Curmudgeon Me 2.

Nancy Pelosi rules out impeachment as “not worth the trouble” unless Robert Mueller’s investigation found evidence of actual high crimes and misdemeanors.[1]  Mueller has not yet filed his report or possible final indictments.  He might report evidence of impeachable offensives by President Donald Trump, although Department of Justice opinion seems to hold that a sitting president cannot be indicted.  Attorney General William Barr might release the report or a summary of it, or he might not.  Not releasing it would make me suspect that Mueller reported impeachable offenses and Barr sought to cover for him.

On the other hand, Attorney General Barr is a long-time mainstream Republican, as are most of the Republican Senators.  What would damage the long-term interests of the Republican Party more, impeaching Trump and replacing him with Mike Pence or covering-up impeachable offenses and then having them revealed as soon as a Democrat becomes Attorney General?

What Speaker Pelosi may have been doing is trying to warn fellow Democrats that she doubts that Mueller will report either “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russkies or “obstruction of justice.”[2]  What Mueller has achieved so far has been to get the National Security Agency to tell him who were the Russian hackers, then to indict them; to convict George Papadopoulos for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russians; to convict Paul Manafort for financial crimes committed before he became Trump’s campaign manager and for tampering with witnesses to avoid subsequent prosecution; to indict Rick Gates, Manafort’s assistant in the financial crimes, and Roger Stone, and Michael Cohen; and to get Michael Flynn to co-operate.  So, it looks like we are waiting on what has been learned from Flynn and anything that Cohen said in secret that he did not say in public testimony.  I don’t know what that will be.

 

Brenton Tarrant, the accused New Zealand gun-man, was a fat boy child of divorced parents who lived with his father, didn’t like school, and acted out in non-violent ways.[3]  Apparently, he was bullied in school.  Also, “he was a heavy-metal fan.”[4]  In short, pretty run of the mill kind of victim-kid in any high school.  They rarely turn into mass murderers.  If they did, most of us would already be dead.  Then, he changed.  After escaping high-school, he remade himself physically.  He lost a lot of weight through changes in diet and exercise, and became a personal trainer at a local gym.  Again, nothing extraordinary here.  Men’s Health is full of stories of similar constructive transformations.[5]  No one recalls him as violent or white nationalist.  Then he went off to travel the world.  Yet again, nothing extraordinary.  British and European youth hostels are full of young Australians and New Zealanders come from the far side of the world.  Same is probably true of Asia.

It looks like he was “radicalized” during his travels.  This will take more digging than ordinary journalists can do.  Wait a year for the story in the New Yorker.

[1] Peter Baker and Emily Cochrane, “Ruling Out Impeachment May Set Far-Reaching Precedent,” NYT, 13 March 2019.

[2] JMO, but it would be hard to call defending yourself against James Comey “obstruction of justice” if there is no underlying crime.  I’m sure that I’m wrong, but there it is.

[3] Isabella Kwai, “Shock and Disgust in Christchurch Suspect’s Hometown,” NYT, 17 March 2019.

[4] Aha!

[5] Look at the “Belly Off” series for numerous examples.

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Just the Facts, Ma’am 2 11 February 2019.

Second, three tax proposals have been offered to raise more revenue from the rich.[1]  Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has suggested raising the tax on incomes above $10 million from the current 37 percent to 60 or 70 percent.  This would return upper-income tax rates to the level that prevailed during the 1970s.  In the regime of the 1970s, many deductions and exemptions existed which do not exist today.  The effective tax rate on high incomes under the Ocasio-Cortez proposal would be much higher than the one of the 1970s.  However, the top rate in the 1970s applied to the contemporary equivalent of $800,000.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed a “wealth tax,” not merely an income tax.[2]  People with a net worth between $50 million and $1 billion would pay 2 percent per year[3]; people worth more than $1 billion would pay 3 percent per year.[4]  According to the calculations underlying Senator Warren’s proposal, this tax would generate $2.75 trillion over ten years.

The Warren proposal may not be constitutional.  The 16th Amendment to the Constitution created a tax on income, not a tax on all assets.  Apparently, the courts have held that taxes on estates and gifts are excise taxes on the transfer of assets, rather than a tax on the assets themselves.  The tax also might be a logistical nightmare to apply.

Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed revising the estate tax.  Until 2009, the tax applied to estates of more than $3.5 million.  A 2017 tax change raised the threshold for individuals to about $11 million and the threshold for couples to about $22 million, with a standard tax rate of 40 percent.  Senator Sanders would return to the 2009 level of $3.5 million.  In addition, he replaces a single tax rate with multiple rates.  From $3.5 million to $10 million, the rate would be 45 percent; on estates of $1 billion or more, the rate would be 77 percent.

