Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Perpetual Impeachment Proceedings

In was wake of a special council being named to investigate connections between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, local Representative Joyce Beatty called for impeachment proceedings to begin. Keep in mind that to date, no one has identified an actual crime beyond someone hacking the DNC email server and the Gmail account of John Podesta. It still hasn't been proven that thee hacks were directed by the Russian government (and a whole new wrinkle was thrown in when a private investigator claimed that a member of the DNC was the real source of the Wikileaks material). While there was incidental contact between people associated with the Trump campaign, it has not been proved that this was anything but innocent. If there was a quid pro quo agreement between the Russians and the Trump campaign, so far there is no trace of it. And, since there is no evidence of an agreement, there is no evidence that Trump was party to it.

In other words, at this point all we have is a circumstantial case that the Russians tried to affect the election and a deduction that Trump must have been involved.

Without a lot more concrete evidence, there can be no impeachment. And investigations like this take a long time. We may not have the results in until after Trump is reelected.

So why is Beatty talking about impeachment right now? Sheer partisan hatred.

This is poisonous to our democracy. Trump won the election fair and square according to the rules in place at the time, The Democrats spent the months leading up to Trump's inauguration trying to change the rules. Not that that failed, they are looking for pretexts to remove him from office.

But the Democrats are so blinded by partisan rage that they don't see what till happen next. The Republicans spent the Obama years being fairly quiet. True, Congress obstructed as much of Obama's agenda as they could but that's what opposition parties do. What they did not do was vow start talking publicly about removing him from office before he was even sworn in. But if the Democrats keep trying to remove Trump then they can count on their next president getting a similar reception.

Let's save time and start the impeachment proceedings for the next Democrat president now. Beatty has already shown that we don't need an actual cause.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Shattered - what it tells us and what it doesn't

The recent book Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign is an interesting insider's account of Hillary's campaign and why it failed. The authors said that they had been getting information from the campaign staff all through the campaign on condition that is not be published until after the election. I suspect that the authors intended it to chronicle Hillary's winning campaign and how she surmounted numerous internal issues and external events.

The authors are Democrat insiders. They have detailed accounts of Bernie Sanders's entrance into the campaign but very little insight into Trump of his campaign. The biggest insights come from the debate preparation when they admitted that Hillary's trump-proxy was a better candidate than Hillary.

There are some omissions and false impressions. The book waits until the final chapter to mention that Trump was the candidate that Hillary wanted to run against. Early polling showed that she had the best chance against him and her hope was that he would pull the entire Republican slate down with him, giving Democrats total control of Congress and the White House. This was reduced to a single sentence.

Hillary's Basket of Deplorables speech was covered but around the same time she recorded a video asking "Why aren't I 50 points ahead?" That got a lot of play and contitributed to her early-September slump but was skipped.

At one point Trump jokingly called on Russia to release the 35,000 emails that Hillary had deleted. This was meant as a dig at the private server and the assumption that it had already been hacked. Trump was not calling on the Russians to hack into the server. The Clinton campaign spun it as Trump calling on the Russians to hack into the server which was already in FBI custody and off-line. Shattered repeats the charge without pointing out how silly that spin was.

After the second debate the Clinton campaign circulated a picture of Trump "looming disapprovingly behind Hillary," Shattered mentioned that Hillary rehearsed for the debate on a set that was lent to her by Obama but failed to mention that she actually made a point of walking past him to the other side of the stage so that she was between Trump and a photographer.

Shattered goes light on some of the damaging details leaked such as the Clinton campaign getting questions in advance. At the same time it over-emphasizes the effect of the Podesta emails. This probably reflected the view inside the Clinton campaign. Wikileaks did a daily dump of emails for the month before the election. That meant that the Clinton campaign had to check hundreds or thousands of emails daily and evaluate if any were damaging. As it turned out, there was very little of significance in the emails and it's unlikely that they had any measurable effect on the polls. Regardless, Hillary is still talking about them, using the same language that Shattered uses.

Despite these short-comings, Shattered is a good look at all of the back-scenes drama that was kept hidden. It is also comforting for anyone who is unsure about Trump being elected. Given the problems that Hillary had just keeping her campaign together, her presidency would have been a disaster.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means

Why did Hillary Clinton lose the election? Misogyny

What is President Trump? A Misogynist
 
We hear that constantly but up until late last Summer those words almost never appeared. What was used instead was sexism and sexist.

For those who never heard of a misogynist before the 2016 presidential campaign, it means someone who hates women. It does not mean someone who imposes himself on women. A true misogynist would never do that because he hates women.

And seriously, does Hillary really think that she lost the election because a large portion of the electorate hates women?

The proper word here is sexist and sexism but those words are not strong enough.

The same thing happened with racism. There used to be a distinction between prejudice and racism. Some acting from a stereotype, possibly with good intentions, was prejudiced. But someone who actively hated a person because of his race was a racist. Over years, the definition of racism has been inflated until it pushed prejudice out of the vocabulary. Now the left is trying to do this with sexism, just to make things sound worse.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Trump and Comey

President Trump fired the director of the FBI. This was the first time a president has fired an FBI director since President Clinton fired William Sessions in 1993. The Democrats and the press (which are practically the same thing) went wild, insisting that this was done because Comey was investigating Trump's connections to Russia. They insisted this despite Comey saying repeatedly that the FBI was not investigating the President.

So, what's going on? I can see three possibilities:

1) Trump Derangement Syndrome. To many on the left, everything that Trump does is ominous and self-centered. They've never given up on the idea that Trump is a Russian puppet so they see this as just one more piece of evidence. They are the Trump version of Birthers.

2) Political posturing. Many on the left are calling for a special prosecutor to investigate. Savvy operators know that special prosecutors can run wild. Look at Clinton - the special prosecutor was appointed to investigate if Clinton as Governor gave special treatment to Whitewater Savings where Chelsea's college fund was invested but ended up investigating charges of sexual harassment in the White House. The hope is that once a prosecutor is appointed to investigate Trump, he won't stop until he finds an impeachable offense.

3) Trump was taking appropriate action. Just as a thought exercise, let's assume for a moment that Trump is not Russia's stooge. Comey lost the trust of both parties last year by inserting himself into the campaign multiple times. Just a few days ago he testified before Congress about his actions. Despite his rationalizations, the Democrats were still livid at him. The Republicans still haven't forgiven him for letting Hillary Clinton off the hook by saying that no reasonable prosecutor would file charges. Comey was a distraction for the FBI and no one trusted him. The best thing to do was fire him.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The Resistance and Trump's reelection

I know that Donald Trump was only inaugurated a bit over three months ago but I had an insight about his chances to be reelected based on pop culture reaction to previous presidents.

For this I'm using modern presidents because I'm basing this partly on the relationship between the president and pop culture. Kennedy was assassinated before he could run for reelection and Johnson was a special case. So for this exercise, I'm starting with Nixon and continuing through Obama.

