Friday, November 29, 2019

AG Barr on the invasions of Presidential powers by the other two branches of government

The recent speech by AG Barr has evoked much comment from Left and Right.  But I believe there is still something more to be said of it.  The body of the speech consists of an extensive range of examples showing that the courts have assumed Presidential power.  They have given themselves powers that were never envisioned for them in the constitution

This is true for SCOTUS and also true for district courts.  As Barr sets out, the role of the district courts has hugely expanded since Trump came to office. District courts have issued NATIONAL injunctions overturning almost all of Trump's major initiatives. They do this despite having no jurisdiction to do so. They have jurisdiction over their own district only.  They have suddenly invented for themselves a national power.

So why does Trump put up with it?  Why does he not simply ignore ultra vires judgments?  There is actually a good practical reason.  Given the quite crazy policies leading Leftists are proposing these days, it is clearly desirable to block such mad policies.  And if Obama-appointed judges can block Trump decisions, Trump-appointed judges can obviously block future Democrat initiatives.

That is however a modern reason.  The basic reason is a tradition of courtesy.  Administrations have always treated court decisions as binding even when they are not.  This has always applied to SCOTUS.  Section 3(2) of the constitution does not give SCOTUS the power of judicial revew but that power has been conceded ever since 1803. Theoretically, if SCOTUS reviewed a Trump initiative and disallowed it, Trump could ignore the verdict as being ultra vires of the constitution.  After a couple of centuries of a conceded and legislated power of review that would be unthinkable but it comes down to courtesy rather than a constitutional requirement.

Presuming Trump wants to rein in the assumed jurisdictional abuses of the lower courts, there IS something he could do about it.  He could simply announce that he will not apply lower court decisions beyond their jurisdiction until they are affirmed by a national court.  Since there is only one national court, however, SCOTUS, this would effectively void almost all national verdicts from the lower courts.

That would undoubtedly raise huge objections so a further step would be needed to give lower court orders some chance of a national effect.  That could be done rather simply.  A NATIONAL court of appeal could be set up on the model of the existing circuit courts of appeal.  Any judgment that was successfully appealed to such a court would have a strong case for being respected and implemented nationally.  And if Trump were to set up such a court, he would be appointing the judges!

The proposed refusal to recognize a national jurisdiction for district courts would have the  considerable side-benefit of  putting a large crimp into Greenie lawfare.  At the momrent, Greenies use a great barrage of litigation to obstruct all sorts of projects and initiatives

Barr makes a very strong case for the judiciary having placed large unconstitutional limits on the presidency so something badly needs doing about that.  I have just outlined a relatively small change that would make a considerable step in that direction -- JR


The Left’s Revealing Overreaction to Attorney General Barr’s Landmark Speech
Watching the hysterical reaction of the radical left — such as Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post — to Attorney General William Barr’s thoughtful, well-reasoned, important speech at the Federalist Society convention on the constitutional doctrine of the unitary executive is like history repeating itself.

Liberals had the same overreaction to then-Attorney General Edwin Meese’s 1985 speech to the American Bar Association on the Constitution and originalism.

Only someone as openly partisan and ill-informed as Marcus could possibly claim that a speech explaining the historical basis of the Founders’ views on the importance of a strong executive is “angrily partisan” and “scary.” So what did Barr say that was so alarming to liberals?

First, he cited President Donald Trump’s praise of Meese as one of the “most eloquent champions for following the Constitution as written.”

Praising Meese and originalism is anathema to liberals who believe in a “living” Constitution that can be bent, twisted, and broken by ideological judges to fit their view of what an American utopia should look like, ignoring rights they don’t want (like the Second Amendment) and creating nonexistent rights they do want (like the court-created abortion “amendment” in the Bill of Rights).

But Barr’s real crime in his November speech was detailing the damage being done to the Constitution by Congress and the courts usurping presidential authority.

The American presidency, Barr said, is “one of the great, and remarkable innovations in our Constitution.” It has been “one of the most successful features of the Constitution in protecting the liberties of the American people.” The “steady encroachment on presidential authority” has “substantially weakened the functioning of the executive branch, to the detriment of the nation.”

Many historians mistakenly believe the American Revolution was a rebellion against “monarchical tyranny” and that the Founders wanted a weak executive. By that time, though, the British Parliament had “effectively neutered” the monarchy. In fact, as Barr explained, the Founders understood that their “prime antagonist was an overweening” legislature, a view strengthened by a weak executive during the American Revolution as well as under the Articles of Confederation.

Thus, said Barr, the Founders wanted a strong executive who could “act with energy, consistency, and decisiveness.” As Thomas Jefferson put it, for “the prompt, clear, and consistent action so necessary in an Executive, unity of person is necessary.” And so we have the constitutional doctrine of the unitary executive.

Barr pointed out that one of the “more amusing aspects of modern progressive polemic is the breathless attacks” on the unitary executive as if this doctrine is something new that justifies “executive power of sweeping scope.” But this is also wrong.

Not only isn’t the unitary executive a new idea, but rather than pertaining to “the breadth of presidential power,” it simply means that that the powers of the executive branch, whatever they are, “must be exercised under the president’s supervision.”

Thus, when Congress encroaches on the authority of the executive branch by vesting the “power to enforce the law in someone beyond the control of the president, it contravenes the Framers’ clear intent to vest that power in a single person, the president.” So much, says Barr, “for this supposedly nefarious theory of the unitary executive.”

Barr is deeply concerned that “there has been a steady grinding down of the executive branch’s authority” that damages the ability of the president to carry out his constitutional duties and to protect the liberty and freedom of the American people. With Trump’s election, his opponents launched what Barr called “The Resistance,” an explicit strategy to use “every tool and maneuver available to sabotage the functioning of his administration.”

The word “resistance,” points out Barr, is the word used to “describe insurgency against … an occupying military power” and it “connotes that the government is not legitimate.” Barr warns that this is “a very dangerous — indeed incendiary — notion to import into the politics of a democratic republic.”

Instead of acting as the “loyal opposition” as political opponents have done throughout our history, Trump’s opponents are “engaged in a war to cripple, by any means necessary, a duly elected government.”

This includes the Senate’s “unprecedented abuse of the advice-and-consent process” that is intended “to delay the confirmation process” so the president can’t have a “functional government.”

Congress also has “largely abdicated its core function of legislating on the most pressing issues facing” our country. Even when it does legislate, it punts “the most difficult and critical issues” by “broad delegations to a modern administrative state that they increasingly seek to insulate from presidential control.”

All this gives Congress the time to “drown the executive branch with ‘oversight’ demands for testimony and documents.” Barr acknowledges congressional oversight authority but says that the “sheer volume” of investigations today is meant to “incapacitate the executive branch,” something members of Congress brag about.

Congress also is now dismissive of the long-recognized doctrine of executive privilege, falsely labeling “good faith attempts to protect executive branch equities” as “obstruction of justice.”

Barr doesn’t just take Congress to task — he also goes after the judicial branch. In fact, he says that the federal courts are “the prime source of the erosion of separation-of-power principles” and “executive branch authority.” The steady encroachment by judges “has substantially undercut the functioning of the presidency.”

By appointing themselves “the ultimate arbiter of separation of powers disputes between Congress and executive,” they are “preempting the political process” and usurping presidential authority in areas that are “considered at the core of presidential power.”

That includes substituting their judgments for the president’s in areas “that only a few decades ago would have been unimaginable — such as matters involving national security or foreign affairs.”

The travel ban case is a good example of that, says Barr, where the lower courts ignored an “explicit legislative grant of authority” to the president, as “well as his constitutional national security role.”

An “especially troubling aspect” of this expanded judicial power is the courts now looking into the “subjective motivation behind governmental action,” something the Supreme Court has traditionally refused to do. Judicial review in the past has focused on executive action, not executive motive.

Barr charges that the courts are now acting “like amateur psychiatrists attempting to discern an executive official’s ‘real motive’ — often after ordering invasive discovery in the executive branch’s privileged decision-making process.” The attorney general says that has “no more foundation in the law than a subpoena to a court to try to determine a judge’s real motive for issuing its decision.”

All of this has been made much worse by another “judicial innovation” — the nationwide injunction, which has “no foundation” in the law and “radically” inflates the otherwise limited power of district court judges.

