Monday, February 19, 2018

The Best and Worst Presidents of My Lifetime

It's President's Day which originally was Washington's Birthday but then they combined Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays into a single holiday and moved it to Monday. Anyway, it's an excuse to name the best and worst presidents of my lifetime. I'm only including them because I don't have personal experience with any others and it still covers a 60+ year spread.

I'm not going to include Trump. He's only 13 months into his presidency. I'm going to skip Ford for the same reason. He wasn't in long and didn't have much impact. I'm including JFK because he completed most of his term and did have an impact.

First off, the best president is Reagan. There were problems during his administration, mainly Iran/Contra, where he openly defied Congress. There were some other mistakes but he changed the course of politics. It shows how influential he was that Barack Obama was openly musing about being a similarly transformative president in 2008. When Reagan came to office in 1981 the country was a mess. We were in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression (in some ways it was worse than the Great Recession). The Soviet Union was expanding and the military contracting. People didn't feel very good about America. Reagan kicked off the longest peacetime economic expansion in history, put in place policies that ended the Soviet Union and left America feeling good about itself again.

So, onto the worst.

Eisenhower was competent. JFK is a mixed bag. He gave us the space program. He didn't advance civil rights as far as he could have and he got us into Viet Nam, although in a limited way.

LBJ's administration is even more mixed. Where JFK dipped his toe into Viet Nam, LBJ jumped in with both feet. He gave us Medicare and Medicaid and expanded Social Security. All of those programs are popular but none of them are sustainable in the long-term. The most important civil rights advances came during his administration and he was more supportive of them than he is given credit for.

Nixon's a very special case. He continued LBJ's expansion of government with such things as the National Endowment for the Arts and for the Humanities. He expanded Viet Nam before getting us out. He opened relations with China. He was reelected in a landslide, winning 49 states. But he managed to get himself impeached and he always was hated by a significant portion of the population. He also oversaw the beginnings of the economic problems that dominated the 1970s.

Ford replaced Nixon and Carter replaced Ford, coming in with overwhelming approval ratings. He was not up to the job. Inflation soared, unemployment remained too high and eventually the economy crashed hard. He continued Ford's "detente" with the USSR which led to Soviet expansion. The friendly Shaw of Iran was overthrown and Carter helped place a constitutionally elected government in place only to see it overthrown and a theocracy set up in its place which is still a problem. After that, "students" with the support of the government overran the American embassy and took the staff hostage for months. The only good thing to come out of the Carter administration was the Camp David Accords which Carter facilitated between Israel and Egypt.

I've already ranked Reagan as best, so skipping on to Bush 41...

It's not unusual for a sitting vice president to run and finish in a close race. Bush won in a landslide. He was a competent president but seemed out of touch and a minor recession was enough for him to lose reelection.

We saw mild but steady growth under Clinton punctuated by the tech bubble. Near the end of his term, Clinton rated himself as a solid B president and was hoping to raise his score with a diplomatic victory like the Camp David Accords. This eluded him so he remains a B.

Bush 43 is another mixed bag. The economy did fairly well under him and he was far more moderate than he's given credit for being. 9/11 was not his fault but his response to it was questionable. There's no question that we needed to overthrow Afghanistan in order to break up al Qaeda. Similarly, we'd never actually ended hostilities with Iraq before Bush toppled the country. In both cases, his administration discovered that it's far easier to overthrow a government than it is to set up a stable replacement. If he'd taken the route that Obama did in Libya and left the two countries alone then both would probably be failed states and humanitarian disasters but Bush would be held in higher esteem. Similarly, if Bush had had a 3rd term then he might have managed to clean up his messes. He managed to turn Iraq around and stabilize it by the end of his presidency. While Obama takes credit for saving the economy, the crisis actually came during Bush's last months and he stabilized it before leaving office.

