Media Bias: We've seen in recent weeks what the big media think are important: Russia, climate change, North Korea, abortion, upcoming elections, gun control and inequality. How do those match people's real concerns? Turns out, not much at all.
Based on recent news, you would be forgiven for thinking that everyone in America is talking about Russia and Vladimir Putin. But it ain't so.
Virtually none of the media's fixations we listed above make the list. Just 2%, for instance, answered "Guns/Gun Control." Only 1% said " School Shootings." How about that "gap between rich and poor" that the nation's media discuss nearly every day? Just 1% say that's most important. And another big media preoccupation —"Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness"? Just 2%.
Surely education is a national focus, right? Again, nope, just 2%.
OK, but given the extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented media hysteria over Russia, you'd think that would loom extra large as a concern. But you would be very wrong. Not even 1% of those queried during the Gallup Poll, taken from July 1 to July 11, called that "most important." Not 1%.
What's interesting is what Americans do concern themselves over, which the media either ignores or distorts in its biased coverage.
First off, contrary to the Clinton dictum that " It's the economy, stupid," to most Americans right now that's not the case. Of the overall responses, just 14% named one of 11 different economic topics as the most important problem to them. Some 81% gave non-economic issues as answers.
Immigration Looms Large
So what do Americans see as the No. 1 problem? a record 22% say "Immigration/Illegal aliens," followed by "Dissatisfaction with government/Poor leadership" (19%) and Race relations/Racism (7%), "Unifying the country" (6%) and "Lack of respect for each other" (6%).
By the way, "Dissatisfaction with government/Poor leadership" had been the number one issue from January 2017 to June of this year — until it lost its top spot to immigration.
"The 22% of Americans in July who say immigration is the top problem is up from 14% in June and is the highest percentage naming that issue in Gallup's history of asking the 'most important problem' question," wrote Frank Newport, Gallup's editor-in-chief.
The point is, there appears to be a real split between what the public thinks is important and what the media think is important. Meanwhile, survey after survey show that average Americans believe the media to be both a.) liberal and b.) biased. It's a big reason why the media float near the bottom of nearly every survey of most respected institutions in America. Maybe the media shouldn't be so worried about fake news, but instead about their own irrelevance.
Crony Regulations: If he hasn't already, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will soon approve new rules aimed at Airbnb that will hurt everyday New Yorkers but benefit the big hotel industry. This is how government regulation almost always works.
The bill, which the city council passed unanimously on Wednesday, will force internet services like Airbnb and Home Away to hand over the names and addresses of everyone who lists with those services.
The council says the measure will help with the city's housing affordability problem. To hear them tell it, the reason rents are sky high in New York is because some people use Airbnb to rent out multiple units on a short-term basis to visitors, thereby keeping them off the market for residents.
The truth is that this bill is the result of heavy lobbying by the hotel industry that sees Airbnb as a competitive threat, and so has been actively pushing state and local governments to step in and thwart them.
Late last year, in fact, the New York Times got hold of an industry strategy document from the American Hotel and Lodging Association — a trade group that includes industry giants Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt — detailing its plans to do exactly that.
Included in the industry's "multi-pronged, national campaign approach at the local, state and federal level" was "lobbying politicians and state attorneys general to reduce the number of Airbnb hosts."
That's exactly what the New York City mandate would accomplish. When San Francisco implemented a similar requirement, the number of Airbnb listings in the city plunged by half, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In New York, the industry has spent lavishly on politicians, dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into city-council campaigns in the past two election cycles.
But what about the claim that Airbnb contributes to city housing shortages? That's nonsense. The real reason for sky-high housing prices is strict government restrictions imposed on builders. New York, for example, just renewed a moratorium on the conversion of existing hotels into rental apartments. If the city council were so intent on lowering rental prices they'd never have agreed to such a ban.
The use of regulations by big businesses to attack competition is hardly unique to the lodging industry. Advocates almost always sell government regulations as protecting the little guy. But just as often they benefit industry giants by thwarting innovative new entrants.
In any other context, this scheme would be called false advertising. When the government does it, they call it public service.
Money For Nothin': Apparently not satisfied with the already disastrous condition of its finances, Chicago this week said it would like to experiment with a universal basic income, a socialist pipe-dream that pops up every few years as a "new" idea. It's not. And it will never work.
Chicago alderman Ameya Pawar has already proposed legislation that would give 1,000 families $500 a month. The bill looks like a shoo-in, garnering support already from a majority of the Windy City's lawmakers. Pawar is reportedly already working on the design of the program with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Chicago is the largest city yet to toy with this bad idea. There are many things that would help the working poor climb out of poverty. But a universal basic income (UBI), also called a guaranteed government income, isn't one of them.
Yet, even some conservatives fall for the idea, dreaming of eliminating the dozens of welfare programs at the federal, state and city levels and replacing them with one big check. It's attracted a wide range of supporters, everyone from Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg to union chief Andy Stern and conservative-libertarian Charles Murray embrace the idea.
Just this week, former President Obama, speaking in South Africa, said that a guaranteed income would be one way to shrink the "yawning disparities" in wealth and education.
Do these luminaries know something the rest of us don't? Sadly, no. They're just wrong.
There's already an experiment getting under way in deeply troubled Stockton, Calif., once known as the nation's home-foreclosure capital. Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes kickstarted that city's program with a $1 million donation. But it will have no more success than other "experiments" with giving money to people not to work.
"There is a problem with young people lacking secondary education, and reports of those guys not seeking work," said Heikki Hiilamo, a University of Helskinki professor of social policy. "There is a fear that with basic income they would just stay home and play computer games."
Far closer to home, as we've noted before, the U.S. has already tested a closely-related idea, the so-called "negative income tax." Essentially, it's a guaranteed income by another name. And it failed abysmally.
"In the 1970s, the government ran four random control experiments across six states to try the negative income tax, a similar policy proposal that was popular at the time," wrote Mimi Teixeira in The Daily Signal earlier this year. "In each text, the work disincentive effect was disastrous. For every $1,000 in added benefits to a family, there was an average reduction in $660 of wages from work."
So people who got checks stopped working or worked far less. What a surprise.
That's the socialist dynamic: Pay people to do nothing, and they'll do nothing. This doesn't require a Ph.D. in economics. It's simple common sense.
Yet, this is the level of thinking among our nation's mostly far-left elites. In truth, they're not overly concerned with people working less. Those who get checks will soon depend on them. And they will reliably vote for those who give them money, the leftist political elites. It's one of the most cynical political ploys imaginable, but that's what it is.
Conservatives who support such an idea naively think it will shrink the welfare state. But all it would take is one election with a Democratic president and Congress, and the welfare state would be even larger — taking more money from those who work and giving it to those who choose not to.
It's hard to imagine a more anti-work policy. Rather than empowering the poor, it turns them into wards of the state. And work is important to people, part of creating a meaningful life, a bedrock of civilization.
A universal basic income would destroy any incentive people have for bettering themselves through further education, training, relocating to a better area to find a job, or even just getting up from the couch to look for work down the street. Why bother? Check's in the mail.
Worse still, it is indiscriminate. Most Americans agree on the need for a safety net for the truly needy and destitute. Giving money to those who are neither needy nor destitute undermines that, too.
Then there's the money problem.
One of the most common suggestions we've heard is that every American should get the equivalent of about $10,000 a year. But as the American Enterprise Institute's Robert Doar recently noted, that would come to about $3 trillion a year. That's far more than we now spend on welfare, and more than we currently collect in income taxes.
Where will the money come from? Those who work. It will be a massive redistribution scheme, as we noted, from those who work to those who don't.
Which brings us back to Chicago, a city that has been misgoverned for years by leftist politicians and is in dire fiscal straits, thanks to reckless spending and lavish public sector pensions. It can ill afford a program as wasteful and economically damaging as a universal basic income.
Rather than put in place policies that would attract investment, encourage work and lure entrepreneurs to start new businesses, such as cutting taxes, useless regulations and wasteful spending, Chicago's politicians instead engage in moral preening of the worst kind.
Advocacy of a universal basic income is perhaps the worst example of this. It is a ruinous "experiment" that everyone knows will fail.
Nor is it "welfare reform." It's just socialism, dressed up as compassion.
Americans would be wise to beware politicians who promise them a workless utopia paid for by others, those they call "the rich" but are really the hard-working middle class. Such an idea won't work, because it can't.
Illegal Immigration: We've been seeing a lot of articles these days defending Democrats against charges that they are for open borders. But recent events show that the party has, in fact, morphed into one that reflexively opposes virtually any attempt to secure the southern border.
For years, Democrats tried to portray themselves as tough on border security, even as they argued for amnesty for all illegal immigrants currently in the country. Sometimes they slipped, as Hillary Clinton did when, in a paid speech in 2013, she talked about her dream of open borders. (She quickly tried to explain away her comment, once it surfaced, as having to do with energy.)
But several events over the past few days have blown the party's cover on illegal immigration.
On Wednesday, the House voted on a bill that simply expressed Congress' "continued support for all United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and personnel who carry out the important mission of ICE" and "the efforts of all Federal agencies, State law enforcement, and military personnel who bring law and order to our Nation's borders."
Such nonbinding resolutions don't have the force of law. They're just a statement.
Just 18 Democrats voted for this resolution. Thirty-five voted no. And the other 133 dodged the issue altogether by voting "present." Democrats complained that the vote was just a political stunt.
But it came as the "abolish ICE" movement took off among Democrats in the wake of open-borders socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's surprise victory in the New York primaries. She's since called for protesters to occupy ICE offices around the country. The head of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, labeled her the future of the Democratic Party.
The vote also came after eight Democrats co-sponsored an actual abolish-ICE bill. (When House GOP members said they'd bring that bill up for a vote, Democrats called it a stunt, too.)
As far as we are aware, no prominent Democrat has raised their voice in protest of this dangerously naive idea. Instead, they are either overtly supporting the "abolish ICE" campaign, or mumbling about how ICE needs to be replaced with, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren put it, "something that reflects our morality and that works."
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are now pushing a bill that would effectively establish "catch and release" as federal policy.
In the past, immigrant families caught crossing the border illegally who claimed asylum would be detained briefly, then asked to return at a later date for their asylum hearing. President Trump's "zero tolerance policy" was an attempt to end this "catch and release" policy, which only encourages illegal border crossings.
Democrats know that only a tiny fraction of supposed asylum-seekers ever show up for those hearings. The rest become part of the ever-growing pool of illegal immigrants living in the country.
So, making catch and release the policy of the land amounts to an open invitation to anyone who wants to cross the border illegally. Just come with children, claim asylum, and you're in.
Registering Illegal Immigrants
To top it off, San Francisco started registering illegal immigrants this week, so they can vote in the November city school board election.
"We want to give immigrants the right to vote," Norman Yee, a county supervisor, said.
So, let's add all this up.
Democrats want to neuter the one agency responsible for enforcing border security. They want to make it easy for illegals who cross to stay in the country. And they want to give them the right to vote.
Leading Democrats also adamantly oppose building a secure border wall. They support "sanctuary cities" that actively protect illegals from deportation. And they want to grant every illegal in the country amnesty.
And we're supposed to believe that Democrats aren't for open borders simply because they say so?
As we noted in this space a few days ago, the Democratic Party has been driving to the far left on a wide range of issues for many years. The only difference now is that its veneer of moderation has eroded to the point where Democrats can't hide their extremism any longer.
Unfree Trade: In what has now become a tiresome routine, European Union "Competition Commissioner" Margrethe Vestager has once again slapped an American company with a massive fine for the heinous crime of out-competing EU companies. The EU complains about U.S. tariffs, but this move to punish Google with a $5 billion antitrust fine is straight up protectionism.
"Stop this behavior," Vestager told the firm. What behavior is that? Giving consumers ever-more options for their tablets, phones and computers at a lower price? The fine, after all, is for "abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system."
The argument is that by giving consumers a whole bunch of stuff together, like the Chrome web browser, Gmail and Google search, consumers are being harmed.
Of course, that's a crazy assertion, since consumers had no access to any of these things until Google provided them. Vestager should be called the "Anti-Competition Commissioner," since her decision to fine Google only helps its European competitors, not EU consumers.
"Harmful competition," as the European Union calls it, is an empty phrase. Any competition in which one competitor bests another can be called "harmful," since there's a winner and a loser.
In the case of the EU, many firms there have lost their battles with American firms over market share. They whine, the EU reacts, and American firms pay up.
But this is how EU protectionism now works. And it's a big reason why President Trump, whether you agree with his tariffs or not (and for the record, we don't), is at least not a hypocrite in imposing them.
The EU talks a good game about globalism and free trade, but then subverts those very ideas with non-transparent protectionist actions like massive fines on U.S. tech champions.
As we said, this seems to be the EU's new modus operandi. Consider its recent GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) initiative, which forced U.S. companies to scramble to comply or be cast out of the EU market.
GDPR masquerades, and quite convincingly, as "protection" for beleaguered tech users. And to be honest, not all of its provisions are bad. People should have control over how others use their personal data — or, even, whether others use their data.
But the EU's GDPR initiative also imposed massive costs on U.S. businesses that now operate in the EU. So far, U.S. companies have spent upwards of $8 billion to comply, and those costs will continue to rise. Such regulation and fines inevitably work to disadvantage U.S. firms operating in Europe, and to protect EU companies.
This, of course, adds powerful incentives for U.S. companies to relocate parts or all of their operations in the EU simply to avoid fines or sanctions. That's the EU's idea of competition. It's part of the disturbing pattern on the part of the EU to use enormous "fines" as punishment for mere EU bureaucratic violations.
And it pretty much amounts to a bureaucratic " shakedown," as Forbes Online accurately called it.
No, the U.S. isn't clean. The U.S. has a tariff war brewing. But that's at least transparent. These attacks on Google and other U.S. tech giants, including Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, amount to little more than trade protectionism – deceptively dressed up as benevolent EU consumer protection. It doesn't end there. They've even gone after McDonald's.
Going For Google
This isn't the first time the EU has harassed Google, either. Last summer, the European Union imposed a $2.7 billion fine on Google because it "abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors." And as far back as 2014, EU leftist bureaucrats were calling for Google to be "broken up."
One of the problems the so-called international order has is its blatant and at times destructive hypocrisy. Google is a classic example. The EU takes billions of dollars from American companies to make up for its own anti-competitive deficiencies. It does so in the name of "antitrust."
There's a reason no major European economy today grows at even close to 3% per year. The EU no longer believes in the very ideas it first fostered, those of free markets and free competition. It's one thing to find genuinely illegal or fraudulent behavior, quite another to punish competitors for winning.
The European Union, in its repeated attacks on Google and other U.S. companies, clearly wants to "level the playing field" by hobbling its competitors, not by competing in the marketplace.
Email Scandal: Last week we learned that a "foreign entity" may have been secretly receiving Hillary Clinton's emails while she was Secretary of State, including many that contained classified information. And that the FBI apparently ignored this information during its "investigation." The reaction by the press to this bombshell? Crickets.
At one point during Peter Strzok's congressional testimony last week, Rep. Louie Gohmert made a stunning claim: FBI investigators were told that Clinton's emails had been surreptitiously forwarded to a "foreign entity." And the FBI investigators who were allegedly conducting a thorough, unbiased, professional probe into Clinton's mishandling of classified materials ignored it.
Gohmert: You said earlier in this hearing you were concerned about a hostile foreign power affecting the election. Do you recall the former Intelligence Community Inspector General Chuck McCullough having an investigation into an anomaly found on Hillary Clinton's emails?
Let me refresh your memory. The Intelligence Community Inspector General Chuck McCullough sent his investigator Frank Rucker along with an IGIC attorney Janette McMillan to brief you and Dean Chapelle and two other FBI personnel who I won't name at this time, about an anomaly they had found on Hillary Clinton's emails that were going to the private unauthorized server that you were supposed to be investigating?
Strzok: I remember meeting Mr. Rucker on either one or two occasions. I do not recall the specific content or discussions.
Gohmert: Mr. Rucker reported to those of you, the four of you there, in the presence of the ICIG attorney, that they had found this anomaly on Hillary Clinton's emails going through their private server, and when they had done the forensic analysis, they found that her emails, every single one except four, over 30,000, were going to an address that was not on the distribution list. It was a compartmentalized bit of information that was sending it to an unauthorized source. Do you recall that?
Strzok: Sir, I don't.
Gohmert: He went on the explain it. And you didn't say anything, you thanked him, you shook his hand. The problem is it was going to an unauthorized source that was a foreign entity unrelated to Russia and from what you've said here, you did nothing more than nod and shake the man's hand when you didn't seem to be all that concerned about our national integrity of our election when it was involving Hillary Clinton. So the forensic examination was done by the ICIG — and they can document that — but you were given that information and you did nothing with it.
So, in short, one of the lead investigators in the Clinton email case apparently learned that a foreign entity was getting all Clinton's emails — including many that contained classified information — and … did nothing.
In fact, between the initial and final drafts of former FBI director James Comey's statement, the wording changed from it was "reasonably likely" that "hostile actors" gained access to her emails to "possible."
In his comments on the earlier draft, Strzok said: "we have no evidence classified information was ever shared with an unauthorized party."
If what Gohmert is saying is true, and he repeatedly claims to have the evidence, the disinterest shown by the FBI at this revelation is simply astounding. The entire purpose of the investigation was to determine whether Clinton had broken the law by being "grossly negligent" in her handling of classified material. All of her emails ending up in the hands of a "foreign entity" would — by any honest estimation — constitute gross negligence.
If the FBI did indeed ignore this bombshell, it adds further evidence that the Clinton email investigation — and most likely the Trump/Russia investigation — was seriously compromised by political bias.
Remember, too, that Strzok was the FBI agent who, when his girlfriend Lisa Page asked if Trump would become president, responded "No. No he won't. We'll stop it."
Strzok is also one of the five officials involved in the Clinton email case that the Justice Department inspector general specifically singled out for their actions during the investigation that "brought discredit to themselves, sowed doubt about the FBI's handling of the (Clinton) investigation, and impacted the reputation of the FBI."
So, at the moment we're left with some troubling questions. Who is this "foreign entity"? Is Gohmert right that the FBI dismissed evidence from the intelligence community about Clinton's emails being compromised? Will lawmakers ever get to the bottom of this? And will the mainstream press ever show the slightest interest in this development?
Left Turn: Long-time political watchers have been shocked in recent months to see formerly powerful Democratic Party leaders ousted by far-left challenges within their own party. The once-proud centrist party of the working class, the Democrats are now a party of the hard left.
Recent events show just how far things have gone:
28-year-old Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes beat New York Rep. Joe Crowley, the No. 4 ranking Democrat in the House, in a primary challenge. Despite a series of embarrassing gaffes in just over a week, the Democrat-safe New York district she's in guarantees she'll win.
In California, far left state Senator Kevin de Leon challenged four-term incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein for the endorsement of the state's Democratic Party and won hands down, 65% to just 7%. Feinstein, 85, whose liberal credentials are impeccable, wasn't far left enough, even though she trounced de Leon in the actual primary, 44% to 12%.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi faces an increasingly open challenge to her leadership in the House. Younger, more radical members of her party now push to replace her with someone from the far left of the party.
Driving the point home, on July 3 a giddy Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called self-proclaimed democratic socialist Ocasio-Cortez " the future of our party."
These may all seem sudden. But in reality, these shifts have been in the making for years. The Democratic Party of old — mildly liberal but mostly solidly centrist — is a thing of the past.
Sure, today's Democrats and their allies in the big media talk about the "extreme right" and "ultra right" Republican Party. They call rank and file Republicans racists and nazis.
But, as numerous studies and polls confirm, it's the Democratic Party that has moved far left — while the Republican Party has more or less remained where it was.
Pew's methodology was simple. Starting in 1994, they asked Democrats and Republicans where they stood on 10 key issues, ranging from welfare and racial discrimination, to defense and immigration.
The results were stark and unequivocal.
As we reported in October of 2017, "The results show that while the Republican center moved only slightly to the right over the past 23 years, the center of the Democratic part shifted far to the left."
Likewise, a 2015 academic study by scholars at the University of Oregon, Princeton University and the University of Houston, found that state Democratic parties since the late 1990s have "become more liberal." But the Republicans, again, haven't moved ideologically much at all.
There is a deeper history to this, of course. In 1972, the Democratic Convention was hijacked by far-left supporters and delegates for progressive peace candidate George McGovern. Since then, the Democratic Party has been drifting more or less continually to the left.
Of course, during the 1980s, Democrats had to reckon with the popularity and effective leadership of Ronald Reagan. They pulled back toward the center. Moderate and conservative Democrats even helped to pass Reagan's tax cuts and his defense buildup.
But that reversion to moderation didn't last.
Change that seemed slow and even imperceptible for years took a quantum leap under President Obama, easily the most left-wing president since FDR.
Under Obama, the Democratic Party wholly embraced his brand of far-left progressivism, based on higher taxes, single-payer health care, bigger government, aggressive enforcement of government diversity initiatives, job-killing climate-change regulations, open borders, the whole panoply of progressive policies.
The fact is, as we've noted before, the Democrats for some time have been a party of the far left that only during election season would pretend to be in any way moderate. Now the mask is off.
Today, the party has no true conservatives and it treats even moderates like skunks at a garden party.
Democrats now face a tough future as a more or less socialist party. As President Trump's victory showed, a large bloc of once-solid moderate Democratic voters will vote for alternatives to the Democrats.
Democratic Party: Losing Its Grip?
And others whom Democrats think they can rely on to return to power might not be so reliable.
Blacks, Asians and Hispanics enjoy record low or near-record low unemployment rates. And polls show they have increasing confidence in their financial future.
As for Millennials, that 70 million bloc of potential voters, very bad news for the Democrats: A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll of 16,000 millennials in May found that their support for Democrats had fallen from 55% to just 46% in just two years. Many of them have found jobs, bought homes and cars, and are starting families.
The Democrats have rolled the dice with their sharp left turn. But no matter what you read in the media, it isn't the Republicans who've become "extreme." It's the Democrats.
Ronald Reagan, himself once a proud Democrat, said it best: "I didn't leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party left me."
Media Bias: If you rely on the nation's top news sites to determine what was really important about the Trump-Putin Helsinki summit, the answer would be: How did Trump-hating late-night talk-show hosts react? We are not kidding. This is how low the mainstream press has sunk.
On the front page of the Washington Post's website this morning was a picture of "The Late Show" host Stephen Colbert and this headline: "Late-night hosts skewer Trump."
How is this news exactly? That same headline could literally have run any day of the week for the past two years. It is so predictable that it doesn't even rate as a "Dog Bites Man" story, but more like a "The Sun Rose in the East Today" story.
Yet there it was, smack dab in the middle of the Post's front page on one of the biggest news days of the year.
The Post wasn't alone. ABC News also prominently featured a line by Colbert — whose show runs on CBS — that Trump's comments at his press conference with Vladimir Putin should be considered "treason." (Which made Colbert about the 500th person to say this on the air that day.)
At the top of NBC News this morning was the headline: "Helsinki has frozen over: Late night hosts mock Trump-Putin summit." The link took readers to a professionally edited montage of last night's monologues.
At the top of Google News' main page this morning was yet another reference to Colbert, this time to the fact that he wants to know "what Putin had on Trump."
The Daily Beast featured Jimmy Kimmel's take on the Trump-Putin summit at the top of its page with the headline "Jimmy Kimmel: Pee tape exists beyond a treasonable doubt." Get it? "Treasonable." Hard news, there.
The Daily Beast didn't just link to a clip. There's an actual reporter's byline on that story. Matt Wilstein's piece begins: "Jimmy Kimmel has one big takeaway from the 'strangest of all 542 bizarre days of Donald Trump's reign of error': The pee tape is real."
CNN, too, ran a bylined piece today about how "Late night blasts Trump-Putin summit."
Let's remember: Colbert, Kimmel, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, John Oliver, et al., are not newsmakers. They aren't leaders. They're not even in the news business. They are entertainers, with dubious backgrounds.
Kimmel got his start on "The Man Show," a proudly misogynistic show that regularly featured bikini-clad women bouncing on trampolines.
Before taking over the Daily Show, Noah co-hosted a South African game show called "The Amazing Date," in which viewers at home competed to win a date with the contestant on the show.
Colbert used to pretend to be a liberal's caricature of a conservative in an attempt to get laughs on Comedy Central. Oliver was a stand-up comedian. Meyers' only relationship to the news is that for a few years he played an anchor on Saturday Night Live's fake news bit.
So why do actual news sites link to these clowns, day after day, and treat their banal utterances as news?
No doubt one reason is that people click on them. Four of the six top trending stories on the Huffington Post this morning were links to clips of late-night talk-show rants.
The Huffington Post — a news site built on click bait — arguably started this trend by regularly featuring clips on its front page from Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," in which he routinely mocked, skewered, lambasted, taunted, shamed and derided Republicans. When every late-night host decided that bashing Trump on a nightly basis was good for ratings, HuffPo amped up its "coverage." And the practice started to spread like a virus to other more mainstream news outlets.
But is the "race for clicks" excuse reason enough to lower journalistic standards so far?
The more likely reason is ideological. The mainstream press hates Trump — and Republicans generally — and these "comics" provide a useful service by amplifying its hatred.
Playing up comics' monologues as news is just another way for these journalists to keep the negative coverage flowing.
Summit: We don't believe President Trump served his presidency well by meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. It was a summit without an agenda, and as far as we can tell achieved nothing concrete politically or strategically. His performance at the press conference deserves criticism.
That said, the hysterical response from the mainstream media, the Washington leftist power elite and the progressives that are the new de facto rulers of the Democratic Party was so extreme it makes one think they're losing it.
Following Trump's talk with Putin, lefty talking heads exploded with talk of "Treason."
Former CIA Director John Brennan, in particular, sounded like someone in need of intervention in his tweet: "Donald Trump's press performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes and misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump's comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???"
Coming from a man who himself once voted Communist and who as one of our top intelligence officials arguably undermined America's war on terror more than any single individual, that's pretty rich. But others were equally bad.
Charles Blow of The New York Times, under the redundant headline, "Trump, Treasonous Traitor", wrote: "Simply put, Trump is a traitor and may well be treasonous."
Not to be eclipsed, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took his swipe: "A single, ominous question now hangs over the White House: what could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States?"
His counterpart in the House, Nancy Pelosi, said pretty much the same thing.
Already, a site on Amazon promises "unique treason bumperstickers" related to Trump.
And MSNBC asked pointedly: "Did Donald Trump Commit Treason?" But it wasn't the only media outlet to do so. Just the most blatant.
The talk of treason is not only extreme, it does a grave disservice to our Constitution, something very much at the fore of public discussion these days with the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh, an ardent and learned constitutionalist.
"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court."
That's it. Is Trump "levying war" against the U.S.? No, that's absurd. Is he "adhering to (our) Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort"? Again, clearly no, since we're not at war with Russia.
The left's argument that cyber-attacks directed by Russians against U.S. elections are the equivalent of war, again, falls short of any known definition.
While reprehensible, such attacks have been occurring for years with little or no response from successive administrations. If the suddenly bellicose Democrats really feel we are at war, they should go to Congress and declare one, as the Congress requires.
We'd ask them: What kind of war is this? When did it begin?
By the left's definition, we could impeach and try for treason any president that even dared to talk to someone who was unfriendly with us. But, really, the left knows this. They choose to ignore it, because by screaming "traitor, traitor, traitor" now, they've ratcheted up the hate quotient of their base for Trump. That's what they want.
Imagine if someone had called President Trump a "traitor" for talking to the Castro regime. The squealing by the left would be loud and long.
We believe the House Republicans' intelligence report, which came out in May and basically served as the template for Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's charges against 12 Russians for interfering with our election. It was correct: Russia did meddle in our election in 2016. It meddled in others, too. But it didn't play a deciding role in any vote.
But Trump is also right about one thing: Obama knew about the Russian meddling but did nothing about it until December of 2016, well after the election. He didn't think it mattered. Then to cover up for his mistake, he hit Russian with sanctions and expelled diplomats just as he was about to leave office. And he did it with the connivance of FBI and Justice Department officials.
After decades of weakness, appeasement and shrieks of "McCarthyism" every time anyone in the GOP or a conservative criticized Democratic support for Soviet Russia or communism, the Democrats now have some nerve accusing Trump of treason.
A reminder to the treasonnauts: In talking to Putin, Trump was talking to someone who has an extensive nuclear arsenal, a large army, huge natural resources, extensive geographical influence, and a seat on the U.N. Security Council, with veto power. To not talk to him at all would be foolish and dangerous. Calling it treason is idiocy.
It's one thing to say Trump shouldn't meet with Putin because of a lack of substance, as we did above. Or it's bad timing. Fair criticism by a loyal opposition is always good.
But it's quite another to argue Trump's committed a heinous crime just for talking to another world leader. This crosses a line. It not only poisons America's political well, but it further divides the electorate and increases the likelihood of violence in coming elections — something far-left Democrats seem to relish as a way to gain power in the next election.
Will Americans be duped, or will they just "walk away?"
Regulations: After U.S. District Court in New Mexico found that a complex and highly controversial ObamaCare cross-subsidy scheme was "arbitrary and capricious," the Trump administration temporarily halted the program. Democrats then attacked Trump for trying to "sabotage" ObamaCare.
At issue is a part of ObamaCare that few have ever heard about. It's called "risk adjustment." And at its core it is nothing more than a massively complex system of cross-subsidies between insurance companies in each state.
ObamaCare created the risk adjustments to compensate for the market distortions its insurance regulations created. Because ObamaCare bans insurers from setting premiums based on health risks, healthy people overpay for coverage, and the sick underpay.
As a result, insurance companies that happen to attract mostly healthy customers would be getting an unfair bonus.
The risk adjustments are supposed to even that out by requiring insurers who attract healthier customers to pay in, while those with costlier enrollees take money out.
That's the idea, anyway. But in practice, the ObamaCare risk adjustment program has been a disaster, often forcing smaller insurers to write checks to the biggest insurance companies in the state.
News accounts have called it "risk adjustment gone wrong" and "reverse Robin Hood."
Last year, for example, New Mexico Health Connections — a small nonprofit co-op created by ObamaCare — had to pay almost $9 million into the risk adjustment program. Meanwhile, Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico netted more than $8 million.
The same thing happened across the country. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida got almost $490 million, while Celtic Insurance had to pony up $161 million.
Blue Shield of California got $370 million from the risk adjustment program last year, while HealthNet paid in $95 million and the Local Initiative Health Authority for Los Angeles County had to write a check for $12.4 million.
In Mississippi, UnitedHealthcare and Humana received a combined total of $16 million in risk adjustment payments, while Ambetter of Magnolia coughed up $15 million. (We've posted the federal report detailing all these payments here.)
So, while the risk adjustment program was supposed to increase competition, it's had the opposite effect, driving smaller, innovative, lower cost competitors out of the market, while rewarding already dominant carriers. Some critics allege that big insurers game the system to increase their risk adjustment payments.
Suing For Relief
New Mexico Health Connections was one of several insurers to sue the federal government. The U.S. District Court agreed that one key part of the scheme — the use of statewide average premiums to determine payments due — was "arbitrary and capricious," and so violated the federal Administrative Procedures Act.
As it turns out, the ruling came just as the administration was about to release its 2018 risk adjustment payment schedule, which would have shifted $10 billion among insurers. It also likely would have, once again, forced many smaller insurance companies to pay huge bills to the biggest insurers in the state.
When you understand the context, the Trump administration's decision to halt those payments until it can figure out what to do seems reasonable. (A Massachusetts court had upheld the risk adjustment scheme.)
But Democrats are bashing Trump for creating "chaos" in the insurance market, saying it will increase premiums. And, naturally, the media are playing along, without providing any context.
It's almost as if no matter what Trump does, his critics will attack him.
Brexit: U.S. trade ties with Britain are being held hostage by the U.K.'s protracted departure from the European Union. Better to make the exit quick and definitive than long and drawn out.
It's been fun, as usual, to watch President Trump on an international stage as he stirs things up. In an exclusive interview with the British Sun, he criticized British Prime Minister Theresa May's plans for a "soft Brexit," with continued close ties to the EU. And he suggested that her conservative foe, Boris Johnson, would make a great prime minister.
But a day later, it had all blown over. Trump and May emerged holding hands for a Friday news conference, where each lavished praise on the other's leadership. The president even called May a "tough negotiator" — which, in the Trumpian world, is the highest form of praise. Trump also reaffirmed the "special relationship" that has bonded the U.S. and Britain since the late 19th century.
Even so, Trump's remarks to The Sun highlighted the fact that Britain is stuck in a bitter fight, mostly among conservatives, for how it should leave the EU. Should Britain merely loosen ties a bit and continue hewing to many of its trade rules ("soft Brexit"), or completely walk away and re-establish its economic sovereignty outside of the 28-nation EU ("hard Brexit").
Great political theater, sure. And most Americans wonder what all the fuss is about when it comes to Britain leaving the European Union. But they shouldn't.
Brexit, as Britain's exit from the EU is called, is of the utmost importance. And how it's done really matters. Trump has said he's not in favor of the "soft" option, which would still leave Britain subject to many if not most of the EU's inane trade rules.
Brexit, Hard Or Soft?
As Trump told The Sun, "If they do a deal like that (a soft Brexit), we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal."
With more than $480 billion invested in the U.S., Britain is our No. 1 investor here. And the U.S., with over $600 billion in place in Britain, is the largest investor there. They are our fourth largest export market and our seventh-largest trading partner overall. So, yes, it matters.
Instead, May could face a vote of no confidence in Parliament and leave a tarnished legacy of diminished trade and influence on both sides of the Atlantic, with the U.S. more distant than ever. Trump's blunt talk was meant as a wake-up call for May. Hopefully, she heard it.
Economics: "Fight for $15" is the rallying cry for most Democrats these days. But soon after Washington, D.C., voters approved a hike in tipped wages to $15, Democrats on the city council moved to repeal it. That's what happens when ideology crashes into reality.
On Tuesday, 7 of the 13 members of Washington's city council sponsored a bill to jettison the wage hike for tipped workers that 56% of D.C. voters had approved by a ballot initiative less than a month before.
Under Initiative 77, the workers would see their minimum wage climb from the current $3.89 an hour to $15 an hour by 2026, erasing the difference between tipped and nontipped workers.
Keep in mind that D.C. is about as heavily Democratic as you can get. It went for Hillary Clinton by a 91%-4% margin.
But the D.C. council members came to understand what economists — and D.C. restaurant workers themselves — already know. Sharp increases in the minimum wage will cost lost hours, lost jobs and lost income. (The unemployment rate is over 9% in D.C.'s poorer wards.)
Not only would the wage hike pretty much eliminate tips — why tip when the waiter is already making as much as everyone else? — it would almost certainly make workers who keep their jobs worse off financially, since they'd have to pay taxes on every dollar of income.
The problem with the D.C. council's move isn't that it's trying to overturn the will of the people, but that it isn't applying its newfound understanding of economics more widely.
This month, the minimum wage for nontipped workers in D.C. jumped from $12.50 to $13.25 an hour. It will reach $15 an hour in just two years, and then go up every year after that at the rate of inflation.
This wage mandate, just like the one the council is trying to repeal, will also end up hurting the very people it's supposed to help.
That's not speculation. It's what happened in Seattle, which four years ago decided to gradually hike the city's minimum to $15. Researchers from the University of Washington found that the average low-wage worker lost $125 a month as the mandate took effect and employers cut back on hours and jobs.
Other parts of the country are catching on as evidence rolls in of the job-killing side effect of these mandated wage hikes. The mayor of heavily Democratic Baltimore vetoed a minimum-wage bill last year. The city council in Flagstaff, Ariz., decided to scrap the planned hike to $12, and cap it at $10.50.
"Fight for $15" makes a good bumper sticker. But as Democrats are finding out first hand, it makes bad public policy.
Supreme Court: Now the long, hard slog of getting a Supreme Court nominee onto the bench begins. As always, Democrats, the FBI and the media have launched into an intense investigation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh's background. And, so far, there's not much grist for the old Washington, D.C. scandal mill. But it's not for a lack of trying.
We've found out that Kavanaugh, despite his extraordinary legal mind, is kind of a regular guy. He loves baseball. He volunteers to feed the homeless at his church. He uses his credit card too much at times. Everyone who knows him thinks he's a nice guy. Oh yes, he's a great car-pool partner. He likes the occasional beer. And he eats burgers. And, like many married men, he dotes on his two daughters and his wife.
Say, does being a regular, decent guy disqualify you from the Supreme Court?
A big chunk of change, to be sure. But...what? It's a bit hard to argue Kavanaugh wasn't gainfully employed. The Post further makes a big deal that Kavanaugh's most recent financial form shows less than $70,000 in assets. Sound poor? Does that disqualify him from service on the Supreme Court? Do we now have an asset test for all Court nominees?
What's absurd about the "assets" is they don't include his six-figure income and generous pension from being a federal judge. Nor does it include the value of his home. We don't know what those are, but we're pretty sure the net value of both is well north of $1 million.
But, really, is this where we are today? These have nothing to do with the man's qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, unless the Post knows something we don't. It's just a way to muddy the waters, to make a fundamentally decent man seem suspect.
The Post also "reported," if that's the word, that Kavanaugh proclaimed himself Treasurer of the "Keg City Club — 100 Kegs or Bust" in his high school yearbook, and referred to the "Beach Week Ralph Club" and "Rehoboth Police Fan Club."
So, teenage hijinks are now a solid disqualification for service on the federal bench?
Of course, this is all recycled pap from Kavanaugh's approval process to be a federal judge. It's mostly all known. Why repeat it? Anything to sully a man's reputation. After all, recall how both Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas were smeared by the left during their confirmation battles. Together, they were two of the most disgusting and unfair spectacles in American political history.
And give the Post credit. They printed a piece by an acquaintance of Kavanaugh, whose daughter attends the same school as Kavanaugh's daughter. The column infuriated liberals across the country. Why? It humanized Kavanaugh.
Here's the money-quote: "I'll leave it to others to gauge Judge Kavanaugh's qualifications for the Supreme Court as a jurist. But as someone who would bring to his work the traits of personal kindness, leadership and willingness to help when called on, he would receive a unanimous verdict in his favor from those who known him."
This goes beyond due diligence. Even the Times, which can't be accused of pro-Trump partisanship on any level, was compelled to call Rosenstein's request an "unusual insertion of politics into federal law enforcement." That seems to be an understatement.
Others resorted to ridicule, as the Washington Times notes: "We'll be DAMNED if we're going to let five MEN — including some frat boy named Brett — strip us of our hard-won bodily autonomy and reproductive rights," tweeted the pro-abortion group NARAL.
Apart from the sexism of that tweet, they have no idea how Kavanaugh would decide a hypothetical challenge to Roe V. Wade.
We understand. Many groups don't like Kavanaugh. Why? He's a Republican nominee. That's enough.
A Constitutionalist, Not An Ideologue
But he's already undergone the rigors of a government investigation into his background when he became a federal judge. Barring evidence of something extreme that would disqualify him, this is all just part of the political charade that goes with anointing a new judge.
As we've noted, when Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor went through their respective nomination processes, we don't recall such close scrutiny by the FBI. Nor do we recall the intense focus on their personal lives.
Barring something extraordinary, Kavanaugh will be approved by the Senate to take a seat on the highest court in the land. His distinguished career suggests he will let the written law, and not his personal opinions, be his guide. Based on his long distinguished career in both the law and in political Washington, he is extremely well qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.
Corporate Correctness: Starbucks won raves from environmentalists for its ban on straws. But while a strawless Starbucks won't do anything to help the environment, it will discriminate against the disabled. Virtue signaling can be a tricky business.
Under pressure from environmentalists, the coffee giant says that it will replace plastic straws with sippy-cup style lids at all of its stores by 2020. The company isn't the first to do so, although it is the biggest. Hilton and Marriott hotels said they're removing plastic straws at many of their hotels. American Airlines said it will get rid of plastic straws starting this November. Various cities have or plan to impose bans.
Why have straws become the b?te noire of the green lobby and progressive CEOs? Because some straws end up in the ocean.
We'll concede that polluting the oceans with plastic is bad. But environmentalists aggressively pushing this straw ban are using phony statistics while ignoring the real problem.
Almost every story on banning plastic straws cites the same statistic — that Americans use 500 million straws a day — which is based on a 9-year-old's "research" project he did in 2011. (A more reliable estimate is 175 million.)