More than 40 have been issued during the Trump administration, compared to only two against the Obama administration. As a result, “virtually every major policy of the Trump administration has been subjected to immediate freezing by the lower courts.” No other president in our history has been “subjected to such sustained efforts to” stop his policy agenda. These injunctions “disrupt the political process.”

This also happened in the George W. Bush administration, according to Barr, when the Supreme Court, after 9/11, “set itself up as the ultimate arbiter and superintendent of military decisions inherent in prosecuting a military conflict.”

The high court has wrongly taken “the rules that govern our domestic criminal justice process” and “superimposed them on the Nation’s activities when it is engaged in armed conflict with foreign enemies.” This runs “roughshod” over the Constitution and the role played by the president as the commander in chief.

Barr points out the absurdity of the idea that the Constitution, intended to protect the rights of the American people, confers “rights” on our foreign enemies.

Barr charges that the president’s opponents constantly accuse him of “waging a war on the rule of law” and “shredding” the Constitution. But when Barr asks them to explain what they are referring to, all he gets are “vacuous stares, followed by sputtering about the travel ban.”

It is the left that is actually shredding constitutional norms and “undermining” the rule of law with its “scorched earth, no-holds-barred war of ‘resistance’ against this administration” says Barr.

Unfortunately, “so-called progressives treat politics as their religion” and their “holy mission” is to “use the coercive power of the state to remake man and society in their own image, according to an abstract ideal of perfection.” They are willing “to use any means necessary” to achieve those ends, posing a danger to our freedom and liberties.

Fortunately, conservatives don’t think that way because they don’t “seek an earthly paradise.” They are “interested in preserving over the long run the proper balance of freedom and order necessary for healthy development of natural civil society and individual human flourishing.” Thus, conservatives “have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel the ends justify the means.”

Barr ends his speech with a call to “not allow the passions of the moment to cause us to permanently disfigure the genius of our constitutional structure.”

Over our history, it has been the presidency that has “provided the leadership, consistency, energy, and perseverance that allowed us to surmount” the challenges we have faced as a nation. It “has brought to our republic a dynamism and effectiveness that other democracies have lacked.”

This was, without doubt, the most important speech given by an attorney general since Meese put us back on the road to restoring the original understanding of the Constitution in 1985.

Barr encapsulated the severe damage being done to the remarkable and extraordinary experiment in self-rule that the Framers of the Constitution created in that long, hot summer of 1787. That damage has been going on for decades, but it has accelerated exponentially during the Trump administration.

Progressive activists and the president’s opponents in Congress, the judiciary, and inside the executive branch itself are so intent on destroying Trump that they are willing to burn down our republic to do it.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is here


Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Hatred that Fuels Impeachment

We are in new territory now. Hating a president is equivalent to finding him guilty of supposed high crimes. Impeachment is a casual affair. Hearsay is as valid as direct testimony.

Neither the NeverTrump Right nor the Progressive Left has yet offered a coherent defense of their de facto, three-year-long singular effort to delegitimize and ultimately remove Trump from office before the 2020 election.

We are now in the midst of a systematic effort to impeach a president on the basis of a thought crime. Trump’s purported quid pro quo sin was issuing a temporary hold on military assistance to Ukraine that supposedly transcended legitimate worries about rampant corruption—to include specifically investigating the suspicious behavior of a corrupt Ukrainian oil company and the compromised relationship of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son around it.

The anti-Trump writ is that it is impeachable even to delay to the Ukrainians lethal military assistance while citing the need to investigate the corruption of Ukrainians, including the career of Hunter Biden, whose father, the former vice president and “point man” on Ukraine, is now running for president.

Supposedly irrelevant to this inquiry is the prior policy of denying military aid to Ukraine, intervening in Ukrainian politics to fire a prosecutor by threatening a cutoff of even nonmilitary aid, and ignoring that the vice president’s son served as a lucrative functionary with a corrupt Ukrainian company while his father was adjudicating U.S. aid to Ukraine.

So why this disconnect? The reason is not “Ukraine,” merely the latest iteration in a long series of efforts, but rather existential hatred.

“Conservative” NeverTrump Disdain

The NeverTrumpers’ position, although rarely articulated, seems fairly clear.

Whereas Trump has promoted most of the agenda they had touted over a lifetime (economic growth, near-full employment, conservative justices, tax reduction and reform, deregulation, pro-oil and natural gas production, secure borders, pro-Israel foreign policy, opposition to accords like the Paris Climate Accord and Iran Deal, increased defense spending, etc.), they nonetheless seek to abort his presidency on other grounds.

Apparently, Trump’s perceived checkered personal history, supposed outrageous behavior, and occasional unorthodox take on issues such as Chinese policy and tariffs all justify his removal from office. Thus, his personal flaws and apostasy from free-market orthodoxy are so egregious that they nullify any good that has come about from Trump’s successful implementation of many conservative policies for which such critics otherwise had fought long and hard in the past.

NeverTrumpers also believe that Trump’s very appearance, his outrageous orange tan, dyed comb-over, odd ties, Queens accent, reality TV background, and vernacular and occasionally vulgar speech certainly are disqualifying traits. He does not present the sober, judicious, and restrained image that past Republican banner-carriers such as George H.W. Bush or Mitt Romney conveyed.

Whereas most past Republican grandees married into or inherited substantial money, none showed the visible scars and scabs of a lifetime’s frantic effort to expand their legacies by rough-and-tumble, wheeler-dealer, boom-or-bust frenzied business.

Progressive Loathing

The furor of the Left that fuels serial efforts to end the Trump presidency before the 2020 election is at times similar to NeverTrumpism—at least it is in that they argue Trump’s comportment and behavior should earn repulsion and justify his removal.

Both anti-Trump schools believe that Trump is such a brazen affront to the office of the presidency that rare methods are justified to remove him, including but not limited to past efforts to warp the Electoral College, to invoke the emoluments clause, the Logan Act and the 25th Amendment, to empower the Mueller investigation, and ultimately the effort to impeach Trump on grounds of “quid pro quo,” “bribery,” or “obstruction” in reference to Ukraine.

But the Left’s antipathy is also different.

In addition to these aesthetic reasons, it seeks Trump’s removal because of, not in spite of, his administration’s record and policies. That is, according to a variety of barometers, the Left considers Trump to be the most conservative, and thus the most threatening, president since Ronald Reagan. He has not just sought to undo Barack Obama’s political legacy, in many cases he has been successful—on illegal immigration, energy policy, abortion, taxes, foreign policy, and a host of cultural and social issues.

Trump also adds insult to injury in that he also has used many of Obama’s own methods to enact what self-styled progressives regard as regressive policies, especially free and unfettered use of executive orders and a similar masterful use of the bully pulpit.

If ex-reality TV star Trump lacks the teleprompted cadences of Obama, his sharp repartee and rally rhetoric are as or often more effective. Obama sometimes baited enemies like Fox News host Sean Hannity and had the government surveille Associated Press reporters; Trump matches such combativeness instead with ad hominem references to his media critics.

The Left also differs again from the NeverTrump Right on the perceived dangers posed by Trump’s unorthodox behavior. The Left fears and hates Trump’s character and persona for a variety of reasons, including the fact that his earthiness earns a large audience of middle Americans—many of them formerly blue-collar Democratic voters in critical swing districts and states.

Unlike a Romney or McCain, Trump’s earthy populism and not quite orthodox Republicanism are aimed at working people in general, and increasingly to minorities in particular. In other words, Trump is the first Republican in recent years who seeks not just to win an election from a Democratic rival, but to weaken the political foundations of the current Democratic hold on power in general.

Progressives also grasp that Trump has also ended the Republican Marquess of Queensbury rules of restraint that had helped Democrats in the past, especially in the 2008 and 2016 elections.

The combative Trump instead adopted prior “war room” protocols of liberal scrappers like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and seems to prefer winning ugly than losing nobly. NeverTrumpers share this repugnance at Trump’s politicking, but not because it might erode Democratic support. They are angrier because it is a style that neither conveys proper coastal conservatism nor reflects good breeding, education, and ZIP-code manners—and it appeals to deplorable voters, whom John McCain once called the “crazies,” and whom the establishment Republicans do not really want in their static party.