During that period there have been five Republican presidents: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush(41) and Bush(43). There were three Democrats: Carter, Clinton, and Obama.

Now here's the interesting part, Nixon, Reagan and Bush(43) were hated in pop culture. All three had constant protests and inspired numerous dystonian predictions. They were often openly mocked. Take this example from the comic strip Doonsbury.  CBS ran a two hour special by a British puppeteer group that was mainly an anti-Reagan screed. You can see a sample of their work here. Things went into high gear under Bush(43). Several major movies were released with strong anti-Iraq messages (they all tanked). Cable news channel MSNBC reinvented itself as the anti-Bush channel led by Keith Olbermann. Whoppi Goldburg went on a drunken tear during an awards show comparing her pubic hair to the president.

I could give lots of other examples. My point is that the Democrats hated all three of these presidents with a white hot anger. And all three were reelected. Nixon and Reagan won record landslides. Bush(43) didn't do as well but he was still the first president to win a majority of the vote in four elections.

What about Ford and Bush(41)? They were mocked a bit, mainly on SNL. But there were no marches, no major protests. They were tolerated. And they lost.

It's harder to apply this to the Democrats. Pop culture is dominated by people who are Democrat-friendly. But anti-Clinton sentiment bubbled up in other places. Rush Limbaugh became amazingly popular as the resistance to Clinton. The same thing happened with Glen Beck and Obama. These radio celebrities led the resistance to Clinton and Obama respectively. Republicans hated both of these presidents. The Gingrinch Revolution and the Tea Party rose to fight these presidents. And they failed miserably. Both presidents were reelected easily.

Carter was a different matter. There was no widespread resistance to him. There were no protests. Even SNL ignored him. And he lost.

So here we are with Trump. The left hates him with a passion. They've marched in the street in the hundreds of thousands. But it doesn't matter. In fact, all of that hate probably helps Trump. He's not the monster that the left makes him out to be and reasonable people tend to recoil from unreasonable hatred.

So all of this hatred is likely to increase Trump's chances of reelection.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Hillary's Mistakes

In one of her first public interviews, Hillary Clinton admitted to making mistakes but was vague about them, preferring to focus instead on factors outside her control.

So, did we make mistakes? Of course we did. Did I make mistakes? Oh my gosh, yes. … But the reason why I believe we lost were the intervening events in the last ten days. And I think you can see, I was leading in the early vote. I had a very strong — and not just our polling and data analysis, but a very strong assessment going on across the country about where I was, in terms of the necessary — both votes and electoral votes.

I disagree with her assessment that intervening events were the cause of her loss. She made lots and lots of mistakes and some of them led directly to the intervening events she complained about. Here's a partial list of mistakes:

The Email Server. The FBI couldn't have announced that they had reopened an investigation of misuse of classified information if Hillary hadn't used a private server in the first place. She wanted to have total control over what got out. She even went so far as to delete more than half of the emails on the server. Why did she do this? Excess concern for privacy? To hide influence peddling? We'll never know but the speculation darkens an already tarnished reputation (more on this later). In addition to this, she was careless with classified material. It just came out that she regularly forwarded emails to her assistant, Huma, to print and she forwarded them to her husband, Anthony Weiner. If this had made the headlines before the election she might not have lost the popular vote as well as the Electoral College.

Libya. If it wasn't for Hillary we'd never have overthrown Libya. This was a disaster for the Libyans and it lead to the death of an US ambassador. It also poisoned the US's relationship with Putin. Libya's Qaddafi had been cooperating with the US including voluntarily dismantling its nuclear program and we overthrew Qaddafi anyway. Putin was convinced that he'd be next and blamed Hillary. Personally, I don't think that the release of emails hacked by the Russians had much effect on the election but if it did, it can be traced back to this.

Wall Street and the Clinton Foundation. The voters were still mad at Wall Street about the Great recession. Both Sanders and Trump harnessed this anger. But Hillary was a creature of Wall Street. She made millions giving speeches to big banks. So did her husband, Bill. The Clintons' speaking fees were high, too. So, were these institutions simply paying for big-name speakers to impress the attendees at their functions or were they buying future good will from the next president? Again, we don't know. Hillary danced around the issue a lot and insisted that she'd warned the banks to be more careful with their investments but the one leaked transcript show just the opposite. She spent her time congratulating the banks on their wisdom. People wanted an outsider and she was the ultimate insider. She was even warned that accepting speaking fees from banks would hurt her and she brushed the warning off.

Lies and prevarications. Hillary has the reputation for never telling the truth when she can lie or tell a half truth. She did both constantly and, when she did tell the truth, she did it in a lawyerly way. She flat out lied when she said that her personal email server was because she can't use two devices at a time. She was forced to make admissions but never came out and told the entire truth. She hid the fact that she had pneumonia until she collapsed in public and even then spent hours insisting that it was just dehydration.

Expecting to rebuild the Obama coalition. Hillary expected that, as Obama's chosen successor, his voters would automatically default to her. But Obama was a fresh face and an outsider. Hillary became First Lady before many voters were born. Democrats voted for her out of duty but it was a joyless campaign.

Running negative. No one has ever run such a negative campaign as the one Hillary ran against Donald Trump. She started them well before the official launch of the national campaign, before either of them was officially the candidate. There were numerous cuts but they were all the same message, repeating things that Trump had said over years or decades. This was the worst thing that Hillary could have done. After months of hearing the same Trump quotes, they no longer shocked. They just faded into the background. Hillary inoculated the voters against Trump. The few positive ads that she ran failed to tell voters what she would do for them. That gave Trump space to tell voters what he would do for them.

The Basket of Deplorables. You just don't insult somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 of the voters. Ever.

At one point Hillary released an internal video were she asked why she wasn't ahead by 50 points. Given all of her mistakes, it's a wonder that she was ever ahead.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

LGB Rights Turned on Their Head

I'm old enough to remember when the movement was called Gay Lib. Then Lesbians and bisexuals insisted on inclusion and it became Gay and Lesbian Rights. Bisexuals were added in and it became LGT Rights. Through it all, the movement had one message: "We aren't asking anyone else to turn gay, we just want to be free to express our own proclivities." This is an appeal to basic fairness and very hard to argue against. Reasonable people will agree that what ever happens between consenting couples is their business.

Two things have happened in the last couple of years that have turned this argument upside down. It began when the transsexuals managed to include themselves into the mix becoming LGBT then LGBTQ, sometimes with other letters added at the end. This flew below the radar until 2015 when the Supreme Court declared gay marriage legal nation-wide. Suddenly the LGB part of the alliance had achieved all of their goals.

Movements seldom just declare victory and shut down. They declare new goals. So, the LGBT movement seamlessly moved on to the T part with the Q part waiting in the wings.

Things get kind of strange here. Where, previously we had two sexes easily differentiated by their chromosomes as well as secondary sexual characteristics. Now we have a gender spectrum where gender is separate from sex. Officially the movement is pushing the idea of being born in the wrong body. Just as gays were "born this way", trans people say that their bodies do not match their gender. Someone might have XY chromosomes but still be convinced, deep down, that he is and always has been a woman and that society should treat him as a her.

