Do not allow thug nations to use American hostages as bargaining chips

There was, as usual, a contentious bit of debate between Marie Harf and the conservative panelists on Fox News Outnumbered show this afternoon. Miss Harf, who was part of the negotiations concerning a prisoner exchange with Iran during the nuclear agreement talks, claimed that the Iranians presented a huge list of prisoners they wanted released, and the United States whittled that list down, all men that the Department of Justice said would pose no national security threats to the United States.

I have no intention of either agreeing or disagreeing that the released Iranians pose no threat to the United States. Rather, I wish to point out that any American who willingly travels to a thug country like Iran or North Korea. From the relatively worthless USA Today:

North Korea seizes another American citizen as crisis heats up

John Bacon | USA TODAY | Published 9:36 a.m. ET May 7, 2017 | Updated 4:00 PM

North Korea announced Sunday that it detained another American over the weekend, raising to four the number of U.S. citizens being held by the communist nation’s authoritarian regime.

Kim Hak-song had worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, the same school where American Tony Kim had worked prior to being arrested at Pyongyang International Airport two weeks ago, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said.

Few details on Kim Hak-song or his arrest were immediately available. KCNA said he was detained Saturday on suspicion of committing “hostile acts” and that a “detailed investigation into his crimes” was underway.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement saying it was aware of the detention reports. The department works with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which serves as the United States’ Protecting Power in North Korea in dealing with such matters, the statement said. The U.S. has no direct diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.

“The security of U.S. citizens is one of the Department’s highest priorities,” the statement said.

PUSTThere’s more at the original. Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) is North Korea’s first privately funded university. It is founded, operated, and partly funded by associations and people outside the country. PUST was jointly planned and constructed by forces from the North and the South Korea, along with contributions from groups and individuals from other nations, in particular China and the USA. The initiative is largely funded by Evangelical Christian movements. Originally scheduled for launch in 2003, the project was delayed for several years and began operations in October 2010.

A couple of obvious questions:

  1. What are any Americans doing helping to fund a college in North Korea which trains people in science and technology? The only thing that this can be doing is helping the regime of Kim Jung-un to advance militarily.
  2. What are any Americans doing in a country which seizes Americans to use as hostages and bargaining chips? This can only give that thug regime more leverage over their home country.

If there is one thing that the Trump Administration can do, simply, easily and quickly, is to announce that any Americans who are so fornicating stupid as to travel willingly to North Korea, or Iran, are on their own. The United States should wash its hands of American citizens who set themselves up to be bargaining chips for brutal regimes, and Iran and North Korea have demonstrated histories of taking Americans hostage for such purposes.

Is that harsh? Yup, sure is! But the United States should not bargain with terrorists, and allowing the lives of Americans stupid enough to be a detriment to American foreign policy is misguided, irresponsible and just plain wrong.

Managing risk

Insurance companies make money by managing risk. If a guy with a DUI on his record comes to an insurance company, trying to buy automobile insurance, the insurance company will either decline to sell him a policy, or only offer him one with a very high premium, to offset the greater risk of insuring such a person.

The same holds true of health insurance companies when it comes to people with pre-existing conditions. If someone wants to buy health insurance, but he’s been a chronic smoker or had a liver transplant, the insurance company is either going to decline to sell him a policy, or only offer one with a huge premium, because such a person is a known risk.

Then we got Obysmalcare, which tries to use the private insurance companies, but removes the prime tool of insurance companies to make a profit, their ability to manage risk.

The result? Insurance companies are pulling out of the Obaminablecare markets, leaving many areas with only one ‘choice,’ and a few areas, around Knoxville, with ZERO choices, all because they kept losing money there.

So, when I hear the left complaining about the loss of pre-existing conditions protection in the AHCA, what I think about is all of those people who would otherwise have far less expensive insurance options, except for the fact that they have to pay much more to cover otherwise uninsurable people.

ObamacareLite 2.0

With the bare passage of the American Health Care Act, 217-213 in the House of Representatives, I won’t be too surprised that most people will miss the fact that, as we have noted before, the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare, is already failing:

Aetna pulls out of Virginia’s individual market, citing big Obamacare losses

by Tami Luhby | May 4, 2017: 3:48 PM ET

Aetna is throwing in the towel in Virginia after suffering big losses in its Obamacare business.

The company said Wednesday that it won’t participate in the state’s individual market — either on the Obamacare exchange or outside of it — in 2018. Though it has greatly downsized its participation in Obamacare, Aetna (AET) said it could still lose more than $200 million in its individual market products this year. That’s on top of the nearly $700 million it’s lost in the three years after the exchanges opened in 2014.