The Left also feels that Trump’s combativeness is holistic. His push-backs are not just issue-orientated. Instead, he seeks to oppose the entire progressive project in a way not seen before, ranging from weighing in on almost anything from Colin Kaepernick to railing against “fake news” and replying to celebrity tweets.

Trump is a sleepless anti-progressive in all cultural, economic, social, and political spheres. He earns an ethereal hatred from progressives for not just being against, but also eager to oppose fanatically, almost every conceivable aspect of their world view.

There are inconsistencies and incoherencies in all these anti-Trump views.

First, there is a high bar—indeed no contemporary precedent—for attempting to remove a modern president in his first term with a presidential election less than a year away, without bipartisan and popular majority support, and without a special prosecutor’s findings of illegal or even unethical behavior.

Such an unusual gambit requires some standard of prior presidential behavior that is constant across time and space—immune from the interplay of changing politics and technologies, such as the use of the Internet and social media, or the different codes, behaviors, and protocols of the current national media.

So far, we have heard none.

By that I mean, did Trump’s pre-presidential escapades with Stormy Daniels reach the levels of John F. Kennedy’s or Bill Clinton’s presidential frolicking with young female staffers, aides, or political associates in the White House itself?

Do his business deals while in office reach the level of egregiousness of Lyndon Johnson’s profiteering? Was Trump carrying on an affair with the help of his daughter as an intermediary in the fashion of Franklin Roosevelt? Is his use of profanity or crudity as bothersome as Harry Truman’s?

If the Internet, social media, and a 90 percent hostile press existed in those eras, would the above had faced scrutiny analogous to that now shown Trump?

Or compare Trump’s current three years with the tenure of his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama.

Was Trump caught in public on a hot mic finalizing a quid pro quo arrangement akin to the one Barack Obama summarized with outgoing President Dimitri Medvedev that soon led to Vladimir Putin giving the American president needed helpful “space” during his reelection bid in order to win U.S. abandonment of Eastern European missile defense? Was that a “bribe” in which Obama diminished U.S. security interests in robust missile defense to the benefit of his own reelection campaign? Did Trump forbid all lethal military aid to Ukraine in order not to aggravate Putin—as Obama did?

Has Trump conducted government surveillance on suspected leakers, such as Associated Press journalist critics or a Fox reporter? Had he, would he be impeached? Has he weaponized the IRS to use its vast power to deny nonprofit status to perceived hostile left-wing groups in the climate of an upcoming campaign? Are the current directors, respectively, of the Trump Administration’s Office of National Intelligence, CIA, and FBI now peddling an opposition research dossier on Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), paid for with Trump campaign money and compiled by a hired British foreign national, who in turn drew on bought Russian rumors and gossip?

I could go on. But the point is that no one yet has convincingly argued that Trump’s behavior in office does not meet the standard of successful presidents such John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton (neither of whom was removed from office). Do we wish to criminalize politicking as a substitute for elections?

The Foundations of Trump Hatred

In sum, what explains the decision to end the Trump presidency in a way we have not removed prior presidents?

* First, the media is now not just 90 percent anti-Trump in its coverage, but has but merged with the Democratic Party in its activism. Most egregiously it reports anti-Trump rumor and gossip as fact, explaining why so many reporters have been forced to apologize, been fired, been reassigned, or disgraced for peddling false stories.

* Second, NeverTrumpers are orphaned from 90 percent of the Republican Party who voted and will vote again for Trump. They know they are often played as useful idiots by progressives who otherwise want nothing to do with them, and will not wish to have anything to do with them, even as apostates, in the post-Trump era.

They have crossed the proverbial Rubicon and must know that they have no constituency left and cannot go back. They are tottering on their coastal perches, alienated from all their accustomed conservative loci of influence, power, and prestige. So they go even further for broke: either Trump is disgraced and removed from office and they are redeemed in “I told you so” fashion, or they will continue to become marginalized, as embittered and lonely scolds in the twilight of their careers.

* Third, the Left was intoxicated on Obama’s two terms of progressive transformation. Progressives really believed “demography is destiny.” Obama supposedly had created a new 51 percent constituency of lockstep gays, blacks, Latinos, Asian, women, youth, and immigrants who together outnumbered the embittered and vanishing clingers, deplorables, irredeemables, and dregs. Voting entirely on the basis of shared race or gender or orientation was considered the new pillar of identity politics.

Then Trump won. And he won after every liberal outlet in the nation (and a few conservative ones, too) had mocked his candidacy and assured their constituencies he had less than a 10 percent chance of winning the election.

Worse, Trump did not prove to be a Manhattan liberal wolf in election-era conservative sheep’s clothing, as the Never Trumpers warned he would. Instead Trump governed as a hardcore conservative. He singlehandedly halted the envisioned 16-year Obama-Clinton regnum, a likely 7-2 left-wing Supreme Court, and hoped-for permanent legislative supermajorities—and the dream that the United States would soon become one larger version of California.

* Fourth and finally, there is currently a full-fledged progressive assault on the Constitution. It supersedes even efforts to curtail the Second Amendment and stifle protected free speech by slandering it as “hate speech” and thus not protected by the First Amendment.

Almost all the Democratic candidates have called for jettisoning the Electoral College. Many states have sought to force their legislatures to have electors vote in accordance with the national popular vote. The 25th Amendment is now viewed as an excuse to demonize, emasculate, and maybe remove a president without an election.

Many of the Democratic candidates have endorsed the once infamous “court-packing” schemes of FDR to stack the Supreme Court with liberal justices in a way impossible under the current century-and-a-half protocols of judicial appointments.

A Brave New World

In this wider context, impeachment is rebooted as no longer a rare gambit, but a sort of parliamentary vote of no confidence, analogous to a European government. When Democrats lose elections, they can now immediately talk of impeachment first, and find the supposed crimes later. Democrats are not fearful of institutionalizing impeachment without cause. Indeed, they welcome its normalization in times of Republican presidencies.

The common denominator in all this frenzy hatred?

None of the haters cares that unemployment is at near record lows, the stock market at record highs, economic growth steady, inflation and interest rates low, minority employment at all-time levels—or that there is a looming shared need to address entitlements and deficit sooner than later.

None care that for three years, there has been a nonstop effort from within and outside government to end the Trump presidency, or at least to sabotage it along the lines outlined by the anonymous New York Times op-ed writer, the whistleblower lawyer Mark Zaid, or departing Department of Defense official Evelyn Farkas, or as bragged about by #TheResistance.”

We are in new territory now. Hating a president is equivalent to finding him guilty of supposed high crimes. Impeachment is a casual affair. Hearsay is as valid as direct testimony.

We are now living in a brave new American world never envisioned by the Founders.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is here 


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Michael Bloomberg’s obnoxious suppression of his own journalists would shame even Putin, proves Trump is right about fake news, and makes him unfit to be President

Piers Morgan

Thirty years ago this month, New York financial data tycoon Michael Bloomberg telephoned Wall Street Journal writer Matthew Winkler and asked: ‘What would it take to get into the news business?’

Knowing that Bloomberg had no experience in journalism, Winkler presented him with a hypothetical ethical dilemma:

‘You have just published a story that says the chairman of your biggest customer has taken $5 million from the corporate till,’ he said. ‘He is with his secretary at a Rio de Janeiro resort, and the secretary’s spurned boyfriend calls to tip you off. You get an independent verification that the story is true. Then the phone rings. The customer’s public-relations person says, “Kill the story or we will return all the terminals we currently rent from you.’”

Winkler then asked Bloomberg a simple question: ‘What would you do?”

Bloomberg didn’t hesitate. ‘Go with the story!’ he replied.

Winkler later cited this as the ‘deciding moment’ he chose to help Bloomberg build a news organization.

It was an inspired decision. Bloomberg News is now one of the biggest and most powerful news agencies on the planet.

It boasts 2,300 journalists in 72 countries and 146 bureaus worldwide and has developed a reputation for important impartial journalism.

In the past four years, it has intensively reported on, and aggressively investigated, first Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and now his presidency – the vast majority of its Trump coverage being negative.

Like many US mainstream media organizations, Bloomberg News quickly realized that relentless Trump-bashing is a big money-spinner.