This group has yet to reconcile with the gender-fluid people who claim to change genders as often as their clothing and who want to be treated as whatever gender they happen to be currently wearing. But I'll ignore them for the moment.

A big problem with being a transsexual is that sexual reassignment surgery is expensive and just builds an approximation of the opposite sex's genitals. So a majority of transsexuals only change secondary sex characteristics. Trans-women take hormones to grow breasts and possible get implants. Trans-men take hormones to grow beards and have their breasts removed. This leads to the construct "a woman who happens to have a penis".

Problems arise when trans people start dating. It's difficult to find a guy (or a lesbian woman) who wants to have sex with a girl who happens to have a penis. The problem resolves itself with trans couples but the number of trans people is really pretty small.

Which bring me to the point of this post - the demand that CIS-gender people (people whose gender matches their genitalia) ignore a trans person's genitalia. Here's a rant by a trans women who insists on being treated as a real women. The original, powerful message of the Gay Lib movement is gone. Instead of "let us live our lives", (s)he's now demanding that others change.

This is self-defeating. Where gay rights advocates have always insisted that you can't force someone to change their sexual attraction, now the trans people are demanding just that. And they are not just demanding it from straight people. They are demanding that everyone change. And you just can't expect people to change their sexual preferences because you demand it. It just doesn't work that way.

This is also a total redefinition of what it is to be gay or straight. By this reasoning, gays are now two people with the same secondary sex characteristics regardless of primary sexual characteristics.

I expect that this conflict will start breaking up the LGBTQ alliance. If that doesn't then the gender-fluid folks will.

 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Chess and Checkers

Hillary Clinton managed to lose two presidential races where she was the front-runner with a huge financial advantage. First she lost the 2008 primary to Barack Obama then she lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump. I had a recent insight into how this could happen - Hillary was using checkers rules in a chess game.

There are two major differences between checkers and chess. The obvious one is that the pieces move differently. But that's minor. The biggest difference is that you win checkers by taking all of your opponent's pieces but you win chess by taking the king. Taking pieces in chess is a strategy but it can also be a distraction and it is possible for a player with fewer pieces to still win by effective use of his resources.

In both elections, Hillary had the wrong objectives. She went after large states, assuming that wins there would crush her opponents. Both Obama and Trump ran in states that Hillary ignored and, when she didn't do as well in the big states, they passed her.

Once you look at it this way, you can see several aspects of Hillary's campaign that showed the wrong strategy. Look at the first debate. The accepted wisdom was that Trump needed to act presidential and keep from losing his temper. Hillary was supposed to have consulted with experts on how to needle him and make him lose his temper. In a later debate she made a point of crossing the stage so she could be photographed with Trump looming behind her. Then her staff sent out the picture as an example of how women have to cope with angry men looming over their shoulder.

What Hillary forgot was that the goal of the debates was not to score points on your opponent. It was to convince the voters that they would be better off with you in the White House. Trump spent most of his opening statement explaining why renegotiating treaties would help put people back to work.

Hillary had twice the campaign funds as Trump but she only spent a fraction on ads promoting herself and those only told how she had fought for children all her career. The vast majority of her ads were aimed at telling us that Trump is a bad person. Like taking chess pieces, negative ads can put you in a stronger position but they miss the goal of convincing enough people to vote for you to win the Electoral College.

Trump did the opposite - me told people how he would help them. Trump, like Obama before him, never lost sight of the goal and both dark horse candidates went on to win the presidency.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Gotcha Politics

While making a point about the brutality of the Syrian government, White House spokesman Sean Spicer pointed out that even Hitler didn't use chemical weapons. This should have been an uncontroversial statement since it is true. World War One saw wide-spread use of mustard and chlorine gas warfare. It was widely anticipated that Hitler would order the V2s fired at London to be equipped with similar payloads and images of the Blitz show Londoners in gas masks in preparation for that.

Similarly, battlefield troops across Europe were equipped with gas masks which they never needed.

So why the controversy? It's because the Nazis used gas chambers to kill Jews and other minorities.

This is not remotely the same thing as dropping nerve gas on apartment buildings. Spicer did not try to compare Assad's brutality to Hitler's. He was referring to specific battlefield use of chemical weapons Pointing this out in no way diminished the horrors of the concentration camps or Hitler's final solution and no one would have been outraged if President Obama's spokesman had made a similar statement. It's just gotcha politics.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

About that Pepsi Ad

The big story of the day (not counting poison gas in Syria and rocket tests in North Korea) is a "tone deaf" ad by Pepsi featuring Kendall Jenner.

Assuming it hasn't been pulled, you can see it here.

The add contrasts a big but friendly street protest and a professional model in the middle of a photo shoot. The model is wearing a slinky silver dress, makeup and a blond wig. There is also a guy playing a cello (or similar large stringed instrument) which is not part of the sound track and a woman in Islamic headscarf who is looking at contact sheets or something. The guy with the cello drinks a Pepsi and joins the march. The woman in the headscarf screams in frustration, scatters she contact sheets, grabs her camera and runs out the march. The cello guy catches the eye of the model who apparently is suddenly "woke". She pulls her wig off, flashes to herself with different makeup, then hands her wig to an older black woman and joins the parade. She also manages to change clothes in an instant.

The model picks up a can of Pepsi, gives a Pepsi-fist bump to a couple of people including cello-guy and has her picture taken by headscarf girl. Then she hands the can of Pepsi to a good-looking cop who is standing peacefully nearby. He drinks it and the crowd goes wild.

The ad is sort of a feel-good version of the anti-Trump marches. People are carrying peace signs or signs that say "Join the conversation" and "love". There are a lot of minorities but the majority of the crowd is white. There are several cops present but none of them are visibly armed. A couple have riot helmets but most are simply standing there with their arms held behind them. There is no hint of violence.

If anyone should be offended, it's Trump supporters. It makes protests seem cool, especially if Pepsi is involved.

But that's not who's protesting. The complaints are all coming from the left, primarily Black Lives Matters. Here's a report on the backlash. The backlash is mainly split into two complaints. The first is Pepsi co-opting protest culture to sell soft drinks. That's a valid complaint.

The other complaint, and probably the real one, is that it makes the police look human. That's not how they put it but it's what they mean. It's a peaceful march, not a violent protest. The cops are engaged in traffic control. But the commenters keep going on about how a black marcher would be shot for approaching a cop like that.

Again, there is nothing in the ad to link it to the BLM marches. The closest anyone has come is a still of Kendal approaching the cop with a can and a picture of a BLM protestor being arrested.