Whatever the number, straw bans in the U.S. will have virtually no impact on the world's plastic pollution problem. Not only do straws represent a tiny portion of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean, but the U.S. itself accounts for less than 1% of the marine plastic in the world's oceans, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Science. Europe's coastal countries, by contrast, account for almost 3%.
Just five countries — China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka — are responsible for more than half of the plastic entering the ocean each year.
That's because, unlike those other countries, the U.S. has better waste management systems in place — which keeps most of our trash in landfills or recycling centers, and out of the oceans. The Science study notes that just 2% of the waste in the U.S. is "mismanaged," compared with 76% in China, 90% in North Korea, 88% in Vietnam, and 87% in India.
Another study, published in Environmental Science & Technology late last year, found that the Yangtze River alone dumps 1.5 million metric tons of plastic into the ocean a year — roughly 19% of the world's annual total.
Given these realities, eliminating straws from a few hotels and Starbucks chains won't even amount to, pardon the expression, a drop in the ocean.
What's more, Starbucks will likely end up using more plastic after the ban than before.
According to Reason magazine's Christian Britschgi, the replacement lid Starbucks is likely to use contains up to 15% more plastic by weight than the current lid-and-straw combo. Starbucks, he reports, did not address, nor did it dispute, that its transition to strawless lids would increase its overall plastic consumption.
Discriminating Against The Disabled
But while Starbucks' ban will do nothing for the environment, it will bring harm to the disabled community, who have been speaking out more aggressively against straw bans.
"Plastic straws are an accessible way for people with certain disabilities to consume food and drinks, and it seems the blanket bans are not taking into account that they need straws and also that plastic straw replacements are not accessible to people." Katherine Carroll, policy analyst at the Rochester, New York-based Center for Disability Rights, told Time magazine.
Karin Hitselberger, a disability advocate in Washington, D.C., writes in the Washington Post that she and other "people with a huge range of disabilities depend on plastic straws to access beverages and the very water they need to survive: cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis, among many others."
"For so many people with disabilities," she goes on, "something as mundane as a straw represents independence and freedom. And the conversation around their environmental impact, without consideration of who uses straws and why, demonstrates how people with disabilities are often forgotten."
So, congratulations Starbucks and all the rest of the woke companies and cities now engaged in the battle against Big Straw. You might someday spare a sea turtle from getting a straw stuck in its nose.
But you're doing so at the expense of some of the most vulnerable human beings in the country.
Global Warming: Once more, science provides bad news for global warming alarmists. U.S. CO2 levels again declined during 2017, despite overall global output again rising. Credit U.S. fracking and the natural gas boom. But don't worry: the hysteria won't end.
The new report, based on U.S. data, shows clearly the U.S. continuing downward trend.
"The U.S. emitted 15.6 metric tons of CO2 per person in 1950," wrote the Daily Caller. "After rising for decades, it's declined in recent years to 15.8 metric tons per person in 2017, the lowest measured levels in 67 years."
That's right. 67 years. Green groups and leftist climate extremists should be exulting. The U.S. has found a way to produce more GDP — making all of us better off — with less energy.
Meanwhile, Europe has imposed massive economy-deadening regulations on its economies in order to reduce CO2 output. How has that worked?
This isn't the first time we've reported the ongoing decline in U.S. CO2. And if current trends hold, it won't be the last. And, to be sure, it is a long-term trend.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration's latest energy report notes that, from 2005 to 2017, U.S. energy related emissions of carbon dioxide plunged by 861 million metric tons, a 14% drop. It's both a result of the decline due to the Great Recession and the fracking revolution.
The EIA forecast expects a slight uptick over the next two years in the U.S. as the economy continues its Trump boom. But it will still be way below where it was 13 years ago.
Question: Over the same period, how did the rest of the world do? Emissions rose by 21% to 6.04 billion metric tons over the 12 years, mostly due to booming economic growth in India and China, where coal-fired energy output continues to expand.
The truth, and it's proven by the hard data, is that CO2 made in the USA will not choke the world to death or cause it to massively overheat. And you can thank capitalism for that.
Because capitalism, unlike socialism and its welfare-state kin, hates waste. So it does all it can to be efficient. That means using as little energy as possible to make things. And this predates any of the current CO2 hysteria.
In the U.S., the data are clear and utterly convincing: In 1949, it took 1,098 metric tons of CO2 emissions to produce $1 million in GDP in the U.S., after adjusting for inflation. Today, it takes just 301 metric tons to produce that same million dollars, after inflation — a 73% gain in carbon-efficiency.
Indeed, we're actually decarbonizing our economy, and rapidly.
As new technologies continue to emerge, including better battery storage for alternative energy sources, safer nuclear power plants, and the fracking revolution that continues to make natural gas the energy of choice for conventional power plants, U.S. CO2 output is likely to continue to decline for every dollar of GDP produced.
Instead of being harshly criticized by green groups and Euro-socialists, as has been the case for three decades now, we should be the model for green growth. When it comes to CO2, the U.S. is the leader. The rest of the world is the laggard. That's a fact.
If any green groups have had the guts to come forward and laud this truly phenomenal development, we haven't heard it. We did a Google search and couldn't find a single instance of an identifiable green group applauding the U.S.' extraordinary performance on CO2. None.
Instead, we continue to hear the same dark grumblings and prognostications of doom that never come true. That includes the mainstream media, too.
You might remind your less-than-informed friends the next time they criticize America's greenhouse gas output: Not only is the U.S. the only major country that is cutting output, but it is providing a roadmap for how to do it.
Time for the green hypocrites to stop talking, and start doing. Or to admit that it has nothing to do with climate change at all, and everything to do with an extreme-left political agenda masquerading as earth-friendly environmentalism.
Supply-Side Economics: Democrats scoffed at Republicans who said the Trump tax cuts would at least partially pay for themselves through higher economic growth. But it looks like the GOP had it right all along, as revenues climb.
The latest monthly budget report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finds that revenues from federal income taxes were $76 billion higher in the first half of this year, compared with the first half of 2017. That's a 9% jump, even though the lower income tax withholding schedules went into effect in February.
The CBO says the gain "largely reflects increases in wages and salaries."
For the fiscal year as a whole — which started last October — all federal revenues are up by $31 billion. That's a 1.2% in increase over last year, the CBO says.
The Treasury Department, which issues a separate monthly report, says it expects federal revenues will continue to exceed last year's for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year.
But wait a minute. According to Democrats, the Trump tax cuts were supposed to blow a massive hole in the deficit.
Last November, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi promised that "this thing will explode the deficit."
She also said that "after the Republicans' tax plan blows a multi-trillion-dollar hole in the deficit, they will sharpen their knives for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and vital job-creating investments for middle class families."
Even now, Pelosi is sticking to her guns. In June, she called it "the deficit-exploding GOP tax scam for the rich."
All along, Republicans countered that the tax cuts would spur additional economic growth, which would generate additional revenues, which would offset at least some of the cost of the tax cuts.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's response to that? "It's just made-up, fake math to hide another deficit-busting tax cut to benefit the wealthiest Republicans."
Look at what's happened since the tax cuts went into effect.
Economists hiked their projections for growth this year once the tax cuts passed. The CBO changed its 2018 forecast from 2% before the tax cuts passed to 3.3% after they took effect. In that same report, the CBO admitted that this added growth would offset a significant chunk of the tax cuts.
Other Democratic big lies about the tax cuts continue to fall.
They said workers wouldn't benefit, but millions got bonuses, raises, and improved benefits because of the corporate tax cuts. And real median household income is now at all-time highs.
Democrats also said that tax cuts would do nothing about the $2.9 trillion in profits that corporations had parked overseas.
In fact, corporations are bringing hundreds of billions of dollars in profits back as a direct result of changes in the corporate tax laws — 12% of the nearly $3 trillion held overseas came back to the U.S. in just the first three months of 2018. That will mean more economic growth and additional corporate revenues.
It's the Spending, Stupid
As we have said many times in this space, the problem the country faces isn't that taxes are too low, but that spending is too high. The CBO projects that even with the Trump tax cuts in place, taxes as a share of GDP will steadily rise over the next decade, and will be higher than the post-World War II average.
But bringing in more tax revenues doesn't help if spending goes up even faster. And that has, unfortunately, been the case, as the GOP-controlled Congress has gone on a spending spree.
Look at it this way. Tax revenues are up by $31 billion so far this fiscal year compared with last year. But spending is up $115 billion.
In other words, the entire increase in the deficit so far this year has been due to spending hikes, not tax cuts.
NATO: For Eurocrats, there never seems to be any downside to insulting President Trump, a man the EU's suave socialists love to hate. It has been on display as Trump prepares to meet with his fellow NATO members during his trip to Europe.
Typical was the snarky, disrespectful reception for Trump prepared by European Council President Donald Tusk, on the eve of the much-awaited NATO meeting: "First of all, dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don't have that many."
Tusk went on, talking about how Trump was "criticizing Europe almost daily for, in his view, insufficient contributions to the common defense capabilities, and for living off the U.S."
He meant it to be snide and sarcastic. But Tusk's criticism is notable because, in fact, Trump's comments happen to too true. It's been an open secret for decades.
The European Union has used hefty U.S. defense spending and its willingness to send American troops into harm's way to protect Europe. It is in effect a kind of social welfare subsidy: We spend money on arms, they build ever-more generous welfare states.
And then, from the safety of their left-leaning think tanks, universities and EU bureaucracies, they complain about American "militarism," "imperialism," and "aggression."
It's getting tiresome, but it bears repeating. NATO's 28 members are required by the treaty that established the mutual defense organization to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense.
In 2016, President Obama's final year in office, the U.S. spent 3.6% of its GDP on defense, Greece 2.4%, the U.K. 2.2%, Estonia 2.16% and Poland 2%. Everyone else was below 2%. Everyone.
And note that those that are pulling their weight are among Europe's poorest nations. The others should be ashamed, but shame is in short supply in Europe these days.
It's the equivalent of going to a group dinner and, when presented with the check, having 23 diners come up short on the bill. And then ridiculing those who make up the difference.
This year, after President Trump's repeated criticisms, NATO's "burden-sharing" will be better, but only marginally so. Just eight members will reach that lofty 2% goal. Remember, the U.S. has always exceeded it.
"European and American experts alike, including Trump's staunchest foes, admit that the president has a point and that Europeans should spend more on defense," write Jeremy Shapiro.
A heart-felt mea culpa? Hardly. Shapiro, ECFR's director of research and an adjunct fellow at the Brookings Institution, goes on to accuse Trump of "bullying."
If that's bullying, Europe deserves it. Europe's welfare states have never lived up to their part in the defense bargain. In the 1990s, when President Clinton was in office, European NATO forces were embarrassed at not being able to handle a conflict in the Balkans, right outside the EU's border. American airpower had to be brought in to end the conflict.
Today, the media and internet web sites remember it as a "NATO" triumph. But the fact is, no U.S., no NATO.
If Europe learned anything from that conflict, it's not apparent. A piece in The National Interest last week, citing the German magazine Der Spiegel, carried the headline: " Germany's Air Force Is Dying a Slow Death." It notes that the air force of Germany, continental Europe's wealthiest nation, has 128 Eurofighter Typhoons, a potentially potent force. Unfortunately, "only about ten of the aircraft are ready for operations."
You can bet with Germany's Angela Merkel preoccupied with Brexit, NATO, a wave of immigration, and a growing political challenge from the Trump-like German right, the German Luftwaffe is pretty low on her list of priorities. And they're the wealthy ones. In nation after nation, other wealthy Europeans have made common defense a low priority.
Maybe it's an end-of-civilization death wish: they think invasion and eventual takeover by uninvited invaders would be a good idea.
At any rate, the U.S. has a minimal 30,000 troop presence in Europe today as a token commitment to Europe's defense.
NATO Overmatched By Russia
But, according to globalfirepower.com, Russia, Europe's most likely adversary in a conventional war or conflict, has 766,000 men under arms, with another two million or so in reserve. Europe simply isn't ready to defend itself, and despite U.S. spending on NATO over the years, our presence there isn't big enough to repel a major Russian incursion.
And that doesn't include the various NATO engagements in the Mideast and elsewhere, as part of the ongoing battle against terrorist activities.
The point is, Europe's NATO members must boost their efforts to defend themselves and carry their weight. These nations are still capable of excellence: A look at the final four nations in the World Cup soccer final are all NATO members. It's a matter of priorities.
We know, President Trump's brusque tough-love is about as far away from the genteel, class-conscious European diplomatic sensibility as an American leader can get. But NATO's European members — Turkey, once a valued member, now a pariah, should be kicked out — need to listen to Trump. Europe is endangering itself and its allies by its lackadaisical defense posture. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away.
Time to pay up, and make NATO a true common defense force, or admit NATO is a shell of its former self, and dismantle it.
Accountability: Even before President Trump announced his pick to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, predictions of doom and gloom were rampant. They'll only get more dire as Brett Kavanaugh's nomination battle proceeds. Will anyone hold these people accountable for their unfounded, irresponsible, uninformed scaremongering claims?
As a public service, we've been collecting some of the more fantastical forecasts about the hellscape that Judge Kavanaugh will unleash on the country should he make it to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, political leaders and the media can get away with such outlandish claims because nobody bothers to follow up. They just make a new round of dire predictions.
We think that needs to change. So we encourage readers to print and save this for future reference. See if any of them come to pass with Kavanaugh on the bench. Hold the scaremongers accountable.
"If Kavanaugh is confirmed, we could see progress rolled back on many issues including the right of women to make their own medical decisions, voting rights, rights of workers to organize for better wages and working conditions, the principle of equal justice under the law & more." — Sen. Corey Booker, D-N.J., who is another likely contender for the Democratic nomination.
"If confirmed, American citizens will hemorrhage basic rights, and corporations will have an open door for a hostile takeover."— Tom Steyer, billionaire Democratic financier.
"If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court it will have a profoundly negative effect on workers' rights, women's rights and voting rights for decades to come."— Sen. Bernie Sanders, Socialist-Vt.
"A woman's right to choose is on the line, LGBTQ rights could be rolled back, affordable health care could be brought down, fair housing, consumer protections and environmental protections could all be decimated."— JB Pritzker, Democratic candidate for Illinois governor.
"With Brett Kavanaugh on the bench, Roe v. Wade, affordable health care, labor unions, and civil rights will all be on the chopping block."— Democratic National Committee.
" @realDonaldTrump is using this nomination as a destructive tool on a generation of progress for workers, women, LGBTQ people, communities of color & families, and to radically reverse the course of American justice and democracy."— House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"With a subservient Republican Congress and a far-right Supreme Court, there is a real risk that the worst impulses of the Trump presidency will go unchecked." — Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
"Kavanaugh was the right pick if Trump's top priority was protecting himself from criminal investigation."— Vox.com's Ezra Klein.
"Even CONSIDERING this nomination will cement the first American dictatorship."— Joss Whedon, movie director.
Sharia law imposed
"OK Ladies and Gentlemen who care for and respect ladies, it is official. The move back to Medieval Values, Shariah Law even, where old, bitter men get to tell women what is best for their bodies, lives, and well being is as done a deal as this is Twitter. Unless we say NO! NO!" — Ron Perlman, movie actor who played "Hellboy."
Gun safety destroyed
"Brett Kavanaugh is a true Second Amendment radical. He believes assault weapon bans are unconstitutional, a position way out of the judicial mainstream, far to the right of even late Justice Scalia."— Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
"Judge Brett Kavanaugh's extreme outlier approach to the Second Amendment would put in jeopardy the full range of gun safety laws."— Moms Demand Action, gun control advocacy group.
"Judge Kavanaugh's dangerous views on the Second Amendment are far outside the mainstream of even conservative thought and stand in direct opposition to the values and priorities of the vast majority of Americans."— Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona.
No more equal opportunity
"With a Justice Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, we could see reversals of hard-won gains securing equal opportunity in education, employment and housing. We could see further exclusion of communities of color from participation in our democracy. We could see racism continue to flourish within the criminal justice system. We could see the elimination of effective tools for proving discrimination."— NAACP statement.
Freedom at risk
"Kavanaugh will only further threaten to erode our nation's promise of freedom, justice and equality for all."— Muslim Civil Rights Group
Health care chopped
"In selecting Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, @realDonaldTrump has put reproductive rights and freedoms and health care protections for millions of Americans on the judicial chopping block."— Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
"The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh will threaten the lives of millions of Americans for decades to come and will morph our Supreme Court into a political arm of the right-wing Republican Party."— Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
"If Brett Kavanaugh survives the confirmation process, he will rapidly advance a fringe right agenda on the court that will accelerate plutocratic control of our economy and politics, actively undermine the steps our country must take towards greater racial equity, and directly lead to the deaths of countless women with the dismantling of abortion rights."— Jim Dean, chairman of Democracy for America.
"Trump's announcement today is a death sentence for thousands of women in the United States."— Statement by The Women's March, which referred in the headline to "Donald Trump's nomination of XX to the Supreme Court."
White supremacists thrive
"Tonight 's announcement threatens to destroy decades of progress made by our nation's most vulnerable communities, and it locks in a white supremacist agenda from Capitol to the White House to the halls of our nation's highest courts."— Maurice BP-Weeks, co-executive director, Action Center on Race and Economy.
"When President Trump Monday nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, he probably doomed the right to abortion, same-sex marriage and maybe even contraception."— Jay Michaelson, legal affairs columnist at the Daily Beast.
The Constitution destroyed
The winners for most hysterical forecasts, however, are Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent for the taxpayer-funded National Public Radio, and presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
Before Trump named Kavanaugh, here's what Harris had to say on MSNBC:
"If Trump gets what he wants here what's the court gonna look like the next 30 years? We're looking at a destruction of the Constitution of the United States."
And here's how Totenberg described the impact of Trump's replacing Justice Kennedy on NPR's "All Things Considered":
The end of the world
"Roe v. Wade might be reversed. Lots of federal regulations might be thrown out, might be a different, more — less tolerant view of gun regulation and affirmative action. He was the fifth vote to uphold affirmative action in higher education. That could change, too — so as R.E.M. once put it, 'the end of the world as we know it.' "
You can bet that none of these horror stories will come true if Kavanaugh makes it to the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, it's also a certainty that none of these politicians, opinion makers or celebrities will be held to account for their flagrant efforts to mislead the country and stir up anger and hostility.
(If readers find other examples of horrific predictions, feel free to tweet them to us @IBDEditorials and we'll try to add them to the list.)
Judiciary: In federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump has found yet another solid constitutional conservative for an empty seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Contrary to the shrieking protests heard outside the Supreme Court building on Monday night, the 53-year-old Kavanaugh will be a genuine protector of Americans' rights — just as Justice Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump placed on the court last year, is.
Kavanaugh, like Gorsuch, is an originalist. That's not something anyone — left, right or center, Democrat, Independent or Republican — should fear. It means that Kavanaugh, just like Gorsuch, late-Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito, will look at the Constitution first when making decisions.
That is how our system was designed from the very beginning. It's not a tool for unbounded activism, as many on the left seem to feel.
The Supreme Court is the sole final guardian of the Constitution, the law of our land. The Constitution, and in particular its Bill of Rights, were intended to serve as a basic list of irrevocable rights for U.S. citizens. It's not a tool for unbounded activism, as many on the left seem to feel. Any judge who doesn't take this seriously doesn't belong on the bench.
Kavanaugh does. As he said Monday night, "My judicial philosophy is straightforward. A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written. And a judge must interpret the Constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent."
That's about as good a working definition of the originalist creed as exists.
Even so, Kavanaugh is an establishment conservative. He will not push revolutionary shifts in Supreme Court decisions. After all, he's a Yale Law School grad, who has taught at Yale, Harvard and Georgetown. No doubt, he understands the political dimension of the law, having worked in George W. Bush's administration and as a staffer for Kenneth Starr's investigation of President Clinton. He clerked for Justice Kennedy, whose High Court seat he would fill, and has served as a federal judge since 2006.
And, as Kavanaugh himself noted, he was actually hired to teach at Harvard by then-Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan — now on the Supreme Court.
But the immediate angry and loud reaction to his nomination by Democrats and others on the left suggests Kavanaugh will have an uphill political battle to get on the court. President Trump wants a vote by October 1.
Two Republican senators — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — say they'll scrutinize Trump's nominee carefully. Both senators are ardent supporters of the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal across the U.S.
On the other side of the aisle, last year Gorsuch received votes from Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. All three are moderates elected from states that voted for Trump.
But none has yet committed to vote for Kavanaugh.
It should be noted that though these five votes are seen as problematic, it's also the case that all of them voted for Gorsuch — whom many agree is more judicially conservative in his leanings than Kavanaugh.
Most Democrats have vowed to oppose Kavanaugh, regardless. As Trump named Kavanaugh as his pick, a parade of far-left Democrats and their followers rallied before the Supreme Court, calling for Kavanaugh's rejection.
No one argues he isn't qualified. They just don't like his decisions. Or really, any conservative's decisions, whatever they are.
Indeed, as the leftist Women's March group showed in their tweeted release, it didn't matter who Trump named. It read thusly: "In response to the president's nomination of XX to the Supreme Court of the United States, The Women's March released the following: "
Yes, that "XX" is an awful judge. Truth is, they didn't need to wait.
Nor did NPR's way-left Supreme Court correspondent, Nina Totenberg, who said, quoting the rock group REM, "this is the end of the world as we know it." Problem is, she said that nearly two weeks before she knew who the nominee was.
We've been here before. Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, both conservative jurists, were vilified, slandered and attacked publicly for the crime of being Republican nominees to the court. Only Thomas made it on, and just barely. In one of the great injustices of the Senate approval process, Democrats and their organized far-left media mob forced Bork, one of the best-qualified nominees in history to the court, to withdraw after a sickening campaign of defamation and character assassination.
In short, the Democratic left politicized the selection of court justices as never before, nearly ruining two decent men. For Democrats and others on the left, it's a legacy of lasting shame.
Democrats say there's "too much at stake" with midterm elections coming up to approve of Kavanaugh. But we remind Americans that Republicans during the 2010 midterm elections approved both liberal Sonia Sotomayor (in August, 2009) and Elena Kagan (in August 2010).
Republicans didn't like either, and had profound philosophical differences with both, but didn't obstruct them, either.
Compare that with Democrats today, as they throw the political equivalent of a child's temper tantrum and vow to oppose and obstruct Kavanaugh from taking a seat on the high bench. There will no doubt be verbal anger and perhaps even violence. They will accuse him of supporting back-alley abortions (a lie). They will say his decisions as a judge that limit the federal bureaucracy's regulatory reach are "pro-corporation" and "anti-environment."
None of that is true. He's neither "pro-corporation" nor "anti-environment." He's pro-Constitution.
Yes, as we noted, Kavanaugh is conservative. But he's also principled. He won't toe a party line. These days, that's all the so-called progressives and their allies in the judiciary have: A party line, one that tilts increasingly to the far left.
Angry Opposition: Every day brings new examples of the supposedly open-minded, inclusive, tolerant, peace-loving left threatening or attacking Trump administration officials or Trump supporters. Hatred and intolerance has been standard operating procedure on the extreme left. But thanks to enablers among Democrats and the press, it's quickly becoming dangerously "mainstream."
Here are some of the ways in just the past few days that the left has expressed its tolerance for those it disagrees with:
On Friday, Martin Astrof went to the campaign headquarters of Rep. Lee Zeldin, and then threatened to kill Zeldin and Trump supporters generally, according to news accounts of the incident. As he left, he nearly ran over a campaign staffer with his car.
An angry Trump critic allegedly punched a homeowner in Boynton Beach, Fla., for having a Trump flag in his front yard, and then dragged the homeowner 30 feet while driving away.
A bookstore owner in Richmond, Va., called the cops after a woman started harassing former Trump advisor Steven Bannon, who was browsing in the store. Former Clinton aide Philippe Reines later tweeted out the bookstore owner's contact information, in a thinly veiled attempt to encourage attacks on the store. Reines defended the tweet, saying, "I'm providing a service."
A group of "protesters" following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell out of a restaurant in Kentucky shouted "vote you out" and "we know where you live, bitch."
Brandon Straka — a gay former liberal who posted a video complaining that "the Left devolved into intolerant, inflexible, illogical, hateful, misguided, ill-informed, un-American, hypocritical, menacing, callous, ignorant, narrow-minded, and at times blatantly fascistic behavior and rhetoric" and sparked the #walkaway Twitter trend — says a local camera store refused to serve him. Thereby proving his point.
"I'm shaking right now," Straka tweeted Thursday. "I just went into a camera store to buy a camera and a light and mic, etc., and they recognized me from TV. I was refused service because they said it was for 'alt-right' purposes."
Alan Dershowitz, once the darling of the liberal left until he started to question the merits of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, says that a woman at a party on Martha's Vineyard was heard saying, "if Dershowitz were here tonight, I'd stab him through the heart."
Horror novelist and reliable Trump-hater Steven King sent a tweet over July 4 encouraging progressives to "go find a Trump-supporting friend — the one you haven't spoken to since November of 2016 — and give him or her a hug. Trumpies, find a 'liberal snowflake' friend and do the same. Just for today, let's all be Americans." The response was an outpouring of outrage at King, with one woman tweeting that it was "The scariest thing you've ever written."
A Fast-Growing List
Breitbart recently started compiling what it characterizes as "acts of media-approved violence and harassment against Trump supporters." The list is now up to 258 — and climbing fast. So far this month, Breitbart counts more than two dozen incidents of threats, intimidation and violence against Trump officials and supporters, or mainstream journalists excusing such actions.
That's likely just scratching the surface, since no doubt many abuses go unreported.
The left defends such actions as justified because of Trump's policies or his actions. The truth is, this is how extremists on the left always respond to politicians and policies they disagree with. They threaten, intimidate and try to shut them down. If you don't think so, try attending a speech by a conservative speaker at any liberal college in the U.S.
Yes, we know, there are haters on the right. And Trump can be crude and abusive. But that's the point. Even a whiff of hatred or intolerance on the right always — and correctly — receives widespread condemnation, including by Republicans.
The same is not true on the left. Not. Even. Close.
Instead, Democrats and their handmaidens in the press are busy normalizing violent, abusive, intolerant behavior … when not encouraging more of it. They seem to have forgotten that we live in a representative democracy, where we settle debates over public policies — peacefully — at the voting booth.
'Inclusive' Boom: It may be a surprise, but President Trump is nowhere near as unpopular among minority voters as the biased mainstream media suggest. Why is that? In a word, jobs.
Trump, it turns out, has been the most consequential president in history when it comes to minority employment. In June, for instance, the unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latinos 16 years and older fell to 4.6%, its lowest level ever, from 4.9% in May. The previous all-time low was 4.8%.
African-American unemployment bounced up from its all-time low of 5.9% in May to 6.5% in June. But that 6.5% still represents the second-lowest unemployment reading ever for Black Americans.
As for Asian-Americans, unemployment similarly bounced off its all-time low of 2.1% in May, rising to 3.2%. And that's still 0.6 percentage point lower than when Trump entered office.
Consider all the good news about minority employment when you hear reports of June's "disappointing" jobs data.
The truth is, the ripping jobs growth that began when Trump entered office and picked up steam after his tax cuts has been good for everyone in America — even liberal media pundits.
And it's also been good for Trump. Because quietly, he is winning over those who have benefited most from his policies: Minorities. On average, minority unemployment has dropped 18% since Trump entered office in January of 2017. More than 2 million people have dropped off food stamps and returned to work.
Despite a relentless media barrage aimed at Trump and his immigration policies, a new Harvard/Harris Poll found a 10% rise in approval for Trump among Hispanics.
Minority Confidence Grows
And our own IBD/TIPP Poll data show that, on average, minority Americans' confidence in their own finances has risen from 57.1 to 63.5 since Trump took office. That's important, since people's happiness with their own finances is a good indicator of future voting tendencies. As the Zogby Poll recently noted: "Even though President Trump receives little support from these (minority) groups, things might be going just good enough economically that ... Republicans can retain control of Congress and Trump gets re-elected in 2020."
We wondered, if Trump were truly racist, "why would (he) put in place policies that, factually speaking, benefit minorities? It's funny, too, that those that sell this toxic brew of false racism don't mention the truth: That, like the rest of us, minorities thrive as the economy's growth picks up."
We have no reason to change our minds. When it comes to good news about minority employment, the Trump years are the best of times.
Subsidies: According to the federal government, almost 1.4 billion pounds of surplus cheese now sit in refrigerated warehouses around the country. Yet dairy production is climbing. What gives?
The amount of surplus cheese is growing fast — up 6% in just the past year.
According to news accounts, the reason is that dairy production is climbing, while dairy consumption is falling. Data from the Department of Agriculture show that between 2008 and 2017, milk production in the U.S. climbed 13%.
Over those same years, however, consumption has sagged — with per capita milk consumption down 14%, USDA data show.
The surplus milk gets stored as cheese. If formed into one giant wheel, the current 1.39-billion-pound cheese surplus would be about as big as the U.S. Capitol Building.
Two years ago, the Obama administration effectively bailed out the industry, when it bought up $20 million worth — 11 million pounds — of cheese, which it then used for food assistance programs. But the stockpile has grown 16% since then.
If all this sounds odd, it is.
In what other industry would you find producers continuing to ramp up production while demand slides, and then stuffing the growing pile of surplus into warehouses, hoping the federal government will buy some of it?
What makes the dairy industry different is decades of government efforts to "support" dairy farmers with various subsidy schemes. The 2014 farm bill did away with old federal price support programs, but replaced them with heavily subsidized insurance that essentially guarantees margins for those who sign up. This year, the dairy industry successfully lobbied Congress to expand this subsidy program.
Distorting the Market
By interfering with pricing signals, the effect of these subsidies has been to encourage production, almost regardless of market demand. It's a problem not just with the dairy industry, but with other agricultural products on the receiving end of government largesse.
Each year, in fact, taxpayers fork over more than $20 billion to subsidize corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, dairy and a few other commodities. Critics of these subsidies say that not only do these programs distort the market, but they tend to benefit big agribusinesses at the expense of family farms.
The 2014 bill was supposed to include provisions to prevent dairy overproduction, but clearly it hasn't worked as intended.
Dairy farmers say they need these programs to survive. We doubt that. Like every other industry, they'd learn to adapt to market changes.
In the meantime, ask yourself this question: Why should taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to protect other people's jobs in a declining industry?
Blue-Model Fail: By any standard, San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. So why has it suddenly become an unappealing place to visit and to live? As with so many U.S. cities, it suffers a host of urban maladies. Blame the far-left Blue Model of urban governance, which now afflicts most major American cities.
Yes, the city by the bay is extraordinarily beautiful. But that's a result of geography and the city's distant past, not of its current political class, which is about as far-left on the urban political spectrum as any city in America.
Many were surprised that a Chicago-based medical association recently said "no thanks" to future conventions in San Francisco, once a cherished favorite conference or meeting site for groups of all sorts, setting off alarms.
The San Francisco Travel Association, which revealed the cancellation, refused to name the medical association involved. Perhaps it hopes to change the group's decision. But it did say that the loss would be significant, costing the local economy some $40 million from about 15,000 attendees.
And apart from the shock value, this cancellation may be the tip of a very big iceberg. The local NBC News affiliate was brutal in its assessment as to why the cancellation happened: "The amount of trash, feces, and used drug needles scattered throughout the city's streets and sidewalks is making it harder to convince companies to return to San Francisco." Ouch.
No, San Francisco hasn't collapsed. It's still a big city, filled with nice restaurants, extravagant hotels and wealthy residents, many made rich by the Silicon Valley tech boom. It's not poor, or even struggling. But despite the superficial trappings of its tech wealth, it is changing, and not for the better.
That gives it much in common with other major American cities.
Because San Francisco's superficial wealth masks a serious problem: As with so many other major cities, it has hollowed out. Middle-class families have fled, no longer able to afford to live there, or appalled at what the city has become. The cancelled medical convention was symbolic of that disenchantment.
One recent report shows why. It notes that the city had logged more than 16,000 complaints containing the word "feces" in just one week. Many of those reports linked a growing amount of fecal matter on streets and in alley to the near-ubiquitous encampments of homeless people and vagrants, who have flooded into the city due to its tolerant and even friendly policies. It's a serious problem.
San Francisco proudly calls itself a "progressive" city. It follows what writer and scholar Walter Russell Mead calls the progressive "Blue Model" of governance. Yet, the policies it follows — high taxes, inane regulations, petty nanny-state authoritarianism, tolerance for rising lawlessness and disorder on its streets in the name of "compassion" — are the very ones that have driven middle-class and working-class citizens out. Only the rich and the so-called homeless, who have been welcomed into the city and are a growing issue, can afford to live in the city.
Still, it might be unfair to single San Francisco out. A new study of Census data from 2010-2017 by the online publication 24/7 Wall Street and reported by USA Today finds that many other major American cities are losing population to other areas, even faster than San Francisco. But, unlike San Francisco, none of them have a booming Silicon Valley to bail them out as their middle-class residents seek greener pastures elsewhere.
Looking at the Top 10 biggest net migration losers on the list for the seven years is instructive: It includes Chicago (which lost 296,320 people from 2010-2017), L.A. (-93,959 people lost), Detroit (-54,640), St. Louis (-39,894 people), Cleveland (-33,117), Memphis (-30,000), Milwaukee (-27,959), Flint, Mich. (-22,658), El Paso, Texas (-21,829), and, of course, New York City (-21,503).
Those cities' hard-working middle class residents are leaving, rather than face growing urban decay, welfare-based poverty, loss of major businesses, poor-performing public schools, artificially high local housing prices, crime and a hostile political class that focuses on superficial measures of class-leveling and "equality" rather than creating opportunities for all.
We looked at the list and did a bit of research of our own. What we found was that virtually all of the top 10 cities on the list that had a net loss of population to other cities and states have been governed almost exclusively by liberal or far-left Democratic regimes since at least the 1960s. Their problems aren't accidental. They're systematic.
For years, these Blue Model politicians have taxed, spent and regulated on the people's behalf, with poor or even abysmal results. That's why the massive shift of population is taking place. It also accounts, perhaps, for the surprising rise and success of President Trump.
'Blue' Cities Lose People
As urban researchers Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox noted in 2017, "In 2016 alone, states that supported Donald Trump gained 400,000 domestic migrants from states that supported Hillary Clinton. This came on top of an existing advantage in net domestic red state migration of 1.45 million people from 2010 through 2015."
San Francisco, Kotkin and Cox observe, is a case in point: "In the San Francisco Bay Area, techies are increasingly looking for jobs outside the region, and some companies are offering cash bonuses for those willing to leave. A recent poll indicated that 46% of millennials want to leave the Bay Area. Meanwhile, these 'best and brightest' have been gravitating to lower cost areas such as Austin, Orlando, Houston, Nashville, and Charlotte."
Fed-up big city residents in Blue cities and states, in short, are moving to smaller cities and towns in Red states. It's a political transformation that complicates the Democrats' hopes of recapturing the White House in 2020 and Congress this year.
The failure of America's big cities should be a warning siren to Democratic Party advocates of Blue Model governance. Because of the Blue Model's failure, America is rapidly segregating itself economically. It's unhealthy for America, unhealthy for our big cities, and unhealthy for our democracy. And it shows no signs of ending any time soon.
Energy Markets: Based on all the stories about "surging" gasoline prices, you might think the country was about to relive the energy crisis of the late 1970s. The truth is, the cost of filling up today is nowhere near where it was during most of the past decade.
Just before the July Fourth holiday, several news outlets noted that pump prices are higher than they've been in four years. Democrats are, not surprisingly, playing this up as an election issue, saying it's the result of President Trump's misguided policies toward Iran and his softening Obama-era fuel economy standards for new cars.
Trump, too, has joined the chorus of complaints, casting blame on OPEC.
On July 4, Trump tweeted that OPEC "is driving prices higher as the United States defends many of their members for very little $'s. This must be a two-way street."
Fair enough. But the complaints about today's gasoline prices expose more about the short attention spans of Americans and the mainstream press than they do about oil markets.
According to the Energy Information Administration's weekly report, a gallon of gas costs about $2.92 nationwide. And, indeed, the last time prices were that high was in October 2014.
But stories about today's gas prices rarely adjust for inflation. When you do that, you find that at $2.92, a gallon of gas costs the same today as it did back in June 1984.
During President Obama's 8-years in office, gasoline averaged $3.25 a gallon, in today's dollars. For 14 months during those years, it was above $4 a gallon, which is higher than prices ever reached in the wake of the Iranian revolution. (They peaked at $3.94 in March 1980.)
What's more, while Trump is right that OPEC can have an impact on oil prices, the explosion of domestic oil production has dramatically weakened OPEC's hand.
That's a result of the fracking revolution, which unlocked vast stores of previously unrecovered oil deposits. Plus, Trump promised when he came into office that he'd remove impediments to still more production, and has taken several steps to do so.
As a result, oil companies produced 14% more oil this April than they did when Trump took office. In the first half of this year, they will have produced about as much domestic oil as they did in all of 2009.
Want Lower Prices?
For those who really do want to see lower gas prices, the answer isn't to complain about Trump's Iran policy, or call for him to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — as some are already doing.
The answer is to review the pile of environmental regulations and federal mandates that raise costs. That includes the ethanol mandate, regional air quality rules that have Balkanized gasoline markets in the country, and various EPA rules on what can go into gasoline. The Obama administration's "Tier 3" regulations, for example, added as much as 9 cents to a gallon of gas.
Regulations made building new refineries almost impossible, resulting in refining capacity dropping from 18.6 million barrels a day in 1981 to 16.8 million by 2005. Obama added to still more refining costs with new regulations imposed in 2015.
On top of all this, add state and federal per-gallon taxes, and you see that the government is responsible for a significant portion of gasoline's price.
The Trump administration and the Republican Congress could bring gasoline prices down. But only by further enraging their already hysterical political opponents.
Trade: First, President Trump hit China, Canada, Mexico and the EU with trade tariffs. Now, the world is hitting back. Will a burgeoning trade war with our closest trading partners be the undoing of global free trade and Trump's own domestic agenda? Don't count on it.
Here's the action so far: President Trump already slapped 10% to 25% tariffs on aluminum and steel imports. In retaliation, Canada has hit U.S. imports with an estimated $12.6 billion in tariffs in retaliation.
Next, some $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods are set to go into effect later this week, which China vows will not go unanswered.
Meanwhile, Trump is also threatening tariffs on European Union autos, a severe sore spot for the EU. It says it will levy $300 billion in tariffs on U.S. autos and other goods — that's not a misprint — if Trump's tariffs go into place.
And Trump has taken it even a step further. As Axios reports, the White House has even threatened to push legislation to "blow up" the World Trade Organization by getting rid of its two most basic rules: One, the "Most-Favored-Nation" principle, under which all countries in the WTO get the same tariff treatment as others; and, two, "Bound Tariff Rates," under which already-negotiated tariff ceilings can't be removed unilaterally.
This might sound like a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, but it isn't. Most of the world's tradable goods come under WTO rules. Eliminating the rules overnight would be destabilizing to the world economy, to say the least. It's one of the big reasons why global financial markets have been on such a roller-coaster ride in recent months.
Major U.S. companies (like Harley-Davidson), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even some Senate Republicans — usually allied with Trump on most issues — have issued strong denunciations of Trump's tariffs and plans to exit the WTO.
But if Trump worries about the reactions from Congress and overseas, he doesn't let on. He promised explicitly to raise tariffs during his election campaign. And if Trump has shown Americans anything since entering office in January of 2017, it's that he's dead-set on keeping his promises.
"Any country that devalues their currency to take unfair advantage of the United States and all of its companies that can't compete will face tariffs and taxes to stop the cheating," Trump said in 2016.
So, yes, Trump is serious about tariffs. But what's also clear is that any extreme moves on trade can by stymied in Congress.
There's already a move afoot in the Senate, led by Republicans Bob Corker and Pat Toomey and Democrat Michael Bennet to get rid of Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs. They'll stand on solid legal ground. Article 1 of the Constitution gives Congress, not the White House, power to regulate trade, including tariffs.
Moreover, Congress approved of the creation of the World Trade Organization. So pulling out of the WTO or changing it beyond recognition would require Trump to win a vote in Congress.
It ain't going to happen.
So what's Trump's aim here? Trump isn't just tariff-happy. And he doesn't just hate the WTO to hate the WTO. There's an endgame he has in mind.
