hepped up for tax reform, but they have diverse districts and different donors and individual viewpoints to consider, and no matter the ranch hands Republicans are always harder to round up in a pen than Democrats. There are still a few debt-conscious Republicans left, perhaps including the Speaker of the House, some Republicans from less well-heeled districts that went big for Trump and his promises of tax hikes on the rich, and even some free market hold-outs who now worry that the tax rates are not far off from optimal. A zero percent tax rate yields zero revenues, but so does a 100 percent tax rate, and both liberal and conservative have always agreed there’s some point in between at which tax rates start to result in lower revenue, which many of our states have tried to ignore, but with Trump boasting about the great economy he’s unlikely to convince anyone outside the hated Republican establishment that his rich buddies and cabinet members need any sort of tax break.
If it we’re up to us we’d concentrate on the arguments for a lower corporate tax rate, which are so compelling they have even persuaded all of the Europeans and the Asians, state the moral case that after someone has spent a long and fruitful life paying exorbitant taxes he shouldn’t be taxed a final for dying, and not antagonize any of those lower-bracketed and class-resenting die-hard Democrats and heartfelt Trump supporters with any noticeable tax cuts for the rich, and if we were Reagan we could probably get it done. Trump isn’t at all a Reagan-esque sort of ranch hand you might have seen on the silver screen, neither are that Senate Majority Leader or House Speaker, and at this point we can’t see any of them winning over any sort of Democrat. We’ll still hope for the best, but we won’t be making any bets, and will anxiously wait to see where the Wall Street money goes.

— Bud Norman

Disasters and Normality

Nature has gone on a destructive rage lately in our hemisphere, and now the entirety of Puerto Rico is without power, the same hurricane caused it is headed toward the U.S. Virgin Islands that had already been largely wiped out by last week’s hurricane, and at least 250 people died in the second major earthquake in Mexico City in the past two weeks. After the devastation wrought on Texas and Florida from two other unusually large and intense hurricanes this month, catastrophe is starting seem commonplace.
The media are still all over it, complete with scary radar images, heartbreaking footage of downed buildings and bandaged people, and heroic stories of rescue and sacrifice, but by now they’re making more room for yet another Republican attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare, the numerous noteworthy developments in the “Russia” story, and whatever else President Donald Trump might be up to. All sorts of historic disasters, both natural and man-made, are quickly becoming normalized.
One reason the latest natural catastrophes have been somewhat downplayed is that they happened in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, which are part of America but not among the 50 states, and in Mexico, which is not part of America at all. Americans have always tended to take scant interest in anything that happens beyond our borders, and in the age of “America First” and a clamor for building a giant wall along the southern border that tendency is stronger than ever. The country is still obliged to pay its share of the costly recovery efforts in its territories, though, and would do itself a much needed public relations favor by chipping in something to help out the Mexicans, so some attention should be paid.
Eventually nature will settle down for a while, although probably not for so long as those 12 blissful years North America enjoyed without any hurricanes at all until lately, and at that point all the man-made disasters will retake their rightful places on the front page and the top of the hour. We’ll hope that the recent disasters are not forgotten, that a few of the reporters will stay on the long enough to scrutinize both the recovery efforts and the preparations for the inevitable next time, and that no one regards it as normal for two of America’s most populous cities to be underwater and two its territories wiped out altogether. Here’s hoping, too, that people don’t start to regard all those man-made disasters as at all normal.

— Bud Norman

Socialized Medicine and the State of the Union

Self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has officially proposed a Medicare For All Act, which is basically a socialized single-payer insurance scheme, and although it’s not likely to become law in the near future it’s nonetheless an ominous development.
The bill already has 15 Democratic Senators signed on, including several who are considered contenders for the party’s next presidential nomination, and all the polls confirm our anecdotal evidence from conversations at the local hipster bars that the party’s increasingly leftward base is enthusiastic for the idea. For now they don’t comprise a majority of popular opinion, much less the needed congressional majorities, and there’s also a putatively Republican president to veto anything they might get passed, but the idea no longer seems so far-fetched.
Democrats have been chasing the white whale of socialized medicine for a century or so, and Republicans have been successfully fending off the bogeyman of their efforts for just as long, The left has long noted that America is alone among the industrialized nations in not offering some sort of universal health insurance, and the right has long been able to reply by noting how much longer people in those countries have to wait for a medical procedure, and how much they pay in taxes, how puny their militaries become to pay for it, how free markets are as always more efficient than the government-run variety, and all those arguments still stand.
Even the editorial board at The Washington Post acknowledges the budget-busting implications of Sander’s proposal, and such relatively centrist Democrats as recent Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are warning against Sanders’ influence on the party. The Democrats had a hard enough time getting the semi-socialized Obamacare passed with bigger majorities in congress and a more true-blue Democrat in the White House, they suffered huge electoral losses on the lower ticket right down to the city council levels as a result, and for now there are only 15 Democratic senators and the usual number of House members signed on.
That’s for now, though, and these days there’s no telling how long that will last. For four consecutive electoral cycles the Republicans gained everything but the presidency on a promise to repeal Obamacare, and on the fourth try a putatively Republican won the White House on the same promise, but so far it’s proved as impossible as ever to undo any entitlement program that has a couple of million telegenic beneficiaries. The Republicans are betting that when Obamacare inevitably fails with vast human consequences both public opinion and the Democrats will come crawling for some free market solution, and not notice they didn’t try to at least stave it off, but we wouldn’t make that bet.
Some Trump-wary Republican pundits we respect think the Democrats are lurching so far leftward with a socialized single-payer system that they’ll wind up with a ’72-style loss, but these days seem even weirder than that weird year. Once upon our young lifetimes the words “socialized medicine” were a career-ending slut, but that was before a self-described socialist won 45 percent or so of the Democratic votes. It’s not good to root for other party going to the extremes, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, because there’s always a good chance that your party will as well.
Those sound arguments about the inefficiencies and far-reaching costs of socialized medicine still persuade most Republicans and the more sane sorts of Democrats, but the vast majority of the country is as always susceptible to promises of coverage for everyone at a vastly lower price. We can easily believe that next time around those silly Democratic primary voters will buy it, as the last time around the Republican party nominated a candidate peddling the same snake oil. All indications are that after an illegal-immigrant-bashing campaign Trump is eager to sign the illegal-immigrant-friendly “DREAM Act” that Obama and those bigger Democratic majorities couldn’t get passed, and he’s also capitulated to the Democrats’ budget and debt ceiling proposals, so there’s no telling how he might come out on a deal to immortalize him as the man who brought universal health coverage to America.
For now, at least, there are clean-ups from the floods and “Russia” leaks and plenty of other things to worry about.