But behind this clear editorial strategy lies an intriguing personal back-story. Until Trump ran for president in 2015, he and Michael Bloomberg were good friends.

The two most famous billionaires in New York played golf together, frequently rubbed shoulders on the same elite Manhattan social scene, and worked professionally on common projects – most notably when Trump delivered a luxury golf course on a discarded municipal waste site in the Bronx, enabling Bloomberg to take credit for it just before he left office as New York mayor.

‘If there is anybody who has changed this city, it is Donald Trump,’ said Mayor Bloomberg, delightedly. ‘He has done an amazing thing and this is another part of it!’

Then Trump announced he was running for the White House, and Bloomberg very quickly turned against his friend – enraged by his views on everything from guns to climate change, and what he saw as Trump’s ‘offensive’ lack of civility.

He later described Trump’s run as ‘the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember, preying on people’s prejudices and fears.’

Trump, predictably, responded in kind, tweeting: ‘Little Michael Bloomberg, who never had the guts to run for president, knows nothing about me. His last term as Mayor was a disaster!’

At the heart of their relationship lies billionaire ego.

As their mutual friend, Republican congressman Peter King, told the New York Times: ‘One New York billionaire thinks he is better than another New York billionaire. I can see Mike resenting the fact he is not getting the recognition Donald Trump gets. Each guy thinks he is smarter than the other.’

I met them both together when I was a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice in 2008 and Bloomberg turned up with Trump in midtown Manhattan to assess my hotdog selling skills.

The swaggering rivalry between them, albeit cordial at the time, was palpable. In a city of big dogs, pun intended, these were arguably the two biggest, though Bloomberg is substantially richer than Trump.

Now, if Bloomberg wins the Democrat nomination – and it’s a very big ‘if’ - they may be pitted against each other in the 2020 Election.

In announcing his decision to enter the race, Bloomberg said: ‘I’m running for president to defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America. We cannot afford four more years of President Trump’s reckless and unethical actions. He represents an existential threat to our country and our values. If he wins another term, we may never recover from the damage.’

Bloomberg is thus positioning himself as the ‘good billionaire’ on a mission to save America from the bad billionaire.

Yet, just how good IS he?

For example, Bloomberg has a history of making unsavory comments denigrating women. A 1990 booklet of quotations attributed to him included this observation: ‘If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they’d go to the library instead of Bloomingdale’s.’

And a suggestion, during a pitch to sell Bloomberg terminals, that his computers could ‘do anything’ including the ability to perform oral sex on the user, which, he said, would ‘put…a lot of you girls out of business.’

At a Christmas party in 2012, he pointed to a woman in a tight dress and said, ‘look at the ass on her.’

He was also reported to have said in a 1998 deposition, taken during a case where a saleswoman accused a Bloomberg manager of raping her, that he would only believe a rape claim if there was an ‘unimpeachable third-party witness.’

And he was accused by a Bloomberg female employee of saying ‘kill it’ when she told him she was pregnant, a claim he denied.

Bloomberg has also been accused of racism. He recently issued a grovelling apology for his controversial ‘stop-and-search’ policy as New York Mayor that a federal judge determined in 2013 violated the constitutional rights of racial minorities.

He operated a very contentious policy of surveillance of Muslim Americans, a dictatorial crackdown of Occupy Wall Street protestors, and he presided over a huge spike in homelessness, sparked by massively increased income inequality and lack of affordable housing. So Bloomberg’s critics, led by Trump, will have plenty of ammunition against the self-styled savior.

And that’s before we get to the fact that he’s changed his party allegiance when it’s suited him, switching from Democrat to Republican to Independent.

But it’s what Bloomberg did yesterday that should give most serious cause for concern.

In this era of ‘FAKE NEWS!’, and hyper-partisan media coverage, many were curious to see how Bloomberg News would handle the confirmation that their owner was running for president.

The answer is absolutely atrociously. In an astonishing email to staff, Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Mickelthwait, revealed the news agency won’t ‘investigate’ Bloomberg, or any of his Democratic rivals. But it WILL continue to obsessively investigate President Trump.

‘We will continue our tradition of not investigating Mike (and his family and foundation),’ said Mickelthwait, ‘and we will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries. We cannot treat Mike’s democratic competitors differently to him.’

Yet they will treat President Trump differently. He alone will be exposed to the full investigative scrutiny of Bloomberg’s 2,700 journalists.

I had to read this memo several times to ensure I hadn’t misunderstood it. I hadn’t.

Bloomberg News is also suspending its opinion section’s editorial board, because most of them are joining his campaign!

It’s hard to imagine a more egregious abuse of a major news organization owner’s power than for the owner to ban his own journalists from investigating him as he runs for president but continues to dig dirt on his opponent.

As former Bloomberg Businessweek editor and Washington bureau chief Megan Murphy said on Twitter: ‘It is truly staggering that *any* editor would put their name on a memo that bars an army of unbelievably talented reporters and editors from covering massive, crucial aspects of one of the defining aspects of our time.’

She added: ‘I was presented with a near identical “memo” during his 2016 flirtation and I was very clear that I would quit the second it ever saw the light of day.’

Murphy also cited comparisons to Amazon chief Jeff Bezos who owns the Washington Post. ‘Can you imagine if Bezos decided to run, the Washington Post telling reporters it a) wouldn’t do hard reporting on Bezos and b) wouldn’t do hard reporting on any other candidates either. It’s absolutely unimaginable (thank god).'

Exactly. It’s an absolute disgrace that Michael Bloomberg’s very first act as presidential candidate is to order a blanket ban on ANY investigative reporting on him or any Democrat candidate. It’s even more of a disgrace that he’s ordered his journalists to ONLY carry on digging for dirt on President Trump.

Ironically, this is just the kind of extreme media bias that Trump has persistently ranted about since winning the White House, and will creature a ‘fake’ picture of news in this 2020 campaign.

Bloomberg’s shameful self-protective censorship is also the exact opposite of the pledge he made to Matthew Winkler when he persuaded him to launch Bloomberg News.

It means that if Bloomberg journalists discover their boss has taken $5m from the corporate till and is with his secretary at a Rio de Janeiro resort, the response from Bloomberg to their request to publish it will be: ‘DON’T go with the story!’

Michael Bloomberg’s been very vocal about the need to stop Vladimir Putin interfering with US elections, yet here is the same Michael Bloomberg pulling a disgustingly cynical stunt to suppress journalism that even Putin might hesitate to pull, and that frankly should disqualify him from becoming President.

Bloomberg News just ceased to be a news organization and became a dictator’s puppet. Shame on him for doing this, and shame on any of his journalists who accept it.



H.R. 3: The "No New Cures Ever" Act

In the coming weeks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) priority drug pricing bill, H.R. 3, is expected to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives. Make no mistake -- this is a socialist piece of legislation. Unfortunately, with the way the Democratic Party is trending and its major candidates for the presidency in 2020 endorsing increasingly big-government policies, H.R. 3 is almost guaranteed to pass the chamber.

For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) recently-released plan for Medicare for All includes price controls based on those in H.R. 3, by creating a maximum price based on prices in foreign countries, and, in turn, bringing the inefficiencies of those foreign countries’ healthcare systems to the United States.

While it is dubbed the “Lower Drug Costs Now" Act, H.R. 3 would be more aptly named the “No New Cures Ever" Act. By imposing government-mandated price controls in the drug marketplace, companies that invest in creating life-saving drugs would be largely unable to make any type of profit required to continue such investment.

The bill is so extreme in its socialistic price controls that even proponents of single-payer healthcare recognize the disastrous effects that policies like those in H.R. 3 would have on our healthcare system. In an interview about Sen. Warren’s plan, Emory University’s health expert Kenneth Thorpe said that such drug pricing policies “would be the end of any type of research and development and innovation in this country.”

This would be tragic for patients in America. Studies have shown that if lung cancer patients in the United States had the same level of access to treatment as patients in the defined reference nations for pricing, the survival rate in the U.S. would be significantly lower than it is now. It is foolish to think that we can seek to copy the prices of other nations and not take on any of the risks or downfalls associated with them.

As Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, put it so well, “The government price controls that she is proposing will make drugs scarce, limiting Americans’ access to the medicine they need. But the most alarming effect of Speaker Pelosi’s legislation is that it will destroy the incentives that make America the center of drug innovation for the world. By destroying the incentives for future investment in research and development, Speaker Pelosi’s plan will slow down the search for future cures.”