The move means Innovation Health, which Aetna formed through a joint venture with Washington D.C. metro-area insurer Inova in 2012, will also leave the Virginia market. In addition, UnitedHealth (UNH) did not file with the Virginia’s insurance department to offer policies in the state next year.

The companies’ exit will not leave any Virginia residents without any insurers, but it does mean that 27 counties could have only one choice for 2018, said Katherine Hempstead, a senior adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funds health care research and grants. Six carriers have notified the state that they will participate in the state next year.

There’s more at the original, but it’s simply chapter N of a very old story: the Affordable Care Act, which was supposed to keep health care costs down by insuring competition, has led to spiraling costs and dwindling competition, because private insurers cannot make a profit selling ACA policies. If the Congress doesn’t repeal the ACA, it will fail anyway; it’s a question of when, not if.

Insurance companies, all insurance companies, make a profit by managing risk. If you have a record as a drunk driver, insurance companies are not going to cover you, unless you pay them a ridiculously high premium, because you are a greater risk, more likely to have an accident, more likely to require them to pay out for a big claim. Health insurance companies operated the same way: they declined customers with pre-existing conditions, because those conditions were guaranteed payouts for them.

Then comes the ACA, and customers with pre-existing conditions couldn’t be refused policies; the greater costs had to be covered by the entire customer base. Premiums had to rise, and the did, but the insurance companies still lost money. Risk management, the primary tool for insurance companies, went out the window.

Let me be plain here: you cannot have a system in which private, for-profit health insurance companies are expected to cover all patients, because such cannot make a profit.

Finding jobs for America’s ‘forgotten people’

From CNNMoney:

Trump’s tall task: Finding jobs for America’s ‘forgotten people’

by Heather Long | @byHeatherLong | May 3, 2017: 11:13 AM ET

President Trump has had one consistent theme from the first day he entered the race for the White House: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” He thinks a lot of Americans urgently need work.

That’s not what the experts say.

Would these be the same experts who told us that it was certain we’d be ‘celebrating’ President Hillary Clinton’s 105th day in office today?

Or are they the economic experts, who have gotten things so wrong in the recent past?

Most economists believe that America is at full employment. After all, the official unemployment rate is a mere 4.5%, the lowest level in in years.

“I’d say we’re doing pretty well,” Janet Yellen, the head of America’s central bank, said in March.

We are? March was the third month of the first quarter, and first quarter economic growth turned out to be a miserable 0.7%.1 The Federal Open Market Committee, which Dr Yellen heads, brushed that aside, saying they “(view) the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory.”

Transitory?  Well, perhaps: first quarter growth in 2016 was just 0.8%, but that dragged down the total growth for the whole year.  The third quarter growth was a healthy 3.5%, and the fourth quarter was 2.1%, but that first quarter, along with a 1.4% growth rate in the second quarter, held total GDP growth for 2016 down to 1.6%, lower than the 1.9% the Fed estimated 11½ months into the year.  With the first quarter of 2017 at an even lower 0.7%, the economy will need to significantly better the 2016 numbers to reach the Fed’s 2.1% real growth projection for 2017.

Trump thinks the experts are wrong, just like they were about the election polls. On the campaign trail he trashed the official unemployment rate as “a joke.” He believes there are a lot of sidelined workers who gave up job hunting. They aren’t counted in the official unemployment rate, which only tallies people who actively searched for work in the past month.

He’s thrown out some wild numbers. He’s said the true unemployment rate is 42% and that 94 million Americans are sidelined from the workforce. There’s no data to back that up. CNNMoney (and many others) have debunked those claims.

But Trump does have a point: The current economy hardly feels like “full employment.” In fact, once you dig into the numbers, you know why. Too many people are stuck in part-time jobs, and too few people are working at all in their “prime years” between ages 25 and 54.

There’s more at the original, and I’ve already quoted as much as I feel comfortable doing without violating copyright laws. But Miss Long’s article continues to note what The First Street Journal has been saying for months now: the real unemployment rate, as the public feel it in their bones, is far more accurately reflected by the U-6 unemployment rate than the ‘official’ U-3 rate.2 Robert Brusca, chief economist at FAO Economics, said, “It’s hard to know what to call this. But it does not act like it is full employment.”