[1] Paul Sullivan, “Taxing the Rich Sounds Easy.  But It’s Not,” NYT, 2 February 2019; Sydney Ember, “Sanders Unveils a Plan To Increase Estate Taxes,” NYT, 1 February 2019.

[2] Senator Bernie Sanders also supports the idea of a wealth tax, if not necessarily Senator Warren’s version of such a tax.

[3] Apparently, there are 39,735 people worth between $50 million and $1 billion in the United States today.

[4] Apparently, there are 680 billionaires in the United States today.

Just the facts, Ma’am 1 11 February 2019.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that spending on people aged 65 and older[1] has increased as a share of federal spending from 35 percent (2005) to 40 percent (2018) and is projected to rise to 50 percent (2029).  The federal budget deficit is projected to exceed $1 trillion a year from 2022 to 2029.  Proposals recently offered by Democrats intending to run for President in 2020 or to shape the party’s policy for that race may have an effect on this situation.  None of the proposals claim to aim at deficit reduction.  Instead, they target reducing income inequality and/or financing expanded programs.

First, it is proposed to reform Social Security.[2]  As originally designed, Social Security enhanced private preparation for retirement by adding the resources from a tax on currently working people to individual savings and/or pensions.  Today, however, there appears to be a savings crisis among working people.

There is also a financing crisis for Social Security.  The actuaries at the Social Security Administration report that outlays (payments) will soon exceed income (withholding tax revenues).  Thereafter the payments will be paid from an accumulated surplus held in the form of U.S. treasury bonds.  When that trust fund is exhausted by 2034, benefits will have to be reduced.  Currently, about 63 million people receive Social Security benefits.  The number is expected to rise to 89 million by 2030.  The total current cost is about $1 trillion.  The maximum amount of income subject to Social Security tax is $132,900; the current withholding tax on payrolls is 12.4 percent.

Democrats propose to increase the minimum benefit to help lower-income people who have saved less than have higher income people; increase benefits by an average of about two percent; raise the annual cost-of-living adjustment to payments to respond to the reality that retirees consume goods and services in a different pattern than do still-working people; cut the tax on benefits for middle-income recipients while increasing them on upper-income recipients; and increase the payroll tax rate from the current to 14.8 percent by 2040, and the payroll tax would be imposed on incomes above $400,000 a year, while incomes between $132,900 a year and $400,000 a year would not be subject to taxation.

This proposal would permanently fix the financing problem.  It would also increase benefits paid out to some Social Security recipients.  An estimated three-quarters of the extra income would go to covering the looming deficit; the rest would go to increased benefits for lower-income recipients.

[1] Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.

[2] Robert Pear, “Democrats Push First Major Social Security Expansion Since 1972,” NYT, 4 February 2019.

I’m Running for President in 2020–3.

The Global War on Terror is approaching a new stage.  The Islamic State (ISIS) has been driven out of Iraq and almost destroyed in Syria.  Recently, President Trump ordered a sudden withdrawal of American forces from Syria and announced a desire to do the same from Afghanistan.  Much expert and political opposition arise to slow him down.  Some people argued that the Islamic State had not yet been totally defeated or destroyed.  Parallels were drawn to President Obama’s withdrawal of forces from Iraq.  This had been followed by the rise of the Islamic State and its invasion of Iraq.

Peace talks between the Americans and the Taliban have been proceeding and may be approaching a settlement.   With regard to Afghanistan, two lines of criticism or concern arise.  First, a peace deal with the Taliban will be based up on some kind of compromise or power-sharing agreement between the Taliban and their indigenous Afghan opponents.  What assurance can be offered that the Taliban will honor their commitments?  The Taliban came to power in the first place through victory in a civil war.  Are they likely to pursue the same path again.  Second,  the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban which had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  Who is to say that they will not again become patrons of anti-Western jihad?

In both cases, critics of President Trump argue for a continued American role in what Dexter Filkins called “The Forever War.”  While these critics are experts–and I am not–and they make important points, it seems to me that they fail to address a key question.  “How does this thing end?”  We are at war with an idea–Islamic radicalism–and with global social conditions–the failed states and the failed societies in much of the developing world.  It seems likely that the “defeat” of ISIS will soon be followed by a wild fire of Islamic radical rebellions running from Bangladesh through Indonesia to the southern Philippines.   Islamist movements are on their heels in much of Africa, but the conditions that gave rise to them have not been addressed.