So what is it? He wants nothing more than for other countries that have highly favorable trade deals through the WTO and U.S. trade agreements to level the playing field a bit. Ultimately, if the gambit works, free traders should be happy. It will actually make trade freer and fairer, rather than treating obsolete trade agreements as if they were an eternally fixed part of Mosaic law.
Andy Puzder, who served as CEO of CKE Restaurants for 16 years, explained the dynamic in a recent opinion piece.
"With a trade deficit over $500 billion running in their favor, we need to create incentives for our trading partners to renegotiate our current relationships," Puzder wrote. "That's because nations — like people — rarely give up economic benefits they've grown used to having simply because doing so would be fair. They operate in their self-interest."
As noted, the WTO has quite effectively lowered average overall tariffs and trade barriers on many goods and services. It's been a huge success in that respect. But deals made through the WTO have also frozen in place existing unfair advantages that the U.S. agreed to give to Europe, Asia, Mexico and others to help develop their economies.
It was a noble act, one for which our major trade partners give the U.S. little or no credit. Last year the U.S. had an overall goods deficit of $810 billion, an enormous amount. That was reduced to an overall deficit of about $568 billion, thanks to exports of services and high-tech. Whether free trade advocates acknowledge it or not, large swathes of the industrial Midwest got decimated by those deficits.
Donald Trump promised them relief and hope. He's now keeping that promise, at least rhetorically. Whether tariffs or anything else can ever "re-industrialize" the Midwest is an open question.
As we've written here many times, we take a back seat to no one on free trade. And we don't like tariffs. Period. They're a tax on consumers and producers. We'd like to see them all go. We believe in truly free trade.
That said, highly regulated trade, with tariffs fixed to our disadvantage in semi-perpetuity, cannot be called free trade. That means we need to change past trade deals. That includes NAFTA and the many WTO trade deals that are no longer fair. Trump's doing that.
In that sense, despite the anti-Trump rhetoric on trade both here and abroad, the president may in fact be doing free trade the biggest favor of all: He's taking it seriously.
First Amendment: After the Supreme Court ruling that banned forced union dues for public sector workers, liberal activist groups started complaining about how they were going to lose a huge source of funds. Wait. Didn't unions repeatedly claim that those forced dues only went to collective bargaining costs?
The court case, Janus v. AFSCME, centered on the practice in 22 states, whereby public-sector workers could be forced to pay a portion of the union dues, even if they didn't join the union. The court ruled 5-4 that this was a violation of free speech, because it meant that government was forcing nonunion workers to subsidize political advocacy, candidates and policies they don't support.
Throughout the debate, big public-sector unions insisted that those forced dues were perfectly reasonable. Since nonunion members also benefited from union collective bargaining deals with state and local governments, it made sense for them to cover their share of those collective bargaining costs. The unions called it "fair share" fees.
None of those forced dues, unions emphatically stated, went to political causes, so there was no free-speech violation.
"The simple truth is that no one is forced to join a union and no one is forced to pay any fees that go to politics or political candidates. That is already the law of the land," is how the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees put it.
But this week, the New York Times published a lengthy story explaining how the Janus decision will not only hit public sector unions but "will also hit hard at a vast network of groups dedicated to advancing liberal policies and candidates."
These groups, the Times reports, got tens of millions of dollars from public sector unions — "funding now in jeopardy because of the prospective decline in union revenue."
The giant Service Employees International Union says it cut its budget by 30% on the assumption that the court would rule against the unions in the Janus case. The Times says it "had been talking with leaders of liberal groups for two years about how to offset the loss."
Public-union money accounted for up to 15% of the Economic Policy Institute's budget, the story notes. EPI puts out pro-union studies that the press then reports as credible research. Pro-immigrant group Mi Familia Vota was getting about $1 million a year from public unions. America Votes got $2 million in 2016.
So how is it that — if none of the forced dues went to pay for anything other than collective bargaining — all these liberal activist groups are worried about having their gravy train cut off?
Surely the loss of those "fair share" fees would only come out of the unions' collective bargaining budget, not the massive amounts of money they spend supporting liberal groups and causes. Right?
Money Is Fungible
Unions might say that losing all that "fair share" money means they'll have to shift money from other activities to cover reduced collective bargaining dollars.
But that just underscores the fact that money is fungible. By forcing nonunion members to pay "fair share" fees, unions could free up substantial amounts of funds — that otherwise would have been spent on collective bargaining — to pay for political activism.
What's more, unions had fairly wide discretion over what counted as "collective bargaining," for which they could directly charge nonunion members.
A couple of years ago, the National Legal and Policy Center noted that unions, with the consent of the federal government's National Labor Relations Board, were "defining 'collective bargaining' so broadly as to include just about any activity as applicable."
Either way, there's no question that at least some of the forced dues that public sector workers had to pay ended up funding political groups, activities and policies that nonunion workers didn't agree with.
The fact that liberal groups are screaming about the loss of union money because of the Janus decision is simply more evidence that the court's ruling was exactly right.
Mexico Votes: Beset by corruption, poverty and endemic violence, Mexican voters sent a message of desperation on Sunday by voting overwhelmingly to make socialist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador their next president. This is bad for the U.S., but even worse for Mexico.
President Trump did the neighborly thing in congratulating Obrador on his victory and pledged to work with him. But in fact Obrador's win bodes ill for future relations.
His talking points for the policies he'll pursue once in office sound much more like Venezuela's late socialist dictator Hugo Chavez than, say, Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher.
For starters, Obrador vows to renationalize the oil industry, halt all cooperation with U.S. immigration laws, give amnesty to the drug cartels, boost farm subsidies and remove "multinational" investment in agriculture, encourage mass migration by Mexicans to the U.S., while using remittances from workers in the U.S. to fuel Mexican growth.
Hey, such ideas worked so well in Venezuela after Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution," why not in Mexico?
If you think the U.S. will merely sit back and watch as this happens, think again. U.S.-Mexico ties under President Trump are already strained, with disputes over trade and immigration roiling the waters. Obrador, the author of a book titled "Oye, Trump" ("Listen, Trump"), will test U.S. patience.
The case of Venezuela is instructive, and ongoing. Its citizens are desperately heading for the border as that nation's socialist economy collapses, beset by food shortages, soaring unemployment, rampant disease, crime and inflation now at a stratospheric 43,000% a year.
Since 1999, the year the socialists took over, Venezuela's economy has gone from being one of the wealthiest in Latin America, with the world's largest oil reserves, to one of the most-impoverished nations in Latin America, one that now imports oil and exports people.
"Socialist economic policies — price controls, factory nationalizations, government takeovers of food distribution and the like — have real human costs," wrote James Kirchick in a Los Angeles Times op-ed last August. "Eighty percent of Venezuelan bakeries don't have flour. Eleven percent of children under 5 are malnourished, infant mortality has increased by 30% and maternal mortality is up 66%."
And since then, things have gotten even worse, if that's imaginable.
Those who remain dumpster-dive, rummage through garbage, and even eat stray pets just to stay alive. Even zoo animals aren't off limits. Food distribution and the water system have been taken over by the army, a new opportunity for massive corruption and extortion. It's a horrible situation.
And yet, just a few years ago, celebrity leftists like Michael Moore and Sean Penn and and their political allies, such as socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, lauded Venezuela's economic model.
The point is, however well-meaning Obrador seems, such a transformation on the U.S. border would be a disaster. It would bring potentially millions more refugees — and possibly even Mexican civil war.
As it is, we share a 2,200-mile border with Mexico, which is our third-largest trading partner. If Mexico's economy goes south, so to speak, things on the border could get ugly fast.
No doubt, U.S. and other foreign investment in Mexico would plunge. The peso would plummet, and Mexico's already-frightening criminal violence would spiral out of control.
Obrador built his public appeal on his reputation for not being corrupt. Equally important, however, voters also saw Obrador as an agent of economic change, someone who cares about average people.
"In the last 20-odd years, this includes the government I served in, the economy has not grown more than 2 1/2% per year," Mexico's former Foreign Minister, Jorge Castaneda, told Fox News. "Mexicans are not finding deep, well-paying jobs, not seeing their living standards improved, not extracting people from poverty, we're not reducing levels of inequality which are among the highest levels in the world."
Quite an indictment coming from a high-level former government official, and sadly entirely true.
It's a big reason why at least 11 million Mexicans are in the U.S. illegally, and why a renewed surge is likely in the future under the socialist policies pushed by Obrador.
And, with more than 60 million of Mexico's 130 million people now living in poverty, that number will only grow if the economy deteriorates.
Mexicans clearly voted for change. But whether they'll get the change they're expecting is another matter.
Socialist governments have a history, once in power, of destroying economies unmatched by any other political system.
Whether it's the former Soviet Union and the communist nations of Eastern Europe, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua or any number of other nominally "socialist" nations, all fail abysmally.
Obrador may feel he has an enormous electoral mandate to impose his socialist vision on a fed-up Mexico. Looking at the election results, he does.
With 54% of the vote at last count, he easily trounced his foes.
Ricardo Anaya, who led a right-left political coalition, finished second with 23% of the vote. Voters sent a particularly humiliating message to the once-all-powerful PRI party, whose candidate Juan Antonio Meade had hoped to succeed outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto. It finished a dismal third, with just 15% of the vote.
If current polling trends hold, Obrador's Morena Party also will lead a coalition with two other leftist parties that will control the legislature next year. With a single six-year term, Mexico's president has unusually broad powers, so Obrador's policies are likely to find little initial opposition.
The Corruption Factor
To his credit, Obrador is one of the few in Mexican politics without a major taint of scandal. He has vowed to leave Mexico's lavish Los Pinos compound, the equivalent of the White House, and live modestly in the center of Mexico City.
In a country where politicians view government as an opportunity to get rich quick, Obrador seems to be an exception.
"There's nothing to fear," said AMLO on Monday. "I'm not a dictator."
We hope that's true.
But in Latin American politics, far-left leaders often start out promising clean government end up dirty. It happened in Cuba, it happened in Brazil, it happened in Venezuela, it happened in Ecuador, it happened in Nicaragua.
It's not unreasonable to think it might happen in Mexico, too. Socialist countries get socialist results: Misery. Look at Venezuela. Unless Obrador sees the light and pursues moderate economic policies, don't expect Mexico to be any different.
War On Poverty: What would you think of a tax system that imposed effective marginal tax rates of up to 80% on low-income families? That's what exists today thanks to various federal benefit programs that phase out while income rises.
At a recent panel on poverty, the Congressional Budget Office made a presentation showing how income and benefit programs interact in ways that can heavily discourage work.
The CBO looked at a single parent with one child living in Pennsylvania, and what would happen to her net income — from wages and benefits — as she started to make more money from work. That meant counting not just how much she'd pay in income taxes and payroll taxes on each extra dollar of earnings, but how much she'd lose in food stamps, health subsidies, and other income-based programs.
The result is rather disturbing. If she took a job that paid $10,000 a year, her effective marginal tax rate would be a 50%. That is, for every dollar she made, she'd gain only 50 cents after taxes and benefit cuts.
When her income reached $20,000, the effective marginal rate climbed to a stunning 80%.
The CBO found that more than three-quarters of low- and moderate-income taxpayers face marginal rates of 20% or more, and that, overall the average rate is 31%.
Keep in mind that the top income tax rate — which kicks in at $500,000 for a single person — is just 37%.
Why are these marginal rates for this single mom so high? Because as she makes more money, her benefits phase out. For example, someone in the phaseout range of food stamps faces an effective additional marginal tax of 14%.
Impact On Work
Economists have long understood that high marginal tax rates are a disincentive to work. As the CBO put it, "when marginal tax rates are high, people tend to respond to the smaller financial gain from employment by working fewer hours."
Yet while politicians are hyperfocused on the top marginal rate, they rarely look at the impact of high marginal rates on the working poor.
This is important for two reasons. First, poorly designed benefit programs can trap people in poverty. Second, as the economy reaches full employment, the last thing we want are able bodied people sitting on the sidelines.
What can be done? One solution is to impose work requirements to continue collecting benefits. That, at least, helps overcome the disincentives created by the benefits themselves. At the very least, Congress should reform these benefit programs in ways that mitigate those disincentives.
Housing: With home prices soaring in most markets, this is the best time to be a homeowner since 2005. But there's a downside: Thanks to continued government meddling, the housing market has rarely been more fragile. Is another housing crunch brewing?
We've talked before about the strength of the U.S. economy, particularly after tax cuts kicked in. And that's still true. Unfortunately, 10 years after the 2008 financial crisis, there's one exception: The housing market, which, despite superficial signs of health, remains dysfunctional.
Homeowners are happy now, but they may soon be reeling. The Fed, worried about ultralow 3.8% unemployment and rising incomes, has signaled it could raise rates as many as seven times between now and the end of 2019. Not only would new buyers no longer qualify to buy homes, but homeowners who bought during the Fed's zero-interest rate days might get a severe shock as payments surge and buyer demand dries up.
Right now, housing suffers from an affordability crisis. Despite median household income rising strongly since President Trump took office, the average price for a new home today is just under $330,000, vs. about $248,000 in 2006, before the last housing crisis. Higher Fed rates followed by a downturn in housing prices would devastate the U.S. economy.
How did we get here? Unfortunately, you can blame government. Neither Fannie Mae nor Freddie Mac, the two mortgage giants that caused the 2007 housing meltdown, were dismantled. Instead, Washington rewarded them with an even larger role than before.
"Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while still in conservatorship and with the blessing of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, are once again expanding into new products and programs with abandon — and in the process potentially adversely affecting industries, businesses and careers," wrote Edward J. Pinto, co-director of the American Enterprise Institute's Center on Housing Markets and Finance, and Tom La Malfa, a 40-year mortgage industry veteran, in the American Banker.
Only one difference: Now taxpayers own the two housing-finance delinquents. Thus when the next housing meltdown occurs, taxpayers will own it. And they'll have to decide whether to bail out homeowners and banks, or just blame it all on "deregulation" and greedy Wall Street, as happened last time.
In the meantime, despite high home prices, Fannie and Freddie continue to pump money into heavily subsidized mortgages, artificially boosting home prices. This is not how free markets work.
In the next housing crisis, banks will hold hundreds of billions in bad loans and the economy will again crater. Then what? Rather than waiting for disaster, why not do what we should've done years ago? Either privatize Fannie and Freddie or shut them down, while the economy's strong and we still have time.
Mideast: While the U.S. remains focused on immigration and a Supreme Court vacancy, Iran is in the middle of a major social convulsion that's verging on a revolution. Last time this happened, President Obama ignored it. This time, the U.S. supports those in the streets.
In recent days, headlines such as "In Iran, revolution is starting in the bazaar," "Clashes Continue in Iran for Third Day After Grand Bazaar Merchant Protest," and "Tehran's Grand Bazaar Shut Down As Economic Protests Spread," have run in global media, with little apparent notice.
It's a big deal. A very big deal.
The 39-year-old dictatorship of the Mullahs in Tehran may be on the verge of dissolving, as Trump imposes new, stiff sanctions on Iran's economy and Iran's currency, the rial, plunges sharply, prices soar and the economy collapses. Average Iranians are losing faith in the government and taking to the streets.
Tehran's Grand Bazaar, its central meeting place and business center, has been filled with tens of thousands of angry protesters nearly every day. Yet, the media are paying little attention. Neither are average citizens in the West. But it bears close watching.
Some chant anti-government slogans, including "The enemy is here. They (the regime) lie that it is the U.S." Not lost on average Iranians is the fact that, as Najmeh Bozorgmehr writes in the Financial Times, "The bazaar played a crucial role in the 1979 Islamic revolution when traders joined forces with the clergy to overthrow Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi."
Is history repeating itself?
If so, this will remake the entire Mideast. Without the fundamentalists in power, Iran will almost certainly begin modernizing both its economy and its culture. Moreover, the nuclear weapons program that is at the heart of western discontent with Iran could be dismantled.
Last time, the U.S. sat and watched, not giving its ally, the Shah, any support. This time is different.
The U.S. Treasury under President Trump has already begun to revoke licenses, according to the Associated Press, that let U.S.-controlled foreign companies sell commercial jet parts and oilfield gear to Iran. It also bans sale of Iran's famous carpets, pistachios and caviar in the U.S., major exports for the financially troubled nation.
This follows Trump's decision in May to pull out of President Obama's so-called Iran nuclear agreement. That deal didn't halt work on a nuclear weapon; it merely postponed an Iranian nuke by 10 years.
Despite criticism from Britain, China, Russia, Germany, France and the European Union, Trump held fast. Angry rhetoric notwithstanding, foreign banks have fallen into line, fearing sanctions from the U.S. Two-thirds of all global trade is conducted in dollars. As sanctions bite and its oil industry struggles, Iran's mullahs are short on cash.
By these moves, Trump has empowered the people taking to the streets in Tehran and elsewhere. The last time this happened, during Iran's 2009 "Green Revolution," by comparison, President Obama did nothing. Indeed, within years, Obama had signed a Neville-Chamberlain-style appeasement deal Iran's leaders. Disgracefully, it basically gave them a sure path to a nuclear bomb.
It is one of the reasons why Obama and his two Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, will go down in history as the most gullible foreign policy-makers in this nation's history. And that's saying a lot.
We had high hopes in the early 2000s when a journalist with access to the White House intimated to us that "President Bush wouldn't kick this can (Iran) down the road."
He knew the nuclear problem was serious. But he did nothing.
Obama was worse by far, actually empowering the Mullahs, and giving them unparalleled influence across the Mideast. He further empowered them by giving them access to more than $100 billion in frozen assets, plus billions in aid, some of which made its way to terrorists.
Now Trump's new policy of non-appeasement is taking all that back, yet another reason for being happy that he won and not Tehran-friendly Hillary Clinton. This is a huge issue, since hundreds of thousands of Iranians fled post-Shah Iran for the U.S., and now make America their home.
As Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council wrote this week, the U.S. has the opportunity to use the Persian-language broadcasting power of the U.S. government, through its Broadcasting Board of Governors. Already, it plans a 24-hour Farsi channel and digital outreach.
And both Vice President Pence and former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster showed up on Farsi-language media to support Iran's protesters. It's an important move, on par possibly with President Reagan's support of Solidarity protesters in Poland during the early 1980s.
By isolating Tehran's regime, Trump is enabling the Iranian people in their quest for freedom and modernity. We wish them well. Iran is an ancient civilization stretching back thousands of years. It deserves better.
Climate Change: For more than a decade, California has won high praise from environmentalists for its stringent greenhouse gas restrictions. But a new report shows that despite the enormous costs of this effort, the state is doing a worse job at cutting CO2 emissions than the rest of the country, while badly hurting its working families.
Back in 2007, California became the first state to cap CO2 emissions when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB32, which mandated the state cut greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. Schwarzenegger called it "a bold new era of environmental protection."
Not to be outdone, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last year requiring the state to cut emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.
On a per capita basis, 41 states outperformed California on CO2 cuts over those same years.
Here's another way to look at it. Ohio, Georgia, Indiana, and Pennsylvania have about the same combined population as California. But these states saw emission reductions five times as great as California. (To be fair, California started from a lower base.)
Even that is exaggerating California's achievement. The study notes that because the state has become so inhospitable to manufacturing and energy production, it now imports more energy than any other state in the nation and relies heavily on imported goods.
In fact, California imports 66% of its crude oil, 91% of its natural gas, and 88% of the ethanol is uses from other states and countries. California alone accounts for almost a quarter of U.S. oil imports from the Persian Gulf and from Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, in 2015, it imported about $408 billion in products from other nations, or 16% of the state's GDP.
In other words, California is exporting its energy production and manufacturing base to other, more carbon-intensive states and countries, while patting itself on the back for its own CO2 reductions.
Even if California were able to meet its ambitious CO2 cuts, it would have no impact on global temperatures — assuming the climate scientists are right in their predictions — because the state represents a tiny portion of global CO2 emissions.
And what have Californians received in return for their state's "bold" effort? As the report notes, these environmentalist policies have "significantly distorted the California economy." And not in a good way.
Outside Silicon Valley, this unilateral effort to cut CO2 emissions is hampering the states' economy, eliminating opportunities for working families, and increasing poverty. Housing and energy prices are climbing faster than the national average. Wages for Latinos, African Americans and the less educated have stagnated.
"In summary," the report says, "the imposition by the state's Democratic Party leaders of highly regressive climate schemes have engendered disparate financial hardships on middle and lower income workers and minority communities, while providing direct economic subsidies to wealthier Californians in environmentalist strongholds like Marin County."
"This represents a significant departure from more traditional Democratic Party values."
This is the problem with environmentalist mandates generally. They make rich coastal elites feel better about themselves, do little to improve the environment, and load all the costs and burdens on the backs of those who can least afford it.
Tell us again which political party is the one that cares about working families?
Progressives: The shocking primary victory of 28-year-old socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over Congress' No. 4, Democrat Joe Crowley, underscores what we have long noted: The Democratic Party is no longer a party of moderation, but a party of the extreme left. And it's moving ever faster and farther leftward with each election cycle.
The 57%-42% drubbing of Crowley looks like the death knell not just for his political career, but for that of his mentor House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Crowley, after all, was the hand-picked successor to Pelosi. He had outraised his far younger opponent by 10-to-1.
Ocasio-Cortez isn't a make-believe socialist; she belongs to the Democratic Socialists of America. And she had the backing of Bernie Sanders' "Our Revolution" political group.
"Our Revolution"? Do they want a civil war? It's a real concern. A new Rasmussen poll shows 31% of Americans think a civil war is likely soon, while 59% fear violence from Trump haters. That's scary.
And, by the way, Ocasio-Cortez is no fluke. She's part of a trend. Just look at who the leading lights of the Democrats are today. In addition to such progressive stalwarts as Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, their most vocal and visible leaders include far-left Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kristen Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris.
The House has so many far-left Democrats we couldn't list them all in an editorial. But they are numerous, and angry, pushing their side ever closer to violent confrontation.
Take Rep. Maxine Waters, an influential Democrat who had this to say about civility toward the political opposition: "If you see anybody from that (Trump) Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere."
As the violent rhetoric ramps up, Trump officials (Sarah Huckabee, Elaine Chao, Jeff Sessions, among others) have been harassed in public places and at their homes, threatened with violence and even thrown out of restaurants because they work for this White House. It shows what the left really thinks of democracy.
Is this a preview of what America will be like under a Democratic administration?
Is this the future of the Democratic Party? Sure looks that way.
The party's base is itself increasingly far left. As a study last year by the American Culture and Faith Institute of adults 18 and older showed, 37% of adults said they "prefer socialism to capitalism." Most of those were self-described liberals.
"That is a large minority," wrote researcher and Executive Director George Barna. "And it includes a majority of the liberals — who will be pushing for a completely different economic model to dominate our nation. That is the stuff of civil wars. It ought to set off alarm bells among more traditionally-oriented leaders across the nation."
They already are pushing for a "different model."
In addition to embracing violence and the denial of such basic constitutional rights as free speech, freedom of religion and the right to protect oneself, much of the Democratic Party now embraces a spate of far-left ideas. These include such winners as open borders, Medicare for all (single-payer health care), unrestricted abortion, special "gender" rights, free tuition, government controlled housing, deep and dangerous defense cuts, a job-killing $15-an-hour minimum wage, a "guaranteed income" for all, and ever-higher welfare spending.
Meanwhile, the party's socialist-progressive wing, which now dominates, love-hugs all these ideas. And it's actively anti-capitalist.
Parts of this agenda of unbridled socialism show up in Democrats' official new policy blueprint called "A Better Deal." A better name would be "A Rawer Deal," because these ideas have been tried before and failed. As we've noted here repeatedly, there are no successful socialist countries. None. It's an unworkable, inhuman system that replaces individual rights and freedom with authoritarian control imposed from above, all in the name of "the people."
Americans have had their economic knowledge systematically dumbed-down by the media and the schools, from elementary school through university. Ask younger people whether they like socialism, and a majority now say yes. They've been trained to hate capitalism, and never lived under socialism. So they don't know it's the death of all they hold dear and the end to their individual dreams.
In addition, socialism is antithetical to democracy. A study in 2015 by MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and University of Chicago economist James A. Robinson suggests that democratic systems are the only way to thrive as an economy. "Our central estimates suggest that a country that switches from autocracy to democracy achieves about 20% higher GDP per capita over roughly 30 years."
It's shocking because there are so many examples of socialism's failures today — from Zimbabwe and North Korea to Cuba and Venezuela. No socialist nation thrives. Ever. Why would a major American political party embrace such failure and misery?
Governance: Conservatives are celebrating a number of important victories at the Supreme Court, as well as the chance to replace moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy. But none of these wins would have been possible if the Never-Trump crowd had its way. How about a mea culpa?
Over the past few days, the Court ruled against forced union dues that fatten public sector unions and provide a gravy train of campaign cash to Democrats. It ruled that President Trump's restrictions on travel from terror-prone countries was constitutional. The court upheld Ohio's right to clean up its voter registration rolls. It said that states can't force pro-life organizations to advertise abortion services.
All were landmark decisions that upheld core conservative principles. And each came down to a 5-4 vote, with Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch casting the deciding vote.
In fact, of the 13 cases decided by a 5-4 margin this term, Gorsuch himself wrote five of the opinions.
Liberals currently freaking out about these cases understand the importance of Gorsuch's appointment, as well as Trump's role in getting him there.
Recall that when Justice Scalia died suddenly in 2016, President Obama named liberal Judge Merrick Garland as his replacement. Senate Republicans blocked Garland from getting a hearing, arguing that voters should have the chance to weigh in when they voted in the presidential elections.
So, everyone knew the stakes in the November election. A vote for Hillary Clinton meant a liberal majority on the court. A vote for Trump at least provided the hope that conservatives would retain their tentative majority.
Yet despite the importance of replacing Scalia with another conservative, the Never-Trump crowd refused to support his presidential campaign. The list, by the way, is surprisingly long ( Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to it) and includes hundreds of governors, senators, congressmen, state and local officials, and conservative pundits. Many of them outright backed Hillary Clinton.
What's more, just after the court ended its session, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his plans to retire. That means Trump can replace moderate Kennedy with a more reliably conservative justice. Before his first term is up, Trump may also be able to replace the ailing liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In other words, Trump has the chance to decisively shift the balance of the court — something most Never-Trump Republicans have been dreaming about for decades.
We admit that we, too, had our doubts about Trump during the primaries. Our concern was that, given his past positions and writings, Trump was one of the least reliably conservative candidates among the huge field of contenders.
Once he won the nomination, however, it became clear that, for all his faults, he'd be far preferable to Hillary Clinton.
Other Conservative Victories
Then, to our surprise — and many on the right — Trump went on to achieve more for conservatives in just over a year than President Reagan did in his first term, or George W. Bush in eight years.
Trump secured huge pro-growth tax cuts, embarked on an aggressive regulatory rollback, neutered the out-of-control EPA, achieved a swift victory over ISIS, named a huge number of conservative judges, tried to gain some measure of control over the country's borders, chipped away at ObamaCare, and partially rolled back the disastrous Dodd-Frank act.
He's been unwavering in his willingness to stand up to partisan hacks in the media — another huge win for conservatives. And, free trade aside, Trump continues to aggressively push a free-market conservative agenda against increasingly fierce and violent liberal attacks.
Despite all this, legions of Never-Trumpers still wish he weren't in office. George Will even penned a column last week urging Republicans to hand control of Congress over to Democrats, to "protect" the country until Trump is out of office.
This is madness. You don't have to like Trump — or agree with everything he does — to be glad that he's calling the shots in the White House today, and not Hillary Clinton.
Tax Cuts: They said it wouldn't happen, but it did: The money companies stashed overseas to protect them from high U.S. corporate tax rates is flooding back in, boosting growth, jobs and confidence in the economy. Thank the Trump tax cuts.
All told, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reported, some $305.6 billion returned to the U.S. from overseas accounts. That's a $1.2 trillion annual rate, and far more than the $35 billion one year before.
The BEA's analysts explain why this happened: "The large magnitudes (of inward capital flows) ... reflect the repatriation of accumulated earnings by foreign affiliates of U.S. multinational enterprises and their parent companies in the United States in response to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act."
In short, the Trump tax cuts did it.
American companies were commonly estimated to have about $2.6 trillion parked in overseas accounts as of 2017. So in the first three months of 2018 alone, some 12% of that overseas stash came back to the U.S. It's now available here for companies to invest, pay out in dividends and bonuses, hire new workers, purchase new plants and equipment, or just buy back stock.
It's a shot in the arm for the U.S. economy.
Of course, you say. It's entirely logical to suppose that by slashing the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% — a 40% reduction — and by giving one-time breaks to those companies that had piles of cash sitting overseas, money would flow back into the U.S. After all, Trump's 21% tax rate is now lower than the current OECD average corporate tax rate of 25%.
But last year, when the tax cuts were still a topic of conversation, some in the media seemed to have trouble with this idea.
"GOP tax bill and overseas profits: Beware the hype," ran a headline on the PolitiFact website.
"Why the GOP tax plan to repatriate offshore profits may flop," said a CBS News topper.
"AP FACT CHECK: Trump and the mirage of overseas profits," yelled the AP's not-so-subtle headline.
These and other critiques were of the same ilk, using a 2011 Congressional Research Service study to show why the Trump tax cuts wouldn't work. That study looked at what happened in 2004, when President Bush and congressional Republicans temporarily cut taxes on repatriated profits to 5.25% from 35%.
At the time, the idea was to return financial capital to the U.S. And it worked. Some 843 companies brought back $312 billion.
But, the AP found the cloud's dark lining, noting "those companies tended to use the money to buy back shares of their own stock, not to hire or expand operations." The CRS report itself found that the tax break "did not increase domestic investment or employment."
These assertions need a little context, however.
First, the 2004 profit-repatriation tax break was a one-time event. The Trump tax cuts, in addition to giving companies a break for repatriating overseas profits, cut corporate taxes overall. So the impact will be longer-lasting — permanent, if the Congress makes it so, as it should.
Also, recall that 2004 was a mere three years after the end of the worst stock-market plunge since the Great Depression. Companies' shares were recovering, but many were still beaten down. So buying their own shares, which bolsters a company's financial solvency, looked like a smart move at the time.
And also remember: Interest rates, as measured by the Fed funds rate, were rising sharply back then. From a low of 0.94% at the start of 2004, rates surged to just below 2% at the start of 2005 and over 4% by the start of 2006. That's a fourfold move in two years. Even so, the U.S. unemployment rate during that period fell from 5.4% in 2004 to 4.9% in 2005 and 4.4% by 2006.
Today, no doubt, these same critics would say the same thing. Despite rising interest rates, job growth is more than healthy and key measures of unemployment are close to 30-year lows. Incomes are rising, even as 6 million high-skilled jobs can't be filled. Jobless claims are at all-time lows. It's the healthiest job market in decades.
Yet the befuddled media keep calling these bullish economic data "unexpected."
Well, these weren't "unexpected" by those who said that tax cuts would work like a charm to boost growth. In the second quarter of this year, GDP growth is almost certain to exceed 3%, again. The Blue Chip consensus of economists expect 3.5% growth, while the Atlanta Fed's "GDPNow" estimate is at 4.7% currently.
This happened only because President Trump slashed taxes, cut regulations and in general pursued powerful supply-side stimulus that lifted the economy's ability to produce goods and services.
For the record, GDP growth never topped 3% in any year of Obama's administration. We were told repeatedly by left-leaning economists and pundits that the days of 3% growth were over. We would have to trim our sails and rein in our expectations for the future.
Sure, bad things can happen between now and the end of the year. There are shaky economies overseas, including both China and Europe, made all the more sensitive by President Trump's talk of trade tariffs.
After two years of spectacular gains, stock market investors might head to the sidelines for a while. And if the Fed panics and starts raising rates in an anti-inflation frenzy, something it has done repeatedly in the past, it might once again bring down the economy.
Even so, thanks to the tax cuts, literally hundreds of companies have handed out bonuses, raised base pay, and created new benefits for workers. The money that is flowing back into the U.S. is part of that success, creating jobs and income for American workers. Those who say otherwise are, once again, wrong.
Civil Society: When not worrying that its increasingly hostile anti-Trump antics might backfire on Democrats, the left is busy blaming President Trump's own incivility for the ferocity of their attacks. But this is exactly how the left treats all conservatives, rough-hewn or not.
After a week in which a celebrity called for the abduction of the president's young son, a restaurant kicked out Trump's spokesman, and a mob harassed the Homeland Security secretary, Democrats are starting to wonder if their "resistance" is getting out of hand — while refusing to take any blame for it.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi managed to perfectly encapsulate this when she said "Trump's daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable but unacceptable."
The blame-Trump-first meme has been catching on fast.
Writing in the Washington Post, Paul Waldman complains about having "to hear, in the era of Trump, that liberals are the ones being 'uncivil'…. You've got to be kidding me."
CNN's Byron Wolf says today's lack of civility "should surprise exactly no one in a time when the president uses the imagery of invaders and infestation to describe immigrants."
Writing in USA Today, Jason Sattler argues that we should "stop defending decorum and do something about Donald Trump," who, Sattler says, is "running a propaganda campaign against immigrants that incites comparisons to Hitler's early attacks on Jews."
But the suggestion that things would be better and tempers cooler if Trump weren't so abrasive is utterly and completely false.
Consider the "civility" shown by Democrats toward the eminently civil "compassionate conservative" President Bush.
Protesters regularly carried signs saying things like "Save Mother Earth, Kill Bush," "Hang Bush for War Crimes," "Bush=Satan," "Bush is the only Dope worth Shooting." They burned Bush and other administration officials in effigy countless times.
Jonathan Chait wrote a 3,600-word word piece for the New Republic in 2003 on "the case for Bush hatred." In it, he admitted that "I have friends who … describe his existence as a constant oppressive force in their daily psyche."
Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams gave a speech at a women's peace conference in Dallas in 2007 declaring that "right now, I could kill George Bush." The audience laughed, and she won praise for her "bravery."
Pollster Geoff Garin told The New York Times that Bush hatred was "as strong as anything I've experienced in 25 years now of polling."
The winning film at a 2006 Toronto film festival was a movie — Death of a President — that realistically depicted Bush's assassination.
The left regularly compared Bush to Hitler, just as they are now with Trump.
Playwright Harold Pinter said that "the Bush administration is the most dangerous force that has ever existed. It is more dangerous than Nazi Germany."
Harry Belafonte called Bush "the greatest terrorist in the world."
Bush Derangement Syndrome
Writing in Time magazine in 2003 — just two years after Bush took office — Charles Krauthammer (a trained psychiatrist) noted that "Democrats are seized with a loathing for President Bush — a contempt and disdain giving way to a hatred that is near pathological." He coined a phrase to describe it: "Bush derangement syndrome."
What was the left's excuse back then for its gleeful indulgence in hatred and incivility toward friendly George Bush? Simple: They didn't like his policies.
That's always been the left's response to politicians they don't agree with: Harass, attack, belittle, demean, threaten, scream … and repeat. Unlike Republicans, however, the left never gets called on its hate-mongering.
Sure, Trump's barbed rhetoric and insults fan the flames of today's incivility. And like most people, we'd prefer that he adopt a more presidential tone.
But even if Trump had the temperament of Mister Rogers, Trump derangement syndrome would be just as virulent and widespread as it is today.
Not because of anything Trump has said or tweeted. But because he's successfully enacting a conservative agenda that the left doesn't like, and will do anything to stop. Anything, that is, except engage in a calm, reasonable debate.
Russia Investigation: After Congress threatened impeachment, the Department of Justice and FBI reluctantly handed over classified documents related to the Russia investigation. But they still haven't fully complied with Congress' request. Is this just more deep-state obstruction?
Of course, that's a loaded question. Sure, the bureaucrats at DOJ and the FBI have a responsibility to keep the nation's secrets and to maintain the integrity of their own investigations. But they don't have a right to hold back information legitimately requested by Congress for its investigation into the highly questionable behavior of both the DOJ and FBI during the Russia-Trump investigation.
"A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said Saturday that the department (of Justice) has partially complied with subpoenas from the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees after officials turned over more than a thousand new documents this week," the Associated Press reported.
It's that phrase "partially complied" that sticks in our throat. Imagine "partially complying" with a judge's order to tell the whole and complete truth in a court case. Or "partially complying" with your requirement to file you taxes. Or "partially complying" with a police officer's lawful order to stop.
"Partial" compliance isn't enough. Congress has repeatedly requested documents for its investigation, but has been denied. And we need to be absolutely clear here: Congress has oversight authority over both the Justice Department and FBI. So saying "No" to Congress' request, unless it's grounded in serious national security concerns, is not acceptable. Period.
Try impeding an investigation by DOJ or the FBI and you'll immediately be charged with obstruction or worse, with the possibility of going to prison for many years. Why should DOJ and the FBI be exempt from the law?
"New reports of DOJ-FBI compliance with document requests are NOT accurate," he tweeted. "While they have turned over additional documents, the new documents represent a small percentage of what they owe."
"The notion that DOJ/FBI have been forthcoming with Congress is false," he wrote.
The problem is, Congress needs to get to the bottom of what looks to be a massive conspiracy within the FBI and DOJ to boost Hillary Clinton's election chances, while impeding Trump's. If true, and certainly evidence amassed so far indicates it is, it would be the biggest government scandal in at least 100 years. Bigger, yes, than Watergate.
That's why Congress has sought so much documentation from FBI Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein. They demand more than 1.4 million documents, a large amount to be sure, but have only received roughly 800,000 pages. Last week's delivery amounted to just 1,400 pages or so. So you can see why some investigation-minded representatives, such as Meadows, aren't satisfied.
The Justice Department and FBI had a Friday deadline to hand over the documents. They only partially complied. Yet the vow by Rep. Devin Nunes "there's going to be hell to pay" if they didn't comply seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Russia Investigation: Unanswered Questions
The questions about the Russia investigation launched by the FBI and later picked up by Special Counsel Robert Mueller are many.
Congress, for instance, wants access to transcripts of conversations between "confidential human sources" — spies — and Trump campaign officials.
Congressional Republicans also seek to understand how former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled the now-infamous Trump dossier, came to be paid by the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the FBI. Collusion, anyone?
And they also want to look into how the FBI and DOJ used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to spy on the Trump campaign.
These are all legitimate issues. Stonewalling is an old strategy. Maybe the deep state is hoping for a Blue Wave in November to get Congress off its back.
Regardless, whether the U.S. remains a healthy, law-abiding republic or sinks to the level of other nations now ruled by corrupt elite bureaucracies is what's at stake here. Who decides what gets handed over — a group of unelected bureaucrats, or the representatives of the American people?
Americans deserve answers. They should demand them.
United Nations: Amid all the immigration hoo-ha, maybe you missed the uncritical mainstream media reports of a United Nations study faulting President Trump for poverty in America. Turns out, it's just more fake news.
An uncritical Reuters headline says it all: "America's poor becoming more destitute under Trump: U.N. expert". The Hill's equally blase headline: "UN poverty official: Trump exacerbating inequality."
The report — really a first-person narrative — released earlier this month, ripped President Trump for his "contempt" and "hatred of the poor."
The report cited 18.5 million Americans who live in extreme poverty, and massive U.S. defense spending at the expense of social programs.
Only one problem: As Chuck DeVore, vice president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, points out, the data on which the study was based came from 2016.
That's right, President Obama's last year. So does that make it "fake news"?
Worse, the U.N. report uses misleading and "wildly inaccurate" Census data to bolster its claims of 18.5 million living in the U.S. under extreme poverty. The real level, as a separate study reveals, is "less than half that."
The report is a distortion, little esle. The fact is, unemployment at 3.8% is a 29-year low. Food stamp recipients in 2017 numbered 42.1 million, 2 million below Obama's last year and the lowest since 2010.
To say that the U.N. report is false and anti-U.S., both in its content and its intent, would be an understatement.
Thankfully, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is having none of it. Responding to a letter from socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders suggesting the poverty report showed the failure of Trump's policies, Haley hit back hard.
"It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America," Haley wrote to Sanders. "The Special Rapporteur wasted the UN's time and resources, deflecting attention from the world's worst human rights abusers and focusing instead on the wealthiest and freest country in the world."
U.N. Day Of Reckoning?
The truth is, U.S. gives about $10 billion a year to the U.N., which often uses the money for explicitly anti-U.S. activities — such as funding the tendentious poverty study mentioned above, aiding terrorists in the Mideast, spending millions on useless "development" projects, and wasting hundreds of millions on do-nothing bureaucrats' salaries.