This is where President Trump is turning out to be far different from his predecessors. A ‘normal’ President would be telling us how great his (three month old) policies are, having lowered unemployment to 4.5%. Instead, he is continuing to focus on jobs, and realizes that the unemployment rate that the voters feel, the unemployment rate which helped to put him in office, includes the underemployed, includes the discouraged, includes the hopeless.

Miss Long’s article noted that a significant part of the problem is that so many of the unemployed/underemployed lack skills for today’s job market. When you look at men who dropped out of high school to work in the coal fields of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, men who’ve largely lost their jobs with the decline in mining, you can see how this can be.

However, the Pew Research Center has estimated that 5.0% of the American workforce is composed of illegal immigrants. The majority of those illegal immigrants are working at unskilled, general labor or low-skill positions, jobs for which low-skill American workers could quickly be trained. If the President’s policies to reduce illegal immigration and expel those illegal immigrants already in the country succeed, the American part of the American workforce would expand, and those are the people who helped put Mr Trump in office.

The President’s economic policies have been generally mocked by the media,3 but few of the supposed experts seem to realize that there is a larger whole, that the economics and immigration policies are intimately related. For President Trump to succeed in creating new jobs for those ‘forgotten Americans,’ he will have to succeed in reducing the number of illegal immigrants holding those jobs in America.4
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  1. That was the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ first estimate of GDP growth. The second estimate is due out on May 26.
  2. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin prefers to use the U-5 numbers, which I find less accurate, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
  3. The referenced CNNMoney article does not mock them, and is a fair report.
  4. CNN wants to know: Are you out of work? If so, why? Email: Heather.Long@cnn.com.

Why can’t the Fed ever get anything right?

From CNNMoney:

No Fed rate hike; but officials see more ahead

by Patrick Gillespie | May 3, 2017: 2:14 PM ET

Federal Reserve leaders chose not to raise the bank’s key interest rate on Wednesday, after raising rates in December and March.

It was widely expected that the Fed would not take any action on rates at its latest two-day meeting.

However, another rate hike could be around the corner. Fed leaders meet again in June, and Wall Street predicts there’s a 67% chance of a June rate increase, according to CME Group.

Although the economy grew at a sluggish pace in the first three months of the year, Fed leaders don’t seem spooked by it. They see growth rebounding, which gives them the confidence to resume raising rates the rest of the year.

“The Committee views the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory,” Fed leaders said in a statement released Wednesday. “With gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace.”

There’s more at the original.

I have noted previously that the Fed has gotten its economic estimates dramatically wrong previously. On December 14, 2016, the Fed released its economic projections, in which they included their estimate for real GDP growth for 2016, which, at the time, had only 17 days left in the year. They projected 1.9% GDP growth, which was up from their 1.8% guesstimate in September. Yet GDP growth for 2016 came in significantly lower, at only 1.6%, an estimate which was upheld by the two subsequent revisions. The Fed continued with their 2017 projection at 2.1% real growth for 2017 in their March meeting.

Trouble is, for the first quarter of this year, the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ first estimate for GDP growth was a mere 0.7% at an annualized rate.

But the Federal Open Market Committee views “the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory.” Really? If the initial estimate of GDP growth at 0.7% is correct, to achieve the FOMC’s projected growth rate of 2.1% for the year, GDP growth will have to be at annualized rates of 2.5, 2.6 and 2.6 percents for the remaining three quarters of the year! The Fed are way, way behind on their guesstimates of what the economy will do.

Now, if I guess wrong on what the economy is going to do, the worst that will happen is that I might lose money personally. And perhaps, if I’m wrong, the very few people who listen to me might lose a few bucks as well.

But the FOMC has governing authority, and when they get it wrong, the policies they enact are based on lousy projections, and those policies are going to hurt millions of people. They are planning on raising interest rates, which will cost real people more money, and that is the wrong thing to do.

Doing the right thing incenses the left

From The New York Times:

Kentucky Judge, Citing Conscience, Declines to Hear Same-Sex Adoption Cases

By Daniel Victor | May 1, 2017

A Family Court judge in Kentucky has recused himself from adoption cases involving gay and lesbian parents, saying that “as a matter of conscience” he could not be impartial.

In a court order on Thursday, the judge, W. Mitchell Nance, wrote that he believed “under no circumstance” would the best interests of a child be served in an adoption by a “practicing homosexual.”

Judge Nance, of the Family Court in Barren and Metcalfe Counties, declined to comment on Monday. Any cases involving gay and lesbian parents will be heard instead by another judge, John T. Alexander, and the court said there would be no delays in the adoption process, according to a case manager at the Family Court.