But Black Lives Matters is all about teaching people that cops are terrible, people who will use any excuse to kill blacks. They still repeat the "Hands up, don't shoot" lie. So they can't allow an ad campaign that shows marchers and cops getting along. The ad has to go.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Nuking the Court

Senate Democrats are about to successfully filibuster a Supreme Court nominee for the first time ever. In response the Republicans are expected to "go nuclear" and change the rules governing the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.The Democrats are making a mistake and doing it for very poor reasons. At the heart of their justifications are two truths - that they have no respect for principle and that they prefer to oppose President Trump than to serve the country,

They claim that the seat that Gorsuch was nominated to was "stolen" from Garland, President Obama's nominee and that no vote on Gorsuch should be allowed until a vote on Garland is first held. This sounds great in principle until you remember that President Obama and Vice-President Biden were both against a President nominating judges in their final year. I'd like to know if the Democrats would have held to these principles if Hillary Clinton had been elected and nominated a different, more progressive justice? I suspect I know the answer.

Gorsuch's elevation to the Supreme Court will not change the balance. He will be a conservative replacing a conservative and there is no chance that President Trump will withdraw his nomination and replace it with Garland.

A case can be made for leaving the court with eight members. Since Obama packed the lower courts with ideological appointments, that means that the court will keep ruling 4-4 on controversial matters letting lower court rulings stand. While terrible for jurisprudence, this would be good politically for the Democrats. But that would requite them to keep the seat open the entire Trump administration and to manage to win a 60-vote majority in the Senate after a Democrat replaces Trump. This would be a viable strategy if not for the nuclear option. The Republicans will not allow the Democrats to leave the seat vacant and by opposing such a well-qualified candidate who will not shift the court, the Democrats make the nuclear option inevitable.

That leaves obstructionism for its own sake as the Democrats' only motive. Their far-left base insists that Trump be opposed in every possible way and they are pandering to that group rather than serving their country.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wonder Woman's Arm Pits

There's a controversy about Wonder Woman's arm pits. Some feminists are outraged that Diana shaves them. Here's some thoughts on that:

The character has been represented without excess body hair for decades.

Ancient Greek Women removed extra body hair (NSFW). Wonder Woman's culture is inspired by the ancient Greeks.

Many fashion trends, such as shaving, are as much about impressing other woman as they are looking good for men.

Men shave, too and much more often (and these days, men shave more of their bodies, too). I've seen speculation that both sexes are trying to preserve an adolescent look. Men shave world-wide including in cultures where women do not shave and this goes back thousands of years. There's something in the human makeup that makes us want to remove body hair. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Science and Dogma

Recently a student organization at Middlebury College invited Charles Murray to speak. Murray is considered a controversial speaker because he co-wrote the book The Bell Curve in the 1990s. His most recent work is about the effect that college recruitment has on income inequality. Rather than hear what Murray had to say or just ignore his talk, protestors shut it down and forced him to leave, injuring a professor in the process. The college paper published a letter from a guest contributor signed Nic Valenti '17 that gives some insight into the motivations of the protestors.

Nic begins with this:

I can understand the perceptions that would lead the AEI to invite a controversial speaker such as Charles Murray. Indeed, when I first arrived at Middlebury I was clueless to the systems of power constructed around race, gender, sexuality, class or ability, and found that when I talked about these issues as I understood them — or rather, as I didn't — I was met with blank stares and stigma rather than substantial debate. As a young bigot, I can recall thinking: "I thought at Middlebury I would get to have intellectual discussions, but instead it feels as though my views are being censored." However, as a first-year I had failed to consider a simple, yet powerful component of debate: not all opinions are valid opinions. I had fallen into the trap of false equivalence.

He then talks about a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, a Young Earth Creationist, on the legitimacy of evolution. Naturally, Nye failed to convince Ham which seems to have infuriated Nic. That serves as a springboard into the controversy about Charles Murray:

And yet Charles Murray's views are even more dangerous than Ham's. Ham disavows a scientific theory; Murray disavows the fundamental equality of all human beings. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center: "In Murray's world, wealth and social power naturally accrue towards a 'cognitive elite' made up of high-IQ individuals (who are overwhelmingly white, male and from well-to-do families), while those on the lower end of the eponymous bell curve form an 'underclass' whose misfortunes stem from their low intelligence. According to Murray, the relative differences between the white and black populations of the United States, as well as those between men and women, have nothing to do with discrimination or historical and structural disadvantages, but rather stem from genetic differences between the groups."
This is an interesting juxtaposition and it shows how misguided Nic is about the world.

First of all, Nye didn't have a chance of convincing Ham. Nye was taking the scientific viewpoint which is that you go where-ever the evidence takes you. Ham was taking a dogmatic viewpoint that the Bible is to be taken as literally as possible and and evidence that says otherwise must be incorrect. I doubt if Nye ever expected to convince Ham. He was playing to the audience of people who might have been swayed by Ham.

So, on to Murray. Murray is not arguing dogma. He is a scientist and he is arguing in favor of an interpretation of the evidence. He uses genetics and statistics to make his case, both hard sciences.

Nic doesn't even bother to quote a dissenting scientist. Instead he quotes from the Southern Poverty Law Center which is not a scientific body by any stretch of the imagination. They are condemning Murray because they don't like the implications of his conclusions.

Nic doesn't realize it but he's in the same position as Ken Ham - he's spouting dogma against a scientist. If you look at Nic's earlier paragraph in this light you can see the parallels between it and a religious tract: "I was a sinner but I've received the word and I've been saved." Nic tells us that he came to college ready to debate issues but was indoctrinated.

This attitude explains the violence against a speaker. Science allows dissenting opinions to be voiced. They are then accepted or rejected on the soundness of their arguments. Dogma rejects all dissent out of hand and harshly suppresses heresy.

In late-17th century the Puritans in New England had a problem. The founders were sure they had been saved. But they weren't sure about their children. Salvation isn't hereditary and there's no visible mark to tell who is among the elect (the ones chosen by God). According to the Puritans. the only way to be sure was to constantly search your own soul and the souls of those around you for sin. That's what college campuses have become these days. The students are constantly searching each other's souls for and deviation from their dogma and engaging in ostentatious virtue signalling to prove that they are among the elect.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Kellyanne and the Gotcha photo

Earlier this week President Trump had a meeting with over 100 leaders of historically black colleges and universities. The press didn't run a picture of that. And pictures were taken. Here's one of Kellyanne Conway taking a picture with her phone.



Here's the picture that was run



Which was followed by criticism for Kellyanne for having her feet on the couch and fir sitting in the presence of the visitors. This is a "gotcha" picture. It had two purposes:

1) It keeps the press from having to report on Trump's outreach to a large group of black leaders.

2) It helps to discredit Kellyanne. The left hates her with a passion for orchestrating Trump's winning campaign.

Contrast this with eight years ago when CNN had a group of black kids singing and dancing in support of Obamacare.