On to Obama. He took office during the worst downturn since Reagan, possibly since FDR. While he didn't mess up the recovery, he didn't help it, either. We had the slowest post recession growth since FDR, probably for the same reasons - expanding government. The stimulus package didn't stimulate. Obamacare was unpopular and had to be propped up by (unconstitutional) executive orders. Obama was handed a stable Iraq and managed to mess it up by pulling all of our troops out and not taking ISIS seriously. Obama was determined to sign a treaty with Iran and allowed the Syrian civil war to grow into a humanitarian crisis rather than offend Iran. He mocked Romney for calling Russia our most important geopolitical rival. He called his Korean policy "strategic patients" but it really amounted to kicking the can down the road. He was part of the overthrow or Libya and allowed it to sink into a failed state humanitarian crisis. The rule of law saw severe hits as his administration expanded executive and administrative reach. After saying dozens of times that he didn't have the power to allow "dreamers" to stay, he did it anyway. Title IX was similarly stretched to the breaking point. The public had been polarizing for years but this accelerated under Obama. We have the most turbulent times since the 1960s but no war and no civil rights movement to explain it. People are just polarized and angry and the Obama administration fed this. The IRS was weaponized under Obama, delaying applications for groups they disapproved of for years while approving favorable groups in a few weeks. The Justice Department may well have been politicized, too, as information is leaked out about the handling of confidential messages on Hillary Clinton's private email server.

So, who's the worst of this bunch? The finalists are Clinton and Obama. Both left the country worse off than when they took office. Carter was at a loss on how to handle the sky-high inflation. Obama never figured out why the economy was growing less than 2% when it should have been growing more than 3%. Carter was at a loss to stop the spread of communism in South America. Under Obama, we saw more than half of the youth decide that communism is better than capitalism.

For now I'll name Obama as the worst president. Carter was out of his depth but Obama was actively trying to undermine his government and country.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Mass Shootings and Magical Thinking

Like clockwork, a shooting happens and there's a demand to ban "military grade" assault weapons. If only these guns weren't available, then no one would ever be harmed again.

This is magical thinking. It assumes that inanimate objects somehow entice people to violence and that they would be peaceful without these totems at hand. Let's look at some facts.

First, all of these mass killings are really copy cat crimes stemming from Columbine. We had occasional mass murders before that but it's become increasingly common since Columbine. With each killing there is days of news coverage. This convinces unhappy individuals that they can go out in a blaze of glory.

Second, the use of guns and specifically assault weapons is accidental but feeds into the copycat nature of these acts.

The Columbine killers did not plan on shooting their way into the school then killing each other. Their plan was much, much worse. They planted a bomb based on a propane tank in the lunch room. It was timed to go off when the lunch room had the most people in it and there was a good chance that it would have also killed the people in the library above the cafeteria. The guns and pipe bombs were for killing the people who survived the bomb. When the bomb failed, they entered the school, shooting people along the way and tried to detonate the bomb by hand. When that failed, they killed each other. If they had succeeded then we'd be having school bombings instead of shootings.

The so-called assault weapon was banned for a while but the ban was allowed to expire because this class of gun is almost never used in crimes. Assault weapons are a subset of rifles and more people are killed with knives than with all rifles put together.

The assault weapon was another accident. This one came from Sandy Hook. The killer there wasn't able to buy guns but his mother was an avid shooter. He killed her then used her gun to massacre children in a school. Before that, most mass shootings were with pistols. A pistol is a better weapon for this. It is easier to conceal, you can easily carry more than one, and they are easier to aim in close quarters. But the Sandy Hook shooter used a Bushmaster AK-47 and the news reported it as the gun of choice for mass murderers.

Note - the Las Vegas shooter was an unusual one. He was shooting into a crowd from a building. The bump stock he used would be worthless in any other situation.

So, disturbed people do copy cat crimes using copycat methods. But there's any number of ways for an evil person to kill people. Bombs are fairly easy to make. Simply setting fires can be deadly. Attacks in Europe have shown that a large truck can be more deadly than a gun.

So far, the mass killers have been copying each other instead of copying terrorists but there's no guarantee that will continue. In the meantime, blaming the gun instead of the person behind it is an exercise in futility.

Friday, February 16, 2018

It Happened Again (and they reacted according to script)

On Valentine's Day, a shooter killed 17 people in a Florida school. I really wish the response from the Left didn't come across as: "Thank heavens we have a new issue! DACA wasn't working for us any more."

The initial reaction was "Republicans have blood on their hands." Why? At the point they said that they had no idea of any of the "common sense gun control" measures they want to pass would have made a difference. Yes, the shooter used an AR-15-style rifle but there's nothing magic about them. At short range, pistols might have been more deadly.