But Judge Nance’s on-the-record proclamation that he could not fairly rule on matters of gay and lesbian parenting rankled L.G.B.T. advocates in the state, and prompted critics to question whether he could perform the rest of his duties.

“What we have is a judge who has made a record of his inability to be a fair and impartial judge for a whole class of citizens who are entitled to have a fair and impartial judge,” Sam Marcosson, a professor of law at the University of Louisville who focuses on civil rights issues for L.G.B.T. people, said in an interview on Monday. “It raises serious problems about his fitness for office going forward.”

There’s more at the original.

It seems to me that Judge Nance has answered any questions about his ‘fitness for office going forward.’ He could have said nothing, continued to hear such cases, and perhaps rules according to his prejudices. Of course, there couldn’t be many same-sex adoption cases in Barren and Metcalfe counties: with a combined population of 53,138 in the 2014 estimates, and only 1.6% of the population being homosexual — another 0.7% identify as bisexual — according to the Centers for Disease Control, there should only be, roughly, 1,222 homosexuals or bisexuals in those two counties.

Instead, Judge Nance was honest about the whole thing, and recused himself from hearing such cases. That sounds, to me, like the right thing to do. But, doing the right thing, and deferring to other officials, is not something the left can accept. Rather, they wish to use whatever force they can muster to require everyone to comply.

Eric Frein will die in prison But he will never be executed

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Jury chooses death sentence for convicted murderer Eric Frein

by Laura McCrystal, Staff Writer | @LMcCrystal | lmccrystal@phillynews.com | Updated: April 26, 2017 — 10:50 PM EDT

MILFORD, Pa. – A jury Wednesday ordered the death penalty for Eric Frein, who gunned down two state troopers outside their Pike County barracks in 2014 and then eluded more than 1,000 law-enforcement officers until he was captured in the Poconos after 48 days.

As the verdict was read just before 10 p.m. in a packed courtroom, sighs of relief and a shout of “yes” were heard from the troopers and the victims’ family members present.

Frein showed little reaction as the verdict was read after nearly five hours of deliberation.

The decision marked the end of Frein’s four-week trial, which offered new information about the man who spent the fall of 2014 on the FBI’s most-wanted list for killing Cpl. Bryon Dickson and wounding Trooper Alex Douglass.

Some of the testimony recounted the deadly sniper attack and manhunt for Frein that gripped the Northeastern United States and made international news.

There’s more at the original.

Let’s be honest here: even though Mr Frein was sentenced to death, the odds are very much against him actually being executed. Since the reinstatement of capital punishment in the Keystone State, 408 people have been sentenced to death. Of those 408:

  • 181 are currently on death row;
  • 169 had their sentences reduce to life imprisonment;
  • 33 died of other causes while on death row;
  • 16 had their sentences reduced to less than life imprisonment;
  • 6 were exonerated; and
  • 3 were executed, all three of whom voluntarily dropped their appeals.

On February 13, 2015, shortly after taking office, Governor Tom Wolf (D-PA) announced a moratorium on all executions in Pennsylvania. The immediate ‘beneficiary’ was convicted murderer Terrance Williams, who was scheduled to be executed on March 4, 2015, but the Commonwealth did not have the lethal drugs used in executions on hand. The Governor’s pardon power is limited: he may grant clemency only upon a favorable recommendation by the Board of Pardons.

Governor Wolf appears to be opposed to capital punishment, but his predecessor, Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) was not; Governor Corbett signed 48 death warrants during his term, but not one condemned man was actually executed during his four years in office. No one has been executed against his will in the Keystone State since the re-establishment of the death penalty!

It didn’t matter whether the governor supported or opposed capital punishment, and it didn’t matter whether the legislature was controlled by Republicans or Democrats: not one single execution occurred, unless the condemned man volunteered for it by dropping his appeals.

And Pennsylvania’s prosecutors know this, know it very well. They know that winning a capital sentence doesn’t mean that a killer will be executed; they just know that seeking the death penalty shows that they are ‘tough on crime.’ It’s an election issue for them, and nothing more.

So, what did prosecutors achieve in the Frein case? The conviction was a foregone conclusion, and his attorneys never even attempted to argue that Mr Frein wasn’t the killer. Rather, they tried to show what a terrible home life he had, “an abusive, alcoholic father who railed against police and the government, and fabricated stories about being a war hero,” to try and spare him from a capital sentence. Had he been sentenced to life imprisonment, that’s it, we’d never hear about him again. Since he was sentenced to death, he’ll be incarcerated much more expensively, on death row rather than general population, have multiple appeals, all paid for by the taxpayers, and he still will never be executed.