That's why the press is no longer trusted.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Two Year Myth

Ever since the election I've been seeing people on the left talking about how Trump will be president for two years. The highest profile version of this I've seen to date is a column by former conservative Kathleen Parker. She says:

My "good" prediction is based on the Law of the Pendulum. Enough Americans, including most independent voters, will be so ready to shed Donald Trump and his little shop of horrors that the 2018 midterm elections are all but certain to be a landslide — no, make that a mudslide — sweep of the House and Senate. If Republicans took both houses in a groundswell of the people's rejection of Obamacare, Democrats will take them back in a tsunami of protest.

This is a total fantasy. There is no way that the Democrats can remove Trump from office, even in an unprecedented landslide. No chance at all.

Because Senators server six year terms, the people coming up for reelection in 2018 are the ones who last ran in 2012 with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. The Democrats who won were riding on Obama's coattails and the Republicans who won were bucking a headwind. The numbers show that. The Democrats and independents who caucus with the Democrats are defending 25 seats. The Republicans are defending 8. That's long odds for the Democrats.

But, let's assume that the Democrats manage a clean sweep and win all 33 seats. That would give them 56 seats. Assuming that they also take the house and pass a bill on impeachment, then the Senate would have to vote on removing President Trump and that takes a 2/3s super-majority. They'd have to have 67 votes. Does anyone seriously think that 11 Republicans will join the Democrats in ejecting a Republican president? The best guide we have to go on was the impeachment of Bill Clinton which failed in the Senate because the Democrats refused to vote to remove him, even though there was no question that he was guilty of perjury.

And, even if the Democrats did manage to remove Trump, that just elevates Pence to the presidency. Are we to believe that they will find cause to impeach him, too, so that nancy Pelosi can be president (it goes without saying that they will also refuse to confirm a replacement vice president after Trump is removed).

So any hopes of removing President Trump involve a lot of wishful thinking.




But is it even rational to assume that 2018 will be a Democratic wave election? The White House changes parties regularly. Since World War II, it's switched every 8 years with two exceptions, both involving Reagan (Reagan defeated a sitting president and his successor was elected but only held the White House for a single term). The Senate has changed hands several times since the Republicans took it in 1980 but its shifts tend to take 6 years or longer. The Republicans have only controlled the Senate since 2014.

The House is a different animal. The Democrats controlled it continuously from the 1930s until 1994 with the exception of the Republicans controlling it twice, both times for single term in the 1950s. The Republicans finally won control of the House in 1994  after 40 years and kept it until 2006 then won it back again in 2010.

It's instructive to look at what was going on when the House changed hands. 1994 was partly a reaction to Bill Clinton's presidency but it also featured the Contract With America - a set of issues that the Republicans promised to vote on in their first 100 days. They delivered on their Contract, also, but it was mainly symbolic since the Democrats still controlled the Senate.

The Democrats took the House in two wave elections. The first, in 2006, was largely a reaction to the war in Iraq. The 2008 election was a reaction to the financial crisis. The Republicans formed the Tea Party in 2009 and took the House back the following year. Considering that the Democrats controlled the House for 58 out of 62 years then the House may be in a similar, long-term Republican period with short interruptions because of external events. If this is true then there is no pendulum to swing back.

There is good reason to believe this. The country in general tends to be center-right but in the last two decades people have self-selected so that the country is a sea of red with small clusters of urban-dwelling liberals. This makes it nearly impossible to draw competitive congressional districts. Ohio continues to be nearly 50/50 but the graphic below shows how the Democrats have retreated into only a few counties.




Even if we assume that it is possible to swing Congress back so soon, what will the Democrats' message be? Their post-election analysis rejected and moderation in favor of doubling down on progressive policies and identity politics. They have sworn to to all that they can to resist President Trump at every level. That satisfies their base but they already have the base's vote. A lot depends on how Trump's policies play out but the Democrats are taking a huge risk. They are convinced that Trump is a terrible president and that the rest of the country will eventually realize it. They have no plan B. If Trump succeeds or even muddles through then the Democrats will fail. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Elizabeth Warren (sort of) Gets It.

In a speech to the Democrats last weekend, Elizabeth Warren had some genuine insights.

Our moment of crisis didn't begin with the election of Donald Trump," she said. "We were already in crisis. We were already in crisis because for years and years and years, Washington has worked just great for the rich and the powerful, but far too often, it hasn't worked for anyone else."

"People don't just wake up one day and elect leaders like Donald Trump because 'hey, everything is awesome, but what the hell, let's roll the dice and make life interesting,'" she added. 

Democrats frequently enabled or participated in these trends, Warren said.

"Republican politicians have pushed one policy after another that has favored the rich and powerful over everyone else, and far too often, Democrats have gone right along," she said. "And no matter how extreme Republicans in Washington became, Democrats might grumble or whine, but when it came time for action, our party hesitated and pushed back only with great reluctance. Far too often, Democrats have been unwilling to get out there and fight."

She's exactly right when she says that people didn't elect Trump because they are satisfied. But she missed some important points.

Her biggest problem is her insistence that it's all the Republicans' fault.

This country is in an economic crisis. For more than 30 years, working families, middle class families, poor families, students, seniors have been squeezed harder and harder, and now they are at the breaking point. Republican politicians have pushed one policy after another that has favored the rich and powerful over everyone else, and far too often, Democrats have gone right along. And no matter how extreme Republicans in Washington became, Democrats might grumble or whine, but when it came time for action, our party hesitated and pushed back only with great reluctance. Far too often, Democrats have been unwilling to get out there and fight.


Warren needs to take a close look at her own party. They like to tell themselves that they are the party of the working people and not the rich and powerful but that's not how people outside the party see them. Who are their biggest donors? Wall Street, Hollywood and Silicon Valley. The super rich. And why do these super rich people donate to the Democrats if the Republicans are the ones pushing policies favoring them? Are these people crazy? Or maybe the Democrats have become the party of the rich while telling themselves that they still represent the poor.

Former President Obama likes to brag that he saved the economy but what he saved was Wall Street. No one went to jail. All of those companies that are too big to fail weren't broken up. Instead they were buttressed. Income inequality kept rising. The Fed pushed billions into Wall Street by lowering interest rates to an effective 0%.

Ideology rules the Democrats. When given a choice between jobs and ideology, ideology always wins. The XP pipeline may not produce all that many jobs but it is symbolic of how the Democrats think. Even after studies showed that it was safe and would not contribute measurably to global warming, the Democrats still killed it because it made the ideologists feel good.

First Obama and then Hillary came out against coal. Hillary actually said that she was going to put coal miners out of work. yes, she went on to say some platitudes about finding them new jobs in clean energy but they knew better than to believe that.

In every other recovery since WWII, small businesses have lead the way but not this time which is probably why the recovery was so weak. What happened to the small businesses? No one is sure but it's very possible that the mountain of new regulations the Obama administration created has something to do with it.

Then there was the Trans-pacific Partnership which Obama decided to call an agreement instead of a treaty so that he wouldn't have to get the Senate to ratify it. He did the same with the Paris Accords, too. Both were unpopular among working-class Americans.