It was widely spread that this was the 28th school shooting this year. Bernie Sanders, who is trying to establish a record on gun control after Hillary painted him as pro-gun, tweeted the figure. It came from Anytown USA and is therefore suspect. While most people think that a "school shooting" means students shot or killed, Anytown counts any time a gun is discharged in a school or a school event. Most of the "shootings" on Anytown's list were harmless.

There was also a rush to assign the blame to outside influences. Social media claimed that the shooter had Antifa and ISIS messages. A news service reported that he'd tried to join a white supremacist group without verifying the person making the claim (he lied).

I've already seen charts showing a correlation between mass shootings and availability of guns. These appear to show a cause and effect but they leave out a few important details. Americans have always been heavily armed but mass shootings are a fairly recent phenomena and the murder rate has been dropping even as the number of guns expands. My guess is that the copy-cat factor is the biggest reason for all of the mass shooting.

There is also a general mockery of anyone who used the phrase "thoughts and prayers" without proposing some action, no matter how irrelevant. This is disgusting opportunism.

The Left needs to stop pointing fingers at the right and look at its own sins. Their response to a tragedy shouldn't be opportunism.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Problem With Fake News

A few weeks ago the Republican Party ran a list of the ten worst examples of fake news for 2017 (one of these was actually an election night tweet from 2016). The Washington Post fact checkers promptly gave this list a Pinocchio rating on the bases that 7 of the 10 had issued corrections or apologized. Sorry, WaPo but it doesn't work that way. While it's true that the news media makes mistakes all the time and issues corrections later, that is not an excuse for these. None of these represented breaking news like a fire or shooting. They were all events that happened some time before the story broke but were released before all the facts were known. There is no good reason to release stories like this (there is a bad reason: stories that embarrass President Trump sell papers/increase rating and the various media are afraid of being scooped). There are several problems with running a story then issuing a correction or retracting the story later.

The biggest problem is that the corrections are never given as much play as the original story. Sometimes they correction is tacked onto the end of the story. Other times the story is quietly withdrawn without notice. Corrections are never given the same sensational headlines. Worse, many people hear about these stories from other sources than the original. I first heard the story that candidate Trump had ordered Michael Flynn to meet with the Russians through Facebook. I never saw anyone sharing the retraction that it was president-elect Trump who ordered the meeting and it was about sanctions against Israel, not about winning the election. The Trump-haters who gleefully share anything that looks bad for the President never bother to share the retractions or corrections (assuming they even hear about them).

A second problem is that all of these stories create false memories. Even if people see the corrections later they are still likely to remember that there had been some scandal involving the President and Russia (or whatever the story was). The stead drumbeat of Trump/Russia stories gives the impression that there is something to them. A reasonable person would assume that this constant barrage of stories is a "where there's smoke there's fire" situation. To date, there are no credible stories about Russian collusion.but a recent poll indicated that half the country believes that such an event took place.

What else can you call it when the news media has convinced half of the public that something happened with no proof? It's Fake News.

And no, the President calling out the media on the false reporting they do does not make him an autocrat.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Thoughts About the Shutdown

The shutdown lasted less than 72 hours and ended with the Democrats failing to get anything new (they already had a vague promise for a future vote on a DACA bill before the shutdown. What happened?

Democratic messaging was, at best, confused. They tried to blame President Trump and the Republicans for the shutdown but at the same time they made it clear that it was all about DACA. They must have been counting on a sympathetic press to give them cover but between social media and their own mixed messages, that wasn't possible.

The Republicans shut the government down a couple of times under Clinton and once under Obama. Each time the president came out the winner. The Republican shutdowns were over budget and debt issues which are much more closely tied to spending than amnesty for illegal immigrants and they still lost. Why did the Democrats think it would be any different this time? Sympathetic press?

The Democrats looked at the wrong poll numbers. While a majority of the country favors helping DACA recipients (I think it's around 80%), it is pretty low on their priorities (One poll put it at number 16). The shutdown meant that things that had a higher priority were stopped in favor of a lower-priority issue. This hurt the Democrats. Also, the issue was hurting them in red states that they need to win to take the Senate. The Democrats made the same mistake about the shut-down that they made in 2016 about the election: they spent too much time looking at national averages and not enough time looking at state-by-state breakdowns. California, all by itself, is big enough to shift the national polls but elections are held on a state-by-state basis.