The death penalty is nothing but a waste of money.

Simplifying taxes

From The Washington Post

One tax change that should be made — and certainly won’t be

By George F. Will | Opinion writer | April 28, 2017

Attempting comprehensive tax reform is like trying to tug many bones from the clamped jaws of many mastiffs. Every provision of the code — now approaching 4 million words — was put there to placate a clamorous faction, or to create a grateful group that will fund its congressional defenders. Still, Washington will take another stab at comprehensiveness, undeterred by the misadventures of comprehensive immigration and health-care reforms. Consider just one tax change that should be made and certainly will not be.

The deductibility of mortgage interest payments, by which the government will forgo collecting nearly $1 trillion in the next decade, is treated as a categorical imperative graven on the heart of humanity by the finger of God because it is a pleasure enjoyed primarily by the wealthy. About 75 percent of American earners pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes, and only around 30 percent of taxpayers itemize their deductions. Ike Brannon, of the Cato Institute and Capital Policy Analytics in Washington, argues that, given America’s homeownership rate of about 63 percent, not even half of all homeowners use the deduction. Its principal beneficiaries are affluent (also attentive and argumentative) homeowners, and its benefits, as Brannon says, “scale up” regressively: The larger the mortgage and the higher the tax bracket, the more valuable the deduction is.

Perhaps the deduction’s net effect is a higher rate of homeownership, which can benefit society by encouraging respect for property rights, the thrift necessary for a substantial investment and a sense of having a stake in the community. But the unpleasantness of 2008 demonstrated the downside of encouraging too much homeownership. Furthermore, the deduction might actually suppress homeownership by being priced into rising housing costs. Besides, Australia, Canada and Britain, which have no mortgage interest deductions, have homeownership rates comparable to that of the United States.

Homeownership is, Brannon argues, a way for people to hold their wealth; it is not an investment because “it does not improve the productive capacity of the economy.” Indeed, the more money that flows into housing, the less flows into stocks, bonds or banks.

There’s more at the original, in which George Will presents more arguments for ending the deductibility of mortgage interest, but that last quoted paragraph I find specious: home ownership leads people into investing in their homes, in maintenance and improvements. It increases consumer demand in ways that renting does not, and in ways that owning rental property often doesn’t. Landlords have to maintain their properties, but only rarely put money into improving them. Given the ability of landlords to depreciate their property, they have some ability to get away with allowing their properties to deteriorate, as foolish as that sounds.

However, I do not disagree with Mr Will, especially when I consider a real proposal by the Trump Administration. From The New York Times:

State and Local Tax Deduction: An Item Blurring Party Lines

By Patricia Cohen | April 27, 2017

To some, it is a tax on blue-state liberalism. To others, President Trump’s plan to end the federal deduction for state and local taxes would eliminate a costly perk for the wealthy.

But to many taxpayers, the deduction is a cherished break that can save them thousands of dollars in double taxation.

Mr. Trump and House Republicans, riding a wave of conservative and populist sentiment, are pushing to end the provision. Yet they must overcome a long tradition and powerful opponents, including Republican and Democratic officials in wealthy, populous states like California, New Jersey, New York and Texas.

“I don’t think they’re going to seriously restrict it at all,” said William G. Gale, a co-director of the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and a former economic adviser to President George Bush.

Congressional Republicans have indicated that they will go it alone on tax legislation, but taking on such an entrenched interest usually requires bipartisan support.

“If Republicans do it by themselves, they put a big target on their backs,” Mr. Gale said. Members of Congress generally take a “political Hippocratic oath” to “never be seen to do obvious harm,” he said, but eliminating the deduction, which would increase taxes and undermine the ability of cities and states to raise revenue, would violate that precept.

A raft of organizations that represent state and local governments — including the National Governors Association, the United States Conference of Mayors and the National Conference of State Legislatures — denounced the measure, saying it would upset the balance between local and federal interests and undermine growth. “We fundamentally believe that Americans’ income, property and purchases should not be taxed twice,” the organizations said in a statement.

Other interest groups have also registered their opposition, like the National Association of Realtors, which said that eliminating the state and local deduction would help “nullify the current tax benefits of owning a home for the vast majority of tax filers.”