So Warren is correct that people feel left out of the economy but she missed the fact that they blame the Democrats - on every level. The Democrats have become the party of the wealthy and the city-dwellers.

Trump is trying to change the economy and put jobs first. He may be wrong-headed but he's trying to help Americans.

And here's where Warren gets it completely wrong,

We are not the minority party. We are the opposition party, and we need to talk about the key difference between us and them every day—and we need to say it in the plainest possible way

She goes on to talk about all of the regular anti-Trump talking points. But she never talks about what the Democrats will do for the average worker. She never proposes a new economic agenda, just doubling down on the current platform. She never thinks about how that will look to the people who voted for Trump.

So she learned nothing from the election.





Friday, February 03, 2017

The Democrat's Dilemma

The Senate Democrats have a huge dilemma. They spent years complaining about Republican obstructionism in general and the last several months complaining that the Senate Republicans needed to "do their Constitutional job" and approve President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court. But now that President Trump has nominated someone, the Democrats suddenly turned obstructionist.

There is no good reason for opposing Judge Gorsuch. He is eminently qualified and he will not tilt the court further to the right. There are some ruffled feathers on the left because Obama's nominee didn't get a hearing but the precedent of the opposing party stopping lame duck appointments goes back to 1992 and both Barack Obama and Joe Biden supported it as senators.

The main reason there is any controversy is that the left hates President Trump with a white hot passion. They don't want to see the Democrats in Congress cooperating with Trump on anything.

The problem for the Democrats is that it makes what the Republicans did against Obama look mild by example. The Democrats are raising the level of obstruction. This will haunt them in two ways. When they inevitably return to power, the Republicans will use every trick that the Democrats have used. In the meantime, the Republicans have every excuse to throw away the rule book and use the "nuclear option" - changing the rules by a simple majority vote. The Democrats already did this for everything except Supreme Court nominees, something they are surely regretting right now. Doing away with the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees will make it easier to confirm more polarized justices. That's one of those things that's only good when your side can do it.

So the Senate Democrats have strong reasons to allow Judge Gorsuch to be confirmed. But that will anger the base and will probably lead to some primary challenges.

For many Senators, there is no good choice. Doing the right thing will hurt them and doing the wrong thing will hurt the country. So they have a dilemma.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Obama to Trump

A had a few thoughts during Donald Trump's inauguration about the difference between him and former President Obama. The quick version is that Obama's main priority was trying to transform America while Trump's seems to be trying to help Americans.

The XP Pipeline is a perfect example. Studies said that it imposed no significant risks and that the amount of oil produced from it would not affect global warming in any measurable way. Blocking the pipeline stopped American jobs and hurt relations with Canada. But Obama did it anyway for symbolic reasons.

After the Sandy Hook shootings, there was a major push for gun control. None of it would have stopped the tragedy. It was just an excuse for gun control.

The regulatory state went into overdrive during the Obama administration with the EPA claiming control over such diverse things as automobile mileage which had previously been under Congressional control.

Obama claimed that he was forced to use executive orders to reform immigration law because Congress refused to act. The reason Congress didn't act was because the legislation was highly unpopular. Pressure from illegal immigrants depresses wages of American workers.

Obama seemed to give more support to the Black Lives Matters movement than to police officers who were killed directly because of BLM protests.

Obamacare may have insured millions who didn't have insurance, but it also stifled tens of thousands of small companies. In every previous recession, small businesses were responsible for most of the new jobs during the recovery. Without the hiring from small business, the recovery has been, at best, tepid.

The Obama administration and the Democrats in general went out of their way to be as harsh as possible on dissenters. In 2008, Obama felt that he could not be elected if he admitted he favored gay marriage and the State of California passed an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. Regardless of that, any business that refused personal services for gay weddings was fined enough to put it out of business.

The same was true for religious exemptions for birth control under Obamacare. The Obama administration was very unforgiving in awarding exemptions.

I could go on. These are just examples off of the top of my head but they illustrate my point - that Obama and his administration valued conformity with its principles over the desires and well-being of the populous. This was especially true in coal country and managed to push a solidly blue state (West Virginia) to being solidly red.

All I have to go on so far from Trump is his campaign promises and his inaugural speech but he seems to desire to put American workers first, ahead of ideology. That is a huge change from the previous administration.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Obama's Legacy - Foreign Policy

Obama opposed the Iraq war. This gave him a big advantage in the 2008 primaries since Clinton and Edwards had both voted in favor of it. Of course, he was a state senator at the time but it gave him credibility when he made ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the center of his campaign. During one of the debates he stated that he was willing to meet with the heads of hostile countries without pre-condition and spoke disparagingly of treating a presidential visit as a reward to foreign countries. THis was met with disbelief by Clinton and others with foreign policy experience. Regardless, Obama doubled down, implying that nations were hostile to us only because we hadn't approached them properly.

Although never stated publicly, this was the main thrust of Obama's foreign policy: approaching hostile nations and trying to forge friendly relations. He also was a proponent of nuclear disarmament. 

This sounds good in practice but requires careful implementation and care that traditional allies are not slighted.

The Obama years were not a good time to be a friend of the US, especially one who had good relations with the Bush (43) administration. The Obama administration decided that Germany was more important to us than England. India, which had been growing close to the US, got a cool reception from the US under Obama. Israel received the worst treatment as Obama put "daylight" between the two countries culminating with a UN resolution that declares that Judaism's holiest spots are illegally occupied conquered territory.

The various policies are so interconnected that it's hard to know where to start. An easy one is Cuba. The best policy would have been to wait fo the Castro brothers to die of old age and strike a bargain with their successors to lift sanctions in exchange for liberalizing Cuba. But that meant that a different president would get credit for reopening ties with Cuba and Obama wanted that to be part of his legacy. So he opened relations on nothing more than a vague promise from the Castros to release some political prisoners in the future. Unsurprisingly, the opening of Cuba was accompanied by government crackdowns instead of liberalization and Fidel Castro never softened his anti-American speeches until his death.

Iran is a more difficult case. Obama dreamed of being responsible for Iran being accepted back into the brotherhood of nations. He planned for it to take it's place as a regional power and to take our place as the peacekeeper in Iraq. The first step to that was to conclude the talks that were supposed to stop Iran's nuclear program. This cast a long shadow over all of Obama's other dealing in the middle-East. It was obvious to Iran that Obama wanted a treaty more than they did so they were able to dictate his actions elsewhere, particularly Syria. Syria is a client state of Iran and they let it be known that any actions we took to dispose the Syrian government would end the treaty negotiation.

This gave a sanctuary for the radical groups who had been forced out of Iraq to come together to form Isis. When he was finally forced to fight, Isis, Obama limited his efforts to Iraq. There was an effort to find and train Syrians to fight Isis but it was nearly impossible to find people who would promise not to take part in the raging Syrian civil war.