Knowing this, it's no surprise that Haley this week pulled the U.S. out of the utterly corrupt U.N. "Human Rights" Council. Its members include some of the greatest violators of human rights in the world.
Or that President Trump wants to cut U.S. contributions to the U.N. The U.N.'s day of reckoning has been a long time coming. Past administrations just kicked the can down the road. This one won't.
Management: While the mainstream media fixated on First Lady Melania Trump's fashion choice, the Trump administration unveiled the most sweeping government reorganization plan in history. It deserves far more attention than it will get.
Among other things, the ambitious plan, put together by budget director Mick Mulvaney, would merge the departments of Education and Labor to one cabinet-level agency called the Department of Education and the Workforce. It would also consolidate multiple programs scattered across the government and put them where they make the most sense.
In other words, it would do what private businesses do constantly. They rethink and reorganize operations to maximize efficiency, eliminate redundancies, improve decision making, and cut costs.
But the last federal "reorg" was 16 years ago. President Bush (who like Trump had a business background) created the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of 9/11. The goal was to improve national security by bringing together functions scattered across 22 departments and agencies, including Customs, Immigration, the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service.
The problem is that every year government grows in ways that almost never make sense. There's a push to "fix" something. Congress responds by creating a new program, with little regard to what already exists. The result is massive duplication and waste that rarely get fixed.
Why, for example, does the Department of Agriculture run a massive welfare program — food stamps — instead of Health and Human Services, which manages every other poverty program? Because it was the brainchild of Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace in the 1930s, before there even was an HHS (it didn't exist until 1953). That's where it's remained for 80 years.
There's a federal housing loan program run out of the Department of Agriculture, even though the Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees most such programs. Three separate agencies manage environmental cleanup programs. The government has 13 separate statistical operations across three federal departments. There are 163 overlapping STEM education programs in 13 agencies, which spend almost $3 billion a year.
Even the job of maintaining veteran cemeteries is handled by Defense, Interior and (go figure) Agriculture.
Trump's plan also includes welcome proposals to privatize the Postal Service and spin off the antiquated and hopelessly mismanaged air traffic control service.
Downsizing Needed, Too
Several European countries have already privatized their postal services. And Canada successfully spun off its air traffic control years ago, creating a thriving, efficient, modern system as a result.
As good as this plan is, however, it doesn't go far enough. What's needed even more than a reorg is a dramatic downsizing of the federal government. But first things first.
The problem is that Trump's plan isn't likely to go anywhere, since it will face fierce opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. They are more interested in protecting their committee assignments than making sure government runs efficiently.
Every lawmaker and bureaucrat should have this message emblazoned on each of their desks: "Each dollar wasted by the federal government is a slap in the face of the hardworking Americans who pay the bills."
Taxes: Whatever you think about the issue of taxing internet sales, the simple fact is that the Supreme Court has just guaranteed that people across the country will now be paying more in state taxes. It's hard for us to see how this is good news.
In its 5-4 decision on South Dakota v. Wayfair, the court overturned two previous rulings that prevented states from taxing sales of out-of-state companies. That meant a catalog company based in Maine didn't have to navigate 45 state sales-tax laws to figure out how much each customer owed, and then remit that money to the right states.
Brick-and-mortar stores have been trying to lift this ban for decades, because, they say, it unfairly tilts the playing field in favor of catalog and online retailers. According to the Government Accountability Office, this break cost states up to $13.4 billion in lost revenue last year alone. And, retailers say it cost jobs and hurt local economies.
Not surprisingly, Amazon.com ( AMZN), Shopify ( SHOP), Etsy ( ETSY), Wayfair ( W) and other e-commerce stocks dropped on Thursday.
The Supreme Court ruling was notable not just because it did something it rarely does — namely, overturn previous decisions. (The most recent, Quill v North Dakota, was in 1992.) The court also split in a highly unusual way.
On the majority side were rock-ribbed conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, who sided with Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion. But so did stalwart liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Kennedy argued that the explosive growth of online retail rendered the court's previous rulings outdated.
Three of the other liberals on the court, Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, sided with Chief Justice Roberts' dissent. Roberts argued that it should be up to Congress to make a change like this.
Whatever the merits of the decision, the Court's ruling means not only higher taxes for consumers, but higher prices.
Keep in mind that despite online retail's explosive growth, the internet still accounts for less than 10% of all retail sales in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. Plus, at least some of that growth represents entirely new sales that never would have occurred in an offline world.
At the same time, the ruling means that online retailers — large and small — will soon have to comply with nearly 10,000 different tax jurisdictions across the country in the 45 states that impose sales taxes. That means different rates, varying definitions of products, and a variety of exemptions. The resulting complexity is mind-boggling.
In New York, for example, clothing and footwear costing less than $110 is exempt from state sales tax, but not in some local jurisdictions. New York taxes shower caps and walking boots, but not swimming caps or hiking boots, says Avalara ( AVLR), which makes automated tax software.
Some states treat diapers as a health care item exempt from taxation, and others treat them as clothing. A few years ago, Wisconsin issued a 1,437-word bulletin explaining how the state taxed different forms of ice cream cakes. Then there are the various state tax "holidays" meant to goose sales.
It is true that some states have tried to simplify their sales taxes to reduce compliance costs. And there are consulting firms that can help companies navigate this minefield.
But there can be no doubt that this ruling means a higher cost of doing business. In fact, Avalara stock shot up 13.5% after the court's ruling. Tax complexity is always good news for tax consultants.
In addition, smaller online firms will now be at a disadvantage, not only with local brick-and-mortar businesses that only have to comply with one state's sales-tax laws, but against online giants that can easily absorb the extra compliance costs.
More Taxes To Come?
Worse still, the court may have opened the door to letting states impose other taxes on out-of-state firms.
Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform argues that states could use this ruling to impose corporate taxes and even income taxes across state lines.
"If physical nexus is no longer required for sales taxes ,then it is no longer required for personal or corporate income taxes," he said. "Now, California (or any state or city that loses population through exit) can tax people and businesses who do their best to avoid that state or city."
If you think that's a fanciful prediction, you haven't been paying attention. State governments will take every opportunity they can to raise taxes — especially if their own residents aren't the ones paying them.
In the end, it makes Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts' dissent look all the wiser.
As he noted, the online retail industry has thrived up until now based on the existing rules regarding sales taxes.
"Any alteration to those rules with the potential to disrupt the development of such a critical segment of the economy," he wrote, "should be undertaken by Congress."
Scandal: Two agents and an attorney at the heart of the FBI's Clinton email "investigation" expose flagrant political bias at the heart of that probe. So why won't the FBI release their names to the public? And given what these key players said, how did the inspector general come to conclude that the "investigation" was unbiased? Were changes made to water it down?
Before the Justice Department's inspector general report came out, virulently anti-Trump texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page had already become public — except for a particularly troubling exchange revealed by the IG for the first time. That's the one, sent in August 2016, in which Page says Trump's "not ever going to become president, right? Right?!" To which Stzork promises: "No. No he's not. We'll stop it."
Less discussed, but just as important, are the texts between FBI agents identified by the IG only as "Agent 1" and "Agent 5."
Both played key roles in the Clinton email "investigation," both were at Clinton's interview, and both repeatedly admitted their utter disdain for Trump and their belief that the Clinton probe was a huge waste of time. In addition, there's the mysterious anti-Trump Attorney 2, who was involved with both the Clinton email and Trump Russia investigations.
At a hearing on Tuesday, IG Michael Horowitz said the FBI wants the names. (Rep. Mark Meadows claims that names of two of them — Agent 5 and Attorney 2 — are Sally Moyer and Kevin Clinesmith.)
After reviewing their texts, the IG concluded that all five "brought discredit to themselves, sowed doubt about the FBI's handling of the Midyear investigation, and impacted the reputation of the FBI." ("Midyear" was the code name used for the Clinton email probe.)
Their conduct was serious enough the IG wants the FBI itself to investigate.
Here, for example, are texts sent by Agent 1 throughout FBI's alleged Clinton investigation.
Sept. 2, 2015: "the most meaningless thing I've ever done with people acting like f***ing 9/11."
Sept. 25, 2015: "I dont care about it. I think its continued waste of resources and time and focus ..."
Oct. 26, 2015: "Its just so obvious how pointless this exercise is."
Jan. 15, 2016: Responding to a question of when the investigation would be finished, Agent 1 stated, "my guess is March. Doesnt matter what we have, political winds will want to beat the Primarys."
Jan. 28, 2016: " Alot of work and bulls**t for a political exercise."
Feb. 1, 2016: "This is the biggest political s**t show of them all. No substance. Up at dawn — pride swallowing seige."
Feb. 2, 2016: "Going well ... Busy, and sometimes I feel for naught (political exercise), but I feel good ..."
Feb. 9: "You guys have a sh**ty task, in a sh**ty environment. To look for something conjured in a place where you cant find it, for a case that doesnt matter and is predestined."
May 6, 2016, to Agent 5: "pretty bad news today ... someone has breathed some political urgency into this." (May 6 was the day news broke that the FBI was likely to interview Clinton "in the next few weeks.")
Just before Agent 1 interviewed Clinton, he sent a text saying: "We have nothing — shouldn't even be interviewing. My god ... I'm actually starting to have embarrassment sprinkled on my disappointment ... Ever been forced to do something you adamantly opposed."
After conducting that interview, Agent 1 texted: "I'm done interviewing the President" — referring to Clinton.
There's also the fact that Agent 1 found what he believed to be instances of people lying to the FBI — including Hillary Clinton — but did nothing.
The IG report says that Agent 1 interviewed "a witness who assisted the Clintons at their Chappaqua residence." Here's the exchange after the interview:
FBI Employee: "boom ... how did the (witness) go"
Agent 1: "Awesome. Lied his ass off."
In addition, after interviewing Clinton, Agent 1 admitted that Clinton's claim that she didn't know what the "C" marking meant on a classified document was "hard to impossible to believe."
In other words, he believed she lied.
As to Agent 5, she's just as bad. At one point she texts Agent 1 referring to Trump's "supporters like the ones from ohio that are retarded".
On Election Day, she texted that Clinton "better win ... otherwise i'm gonna be walking around with both of my guns … and likely quitting on the spot". Later she sent a text saying "f(---) trump."
Other Nuggets Of Bias
The IG report unearthed other such nuggets, such as the text from "FBI Attorney 2," who said after the November election: "Viva le resistance."
So who are these FBI officials? Why do they get to remain anonymous when others, like Page and Stzork, are already public? Are they still at the FBI? If so, what are they doing?
This week, eight lawmakers sent a letter to the IG demanding the names.
"These individuals need to be held accountable and only transparency will ensure that action," the letter states.
Naturally, when the IG confronted these FBI officials with their texts, they all denied up and down that their views about the investigation or about Clinton and Trump in any way, shape, or form colored their efforts.
Yet, somehow the IG swallowed their excuses so it could report finding no bias in the investigation, a claim that stretched credulity with increasing strength the closer one looks at the report itself.
Which leads to the next burning question about this report: Was it watered down by officials at Justice and the FBI who were able to review it before it got published?
Earlier this month, Rep. Andy Biggs sent a letter to the IG asking to see original drafts of the report.
"We are concerned that during this time, people may have changed the report in a way that obfuscates your findings," the letter, signed by two other congressmen, says.
Meadows says he believes the FBI officials also may have altered documentation of witness interviews.
Given the recent track record of these highly politicized agencies, these lawmakers are right to want to see any such changes.
Meanwhile, the IG says it found "instances where FBI employees improperly received benefits from reporters, including tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events."
But the report simply states that an investigation into that troubling revelation is still ongoing. So who are these employees? And just as important, who are the journalists who were apparently buying information from them?
The IG report answered plenty of questions about the FBI's Potemkin investigation into Clinton's illegal use of a private email server.
Popularity: President Trump can't get a break from negative press coverage, but somehow his approval rating continues to edge upward. In fact, it's now tied with where the "extremely popular" President Obama was at this point in his first term.
The latest Gallup poll puts Trump's job approval at 45%. That's the highest it's been since he took office, and it's up from 37% at the start of the year. Although you'd barely know it from the press Trump gets, his approval number has been on a slow but relatively steady rise all year.
Not only that, but Trump's approval in this poll is now equal to Obama's at the same point in Obama's presidency. Gallup had Obama at 45% approval by late June 2010.
The difference is that while Trump's approval has been climbing, Obama's was dropping steadily over the course of his first term.
When Obama took office, he had an approval rating of 67%. By August of that year, it had fallen to 50%. A year later it was down to 43% in Gallup's poll.
By this point in Obama's presidency, his average approval was 47.9% and falling, according to Real Clear Politics. By October of 2010, it dropped down to 44%. Trump's average is currently 43.7%, and on the uptrend.
Even more striking is the fact that the public's approval of Obama was sagging even while his press coverage was overwhelmingly positive.
A Pew Research Center study that came out last fall found that in Obama's first two months in office positive stories outweighed negative ones by two to one. A separate analysis by the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that over his first year in office almost 70% of the coverage about Obama himself was positive, as were 54% of the stories about his job performance.
And that's to say nothing of the adoration heaped on Obama by celebrities and media pundits.
Over Trump's first two months, by contrast, 62% of the stories were negative and 33% neutral. A mere 5% were positive. And if you took Fox News out of the mix, the share of positive coverage probably would almost entirely disappear. It's unlikely that Trump's coverage has improved any since.
But even as Obama's approval numbers sagged, the press continued to describe him as popular. The Washington Post called him "the popular president" in May, when his approval rating had dropped below 50%. In July, the New York Times quoted a consultant — without mockery — as saying "he's still an extremely popular president."
The IBD/TIPP Poll has consistently shown Trump's approval below the Real Clear Politics average. But his approval had been climbing in our poll as well. His 36% approval rating in June is up from 33% last October. What's more, the IBD/TIPP Presidential Leadership Index — a broader approval measure — shows a steady rise since October, when it stood at 36.5, to June's 41.1.
What explains the two divergent popularity trends? Perhaps it's because the public eventually sees behind the media smoke screen to what's actually happening around them.
In Obama's case, his economic policies left the economy struggling long after the recession had ended. He was also entirely dismissive of Republicans, spent like there was no tomorrow, and devoted most of his time and energy pushing for ObamaCare, which the public hated.
For Trump, in contrast, the economy is booming, jobs are plentiful, household incomes are at record highs, optimism is up across the board — for which the public credits Trump. And he appears to be doing well internationally.
We suspect that even if Trump's approval did manage to climb above 50% in all the polls, the press would refuse to ever call him "popular." It certainly wouldn't do anything to dispel the intense hostility of his critics. They have a hard enough time describing him as "legitimate."
Illegal Immigration: The latest outrage by the Trump administration is its policy of "ripping" children away from parents who've crossed the border illegally. As with so many other things involving Trump, there's plenty of emotion but precious little in the way of facts.
The furor reached critical mass after the Department of Homeland Security said on Friday that 1,995 children had been separated from their illegal border crossing parents from mid-April through May. That number included, DHS said, cases where the adults were arrested for illegal entry, immigration violations, or possible criminal conduct.
The practice has generated a rising storm of protests, including from Republicans, ever since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration's "zero tolerance" for illegal border crossers. Laura Bush took to the Washington Post's op-ed page to decry it as "cruel" and "immoral." Trump supporter Franklin Graham called it "disgraceful."
Trump himself says he doesn't want to see families separated while the legal process works its way out, and then went on to blame Democrats for the problem.
So what's going on here?
First, it's important to note that many of the "separations" don't last long at all.
As Rich Lowry explains in a detailed article in National Review, "when a migrant is prosecuted for illegal entry, he or she is taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals," in which case, as when other adults are incarcerated in the U.S., they are separated from their children.
Lowry notes that "The criminal proceedings are exceptionally short, assuming there is no aggravating factor such as a prior illegal entry or another crime. Migrants generally plead guilty, and then are sentenced to time served, typically all in the same day."
The Los Angeles Times reports that Rio Grande Valley border agents prosecuted 568 adults and separated 1,174 children since the administration announced its "zero tolerance" policy in early April. However, it only took a matter of hours to reunite more than a third of these children with their parents.
That hardly constitutes an inhumane policy of "ripping" children away from their parents.
Most of the concern about family separations centers on the administration's handling of asylum seekers who've crossed the border illegally.
In the past, the practice has been to simply detain these families for a short time in an ICE facility. But rather than return for their asylum hearing, many just disappeared into the country.
Under the "zero tolerance" policy, Trump has tried to put an end to this "catch and release" policy, by arresting every adult caught illegally crossing the border.
If parents choose to seek asylum, they can end up separated from their children for months while the asylum process plays out.
The administration is right to point out, however, that there is a legal process for seeking asylum that won't involve facing such a choice — just show up at a port of entry to make the asylum claim.
"As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted over the weekend.
Critics complain that the legal process just takes too long, as a way to justify illegal border crossings. But illegal border crossers are not only jumping the line. Under the old system they could vastly increase their chances of staying in the country — with or without gaining asylum status.
Is it wrong for Trump to try to close this unfair and potentially dangerous loophole?
Another fact conveniently overlooked amid all the hysteria is that just because a group claims to be a family, doesn't mean it's true. The Department of Homeland Security says that from October 2017 to February 2018 it saw "a 315% increase in the number of cases with minors fraudulently posing as 'family units' to gain entry."
Presumably that's because they think posing as a family will improve their chances of avoiding deportation. Whatever the reason, those children's separation from their parents occurred long before the border patrol showed up.
What To Do?
To be sure, the administration's bungling response to the outcry over its policies has made it harder to understand, much less defend, what's going on.
But those protesting family separations should at least acknowledge that there are reforms available that don't involve returning to the days of "catch and release," while still keeping families together — which is the ideal solution — such as letting children stay in detention centers for more than 20 days, and boosting funds for family shelters at the border.
Getting such reforms done in today's massively polarized environment, however, is unlikely. The question is, who's to blame for that?
Regulation: Possibly the biggest reason for the Obama administration's failure to reignite normal economic growth following the Financial Crisis was the Dodd-Frank law. It not only didn't make the financial system safer, it all but killed small business growth.
A new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the quasi-private think tank that serves as the referee for deciding U.S. upturns and downturns, shows the damage done by Dodd-Frank to small businesses was severe.
The study, "The Impact of the Dodd-Frank Act on Small Business," by economists Michael D. Bordo and John V. Duca, goes a long way toward explaining why GDP growth under Obama was a mere 2%, a full third slower than the long-term average.
It's based on a long-term and well-known dynamic. Small businesses grow faster than large ones, and account for over two-thirds of all U.S. jobs growth. Dodd-Frank's damage was substantial and persistent.
"The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and was designed to safeguard the banking system, appears to have made it more difficult for small businesses and entrepreneurs to obtain funding," the NBER report notes.
It wasn't a small amount, either: "After controlling for economic conditions and other influences on lending ... the share of commercial and industrial loans of less than $1 million at large banks — those with at least $300 million in assets — has fallen by 9 percentage points since 2010."
Smaller banks, which mainly do only small-business loans, saw their loan volumes decline by twice as much. This is why there has been a silent depression in the once-vibrant small-bank industry.
Meanwhile, loans of over $1 million by bigger banks have soared by 80%. Obama and the Democrats were the least small-business friendly administration and Congress since the Great Depression.
Why did this happen? Dodd-Frank made making loans to large companies far more attractive. They did so by new compliance rules that treated small and startup loans as inherently more risky than big-business loans.
In economic terms, Dodd-Frank increased the fixed cost of making a loan to smaller companies. So banks simply stopped lending to them. Overnight, businesses that once had lines of credit lost them. Many closed. Startups could get nothing.
This may sound like a wonky debate, but it isn't. Dodd-Frank's destructive lending restrictions destroyed millions of jobs and kept entrepreneurs from creating thousands and thousands of new, wonderful businesses.
And it also explains why, with a few deft strokes of his presidential pen, cutting both regulations and taxes sharply, President Trump has been able to offset Dodd-Frank's growth-killing rules and restored 3% growth to the economy.
Economics: When the Fed signaled two more interest rate hikes this year, virtually every story talked about preventing the economy from "overheating." The real danger to the economy is the constant use of engine metaphors.
Every conversation about the economy invariably compares it to a mechanical device.
When the economy is going well, it's "humming" or "chugging along." When it's not, it's "sputtering" or "stalled."
We "prime the pump" with stimulus spending during a recession and hope the economy will reach "escape velocity." Tax cuts and more federal spending can "fuel growth" or "turbocharge" it. Money gets "pumped into" it.
Economists look for "red lights flashing" because if the economic engine is "revved too much" it could "overheat." To prevent this, the Fed sometimes must "tap on the brakes." Hitting the brakes too hard, however, can "drive the economy into a ditch."
On and on it goes.
These metaphors are meant to help people better understand what is otherwise a complex and abstract phenomenon.
But in this case, the metaphors are horribly wrong, and relying on them causes nothing but trouble.
Oxford University economist Kate Raworth says that the engine metaphor goes back to the 1870s, when "a handful of aspiring economists hoped to make economics a science as reputable as physics."
"Their mechanical metaphor sounds authoritative, but it was ill-chosen from the start," she writes, "a fact that has been widely acknowledged."
Bad Metaphors, Bad Policy
Comparing the economy to an engine means that it's made up of parts that interact in precise ways and that, if they break down, can easily be fixed by smart technicians. It suggests that pushing the right buttons and flipping the right switches, adding the right mix of fuel in the proper amounts will keep it running smoothly.
The metaphor ends up driving reality, and economic policy prescriptions. Yet these policy prescriptions almost never work as intended. Stimulus plans don't stimulate. Fed rate hikes often cause the recessions they're supposed to prevent. As Paul Krugman put it, "bad metaphors make for bad policy."
The more accurate metaphor for the economy is an ecosystem.
"We can no more fix an economy," he says, "than we can fix a rain forest or a coral reef. At best, we can leave it alone."
Andrew Coyne, writing in Canada's National Post, makes the same point. "Leave its self-equilibrating processes to work, and watch it flourish. Start monkeying about at one end, on the other hand, and be prepared for all sorts of unintended effects to spread throughout."
Now if we can only get policymakers to understand this.
Scandal: The long-awaited report from the Justice Department's inspector general about the FBI's handling of the Clinton email scandal seems to absolve the bureau of any political bias. What it really shows, however, is that the FBI — under pressure from President Obama — was just going through the motions the whole time.
Most of the focus of the report in the news has been on its criticism of then FBI director James Comey. The IG says that some of his actions were "extraordinary and insubordinate" — a scathing indictment if there ever was one. It is another black mark on Comey's already badly tarnished reputation, and well deserved.
However, the report also finds that there was "no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations."
Naturally, that's what Democrats have seized on as proof that, aside from Comey's bungling, the FBI did its job.
But look at the report in its totality and you see that time and again officials made "judgment calls" that weakened their investigation. In other words, from the range of options available to them, they consistently chose the less aggressive course of action.
It says, for instance that "We questioned why the Midyear team" — referring to the "Midyear Review" code name given to the Clinton investigation — "did not serve subpoenas on or seek to obtain search warrants related to the last known persons to possess devices that the team was never able to locate."
At another point it says that the FBI had considered obtaining permission from the Department to review certain classified materials that may have included information potentially relevant to the investigation." And while "the Midyear team drafted a memorandum to the Deputy Attorney General in late May 2016 stating that review of the highly classified materials was necessary to complete the investigation and requesting permission to access them, the FBI never sent this request to the Department."
At another it says that "The Midyear team did not obtain or review some evidence that we found might have been useful to the investigation."
And the IG report notes that "several members of the FBI Midyear team, including Comey, expressed concerns that the prosecutors had not been sufficiently aggressive."
It says "the decision to allow the Clinton interview to proceed in the presence of two fact witnesses, who also were serving as Clinton's counsel, was inconsistent with typical investigative strategy and gave rise to accusations of bias and preferential treatment."
The report also notes that the reasons given for why the FBI sat on news about Anthony Weiner's laptop for almost a month were totally unconvincing. One of them was that FBI resources had been redirected to the Trump-Russia probe. But as the IG notes, the FBI had enough resources to prepare speeches, talking points and other material defending their earlier decision to drop the case.
Evidence of Bias
Plus, the IG did find evidence of bias.
As the IG report notes, one of the agents involved in both the Clinton and Russia investigations — Peter Strzok — was texting FBI attorney Lisa Page saying things like how "we'll stop" Trump from being elected. This, the IG says, meant that his decisions regarding the Clinton email investigation might not have been "free from bias."
Then there's the text from Page, regarding the interview with Clinton, saying that "One more thing: she might be our next president. The last thing you need (is) us going in there loaded for bear. You think she's going to remember or care that it was more doj than fbi?"
To that the IG said "suggesting that investigative decisions be based on this consideration was inappropriate and created an appearance of bias."
But underlying all of this is the fact — made clear throughout the report — that the FBI never thought there was a case here to begin with.
"As early as September 2015," it says, "FBI and Department officials realized that they were unlikely to find evidence of intent."
And at several junctures, decisions made during the investigation were colored by the fact that the FBI had already decided they wouldn't pursue any legal action against Clinton.
One example involved getting laptops from top Clinton aides.
"Decisions concerning the laptops were occurring at a time when Comey and the Midyear team had already concluded that there was likely no prosecutable case and believed it was unlikely the culling laptops would change the outcome of the investigation."
Obama's Thumb On The Scale
The report also, whether intentionally or not, makes it clear why the FBI had concluded early on that there wasn't a case against Clinton: President Obama had already cleared Hillary of any wrongdoing.
The IG report recalls how, during a 60 Minutes interview on October 11, 2015, Obama "characterized former Secretary Clinton's use of a private email server as a 'mistake,' but stated that it did not 'pose a national security problem' and was 'not a situation in which America's national security was endangered.' Obama also stated that the issue had been 'ginned up' because of the presidential race."
It goes on to say that "Obama's comments caused concern among FBI officials about the potential impact on the investigation."
Former EAD John Giacalone told the IG, "We open up criminal investigations. And you have the President of the United States saying this is just a mistake ... That's a problem, right?"
Obama repeated his absolution in April 2016 — right around the time Comey was starting to draft his statement dropping the case against Clinton.
"Obama stated that while former Secretary Clinton had been 'careless' in managing her emails while she was Secretary of State, she would never intentionally do anything to endanger the security of the United States with her emails."
So, while the IG might not have found smoking-gun evidence of political bias in the investigation, the report makes it clear that the entire investigation was biased from the start.
From Obama on down, no one ever wanted or intended to do what should have been done: Prosecute Clinton for gross negligence in her handling of highly classified material. The entire investigation was just for show.
Politics of Envy: Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants her fellow Democrats to take on what she calls the "billionaire class." Does Warren know that many, if not most, of this tiny group of people are liberal Democrats?
On a recent podcast hosted by Mehdi Hasan of The Intercept, Hasan asked Warren if she thought Democrats lacked the "guts" to go after billionaires.
Warren response was "Yeah." She's particularly upset at the handful of her fellow Democrats who voted for a bill that watered down the Dodd-Frank banking regulation behemoth.
Warren went on to say: "Until we have all the Democrats who are willing to take on the billionaire class, until we have all the Democrats who are willing to fight for the American people and not for a handful of billionaires and giant corporations, then it's going to stay an uphill fight."
This makes little sense.
For one thing, there are only 585 of them in the U.S. today, according to Forbes. And plenty of them are big-time Democrats.
Does she intend, for example, to take on Warren Buffett, who, with a net worth of $84 billion, is the third richest man in the world? He's a longtime Democrat who's pushed for tax hikes on the rich, backed Hillary Clinton, and who gave 99% of his money to Democrats and liberal groups in the past four election cycles.
Maybe she means Michael Bloomberg, 11th richest man in the world (net worth $50 billion). He's a huge gun control supporter.
What about George Soros, who's worth $8 billion? He's an uber liberal who finances a multitude of left-wing groups like Center for American Progress and Moveon.org. He recently invested $3 million in The New York Times.
In 2016, Soros gave at least $7 million to Hillary Clinton's Priorities USA super-PAC. He's donated more than $61 million to Democrats and liberals since 1989, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Does Warren want to "take on" environmental activist Tom Steyer — net worth $1.6 billion. He donated more than $91 million to Democrats in 2016 alone, and funded a $20 million ad campaign calling for President Trump's impeachment.
Or perhaps she means Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (net worth $2.7 billion). Except that Hastings is another prominent Democrat who eagerly supported Clinton and just signed a deal with Barack Obama to produce programs for Netflix.
Other billionaires Warren says Democrats should have the "guts" take on would include liberals like Google's Larry Page ($48.8 billion), Laurene Powell Jobs ($18.8 billion), Oprah Winfrey ($2.7 billion), Starbucks' Howard Schultz ($2.7 billion), Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg ($1.6 billion).
Of the 36 billionaires who made campaign contributions over the past four election cycles, 40% of their money — totaling $148 million — went to Democrats, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org. And this doesn't include "dark money" donations — funds given to groups engaged in politics that don't have to disclose their donors.
Wall Street Dems
What about those greedy bankers? Turns out, plenty of them are Democratic supporters, too.
A few years ago, Yahoo Finance teamed up with Crowdpac to rank CEOs based on political donations. One of the five most liberal on the list was Goldman Sachs ( GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein, whose company made news during the election when it turned out that Goldman had paid Hillary Clinton $675,000 to appear at three Q&A sessions, two of them run by Blankfein himself.
In 6th and 7th place were James Gorman of Morgan Stanley ( MS) and Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase ( JPM).
Billionaire hedge fund manager Jim Simons gave more than $7 million to Hillary Clinton's Priorities USA Action super PAC. He gave $2.6 million to the Democratic House and Senate Majority PACs, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Bank of America ( BAC) CEO Brian Moynihan has over the years given money to Jeanne Shaheen, Patrick Kennedy, Harold Ford Jr., Ted Kennedy, Ed Markey and John Kerry. He even gave $6,300 to then Sen. Chris Dodd — he of Dodd-Frank fame.
Sure, lots of billionaires support Republicans and oppose Warren's leftist politics. So do lots of people at all income levels.
But the idea that the "billionaire class" opposes all that is good in this country and that they must be defeated to get anything done is nothing more than sophomoric political posturing.
North Korea Talks: No question, President Trump's gambit to bring North Korea's murderous dictator face-to-face at a summit negotiating table was a risky move. But after living through more than six decades of a state of war and with Pyongyang developing a nuclear weapon was worth the risk.
The agreement signed on Tuesday at the Singapore summit is of course merely paper. Whether any deal survives its actual signing depends on the goodwill and trustworthiness of the participants. North Korea's Kim Jong-un, who is himself the third generation of a line of brutal dictators who routinely cheated on deals with both Democratic and Republican presidents, bears close watching.
We're sure that Trump's saber-rattling rhetoric, which Democrats roundly criticized and coastal intellectual elites thought was crude, made Kim realize his real vulnerability to the U.S. military. Thus his eagerness to do a deal.
"The United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity."
"The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula."
"Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
"The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified."
Yes, skepticism is always in order. But as we said this was a bold risk, one well worth taking. Kim lacks confidence these days, after Trump publicly ridiculed him, calling him "rocket man" and "short and fat" on twitter.
If Trump had been a North Korean citizen saying those words, Kim would have executed him in a particularly painful and gruesome way. That Kim couldn't intimidate or frighten Trump surely disappointed him. Nothing so disturbs a pathological bully as someone who doesn't fear him.
Past presidents who signed deals with North Korea — including Clinton, Bush II and Obama — gave aid and other concessions, and got burned. Trump signed his deal from a position of strength.
The two greatest threats the U.S. faces are a nuclear-armed North Korea and a soon-to-be-nuclear armed (thanks, President Obama) Iran. Trump, by walking away from Obama's foolish Iran deal and by intimidating Kim into negotiating on nuclear weapons, shows he understands what's at stake.
Democrats and their allied media have had a field day, yammering on about Trump "appeasing" Kim. He did no such thing. It's funny that the same people criticizing Trump for appeasement, remained silent as Obama all but gave Iran a path to a nuclear weapon and domination of the Mideast.
As national security and military analyst Austin Bay notes, before this summit, Trump was talking about a strategy for dealing with North Korea way back in October, 1999, speaking to the late Tim Russert on "Meet The Press."
"First I'd negotiate, and be sure I could get the best deal possible ... The biggest problem this world has is nuclear proliferation. And we have a country out there in North Korea which is sort of wacko, which is not a bunch of dummies, and they are developing nuclear weapons ... If that negotiation doesn't work, then better solve the problem now than solve it later."
Think Kim doesn't know Trump said this?
Summit Part Of Long Term Strategy
In March 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a new North Korea strategy. "The policy of strategic patience has ended," he said. "We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, economic measures. All options are on the table."
That last sentence no doubt rattled Kim's cage and caused him sleepless nights. All options are on the table.
This is a criminal regime, one that is still dangerous. Trump's tough rhetoric was warranted. Even so, this deal, while promising, must be tested at every level, with denuclearization of North Korea the main goal. And Trump has been clever to link this issue with concessions in trade talks with China, North Korea's patron. Xi Jinping may have just discovered Americans play chess, too.
If Trump rids the Koreas of nuclear weapons, he'll win a tremendous victory — perhaps the Korean War's final victory. As South Korea's President Moon suggested, that would be truly worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.
Health Reform: Since 2014, Democrats have greeted double-digit hikes in ObamaCare premiums with a yawn. Now it's a crisis that must be fixed immediately. What's changed?
Huge increases in ObamaCare premiums are the norm. In its first year, ObamaCare forced costs in the individual insurance market up by double digits. Subsequent eye-popping jumps followed. The average premium climbed about 7% in 2015, 11% in 2016, 22% in 2017, and by more than 30% in 2018.
The Health and Human Services Department calculated that, overall, premiums more than doubled between 2013 — the year before ObamaCare went into effect — and 2017.
Note that this doubling occurred while President Obama was in the White House (insurers announced their 2017 premiums in the summer of 2016).
The response from Democrats back then to these massive annual hikes in insurance costs?
They said they were temporary, because insurers initially underpriced their plans to attract customers and they had to make up for lost ground. Once ObamaCare markets stabilized, rates would too.
Mostly they argued that double-digit premium increases were no big deal because 87% of the people buying coverage in an ObamaCare exchange are getting subsidies, which effectively shield them from the rate hikes.
In 2016, an Obama administration spokesman said "we think they will ultimately be surprised by the affordability of the premiums, because the tax credits track with the increases in premiums."
Obama even argued that rate hikes were a good thing, because they made more people eligible for ObamaCare subsidies, which are based on the cost of a "benchmark" silver plan.
"When benchmark premiums rise faster than expected," one official report said, "more individuals are protected by (the premium subsidies)."
These comforting reassurances overlooked the fact that millions of people in the individual market aren't eligible for those subsidies. They face the full brunt of those cost hikes.
So now the Congressional Budget Office is forecasting that average ObamaCare premiums will climb by 15% this year. If that's true, it would be a break from the trend. In the context of ObamaCare, that's actually good news.
Yet Democrats are suddenly taking notice of ObamaCare's costs and demanding action.
Not, mind you, because they care about those families priced out of the insurance market. In fact, Democrats adamantly oppose even a modest proposal by Trump that would make low-cost non-ObamaCare insurance plans more widely available.
The reason Democrats care about premium hikes this year is because they hope to score political points before the November midterm elections.
As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer put it, "Republicans and the Trump administration own any and all increases in health care premiums for American consumers."
The truth is that ObamaCare's premiums continue to skyrocket for the same reason they did in prior years. The law is unworkable.
ObamaCare forces insurers to cover everyone in the individual market at the same rate, no matter their risk of running up big medical bills. That's fine for older and sicker consumers, but means jacking up premiums for the young and healthy.
The individual mandate penalty was supposed to force the young and healthy to buy coverage anyway. It never worked.
So, as a result, the risk pool became older and sicker, forcing premiums up for everyone. The multitude of costly benefit mandates only made matters worse.
This failing isn't unique to ObamaCare. Every state that has tried these regulations in the past has suffered the same consequences. Which is why most abandoned them or watered them down.
Democrats know as well as anyone that ObamaCare was collapsing long before Trump took office, and they have no credible plans to fix it. All they're looking for is a convenient scapegoat.
G-7: President Trump created a quite a stir among the other Western leaders by refusing to sign the "communique" that capped the G-7 summit. But he was right to do so.
This is once again being styled as the crude, unnuanced American president refusing to accommodate himself to the much wiser leaders of Europe.
In fact, he wisely refrained from signing what was an empty, far-left political document, which is typical of the G-7 "consensus" that American presidents have gone along with for decades.
We're indebted to Susan Jones of CNSNews.com who pored over the entire tedious document from the Charlevoix G-7 Summit in Canada to extract the nuggets.
It held a panoply of meaningless leftist buzzwords that the U.S. was supposed to embrace, including "such phrases as 'sustainable development,' 'gender equality and women's empowerment,' 'fair' and 'progressive' tax systems, a 'level playing field,' 'affordable healthcare,' a 'healthy planet,' and 'quality work environments.' "
None of those thing, by the way, have anything whatsoever to do with government. As a matter of fact, intervention of incompetent governments makes most of those things measurably worse.
All told, the communique contains 27 points made in five major sections. All of them enlighten citizens around the world about how to think about everything, from gender and jobs to peace and climate change.
The leadership of the nations allied with the U.S. come up short. They've ridden the anti-Trump wave of the so-called Progressives, rolling their eyes at his comments and acting as if he, not they, are the problem.
The summit communique, for instance, exhorts G-7 members to "reduce tariff bers, non-tariff barriers and subsidies."
A reasonable goal, most economists would agree. The G-7 leaders get angry at Trump because he believes that current trade deals, while good on some levels, actually are unfair to the U.S. Whether you agree or not, it's certainly a debatable point, particularly with regard to trade with China.
But what did Trump say at his press conference as he left the fruitless G-7 confab to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un?
"You want a tariff-free (trade system), you want no barriers, and you want no subsidies because you have some cases where countries are subsidizing industries, and that's not fair," Trump said, elaborating his own ideas about trade, developed, he said, from his time at the Wharton School of Finance. "So you go tariff-free, you go barrier-free, you go subsidy-free."
Sounds pretty free trade to us. The fact that he questions current trade deals doesn't signal a hatred of free trade. It does show a disdain for deals that pretend to be free trade but are really government managed trade. Often to the U.S.' detriment.
As we've said here before literally dozens of times, we at IBD have always maintained that free trade is a great benefit to humankind.
It lets all people satisfy their wants and needs from those who most able to satisfy them at the lowest price. That's how human material well-being advances.
G-7 And Tariffs: Hypocrisy On Display
Trump's idea of making tariffs identical from one nation to the next may be politically naive (and may not, for that matter), but it's not insincere. Nor is his anger over still-large tariffs on U.S. goods invalid.
The supposed leaders of the free world, as embodied in the G-7, should recognize that not all the global trade system is equitable — and that, as Trump says, the old protectionist ways that harm the U.S. economy, must come to an end.
Based on its recent performances, the G-7 summit has outlived its usefulness. It has become an opportunity for troubled European leaders to preen and pose for cameras, speak progressive platitudes, engage in a little anti-Americanism, but do little if anything of substance.
This G-7 meeting, in which all the U.S. allies agreed that Trump was awful, was no different. It was the essence of multi-lateralism: Lots of noise and pageantry, entirely stage-managed, but ultimately empty.
Politics: Rather than rooting on the strong economy, Democrats have taken to ignoring it, belittling it or, like Bill Maher did over the weekend, rooting for a recession. The extent to which Trump critics will go is truly mind-boggling.
Clearly the economy is doing well. And what's more, the public is increasingly crediting President Trump for it — as they should, since much of the turnaround is due to his dumping Obamanomics.
But what's a Democrat hoping to reclaim the House majority in November to do?
One is to ignore the economy altogether. So, Democrats are trying to turn attention to things like ObamaCare premiums or alleged corruption in the Trump administration.
Ignoring the economy will be tough, however, particularly if GDP growth comes in strong in Q2 and unemployment continues to fall.
The second option is to belittle it.
Nancy Pelosi, having dismissed the tax-cut-fueled raises and bonuses that millions of workers received as "crumbs," is now dismissing the good economic news as no big deal. Why? "Because of the wage stagnation."
"Our economy," she said, "will never fully reach its possibilities unless we increase the consumer confidence."
The army of media fact-checkers must have been asleep when she said this, since her claims are so easy to debunk.