It’s that last paragraph which tells the story: for most Americans who itemize deductions, it takes both the mortgage interest and state and local tax deductions, together, to exceed the value of the standard deduction.1 With the low interest rates of the past several years, the mortgage interest deduction is getting smaller, and that has pushed many homeowners into using the standard deduction.2

If either the state and local tax or the mortgage interest deductions are eliminated, then both should be, because one without the other would be available to only a very limited number of taxpayers. This would greatly simplify many people’s taxes, as more people would be using Form 1040A rather than 1040; the people most greatly hurt would be Jackson-Hewitt and H & R Block, but I have little sympathy for the idea that our taxes are so complex that so many people can’t — or are afraid to — do their own taxes.

Tax simplification has long been something that politicians have promised, but it has rarely been delivered. The keeping of records, such as having to look up how much you paid for automobile registration fees, has eluded many people, and the Schedule A deduction of things like work uniforms and boots can easily be abused.

What we really need are fewer potential deductions coupled with lower tax rates; ending the primary Schedule A deductions would help with that.
________________________

  1. The standard deduction for heads of household rose to $9,300 for tax year 2016, up from $9,250, for tax year 2015.The other standard deduction amounts for 2016 remain as they were for 2015: $6,300 for singles and married persons filing separate returns and $12,600 for married couples filing jointly.
  2. I have used the standard deduction for tax years 2015 and 2016, as my mortgage interest amounts have declined. I do still get to deduct property taxes on my rental property, as that is reported on Schedule E. I have no mortgage interest on my rental property, but if I did, that, too, would be reported, and deducted, on Schedule E.

Tax cuts to stimulate growth It's been tried before; has it ever worked before?

From The Wall Street Journal:

Mnuchin Says Trump Will Offer ‘Biggest Tax Cut’ in U.S. History

Cut seeks to spark sustained 3% economic growth

By Richard Rubin and Nick Timiraos | Updated April 26, 2017 9:45 a.m. ET

To spur economic growth, President Donald Trump plans to propose what his Treasury Secretary said Wednesday would be the largest tax cut in the country’s history.

The plan calls for 15% tax rates on all businesses, deeper than the rate cuts proposed by House Republicans. Those rates are likely to drive Democrats away and to cause complications in Congress because changes in tax policy that the Senate can pass on a party-line vote, under the budget procedure known as reconciliation, aren’t allowed to create long-run budget deficits.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at an event Wednesday morning that the administration wants permanent policy changes, but that temporary cuts could be considered, too.

“This is going to be the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country,” he said at a conference in Washington sponsored by The Hill newspaper.

There’s a lot more at the link, and, from what I can see it’s half of a good plan. Why half? Because the plan does not address spending, and without addressing spending, the plan balloons the deficit. When the Journal article mentioned that it might have to be passed under reconciliation, it tells you that the Trump Administration knows that this plan will increase deficits; to advance a tax plan through the Senate without risking a filibuster — the Democrats could choose not to filibuster, but you know they’ll try to stop this — it cannot increase the deficit beyond a ten-year time frame. That’s why the tax cuts passed under the younger President Bush had the automatic sunset provision, which would have raised taxes on everybody. With the Democrats holding the Senate and the White House, the Republican-controlled House was able to get the tax cuts extended for lower-income people, but only at the cost of raising taxes on the top producers.

Trump administration officials say they will rely on those optimistic growth projections to assume any cuts will generate substantial higher revenues to offset declines from lower rates. Most tax specialists say such cuts are unlikely to fully pay themselves.

Now, where have we heard that before? It’s been tried before; has it ever worked before?

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, from his Twitter account.

The First Street Journal had many articles condemning the huge deficits run under President Obama, and the Editor does not believe that deficits are somehow better or more acceptable because a Republican in in the White House. I have already noted that continual deficit spending, during good times as well as bad, has taken us completely away from Keynesian ideas and has, in effect, inoculated our economy to any projected benefits from stimulus. Constant stimulus has already been figured in to our economy.

Yes, our taxes are too high, way too high, but we must cut spending as well as taxes; if we do not, we will simply be adding to the burden on the taxpayers to pay ever-increasing debt service, tax dollars being taken to pay for programs long in the past. President Trump’s proposed FY2018 budget, the one he called a “skinny” budget, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called a budget using a different adjective beginning with an “s”, is a start, but it’s not a big enough start. Federal government spending needs to be cut not just down to the bone, but to start sawing into the bone a bit as well. The entire Department of Education needs to be flushed down the toilet, the Department of Commerce reduced to its statistical services and trade missions, the Department of Energy pared back, and the biggest offender of all, Health and Human Services, not just eliminated, but all of the wages ever paid out to any of its employees somehow garnished back!