I ask my fellow candidates the following questions.  Are we going to keep military forces in every place an Islamist wild fire has broken, been contained, and burned out in case the embers catch light once again?  Are we going to send military forces to every new place an Islamist wild fire breaks out?  Of course, it will be argued that American military technology and special forces are effective force multipliers.  America can “lead from behind” and on the cheap by assembling” coalitions of the willing” to do much of the fighting.

It might be answered that even these forces are not infinite.  America is not on a real war-footing and has not been since 2001.  A small share of Americans bear the cost of battle.  We develop plans for Operations in each Theater of Operations as it arises, but I see no Strategy for winning the global and forever War.

Migration.

The United States began limiting immigration in 1924.  The United States currently has an estimated 11-12 million illegal immigrants living in the country.  The United States admits 950,000-1 million legal immigrants each year.  Both of those realities have become the centers of political contention.  Pro-foreign-life people argue that immigration is vital for America’s society and economy, that the illegals should be granted some kind of legal status (often phrased as a “path to citizenship”), and that the United States has some kind of humanitarian duty to welcome everyone who has been the victim of one of life’s hard knocks.  Pro-it’s-our-choice people argue either that the immigrants are a bunch of undesirables from failed societies who will wreak havoc, or that immigration is good, but we need to pick and choose while recognizing that massive immigration will disrupt American society.  Various combinations of the two views either make the most sense or are a recipe for disaster.[1]

There are about 7.7 billion people in the world.  They live in 195 countries.  Gallup polled people in 152 of those countries.  They report that 15 percent of adults in those countries, an estimated 750 million people, would migrate to another country if they could.  Of that estimated 750 million people, about 158 million people want to move to the United States.[2]  Obviously, the real numbers could be much higher.  For one thing, many adults have children.  For another thing, there are the 43 countries where Gallup did not poll.  One can imagine virtually every single person in North Korea or Syria wanting to bolt.

One distortion in the contemporary debate arises from geography.  The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans bar most foreigners from getting to the United States except by sea (rare) or air travel.  You can’t get on an international flight from most places in the world headed for the United States unless you already have a visa.  That’s not the case for Central America.  People willing to run the risks of traveling the Lawless Roads can end up at the southern border of the United States.  Where political stunts by all sides provide something for cameramen to do.

The 2017 population of the United States has been estimated at 325 million people.  Can we take in 158 million people from foreign cultures—many of them very different in values from that of the United States—without any impact on American society?  If so, at what pace?  A million a year?  Five million a year?  Ten million a year?  All of them at once?  No?  Then the pro-foreign life people accept the idea of immigration restriction.  They just want to set the threshold at some undefined higher level.  And they don’t want to talk about the social, political, and financial costs.

As for the pro-it’s-our-choice people, there are 158 million people who want to come here, but you think there aren’t any among them who would make a vital contribution to America?  Red China wants to take over Taiwan, just like it did Hong Kong.  So, many people from a leading Far East industrial nation are going to want to migrate.  Russia and Iran are going to add Lebanon to the bag, just like Syria.  Lots of Lebanese Christians will want an out.

It’s an important debate.  It would be nice if we had it.

[1] I don’t have a ‘source” for this statement.  It’s just my sense of all the stuff I’ve been reading for years.  While there may NOT have been “good people on both side” in Charlottesville, there are idiots on both side of this debate.  Just hoping that I’m not one of them.  No need to tell me if you think I’m an idiot.  That’s what my sons are for.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 21/28 December 2018, p. 17.

Manafort Destiny 2.

A curious article appeared in the New York Times today.[1]  It seems a little disorganized as would be the case with important, but late-breaking news.  Still, it contains interesting points that whet the appetite for more information.

Robert Mueller has been investigating Russian interference in the American presidential election of November 2016.  Mueller’s team of prosecutors charged Paul Manafort, President Trump’s transient campaign manager, with various forms of fraud related to his work as a consultant to pro-Russian candidates in Ukraine through 2014.  Manafort worked out a plea deal with Mueller.  That deal required his full co-operation with the prosecutors.  Now, prosecutors want to break the deal.  They argue that Manafort has lied on multiple occasions.   They want to dump a ton of bricks on him.

To justify throwing the book at Manafort, the prosecutors could have to provide some evidence of exactly how and in what regard he did lie to them.  Failing that, the defense could claim that Manafort did provide truthful information.  Normally, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution.  Hence, the sentencing memorandum may reveal important information from Mueller’s investigation.  This might run beyond Paul Manafort’s actions as far as the president.