Average hourly wages climbed 2.7% in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And as we noted in this space recently, median household income is at historic highs.
Meanwhile, every survey shows confidence levels at or approaching new highs since Trump took office.
The IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index, currently at 53.9, has averaged 53.5 under Trump, compared with 47 during President Obama's entire second term. (Anything over 50 is optimistic).
The Consumer Confidence Index is currently at 128, which is 25 points higher than it ever reached under Obama, and higher than it's been in 17 years.
Dismissing this good economic news as meaningless — after spending eight years proclaiming how great the stagnant economy was under Obama — isn't going to dispel the notion that Democrats are out of touch with working families.
Bill Maher's Wish
The third option is to admit openly what many Democrats no doubt feel privately: That a good recession is what the party needs to reclaim its former glory. After all, it did get Obama elected president.
Over the weekend, HBO talk show host Bill Maher spoke the words out load.
"I feel like the bottom has to fall out at some point," he said, talking about the booming economy. "And by the way, I'm hoping for it because one way you get rid of Trump is a crashing economy.
"Sorry if that hurts people, but it's either root for a recession or you lose your democracy."
Let's leave aside the glaring logical fallacy Maher commits with his false dilemma, and ponder what he is saying.
Maher would, if he could, throw millions of people into unemployment and poverty, watch as hard-earned savings vanish, wages stagnate and hope gets crushed, if that might keep Trump from winning re-election.
Of course, it's easy for Maher to wish that, since he's already made his millions attacking Republicans. But just how many of his fellow Trump-loathing Democrats secretly feel the same way?
Reporters love to force Republican politicians to answer for anything outrageous that a conservative says. Shouldn't these same reporters, to prove their lack of political bias, press every single Democrat running for office in November to condemn Maher's economic death wish?
Entitlements: Social Security is like the classic children's tale, "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." So many warnings have been made, no one listens anymore. Well guess what? The wolf's now at the door. Are you listening now?
For the first time in 36 years, Social Security will take money out of its "trust fund" — an accounting fiction that would get you jailed for fraud in the private sector — to pay retirees. The truth is, Social Security is for all intents and purposes bankrupt.
Since 2010, Social Security has been spending more than it took in, making up the difference by tapping into the interest paid on a $2.9 trillion government bond fund. That "interest" is really your tax dollars. Congress, you see, spent the actual money that came in through your payroll taxes and left IOUs. Now, even the interest on those entitlement IOUs is no longer enough. So they're going to have to start selling off assets to pay what they owe. Last year, it was $41 billion. It will only grow.
By 2034, the entire pile of IOUs will disappear. Everything. It will require slashing benefits by at least 21%, or raising payroll taxes by 31%. That's for workers who are today 50 years of age. It is a devastating fiscal picture, one that has profound meaning for our society going forward.
As Cato Institute economist Michael D. Tanner estimated in 2015, Social Security faces a long-term funding shortfall of $25 trillion and Medicare of $48 trillion. Yes, that's trillion with a "t." No doubt, it's far bigger today. To do nothing is tantamount to an irresponsible declaration of national bankruptcy over entitlements.
Entitlements: A Predictable Disaster
The sad fact is, we've known this was coming for years. It's only getting worse now because of the substandard economic growth during the Obama years, which reduced the amount of payroll taxes going into both Social Security and Medicare. So our financial Armageddon is coming earlier than expected.
Putting an end to this latter-day Ponzi scheme won't be easy. Americans have been told repeatedly the only "fix" we need is to raise taxes on the rich to close the gap. But even taxing America's most wealthy won't be enough. Gen-X and the following generations will pay for the massive group of now-retiring Baby Boomers, with nothing left for them when they retire.
This is not just bad finance. It's immoral.
It's time for all of us, politicians and citizens alike, to consider real, workable alternatives to fix the problem. That would entail modest changes in future Social Security benefits, coupled with private Social Security accounts that would be tied to positive market returns, not to politicians' absurd promises.
More socialist solutions — higher taxes, more benefits — not only won't work, they will drag down the world's most productive economy. The wolf of national insolvency is at our door. Don't let him in.
Work: For decades experts proclaimed that technology was reshaping the workplace, and a "gig economy" was taking over. But a funny thing happened in the years since. Nothing.
Along with the advent of personal computers, broadband internet and smartphones came predictions that the traditional employer-worker relationship would soon be a thing of past. Workers would increasingly become freelancers, and companies virtual. Telecommuting would be routine.
In 1999, the Department of Labor predicted that the "traditional work arrangement (is) giving way to something fundamentally different" as companies shift to "just in time" workers.
Kiplinger predicted in 2000 that 100 million U.S. workers would be telecommuting by 2010.
The RAND Corporation said in 2004 that we'd see a shift toward "less permanent, even nonstandard employment relationships."
Intuit predicted in 2010 that, by 2020, 40% of the US workforce will be "contingent workers."
In 2011, the Atlantic called the transformation to a gig economy "nothing less than a revolution. We haven't seen a shift in the workforce this significant in almost 100 years when we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy."
When running for president, Hillary Clinton warned that the gig economy was "raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future."
So, what actually happened?
Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that, contrary to all those predictions, the "gig economy" shrank in size over the past two decades.
In 1995, there were 6 million "contingent workers" — those with short term or temporary jobs — representing 4.9% of the workforce. Last year, there were 5.8 million, or 3.8% of the workforce. That's a long way from the 40% Intuit predicted.
The share of the workforce made up of independent contractors barely budged in all those years, going from 6.7% in 1995 to 6.9% in 2017.
Overall, the share of workers in "traditional arrangements" has remained exactly the same as it was 23 years ago — at 90% — BLS data show.
In other words, there has been no transformation of the workplace at all, despite the dramatic technological changes that swept over the economy in the past quarter century.
Even the prediction that vast multitudes of workers would telecommute proved wildly inaccurate. Instead of 100 million as Kiplinger forecast, fewer than 6 million worked at home in 2010, according to the BLS.
Sure, the work is different. The internet and the vast industries it has spawned barely existed, for example. But the relationship between workers and employers has remained incredibly stable.
The lesson here: Take predictions about future "transformational" trends with a grain of salt. Most things in the marketplace — including the labor market — are the way they are because they are time tested and work.
Iran: One of the linchpins of former President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran was that it would be accompanied by a near-ban on Iran having any access to the U.S. banking system. A new congressional report says that, too, was a lie.
Obama and his officials at the Treasury Department and State Department were clear: They would work assiduously to freeze out Iran from getting dollars to fund its mischief and mayhem around the world.
T he Associated Press, puts it this way: "As the Treasury and State Department worked behind the scenes to help Iran access the dollar, the message to Congress remained the same: The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) did not allow Iran to access the U.S. financial system."
Obama sent a clear message to Congress: If you don't block this nuclear deal, we will bar Iran's access to our financial system. The deal was clear, unequivocal.
It was also a lie. Obama lied, and so did others in his administration.
That's the conclusion of a report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. It alleges Obama officials pushed the U.S. Treasury to let Iran convert the equivalent of $5.7 billion of funds held in Oman's Bank of Muscat from rials into dollars and subsequently into euros.
It required a special license by the U.S. Treasury, which was granted in February of 2016. But it was never disclosed, either to Congress or the American people.
OK, you say, $5.7 billion. What is that, when big economies like the U.S., Britain, Germany and France have economies trillions of dollars in size?
Apart from the lie, which is bad enough for an administration that claimed repeatedly to be "scandal-free," this money did not have innocuous uses. Far from it.
Our own State Department characterizes Iran as the No. 1 terrorist-supporting state on Earth. Every dollar it gets from us has an ultimate use that is highly questionable, which is the reason why the U.S. imposed sanctions in the first place.
Washington Times national security correspondent Bill Gertz in February of this year reported that some of the $1.7 billion that the Obama administration officially handed over to the Iranians had ended up in the hands of terrorist groups. Those terrorist groups included Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Iran's own Quds Force, the dirty tricks and terror branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
No one knows how much of the $5.7 billion that Obama allowed Iran to access also went to terrorist activities. Or, for that matter, how much went to further research activity on Iran's nuclear bomb project. That awaits a later investigation.
But it's important to note that the Iran nuclear deal also removed some $100 billion in sanctions on Iran. This made Iran once again a big player in the Mideast. It's almost certain that a good piece of that went to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, which by some accounts control as much as 40% of Iran's economy.
It's clear from Obama administration actions, under both his Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, that the Obama White House despised Israel and did all they could to undermine its security. How else can you explain the enabling of a terrorist-supporting regime?
The Obama administration failed to enforce its own "red line" in Syria on chemical weapons. By doing so, it in effect invited both Russia and Iran into that disintegrating country. Iranian troops today are within striking distance of our one true ally in the region, Israel.
The disintegration of Libya, the collapse of Egypt, and Turkey's embrace of radical Islam, all took place under Obama's watch. None of them were in the U.S.' interest.
The Mideast has been a mess for decades, but things got markedly worse under Obama. A big reason is the Iran nuclear deal didn't make anyone in the Mideast, Europe or U.S. safer. But it did empower the terrorist-supporting mullahs in Tehran.
The mullahs are now funding terrorism on Israel's border. They're biding their time until they can get another anti-Israel president in the White House. Mullahs with a nuclear weapon will be a nightmare. President Trump has a big job still ahead of him, but in his first year and a half in office he has undone much of Obama's damage.
All of this because the Obama administration signed a deal that not only didn't end Tehran's nuclear program, but merely postponed it for a decade, all while doing nothing about its terrorist activities. Now we find that Obama also helped finance that.
Paying to support terrorism, and not telling the American people about it. Still think the Obama administration was "scandal-free"?
Politics: As soon as Howard Schultz announced his retirement from Starbucks on Monday, speculation began about his running for president in 2020 as a Democrat. But any hopes of his getting the party's nomination likely died the very next day.
During an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box" Tuesday, Schultz had this to say:
"It concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left. I say to myself, 'How are we going to pay for these things,' in terms of things like single payer (and) people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job."
"I don't think that's realistic," he said. Then he added: "I think we got to get away from these falsehoods and start talking about the truth and not false promises."
Schultz went on to say that the greatest threat domestically to the country is "this $21 trillion debt hanging over the cloud of America and future generations. The only way we're going to get out of that is we've got to grow the economy, in my view, 4% or greater. And then we have to go after entitlements."
To today's Democrats, Schultz must sound like an alien invader.
He's asking how to pay for universal health care and guaranteed jobs? Everyone knows it's by taxing rich people like Schultz. He wants to "go after" entitlements? The party line is to expand all of them. He calls national debt the "greatest threat"? The official position of the Democratic Party is that the greatest threat we face is global warming.
And 4% economic growth? When President Trump promised to deliver growth rates that high, Democrats called him crazy.
But Schultz is absolutely right about his fellow Democrats. As we have pointed out many times in this space, the Democratic Party has veered to the extreme left in recent years. So far, in fact, that it is now embracing an economic agenda that is to the left of any other industrialized nation — including China.
Top Democrats have, for example, bear-hugged Bernie Sanders' radical "Medicare for all" plan, which promises "free" government-provided health care benefits more generous than any other nation, and that would cost trillions of dollars a year.
The party's most recent fascination is with "guaranteed jobs," an idea straight out of the Soviet Union's constitution that would cost upward of $750 billion a year.
And that's to say nothing of the party's promise of free college, student loan forgiveness and various other big ticket items.
As we noted in this space recently, Sanders, a self-described socialist who nearly stole the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton, "seems to have opened the way for the mainstreaming of socialism in the Democratic Party."
In fact, Hillary Clinton recently tried to pin her troubles in the 2016 Democratic primaries on the fact that she was perceived as — gasp — "a capitalist."
It's not just party leaders who've veered far to the left, but the Democratic base itself. A survey of 1,000 likely Democratic voters taken before the 2016 elections found that nearly 60% said socialism would be great for America. A Pew Research Center report out last year found that while the center of the Republican Party shifted slightly to the right between 1994 and 2017, the center for Democrats moved sharply to the left.
So, it should not come as a surprise that, instead of listening to the more practical-minded Schultz, Democrats are already trying to force him off the stage.
Helaine Olen, writing in the Washington Post, acknowledges that Schultz was a good liberal when he headed Starbucks. He won kudos for things like providing health benefits to part-time workers, defending gay marriage, offering financial aid for college, and for standing up to Trump on immigration.
But she goes on to complain that Schultz's "politics are not exactly in sync with the Democratic Party today" and says he "shouldn't run for president."
The Daily Beast says Schultz's resume "seems inherently out of step with a party in which Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, Kamala Harris are luminaries" and that "no one is excited" about him running for president.
Eric Levitz, writing in New York magazine, goes so far as to say that Schulz's combination of socially liberal and what Levitz calls "fiscally conservative" views "put him on the radical fringe in the United States." He says Democrats "must reject" Schultz's "ideology."
Schultz might have been able to take a small shop in Seattle and turn it into a global coffee behemoth. But we seriously doubt he'll have any luck pulling the Democratic Party back from its leftward lurch.
SpyGate: Just as fiery volcanoes have erupted in Guatemala and Hawaii, a volcano of another kind looks set to blow in Washington: The "investigation" into alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia, amid new revelations of possible FBI and Justice Department deceit and misconduct and the anticipated release of the Inspector General's report.
It might not end like the investigators had hoped.
Recent developments suggest that the long-running Trump-Russia-collusion investigation, now in its third year, could be coming to a spectacular, perhaps explosive, end. Consider these recent developments:
Former FBI Assistant Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired for leaking information to the press and then lying about it, wants immunity in exchange for his testimony about the handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe during the 2016 presidential election. Does he know about illegal goings-on by the FBI and now wants immunity to reveal them?
FBI agent Peter Strzok played a bigger role in both the probes into Russia election meddling and Hillary Clinton's illegal email server than first thought, according to testimony given to the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees by Strzok's former supervisor, FBI spy chief Bill Priestap.
Moreover, the Senate released emails between Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, Strzok's lover, suggesting that the FBI's investigation into Trump began as early as December of 2015. That contradicts sworn testimony by former FBI Director James Comey that it began in July of 2016.
If true, this means the FBI ran a sting operation on Trump to disrupt his campaign — that the supposed "investigation" was a sham to cover up for an illegal act. Sources told ABC News that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's draft report on the FBI's Clinton email investigation calls former FBI Director James Comey "insubordinate" and says he "defied authority" in investigating the Hillary Clinton email scandal.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is asking to have former Trump Campaign Director Paul Manafort's house arrest revoked on suspicion of felony witness tampering. Manafort already faces a 32-count indictment on felony tax, conspiracy and fraud charges, among other things.
So what do all these things suggest? That the Mueller investigation is unraveling fast. For more than two years, both the FBI and the Special Counsel's office have investigated the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
They have found nothing. In Mueller's case, the big fish is Manafort. But he has not tied anyone in the Trump campaign, including Manafort, to any efforts by the Russians to meddle in the 2016 presidential election with the Trump campaign. Manafort's charges have nothing to do with that, and show how absurdly broad Mueller's investigation has been.
He cast a net on the waters and caught nothing.
Meanwhile, revelations that the FBI spied on a major presidential campaign using information supplied and paid for by that campaign's political opponents has the potential to send FBI and DOJ officials to prison.
This is the kind of shameful behavior you see in Zimbabwe, Venezuela and other tin-pot, one-party dictatorships. But not in the world's oldest true democracy. In our country, such behavior is illegal — considered both election tampering and a subversion of our democracy.
'Deep State' Collusion?
This enormously complex U.S. intelligence scandal is difficult to follow, even for the media who do so for a living. But the revelations have been adding up. As they do, they create an ever-clearer picture of massive political corruption at the DOJ, FBI and CIA.
That is, "deep state" collusion by our three main intelligence agencies, not collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
As much as anyone, former CIA Director John Brennan, an admitted former Communist sympathizer whose questionable past behavior clearly should have disqualified him from a senior intelligence post in the U.S., worked assiduously to undermine the campaign and later the very presidency of Donald Trump.
Health Care: The latest official report on Medicare's financial status says it will be insolvent in 2026 — just eight years from now. So much for the promise that ObamaCare had fixed that program for the long term.
When he signed ObamaCare into law in 2010, President Obama bragged repeatedly that ObamaCare's combination of slowing down overall health spending, payment cuts to providers, improved productivity and quality, as well as less waste, fraud, and abuse would vastly extend Medicare's solvency.
He promised ObamaCare would guarantee that Medicare's "sacred trust between America and its seniors … is never broken."
Turns out "never" isn't as far away as it used to be.
The annual report from the program's trustees says the hospital insurance "trust fund" will be insolvent by 2026, three years sooner than they predicted last year. When that happens, Medicare will only be able to pay about 90% of seniors' hospital bills, unless Congress hikes the payroll tax used to finance that trust fund, or reforms the program.
Either way, there is little time to act.
The reason for the downgrade: a combination of lower-than-expected payroll tax revenue and higher-than-expected spending.
Even the 2026 prediction is fanciful, because it assumes that ObamaCare's planned steep payment cuts to doctors and hospitals are left in place, even though they could cause "access to Medicare-participating physicians (to) become a significant issue."
When the trustees stripped out ObamaCare's unrealistic spending cuts, Medicare's financial picture gets worse faster, and grows far larger over the long term. (We have for years been pointing out that ObamaCare's claimed Medicare savings were a fraud.)
Democrats are sure to blame President Trump and Republicans, saying that cutting taxes, getting rid of the ObamaCare individual mandate, or (fill in the blank) are responsible for Medicare's falling fortunes.
The truth is that the insolvency data has bounced around plenty since ObamaCare became law. And it has been worse than it is now.
In 2010, the trustees put the insolvency date at 2029. The very next year, they downgraded it to 2024. After a few years it had crept back up to 2030, only to drop back to 2028 in the trustees' 2016 report.
What's more, the trustees predicted back in 2003 that Medicare's hospital trust fund would be insolvent by 2026.
In other words, despite the 167 changes made by ObamaCare and the $700 billion in supposed savings, Medicare's doomsday prediction is exactly where it was 18 years ago.
What this tells us is that ObamaCare did nothing to fix Medicare's long-term problems. It also makes clear that fixing the program will require lawmakers to consider options other than sledgehammer price controls on doctors and hospitals.
Conservatives have for years been developing such sweeping, innovative reforms to the program. These would enlist the private sector to keep costs down, while encouraging seniors to economize on their own care. But every such proposal has been met with vicious attacks by Democrats. In one ad, they depicted Rep. Paul Ryan pushing a wheelchair-bound senior citizen off a cliff.
Instead, Democrats are now blithely talking about expanding Medicare to cover everyone. Their a multi-trillion-dollar "Medicare for all" would mean eventual insolvency for the entire nation, not just Medicare.
Rule Of Law: The 7-to-2 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a Christian baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony was a minor victory for religious rights, freedom of speech and freedom of commerce. But it didn't go far enough.
After all, the baker in question, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., didn't refuse to sell a cake, even a wedding cake, to the gay couple. He only refused to custom-bake one. While Colorado's current law forbids discrimination on grounds of gender or sexual orientation, requiring Phillips to use his cake-decorating talents in essence forces him to endorse something he morally opposes.
But the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered him to do it anyway, showing a blatantly anti-religious bias toward Phillips' beliefs in the process. And this bias turned out to be the most significant factor in the court's surprising 7-to-2 decision, with only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.
"As the record shows, some of the commissioners at the commission's formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillips' faith as despicable and characterized it as merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his opinion for the seven-justice majority, which included liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer.
For one, it didn't decide in any meaningful way under what conditions a person's religious beliefs or other First Amendment rights could be used as a rationale for denying a public accommodation to a person or group.
The court narrowly decided that the commission showed bias in its handling of the case, but not that Phillips was within his rights to refuse to make the cake.
So perhaps the most important question of all remains unanswered. And it raises a new question: If the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) issues another ruling free of any overt verbal bias, can it force the next religious baker to make a cake against his will?
More troubling, perhaps, is that this case was allowed to go anywhere at all.
Power Without Votes
To begin with, should an unelected group have power to order free citizens to do what it wants them to do? It's downright Orwellian.
How can a commission composed of unelected members deny people their constitutional rights? Especially given that the nation's highest court found the commission in this case was "neither tolerant nor respectful of (Phillips') religious beliefs"?
Giving such powers to largely unaccountable political appointees endangers all of us. That's especially true of small business owners, who can lose a business merely for exercising their First Amendment rights.
Even at the most basic, legal level, this case should never have happened. Phillips' refusal to sell the wedding cake took place in 2012. But same-sex marriage wasn't even legal in Colorado at that time. So, in essence, the commission was ordering Phillips to participate in breaking the law.
Moreover, the gay couple, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, could have easily found another baker to do the job. They chose litigation instead.
But even before litigation takes place, ad-hoc boards like the CCRC shouldn't have power to police legal behavior. It's rife with the possibility of undue political influence and petty authoritarianism.
As an example of this, the CCRC didn't just require Pillips to change his company's policies. It also required him to offer "comprehensive staff training" to his workers. At added cost, the CCRC also required the bakery to produce quarterly reports about how it handled its customers.
The goal isn't just to fix the problem, but to humiliate the perpetrator and make him a lesson to others.
Of course, the CCRC web site touts the makeup of the seven-member CCRC board as "bipartisan," a weasel word. That's a verbal smokescreen. A liberal Democratic governor appointed the 2012 board members, so there was no true ideological diversity among its members.
The current "bipartisan" lineup, for instance, features exactly one Republican. But it has two Democrats and two "unaffiliated" members. In addition, by rule, "At least four of the commissioners are members of groups who have been or might be discriminated against because of disability, race, creed, color, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, or age."
So there's a built-in bias in the board's very composition toward finding discriminatory behavior. It's similar to requiring that a jury in a theft case primarily be made up of people who had themselves been theft victims. Would someone accused of theft in such a case have any chance at a fair trial?
This was a politicized case from the very beginning. And sadly, the Supreme Court's limited decision, while correct, doesn't resolve the underlying issues.
Business and Politics: Costco Wholesale Corp. announced late last week that it's giving raises to 130,000 employees, thanks to the Trump tax cuts. This is the company, mind you, whose founders openly backed tax-hiking Hillary Clinton for president. Why not admit that they picked the wrong horse?
Costco ( COST) boosted its minimum wage $1 an hour — to $14 — and gave its other hourly employee wages raises of up to 50 cents an hour. That's an annual increase of up to $2,000. Crumbs to Nancy Pelosi, but real money to a middle-class family on a budget.
The company said it was funding the $100+ million in raises with savings from the sharp cut in the corporate tax rate. That rate cut was part of the Trump tax reform plan — which not a single Democratic lawmaker supported. Since then, hundreds of companies announced bonuses, raises, increased benefits because of the money they're saving on taxes.
Costco's employees aren't the only ones benefiting. Since the November election, Costco stock has rocketed up by 32%. In the two years before the election, it climbed 8%.
The irony here is that, had many of Costco's leaders got their wish, their workers wouldn't be getting those raises next week.
In 2016, Costco board members, executives and employees gave $44,178 to Clinton's campaign and almost $92,000 to the DNC. The company's co-founders both endorsed Hillary Clinton and gave tens of thousands to her and other Democrats. Overall, Costco donors overwhelmingly favored Democrats that year.
Costco isn't alone in this regard. Plenty of corporate leaders harshly attacked Trump before the election, and now their companies and employees are benefiting immensely from his tax cuts and deregulation.
Shortly before the election, for example, then Starbucks ( SBUX) CEO Howard Schultz told CNN Money that "I think it's obvious Hillary Clinton needs to be the next president."
But as a direct result of Trump's tax cuts, Starbucks employees got stock grants of between $500 and $2,000 — totaling more than $100 million — as well as $120,000 million in raises.
IAC/InterActiveCorp ( IAC) Chairman Barry Diller promised in 2015 that if Trump were elected, "I'll either move out of the country or join the resistance." Last July, he said that Trump's presidency is "just a joke (and) hopefully it will be over relatively soon."
IAC shareholders probably don't agree. In the months since Trump won the election, IAC stock shot up by almost 140%. In the two years before the 2016 elections, IAC's stock eked out a meager 1.5% gain. (Diller never did leave the country.)
Meanwhile, Netflix ( NFLX) CEO Reed Hastings — another prominent Clinton backer — said in June 2016 that "Hillary Clinton is the strong leader we need, and it's important that Trump lose by a landslide to reject what he stands for." Trump, he said, " would destroy much of what is great about America."
Hastings might have a difficult time explaining this statement to Netflix shareholders. His company's stock has rocketed up more than 190% since Trump failed to lose by a landslide. In fact, it's climbed almost 90% just since the Trump tax cuts went into effect in January.
On and on it goes. During the campaign, Clinton made a big deal about the fact that 56 prominent business leaders endorsed her for president. Yet many of them have seen the rising economic tide lifting their boats under Trump.
Do any of these CEOs honestly believe that, had Clinton won the election, their companies would be doing as well as they are now? Not only did she oppose corporate tax cuts, Clinton wanted $1.4 trillion in tax hikes, as well as countless new mandates and regulations on businesses.
For obvious reasons, Democratic politicians will never admit that they were wrong about Trumponomics, no matter how well the economy performs. But what about all those corporate leaders who put their names and reputations behind Hillary Clinton?
Shouldn't they admit that, even if they can't stand Trump, their companies and their workers are better off as a result of the pro-growth economic policies that their chosen candidate never would have approved?
Jobs: You have to look really hard at the May employment data to find anything even remotely resembling bad news about the economy. At some point, maybe the mainstream media will notice something's changed dramatically, and for the better.
Businesses added 223,000 jobs for the month, pushing the unemployment rate down to 3.8% — its lowest rate since April 2000 and matching the lowest rate ever, first set in 1969, according to the Labor Department. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected on average a 190,000 gain in jobs. And job gains in March and April were revised up by 15,000, so the number is even stronger than it looks.
Further cementing the idea of surprising strength, most economists now say that a mid-June hike in interest rates by the Federal Reserve is baked in the cake. When the Fed worries about too much good news, you know the economy's strong.
The unemployment rate for African-Americans fell to 5.9% in May from 6.6% in April. The May number is the lowest unemployment rate for African-Americans ever. Moreover, the 2.4 percentage point gap between the overall unemployment rate and the African-American rate is also the smallest since modern record-keeping of jobs and employment began in 1973.
Hispanics, too, are doing better under President Trump's tax- and regulation-cutting policies. Their unemployment rate in May edged up to 4.9% from an all-time low of 4.8% in April.
Rising Jobs Tide Lifts All Boats
Meanwhile, other demographic groups left out of previous recoveries are now suddenly doing better — a lot better.
Those lacking a high-school diploma, long considered to be economic dead-enders, are doing much better, thank you. Their unemployment rate fell from 5.9% to 5.4%. For those with a high school diploma, the rate dropped from 4.3% to 3.9%. If you lack a bachelor's degree but have some college, your rate dropped from 3.5% to 3.2%.
You almost have to try to not have a job these days.
And it's happening in a broad swath of industries: education, health care, retailing, restaurants, hotels, construction, you name it. Oh yes, and wages rose to an average $26.92 an hour, a 2.7% gain from a year ago.
Looking at the separate household measure of jobs, a different measure kept by government, there were 128.657 million full-time jobs in the U.S. in May. That's a 904,000-job increase in one month, the largest jump in the data's history. All told, 155.474 million Americans have jobs, a record.
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and leftist media outlets such as MSNBC tried to spin these unequivocally good job numbers as something bad. Good luck, folks. This could be one of the best jobs reports ever.
Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted this early Friday morning: "Looking forward to seeing the employment numbers at 8:30 this morning."
Environment: It has become an article of faith in the U.S. that recycling is a good thing. But evidence is piling up that recycling is a waste of time and money, and a bit of a fraud.
The New York Times recently reported that, unknown to most families who spend hours separating garbage into little recycling bins, much of the stuff ends up in a landfill anyway.
One big reason: China has essentially shut the door to U.S. recyclables.
The Times notes that about a third of recyclables gets shipped abroad, with China the biggest importer. But starting this year, China imposed strict rules on what it will accept, effectively banning most of it. That, the Times reports, has forced many recycling companies who can't find other takers to dump recyclables into landfills.
One company, Oregon's Rogue Disposal and Recycling, sent "all its recycling to landfills for the first few months of the year," the Times reports.
Bloomberg says Massachusetts has issued dozens of landfill waivers so recyclable material can be dumped in them. The Florida Sun Sentinel reports that in Broward County, Fla., up to 30% of the stuff residents put in recycling bins ends up in landfills.
Worse, some local officials aren't telling residents this for fear that they will give up on recycling altogether.
Even without China's recycling wall, plenty of "recyclables" end up in landfills, in part because of "single stream" recycling. That's where residents can put everything in the same bin — a switch designed to encourage more recycling. But it results in more stuff that can't be recycled because it's "contaminated." One study found that about 30% of plastic collected in these "single stream" bins can't be recycled.
In addition, the market for recyclable materials has collapsed as supply increases and demand subsides. Manufacturers use less material, recycled or otherwise, to make things like bottles and cans. And lower oil prices make it more economical to make products fresh, rather than from scraps.
As a result, prices for paper, plastic, glass and scrap aluminum have plunged. In some cases to zero.
Better for the Environment?
But this isn't even the worst of it. As John Tierney explained in an exhaustive analysis of recycling programs, also published by the New York Times, recycling is not only costly, but doesn't do much to help the environment.
The claim that recycling is essential to avoid running out of landfill space is hogwash, since all the stuff Americans throw away for the next 1,000 years would fit into "one-tenth of 1% of land available for grazing," Tierney says.
Other environmental benefits, he finds, are negligible, and come at an exceedingly high price. Tierney notes, for example, that washing plastics before recycling them, as is the recommended practice, could end up adding to greenhouse gas emissions. And the extra trucks and processing facilities produce CO2 as well.
Since it costs far more to recycle trash than to bury it, governments are wasting money that could be more effectively spent elsewhere.
Good luck convincing people of any of this. Recycling is the new religion. And as Tierney put it, "religious rituals don't need any practical justification."
True enough. But then again, recyclers have no business enforcing their beliefs on others, either.
Trade: President Trump's decision to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico might be an effective negotiating tool to win further concessions on a trade deal, but it's not a good economic one. If it leads to a global beggar-thy-neighbor trade war, it could cost us all dearly.
We understand why Trump has pursued this tack. Many of our past trade deals have been badly negotiated, giving away too much and getting too little in return. There's a difference between truly free trade and lop-sided trade, and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
And Trump has made an explicit link between national security and the economy. "We take the view that without a strong economy, you can't have strong national security," said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, in announcing the tariffs Thursday morning.
But now comes the hard part. Because we can certainly expect a tit-for-tat response from the EU, Mexico and Canada.
Already, German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed a "smart, determined and jointly agreed" response to Trump's tariffs. And already, the EU has talked about imposing billions of dollars in tariffs on U.S. exports, possibly including orange juice, kitchenware, peanut butter, clothing, shoes, washing machines, textiles, whiskey, motorcycles, boats and batteries.
For its part, Mexico said it will target bacon, apples, grapes, cheese and flat steel. Canada's retaliatory list wasn't revealed, but it did pledge a response.
So, a trade war now seems likely. And it might get even larger. In two weeks, the White House releases a tariff hit-list of 1,300 Chinese goods valued at $50 billion. China has vowed to respond in kind.
Get the picture?
Nor will they be without cost to the domestic U.S. economy.
As Competitive Enterprise Institute fellow Ryan Young notes, "While the tariffs could potentially save 33,000 steel jobs, the harms to downstream industries from automobiles to construction to food production could result in a net loss of 146,000 American jobs. It also encourages America's biggest trading partners to raise their trade barriers, harming their economies as well as ours."
Tariffs = Higher Costs
Others note that steel tariffs will boost costs in a number of industries.
That's especially true of energy, where oil field and pipeline construction depend heavily on steel. "The cost of steel represents roughly 10% to 20% of the overal cost of construction and operating an oil field," writes American Enterprise Institute Fellow Benjamin Zycher. "Pipelines often are made of specialty steels not currently produced in the U.S., and replacing that foreign output domestically will raise prices."
Not to mention that the U.S. will almost certainly be challenged in the World Trade Organization and likely will lose.
Trump is playing chicken with major U.S. trading partners, hoping they swerve at the last minute. The big question is, can Trump force can concessions in trade talks with with minimal damage to the U.S. economy, or will a trade war lead to a nasty downturn in global markets or even hurt the U.S. economy's growth? What if no one in this game of chicken swerves?
These are legitimate questions. Trade is a dangerous weapon, one that can backfire on those who use it as one. Yes, not all trade deals are perfect. But to the extent they lead to freer trade, and more goods and services crossing borders, they represent a net benefit to America — and to our trading partners.
We can only hope that these tariffs won't last, with a quick resolution of issues on both sides. The U.S. today needs Canadian, Mexican and European Union support on a number of issues, ranging from sanctions on Iran to stemming illegal immigration.
Financial Crisis: U.S. markets have been roiled in recent days by political and economic turmoil in Italy. Is it an overreaction? Not at all. Markets are right to be worried.
Much of the U.S. has been fixated on President Trump's on-again, off-again decision to impose tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese goods. But Italy's crisis, now at a rolling boil in the background, has spooked the markets too.
Markets plunged Tuesday, before rebounding on Wednesday. That should be a warning.
Italy has had a rough two decades, but is now undergoing dangerous political turbulence that risks Italy's social and political stability, and could lead to the collapse of the European Union as we know it. That would not be good for the U.S., or any other nation for that matter.
How did this happen? A parliamentary election in March handed a clear popular mandate to the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and the right-of-center Lega, or "League," to form a government.
But the current president, Sergio Matarella, vetoed the idea. He didn't like their policies, and especially didn't like their nominee for finance minister, Paolo Savona, an 81-year-old economist and leading Italian euro-skeptic. Italy's constitution gives the president the right to veto ministerial nominees.
The Italian establishment is truly alarmed that the two parties said they'll seek to undo the previous government's economic reforms, which have kept Italy firmly anchored to the EU. The two parties also vow to pursue a grab bag of other populist economic policies, including a guaranteed basic income and a flat income tax, that terrify establishment politicians.
As a result, Italy will likely call for a new parliamentary election in the fall, with a lot of market chaos until then.
Jokes abound about Italy's fractious politics, for good reason. Since 1946, Italy has had 64 governments. And no, that's not a misprint. But, economically speaking, is Italy really that important?
"The country has the world's third largest sovereign debt market, after the U.S. and Japan, with total public debt of more than $2.5 trillion," wrote Desmond Lachmann, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former IMF official, this week. "A default, as would almost certainly happen were the Italian government's borrowing costs to increase on leaving the euro, would almost certainly spark a European banking crisis that would reach the U.S."
So the answer is yes.
Italy's economic struggle has been serious and protracted. Its per capita income is actually lower today than it was when it entered the eurozone in 1999, even as the world economy has expanded strongly. Its debt-to-GDP ratio now stands at 133%. Among all EU nations, only Greece's debt ratio is higher.
Meanwhile, Italy's banking system stands on shaky legs, with 15% of all loans outstanding classified as nonperforming. With virtually no economic growth and a financial system on the verge of collapse, Italy is in deep trouble.
If the EU's economy freezes up because of Italy's political turmoil, we'll feel it here. U.S. exports will decline, tourism will plunge, currencies will make volatile moves, and currency flows will be large and unpredictable. The U.S. may benefit from this in the short run, but not for long.
Italy: Will Fed React?
While our markets digest this bad news, the Fed may rethink raising interest rates four times this year. Fed futures contracts show a drop in the probability of four rate hikes this year from about 45% to below 15% on Wednesday.
This should serve as a reminder that many of the troubled and dysfunctional European Union's members are effectively fiscally insolvent. That includes Italy. They've benefited greatly from the era of zero and negative interest rates, but now rising rates threaten that. As rates rise, country after country will experience pain.
Until the EU sorts out its bad finances, the U.S. will be in danger from its financial difficulties. We saw that in 2010 on a smaller scale with Greece, which is only one-tenth the size of Italy.
Maybe the EU's unelected policymakers should stop their gratuitous insults of President Trump and focus on their own incompetent stewardship instead. Italy is big enough to bring the whole house down.
As for the U.S., our policymakers should do nothing to make the EU's plight worse. It will only come back to hurt us.
The bigger lesson is, we weathered Greece's crisis, but may not be so lucky this time. Maybe we should start cleaning our own fiscal house, too.
Economy: Have Donald Trump's policies had a big impact on the U.S. economy and its competitiveness? The answer, we think, is an obvious yes. Now comes a new report, based mainly on "hard" data, that confirms that.
The report comes from the IMD Competitiveness Center in Switzerland. Each year it ranks countries by 256 different variables to come up with its global competitiveness rankings.
For 2018, there was a surprise: The U.S. leapt three places to take over the top spot in global competitiveness — just ahead of Hong Kong, Singapore, the Netherlands and Switzerland. That jump was based on its "strength in economic performance and infrastructure," ranking first in both areas.
That this is so shouldn't shock anyone with any knowledge of what's going on in the economy.
Since Trump took office, GDP growth has averaged 2.9%, up from 2% under President Obama. Unemployment now stands at 3.9%, and jobless rates for African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics are at or near all-time lows.
Inflation, at about 2%, remains under control. Business investment is surging, and a big reason for that is that corporate taxes are low, thanks to Trump's tax cuts.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to slash away at the thicket of regulations that strangles the U.S. economy, costing us collectively nearly $2 trillion a year. All of this has helped to fuel an economic renaissance of sorts. U.S. households are $7.1 trillion richer since Trump entered office, thanks to rising share prices and strong real estate markets.
Just to be clear, we're not citing this one report as a be-all and end-all for competitiveness or even for the fate of the economy. Nor are we in the forecasting business.
But others are, and among them have been some of Trump's fiercest critics. To read what they wrote and said, the U.S. returning to No. 1 in competitiveness wouldn't just be unlikely — it would be impossible.
Just last November, for instance, a blog post on the Economic Policy Institute's website informed us that "Republican tax plan will reduce American competitiveness." That was, to be kind, wide of the mark.
Similarly, the liberal Brookings Institution opined in March of last year that "Trump's 'America First' budget will leave the economy running behind." Didn't happen.
Going back even further, many economists and pundits were wrong — dead wrong — about Trumponomics. But to this day they can't bring themselves to admit it. Imprisoned by the illogic of their own liberal ideology, they all saw not just failure, but instant disaster. They still do.
We've run the following quotes in IBD before, but in light of this new report they bear repeating:
"We are probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight," said New York Times columnist and Nobelist Paul Krugman, just one day after Trump won the election.
"Under Trump, I would expect a protracted recession to begin within 18 months. The damage would be felt far beyond the United States," said Larry Summers, the former top economist for Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, speaking in the summer of 2016.
"If the unlikely event happens and Trump wins you will see a market crash of historic proportions," agreed MSNBC's Steve Rattner, a former Obama administration official, speaking in October of 2016.
3% Growth Is Possible
As we said, when it comes to the economy, past performance is no guarantee of future results. And sure, Trump or Congress or the Fed could make big mistakes that would cause an economic hiccup or even a recession.
But let's focus on policies, not personalities, and facts, not opinions, when it comes to performance. And in doing so, by any economic measure you might make, the U.S. is doing better today than it was when Trump was elected.
Moreover, Trump might be on the verge of another big win over his critics in the media and economics profession.
Recall that when Trump promised 3% growth, he was roundly criticized and even ridiculed for what many claimed was pie-in-the-sky political hyperbole. Some even said such growth would be impossible.
But, as we noted, GDP growth has averaged 2.9% since Trump moved into the White House, just a hair under 3%. If the Atlanta Fed's GDP "Nowcast" — which uses current data to make up-to-date forecasts — is correct, 2018's second quarter could see growth of as much as 4%.
That would push average growth above 3% for Trump's term. If so, that would be yet another "crazy" idea that Trump had that turned out to be true.
While all those dire prognostications we mentioned proved false, the media continue to quote those who made them uncritically.
It seems that among the media and the Beltway and coastal elites, no distortion of Trump's many successes ever gets corrected — only repeated. And facts are never acknowledged — only ignored or distorted.
Trump Derangement Syndrome: Over the long weekend, President Trump's critics were in a sputtering rage over his supposedly losing 1,500 illegal immigrant children, sticking them in cages, and putting others on specially equipped prison buses. Turns out, it was all 100% bogus.