OK, OK, I know that last can’t happen, but it should!

The federal government is simply too big, way too big, not only taking over services which ought to be performed by states and cities, but having services which should not exist at all.

Once we cut back on all of that unnecessary and irresponsible government spending, it will be time to cut taxes.

Ulrich Baer, The New York Times, and the totalitarianism of the left Conservatives may mock the positions of the left, but the left try to use governing power to muzzle the positions of the right.

The New York Times would be the first to defend the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and of the press . . . for itself. Others? Not so much:

What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech

by Ulrich Baer1 | April 24, 2017

During the 1980s and ’90s, a shift occurred in American culture; personal experience and testimony, especially of suffering and oppression, began to challenge the primacy of argument. Freedom of expression became a flash point in this shift. Then as now, both liberals and conservatives were wary of the privileging of personal experience, with its powerful emotional impact, over reason and argument, which some fear will bring an end to civilization, or at least to freedom of speech.

We should resist the temptation to rehash these debates. Doing so would overlook the fact that a thorough generational shift has occurred. Widespread caricatures of students as overly sensitive, vulnerable and entitled “snowflakes”2 fail to acknowledge the philosophical work that was carried out, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, to legitimate experience — especially traumatic experience — which had been dismissed for decades as unreliable, untrustworthy and inaccessible to understanding.

The original article is a long one, 1,786 words, and copyright laws being what they are, I cannot simply reproduce the whole thing.3  Much of the article deals with the work of Jean-François Lyotard:

Lyotard shifted attention away from the content of free speech to the way certain topics restrict speech as a public good. Some things are unmentionable and undebatable, but not because they offend the sensibilities of the sheltered young. Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.

The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.

Really?  Then the universities must be taking the decisions concerning the content and value of those views, taking those decisions for other people rather than for themselves.  Private colleges ought to have more leeway in this, but public schools are government entities, and thus subject to the limitations on government power over speech.

The great value and importance of freedom of expression, for higher education and for democracy, is hard to underestimate. But it has been regrettably easy for commentators to create a simple dichotomy between a younger generation’s oversensitivity and free speech as an absolute good that leads to the truth. We would do better to focus on a more sophisticated understanding, such as the one provided by Lyotard, of the necessary conditions for speech to be a common, public good. This requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.

I find this notion repugnant.  To hold that “the necessary conditions for speech (should) be a common, public good” is to hold that the public — meaning: government officials, the ones who exercise power in the name of the public — get to decide, in advance, whether some particular expression meets or enhances the “common, public good.”

Well, not just government officials.  One of the greatest tragedies for the press was the creation of the internet: it allowed people to get out messages that were not previously approved by the ‘gatekeepers’ of the professional media.  One no longer needed to have the editors of The New York Times or The Washington Post or even the Lexington Herald-Leader to approve publication to get one’s point out into the public domain.

Rush Limbaugh was the first to break the gatekeepers’ power in this. By virtue of his talent, he was able to put together an audience which was ready to listen to points of view not approved by the gatekeepers, a talent which enabled him to draw a massive audience.  Mr Limbaugh’s medium was radio, not the internet, but he demonstrated that there was a huge audience out there, one which people exploited for themselves once the internet became solidly established and inexpensive enough for almost anyone to use.4

The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

Is not Dr Baer’s own position an attack on some people’s “right to participate in political speech as political agents?”

My copy of Will, autographed by G Gordon Liddy. (Click to enlarge)

My copy of Will, autographed by G Gordon Liddy. (Click to enlarge)

In 1980, Watergate burglar G Gordon Liddy published his autobiography Will, after which he went on a book tour. Following prison and disbarment, he needed the money! Sometime in the early eighties, my best friend Ken and I went to see Mr Will’s speech in the University of Kentucky’s Student Center Ballroom. There were well over a thousand people in attendance,5 and the room was packed. There were a few protesters, including one rather rude fellow who was screaming and running down the aisles, before he was tackled by an audience member6 and escorted out by the University Police, but one thing is obvious: far fewer members of the university community chose not to attend than did. The freedom of speech, which Mr Liddy exercised, carries with it the freedom of others to choose to listen or not listen, and far more people chose not to listen than otherwise.