The shutdowns under Clinton were fairly painless leading to a lot of jokes about not needing the government anyway. The shutdown under Obama was brutal. Rather than just closing government offices, any land owned by the government was closed. An example is the Colonial Parkway in Virginia which connects Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. This is just a road. It doesn't need any federal employees for people to use it but the blocked it off anyway.. In fact, in some cases the government more money to stay closed than they saved by not being open because of guards and barricades. The shutdown under Trump looked like it would revert to the more gentile style with as many parks and other facilities as possible staying open. It's unclear how much of this was at the direction of Trump officials and how much was federal employees trying to help Obama and hurt Trump. Probably it was a combination of both.

Pundits who claim that the Democrats ended the shutdown because they still believe in civility are fooling themselves. The left lost interest in civility a decade or more ago. The shutdown was all about playing to the base and aking a show of standing up to Trump.

While the Republicans have agreed on some sort of replacement for DACA, there are major differences to be settled. The biggest one is who will be covered? Will it be the 800,000 or so enrolled in DACA, the 3,000,000+ who came here at a young age (often alone as a teenage), or will it be limited to the original "Dreamers" who have gone to college or been in the military? Working these out under the artificial urgency of a shutdown is a poor way to run the government.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Why the Government Shut Down

The Democrats shut the government down just in time for the anniversary of Trump's inauguration. They are trying to blame the Republicans because the Republicans control both houses but it takes 60 votes in the Senate for a spending bill and the Republicans only have 51. So, out of 49 Democrats, there are not nine who will vote for keeping the government open.

They are doing this for two reasons. The first is theatrics. They are using this to claim that the Republicans can't govern and that Trump is unstable.

The second reason is complicated. Officially it's because they are pushing for a DACA bill. The Republicans already offered a package deal - DACA in exchange for eliminating chain migration and the green card lottery and for some money for the wall. The Democrats countered with DACA but no change to chain migration and a revision to the green card lottery that would have half the drawings from "under represented countries". I'm assuming that last part provoced Trump's "S-hole country" complaint. There was also a pittance for repairs to the current border fence but no wall.

The part about chain migration is really important. The Democrats' plan would allow the DACA recipients to sponsor their relatives. Remember that the whole DACA problem was caused by illegal immigrants who brought their kids. The Democrats would reward them for doing this by letting them get citizenship through their kids. Remember the idea of "anchor babies"? This is worse.

The news talks about 800,000 "dreamers" being affected by DACA but add in chain migration and the number jumps significantly. We're talking about an eventual amnesty and citizenship for up to 10,000,000 people.

And most of them will vote Democrat.

That's why this is so important to the Dems.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Trump's First Year

When Donald Trump announced that he was running for President, I just rolled my eyes. I was still mad at him for birtherism. Before Trump got involved, it was something the Clinton campaign had invented in 2008. But after Trump jumped on the bandwagon, everyone forgot that birtherism was already well-established and insisted that Trump (who was a Republican at the time) invented it.

Then there was Trump's party hopping. I really distrusted a New York former Democrat. I expected that he'd be to the left of Romney who I figured would be a good administrator but would disappoint me in the positions he took.

I fully expected Trump to wither away when the debated started. Surely people would start to see that he was, at best, a RINO.

But he dispatched a pack of the best. Governors, ex-governors, Senators, political dynasties - he beat them all without any problems.

Several pundits I trust were calling on people to vote for Hillary Clinton on the idea that she may be a corrupt socialist-wannabe but at least she knew how to work within the system and the Republican Congress would keep her from doing too much damage (were they awake during the Obama administration?). I watched the Republican National Convention and decided that I was going to have to vote for Hillary.

Then came the Democratic National Convention. I watched some of it to see my new party in action. There was Michelle Obama saying "When they go low, we go high". Had that woman seen any of Hillary's anti-Trump ads? They set a new record for low. Then there was the Khans, waving a copy of the Constitution. Yes, their son was a hero but they were put on the stage by central casting to tell us that Trump was wrong to worry about Muslims. This was only a few weeks after one of the worst mass shootings in American history when a gunman swearing allegiance to ISIS killed gays in the name of Allah. Don't tell me that we don't need to worry about radical Islam.

Anyway, by the end of the Democrats' convention I realized that there was no way I could vote for that crowd. Hillary had ignored the old maxim - swing to the left for the primary and swing to the center for the general election. She'd spent the primary running against her husband's accomplishments and she was going to keep running to the left.