Interestingly enough, he is in full agreement with House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who said of Pelosi’s proposal, “Her latest socialist plan wouldn’t help lower the cost of prescription drugs and would hurt patients in the process.”

It isn’t often that the House Freedom Caucus and Republican leadership are as fully in agreement on something as they are on the harmful effects of H.R. 3, and certainly, these two almost never agree together with somebody who actually supports single-payer healthcare like Thorpe.

The warning signs are aplenty. When H.R. 3 hits the floor, members must not forget that they represent the American people, who only stand to be severely harmed by this latest socialist scheme.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is here 


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Life in hard-Left San Francisco

San Francisco's excrement problem is worse than ever. A new study found that the city by the bay fielded 28,315 calls about human and animal waste piling up on the streets from 2017 to 2018, an increase of 35 percent.

The figures were compiled after a review of calls to San Francisco's 311 line, according to the report by RentHop, an online apartment search company.

The worsening situation comes as San Francisco poop complaints have steadily risen about 80 percent since 2011, RentHop reports.

San Francisco can partly blame its love affair with pets. The dog-friendly city has around 120,000 canines, according to San Francisco Animal Care & Control.

The rest can be attributed to some 7,000 homeless persons, in a city that's lacking enough shelters and services to help them, says RentHop.

The problem has even prompted San Francisco to send out a 'poop patrol', armed with street washers to hose away the waste.

'It's a serious public health concern,' said Richard Tarlov, owner of the Canyon Market in the San Francisco's Glen Park section, where the city had 61 complaints of the neighborhood getting pooped on by either human or beast in 2018, up from just 20 complaints the previous year.

Tarlov, in an interview with KRON, called the city's excrement woes a problem also for public relations, tourism and convention hosting. 'Frankly it's embarrassing', he told the news outlet.

The dirtiest neighborhoods are at the heart of San Francisco, with its Tenderloin neighborhood winning the 'poopiest neighborhood' contest three years in a row, says RentHop.

Tenderloin saw 8,644 incidents of either human or animal excrement per square mile in 2017, 7,722 in 2018, and 6,887 so far in 2019.



Leftmedia Pulls More Fake 'Kids in Cages' News

"A Nov. 18 story headlined 'U.S. has world's highest rate of children in detention — U.N. study' is withdrawn," Reuters reports. "The United Nations issued a statement on Nov. 19 saying the number was not current but was for the year 2015." Agence France-Presse and National Public Radio likewise scrubbed stories about this. And the Associated Press explained in its retraction, "The story quoted an independent expert working with the U.N. human rights office saying that over 100,000 children are currently being held. But that figure refers to the total number of U.S. child detentions for the year 2015."

Other than that, the story was accurate!

These stories initially made it past the vaunted fact-checkers solely because they were meant to vilify the Trump administration over immigration detentions. They fit the leftist narrative of Trump's "xenophobic and racist" immigration policies. Of course, that was untenable because the data was collected during the Obama administration.

In fact, there are roughly 6,500 minors detained in the U.S. at the moment, and over the past year, the Trump administration has detained less than 70,000 kids at any point or duration. Again, 100,000 was the cumulative total for all of 2015. Hope 'n' Change and all that.

Moreover, says the Washington Examiner's Becket Adams, "That '100,000' figure should have never made it past the editing process, let alone launch a handful of headlines declaring the U.S. the leader in detained children. That figure requires not just shoddy math but also a total suspension of disbelief regarding what goes on in the darker, more tyrannical corners of the world. To say the U.S. is a world leader in detained minors would mean that America is being measured against all countries, including China, Russia, and North Korea. If you believe U.N. investigators have reliable figures from any of those countries, then, oh boy, have I got a bridge to sell you." China is currently detaining as many as two million Uighurs. Think maybe some of them are children?

We've seen this movie before. Back in the summer 2018, when outrage over the Trump administration's detention polices was at its peak, the media hyped pictures of kids in cages that were actually taken during Obama's regime, all to make Trump look bad. Fake news often happens because of Trump Derangement Syndrome.



Democratic candidates stupid or in denial about wealth tax

You may recall, a number of years ago an admiral was testifying before Congress about the need to put more military personnel on an island in the Pacific. A congressman, in all seriousness (perhaps after having a bad night), asked the admiral if he was concerned that the island in question might “tip over and capsize” with all of the additional people on it. Others, who are not that foolish, deny they have an alcohol or drug problem when it is obvious that they do. And now there are presidential candidates who claim it is possible to have massive tax and spending increases without making most people worse off rather than better off.

The evidence shows that at some point the burden of more government spending and regulation becomes so great that the economy slows and real income growth, despite the increase in government transfer payments, is much lower than it would be with smaller government. The United States and most other countries are beyond that point.

Likewise, each tax has a rate beyond which tax revenue and the general welfare fall over time (the Laffer Curve effect). The revenue- and welfare-maximizing tax rates are a function of the form of tax and time. For instance, the capital gains tax revenue depends on the willingness of people to realize capital gains by selling an asset such as real estate or stocks. If the rate is perceived as being too high, fewer people sell assets, and the government often receives less revenue rather than more.

The Reagan Treasury Department did a study to try to determine the optimum capital gains rate and concluded it was approximately 15 percent. Many studies in the years since have shown similar results. Current capital gains tax rates — federal plus state — are higher than the optimum; so, if our political leaders were more rational, they would cut the rate to bring in more revenue. Yet, most of the presidential candidates have proposed increasing the capital gains tax rate with the totally false claim (ignoring all of the empirical evidence) that it will bring in more revenue.

Most of the candidates have also proposed increasing the income tax rate on “the rich.” One great advantage of actually being rich is that one can often determine both the form and place of their compensation, unlike the less well off. That is why every time and every place politicians have tried to increase tax revenue by taxing the rich at very high rates, it always fails to bring in the promised revenue. This experiment has been tried in dozens of countries, including the United States, over the last century; yet the political and media class are in denial. The maximum individual tax rate under President Carter was 70 percent; and under President Reagan, it was finally lowered to 28 percent. Yet, tax revenues were higher under the 28 percent rate than under the 70 percent rate because the economy grew so much faster with the lower tax rates.

Elizabeth Warren and some of the other candidates want to put in a “wealth tax” to pay for their multi-trillion-dollar spending schemes. Other than the fact that the wealth tax is unconstitutional, unadministrable and destined to fail, as did the other attempts to impose wealth taxes in various countries — it is a fine idea in the minds of those who have lost touch with reality.

A person’s “wealth” is not fixed — it is variable. Rich people do not keep their wealth in a pile of gold coins in a safety deposit box, but instead normally have numerous investments in many different places. Most of these investments create jobs for others. As the late great Jack Kemp used to say, “How many truck drivers do you have if there are no trucks?” Wealthy people supply the trucks, the factories, the stores, and all of things and places where people find good-paying jobs. Those who would tax the “wealth” (in reality, productive capital formation) are job destroyers, if the truth were told.

If a wealth tax is placed on stock holdings, the wealthy will hold fewer stocks, driving down the price and new investment. If a wealth tax is placed on private businesses (many of them family owned), the owners are likely to move part of their assets elsewhere and the government’s tax base will shrink year by year. If the government puts a wealth tax on luxury second homes — the wealthy will sell again, driving down the price and the tax base, and perhaps choose to buy or rent in low-tax jurisdictions around the world.

Ah, but Elizabeth Warren has an answer to capital flight — a 40 percent exit tax. The old Soviet Union had exit taxes, which most people correctly considered evil. Clearly, she sees the American people as tax slaves to serve the interest of the government class. The American Founders believed government was a necessary evil and therefore should be kept to a minimum to protect liberty, property and person.



Christmas in the Swamp: The Top Ten Bad Policies in the Continuing Resolution

This week, Congress passed a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that funds the federal government through Friday, December 20. In recent years, funding the federal government has become an exercise in governing by crisis. Everyone in Congress knows these deadlines exist, but congressional leadership uses them to force members to vote for either CRs or omnibus spending bills packed with other legislative items that have nothing to do with funding the government. If members don’t vote for these bills, leadership says, the government will shut down.