On Sunday, photos of children laying inside a chain-link fence cage starting flying around the internet. New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein forwarded it to his followers, saying that "all of these photos are disturbing, but the first two are especially awful."
CNN's Hadas Gold described the pictures as "First Photos of separated migrant children at holding facility."
Outrage quickly followed.
"This is happening right now," said former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau. "Speechless. This is not who we are as a nation," said Antonio Villaraigosa, who is running for California governor. Actress Rosanna Arquette called it a "sick crime against Humanity"
Turns out the photos were taken in 2014 — when, ahem, President Obama was in the White House, a fact that nobody bothered to check before blowing a gasket. Once word of that fact got out, many of these same people deleted their tweets, rather than admit that the "sick crime" happened under their beloved Obama.
Next, there was a picture showing a bus outfitted with child safety seats being used at an ICE family detention center in Karnes County, Texas. ABC Houston reporter Antonio Arellano tweeted the picture on Sunday, describing it as "a prison bus just for babies."
Again, outrage ensued.
"Unconscionable and inhumane, "said Texas Sen. Sylvia Garcia. "This is what we've come to under Donald Trump," said Stephen King. Others tweeted: "your new gestapo at work," "this is what fascism looks like," "we live in a dark period of American history," "moral abomination." Etc., etc.
Oops. Turns out this picture, too, was taken when Obama was president. And, the bus was actually used to take the children on field trips to places like the San Antonio Zoo, a nearby park, the movies, as well as for medical treatment and court appointments.
So much for the Trump-era inhumane prison bus for babies.
Finally, there was the story flying around over the weekend about how the Trump administration had "lost" almost 1,500 illegal immigrant children who'd been "ripped" from their parents after crossing the border.
That sparked yet out another round of hair-pulling outrage.
"What is more shameful than forcibly separating, in America, parents from infant children at the border? And then, losing track of those children?" Preet Bhara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, tweeted.
Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro said that "when I think about the 1500 lost children … I come back to the same thought: If we can't stop this in America we can't stop it anywhere."
Turns out the children hadn't been "forcibly" taken away from their parents, and they weren't lost, either.
As the New York Times explained on Monday, these children didn't come across the southwest border with their parents, they came across illegally on their own. As the Times explains, the children in question are part of the government's long-standing relocation program for "unaccompanied alien children," in which the children get released to sponsor families.
'Lost' By Obama
Back in 2008, the inspector general for the Health and Human Services department noted that HHS and Homeland Security weren't regularly checking in on these children to make sure they were doing OK with their sponsor families. So, HHS started following up with the sponsors 30 days after the children's release.
But, as the IG noted in a follow-up July 2017 report, HHS doesn't always succeed in its attempts to reach the sponsors. It reported that in the first half of 2016, HHS couldn't reach 16% of the 25,975 children placed with sponsors during those months.
In other words, under President Obama, the government "lost" 4,156 illegal immigrant children in just the first six months of 2016!
Anyone recall anyone complaining about the inhumanity of this when it was happening under Obama? Of course not.
Trump's critics are increasingly behaving like reckless, irresponsible, childish, hate-filled, divisive, uninformed scaremongers who will believe anything that makes Trump look bad. In other words, they are showing themselves to be everything they accuse Trump of being.
A Democrat-dominated Congress passed it in 2010 with only a few Republican votes. The new law exerted unprecedented and sweeping controls over U.S. consumer financial markets — even though the consumer financial industry wasn't implicated at all in the 2008-09 financial crisis.
To begin with, it cuts the number of rules imposed on small banks and credit unions, who have been crushed by the cost of Obama-era financial rules, which favor the big banks.
It also makes it easier for banks to underwrite less-risky mortgages, as long as banks bear part of the risk. And it takes the government's foot off the pedal of financial company onerous bank and financial company supervision, which cost billions but did little to make financial firms more stable.
In the end, what many had hoped would be the complete repeal of Dodd-Frank, became only a partial reform. It was entirely due to the way Congress works: Republicans wanted a much bigger reform bill, but Democrats wouldn't go along.
So compromises were made by the GOP, yielding 33 moderate Democrat votes in the House and 16 in the Senate. Because the Senate requires at least 60 votes to pass most legislation without challenge on the floor, it was either compromise or there would be no bill. So Republicans compromised.
The Economist news magazine called the reforms "timid." And former Rep. Barney Frank, whose name is on the Dodd-Frank law, acknowledged that legislation is now unlikely ever to be repealed in its entirety.
"The day that bill passes, that's the end of any significant legislation on Dodd-Frank," he said. "If the Democrats have the House, there will be no weakening whatsoever."
This was all made possible due to the 2008 election, that swept an unassailable Democratic majority into power for two years, during which they passed two of the great legislative disasters in U.S. history: ObamaCare, and Dodd-Frank.
Elections have consequences, as President Obama said. One sad consequence of the 2008 election is that we are still living with two awful laws, one that did nothing to improve health care and the other that made our financial system materially worse and less stable.
Monopoly: Calls to break up tech giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google have been increasing. But while the sentiment is understandable, the free market is far more likely to tame these giants without any government intervention.
We can remember when everyone was promising that the internet would unleash competition by lowering barriers to entry and often by cutting out the middle man. But in some ways the opposite has happened, as three companies wound up controlling the lion's share of online advertising and commerce.
That, in turn, has generated growing interest in breaking these companies up, or heavily regulating them as monopolies.
This past week, for example, a new coalition called "Freedom From Facebook" launched a petition calling on the Federal Trade Commission to spin off Facebook ( FB) subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger into competing networks.
"Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have amassed a scary amount of power," the group says. "It buys up or bankrupts potential competitors to protect its monopoly, killing innovation and choice."
Amazon ( AMZN) is also coming under fire for its sheer size — it is on track to become the first company in history to reach $1 trillion in value.
Bill Simon, the former CEO of Walmart, recently said that Congress should look into breaking up Amazon because it's "destroying jobs, and it's destroying value in the (retail) sector," adding for good measure that "it's anti-competitive, it's predatory, and it's not right."
New York University professor Scott Galloway argues that breaking up these and other big tech firms "could unleash another 20 to 30 years of unbelievable innovation and shareholder growth."
Calls to regulate and break up big companies are not new. In the 1990s, we heard the same claims made about Microsoft. It was too big and powerful and was hampering innovation, and the only solution was to break it up.
History shows there's a better, faster, more efficient and more direct way to deal with companies that are "too big." Let the free market work. Time and again, giants of industry get toppled not by government regulators, but by new disruptive competitors.
Sears in its heyday, for example, was essentially a combination of Walmart ( WMT) and Amazon. It had a massive retail presence, and a massive mail order catalog (the internet of the day) business. Today it is barely breathing.
The government never did break Microsoft up. But new competitors like Google ( GOOGL) and Apple ( APPL) fundamentally reshaped the marketplace in ways that severely hampered it.
Another way to look at it is this: Of the 500 companies that made the Fortune 500 list in 1955, only 53 remain on that list, notes economist Mark Perry.
Only two of the companies that ranked in the top 10 in 1955 are still on the list. And of the top 10 companies today, four didn't even exist in 1955.
It's a virtual certainty that decades from now, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and others will have gone the way of Microsoft or IBM or Sears or Zenith Electronics or Kodak or Bethlehem Steel. Once mighty companies brought to heel by a dynamic, ever changing and fiercely competitive market.
Singapore Summit: So President Trump cancelled his meeting with Kim Jong-un, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. A diplomatic disaster? No. Diplomacy, Trump-style. We'll now see what Kim's made of.
In pulling out of the meeting, Trump sent a formal letter that deployed surprisingly deft diplomatic reasoning.
"Based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting," Trump said in his letter. "Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but the detriment of the world, will not take place."
The letter came a day after North Korea's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui sharply criticized Vice President Mike Pence, calling him "ignorant" and "stupid" after Pence commented that North Korea risked ending up like Libya if it didn't make a nuclear deal with the U.S.
So it's off. A disaster? Hardly.
Now we will see whether Kim Jong-un, just as his grandfather Kim Il-sung and his father Kim Jong-il did, is playing the U.S. to win pre-summit concessions — or really is serious about seeking a nuclear rapprochement.
Trump was right to be wary.
In recent days, Kim shifted from a months-long charm-offensive to just plain offensive, abruptly cancelling a meeting with South Korea, complaining about routine U.S. military exercises in the region and seeking to remove North Korea's nuclear program from the summit agenda — despite that being the main reason for the summit in the first place.
Given the abrupt shift and increasing demands, Trump really had no choice.
As for Kim's claim to have destroyed a remote nuclear research site Wednesday in North Korea as a goodwill gesture to the U.S. and South Korea, he allowed only journalists and a handful of other foreigners in as observers — but no one with nuclear technical expertise to determine what really was being demolished, and whether it was of any consequence to Pyongyang's nuclear program at all.
How Kim Family Cheats
Trump's letter was, as we noted, carefully worded, and thanked Kim for releasing three Americans, which Trump called a "beautiful gesture." He left open the possibility of still meeting, but put the ball in Kim's court.
As American Enterprise Institute Fellow and North Korea expert Nicholas Eberstadt wrote on Wednesday, "these are standard North Korean shakedown techniques, honed to perfection by three generations of regime negotiators. Mr. Kim is probing for pre-emptive concessions before his big get-together with Mr. Trump. Such techniques have proved successful in the past, which is why today North Korea is for all intents and purposes a nuclear state."
They sign deals, get trade, aid and other assistance upfront, then cheat on the deals as soon as it's no longer in their immediate material interest.
And, no, this is not a partisan issue: They've done it with Democratic presidents and Republican ones alike.
This, by the way, helps explain why Trump was so eager to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal two weeks ago. That deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, was so weak and riddled with giveaways to the Iranian regime, that Trump, John Bolton and others in the administration no doubt felt it had to go.
As a long-time executive in the rough-and-tumble world of mega-project real estate development, Trump knows that sometimes the best move of all is to walk away from a bad deal. Make your opponent counter your offer. If not, it's not for you.
In the case of Kim, Trump's instincts were right. Maybe Kim will seek a summit. Maybe he won't. But Trump almost certainly will continue to make clear that a nuclear North Korea is not acceptable under any circumstance. And that failure to make a deal will have consequences.
Hypocrisy Watch: Democrats hope they've found an issue that will re-energize the fading "Blue Wave" with the recent spike in gas prices. Never mind that the increase is temporary. Or that Democrats have for years tried to force gas prices up — permanently — through various tax hikes.
According to the federal Energy Information Administration, average pump prices for regular gasoline hit $2.923 a gallon this week. That's up 55 cents compared with the same week last year, and the highest prices have been since November 2014.
Sen. Minority Leader Charles Schumer and other Democrats plan to use this price spike to blast President Trump and, hopefully, improve their election chances in November.
"President Trump's reckless decision to pull out of the Iran deal has led to higher oil prices," Schumer said. "These higher oil prices are translating directly to soaring gas prices, something we know disproportionately hurts middle and lower income people."
But Schumer, as well as the reporters covering him, should know that the high gas prices are the result of three factors that are beyond Trump's control.
One is the fact that OPEC has tightened its production quotas to counter the huge increase in U.S. oil production thanks to the fracking revolution. Trump has been trying to boost production still more.
The second is that refiners must change their gasoline formulas in the spring to accommodate EPA air quality regulations, which pushes up prices every year at this time. Blame environmentalists for that.
The third is increased demand, thanks to the growing economy here and abroad. Gasoline demand in the U.S. hit record levels in March, and AAA expects 5% more people traveling on Memorial weekend than last year. Memo to Democrats: That's a good thing.
Even so, prices today are still much lower than they were from 2011 to 2014, before accounting for inflation. And they are likely to subside by the fall as travel demand eases up.
But what's really rich is that Democrats are complaining about a temporary spike in gasoline prices after having spent years trying to force them up permanently.
As recently as 2015, Democrats were pushing to nearly double the federal gasoline tax. At the time, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that it was the perfect time to do so because "if there's ever going to be an opportunity to raise the gas tax, the time when gas prices are so low — oil prices are so low — is the time to do it."
Democrats in California pushed through a 12-cent-per-gallon hike in the state's gas tax last year that Republicans are vowing to roll back if they can.
Carbon Tax Sticker Shock
At the same time, Democrats have pledged to impose a tax on carbon emissions of around $50 per ton of CO2 — which would go up each year at a rate faster than inflation — to combat " climate change."
Schumer himself promised to enact a carbon tax if Hillary Clinton won and Democrats regained control of the Senate in the 2016 elections.
Well, guess what? A carbon tax of that magnitude would sharply raise gasoline prices. A report out of the University of Michigan last fall concluded that a carbon tax of $40 per ton would hike gasoline prices by 36 cents a gallon.
Where was Schumer's concern about working families then?
This is to say nothing of the Democrats' endless drive to punish the oil industry either through windfall profits taxes or by stripping them of tax breaks available to other industries. Or their continued push to keep vast oil reserves off limits to drillers.
For Schumer and his fellow Democrats to now complain about high gasoline prices is, dare we say it, the height of hypocrisy and politics at its most craven.
SpyGate: Did the Obama administration spy on the Donald Trump campaign because it feared Russian hacking of the 2016 election? Or was it merely a smokescreen to cover up the real reason: to keep Trump from winning the presidency or take him down if he did?
As the saying goes, timing is everything. Recent revelations keep pushing back the beginning of the CIA and FBI investigation into "Russian hacking" or "meddling" in the 2016 election further and further in time.
This is significant, since the farther back in time the actual origin of the spying on Trump, the less likely it is that it had anything to do with Russian involvement in the 2016 elections, but everything to do with stopping the surprising surge of Trump during the GOP primaries and beyond.
Increasingly, a political motive seems not only likely, but almost certain.
In a recent piece that warrants a thorough reading, Andrew C. McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney who now writes for the National Review, painstakingly dismantles the multiple lies told about how and when the spying on Trump began.
There is what he calls "The Original Origination Story" that involves little-known Trump adviser Carter Page. He visited Moscow in July 2016, three months after hooking on to the Trump campaign.
According to former MI6 British spy Christopher Steele's now infamous dossier on Trump, Page's trip was when the alleged Trump-Russia plan to hack the Democratic National Committee was born.
The only problem is, the Steele dossier has been exposed as a fanciful product of the Clinton campaign and the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which hired Steele. And the main assertions were based on hearsay from Russian officials, and never validated.
Even so, the FBI and Justice Department used the dossier to apply to the FISA court to tap Page's communications and, as a result, much of the rest of the Trump campaign.
In doing so, the FBI broke its own rules and, worse, the Obama Justice Department withheld the fact from the FISA court that the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee were responsible for the dossier.
Then there was what McCarthy calls "Origination Story 2.0."
This involves George Papadopoulos, a young, also little-known Trump aide. At a May 2016 meeting in a London pub, he told Australian diplomat Alexander Downer about an academic named Josef Mifsud with Kremlin ties who told Papadopoulos that the Kremlin had a huge number of emails that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton.
Democrats point to this as proof that Trump had colluded to hack the DNC. But as McCarthy notes, there's a major flaw in that logic: "If Russia already had the emails and was alerting the Trump campaign to that fact, the campaign could not have been involved in the hacking."
Moreover, Democrats insist Mifsud's comments about emails referred to the DNC emails that were, in fact, hacked by Russians.
But that's not the case. Papadopoulos has said he thought Mifsud was talking about the more than 30,000 emails that Hillary Clinton "accidentally" had deleted from her illegal unsecured home email server.
So if those didn't set up the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, what did?
In fact, says McCarthy, the real origin of the investigation appears to have been in Spring of 2016, before Papadopoulos' conversation with the Australian ambassador in May and also before Page's visit to Moscow in July.
It started with James Comey briefing President Obama's National Security Council about Carter Page, likely sometime in mid-Spring.
Why? Well, both Page and Paul Manafort, another Trump adviser, had business ties to Russia, which, perhaps justifiably, concerned the FBI.
But rather than telling the Trump campaign about their concerns, or even moving against the Russians, the Justice Department and the FBI starting treating Trump's campaign like a criminal enterprise.
Instead of continuing to interview Page, or Manafort, or Papadopoulos, they inserted a spy, Stefan Halper, in the campaign, and tapped its phones. It had the earmarks of a political hit, not an actual investigation.
As for the CIA, another line of inquiry finds they also were busy early on pursuing Trump.
George Neumayr, writing in The American Spectator, notes that CIA Director John Brennan used the flimsy excuse of a tip from the Estonian intelligence agency that Putin was giving money to the Trump campaign to form an "inter-agency taskforce" on supposed Trump-Russia collusion in 2016. It met at CIA headquarters, spy central.
The Estonian tip didn't pan out, but the task force remained.
"Both before and after the FBI's official probe began in late July 2016," wrote Neumayr, "Brennan was bringing together into the same room at CIA headquarters a cast of Trump haters across the Obama administration whose activities he could direct — from Peter Strzok, the FBI liaison to Brennan, to the doltish (Director of National Intelligence) Jim Clapper, Brennan's errand boy, to an assortment of Brennan's buddies at the Treasury Department, Justice Department, and White House."
It eventually led, on July 31, 2016, to the creation FBI's "Crossfire Hurricane" program to spy against the Trump campaign.
What we're discovering is that the investigations and spying on the Trump campaign for evidence of possible collusion with Russia appear to have begun well before the CIA and FBI said they did.
And it all arose from progressive, pro-Hillary embeds deep within the Deep State and at the top of key Obama agencies, people who could use their positions of supposed Olympian objectivity to mask their political bias — and to ignore years of evidence that Hillary Clinton had colluded with the Russians for her own financial benefit.
As McCarthy concluded: "The Trump-Russia investigation did not originate with Page or Papadopoulos. It originated with the Obama administration."
Health Reform: For three years running, the uninsured rate has remained unchanged, new government data show. That means, despite massive taxpayer costs, ObamaCare is tapped out. It's time to try something better.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the overall uninsured rate last year was 9.1%, the same as it was in 2015.
If you take out retirees, who are automatically covered by Medicare, the uninsured rate was 10.7% last year, up a fraction from 10.5% in 2015.
The uninsured rate for the near poor hasn't budged in three years. And it's climbed for those characterized by the CDC as "not poor." It went from 6.6% in 2015 to 7.2% in 2017.
(Gallup, which surveys far fewer households than the CDC, has shown the uninsured rate climbing in 2017.)
ObamaCare defenders are quick to say that these numbers are still well below where they were in 2010, the year President Obama signed ObamaCare into law. And that's true. The overall uninsured rate in 2010 was 16%. Even if you go back to 2007 — the last year before the recession — it was 14.5%.
But, the CDC data also show that, despite all the hoopla over how ObamaCare would "fix" the private insurance market, all the gains in coverage under ObamaCare came from getting more people on Medicaid.
In other words, it was ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion that did all the work of reducing the uninsured rate, not the guaranteed issue rules, benefit mandates, the multibillion dollar ObamaCare exchanges, the failed co-op experiments, the insurance bailouts, or the tens of billions of dollars each year premium subsidies.
Here are the numbers (we use 2007 data for comparison because it was the peak year before the recession, and unemployment rate was around 4.5%):
CDC data show that the uninsured rate among those under age 65 declined from 16.4% in 2007 to 12.4% in 2017.
However, over those same years the share covered by private insurance dropped from 66.8% to 65.4%.
The share with government insurance, meanwhile, shot up from 18.1% to 25.3%.
If all ObamaCare did was expand Medicaid, it almost certainly would have achieved the same reduction in uninsured.
That's not to say the Medicaid expansion was a good idea. Medicaid's problems with fraud and abuse, doctor shortages, and budget-busting costs are legion. One very large study found that the health of those on Medicaid wasn't significantly better than those who lacked insurance altogether. Medicaid is in desperate need of reform, and ObamaCare opened the door to this disastrous program to millions more people.
At the same time, ObamaCare failed to "reform" the private insurance market. If anything, it exacerbated the problems. ObamaCare's mandates and regulations forced premiums in the individual insurance market through the roof, pricing many middle-class families out of the insurance market altogether.
So, if ObamaCare's combination of government regulation and huge taxpayer subsidies can't boost private coverage, then perhaps another approach would work better.
Say, for example, reforms that rely on private sector competition to keep health costs low and quality high — just like it does in every other part of the economy. That means less federal regulation, not more, more options for cheap insurance, not less, and more incentives for consumers to economize on their health care spending.
Republicans miserably failed to make the case for free market reforms in their last attempt at repealing ObamaCare. That doesn't mean they should stop trying. And now that ObamaCare's failures are plain for all to see, Republicans are in a stronger position than they were a year ago.
Growth: A new report shows that the median household income has climbed 3% since President Trump took office. It's another sign of a strong economy, and at least one poll shows the public credits Trump for the good news. Should Democrats wave bye to the Blue Wave?
Median household income has been steadily increasing under Trump, rising from $59,471 in January 2017 to $61,483 last month, according to Sentier Research, which tracks income on a monthly basis using census data.
This also means that household income is now higher than it's been in at least 50 years — after adjusting for inflation.
This is a sharp turnaround from the Obama years. Sentier data show that median household income was the same when President Obama left office as when he arrived. Under Obama, household incomes continued to fall steeply for two full years after the recession officially ended, and then took four years to make up that lost ground. Incomes then flatlined again, posting no overall gain between August 2015 and December 2016.
This is just another indication that the economy has notably strengthened under Trump. And polls show that the public's mood has brightened considerably as a result.
Gallup's tracking poll shows that 67% now say it's a good time to find "a quality job in the U.S.," which is the highest since Gallup started asking this question 17 years ago. The best this measure ever got under Obama was a paltry 45%.
CNN's poll finds that 57% now say "things are going well in the U.S.," up from just 49% in February.
The latest CBS News/YouGov poll found that 64% rate the economy as somewhat or very good.
Wave Bye To The Blue Wave?
But what must really concern Democrats is that 68% of the public now says Trump's policies deserve at least some of the credit, according to the CBS poll. Thirty-five percent say he deserves a "great deal" of credit for the current economy, while only 11% say he deserves none at all.
That same poll found the Democratic advantage in the "generic ballot" at only +2 points. The latest Reuters poll has Republicans up by almost 6 points. As recently as March, Democrats had an average 9-point lead on this question — which is seen as an indicator of the enthusiasm for the two parties going into the midterm elections in November.
Trump's approval numbers have also been eking out steady gains.
Naturally, this spate of good news has garnered little attention in the press, which remains fixated on the phony Russia scandal and, more broadly, on bringing down the Trump administration.
So, does Trump deserve credit for the upturn in the economy?
Consider this: President Obama raised taxes, imposed massive new regulations and mandates, and routinely berated the private sector. The economy responded with the worst economic recovery in modern times.
Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have gone in the exact opposite direction, with sweeping tax cuts and significant deregulation. And since then we've seen growth, income, optimism all moving upward.
Given that, we think the public has it right for giving Trump credit for this turnaround.
Iran Nukes: While all the hoopla over Deep-State spying on President Trump gets the media attention, something else important happened this week: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, not even one month on the job, unveiled a new U.S. strategy to deal with Iran.
What's significant is that the new strategy is a complete reversal of the make-nice policies that prevailed under President Obama. Gone are the gentle nudges intended to cause marginal shifts in Iran's behavior; instead, the new strategy boldly aims for regime change in Iran. Whether it works or not, it is a worthwhile goal.
In a major speech that didn't get the attention it deserved, Pompeo, speaking at the Heritage Foundation, made clear the strategy followed will be very different than President Obama's 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which only focused on a temporary, 10-year halt to Iran's nuclear weapons activities — but didn't address the other things it does, including aiding terrorism around the world and destabilizing its neighbors in the Mideast.
Pompeo was admirably clear: If Iran ends its nuclear weapons program and halts its support of terrorism, the U.S. will help it with trade, aid and reintegrating it into the "international community."
If not, he said, "The sting of sanctions will be painful if the regime does not change its course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen to one that rejoins the league of nations."
He further warned of the "strongest sanctions in history" if Iran does not end its dangerous and threatening behavior.
"The regime has been fighting all over the Middle East for years," Pompeo said. "After our sanctions come in force, it will be battling to keep its economy alive."
Iran Regime Change
Hard words to be sure. But Obama's genial blandishments didn't change Iran's behavior; to the contrary, it became increasingly belligerent toward the west and its military and terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah have meddled in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere.
Iran had been pushed to the wall by sanctions in 2015. But the JCPOA deal, signed along with Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, eased sanctions and gave Tehran access to nearly $150 billion in badly needed cash.
The result, Pompeo said: "Iran continues to be, during the JCPOA, the world's largest sponsor of terror."
He listed 12 steps for Iran to rejoin the international community of nations, among them: It must halt its uranium enrichment program; shut down its heavy water reactor; let International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors verify changes in the nuclear program without any restrictions on where they go; stop making and testing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles; release U.S. citizens now in Iranian prisons; stop supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, Yemen's Houthis and the Taliban; withdraw from Syria; and stop threatening its neighbors.
Yes, quite a list. But as Pompeo rightly noted, "We didn't create the list, they did."
But the goal really extends beyond the list. Because it's clear from these actions, and from Pompeo's own words, that the U.S. is now really backing something else entirely: regime change. Iranians have been taking to the streets to demonstrate for more freedoms in recent months, including anti-hijab protests by women.
This contrasts sharply with the summer of 2009, when protesters spontaneously took to the streets across Iran and in Tehran, and the Obama administration said...nothing. It was a tragic failure of moral leadership on the part of the U.S. The Trump plan undoes that.
"At the end of the day, the Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership," Pompeo said. "If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful."
For nearly 40 years since the Iranian revolution, the U.S. has largely ignored some of Iran's worst behavior in an effort to buy nuclear peace. It didn't work. Now a new strategy is in place, one that will replace an unworkable "nuclear deal" of only 10 years in duration with a lasting treaty that's meant to last forever.
Iran is an ancient civilization, and its people deserve their freedom. At the very least, the U.S. and the West should stop colluding in the Iranian peoples' oppression. This plan is a much-needed first step.
Political Spying: As Robert Mueller's chimerical Russia-Trump collusion probe grinds on, a real possible crime has been revealed: the collusion between the Justice Department, the FBI, the Clinton campaign and, possibly, the Obama administration, to plant a spy in the Trump campaign.
The revelation made Trump livid, and rightly so, as his tweet on Sunday afternoon plainly showed: "I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the (FBI and Department of Justice) infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political purposes — and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!"
Both the New York Times and Washington Post knew the professor's name, but coyly decided not to reveal it, citing intelligence officials' warnings that to do so would might endanger him or other intelligence contacts.
The Daily Caller's Ross, using Google and the copious information about the "informant" in the Times and Post pieces, was easily able to identify Halper.
The debate over semantics of how to refer to Halper is amusing, but serious. Trump-hating mainstream media, echoing the FBI's and Justice Department's preferred term, call Halper an "informant," not a "spy."
The FBI, it was reported last week, even had a name for the larger program of spying on the Trump campaign: "Operation Crossfire Hurricane," cribbed from the Rolling Stones hit "Jumpin' Jack Flash." As part of this, now we know they had at least one spy in the Trump campaign.
As the New York Times reported, the project began in earnest in August 2016 "after the CIA director at the time, John O. Brennan, shared intelligence with Mr. (James) Comey showing that the Russian government was behind an attack on the 2016 presidential election. Intelligence agencies began collaborating to investigate that operation. The Crossfire Hurricane team was part of that group but largely operated independently, three officials said."
Despite repeated denials, the CIA and FBI were using Russian meddling in the election as an excuse to have Halper spy on the Trump campaign. A long-time CIA asset who worked for the Nixon administration, Halper was the son-in-law of former CIA Deputy Director Ray Cline, and still directs the Cambridge Security Initiative, a "non-profit" intelligence consultancy that Ross noted "lists 'UK and US government agencies' among its clients."
Halper is also a close colleague of Sir Richard Dearlove, formerly the head of Britain's MI6 spy agency.
Hmmm. Halper was the r ecipient of more than $400,000 in payments from the Department of Defense's Office of Net Assessment (ONA) — an internal Defense intelligence think tank — from July of 2016 to September 2017, after Halper spied on Trump campaign officials George Papadopoulos and Carter Page.
Halper's "unmasking" as the mole in Trump's campaign raises many questions.
Were those legitimate payments from ONA for past research, or was it used to pay for espionage services rendered to the Deep State? If the latter, it would be a gross violation of U.S. law.
More troubling are Halper's extensive intelligence links. As a dual U.S.-British citizen and his close ties to both British and U.S. intelligence, did he task British assets to spy on Trump?
Was Britain's government a party to this? Did it know about Crossfire Hurricane? Or that Halper was spying on the Trump campaign? If so, it would not be the act of an ally.
In addition, what role did Halper play, if any, in engaging former British MI6 Russian spy Christopher Steele? Did Halper haven anything to do with getting Russian officials to make phony claims about Trump for his "dossier" in order to taint the Trump campaign?
Far more seriously, was this coordinated from the Obama administration through the State Department, Justice Department and FBI, to aid the Clinton campaign and salvage President Obama's legacy?
As Sara Carter has reported, "The House Select Committee on Intelligence is now investigating former Secretary of State John F. Kerry's possible role into the unverified dossier paid for by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton Campaign...The dossier, assembled by a former British spy, laid the foundation for the FBI's investigation into alleged collusion between President Trump and Russia and was the essential piece of evidence used by the FBI to get a warrant to spy on a former volunteer for the Trump campaign."
Are former CIA Director John Brennan's and former FBI chief James Comey's recent bizarre veiled threats toward Republicans in Congress and Trump himself desperate acts to escape the coyote trap of their own criminality?
It's already pretty clear that Comey lied to Congress. His deputy at the FBI, Andrew McCabe, testified that Comey cleared him to leak to the media, after Comey told Congress in sworn testimony that he did no such thing.
Former IBD reporter Paul Sperry, writing for Real Clear Investigations, notes that the CIA's Brennan appears, at least, to have been caught in an outright lie to Congress by denying that the Steele dossier had anything to do with the FBI's and CIA's conclusion that Russia's meddling was intended to help Trump in 2016.
Brennan also lied when he said he didn't know who was behind the Steele dossier, even though both the Justice Department and FBI knew a year earlier that Hillary Clinton, Trump's foe, had paid for the Steele hit job. The idea Brennan, head of the world's most powerful spy agency, didn't know who was paying for the dossier simply isn't credible on any level.
Brennan may now face perjury charges, and so may Comey.
But the greater question now arises, as it did in Watergate: What did President Obama know, and when did he know it? Did he deploy U.S. intelligence resources to keep Trump from being elected? Did he know about the spy in the Trump campaign, and the bogus dossier used to tarnish Trump?
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, has been seeking answers from Obama administration officials about their role in the Trump fiasco, while demanding documents from a so-far recalcitrant Justice Department about spying on Trump.
Meanwhile, responding to President Trump's Sunday tweet, FBI Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein on Monday directed the department's inspector general to determine "whether there was any impropriety or political motivation" in the FBI's investigation.
If so, it is not a mere political trick, but a gross violation of the law. Richard Nixon never got involved in the political chicanery; but he tried to cover it up, and lost his presidency.
This is far more serious, both legally and ethically. Obama, if he or his top White House aides knew and participated in these illegal acts of spying on a domestic political campaign, might possibly be charged with abuse of power. Yes, a crime.
The people involved would — or at least should — go to prison. And that, in turn, could lead to the ultimate irony: Obama asking Trump for a pardon.
Scandalous Media Bias: There have been two major ongoing investigations involving President Trump. One is looking into whether Trump colluded with Russia. It's borne no fruit. The other involves abuse of power at the highest levels of government to hurt Trump and is producing damning evidence by the bushel. Guess which one the press is ignoring?
Why, he asked, aren't reporters actively investigating the suspicious activities at the Justice Department and the FBI regarding the Trump/Russia and Hillary/email investigations?
Fund says the reporter "bluntly told me 'There's only room for one narrative on all this. And it's all about Trump.' "
You might think that reporters are chasing facts wherever they might lead, and "speaking truth to power," especially when that power involves the CIA, FBI and Justice Department.
Instead, it's all about the "narrative."
And when it comes to the Russia story, the only narrative the press will consider is that Trump somehow colluded with Russia to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. Or if not that, he did something illegal or improper that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will ferret out.
Anything that doesn't fit this narrative gets dismissed as conspiracy talk, fueled by conservatives and Trump supporters, to distract attention from the "real" story.
Here's how Vox.com — a site putatively devoted to "explaining" the news — put it:
"Trump and his allies, most notably House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes as well as major conservative media outlets, have long sought to create a counternarrative to the Russia scandal."
But even Vox's attempt to dismiss this "counternarrative" shows why it's very real and troubling. As it says, the threads involve "criticism of the FBI's use of the Steele dossier, a focus on text messages exchanged between two key FBI officials, and the Nunes memo's argument that Carter Page was a victim of 'FISA abuse.' " Vox doesn't bother to mention the Clinton email scandal.
While Mueller has turned up no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, this "counternarrative" has led to: former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe fired for lying to investigators; Peter Strzok and Lisa Page booted off Mueller's team for virulently anti-Trump texts; Deputy Assistant AG Bruce Ohr demoted after contacts with a Trump oppo-research firm came to light; the quitting of former Deputy Assistant AG David Laufman, who played a key role in both the Russia and Clinton email investigations; and FBI general counsel James Baker reassigned after evidence emerged that he'd been in contact with leftist reporter David Corn.
In other words, while the Mueller investigation sputters along, the evidence of political abuse at the FBI and Justice is piling up.
This "counternarrative" also has uncovered the fact that the FBI had a spy in the Trump campaign, and that the FBI has not been entirely forthcoming about how the Trump investigation got started, or when.
Alan Dershowitz — by no means a Trump ally — said over the weekend that the revelation that the FBI had an informant in the Trump campaign is "worth investigation." (To which ABC News' George Stephanopoulos responded: "It sounds like you're in league with President Trump on impeaching the credibility at this point of the special counsel.")
The 'Counternarrative' Is Real
It's also worth pointing out that while Trump officials have been, by most accounts, reasonably forthcoming with the Mueller investigation, congressional inquiries into the FBI's handling of the Clinton email and Russia probes have been, and still are being, met with stonewalling by government officials.
Even some Democrats are starting to notice that the "counternarrative" deserves more attention that it's getting.
Yet the press still shows only grudging interest, at best, in any of this because it doesn't fit their anti-Trump narrative.
It reminds us of the story about the cub reporter who is sent to cover a routine meeting of the local town council. The reporter later returns to the newsroom without a story. When the editor asks why there's no story, the reporter responds: "I couldn't get to the government building because a massive train wreck blocked the street."
A good reporter, or at least one who isn't hopelessly biased, would be able to see that the real story isn't the go-nowhere Mueller investigation, but the more troubling story of abuse of power by Obama administration officials to protect Hillary Clinton and then derail the Trump presidency.
Tax Cuts: When Republicans were putting together their tax reform plan last year, a chorus of critics warned that it would devastate state budgets. Like so many other claims, this turned out to be false.
The New York Times reported in November, for example, that "state and local officials in high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and California are warning the tax plan will strain state budgets."
A "news analysis" in the Washington Post said the tax law would make "it harder for states and cities to pay their bills."
A widely cited National Education Association report claimed the GOP tax bill would "blow a nearly $250 billion hole in state and local revenue" that would put "nearly 250,000 education jobs at risk."
But once President Trump signed the tax reform into law, state budget officials started reporting that revenues will actually increase because of it.
New York's Department of Taxation and Finance, for example, reported in January that it expects tax revenues to go up by $1.1 billion in 2019 because of the tax law. This is a state, mind you, whose governor, Andrew Cuomo, described the tax bill as a "missile of destruction … aimed at New York."
Michigan figures revenues will be $1.7 billion higher in 2019. Georgia calculates that state revenues will climb by $5.2 billion over five years. Pennsylvania expects a $340 million bump over the next two years.
The reason for this windfall is that the tax bill expanded the tax base — by limiting or ending deductions — in exchange for lower income tax rates. In states that rely on federal tax law for their own income taxes, this can result in extra revenue if those states keep their income tax rates the same. (States could also get more tax revenue as tax reform boosts economic growth.)
Will States Cut Taxes?
To some extent, then, the tax cuts shifted a bit of the tax burden to the states. Is that a bad thing? Not if the states use the windfall to cut their own tax rates or reform their tax code.
Three states — George, Idaho and Iowa — have already done so. Iowa's bill, passed this month, will cut taxes by $2 billion over six years. Republicans in Minnesota — which expects to get a $416 million bump in 2019 — are pushing the state to cut tax rates for the first time since 2000. (There's been no word yet if Gov. Cuomo will return New York's windfall to its taxpayers.)
"The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act gives states an unexpected chance to improve their competitiveness," noted Jonathan Williams, chief economist at the American Legislative Exchange Council. "That is the untold story of federal tax reform."
Given the amount of other misinformation peddled by critics of the GOP tax cuts, we're not surprised that nobody knows about this fact, either.
Internet: The Senate has voted to raise net neutrality from the dead, a very bad idea. Worse, the 52-47 margin of victory included three Republicans who should know better. We hope it dies in the House.
"Net neutrality" is one of those brilliant marketing gimmicks that passes as something that enhances equality and freedom, but in fact destroys it.
President Obama's Federal Communications Commission in 2015 imposed net neutrality, requiring internet service providers to treat all internet traffic the same. Sure, that sounds good, even democratic, but it isn't. In fact, most economists agree, it will lead to slower times for everything, less internet innovation and, ultimately, higher prices for consumers.
That's a good idea?
Thankfully, late last year, Trump's FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai let common sense prevail and overturned net neutrality. Like a zombie, it's now returned, thanks to foolish politicians who think Washington, not the marketplace, should decide how the internet is run, what prices they can charge, and what services they can provide. Heavy-handed regulation at its worst.
Last week, 49 Senate Democrats and three Republicans passed what's called a " resolution of disapproval," which will let Congress reimpose net neutrality, if both houses agree. It's a bad idea for a number of reasons.
One, the internet's astonishing record of innovation and advancement — including making the leap from crude dial-up internet services to full-on streaming of movies, games, information, graphics and other content — took place during the non-net neutrality era. It's no accident.
Yes, ISPs treat a movie you're streaming differently from a text you're downloading. But that's only common sense. To give both the exact same priority would make it nearly impossible to have, say, high quality movie streaming on Netflix or Amazon. Do you really want to give that up?
Two, net neutrality rules keep internet service companies from figuring out how best to use their networks and what prices they should charge for their services. In essence, they impose price and content controls on the internet, discouraging future investment.
What net neutrality does is reimpose the kinds of innovation-stifling regulations on the internet that were imposed on the Ma Bell phone network for decades. Those telephone regulations led to decades of stifled innovation, high prices and poor service, until the regulated monopoly was broken up by court order in 1982.
The dead hand of government regulation will not promote competition, better services or lower prices. That only happens when market participants can respond to market demand and price their services accordingly. The House is expected to reject the bill, and we urge them to do so. If not, President Trump should veto it.
Big Left Turn: Are socialists becoming the new Democratic Party mainstream? After candidates endorsed by the socialist party won nomination battles for state legislative seats in Pennsylvania and far-left progressives triumphed over moderates elsewhere, the answer seems to be yes.
Four — count 'em, four — candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists of America won spots on the ballot during this week's primary elections in the Keystone State. Two of them won't even be opposed by a Republican in the general election.
Some are writing it off as a fluke, a local aberration, but it isn't. Increasingly, the national Democratic Party is being California-ized — pushed to the far left on issues ranging from single-payer health care, an open border and tax hikes to hostility toward Israel, opposition to the Second Amendment, and a loathing of the U.S. military.
As for those who say local elections often have kookier, more extreme candidates, Ed Morrissey of Hot Air has this rejoinder: "One could just as easily ask why Democrats couldn't find successful candidates that hewed closer to Tim Ryan than Bernie Sanders for those seats."
Morrisey notes that other states similarly had political upsets of moderate Democrats by far-left candidates, including Idaho, Nebraska and Oregon. So it's not just a narrow regional phenomenon.
Speaking of socialist Bernie Sanders, his campaign in 2016 seems to have opened the way for the mainstreaming of socialism in the Democratic Party.
That's quite a change, given that just 10 years ago Democrats insisted on their moderate bona fides and recoiled from being called "liberal."