This is what Professor Baer misses: the freedom of speech, or the press, carries with it the freedom of others to choose to listen or read, or not listen or read. The New York Times is the most famous and widely read newspaper in the country, and perhaps the world, but far more people choose not to read it than do. Fox News is the most widely watched cable news network in the country,7 but far more people choose not to watch it than otherwise. With around four million viewers, before his recent dismissal, Bill O’Reilly was watched by a whopping 1.2% of the American population.

Dr Baer continued, letting us know that he was writing from a definite leftist position:

We should recognize that the current generation of students, roundly ridiculed by an unholy alliance of so-called alt-right demagogues and campus liberals as coddled snowflakes, realized something important about this country before the pundits and professors figured it out.

Quite frankly, “coddled snowflakes” is about as kind a term as one might find for them. Just what are these students going to do when they leave the protected enclave of academia, and have to do something really radical like get jobs out in the real world? They are going to find out that the real world doesn’t care about their feelings, and that building a career means competing with other people seeking the same advancements up the corporate ladders. When their competitors discover that the snowflakes can be disturbed and hurt by micro- and not-so-micro-aggressions, the competitors will use those to trample down the snowflakes. Of course, Dr Baer, who described himself as “a college professor and university administrator with over two decades of direct experience of campus politics,” has, himself, battled for, and won, a coveted position as a tenured professor, something to which far more aspire than ever win.

What is under severe attack, in the name of an absolute notion of free speech, are the rights, both legal and cultural, of minorities to participate in public discourse. The snowflakes sensed, a good year before the election of President Trump, that insults and direct threats could once again become sanctioned by the most powerful office in the land. They grasped that racial and sexual equality is not so deep in the DNA of the American public that even some of its legal safeguards could not be undone.

This is ludicrous. Conservatives claiming that freedom of speech is, and ought to be, absolute, are championing “the rights, both legal and cultural, of minorities to participate in public discourse.” It means that “minorities” have the same rights to say and publish exactly what they think, and that they have an equal right to compete with everyone else for attention and persuasion. What Dr Baer and the snowflakes fear is competition, that their arguments will not be strong or persuasive enough.

In conclusion, Dr Baer thanks the protesters 8, the Black Lives Matters and the other snowflakes “for keeping watch over the soul of our republic.” Yet the “soul of our republic” would, in Dr Baer’s construction, stifle the opinions and freedoms of those who might disagree with the protesters, the Black Lives Matters activists and the other Special Snowflakes. Only those protesters with whom Dr Baer agrees may speak; everyone else, shut up!

Freedom of speech and the press exists in order to allow people to have opinions contrary to those in power, something the Framers held dear to their hearts. They were, after all, the revolutionary generation, the people who used speech and the press to inspire a revolution against King George III, to seek independence from Great Britain. With the rise in power and influence of the left in academia, it is the left who are the ‘government,’ as it were, in the universities, and ‘revolution’ from the right is something which must be put down. That is the position of Dr Baer, the position of King George and his Parliament, the position of Kim Jong-un, and Xi Jinping, and Nicolás Maduro.

Conservatives may mock the positions of the left, but the left try to use raw power to muzzle the positions of the right.
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  1. Ulrich Baer is vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, and professor of comparative literature at New York University, and the author of “We Are But a Moment,” a novel.
  2. Today, snowflake is used to describe a person perceived as overly sensitive and fragile, often in a mocking way.
  3. As noted on our Copyright and Reprint Policy page, The First Street Journal adheres to the “Fair Use” standard for quotations from articles. The quotations from Dr Baer’s article are for the purposes of criticism, comment, and news reporting, and while I have attempted to limit the use of direct quotations of Dr Baer’s article, I have used direct quotes where I believe I must in order not to misrepresent his stated views in any way.  The quoted paragraphs are sequential, but not contimuous.
  4. Though I pay for a hosting service for The First Street Journal, there are sites, such as blogger.com, which allow people to post their thoughts without charge.
  5. It’s been a long time, and I cannot tell you what the announced attendance was, if the attendance was announced at all.
  6. No, not me.
  7. From Forbes, before the dismissal of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News Channel:

    In the first quarter of 2017, Fox News reached its largest audience in the channel’s 21-year history. From Dec. 26, 2016, to March 26, 2017, Fox averaged 1.7 million viewers each day and 2.8 million in primetime. In a press release, Fox called it “the highest-rated quarter ever in cable news history.”

    Indeed, the network’s cornerstone program, The O’Reilly Factor, reached an average nightly audience of 4 million, the largest audience for any cable news show in history. The top five cable news shows this quarter all air on Fox: The O’Reilly Factor, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier and Hannity.

  8. People exercising their freedom of speech!