Since Obama had no intention of sending American combat troops to fight Isis, he had to rely on the Kurds. This caused tension with Turkey which has a Kurdish minority that wants to join with the Iraqi Kurds to form their own state. Obama's refusal to establish a no-fly zone over Syria caused more tension (the no-fly zone was vetoed by Iran). Eventually Turkey turned to Russia.

The Syrian civil war has caused humanitarian disaster. Hundreds of thousands are dead and millions displaced. Obama keeps saying that there is no military solution to Syria, only a diplomatic one and engaging in his favorite rhetorical device the straw-man choice (doing nothing vs a full scale invasion which no one has asked for). At this point, the Russians have proved that there is always a military solution if you are ruthless enough.

Libya is another humanitarian disaster, one we were responsible for. Obama supported a rebellion that overthrew a corrupt but stable government. The result is that Libya became a failed state.

The refugees from Syria and Libya are streaming into Europe and threatening to break apart the European Union. Anti-immigrant parties are on the rise in several countries across Europe and resistance to Europe's open border policy was a factor in the Brexit (Obama made things worse by threatening Great Briton that they'd go to the back of the queue in trade talks if they split from Europe. The Brits resented being lectured on their future by an American president and probably helped the leave faction).

We had a chance to change the governments of both Iran and Syria. After a rigged election, the Green Revolution broke out. We could have helped it. The CIA had a group that assists in organizing groups pushing for democratic reforms. Rather than assisting the Green Revolution, Obama ordered a hands-off policy. Later, the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse because of sanctions so he lifted some and lifted even more after the nuclear treaty was signed. He even shipped pallets of cash in small bills to Iran to pay for a hostage release.

At one point, early in the Syrian civil war, Russia offered to force the Syrian government out but we passed on that offer because we were sure it would collapse on its own soon.

Relations with Russia were already strained when Obama took office. He sent Secretary of State with a symbolic "reset button" then followed up personally. Instead of improving, relations continued to deteriorate. The Ukraine was invaded and the Crimea annexed. During a 2012 debate, Obama mocked Romney for calling Russia our biggest geopolitical rival. By his last month in office he was sanctioning them for interfering in the presidential election. Along the way Obama managed to convince Putin that we were planning on overthrowing him.

Egypt has had two revolutions on Obama's watch. In both cases, we started by supporting the current government, then supporting the revolution. The Obama State Department allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to take over Egypt because they were curious to see if it could turn into a responsible government. They couldn't and we supported a military coup which has turned out to be at least as repressive as the two previous governments.

One indirect benefit of Obama's pro-Iran policy is a stronger Israel. The Saudis and their allies are worried by Obama's support for Iran and see Israel as a strong ally, one that the US has similarly turned it's back on.

All of this for a treaty that was supposed to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons but instead gives them a timetable for becoming a legal nuclear power. Like Cuba, Iran was far from grateful. Instead they are working on ballistic missiles capable of striking all of Europe with the nuclear bombs that they are allowed to build in just a few years. And they have already declared that the US is in violation of the treaty which allows them to do anything they want (and can now afford after sanctions were lifted and billions of dollars delivered).

In 2004 Obama accidentally drew a red line for Syria - no chemical weapons. By 2005 it was obvious that they had been using them. Obama and Secretary of State Kerry promised that we would retaliate but it would be "unbelievably small". Then, after Britain's Parliament voted against taking action, Obama decided that he would not act without Congressional approval. Keep in mind that he had already expended his drone war into a half dozen countries and overthrown the government of Libya without Congress but he needed their approval for an unbelievably small retaliation. Congress refused. Russian intervened and Syria gave up its chemical weapons stockpiles and resorted to using chlorine gas instead. This was a terrible outcome. Obama and the US looked weak for making threats that we had no intention of following through on and for needing Russia to clean up after us and it didn't even stop Syria from using poison gas.

That sums up the world's view of the US under Obama. We talk a lot, often talking down to other nations, but we fail to follow through in any meaningful way. The world has stopped looking to the US and now goes it alone or looks to Russia for support.

I've rambled on long enough so I won't even mention China's incursions into the South Sea or Korea's weapons program.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Obama's Legacy - Obamacare

Early in his presidency, Mr. Obama announced to his staff that he needed something big as his legacy. "Isn't saving the world's economy enough?" they asked. "No, it has to be bigger than that," the President told them.

Obama wanted to be remembered as the Roosevelts are for national parks and Social Security, respectively or LBJ and Medicare/Medicaid. He wanted something big.

Surprisingly, health care wasn't the first thing that came to mind for him. The Democratic party had been waiting impatiently since the early 1990s when Hillary Clinton's proposed health care reform collapsed under it's own weight. But health care reform was never a priority for Obama. He'd only included it in his platform to counter Hillary's proposal in the primaries. He'd even mocked her individual mandate. But health care reform was big - big enough to be his legacy.

Since he wasn't that interested in it, he left the details up to Congress and provided no guidance at all except that it should be something to address the uninsured instead of a total overhaul of the health care system. Even that was going to be a hard sell. And it was. Several Congressmen cut deals in exchange for their votes. It was decided early on that the Republicans would be cut out of writing the legislation which meant that they were unanimously against it. The Democrats had enough votes to go it alone but just barely.

The result was a mess but that was acceptable since it could be cleaned up during the reconciliation process with the Senate's version.

Then things got difficult.

Most Americans were happy with their insurance and worried that they'd end up with worse coverage. Opposition started to show up during the August recess when Democrats held town hall meetings to try to sell the legislation. It got worse when it came out that the Congressional leaders had no intention of actually reading the legislation. Public opinion turns against the bill. The final blow came when Ted Kennedy died and a Republican was elected to replace him on an anti-Obamacare platform.

That should have been the end of it. But Obama needed his legacy and the Democrats were convinced that the legislation would eventually become popular and assure them generations of majority status. With only 59 votes in the Senate they could not get past a filibuster so they used a legislative sleight-of-hand and used the House's bill, as written which only required a simple majority vote.

Obamacare became the law of the land without a single Republican vote and with more than half of the country against it.

The bill was flawed and they knew it but Obama and the Democrats preferred to pass something than nothing and they kept telling themselves that it would pay off in the long run.

It didn't. Obamacare never became popular and while Obama was reelected in 2012, the Democrats lost everywhere else.

As different parts of the law went into effect, left-leaning writers bragged about the number of people who were covered but neglected to mention that enrollment was always millions short of projections. This was an important shortfall. In order to work, a lot of young, healthy people needed to be enrolled to pay for the older, sicker ones. The program had no problem signing up the sick ones but the shortfall of healthy members meant that the participating insurance companies had huge losses. This lead to several insurance companies pulling out and others raising their rates much faster than inflation.

In selling the program, Obama promised "if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor". This was named the lie of the year.

One rather cruel part of Obamacare was the Cadillac Plan tax. If your employer-provided plan was too good then it was taxed at a punitive rate to pay for subsidies. This meant that millions of people (and I'm one of them) had their insurance cut because their employer couldn't afford the taxes. In my case, the cuts amount to hundreds a month in out-of-pocket costs and I'm not alone.