The current CR is a bad deal because it sets up a Christmas for the Swamp, leaving taxpayers with a lump of coal in their stockings. This is not a theoretical notion. In March 2018, Congress passed a 2,232-page omnibus spending bill that included several other bills that had nothing to do with funding the federal government. Why? Because it was one of the few opportunities to legislate all year. Leadership added the legislation that they knew would get the votes they need to pass the bill and relied on the fear of a government shutdown to coax others into voting for something that they may have otherwise opposed.

Although the current CR isn’t quite as loaded as the March 2018 omnibus, it still includes several things that are bad for Americans. Below are the top ten bad provisions included in the CR that Congress passed this week:

Only extends spending to December 20 of this year, setting us up for yet another massive omnibus spending package with who-knows-what in it. Congress knows that Americans stop paying attention to politics during the holidays, and leadership will use that to their advantage to leave plenty of goodies under the Christmas tree for lobbyists and special interests.

Waives the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act, eliminating any accountability in Congress for increasing spending. Under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act, if Congress increases spending without offsets, it sets up automatic mandatory spending cuts at the end of the year. By waiving this requirement, Congress is only continuing to worsen the budgetary outlook, adding more red ink to a deficit that is already expected to exceed $1 trillion.

Repeals $7.6 billion recission in highway funds that was scheduled to come into effect in 2020. Was used to offset projected costs of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. $5.4 billion would have been straight recissions of unauthorized funds, while $2.2 billion would have been taken from funding already allocated to states. Because of a technicality of the federal budget process, this won’t even be counted as a spending increase by the government.
Extends the authorization of government mass surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act for three months with zero reforms.

Delays scheduled cuts to Medicaid hospital reimbursements until December 20. These cuts were scheduled under ObamaCare as part of gradually shifting more of the burden of its Medicaid expansion onto the states over time. The states are naturally lobbying hard to make sure those scheduled cuts never happen so they can continue to shift the costs of their bad decision to expand a broken program onto other states’ taxpayers.

Renews the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute’s (PCORI) funding until December 20. PCORI is the rationing board under ObamaCare that was often referred to as the “death panel” because of its task to decide how to allocate (or not allocate) Medicare funding to reduce costs.

Continues the last CR’s extensions of the expiring National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), again avoiding a needed debate on reforming or eliminating this problematic program

Reauthorizes U.S. Export-Import Bank, the reauthorization of which FreedomWorks has continually opposed. The Export-Import Bank is the face of cronyism and is used by corporations that can easily get private financing for taxpayer-backed loans and subsidies.

Adds in an extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), one of the primary federal direct welfare programs. Once again, this is ducking the need to evaluate and reform the program on its own.

Although all of the individual changes above seem to incur fairly small costs on their own (inasmuch as millions or billions of dollars can be called small costs when it’s coming out of our wallets), the CBO has estimated that this CR authorizes a further $77 billion in new mandatory spending over the next ten years.

As one can see, the CR that Congress passed this week is pretty bad for those of us who believe in limited government and individual liberty, but it’s just a precursor of what’s to come only days before Christmas when Americans are preparing for the holiday with their families. If we don’t speak out now and put members in an uncomfortable position, the budget deficit will only get worse and taxpayers will continue to lose while lobbyists and special interests feast on Christmas.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is here


Monday, November 25, 2019

The huge hole in Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing

Moves to impeach Donald Trump have divided America, and one factor at the heart of the issue is set to decide what happens to the US president.

After two weeks of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump, there is a mountain of evidence that analysts say is now beyond dispute.

Trump explicitly ordered US government officials to work with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on matters related to Ukraine, a country deeply dependent on Washington’s help to fend off Russian aggression.

The president pushed Ukraine to launch investigations into political rivals, leaning on a discredited conspiracy theory his own advisers disputed. And both American and Ukrainian officials feared Trump froze a much-needed package of military aid until Kiev announced it was launching those probes.

Those facts were confirmed by a dozen witnesses, mostly career government officials who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations. They relied on emails, text messages and contemporaneous notes to back up their recollections from the past year.

Stitched together, their hours of televised testimony paint a portrait of an American president willing to leverage his powerful office to push a foreign government for personal political help. That alone has many Democrats on the brink of voting to impeach Trump before the end of the year, potentially pushing towards a trial in the Senate.

Yet the witness accounts left one prominent hole that offered a lifeline for Trump and his Republican allies.

None of the witnesses could personally attest that Trump directly conditioned the release of $US400 million ($A589 million) in military aid on a Ukrainian announcement of investigations into former vice-president Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.

Some Republicans suggested that even if that link could be made, it would not be enough for them to support impeaching Trump and removing him from office. And without that link, the president’s wall of support among GOP politicians seems formidable.



'Coup' Concerns Suddenly Don't Seem So Far-Fetched

For most of the last three years, Donald Trump's critics have scoffed at supposed "conspiracy theories" that claimed a "deep state" of bureaucrats were aborting the Trump presidency. We have been told the word "coup" is hyperbole that reveals the paranoid minds of Trump supporters.

Yet oddly, many people brag that they are proud members of a deep state and occasionally boast about the idea of a coup.

Recently, former acting CIA chief John McLaughlin proclaimed in a public forum, "Thank God for the deep state." Former CIA director John Brennan agreed and praised the "deep state people" for their opposition to Trump.

Far from denying the danger of an unelected careerist bureaucracy that seeks to overturn presidential policies, New York Times columnists have praised its efforts to nullify the Trump agenda.

On the first day of the impeachment inquiry, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called his initial two witnesses, career State Department diplomats William Taylor, Jr. and George Kent. Far from providing damning evidence of criminal presidential behavior, Taylor and Kent mostly confined themselves to three topics: their own sterling resumes, their lack of any firsthand knowledge of incriminating Trump action, and their poorly hidden disgust with the manner and substance of Trump's foreign policy.

Oddly, both had little clue that their demeanor and thinly disguised self-importance were a perfect example of why Trump got elected -- to come up with new ideas antithetical to the conventional wisdom of unelected career bureaucrats.

Taylor and Kent announced that they are simply high-minded civil servants who serve the presidential administrations of both parties without bias.

But by nature, the huge federal bureaucracy counts on bigger government and more taxes to feed it. So naturally, the bureaucracy is usually more sympathetic to big-government progressives than to small-government conservatives.

Taylor and Kent cited their anguish with Trump's foreign policy toward Ukraine -- namely that it did not go through official channels and was too unsympathetic to Ukraine and too friendly to Russia. If so, one might have thought the anguished bureaucrats would have similarly gone public during the Obama administration.

After all, Vice President Joe Biden took over the Obama administration's Ukrainian policy at a time when his son Hunter was knee-deep in Ukrainian affairs. As a consultant for a Ukrainian natural gas company, Hunter Biden made a reported $80,000 a month without expertise in either the energy business in particular or Ukraine in general.

Also, Trump's policies have been more anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian than those of the Obama administration. Trump armed the Ukrainians; Obama did not. Trump imposed new sanctions against Russia, used force against Russian mercenaries in Syria, beefed up NATO defenses, pulled the U.S. out an asymmetrical missile treaty with Russia, and pumped more oil and gas to lower world prices -- much to the chagrin of oil-exporting Russia.

In contrast, Obama was the architect of "reset" with Russia that reached its nadir in a hot mic exchange in which Obama offered a quid pro quo, vowing more flexibility on issues such as U.S.-sponsored missile defense in Eastern Europe in exchange for Russia giving Obama "space" to concentrate on his re-election.

Trump's critics have also radically changed their spin on "coups." To them, "coup" is no longer a dirty word trafficked in by right-wing conspiracists. Instead, it has been normalized as a possibly legitimate means of aborting the Trump presidency.

Mark Zaid, the attorney representing the Ukraine whistleblower, boasted in two recently discovered tweets of ongoing efforts to stage a coup to remove Trump.

"#coup has started. First of many steps. #rebellion. #impeachment will follow," Zaid tweeted in January 2017. Later the same month, he tweeted: "#coup has started. As one falls, two more will take their place."

Retired Admiral William H. McRaven recently wrote an op-ed for The New York Times all but calling for Trump's ouster -- "the sooner the better."