But this has been happening for some time. As has been well chronicled, America's public schools and universities have been turned far-left in their curriculum and teaching, with extreme political correctness and the enraged shaming of conservatives as the only real behavioral guidelines remaining.
Sadly, a mere 28 years after the collapse of communism, a new generation of youth not then born or too young to understand it see that epochal event as ancient history, irrelevant to their new understanding of the world.
They do not understand that the topping of communism wasn't merely a repudiation of the gerontocratic rulers of communism, but of the very idea of socialism.
The basic findings weren't too surprising: 48% described themselves as politically moderate, while 25% said they conservative and 17% liberal. Those who called themselves both socially and fiscally conservative made up just 6% of the population.
But here's the bombshell: Of those queried, four out of 10 adults said they preferred socialism to capitalism. That's 40%. This is what irrational hatred of Donald Trump has wrought.
"It ought to set off alarm bells among more traditionally-oriented leaders across the nation," said ACFI Executive Director George Barna.
It seems even among adults, the lessons of the Cold War and of more than 100 years of tragic socialist history have been entirely lost.
Let's start with these two stark facts:
First, there has never been a successful socialist government in history. None. Everywhere socialist precepts are put in place, poverty, loss of freedom and rights, and societal decline inevitably follow. Collapse is a frequent result.
Second, socialist governments are murderous. According to the " Black Book of Communism," written by French former Marxist Stephane Courtois, socialist regimes killed over 100 million people during the 20th century. No other ideology or "ism" came close to that blood-soaked record.
Whether it's the USSR, China, Cuba, Vietnam, the former East Germany, North Korea, Laos, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Venezuela or any of the other failed experiments in socialism, it's never worked anywhere. It's led only to misery, deprivation, government control and a loss of basic human rights.
Socialist regimes always start off with high ideals, promising "free" this, and "free" that — education, health care, whatever. But as their ideas fail, they inevitably resort to compulsion, and eventually torture, political "re-education," imprisonment, exile and murder for those who disagree.
What's perhaps most surprising is that we have today yet another very clear example of the failure of socialism taking place in our own hemisphere: Venezuela.
The Washington Post, to its credit, toted up what has happened in Venezuela since socialism was imposed on the country with the world's largest oil reserves and a once-thriving middle class.
Venezuela's Bitter Lesson
"Since Maduro took over from Hugo Ch?vez — his mentor, who died in 2013 — Venezuela's crisis has steadily intensified as a result of lower oil prices, corruption and a socialist system plagued with mismanagement. But as Maduro has sought to further consolidate power in the past 12 months, the economy, public services, security and health care have all but collapsed.
"Armed gangs and Colombian guerrilla groups are operating unchecked on Venezuela's borders. Pro-government militias are terrorizing urban areas, while police stand accused of extrajudicial killings. Four of the 10 most dangerous cities in the world are now in Venezuela, according to a 2017 study by the Igarap? Institute, a Brazilian think tank that studies violence.
"Hundreds if not thousands of members of the armed forces are deserting, in part because of meager rations, according to military analysts. Power and water grids and the transportation systems are breaking down. In just the first three months of the year, Venezuela suffered 7,778 blackouts."
You might want to read the whole thing. It's just the latest try at socialism that ended in misery, soaring crime rates, unnecessary deaths from routine illnesses, the dissolution of civil society, and the collapse of national institutions. We call that Socialist Realism.
We wonder why those celebrities and politicians who in the past gave fawning and obsequious love to Venezuela's hated socialist leaders — including Sean Penn, Michael Moore and, yes, the clueless socialist Bernie Sanders — have suddenly gone mute?
Today, more than anything, the ideals of socialism are splitting this country apart. They're also splitting the Democratic Party apart, and damaging civil, reasoned discourse in our society. It's a shame, on a par with the hateful and bitter debate the presaged our Civil War.
It is a great, self-evident truth that socialism doesn't stack up against free-market capitalism when it comes to guaranteeing the universal and in-born rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As for those in America who think socialism is the answer, they are correct. But only if the question is: What one thing would end our precious experiment in democracy and republican government, leading to mass misery, impoverishment and even death?
Politics: Before President Trump even took the oath of office, constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe was calling for his impeachment. Tribe hasn't stopped since. But 20 years ago, Tribe was singing a different tune about impeachment when a lawbreaking Democrat was in the White House.
In early December, less than a month after Trump won the election, Tribe tweeted that impeachment should begin "on Inauguration Day."
Eight days after Inauguration Day, Tribe declared that Trump was already guilty of "shredding the Constitution more monstrously than any other President in American history."
He's since claimed Trump should be impeached and removed from office for his "cruel brand of bigotry and scapegoating," for "falsely" claiming that the Obama administration wiretapped his campaign, for a State Department blog post on Mar-a-Lago. Most recently, Trump should be removed for the simple reason that we don't like "what kind of nation will we have become" should he stay in office.
Now Tribe has written what looks like an "Impeachment for Dummies" guide should Democrats regain control of the House next year called "To End A Presidency: The Power Of Impeachment."
In it, and in an Op-Ed in USA Today, Tribe argues that even if Trump hasn't broken any laws doesn't mean he shouldn't be impeached.
"Criminal law is not a comprehensive list of acts that might imperil democracy if committed by the president," he writes in his Op-Ed. That's a fair point.
But it was the same Tribe who just 20 years ago was arguing that even though President Clinton had broken the law by perjuring himself, he shouldn't be removed from office.
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in 1998, Tribe argued that for an offense to be impeachable, it had to "severely threaten the system of government or constitute a grievous abuse of official power or both."
"Back then even murder was a close call in Tribe's eyes, if the president did the deed himself, for personal reasons," Healy notes, pointing to passages from Tribe's testimony, in which Tribe explains how Aaron Burr wasn't impeached after he killed Alexander Hamilton.
Tribe argued that Clinton's committing perjury wasn't impeachable because, basically, he was lying about a private matter. In this case, having sex with an intern in the Oval Office.
But even if what Clinton did was impeachable, Tribe seems to think he shouldn't have been removed.
In his book, Tribe quotes approvingly from a speech given by then-Sen. Robert Byrd on why Clinton should not be removed from office.
Even though Clinton broke his oath "to see to it that the laws be faithfully executed," Byrd said, and by doing so had "undermined the system of justice and law on which this Republic … has its foundation," and even though it was reasonable to view these as impeachable offenses, Senators should vote to acquit Clinton. Why? because of "the people's perception that this entire matter is being driven by political agendas."
Byrd said that removing Clinton under these circumstances would "only serve to further undermine a public trust that is too much damaged already." Byrd, he said, correctly understood that just because a president can be impeached, doesn't mean he should be impeached.
Tribe says elsewhere in his book that in the case of Clinton, "impeachment was misused by partisans opposed to the president but unable to identify a great offense against the nation."
Has it not occurred to Tribe — or anyone else who's been baying for Trump's removal for the past 17 months — that he is doing exactly the same thing today?
All the talk of impeaching Trump has been nakedly partisan, driven not by any "high crimes and misdemeanors," but by personal or political animus.
And since impeachment advocates haven't been able to find any "great offense" to the nation committed by Trump — other than his offending liberals — they've simply tossed anything and everything they can onto the impeachment pile.
Yet 56% of those following the Mueller investigation closely say that talk of impeaching Trump is premature, according to the latest IBD/TIPP Poll. Among independents, it's 58%; among Republicans, 88%.
Meanwhile, despite overwhelmingly negative coverage, Trump's approval ratings have been climbing. The public is more optimistic about the future. And the latest Gallup poll shows that satisfaction with the direction of the country is higher than it's been since 2005, and equal to the poll's 40-year average.
If Trump were impeached, there's little doubt that it would be seen by a significant portion of the country as a blatant attempt by Democrats to nullify an election on the flimsiest of terms.
Talk about undermining public trust.
We don't doubt Tribe's mastery of constitutional law. But by letting politics drive his impeachment views, Tribe makes himself look less like a legal scholar who deserves respect and more like a partisan hack who deserves none.
GDP Fraud: Countries ruled by an authoritarian regime often cheat on their official GDP data, a new study shows. No surprise, really. But how do we know this? Well, it's all about the light.
What do we mean? A new working paper by Luis R. Martinez of the University of Chicago with the amusing title " How Much Should We Trust the Dictator's GDP Estimates?" explores the unusual, but direct, link between the amount of light produced by an economy — as captured and measured through nighttime satellite photographs — and its GDP.
The surprising result: Martinez concludes that economies in authoritarian countries such as China and Russia are not as large as official estimates show. In fact, they're way below what they report.
"Based on the autocracy gradient," Martinez writes, "I estimate that yearly GDP growth rates are inflated by a factor of between 1.15 and 1.3 in the most authoritarian regimes. Correcting for manipulation substantially changes our understanding of comparative economic performance at the turn of the 21st century."
Take China, as the most outstanding example.
For years, it officially reported 10%-plus GDP growth each year, with that number declining only in recent years to just above 6%. That growth rate was enough, according to various reports, to make it the world's No. 1 economy when figured on a purchasing power of parity basis (PPP) — that is, what a dollar buys in China vs. what a dollar buys in the U.S.
And, several forecasts say it will challenge the U.S. for the No. 1 spot in the official, non-PPP GDP data, perhaps as soon as the next decade.
But is China really that big?
If Martinez is right, no. China's average GDP growth has been roughly 30% less than reported, based on the measures of its changes in national lighting. This would be an enormous shift in how we view China's economy.
(The same, by the way, is true for Russia. Its economy, similarly, is much smaller than official estimates show. But its economy also has been struggling for nearly 20 years, so the idea that it may be even worse than it seems comes as no great shock.)
This year, World Bank and U.S. government estimates put U.S. GDP at roughly $17.7 trillion (in 2010$). By the same measure, China's GDP this year will be about $10.8 trillion.
That's far short of the U.S. level, but taken at face value, it's still an amazing number given that as recently as 1980, China's GDP for its entire economy was just $340 billion. That's about a 3,200% gain.
But Martinez cuts China's GDP to roughly $7.5 trillion currently. That's not even half the U.S. level.
As for real GDP per person, which many economists consider the best indicator of a nation's productivity and economic well-being, in the U.S. it will average a record $53,839 this year, based on current estimates.
China's Shrunken GDP
China's citizens, based on Martinez' revised numbers, will produce about $5,440 each in economic output. That's a huge gain from 1980, when annual output was around $349 per person. But again, even today, it's barely at 10% of U.S. output.
So, sorry, those who think China's economy is now as big as the U.S.' are mistaken.
That's not just based on Martinez' study. A host of others have made similar findings.
Washington Post blogger Christopher Ingraham, who first brought the Martinez study to our attention, notes that "research published in 2012 by economists from Brown University and the National Bureau of Economic Research showed how changes in nighttime lighting closely tracked with economic activity.
And, as we noted in earlier, China's total debt, now exceeding 250% of GDP, dwarfs the U.S. debt at about 100% of our GDP. Any downturn in growth could precipitate a debt crisis. So the country has every incentive to lie, just as operators of a Ponzi scheme do.
That's not all. As we noted on these pages back in 2016, economist Harry Wu, working for the Conference Board and using a different technique than Martinez, comes up with China's economy as much as 36% smaller than its official data show. So it's consistent.
According to U.S. Census estimates, China's population is set to begin shrinking as soon as 2026, dragging economic growth rates down. So maybe the 21st century won't be dubbed the "China Century" after all.
But dwelling on China is perhaps unfair, since Martinez' study isn't just about China. It's about authoritarian regimes in general, and how they misreport their economic data in order to appear more successful and stable than they really are.
Indeed, he measures a large number of countries ranked by Freedom House for economic and political freedom.
His findings were consistent: Autocratic regimes cheated more on their economic growth data than freer regimes.
"I find that a 10% increase in nighttime lights is associated with a 2.4% increase in GDP in the most democratic countries and with a 3.4% increase in GDP in the most authoritarian ones," Martinez wrote.
That means, all other things being equal, authoritarian countries are grossly overestimating their economic growth, largely to silence potential critics and to maintain their hold on power.
Martinez found that the distortions in economic growth estimates become particularly pronounced during election cycles, even in nations where the elections are rigged.
Once again a study shows why socialist, communist and other authoritarian and totalitarian economies don't thrive, and can't. Modern, efficient economies depend on actionable information to function. If you have to lie even to your own citizens, your economy can never be as good as you say it is.
Inconvenient Science: NASA data show that global temperatures dropped sharply over the past two years. Not that you'd know it, since that wasn't deemed news. Does that make NASA a global warming denier?
Writing in Real Clear Markets, Aaron Brown looked at the official NASA global temperature data and noticed something surprising. From February 2016 to February 2018, "global average temperatures dropped by 0.56 degrees Celsius." That, he notes, is the biggest two-year drop in the past century.
"The 2016-2018 Big Chill," he writes, "was composed of two Little Chills, the biggest five month drop ever (February to June 2016) and the fourth biggest (February to June 2017). A similar event from February to June 2018 would bring global average temperatures below the 1980s average."
Isn't this just the sort of man-bites-dog story that the mainstream media always says is newsworthy?
In this case, it didn't warrant any news coverage.
In fact, in the three weeks since Real Clear Markets ran Brown's story, no other news outlet picked up on it. They did, however, find time to report on such things as tourism's impact on climate change, how global warming will generate more hurricanes this year, and threaten fish habitats, and make islands uninhabitable. They wrote about a UN official saying that "our window of time for addressing climate change is closing very quickly."
Reporters even found time to cover a group that says they want to carve President Trump's face into a glacier to prove climate change "is happening."
In other words, the mainstream news covered stories that repeated what climate change advocates have been saying ad nauseam for decades.
That's not to say that a two-year stretch of cooling means that global warming is a hoax. Two years out of hundreds or thousands doesn't necessarily mean anything. And there could be a reasonable explanation. But the drop in temperatures at least merits a "Hey, what's going on here?" story.
What's more, journalists are perfectly willing to jump on any individual weather anomaly — or even a picture of a starving polar bear — as proof of global warming. (We haven't seen any stories pinning Hawaii's recent volcanic activity on global warming yet, but won't be surprised if someone tries to make the connection.)
We've noted this refusal to cover inconvenient scientific findings many times in this space over the years.
Then there was the study in the journal Nature Geoscience that found that climate models were faulty, and that, as one of the authors put it, "We haven't seen that rapid acceleration in warming after 2000 that we see in the models."
Nor did the press see fit to report on findings from the University of Alabama-Huntsville showing that the Earth's atmosphere appears to be less sensitive to changing CO2 levels than previously assumed.
Reporters no doubt worry that covering such findings will only embolden "deniers" and undermine support for immediate, drastic action.
But if fears of catastrophic climate change are warranted — which we seriously doubt — ignoring things like the rapid cooling in the past two years carries an even bigger risk.
Suppose, Brown writes, the two-year cooling trend continues. "At some point the news will leak out that all global warming since 1980 has been wiped out in two and a half years, and that record-setting events went unreported."
He goes on: "Some people could go from uncritical acceptance of steadily rising temperatures to uncritical refusal to accept any warming at all."
Brown is right. News outlets should decide what gets covered based on its news value, not on whether it pushes an agenda. Otherwise, they're doing the public a disservice and putting their own already shaky credibility at greater risk.
Bias: You might think that national news outlets would be extra careful not to sensationalize or distort what's happening in Gaza and the West Bank in response to the U.S. moving its embassy to Jerusalem, Israel's capital. But if you did, you would be incredibly naive.
Headlines often give away the underlying bias. Typical was one from the New York Times: "Israel Kills Dozens at Gaza Border as U.S. Embassy Opens in Jerusalem."
Get the linkage? It's all our fault — and the Israelis'.
ABC News' reporting went out under this title: "Over 50 Palestinians in massive protest are killed by Israeli military, bloodiest day in Gaza since 2014 war."
The BBC, Britain's taxpayer-funded fountain of left-wing news, ran this succinct topper: "Jerusalem embassy: Why Trump's move was not about peace."
But that wasn't all. The Beeb's piece weirdly sank into a vile anti-Semitic and anti-Christian tirade, blaming Trump's decision to relocate the embassy on, among others, "right-wing American Jews whose message was amplified by the conservative Orthodox Jews dominating Mr. Trump's inner circle" and "evangelicals whose voice was amplified by the devout Christian in the White House, Vice President Mike Pence."
The Huffington Post effort, to its credit labeled "Opinion," ran with a similar theme: "Trump's Jerusalem Embassy Ceremony Was One Big Dog Whistle."
A dog whistle, for what, you ask? Just like the BBC, the HuffPost blames Christianity and Judaism, of course.
By far the worst bias, however, was in the New York Daily News. It ran a front page picture of Ivanka Trump attending the U.S. embassy opening, contrasted with a picture of the violence in Gaza with the headline: "Daddy's Little Ghoul."
Report after report in the Western press credulously cited "Palestinian authorities" for the number of dead and injured in the violence that took place in Gaza and the West Bank. At last count, some 60 people, among them "eight children," were reported dead.
CNN reported that "among the dead were eight children, including 8-month-old Laila Anwar Ghandour."
Heartbreaking if true, but as AP reports: "Gaza health officials are casting doubt on initial claims that a 9-month-old baby died from Israeli tear gas fired during mass protests on the Gaza border with Israel. A medical doctor said Tuesday that the baby, Layla Ghandour, had a pre-existing medical condition and that he did not believe her death was caused by tear gas."
Nonetheless, the reports were pretty much all in line, suggesting that peaceful protesters were fired on by bloodthirsty Israeli troops.
"The deaths and injuries to over 2,400 people came mostly from gunfire by Israeli forces as Palestinians amassed at the border in far greater numbers than in other recent demonstrations," ABC News reported, in what was a fairly typical report.
But who were those "authorities" who gave them the casualty figures? Of course, the Health Ministry, cited by many news outlets. But it's controlled by the terrorist group Hamas, and Hamas has a long and well-documented history of lying about, well, all sorts of things, including casualties. Why believe them now?
In its piece, the Washington Post painted a picture of "tens of thousands of Palestinians," of which "many came to peacefully demonstrate, bringing their children and carrying flags. Food stalls sold snacks and music blared."
Just another day in the park peacefully demonstrating, right? No bias there.
Not exactly. As the Media Research Center points out, the very same Post piece lower in the story only reluctantly provides the real truth: The demonstrations, which by the way have been ongoing since March 30, "appeared to have a more violent edge."
"At a gathering point east of Gaza City, organizers urged protesters over loudspeakers to burst through the fence, telling them Israeli soldiers were fleeing their positions, even as they were reinforcing them," the Post said.
In fact, many of those engaged in "demonstrating" or "protesting" were armed with grenades, pipe bombs, knives and guns, and were intent on breaching the security fence to kill as many Israelis as possible. They also flew kites with firebombs attached over the fence to start fires in tinder-dry Israel. As the Post itself reported, their own leaders urged them on to a suicidal clash with armed and trained IDF troops.
And by the way, the Israeli military dropped thousands of leaflets on border areas, warning Palestinians against attacking the border fence. They did it anyway.
Even so, the media's overwhelming narrative is that the Palestinians are somehow passive and helpless against a brutal Israeli occupying force. In fact, they instigated the violence, not the Israelis or the U.S. And the Palestinian leaders achieved what they wanted: martyrs for their lost cause.
Taking them at their word, they encouraged 60 people to become "shaheeds," or martyrs, for nothing more than short-term leverage in their cause of creating a new Palestinian state. They got the response they wanted: The media played along by contrasting the celebrations marking the opening of the U.S. Embassy with the violence on the border, and by implying it was Israeli bloodthirstiness to blame.
"The Palestinian strategy paid off once again, of course," wrote Matt Philbin at Newsbusters. "The U.N. and Human Rights Watch condemned Israel for using 'excessive force.' Noted human rights stalwarts Turkey and South Africa recalled their ambassadors to Israel." Not to be left out, the EU joined the blaming of Israel: "Israel must respect the right of peaceful protest in Gaza."
The media have a lot to answer for in their bias and misreporting and distortion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Let's just leave it at this: By not telling the truth, the media have contributed to the pain and misery of Palestinians, who will never have a homeland unless they recognize Israel's right to exist and to live within secure, defensible borders.
Free Markets: Big businesses in Seattle face a substantial new tax to build more affordable housing. This is after the city thwarted private developers who were building affordable housing on their own dime. Only to government officials could this make any sense.
This week, the city council unanimously passed a "head tax" of $275 per full-time worker on any company in the city that makes more than $20 million in gross revenues. The city says the $48 million in new taxes will go toward affordable housing and providing emergency services for the city's swelling homeless population.
Major employers like Amazon.com ( AMZN) and Starbucks ( SBUX) opposed the tax, so naturally they became the villains of the story. How could anyone be opposed to taxing mega-corporations to build affordable housing?
What all the news accounts fail to mention, however, is that the city itself is to blame for the housing shortage and skyrocketing rents.
As IBD noted, from 2010 to 2013, the city saw an explosion in the construction of "congregate housing units" — basically, affordable, dorm-room size apartments with shared kitchen and living areas. Within those three years, private developers constructed 1,800 units. But by 2015, not one was built.
Why? In 2014, the city stepped in and smothered this option with regulations that required the apartments to be bigger, banned them from more desirable areas, and forced builders to jump through costly design reviews.
Seattle's then Mayor Edward B. Murray warned the council in 2014 that this would exacerbate the city's housing problems, telling the council "our regulations need to help and not hinder the process and the outcomes we are hoping to achieve. And one of those achievements is more housing. That is a priority." The council ignored his entreaty.
David Neiman, principal at Neiman Taber Architects, said that as a result the city government "strangled a practical, modest, sustainable, unsubsidized form of inexpensive living that held enormous potential both for Seattle and for the rest of Cascadia."
Under the new rules, developers could put half as many units in each building, Neiman said. That, of course, raised rental prices considerably.
Was this micro-housing option for everyone? Of course not. But there are plenty of young people who care more about location and low rents than a spacious kitchen and a family room. The private market was meeting that need.
Taxing Success To Reward Failure
Seattle officials nevertheless deemed such housing as "beneath human dignity" — as though living on the street is more dignifying.
So now Seattle, after having hampered private developers from building more affordable housing, is forcing its biggest and most successful businesses to cough up $48 million more in taxes so the government can do it.
How much do you want to bet that the new tax does nothing to relieve the city's homeless problem? After all, Seattle and King County spent almost $200 million on homeless programs last year, according to the Seattle Times, only to see the number of homeless increase. Don't be surprised if, a few years from now, city officials hike the head tax on the promise that — this time — it will work.
Seattle's leaders don't seem to understand that taxing success to reward government failure won't work for long. Eventually, Starbucks and Amazon and other businesses will simply pick up and move to places with friendlier, more-competent governments.
Seattle might solve its housing shortage, but it will end up creating a new one: A shortage of jobs and opportunity.
Embassy Move: With the opening Monday of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, President Trump didn't just keep a promise to Israel. Despite violent Palestinian protests, Trump's move may well reboot peace talks.
Given that many nations around the world don't recognize Israel's right to exist — or, if they do, recognize it only within shrunken borders that would be almost impossible to defend — Trump has put the U.S. squarely behind Israel.
The European Union, led by our "allies" France and Germany, sought an official rebuke of the U.S. Embassy move. But Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania, some of the U.S.-friendly "red states" of Europe, blocked it.
So instead of a painful critique of Trump's move, the EU looks weak, feckless and irresolute — which pretty much sums up the EU, and that includes its ongoing support of the now-defunct Iran nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians responded by rioting on the West Bank and in Gaza. Dozens of demonstrators were killed by Israeli forces after they began tossing grenades, bombs and rocks at Israeli troops.
Things will likely only get worse on Tuesday, with more violent demonstrations. That's the day that Israelis will celebrate the 70th anniversary of modern Israel's founding as a nation. Palestinians commemorate the same day as the "Nakba" — the catastrophe.
Yet, as a point of history, the move to Jerusalem should be entirely uncontroversial.
For one, the U.S. Congress voted to move the embassy to Jerusalem all the way back in 1995. That law is still on the books, but the move was postponed by successive presidents each year because of the threat of violence and fears that the Palestinians would leave peace talks and riot.
Only Trump has fulfilled American law. Moreover, Jerusalem, while claimed by the Palestinians, has never been capital of a Palestinian state or nation. Why? There's never been a Palestinian state or nation, not in all the history of the Mideast.
Even as late as 1967, the various Muslim nations and leaders that ruled the land the Romans named Palestina could have declared a sovereign nation there. They didn't. Nor was there any "Palestinian Liberation Movement" until after the establishment of Israel.
Even so, Trump is looking for ways to make everyone in the Mideast happy. Based on the ecstatic reactions of the Israeli public — Israelis waved Israeli and American flags Monday in the streets while celebrating the opening of the embassy — Israel is quite happy.
"What a glorious day. Remember this moment!" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an enthusiastic crowd. "President Trump, by recognizing history, you have made history. All of us are deeply moved. All of us are deeply grateful."
But it doesn't end with the move of an embassy.
Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon reports, "The United States is in the 'late phases' of finalizing its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that will be presented to both parties for consideration, according to a senior White House official, who discussed progress on the matter ahead of a massive celebration in Israel to open the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem."
No word yet on what that plan will contain, but you can be sure that Trump is much more clever and a far savvier street fighter than his leftist critics believe.
Is it possible that Trump has outmaneuvered all the Mideast dictators, the supposed Euro-sophisticates, the U.N. do-nothings, and the deep-thinking American foreign-policy wonks in creating the best chance yet for peace in the Mideast?
While his critics laughed, Trump has been laying the groundwork for major changes in the Mideast — and possibly the Korean Peninsula as well.
With his visit last May to Saudi Arabia, that nation now seems bent on reforms that will bring it closer to the norms of the West. Meanwhile, the Saudis have become de facto allies with Israel in the Mideast, making common cause against their common enemy, Iran.
That's why Trump's recent decision to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal — a deal that was cobbled together by President Obama, but never approved by the U.S. Senate — is so important.
It will not only isolate Iran, but deny it hard currency to continue financing terrorism against Israel by Bashar Assad's Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
At any rate, we'll now see how serious the Palestinians are about peace. Trump will soon hand them a generous peace offer, one that will give them a sovereign state and independence.
If they say no and engage in yet another murderous intifada, it will be clear that their intent isn't the creation of a Palestinian state so much as it is the destruction of Israel — a plank of the Palestinian movement's founding charter that has never been revoked or removed, by the way.
Largely as a result of his embassy move, Trump is being compared to Harry Truman, another president who was underestimated by his political foes. It was Truman who, in 1948, ignored his Ivy League-educated advisors and recognized Israel literally minutes after it declared its statehood.
But we liken him more to President Reagan, another president held in contempt by leftist elites. Reagan had the intelligence, foresight and guts to challenge the "evil empire," the USSR, and ultimately bring it to its knees.
Today, Trump appears to be doing the same thing to what former President George W. Bush in 2002 called the "Axis of Evil" — Iran (by leaving the phony nuclear deal), Iraq (by crushing ISIS) and North Korea (by ending its nuclear weapons program).
Not bad for a year and a half of work. Will peace be next? We can only hope so.
Leadership: Within the past few days, never-Trumper David Brooks praised President Trump. "Saturday Night Live" admitted that he'd had a good week. Willie Brown told Democrats to "stop bashing" Trump. And party officials bemoaned the liberal media's obsession with Trump scandals. It must seem to Democrats as if they woke up in Superman's Bizarro World.
On PBS this weekend, David Brooks — who in March 2016 penned a column for The New York Times titled "No, Not Trump, Not Ever" that claimed Trump was "epically unprepared to be president" and "an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship" — found himself praising Trump for his recent foreign policy wins.
Brooks suddenly discovered that Trump's background as a businessman provided some relevant experience for being president, particularly when it comes to dealing with "thuggish" leaders.
He even added that President Obama's argument for his now defunct nuclear deal with Iran — that it would moderate the extremists running that country — "turned out to be clearly false."
That's a double whammy from the guy who once gushed over Obama and his "perfectly creased pant."
Over the same weekend, the virulently Trump-hating "Saturday Night Live" found itself forced to admit that Trump had "a pretty good week." Colin Jost, in a rare display of actual humor on the show, said "He helped secure the release of three American prisoners from North Korea, and when he greeted them at the airport, he didn't even say, 'Wait I thought they were Americans.'"
Legendary California Democrat Willie Brown took to the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday to tell fellow Democrats that they should "stop bashing President Trump."
"Like it or not," he wrote, "a significant number of Americans are actually happy these days. They are making money. They feel safe, and they agree with the president's protectionist trade policies, his call for more American jobs, even his immigration stance.
"The jobs growth reports, the North Korea summit and the steady economy are beating out the Stormy Daniels scandal and the Robert Mueller investigation in Middle America, hands down.
"So you are not going to win back the House by making it all about him."
Meanwhile, the latest CNN poll shows Democrats with a meager 3-point advantage on the generic ballot question. The Reuters/Ipsos poll has Democrats up by only one point, and the Real Clear Politics average is +5, down from +13 in December. Trump's approval rating has been steadily, if slowly, rising since December, going from an average 37% approval to over 43% now.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that Democrats are now fretting about "a shifting political landscape" and an energized GOP base.
In fact, Democrats are starting to complain that the press is too focused on Trump scandals and not paying enough attention to "issues," and that this could hurt them in November.
"Eager to move a message that focuses on things like minimum wage hikes and health care premiums," the Daily Beast reported on Monday, "they have been overtaken by a steady stream of stories of Russia meddling, porn star payoffs, and shady Trump-world figures."
Democrats fear, the story goes on, that "a perception is taking hold that the party is obsessively focused on a Russia-collusion message above all else."
Nevertheless, it's a sign Democrats are starting to realize that their plan to ride Trump hatred to victory this November isn't panning out the way they'd hoped.
The Mueller investigation — now in its second year — has failed to bear any impeachment fruit. Trump is racking up successes foreign and domestic — the tax cut and resulting economic boom, the embassy move to Jerusalem, the impressive progress with North Korea, tough stands with China and Iran. More importantly, the public is starting to realize that Trump isn't the cartoon villain Democrats had portrayed.
But if Trump-bashing won't work, what else can Democrats talk about? Repealing Trump's tax cuts? Imposing still more ObamaCare? The return of job killing regulations and mandates? Gun control? Free college?
No wonder Democrats are now looking for someone else to blame if they don't win big in November.
Housing: Some recent California headlines caught our eye: "With No Letup In Home Prices, The California Exodus Surges" and "California First In Nation To Require Solar Panels On New Homes." See the problem?
California is a virtual one-party state, and suffers for it. A case in point: At the final forum for gubernatorial candidates before the June 5 state primary, lavish promises were made by Democratic candidates to build "millions" of new homes to end the state's housing crisis.
But the fact is, California's far-left politicians created the problem, and don't have a clue about how to solve it.
As the headlines above show, the same politicians that vow to build "millions" of new homes to keep state citizens from leaving will now require solar panels on new houses. They claim that'll add just $9,500 per house, but of course that's way low. Making homes less affordable is no way to end a housing shortage.
The state's housing crisis is real. California lost a net one million people from 2006 to 2016, largely due to higher housing costs. Most of the people leaving the state earn less than $30,000 a year. It's a war on the poor, disguised as a housing crisis.
Knowing this exodus is real, how do California's left-progressive politicians react? Not only do they make housing more expensive, but they encourage community groups to reimpose rent-control laws across the state — a proven recipe for rental housing shortages.
As Pacific Research Institute fellow (and former IBD writer) Kerry Jackson recently wrote, California's housing market suffers from many ills: "Affordable housing mandates. Rent control. Runaway NIMBYISM. Meddling BANANAs. Exorbitant permit fees. But CEQA is the highest barrier of all."
And just what is CEQA? The California Environmental Quality Act. Enacted in 1970, it's been the model for a host of stringent laws in Congress and in states around the country. Some model: CEQA has been a disaster for housing in California.
CEQA, Jackson notes, is a corrupt bureaucratic process: "Both environmental groups and business rivals use it to delay and whenever possible shut down development."
So nothing gets built. California today has roughly 14 million housing units, but needs 3.5 million more by 2025, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. That's a 25% increase. How realistic do you think that is?
The only way to bring down prices is to build more housing. But you can't do that with rent controls, mandatory solar panels, strict zoning limits, ridiculously high taxes and absurd environmental restrictions. When it comes to common-sense economics, will California's far-left politicians ever learn their lesson? Don't count on it.
Health Care: The ranks of the uninsured climbed last year. So, naturally, President Trump is taking the blame because of his attempts to repeal ObamaCare. The fault, however, lies not with Trump, but with ObamaCare itself.
A new Gallup report shows that the ranks of the uninsured climbed from 10.9% in Q4 2016 to 12.2% by Q4 2017. At first blush, it makes sense to point to Trump, given that this increase came during his first year in office.
As Huffington Post put it: "Trump's sabotage of the Affordable Care Act appears to be working."
But a closer look at the data and a review of recent history shows that Trump had nothing to do with the increase in the uninsured last year. The factors that did were baked in the cake in the summer of 2016 — when President Obama was sitting in the White House and Hillary Clinton was busy measuring the Oval Office drapes.
Let's review the facts.
Insurers had to announce their proposed 2017 premiums in mid-2016, which then got reviewed by state regulators. The result was a massive 25% increase in average ObamaCare premiums nationwide. In Pennsylvania, premiums shot up 33%. In Illinois, they climbed 44%. In Oklahoma, 76%.
That was after two previous years of historic rate hikes. And each year was marked by insurance companies fleeing ObamaCare markets.
At the time, Democrats and the press dismissed skyrocketing ObamaCare premiums, saying that they really didn't matter since most people enroll in an ObamaCare exchange get generous subsidies, which means their actual premiums would remain unchanged.
But that overlooked the millions who buy coverage in the individual market but who aren't eligible for any ObamaCare subsidies. Thanks to ObamaCare's mandates and regulations, basic insurance was fast becoming unaffordable.
Trump and the GOP had nothing to do with these failures. The changes they did enact had only a modest impact on 2018 premiums.
What's more, open enrollment in the exchange for 2017 closed on January 31, 2017 — one week after Trump took the oath of office. So the fact that enrollment in the exchanges dropped in 2017 also had nothing to do with Trump. Enrollment in the ObamaCare exchanges came in well below forecasts every year since they opened in 2014.
The combination of declining ObamaCare enrollment and skyrocketing premiums ended up pushing more people out of the insurance market in 2017.
What's more, Gallup's survey found that the uninsured rate had essentially bottomed out in early 2015, when it hit 11.4%. By the end of that year, it was back up to 11.9%. It dipped down to 10.9% during the last half of 2016, before resuming its upward trend in 2017.
Even if Hillary Clinton had been president, the ranks of the uninsured would have started climbing again last year as ObamaCare's years of massive rate hikes priced more and more people out of the insurance market.
Economy: The federal government collected far more taxes this April than it did a year ago, despite the "budget busting" Trump tax cuts. So, we'll ask again: Are the tax cuts paying for themselves?
According to the latest monthly report from the Congressional Budget Office, revenues in April totaled $515 billion — a 13% increase over last April and an all-time high for the month.
For the current 2018 fiscal year, which started last October, revenues are $83 billion higher than they were the year before — an increase of 4.3%. That's a faster rate of growth than occurred during President Obama's last years in office. (See nearby chart.)
Individual taxes, the CBO report says, are up 11.5% so far this fiscal year, and payroll taxes are up 2.8%. Both are signs of a healthy labor market, which is creating more jobs, higher wages and, as a result, more tax revenues. Those gains, the CBO says, more than offset the 22% decline in corporate income taxes.
In other words, in a fiscal year that's seven months old (four of which were after the tax cuts went into effect), federal revenues are higher than ever.
Or, to put it another way, it looks like those of us who predicted the pro-growth tax cuts would at least partially pay for themselves through increased economic growth were correct.
They said the tax cuts would do nothing to help workers, until millions started getting bonuses, raises and more generous benefits in the wake of the corporate income tax cut.
The IBD/TIPP Poll's Quality of Life Index, meanwhile, reached a 14-year high in April. And since the tax cuts went into effect, the IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index has averaged 54.7 (anything above 50 is optimistic). That's well above the 17-year average of 49.4. In President Obama's last year in office, it averaged just 48.6.
And, of course, Democrats continue to insist that the tax bill is a budget buster. Even though revenues keep reaching new highs.
As we have argued repeatedly in this space, the fiscal problem we face isn't that we're taxed too little, but that lawmakers — both Republicans and Democrats — can't control their spending habits.
While revenues have climbed $83 billion this fiscal year, spending is up $121 billion, the CBO report shows. The category with the biggest spending hike? "Other" — at $44 billion. That is followed by interest on the debt ($25 billion), Social Security ($23 billion) and defense ($17 billion).
The $1.3 trillion monstrosity that the GOP passed in March will only fuel more spending hikes in the coming months, swamping whatever gains we make in revenues.
So let's review: Democrats promised the country that the Trump tax cuts would do nothing to boost growth and nothing to help working families. That they'd completely bust the budget. And that it would be better to spend the $1.8 trillion rather than "give it away to the rich."
We doubt we'll hear Democrats admitting to their flagrant lies and fabrications about the tax cuts. But we do hope that voters hold them to account this fall.
Nuclear Talks: President Trump's summit with North Korea is now set for Singapore on June 12, following North Korea's release of three Americans it held. Has Trump finally brought the Kim regime to heel? Or is this another of North Korea's tricks to extort aid from the West in exchange for empty promises?
The good news came, as it often does with President Trump, in a tweet: "I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set."
With talks now set with North Korea about ending its nuclear weapons program and reintegrating the Hermit Kingdom with the rest of the world, can Trump count on public support? A new IBD/TIPP Poll suggests that, even before the latest good news, Americans mostly approved of his handling of the North Korea talks.
The poll, conducted from April 26 to May 4 from a sample of 900 U.S. adults, showed that 52% either approve "somewhat" or "strongly" of "the way President Trump has handled the situation with North Korea." Of the remainder, 44% disapproved of Trump's efforts, with 24% disapproving "strongly."
Not surprisingly, the split was mostly along partisan lines. Some 76% of Democrats disapproved of Trump's North Korean efforts, and 92% of Republicans approved. Independents were split, with 48% approving and 47% disapproving.
But can Trump pull off a diplomatic triumph in talks with North Korea's Kim Jong-Un?
There, Americans are a bit more ambivalent in the IBD/TIPP Poll, with 48% expressing they're "somewhat" or "very" confident, and 50% saying they're "not very" or "not at all" confident. Once again, Democrats and Republicans split sharply. Among Dems, 77% say they're not confident, versus 87% of GOP members who say they are. Among Independents, 43% said they were confident, while 54% said they weren't.
So while Trump will largely have the wind of favorable public opinion at his back, he will also face skeptical public opinion at home as well. Given the media's overwhelming and well-documented hostility toward Trump, he can expect any triumph he has to be diminished, and any failure to be magnified and blown out of proportion.
North Korea's Turnaround
Even so, there seems to have been a remarkable turnaround in North Korea once Trump started playing global geostrategic chess like a 3-D chess master. His tariffs on Chinese goods, while perhaps economically dubious, made Xi Jinping see that Trump was serious and not afraid of raising China's ire. Trump knew China is North Korea's patron and main supplier of food and energy. So it has leverage. Kim Jong Un's surprise visit to Beijing last month to "consult" with Chinese leaders shows that China got the message.
China no doubt "encouraged" Kim to engage the U.S. and South Korea in nuclear talks. But Trump's decision to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal and an earlier decision to put North Korea on the U.S.' list of terrorist nations also gave Kim a big nudge. Kim has learned something about Trump: He won't sign a bad deal, he doesn't shrink from conflict, and he's not afraid to act in U.S. interests.
Pyongyang has already said it will stop its nuclear tests, launch no more intercontinental ballistic missiles and shut down a nuclear test site — presumably, the one on a remote mountain that collapsed following a recent nuclear test. Even so, if North Korea agrees to end its state of war with South Korea and eliminates its nuclear weapons program, it might have a chance to rejoin the community of nations.
Of course, the U.S. should always be wary. North Korea has repeatedly played the U.S. and the rest of the democratic world for patsies. It promises big changes in behavior in exchange for trade and aid, then abandons its promises later. Despite years of talks and multiple agreements, Kim Jong-un's regime (and those of his father and grandfather before him) has continued to develop nuclear weapons.
Are these talks just another ruse? Probably not. Kim seems genuinely intimidated by Trump, whose blunt-speaking ways and out-loud military threats have rattled Kim's confidence. He may be desperate for a deal that will leave him in power. As we've said before, we think Kim needs to go.