Obamacare called for the states to set up insurance exchanges. Many Republican-controlled states refused so Obama simply ordered that the federal government would provide an exchange instead. The roll-out of the federal system was a complete disaster and it was months before the exchange was working properly.

The states that did set up their own exchanges had similar problems and several of those have since folded.

There was an employer mandate in Obamacare but Obama used an executive order to push that back, regardless of not having any actual authority to do this.

Despite being 2,000 pages long, a lot in Obamacare was left to bureaucrats to write. That included what birth control methods would be mandated. At first the Obama administration wanted this mandate to be universal but religious institutions objected. A waiver was allowed for them but the definition of who could get a waiver was very strict. A church could but a school run by that same church could not. This lead to two court cases. In one, Hobby Lobby objected to three out of fifteen types of mandated birth control on the grounds that they caused abortions. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns, objected to providing any birth control. This is still pending after being sent back to the lower courts. When no one in the Obama administration or the Democratic party noticed was that these administrative choices sent a clear message that the Democratic party was anti-religion. This cost them in the 2016 election when Evangelicals and Catholics turned out heavily for the Republicans.

As of this writing, it is unclear exactly what will become of Obamacare. The Republicans have vowed to Repeal and Replace Obamacare. Even if Hillary Clinton had won and the Democrats had swept back into office, the program couldn't survive without a major overhaul.

Obama saw Obamacare as his legacy, something that future generations would look back on. Instead, it will be looked back on as a cautionary tale against rushed, unpopular legislation.


Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Obama's Legacy - The Financial Crisis

No other president in my lifetime entered office worrying about his legacy as much as Barack Obama. As his second term ends, I'll look back at his tenure and rate his legacy.

The financial crisis of 2008, also known as the Great Recession, was a terrible thing for most people but it helped President Obama in many ways.

The crisis itself was not very well understood. During the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton insisted that it was caused by the Bush tax cuts. Even the left-leaning fact checkers rated this one false. The reason for Hillary's prevarication is that the crisis had its roots in Bill Clinton's presidency. During that period, it was decided that increasing home ownership, especially among minorities, would be a good thing. As part of this, many of the qualifications to get a mortgage were eliminated. Previously you needed a large down-payment and the mortgage could be no more than 15%-20% of your income. That made it unlikely that you would default.

At the same time, a weak-dollar policy designed to reduce the trade deficit and historic-low inflation pushed mortgage rates to the lowest in generations. Variable-rate mortgages pushed the rates even lower. All of this created a housing boom. Rising home values allowed people to constantly refinance their house for more than they paid for it while keeping payments low. The Bush administration continued these policies.

All of these mortgages were used to create something new. They would be bundled together and sold as a package along with some insurance against default. With stocks and bonds paying so little because of the low interest rates, these financial instruments were the best way to get an easy return on investments.

The problem was that the whole thing was a house of cards that depended on rising housing values and those couldn't rise forever. That should have been obvious but people were making so much money on all levels that no one seriously questioned  the bubble that they were creating.

The crash was inevitable but not the timing. This is where Obama had an amazing stroke of luck. The crisis hit after the conventions, just in time to derail Senator McCain's campaign as the voters blamed the Republicans. But the worst of it hit before Obama was sworn in. The parts where the world economy were in danger were handled by President Bush, who usually gets the blame for causing it but little credit for saving the world's economy. Many of the steps taken were unpopular, such as bailing out banks. Obama was there  as Senator and president-elect and supported Bush's actions but was able to distance himself from it.

By the time Obama was sworn in, his main job was to not mess up the recovery. But that's not how he was received. People expected him to work miracles. Some (including New Your Times Columnists) called on him to suspend Congress for a year so he could just fix things from the way Bush messed them up.

Congress acted on a stimulus bill that was supposed to save the economy by financing "shovel-ready" jobs that were already planned but needed funding. These didn't really exist and most of the $700 billion went for a grab-bag of programs as well as for propping up cash-strapped states.

Obama also had a free hand to save GM and Chrysler. He did that by having them go through bankruptcy but, in what would become an Obama trademark, by ignoring bankruptcy laws and dividing GM up by executive fiat.

Obama moved to shore up the banks, forcing them to take funds so no one could tell which banks actually needed the money then telling them that "he owned them" and that he was all that stood between them and the crowd with pitchforks.

Obama also announced a program to help people who defaulted on their mortgages. This provoked a backlash by people who felt that Obama was rewarding those who broke the rules and ignoring the ones who followed by the rules. The backlash gave rise to the Tea Party.

After the 2010 election, the Republicans took back the House. There would be no second stimulus. Without that, Obama relied on the Federal Reserve which cut interest rates to as close to zero as is possible to get.

How did all of that work out? Not so well. The recovery was the slowest since the Great Depression. Years later the interest rates are still near-zero. Unemployment has dropped below 5% but the participation rate is the lowest ever and a large percentage of the workforce is under-employed. Given that the Fed is still keeping the economy on life-support, it can be argued that we never actually recovered at all.

It's quite possible that the underlying problem is increased regulation. This is the only recovery ever where increases in employment came from large businesses instead of small ones. The Obama administration has issued a record number of new regulations and those might be dragging down small business. Or it may be other factors. Regardless, Obama's claim that he saved the economy rings hollow to large sections of the economy.

As a final exercise, let's imagine what would have happened if the crash had come a year earlier or later to see why Obama was so lucky.

McCain seemed totally out of his depth when the crisis hit. Had it hit earlier, then either he'd have managed to come to terms with it or a different candidate would have won the nomination - possibly Mitt Romney. The shock of the hundreds of billions in bail-outs would have passed, too.

Obama may not have even managed to capture the nomination if the crisis had hit in 2007. Hillary Clinton was the presumed candidate and her message of returning to the prosperity of the Clinton years would have resonated. Obama was a dark horse until after Super Tuesday when he dominated the news by winning caucus after caucus, giving him a sense of inevitability. An earlier crisis may have crowded that out of the news.

Had Obama managed to overcome all of that, he still would have taken office well after the crisis was passed and the recovery had begun. He'd still have been able to take credit for it but he wouldn't have had the same urgency.

Think how much worse it would have been for Obama if the crisis had struck after he was in office. Just as many Democrats blame Bush for not stopping 9/11 (Michael Moore is still going on about it), many would have blamed Obama for not stopping the economic melt-down. Far from having people clamoring for him to save the economy, he'd be trying to cobble together the same bi-partisan group that Bush needed to save the economy. But, Bush was much better at bi-partisanship that Obama. Obama barely gets along with the Democrats in his party. He might not have been able to salvage things. Or he might not have been willing to rescue banks given his antipathy to the wealthy.

It's very likely that the country would have been willing to elect a turn-around artist in the 2012 election and elect Romney.

So, like I said, Obama was very lucky that the crisis hit exactly when it did.