No sooner had Trump been elected than Rosa Brooks, a former Defense Department official during the Obama administration, wrote an essay for Foreign Policy magazine discussing theoretical ways to remove Trump before the 2020 election, among them a scenario involving a military coup.

In September 2018, The New York Times published an op-ed from an anonymous White House official who boasted of supposedly widescale efforts inside the Trump administration to nullify its operations and subvert presidential directives.

Such efforts to oppose Trump are often self-described as "The Resistance," a reference to the underground French fighters resisting the Nazis in World War II.

Trump's opponents often have praised the deep state precisely because unelected career officials are seen as the most effective way to sabotage and stymie his agenda.

A "coup" is no longer proof of right-wing paranoia, but increasingly a part of the general progressive discourse of resistance to Trump.

In these upside-down times, patriotism is being redefined as removing a president before a constitutionally-mandated election.



Billionaires fund left-wing ‘resisters’ and schemers to abolish the electoral college, same-day registration and oppose voter ID

For years, Democrats have argued that they will soon have a permanent majority due to the country’s demographic changes. However, liberal billionaires, like George Soros and John and Laura Arnold, are not content to wait. To speed things along, they support left-wing organizations that constantly scheme to find ways to undermine the integrity of our elections and boost Democrats’ chances of winning.

To begin with, Soros and the Arnolds support the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Brennan Center for Justice. The ACLU has a long and sordid history of proudly defending the indefensible. These days, it brags that it has sued the Trump Administration more than 100 times. The Brennan Center was founded by former clerks for liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan; the Center is now run by a senior official in the Clinton Administration. In the early days of the Trump Administration, the Center was recognized as part of the “Resistance Network.”

Both the ACLU and the Brennan Center oppose voter ID laws. While these left-wing organizations do everything they can to make it easier to commit voter fraud, a 2016 Gallup poll shows just how out-of-touch they are on voter ID laws. Gallup found that 80% of voters support ID laws, including 95% of Republicans, 63% of Democrats, 83% of independents, 81% of whites, and 77% of nonwhites. Furthermore, although the ACLU and the Brennan Center claim that voter ID laws disenfranchise minority voters, they disregard evidence that shows that these laws do not suppress minority voter turnout.

Of course, there is much more to these group’s agendas than just blocking voter ID laws. For example, the ACLU opposes efforts to clean up voter rolls that would reduce chances of voter fraud. Not to be outdone, the Brennan Center supports having at least two full weeks of early voting (including nights and weekends), allowing people to register and vote on the same day, and having the government automatically register voters.

Why is it that the ACLU is so desperate to ensure that voter rolls are filled with dead people and those registered in multiple states? Good government? Doubtful. What the ACLU refuses to recognize is that, while some efforts to maintain the integrity of our elections might inconvenience some voters from time to time, the broader voting public has a right to expect that the government is taking reasonable steps to ensure that only those eligible to vote are allowed to do so. After all, no in their right mind wants their vote cancelled out by a non-citizen or someone who votes twice.

Despite the Brennan Center’s claims, there is very little justification for weeks of early voting. If a voter cannot find any time to vote on Election Day during the 12 or so hours that polls are open and cannot submit an absentee ballot, many would reasonably conclude that that voter is not sufficiently motivated to vote. In addition, despite liberal groups’ advocacy for early voting, the evidence suggests early voting does not increase turnout – and could even result in lower turnout. Early voting does, however, increase work for county workers, increase costs for taxpayers, and increase work for volunteers handing out sample ballots to voters.

Soros and the Arnolds, along with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, support FairVote. FairVote is run by Rob Richie, a former campaign staffer for a liberal Democrat Congresswoman. FairVote supports same-day registration and voting, automatic voter registration, and even allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote.

All three of these organizations, the ACLU, the Brennan Center, and FairVote, support the National Popular Vote interstate compact. Under this scheme, states with 270 electoral votes would agree to cast their electoral votes for whichever candidate wins the popular vote regardless of whether that candidate actually won the states giving that candidate their votes. Although a number of states have signed on, this end-run around the Constitution may well be unconstitutional and could even spark a constitutional crisis.

When Soros and the Arnolds are not funding the abortion industry, trying to impose a carbon tax, or trying to erode your Second Amendment rights, they are trying to rig our elections. This is why we need more conservative donors and activists – as well as more cooperation between right-leaning organizations – to push back on these fronts.




NOTHING TO SEE HERE... Ukraine widens criminal investigation into Biden-connected Burisma (The Daily Wire)

SPEAKING OF CORRUPTION: DNA test of love child confirms Hunter Biden cheated on his dead brother's widow (PJ Media)

FEDS TOO SLOW TO RESPOND: Senate report: U.S. taxpayers have unwittingly funded China's economy and military for decades (The Daily Wire)

TIP OF THE ICEBERG: DOJ inspector general finds "numerous issues" with FBI management of secret sources (Washington Examiner)

RAINBOW MAFIA: Illinois school district gives transgender students unrestricted access to bathrooms (The Daily Signal)

MIND-BOGGLING: Children are being locked away, alone and terrified, in schools across Illinois. Often, it's against the law. (Chicago Tribune)

GOOD LUCK WITH THAT: Jussie Smollett files suit against Chicago for "malicious prosecution" (National Review)

POLICY: A pro-growth alternative to the Left's tax-hike agenda (The Daily Signal)

POLICY: Setting the record straight on the value of U.S. military aid to Ukraine (The Daily Signal)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is here 


Sunday, November 24, 2019

The retirement savings crisis sweeping the world

The basic problem of super-low interest rates is not going to go away.  First Obama and now Trump have issued vast amounts of new U.S. dollars.  And the greenback is the world's reserve currency.  So the world is awash with money. So much so that banks are close to giving it away.  They don't charge much to the people they lend it to.  But those charges are the source of retirement income for many.

So putting your retirement savings into a bank is a mug's game.  You will get less interest on it than the rate of inflation.  Far from providing an income, your savings will wither away.

So many retirees put their money into superannuation and other funds, which do promise an income.  But the superannuation funds are stretched too.  No matter what they invest in, they are not getting much return either.

There are two things they can do about that:  Invest in riskier schemes or cut benefits.  A lot of funds are doing both.  Risky investments are a huge peril, however.  There is a history of them sending funds broke.  How would you cope if your fund went broke and your income dried up altogether?  That has happened in saner times so it is even more likely now.

So what to do?  I think that careful investment on the stock exchange is the best solution for most people.  Good stocks still return their average dividends of about 4% each year so that puts most people about where they thought they were.

So why do the funds not invest solely in stocks?  They do invest but they are always looking for growth and safe stocks tend not to grow much.  But if you are already retired that may not matter much.  If your income is OK but grows only slowly, it still may be enough for you.  It is a heap better than losing the lot -- which can happen with growth stocks.

I may add that I do put my money where my mouth is.  About half my money is in real estate but the other half is in the stock exchange.  I buy stocks with about a 4% return and that gives me a good income plus a stable value for my portfolio.

Stockmarket experts despise such simple investments as mine but I have the last laugh.  During the last big crash in 2008, the smarties bombed badly while the value of my portfolio barely budged and my 4% income also went on as usual.  I guess it is evil of me but I was much amused at the time when lots of hot-shot investors lost the lot

Jan-Pieter Jansen, a 77-year-old retiree from the Netherlands, had high hopes for a worry-free retirement after having saved diligently into a pension during his working life.

But Mr Jansen, a former manager in the metal industry, has been forced to reappraise his plans after receiving notice from his retirement scheme, one of the Netherland’s biggest industry-sector funds, of plans to cut his pension by up to 10 per cent. Understandably, the news has hit like a sledgehammer.

“This is causing me a lot of stress,” says Mr Jansen, who retired 17 years ago and hoped to use his pension pot to treat his grandchildren and afford good hotels on holidays. “The cuts to my pension will mean thousands of euros less that I can spend on the family, and the holidays we like. I’m very angry that this is happening after I saved for so long.”

Mr Jansen is not alone in experiencing pension pain. Tens of millions more pensioners and savers around the world are facing the same retirement insecurity as Mr Jansen, as plunging interest rates since the financial crisis wreak havoc on the funding of schemes. As average life expectancy increases, pensions have become a defining political issue in countries as diverse as Russia, Japan and Brazil.