We've heard a lot of talk about a Nobel Peace Prize for Trump. If he can bring peace and denuclearization to the Korean Peninsula, he will certainly deserve it — unlike the previous White House occupant, who won a Nobel for doing nothing and left the world largely a mess because of his diplomatic ineptitude.
Nuclear Iran: As expected, President Trump has announced he will pull the U.S. out of the failed Iran nuclear deal, barring a renegotiation of its terms. Predictably, critics on the right and left are ripping Trump's decision. But a new IBD/TIPP Poll suggests Trump will find support for strengthening the deal from the American public.
Trump called the 2015 nuclear pact a "horrible one-sided deal that should never ever have been made." Now Iran has to decide whether to walk away or renegotiate. Their decision will no doubt be influenced by the fact that Trump will now push for a reimposition of tough trade sanctions on Iran.
Despite Trump's announcement, neither new sanctions or a pullout from the deal will go into effect for six months. That gives both Iran and the U.S. time to renegotiate. The U.S. has said it wants to renegotiate. Does Iran?
If so, Americans will support it. According to the IBD/TIPP Poll of 900 U.S. adults taken from April 26 to May 4 and released just this week, most Americans would like to see some changes made to the deal. Only 15% of Americans said "do nothing."
We asked poll respondents what the U.S. should do about the 2015 nuclear agreement between the six major world powers — the U.S., Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China — and Iran. Some 20% wanted Trump to withdraw from the deal. But the biggest response, 53%, was for Trump to "strengthen the agreement."
That latter option, by the way, achieved majority support from both Democrats and Independents. And, while not a majority, more Republicans supported strengthening the agreement (42%) than pulling out entirely (40%).
And, as structured, it's a deal that definitely is in need of strengthening. As originally negotiated by President Obama and then-Secretary of State John Kerry, the Iran accord came up far short of what was needed to curb the mullahs' nuclear ambitions.
Simply put, the original idea behind the 2015 deal was to keep Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon that could be used to dominate the Mideast and intimidate its immediate neighbors, and even Europe.
But the deal as signed has significant weaknesses that can't and shouldn't be ignored.
For instance, as negotiated, limits on Iran's nuclear research expire after just a decade. It will then be able to openly operate its illicit nuclear facilities and ramp up its output of enriched uranium, a necessary first step toward creating a nuclear weapon. Also, the nuclear deal doesn't include limits on its ballistic missile program, or permission for international nuclear inspectors to enter top-secret military installations where intelligence analysts believe nuclear research is already underway.
In short, Obama's deal kicked the can down the road on Iran's nuclear ambitions. Instead of taking just a year or two to build a nuclear weapon, nuclear experts believe the sanctions at most will keep Iran from getting a nuke for 10 years, 15 years tops. That's just not ending the threat; it's merely postponing the day of nuclear reckoning.
Worse, removing the sanctions imposed on Iran gave the rogue fundamentalist regime more than $100 billion to spend on its terrorist-support activities around the world, and on meddling in Syria's internal affairs.
So Iran's threat has only grown, thanks to the Obama-Kerry appeasement deal. And yes, the U.S. State Department and many of our foreign allies still consider that nation to be the world's No. 1 terrorist-supporting nation, so that hasn't changed either.
We've felt all along that the deal was a bad one. As we wrote on July 17, 2017: "Barring a dramatic change in Iran's behavior, Trump should pull out of the six-powers nuclear agreement with Iran, a bad deal that will soon result in a workable nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran's murderous mullahs."
More important, Trump has issued a number of demands on Iran, which are likely to serve as a template for future talks, should they resume. They include:
"Never have an ICBM, cease developing any nuclear-capable missiles, and stop proliferating ballistic missiles to others."
"Cease its support for terrorists, extremists, and regional proxies, such as Hizballah, Hamas, the Taliban, and al-Qaida."
"End its publicly declared quest to destroy Israel."
"Stop its threats to freedom of navigation, especially in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea."
"Cease escalating the Yemen conflict and destabilizing the region by proliferating weapons to the Houthis."
"End its cyberattacks against the United States and our allies, including Israel."
"Stop its grievous human rights abuses, shown most recently in the regime's crackdown against widespread protests by Iranian citizens."
"Stop its unjust detention of foreigners, including United States citizens."
Sure, these might seem tough, but they aren't. They are routine matters that really require little effort on the part of Iran's leaders, other than minding their own business.
The clock is now running on Iran. It has six months to decide whether to remain in conflict with the U.S. and return to its nuclear ambitions, or to embrace a non-nuclear future that will benefit its people immeasurably.
Meanwhile, our European allies need to seriously reassess whether they truly believe a nuclear Iran would be in their interest. Along with the clear threat from Russia, Iran's burgeoning nuclear program and its active support of terrorism remain the biggest security threat that Europe faces.
America has gotten into a terrible habit of drawing "lines in the sand," then erasing them. Three American presidents in a row have vowed to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran's hands. Now, one of those presidents is taking action. He deserves Americans' support.
Politicized Justice: Democrats went gaga over a little-known law they claimed an advisor to President Trump violated following the 2016 presidential campaign. Now, the shoe's on the other foot, and both the Democrats and the media that supported them have grown strangely quiet.
The law in question is the 219-year-old Logan Act, which makes it a felony for Americans to negotiate with foreign powers in an effort to undermine the U.S. in a dispute.
The law is little-known for a reason: Just two people have ever been tried under the Logan Act, and neither was convicted.
But that didn't stop Democrats and their Deep State allies when they wanted to use it to investigate Trump's former national security advisor, Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, in 2016. Democrats and the media laughably claimed that Flynn's conversations with Russia's U.S. ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, somehow was a violation of the Logan Act. Let's be clear: Under no reasonable legal interpretation could one assume that Flynn violated the Logan Act.
It went nowhere.
But now a report in the Boston Globe asserts that former Secretary of State John Kerry may have stepped over the line when it comes to the Logan Act.
"With the Iran (nuclear) deal facing its gravest threat since it was signed in 2015, Kerry has been on an aggressive yet stealthy mission to preserve it, using his deep lists of contacts gleaned during his time as the top U.S. diplomat to try to apply pressure on the Trump administration from the outside," the Globe wrote. "President Trump, who has consistently criticized the pact and campaigned in 2016 on scuttling it, faces a May 12 deadline to decide whether to continue abiding by its terms."
Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the U.N. about preserving the deal. He also has contacted German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union official Federica Mogherini and French President Emmanuel Macron to interfere in President Trump's possible decision to abrogate the Obama administration's terrible nuclear deal with Iran.
If there ever was a violation of the Logan Act, this is it. Kerry is not an elected official. He's a private citizen. He's undermining the position of a sitting, elected U.S. president and his duly appointed representatives.
Surely the Democrats and the media, who made themselves such strong advocates of the Logan Act back in 2016 that they misapplied it against Lt. Gen. Flynn, will now respond to what looks like a clear violation now?
Of course not. Both the Democratic Party and the leftist media continue to make a mockery of the rule of law and the idea that both sides play by the same rules. The media and Democrats have downplayed any idea of the Logan Act being applicable in the case of leftist millionaire John Kerry, even though President Obama himself dragged out the Logan Act to threaten Republicans.
Former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, once the Democrats' vice presidential candidate, now a party pariah (because he dared to support President George W. Bush on Iraq and opposes the Iran deal), criticizes Kerry.
"In my opinion, what (Kerry's) doing is inappropriate and he shouldn't be doing it," Lieberman said. "It's a duly elected administration so I hope John Kerry stops."
Using that party's own standard, Kerry should be prosecuted for his freelance diplomacy, which will inevitably undermine President Trump's efforts to undo the ill effects of Kerry's failed diplomatic efforts while serving under the Obama administration.
We shouldn't be surprised. This is part of a new trend among the progressive left, from campuses and entertainment to politics and sports: to criminalize political differences with your foes, while pretending anything your political opponents do somehow violate cultural norms, decency or the Constitution. President Obama used it too.
It's clear Kerry broke the law here — just as one of his idols, Sen. Teddy Kennedy, may have done when he secretly held back-channel talks with Soviet leaders in 1984 to thwart President Reagan.
As we said, the Logan Act is almost never used, and we hesitate to make it the new norm. Even so, the Democrats are the ones who brought it up, so let's be fair: Prosecute John Kerry.
Hypocrisy Watch: We keep hearing how global warming is the biggest crisis facing mankind today. But a new yearlong study finds that those ringing the alarm bells the loudest are the least likely to change their own behavior. They just want everyone else to.
The study divided 600 adults who reported on their climate-change beliefs into three groups: "skeptical," "cautiously worried" and "highly concerned."
Then the researchers — from the University of Michigan and Cornell University — tracked how often they reported doing things like recycling, using public transportation, buying environmentally friendly consumer products, and reusing shopping bags. And they asked about support for government mandates like CO2 emission reduction, gasoline taxes and renewable energy subsidies. The Journal of Environmental Psychology published the findings.
What they found was very illuminating.
The researchers found that the "highly concerned" group was the least likely to take individual action, but they were the most insistent on government action. The "skeptical" group, in contrast, was the most likely to recycle, use public transportation and do other environmentally sound things all on their own. Skeptics were least likely to endorse costly government regulations and mandates.
"Belief in climate change," the researchers explained, "predicted support for government policies, but did not generally translate to individual-level, self-reported pro-environmental behavior. "
In plain English: The position of climate-change true believers is: Do as I say, not as I do.
This study supports a YouGov poll we reported on recently, which found that most of those who believe in catastrophic global warming aren't doing anything on their own to combat it. More than half said they aren't cutting back on their use of fossil fuels or changing their recycling or composting habits.
Another study found that "conservation scientists" have carbon footprints that are no different from those of anyone else. The study found that these scientists "still flew frequently — an average of nine flights a year — ate meat or fish approximately five times a week and rarely purchased carbon offsets for their own emissions."
This shouldn't come entirely as a surprise. After all, the biggest fearmongers in the country — people like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio — are modeling this hypocritical behavior in extravagant ways.
When they're not preaching doom and gloom, these hypocrites think nothing of flying around in CO2-spewing private jets, firing up massively polluting yachts, or living in energy-sucking megamansions.
We can hear their excuses now. Individual actions don't matter. Only government mandates can make a difference. It's akin to liberals preaching about the urgent, moral need to help the poor while giving far less to charity than supposedly heartless conservatives.
But if global warming really is "the most urgent threat facing our entire species," as DiCaprio claims, or a "moral issue," as Gore claims, then how can they or others possibly justify the example they're setting?
Until the true believers start living the way they want to force the rest of us to live, we will happily remain skeptical of their global-warming horror stories.
Taxes: One of the talking points Democrats and the left often drag out to justify reversing the Trump tax cuts is that the U.S. is "undertaxed" compared with other nations. A new study shows that's false.
Everyone from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to socialist independent Bernie Sanders says they would reverse the tax cuts. It's premised not on the idea that we spend too much, but that working Americans keep just too dang much of their own money.
The OECD, the think tank for the world's wealthiest nations, l ooked at 12 major countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia. The U.S. finished third in terms of taxes at 18.4% of income. Only Germany — at 19.7% — and deeply financially troubled Italy — at 21.7% — are higher than the U.S. So at the time of Trump's tax cuts last year, the U.S. wasn't "undertaxed" by any real measure.
Aha, taxoholics say, but what about Social Security taxes? Surely the U.S. is low on that list.
That happens to be true, at least based on the OECD numbers. The average worker in the U.S. pays "just" 7.7% in Social Security tax. That's the fourth lowest of all. Only Spain, Canada, and Mexico are lower.
Fair enough. But two points need to be made.
One, overall taxes paid by each worker are still higher than average in the U.S., where the average worker pays 26.1% of his or her total income for both income tax and Social Security. That's fifth among the nations with Germany (39.9%), Italy (31.2%), France (29.2%) and Turkey (27.9%) ahead of the U.S. The average is 25.5%. But workers also pay by having lower wages than they would otherwise. And they pay lots of "hidden taxes."
Second, the left is on far more solid ground when it says that overall taxes in the U.S. are lower than in other nations. When it comes to overall tax burden — as measured by taxes as a share of GDP — the U.S. comes in 12th, at 25.5%, compared to No. 1 Denmark at 45.5% of GDP, No. 2 France at 45.3% and Sweden at 44.1%. The EU's value-added tax, for instance, adds a huge amount to every purchase made by workers.
Not by coincidence, we've also had better economic growth, more jobs and far more private wealth created — both from real estate holdings and financial investments — than any other country. America's overall low-tax, low-regulation society is growing faster than the others. This is a function of having a more robust, less-restricted private sector, not from copying tax systems in Europe.
To rehash, American workers are not "undertaxed." If Democrats push the issue, they might find out how wrong they are in the 2018 election.
Jobs: You have to go all the way back to December 2000 to find the last time the unemployment rate was as low as April's 3.9%. But hold the standing ovation. The labor market isn't as bright, or as tight, as it might seem.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the economy added 164,000 jobs in April, and the unemployment level dropped to 3.9%. It was 4.8% when President Trump took office.
Since Trump took office, the economy has added a total of 2.7 million jobs, and since his tax cuts took effect we've seen an average 200,000 new jobs each month. Initial jobless claims are at decades long lows as well.
That's unquestionably good news.
The report also finds, however, that wages rose slightly less than expected in April — with hourly earnings climbing at a 2.6% annualized rate.
That's led some economists to start "scratching their heads," as one report put it, over why wages aren't climbing faster in what appears to be an extremely tight labor market.
"It really defies the law of supply and demand," Amy Glaser, senior vice president at Adecco Staffing, told CNBC.
But look at the rest of the jobs report — as well as historical jobs data — and the mystery pretty much disappears. The job market isn't nearly as tight as it seems based only on the official unemployment number.
Remember, the unemployment rate comes from a separate survey than the one used to count jobs created. The former is based on a monthly survey of 60,000 households by the Census Bureau. The latter by a survey of about 149,000 businesses and government agencies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to the Census household survey, the biggest contribution to the drop in the unemployment rate wasn't people getting jobs — that survey registered a gain of just 3,000 in April. It's due mainly to the fact that 410,000 dropped out of the labor force — and no longer count as unemployed.
If you compare today's numbers to December 2000, the picture is even more striking.
The labor force participation rate in Dec. 2000 was 67%. Today it is just 62.8%.
The employment-to-population ratio then was 64.4%. Now it's 60.3%.
The population not in the labor force — they don't have jobs and aren't looking — has climbed a stunning 25.3 million over those years.
Think about it this way. If the labor force participation rate were the same today as it was in December 2000, the unemployment rate wouldn't be 3.9%. It would be 10%!
Yes, many who've left the labor force over the past 18 years are baby boomers entering retirement. But that doesn't come close to explaining the massive increase in labor dropouts.
For example, the labor force participation rate among 20- to 24-year-olds was 78% in December 2000. It's just 71% today. For those 25-34 years old, the rate declined from 85% to 83%.
In contrast, among those 55 and older, the participation rate increased — going from 33% in December 2000 to 40% now.
Clearly, there are still millions of potential workers sitting on the sidelines.
Autos: It's been a bad couple of weeks for environmentalists who want to force Americans into battery-powered econoboxes. First, the Trump administration said it will likely freeze fuel economy standards. Then Ford announced plans to drop most of its passenger cars in favor of trucks and SUVs. Both are good news for consumers.
By 2020, Ford ( F) says the only cars in its lineup in North America will be the Mustang and a new Focus. Automobile Magazine's New York bureau chief Jamie Lincoln Kitman complained in a New York Times op-ed that the decision means a "decade's worth of investment in developing more fuel-efficient cars is now taking a back seat to profit."
Actually, Ford is simply acknowledging what car buyers have been telling the company for some time now — that they are far more interested in larger utility vehicles than sedans and compact cars.
In the first quarter of this year, SUVs, vans and trucks accounted for almost 80% of Ford's sales, and passenger car sales dropped by almost 14% year-over-year.
Industrywide, utility vehicles accounted for more than 60% of sales in Q1.
Ford and other carmakers dropping or scaling back their small car lines are simply responding to consumer demand. Which is what they are supposed to do.
The second bit of "bad" news came when the Trump administration's EPA said it was planning to freeze federal "corporate average fuel economy" (CAFE) standards at 2020 levels, rather than let them continue to climb until 2025.
The "explanatory" news site Vox.com, for example, complains that if successful Trump will "bequeath America vehicles that guzzle more gas, have higher fuel costs, produce more pollution, and profit the dirtiest automakers."
This is groundless hyperbole.
First off, Trump's plan would let the CAFE mandate would continue to climb, reaching 41.7 mpg by 2020, up from 38.3 mpg this year. That means new cars sold in 2020 will have to be 39% more fuel efficient than they were in 2012. That's hardly a retreat.
What's more, CAFE standards have never been about pollution.
They started in the 1970s as a misguided attempt to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. And when President Obama announced in 2012 that he was drastically raising the CAFE standards in 2012, he called it "the single most important step we've ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
Obama was dead wrong, of course. Fracking, not fuel economy mandates, has been the single most important factor in reducing dependence.
So, environmentalists now say it's all about greenhouse gas emissions. But CAFE standards are a horribly inefficient ( and potentially deadly) way to reduce CO2 emissions.
At best, it takes at least a decade for the nation's car fleet to turn over, which means the benefits of tougher CAFE rules will be far in the future. However, because CAFE standards boost car sticker prices, owners will tend to hold on to their old, less-efficient cars longer, offsetting at least some of the gains.
Killing Obama's Electric Car Mandate
What Trump — rightly — wants to block is the tail end of the Obama CAFE mandate, which would force carmakers to reach an average 54.5 mpg for all cars and trucks sold starting in 2025.
As we have pointed out in this space, Obama's clear intent in setting that sky-high mileage standard was to force more electric cars on the market — making it one of the most anti-consumer regulations on the books.
Despite all the hoopla and extraordinarily generous federal and state tax credits, consumers simply aren't interested in electric cars. So far this year, in fact, sales of plug-ins account for a tiny 1% of all car sales. So far this year, carmakers have sold a total of 73,282 electric cars. That's roughly equal to the number of F-Series trucks Ford sold in one month.
Despite what environmentalists would have you believe, car buyers already have a wide range of options when it comes to fuel economy. But they also have other needs.
The federal government has no business telling consumers that they must prioritize fuel economy over things like safety, reliability, or utility when spending their own money.
Education: The National Assessment of Educational Progress is known as the nation's report card. So what kind of grades are our nation's schools getting? Not passing, we're afraid. And that goes for the teachers, too.
The results released a couple of weeks ago were disappointing, showing that scores on reading and math tests for fourth and eight graders remained flat in 2017. Meanwhile, as those results were coming out, across the nation, in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado, schools were hit with teacher walkouts and strikes. The bad test scores and the walkouts are not unrelated.
The weak test scores say a lot. After a brief burst of improvements in the early 2000s, test scores have shown l ittle change or improvement for nearly a decade — essentially the Obama years until today. For all their talk, the Obama administration was a huge failure at continuing early-2000 improvements in 8-12 education.
More damning, however, is that few test-takers are considered by the testing standard to be "proficient." When it comes to reading, just 37% of fourth-graders and 36% of eighth-graders tested high enough to be considered proficient. In math, only 40% of fourth-graders and 33% of eighth graders were proficient.
These are the future citizens, voters and taxpayers in this country, the people who will inherit the greatest and wealthiest country in history. We're failing these young people by not preparing them adequately to care for the great gift that will be bequeathed them.
What's wrong? Whole books have been written about this subject. But the fact is, many things have gone wrong. They all contribute to the problem.
Sure, parents deserve part of the blame. And, in some cases, as teachers often argue, individual schools do need more funding.
But the problems are far broader and more profound. And as cross-country comparisons clearly show, there is no link — none — between more spending per student and performance. It's a myth.
Truth is, as others have said, the U.S. education system struggles with a host of problems, including the federal government's meddling in local schools through Common Core and other failed initiatives, ineffective spending by schools, the ongoing attacks on school choice and charters, a loss of classroom discipline and a refusal to link teacher performance to higher pay, to name a few.
Education As Indoctrination
And thanks to the intrusion of far left ideology by unions and progressive "curriculum experts" into our education system, we have turned our public schools into academies of political correctness that poorly teach the tough subjects and rigorous thinking that kids need to thrive in an increasingly competitive world.
Yet today, even as the country faces more union-fomented teacher walkouts and unrest, we're being asked by these very same unionized teachers to spend more on them — which, they assure us, will benefit the students.
Unfortunately, the evidence for that is nonexistent. But that doesn't mean they won't win their fight.
Teachers' unions have immense political clout, and can demonize anyone who disagrees with their agenda. They've been tremendously successful, becoming one of largest contributor to Democratic and left-wing political candidates to get their generally hard-left union agenda past local legislatures and through our nation's Congress.
As the OpenSecrets.org web site notes, "From 2004 to 2016, (teachers' unions) donationsgrew from $4.3 million to more than $32 million — an all-time high. Even more than most labor unions, they have little use for Republicans, giving Democrats at least 94% of the funds they contributed to candidates" since 1990.
The problem with this is simple: The union is more interested in getting money for its members than in student learning. That's a fact, despite the school unions' non-stop propaganda. They control the schools and the classrooms, and test scores have gone nowhere. They must be accountable, as everyone else is. They're not.
Pay For Performance
The best thing that could possibly happen would be to link teacher pay to clearly measurable student improvements. Unions should welcome the competition from home schooling and charters, rather than treating them as mortal enemies. Meanwhile, rewarding excellent teachers and requiring less certification — something that adds little to teaching skills — would attract better teachers with deeper knowledge of their subjects.
That's something that really does work when it comes to improving student skills and test scores.
U.S. teachers, for instance, often claim that they're paid less and treated with less respect than teachers abroad. That's sometimes true. But why?
One big reason why teachers abroad have such tremendous respect is because their students tend to perform better than ours. A recent McKinsey report on global education noted that "the top-performing systems we studied recruit their teachers from the top third of each cohort graduate from their schools system."
In the case of highly excellent schools in Singapore, Finland and Korea, for instance, they recruit all of their teachers from the top-third of their university classes. In the U.S., it's just 23%. They get the cream, we often get the dregs.
It is true that many teachers in the U.S. have faced stagnant wages, for which unions often blame "stingy" taxpayers. Not true. While teacher salaries adjusted for inflation fell by 2% from 1992 to 2014, spending per pupil actually grew by 27%. How can that be?
Much of the money spent on schools went to hiring more administrators and non-teaching staff. The result: top-heavy bureaucracies that add nothing to students' learning, but do add to union membership rolls and make teachers' jobs easier. That, too, is a union problem.
And while teachers take-home pay has fallen, overall compensation hasn't. It's risen sharply. From 2003 to 2014, while take-home pay shrank slightly in real terms, average benefits paid to teachers rose 50%, from $14,000 to $21,000, notes American Enterprise Institute education expert Fredrick Hess.
As Chad Aldeman, an official in the Obama administration, recently noted in a report, "While the average civilian employee receives $1.78 for retirement benefits per hour of work, public school teachers receive $6.22 per hour in retirement compensation." That's a huge difference.
The point is, the recent teacher strikes make a few valid points, as we said. But they miss the far bigger picture. Because unions make everything about money, not results, they are doomed to failure.
Teachers' unions reject and actively sabotage reasonable reforms that would loosen their grip on public school education and require teachers to strive for excellence. Despite their slick PR campaigns, this at the heart of our nation's failed education system, as evidenced by our abysmal test scores.
America led the world in innovation and economic growth for generations without teachers' unions. Maybe it's time for Americans to ask the question: Do we really need unions running our schools?
Other prominent Democrats have latched on to this plan, including those with presidential ambitions like Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker.
Maybe they are on to something? When Rasmussen asked about the idea in its latest poll, it found that 46% favor it.
The idea of government-guaranteed jobs isn't exactly new. The Senate proposed such a guarantee in 1977. The far-left Nation magazine resurrected it in 2014, saying the country could "easily afford" to guarantee every American a job. That same year, the Huffington Post ran a poll and found that 47% favored the idea — with 22% strongly favoring it.
The only thing lacking here — besides common sense — is context.
Like, say, what would it cost those with actual jobs to support millions of guaranteed-for-life make-work jobs?
The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities figures the annual price tag at $543 billion — roughly equal to the entire defense budget. That would be enough to fund 9.7 million full-time jobs, which would cover those currently unemployed plus those "marginally attached" to the workplace.
That's almost certainly a lowball estimate. In addition to the 9.7 million the CBPP counts as unemployed, there are nearly 10 times as many people who aren't officially in the labor force because they aren't looking for work. The prospect of easy money would no doubt bring millions, if not tens of millions, of them back. Nor does the CBPP factor in the likelihood of rampant waste, fraud and abuse.
Yet the pollsters don't ask about cost, or the massive tax hike required to finance it. No doubt that would push approval rates down.
Nor do the polls — or the politicians pushing this idea — mention how the Fed might react negatively to the sudden surge in wage inflation generated by this jobs guarantee.
But there's another bit of context that Bernie Sanders and Co. would probably rather you don't know about.
And that is the fact that the idea has already been tried — in the Soviet Union.
In fact, the Soviets wrote a jobs guarantee into the USSR's constitution in 1936.
Article 118 said: "Citizens of the U.S.S.R. … are guaranteed the right to employment and payment for their work in accordance with its quantity and quality.
"The right to work is ensured by the socialist organization of the national economy, the steady growth of the productive forces of Soviet society, the elimination of the possibility of economic crises, and the abolition of unemployment."
When the Soviet government updated its constitution in 1977, it moved the jobs guarantee up to Article 40, and rephrased it a bit to make it clear that they meant a right to "guaranteed employment," with pay at or above the "state established minimum" wage.
We all know how well that experiment in guaranteed employment turned out.
Democrats' Leftward Drift
Don't get us wrong. We're not trying to be red-baiting McCarthyites here. Everyone's entitled to their beliefs, even if they are foolish. And, sure, just because something showed up in a communist country's constitution doesn't make it a bad idea.
But the sudden embrace by leading Democrats of a huge new government-guaranteed jobs program is yet another indication of just how far to the left the party has drifted. They're now pushing ideas that even Finland has rejected.
It's also an unfortunate indicator of how many people in the U.S. are ignorant of basic economics that — context or not — they'd lend any measure of support to this idea.
Russia Investigation: We assume it was someone on Robert Mueller's Russia investigation team who leaked to the media a list of dozens of questions that he wants to ask President Trump. The only question is, why?
More than four dozen questions were handed over to the New York Times that appear to be questions that Mueller delivered to Trump's lawyers to give the president an idea of what he would face.
As the Times notes: "The open-ended queries appear to be an attempt to penetrate the president's thinking, to get at the motivation behind some of his most combative Twitter posts and to examine his relationships with his family and his closest advisers. They deal chiefly with the president's high-profile firings of the FBI director and his first national security adviser, his treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton."
Whew. Quite a bit there. But please notice: Only one of the key topics mentioned involves the alleged Russian-Trump campaign collusion, which many delusional Democrats insist denied Hillary Clinton the presidency. But that was supposedly the reason for the entire Russia investigation. What gives?
It shows pretty conclusively that the Mueller investigation, which started out as an attempt to end Russian cyber-meddling in U.S. elections, has now become a fishing expedition — one whose sole purpose seems to be to catch the biggest fish of all, Donald Trump, for doing something, anything, that a special counsel could deem a criminal offense.
It also shows desperation. As Thomas Gallatin of the Patriot Post notes, "This is now the second time the Mueller team has leaked significant information to the press." The first was in October, when Mueller's team leaked that it would charge several individuals in the investigation with crimes.
Trump was, as usual, at his sarcastic best in tweeting a response: "So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were 'leaked' to the media. No questions on Collusion. Oh, I see ... you have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice! It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!"
Mueller's Shift In Focus
What could Mueller and his team be up to? Obviously, they want to keep the dying embers of the investigation alive by focusing on obstruction, rather than the original and entirely spurious allegation of collusion, a crime found nowhere in U.S. law.
"They are really designed to let him ramble and talk, and I suspect that's the strategy of the special counsel because they know that may be President Trump's weakness," Dershowitz said on CNN.
It's pretty clear this has been a put-up job from the very beginning, with inside operators at both the Obama Justice Department and the Obama FBI assiduously protecting Hillary Clinton from charges for her violations of U.S. law with her unsecured email server, while launching a sleazy internal investigation and counteraction against Donald Trump funded by Democratic operatives and left-wing billionaires.
As we've said before, it all has the stink of a Banana Republic to it, the kind of place where the rule of law no longer matters. Venezuela on the Potomac.
That could be seen in last week's revelation that the Fusion GPS investigation of Trump, largely based on the "Trump dossier" assembled by former British spy Christopher Steele and paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, didn't end after the election. In fact, as the Daily Caller's Chuck Ross reported, "A group of wealthy donors from New York and California have forked out $50 million to fund a Russia investigation being conducted by Christopher Steele, Fusion GPS and a former staffer for Dianne Feinstein."
That devastating bit of news came from the House Intelligence Committee's recently released report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.
So what is one to make of all this? Clearly, there is a long-standing effort among the Hillary Clinton Democrats and their wealthy progressive allies to sabotage Trump's presidency and to bring a never-ending investigation of all his various affairs, both business and personal.
This effort does not come from the highest motives. It is a base effort to overturn the legitimate results of a national presidential election through a nonstop media campaign coupled with continuing investigations on multiple fronts to find something with which to delegitimize Trump and eventually remove him from office. It's about power, not ideals.
It is, in short, a kind of bloodless political coup, acted out in slow motion. Its intent is to disenfranchise an entire nation and to cause a permanent, irreparable political split that will lead to turmoil and perhaps even violence.
Demographics: A new poll shows that the millennial generation has suddenly soured on Democrats just before the Blue Wave was supposed to crash over Republicans in Congress. There's a good reason for their change of heart.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll of 16,000 millennials found that support for Democrats among this generation dropped to 46% — a nine-point plunge from 55% just two years ago. Just 39% of white millennials now say they favor Democrats. It also found that more millennials say the GOP is a better steward of the economy.
Given the millennial generation is 71 million strong and about as big as the baby boom generation, this is potentially catastrophic news for Democrats.
It wasn't that long ago, after all, that experts told us how Republicans faced the political wilderness because they had lost this generation thanks to their conservative positions on things like health care, taxes, regulations and gun rights.
Here's how the L.A. Times put it almost exactly two years ago: "Republicans long have worried about how to survive as conservative GOP voters die off and are replaced by more liberal younger Americans. A new national poll of millennial voters suggests that the 2016 presidential race has only hastened the shift they have feared."
But a funny thing happened over the past two years. The millennial generation started growing up.
They are getting married, buying homes and starting families in increasing numbers. And as a result, they're starting to realize that the liberalism they espoused as youths comes at too high a price in adulthood.
According to the census data, the median age at which women are getting married is now 27.4, and for men it's 29.5. Given that the age range for millennials is roughly 18 to 38, that's right in the middle of this generation.
In addition, homeownership rates have been shooting up lately, a trend that industry experts attribute largely to the fact that millennials are starting to buy homes.
The National Association of Homebuilders said earlier this year that the homeownership rate among millennials had registered the largest gains among all age groups.
The Pew Research Center also found that millennials are no more likely to support stricter gun control laws than the general public.
Reuters, reporting on its own survey findings, seems to get this.
The story mentions Ashley Reed, a 28-year-old who said she backed President Obama in 2008 but that "her politics evolved with her personal life." Reed, the story continues, "grew more supportive of gun rights … lost faith in social welfare programs (and) opposed abortion after having children."
The Trump Economy
There's another factor at play here. And that's the upturn in the economy under President Trump.
For years, millennials suffered as President Obama's policies of tax, spend and regulate produced the weakest economic recovery in modern times. Wages stagnated, millions of workers left the workforce entirely, and surveys showed that millennials were staying in their parents' homes in record numbers.
Many have no doubt noticed the change in the economy since President Trump started dismantling the regulatory state and since Republicans passed the epic tax reform.
The employment-to-population ratio among 24- to 34-year-olds, for example, is finally back to its pre-recession level of 79%, after remaining stuck in the low- to mid-70% range for most of the Obama years.
The Economic Optimism Index among those age 18 to 24 is now at 59.3, according to the IBD/TIPP Poll. It has averaged 57 since Trump took office. (Anything over 50 is optimistic, under 50 is pessimistic.) Among those age 25 to 44, the optimism index is 53.5, which is higher than the overall index.
Now, some caveats. The Reuters poll is just one survey, albeit a very large one. Others might come to different conclusions based on survey samples and other factors.
What's more, the survey shows that while support for Democrats dropped by nine points, support for Republicans among this age group climbed only 6 points, to 36%.
Nevertheless, Democrats aren't doing much to woo these millennials back. If anything, their increasingly radical positions on health care ( single payer), immigration (amnesty), gun control (more of it), welfare (vastly expanded benefits), and taxes ( repeal Trump tax cuts) are likely to drive even more of the massive, rapidly maturing millennial generation out of their camp.
If this trend continues, it will be Democrats who end up in the political wilderness.
Nuclear Iran: As North Korea and South Korea unexpectedly talk nuclear peace, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu has just released an equally unexpected intelligence trove revealing Iran to be a nuclear cheat. Is President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran worth the paper it's written on?
It's certainly worth asking the question, after Netanyahu dropped an information bomb on the world's media in the form of voluminous evidence of Iran's repeated efforts to gain a workable nuclear weapon, despite its repeated claims to wanting nuclear technology only for "peaceful purposes."
Netanyahu's timing isn't accidental. In two weeks, President Trump and leaders of France, U.K. and Germany are set to decide what to do about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, pushed by President Obama, which almost no one is happy with. Netanyahu is hoping his intelligence will sway the debate and force a unified crackdown on Iran.
"This is a terrible deal. It should never have been concluded, and in a few days time, President Trump will decide, will make his decision on what to do with the nuclear deal," Netanyahu said in his speech in Tel Aviv, made in his fluent English.
Trump, for his part, probably doesn't need convincing on the nuclear deal. CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently made a trip to Israel, where he reviewed Netanyahu's intelligence.
Netanyahu shared with the U.S. more than 100,000 files and about 180 CDs that Israel retrieved from what Netanyahu called an Iranian "atomic archive." He claimed the U.S. could vouch for their authenticity.
In particular, Trump is upset that some of the tougher provisions go away in time, that inspectors aren't allowed to inspect some military sites, and that other aspects of Iran's weapons and military, including ballistic missiles programs and its ongoing support of terrorism, are left out entirely from the deal.
Netanyahu has come under immediate criticism for his sensational Iran "dossier." No one doubts the veracity of the documents. But they note that most of the evidence details nuclear activities that took place years, even decades ago. The Iran nuclear deal, signed in 2015, doesn't cover those earlier activities.
Broken Nuclear Deal
But what Netanyahu called "Project Amad," the long-term effort by Iran to "design, produce and test five warheads, each with 10 kiloton TNT yield for integration in a missile," is real. It was never declared under the 2015 nuclear agreement, as required.
Here, two points need to be made.
First, Iran has claimed for years that it's clean and above-board on its nuclear activities and, as we said, only pursuing nuclear technology for "peaceful purposes." These documents completely shatter that lie. So we should believe them now?
Second, Iran is already in violation of another nuclear agreement, one that people conveniently forget about: The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran signed in 1970 and has never disavowed.
So its past efforts to get a bomb, coupled with ongoing evidence its military has never given up its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, make Iran dangerous.
The U.S. and International Atomic Energy Agency found violations going all the way back to 1991.
In 2002, they were found to have an undeclared uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a reactor at Arak that could produce plutonium. Both uranium and plutonium can be made into bombs.
Based on their aggressive missile program and their stated goal of having a bomb in service of Islam suggests that they are actively building a nuclear weapon.
The 'Other Deal'
By the way, Iran also signed a chemical weapons non-proliferation treaty in 1997. Today, Iran's closely allied with Syria, and has given both technology and material to Syria's Bashar Assad, who has both made chemical weapons and used them on his own people.
Iran shrouds its military nuclear facilities in secrecy and has used immense resources to locate nuclear research and production in hardened facilities underground. These are clear signs of an ongoing nuclear program. Iran's people, pawns in this wicked game, deserve better.
This isn't a game. A nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran's fundamentalist leaders would almost surely be used — either by the Iranians themselves, or by a terrorist proxy. The very fact of an Iranian nuclear program is destabilizing of the entire Mideast, since it encourages local rivals — Saudi Arabia and Egypt come to mind — to develop their own bomb programs. Then what?
That doesn't even include the fact that Iran has repeatedly threatened Israel with annihilation. And if it gets a nuke, it just might try.
The status quo with Obama's failed nuclear deal with Iran is intolerable. It's time to renegotiate the deal, and make it real. Pretending we are stopping Iran from having a nuclear weapon and doing nothing about it is dangerous, just as it was with North Korea.
Health Care Denial: Bernie Sanders and many of his fellow Democrats pushing single payer endlessly claim that health care is a "basic human right." What they never mention is that gaining that one means sacrificing many other rights. Just ask the parents of Alfie Evans.
Alfie died this week in a British hospital after a series of events that, if they'd happened here, would be a serious breakdown in our nation's health care system and of parental rights.
Back in December 2016, British doctors diagnosed Alfie Evans as having a degenerative neurological condition that they couldn't identify. As Alfie's conditioned worsened, officials at the National Health Service decided that Alfie's condition had deteriorated to the point where he was in a "semi-vegetative state" and would never recover.
The doctors at the Alder Hey Children's Hospital decreed that the best course of action was to pull the plug and let Alfie die.
His parents believed otherwise. And they fought in court for months for the right to take Alfie Evans to a Vatican hospital, where he could remain on life support, and receive care and comfort until his final days. The Italian government even granted Alfie Italian citizenship, hoping it would allow an "immediate transfer to Italy."
Too bad. The British courts sided with the doctors. Alfie had to stay put, no matter what his parents wanted or what other more humane alternatives were available.
This is the second such vulgar childhood death in the U.K. that captured worldwide attention. Last the parents of Charlie Gard, who suffered a rare genetic disorder, fought the British government for the right to take their son to the U.S. for an experimental treatment. The U.S. hospital offered the treatment for free, and the parents had raised enough money on their own for travel costs.
No dice. The medical professionals at Great Ormond Street Hospital told them no. His condition was too far gone, and they wanted to switch off Charlie's life support.
Single Payer Myth
How are such horrors possible? They are possible because decades ago the British bought into the "single-payer" health care myth. It's the very same myth that leading Democrats are now insisting we import into the U.S.
The promise was that every British citizen would have the "right" to health care, at no cost to them. What they didn't know, or understand, was that by putting government in control of paying for health care and dispensing this right also gave the government bureaucrats the ability to decide what care gets provides, who can get it, and under what circumstances.
In gaining the "right" to free health care, the British gave up more fundamental rights — among them, life, liberty, and for parents to make life-or-death decisions about their own children.
Worse, decades of government mismanagement have left the British with a sclerotic health care system, one rife with shortages, waste and endless pressure to deny or delay treatments wherever possible.
Just this winter, for example, the NHS ordered hospitals to cancel all nonemergency surgeries while the country dealt with … wait for it … the seasonal flu. Patients routinely wait hours in the emergency room, if they're lucky, while others die on gurneys left in hallways.
An Illusory Right
The British, and the Canadians, and those living in other countries cited as models of socialized medicine, might have a "right" to health care. But the government has no obligation to provide it.
This is always the case when you define a right as something given to you by government — a fact the left never explains.
Yet every time one of these single-payer health care tragedies occurs, we're told how the British revere their National Health Service, and that the alternative — an American system that relies heavily on the free market — would be far worse.
We don't know who the pollsters are surveying about the quality of care in Britain, or in any other country with government-run health care. But we doubt they're asking the people who actually need care that the NHS keeps denying them.
And don't believe the claims that the British get better health care than Americans. When you look at actual outcomes of various treatments — rather than faulty comparisons of life expectancy or infant mortality — the NHS falls way down the list. The children of the poorest parents in America would have received far better care here than Charlie or Alfie did.
The next time Bernie Sanders or some other prominent Democrat starts talking about how health care is a right and how we need a single payer system to deliver it, ask them what actual rights we'll have to give up to gain that ephemeral one.
Chances are, they won't have a satisfactory answer.