First, although he had a plea deal with the prosecutors, Manafort’s lawyers secretly consulted with President Trump’s lawyers about the lines of investigation being pursued by Mueller.  Although such discussions “violated no laws,” Mueller and his team are exercised nonetheless.   Did they have an agreement with Mr. Manafort that he would not consult with the President’s lawyers?  If they did, and if Manafort repeatedly stated that he had held no such talks even as his lawyers met with White House lawyers, then this would be grounds for breaking the plea deal.

Second, Mr. Mueller’s team “accused Mr. Manafort of holding out on them” despite his pledge to assist them in any matter they deemed relevant.  “Holding out” usually means withholding facts.  So far, the statements in the NYT are ambiguous.  According to Rudolph Giuliani, himself a former Federal prosecutor and now a special counsel to President Trump, “He [Robert Mueller] wants Manafort to incriminate Trump.”  Did Manafort deny any collusion?

Third, in one paragraph, the NYT states that President Trump’s “tweets” tried to imply that “he had some inside information.”  As evidence, the NYT story quotes Trump as saying that “the Mueller investigation are a total mess.  They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts.  They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want.”   Does the president have evidence to this effect?  If he does, then what does that say about the state of the Mueller investigation?

Finally, dumping Manafort back in the glue suggests that the federal prosecutors have no use for the testimony he has provided so far with regard to President Trump.  That is, Manafort may have denied any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russkies.  If this is the area in which he lied, then Mueller must have a bunch of solid evidence from other sources with which to prove that Manafort lied.  What is that source?  What is that evidence?

In any event, when will Robert Mueller report?

[1] Michael S. Schmidt, Sharon Lafraniere, and Maggie Haberman, “Manafort Lawyer Briefs Trump Team on Inquiry,” NYT, 28 November 2018.

The 2018 off term elections.

Some of this is now out-dated, owing to continuing counts of ballots and recounts.

“Analyzing 417 House races that featured at least two candidates on the ballot, the AP determined that Democrats earned more than 51.4 million votes in competitive House races nationwide, or 52 percent, compared to 47.2 million votes cast, or 48 percent, for Republicans.”[1]

NB: Of 98.6 million votes cast, Republicans won about 47.8 percent of the 2016 vote.  Democrats won about 52 percent of the vote.

NB: The Democrats margin of victory was 4.2 million votes.  In the “American presidential election held on November 8, 2016,… Republican Donald Trump lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 2.8 million votes.[2]  NB: So two years of Trump government energized Democrats more than did Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  No surprise.

NB: Will this be enough to win the White House in 2020?  Basically (back of the envelope), it looks like Republicans pulled 74.6 percent of their 2016 turnout, while Democrats pulled 78 percent of their 2016 turnout.  Motivated by the Kavanaugh shenanigans, Republicans turned out much more than one might have expected.  Motivated by Trump-vulsion, Democrats turned out as one might have expected.

“According to the latest data, Democrats won the House popular vote by about seven percentage points in Tuesday night’s midterms.”  [NB: that works out to be something like 53 percent to 46 percent.]  Furthermore, “They picked up 29 Republican-held seats in the House, while losing two of their own incumbents, resulting in a net gain of 27 seats.”[3]

From 1918 to 2016, the president’s party lost an average of 29 seats in midterm elections. In the 20 percent of elections where the president lost the most seats—which Ballotpedia defined as wave elections—his party lost at least 48 seats.”[4]  “In the 2010 midterms, by contrast, Republicans stormed into control of the House with a haul of 63 seats.”

“Each of America’s 50 states elects two senators, regardless of population, and only a third of the country’s Senate seats are voted on each election cycle.”  According to David Golove, a professor at the New York University School of Law, “That’s a radically undemocratic principle, and it gives rise to what we see, which is that the minority populations are going to have a disproportionate impact in the United States. That tends to mean conservatives have a disproportionate influence over the Senate.”

NB: OK, but his argument is with James Madison, not me.  Wear a cup.

The country is divided 52-48 percent.  A purely normal (see above) “blue wave” should not disguise this reality.

Still, if the Democrats have a good candidate[5] and can sustain their “get out the vote” effort, they have a fair chance of re-capturing the White House in 2020.

Of course, we’ll have to take what comes with getting Trump out of the White House.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/09/heres-how-your-state-turned-out-to-vote-in-the-midterm-election.html

[2] Donald Trump: 62,984,828; Hillary Clinton: 65,853,514.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/08/democrats-republicans-senate-majority-minority-rule

[4] https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_Congress_elections,_2018

[5] Aye, there’s the rub.  Could Corey Booker or Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden mount a credible candidacy?  More likely, JMO, Hillary Clinton will “offer to serve” when the midgets flame out.