— Bud Norman

Taxes and Texas and Other Disasters

The news was largely swept away by the flood waters that continue to wreak havoc on Texas and Louisiana, but the Republican party has officially commenced the tax reform part of its legislative agenda to make America great again. President Donald Trump kicked it off with a little-heard speech in Missouri, and it’s probably for the best that such an inauspicious start was largely swept away the flood waters.
We’re the old-fashioned conservative Republican types who like our taxes low and government lean, and we’ve shared to a certain wary extent in the stock market’s giddy expectation that Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and a more-or-less Republican president might nudge the economy in that direction, but for now we’re warier than ever. The speech sounded all the same populist soak-the-rich themes that Trump expounded during his burn-down-the-establishment campaign, yet seemed to promise all the usual old-fashioned conservative promises about tax cuts for the rich along with everyone else, but didn’t explain with any specificity about how they’re going to pull that off, much less while keeping all those newfangled and old-fashioned campaign promises about reducing the budget deficit and eventually even the national debt.
We doubt that any of those darned newfangled Democratic liberals with their tax-and-spend ways were swayed, even that long-established Democratic Senator from Missouri that Trump threatened by name during a strikingly partisan oration, and we are not assured that even the needed entirety of those of Congressional Republicans will be on board. It largely depends on the details that have not yet been revealed, of course, but whatever they might prove to be they’re bound to offend either the populist of or traditional wings of the Republican party, and in any case won’t please of those darned tax-and-spend Democrats.
Even in a best-case scenario a massive tax cut to whoever without similar cuts in the entitlement programs that are driving the annual deficits and mounting national debt would lead a a temporary budget shortfall, especially with all the increased defense spending that every corner of the Republican party is proposing, and the debate is lately even more complicated than that. The short term budget shortfalls the as-yet unspecified Republican proposals presumably propose assume they’d be offset by the savings they’d realized from repealing and replacing the hated Obamacare law, which somehow didn’t happen despite Republican majorities in Congress and a more-or-less Republican president, and the cost is likely to swell after the fourth-most-populous metropolitan area in the United States finds itself under even more literal water than the president’s approval ratings.
The cost of gasoline is already up by about 25 percent around here after the city that provides a fourth of America’s energy was flooded, the extra five bucks that motorists are paying per fill-up won’t be going to any of the other businesses around here, and the national economy hasn’t yet started to feel the effects of its fourth-most-populous city being underwater. Though we wish them the best all those Republicans are wading into this debate with strong headwinds and few few victories to bolster them, and we expect their allies on the stock markets will be hedging their bets on the promises that had been made to them, which also won’t help. That’s not to mention all the already complicated talk about continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases and funding for crazy campaign promise about building a tall wall across the entire Mexican border, along with the rest of the bipartisan craziness of late.
There’s also all that drip-drip-drip flooding about “Russia,” the latest nuclear saber-rattling from the nutcase North Korean regime, and a general sense that we’re all in the midst of one of those one-thousand year floods. A severe cut in America’s steepest-in-the-world corporate tax rates really is a good idea, even if they do pay an effective rate that’s more-or-less competitive after all the tax exemptions that might or might not be retained under the as-yet-undisclosed Republican proposals, but that’s a pretty dry subject given all the recent floods. There’s an old-fashioned conservative Republican case to be made that cuts in the top rates that will benefit the poor folks those rich folks will wind up hiring, but Trump promised that he and his fellow billionaires would take a hit without revealing the tax returns that would prove his claim, and he’s still a poor advocate for low taxes and lean government and old-fashioned conservative Republicanism.
Those darned Democrats and their tax-and-spend ways don’t seem to have any better ideas, so for now we’re bracing for one of those occasional thousand-year disasters.

— Bud Norman