The longer the campaign went on, the more I liked Trump. First there were the rumors about Hillary's health which culminated in her collapsing in public. They followed that up with several lies (it was a hot day and she was dehydrated, she never drinks enough water, can you imagine trying to get Hillary Clinton to drink water?). Then they admitted that she was sick but we were to blame (she tried to "power through" pneumonia because women aren't allowed to get sick).

As far as I was concerned, Trump won the election in his opening statement in the first debate. Trump told us why he wanted to renegotiate the trade treaties and how that would help the average American. Hillary alternated between telling us how qualified she was and trying to get Trump to lose his temper. She forgot to tell us what she would do for Americans.

Election night was a surprise but not a shock. I'd been studying the electoral map. I figured that the pollsters had oversampled Democrats and Trump was running stronger than they showed. Once you assumed this, then all of the undecided and leaning Democrat states which were in the margin of error were likely to go to Trump. Which is exactly what happened.

So we took election day off to celebrate. And we just smiled the following day when throngs of women turned out in their pink pussy hats (which are now forbidden because not all "women" have pussies and women of color have brown pussies).

So... how did he do?

Let's be honest, Trump got off to a rough start. New presidents always have problems. Carter tried to be his own chief of staff and failed miserably. Clinton appointed a childhood friend as chief of staff then had to fire him. Trump made these guys' first few months look smooth.

This was inevitable. Between the never-Trumpers and the people who refused to "normalize" Trump by working for him, he had a shallow bench to draw from. He used a lot of family and campaign staff who had never worked in government. Turnover was unusually high. But things have settled down, just as they did for his predecessors.

Politically Trump really surprised me. His opponents keep calling his policies "populist" or "nationalist" or "authoritarian". Actually, they are Reaganesque. Trump followed through on his pledged to reduce government. He also stood up to our enemies.

When Syria first crossed Obama's unintentional red line, he went to Congress for permission to respond, promising that the response would be "unbelievably small". When Congress refused to shoulder the blame, Russia bailed him out, negotiating with Syria to remove their chemical weapons. That didn't stop them from killing their own people. They simply used chlorine gas which wasn't on the forbidden list and Obama was happy to ignore them. The first time they did that with Trump in the White House, we made a missile strike against the air field their bombers used. This might have qualified as the unbelievably small response that Obama planned but coming as it did on the heels of the gassing, it showed strength and the gassing stopped.

Obama left Trump a note telling him that North Korea would be his biggest problem. Obama kicked that can down the road as far as it could go. I'm not sure that Trump has a solution to North Korea - the four previous presidents failed. But they seem to be talking Trump more seriously than Obama.

A year ago were were still at war with ISIS and expecting it to take years to drive them out of the territories that they controlled. That put Americans and Europeans at risk from ISIS's sophisticated terrorist network. Trump stepped up the war and changed the rules of engagement. As a result, ISIS no longer controls any cities. That makes it much harder for what's left of them to recruit which makes us safer.

Trump's biggest triiumps have been domestic. We were told when he tool office that the days of economic growth were over. Instead we just had three quarters of growth over 3% - the best showing in 13 years. The stock market keeps setting records.

This is not just the continuation of trends that started under Obama. It is the response Trump rolling back burdensome regulations. Obama's administration seemed to believe that there was no cost to new regulations (or that they were worth it). Businesses refused to invest, preferring to keep their cash reserves to handle whatever new regulations were thrown at them. Now, with that fear gone, businesses are investing and giving raises.

And that was before the tax reform. The corporate tax reform was significant and highly overdue. American corporations were keeping trillions of dollars parked overseas because America had the world's highest corporate tax rate. Hillary's (and Bernie's) solution to this was to try to penalize corporations. Trump and the Republican Congress encouraged these companies to bring the money home. Apple alone announced that they will bring a quarter trillion dollars into the US. We will soon see a cash infusion of trillions of dollars into the US economy. This is big.

Plus Trump is packing the courts with young conservatives.

I could go on but you get my drift. Yes, Trump is blunt and uncontrolled but the left hated every Republican president. The more conservative he is the more they hate him. Even Romney, as mild as moderate a candidate as you will find was going to roll America back to the 1950s with segregation and a loss of women's rights. The nation would be just as divided had a more moderate Republican won. As long as they are going to hate you anyway, you might as well go big.