General Electric, the US industrial conglomerate, recently announced that it is joining a growing list of companies that are ending guaranteed “final salary” style pension schemes, affecting around 20,000 of its employees. In the UK, tens of thousands of university academics are preparing to take strike action over steep rises in their pension contributions.

A common factor in this global pension upheaval has been suppressed bond yields.

Bonds have historically provided a simple match for the cash flows needed to be paid out to the members of retirement schemes such as Mr Jansen’s. But decades of declining bond yields have made it far harder for pension funds to buy an income for their members, pushing them more into equities and other riskier, untraded investments, such as real estate and private equity.

Buoyant financial markets have so far ensured robust investment gains for pension plans on their existing holdings. Yet given their long-term liabilities, the dimming outlook for future gains is causing anguish.

“Their house is on fire,” says Alex Veroude, chief investment officer for the US at Insight Investment, which manages money on behalf of many pension funds. “And rates can and probably will go lower from here. Even if the house is on fire, it’s still only the first floor. We think it can hit the second and third floor as well.”

This is not merely a danger to individuals like Mr Jansen who may see their pensions cut — it could also have a wider impact on the economy. If people set aside more money for retirement, it may hamper economic growth by reducing consumption — the opposite of the intention of central banks when they cut rates. The Swedish Riksbank hinted obliquely at this when it recently signalled it would lift interest rates back to zero by the end of the year, saying that “if negative nominal interest rates are perceived as a more permanent state, the behaviour of agents may change and negative effects may arise.”

There may even be more systemic consequences. Last month the IMF warned in its annual report on global financial stability that the rush by pension funds into “illiquid” assets will hamstring “the traditional role they play in stabilising markets during periods of stress”, as they will have less money available to scoop up bargains.

The push into more unorthodox investment strategies is worrying some in the industry, who warn that they could exacerbate market downturns. “We’re seeing some really unusual behaviour, and we’ll see some payback,” says Con Michalakis, chief investment officer of Statewide, an Australian pension plan. “The trillion dollar question is when? I’ve been doing this for long enough not to want to predict when it will happen.”

When Christopher Ailman studied for a degree in business economics at the University of California in the late 1970s, Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker was ratcheting up interest rates, sending bond yields spiralling higher. Soon after he graduated in 1980 the 10-year Treasury yield hit a record of nearly 16 per cent — and the concept of sub-zero yields seemed preposterous.

“At school my textbooks said that there was no such thing as negative interest rates,” says Mr Ailman, now chief investment officer at Calstrs, the $238bn Californian teachers’ pension plan. “But here we are.”

In the wake of the financial crisis, many central banks deployed unconventional new tools to reinvigorate the global economy once interest rates hit zero. At first this primarily meant massive, multitrillion dollar bond-buying programmes, but in 2009 Sweden became the first central bank to experiment with negative interest rates.

It was later followed by Japan and the rest of Europe, with the desperate scramble for bonds pushing yields lower. Growing concerns over the health of the global economy, a subdued inflation outlook and expectations of even easier monetary policy have now pushed the pile of negative-yielding debt to about $13tn.

Pension plans invest in a broad array of asset classes, but with many stock markets at or near record highs, the prospect of gains are dimming across the board. AQR Capital Management estimates that the classic 60-40 balanced equity-bond fund might return as little as 2.9 per cent on average a year after inflation over the next decade, compared with an average of 5 per cent since 1900.

“Higher prices are simply pulling forward ever more future return to the present,” says Andrew Sheets, a strategist at Morgan Stanley. “That’s great for today’s asset owners, especially those close to retirement. It is much less good for anyone trying to save, invest or manage well into the future, who face an increasingly barren return landscape.”

The tumble in bond yields is particularly problematic for “defined benefit” pension plans, which promise members a specific payout. They use high-grade bond yields to calculate the value of their future liabilities, and every small move downwards deepens their funding challenges.

A one percentage point fall in long-term interest rates will increase liabilities of a typical pension scheme by around 20 per cent, but the value of their assets would only go up by about 10 per cent, estimates Ros Altmann, a former UK pensions minister. “Clearly, then, scheme funding will deteriorate and employers will need to increase funding,” she adds.

Many UK pension schemes are now using sophisticated “liability driven investment” strategies, hedging against the impact of lower rates on their liabilities. This has slowly started to catch on in Europe and the US as well.

But those schemes that have not taken steps to guard against interest rate risk now face huge increases in their deficits, and are having to make difficult decisions about how to bridge the funding gap.

Across the western world pension fund managers face similar challenges. The industry outlook is now as grim as it has ever been in Peter Damgaard Jensen’s two-decade stint at the top of PKA, a Danish pension fund.

“In some countries the pension system cannot survive if things don’t change,” he warns. “They either have to pay in more or cut benefits.”

In the Netherlands, the government has come under pressure to change retirement system rules so schemes can effectively shrink deficits, blown out by negative bond yields. With European bond yields hitting record lows in August, funding ratios — a measure of how much money a pension plan has compared with its liabilities — have collapsed to around 90 per cent, according to Anna Grebenchtchikova, a Dutch pensions expert. “The 90 per cent funding ratio means that benefit cuts are likely unless interest rates and/or equity markets rise substantially before the end of the year,” she says. “Consequently, many opposition parties and organisations for the elderly have called for a relaxation of the rules.”

One such fund is Stichting Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn, the second-biggest Dutch pension fund. While it generated €39bn of investment gains in the first nine months of this year, falling yields have forced it to set aside an extra €54bn to meet current and future demands from pension holders. It now warns it might have to cut benefits for the first time in its half-century history.

“To avert a reduction, we urgently need help from politicians in The Hague,” Peter Borgdorff, PFZW’s director, wrote in a blog post earlier this month. “The clock is ticking.”

To counteract the fading outlook for returns from mainstream bonds and equity markets, many pension plans are ratcheting up their investments in “alternative” or “private” assets, such as private equity, real estate, venture capital, infrastructure and untraded loans.

For long-term investors who can accept the illiquidity in return for the promise of higher returns, this makes sense. A housing project or toll road can produce a bond-like, steady income stream. Yet with almost every institutional investor exploring this avenue, it has led to froth in “private markets”.

“There are some dangers,” says Mr Damgaard Jensen. “It can create bubbles when people go into new areas. They’re not the cheapest asset classes to go into. And there are a lot of fees. Often the only people that get rich are the fund managers. And you have to make sure you can hold on as it’s hard to sell.”

These private market investments involve allocating money to private equity or real estate funds, which will be “called” when their managers want to make a big acquisition. But this could reduce how much money pension funds have available. The IMF estimates that pension plans have doubled their allocations to illiquid assets over the past 10 years, and for about a fifth of funds these capital commitments amount to more than half their liquid assets.

“Given higher liquidity risks, pension funds will probably have to set aside more of their liquid assets to cover potential outflows during and after periods of stress, especially if market funding becomes more expensive,” the IMF said in its Global Financial Stability Report. “This would make it more difficult for them to buy assets traded at distressed price levels, limiting their ability to invest counter cyclically and thus play a stabilising role during periods of market stress.”

Faced with a continued subdued outlook for investment returns, fund managers face the unpalatable prospect of inflicting further pain by asking for bigger contributions from pension members and employers, imposing benefit cuts, or closing their schemes.

Baroness Altmann believes intervention is needed to limit the impact of pension pain spreading to the wider economy, as businesses divert cash from investment into paying more money to plug retirement scheme deficits.

“Government and regulators should be planning to help those pension schemes and their sponsors who may never be able to afford full annuity buyout, without becoming insolvent,” she says. “The development of a regime for ‘winding down’ rather than ‘winding up’, which does not require annuity purchase and which would see pensions paid out of a pooled fund of assets, would be more likely to deliver higher pensions overall.”

Without intervention, there are also wider risks to society as more workers could be shunted out of company-backed guaranteed schemes and into arrangements where their pension is at the mercy of the stock market.

“In 20 years we may find ourselves with a real global crisis where we haven’t saved enough money for retirement,” says Calstrs’ Mr Ailman. “Returns can fluctuate, but longevity has been extended dramatically . . . We just have to explain to millennials that their parents might have to move back in with them.”



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