Friday, January 20, 2017

Cruising the Web

Well, Inauguration Day is finally here. What a surreal moment.

I happened to be flipping around last night and caught the fireworks display at the Lincoln Memorial to "Battle Hymn of the Republic." That actually looked neat. I love the Lincoln Memorial and used to live a few blocks from there. Seeing it with all the fireworks and hearing that song was rather chilling. Then seeing the Trump family there in front of Lincoln...well, again, it's just surreal. But I don't know how anyone can be there and read the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural chiseled onto the walls and not be moved.

Seeing Lincoln's statue is a reminder that, for all the partisan division in Washington today, there was a time when the country was even more divided. Some Democratic congressmen boycotting the the Inauguration seems rather? mild compared to states that seceded because they objected to the guy who won the election. In the long run, will anyone care that a bunch of congressmen that most people haven't heard of, weren't there?

For Democrats depressed about the Republicans taking the levers of both the Legislative and Executive Branches, and perhaps the Judicial Branch, Jay Cost has some heartening thoughts. Our political system doesn't tend remain static. Partisan control will swing back and forth. Remember how just eight years ago it seemed that the Democrats would control the federal government for the foreseeable future.
Second, our system makes parties look like governing failures. The Constitution carefully distributes governing authority across multiple institutions—the presidency, two chambers of Congress, the courts, state governments. It is hard to induce these disparate entities to coordinate their efforts to deliver on the bold promises candidates make on the stump. This is a feature, not a bug, of our system, which typically requires a broad and durable consensus before big changes can be made. Candidates rarely endeavor to manage expectations when they're electioneering—and that leaves the victors on the hook when the government does not deliver what they promised on the stump. And, of course, the opposition is always eager to tell voters that only they can make the government work.

Third, exogenous shocks to our polity are common. Wars, recessions, scandals, domestic crime waves, messy foreign entanglements—history is replete with instances when events such as these totally altered the political playing field. Sometimes, events strengthen a party's governing hand, as was the case with JFK's assassination and the 9/11 attacks. But more often than not, voters blame the party in charge for the new problem. The most frequent culprit is the business cycle. Ruling parties get the blame for recessions, which tend to recur every 5 to 10 years.
Given that history would predict sinking support for the Republicans over the next few years, Cost recommends that Republicans try to take advantage of their control now because there is no guarantee it will last.
So Republicans would do well to make hay while the sun shines, for sooner or later it is going to set. Ironically, nobody furnishes a better example of how to make use of a fleeting majority than Barack Obama and congressional Democrats. Blessed with a supermajority during 2009-2010, they implemented many sweeping policy changes with impressive alacrity—as if they knew that the moment would soon pass. Indeed, it did. This one will, too. Republicans should make the most of it while it lasts.

Ramesh Ponnuru wonders Democrats really mean when they say that Trump's presidency isn't legitimate.
Are the liberals who deny Trump’s legitimacy saying that they will not treat laws signed by him or regulations promulgated by his appointees as valid? Will they stop paying taxes to the federal government that they believe he illegitimately heads? Will they ignore Supreme Court decisions whenever his appointees were decisive to the outcome? Will Representative Lewis be filing a motion to impeach Trump?

Anyone who truly believes that Trump holds his power illegitimately would at least have to consider such steps. But if anyone who is questioning his legitimacy is prepared to follow their premises to such conclusions, I haven’t heard of it.

It could be that all Lewis means is that he will not cooperate with Trump and will not defer to his wishes. But the congressman has not said that he will refrain from working with Trump even when the two men agree. And he need not call Trump “illegitimate” to refrain from working with him when they disagree; the disagreement itself is enough to justify opposition.

Or perhaps Lewis just means that he will refrain from showing Trump any respect and will look for ways to snub him. Again, though, the rhetoric seems disproportionate to the action. Why aren’t you going to the inauguration? Because Trump is an illegitimate president. And what are you going to do about the usurper in the White House? Things like not going to his inauguration.

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Mollie Hemingway lists four media stories from the past week that exemplify why so many people have lost all confidence in the media. Yesterday's NYT story slamming Rick Perry with a phony quote about how Perry didn't know that the Energy Department oversees nuclear energy is a prime example.
The New York Times ran a story by Coral Davenport and David E. Sanger that claimed, without any sourcing or substantiation, that Rick Perry thought the secretary of Energy job he was about to take was as “a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry” but then he “discovered that he would be no such thing.” The reporters claimed, again with zero evidence to substantiate their claims, that he only then learned “he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.”

These odd allegations went on and on, followed by a vague quote from an energy lobbyist who may have been around the transition for the first few days, but was apparently let go nearly a month before Perry was even named, saying that Perry cared about energy advocacy and is now focused on the challenges of the nuclear complex. To be clear, Perry was nominated on December 13, 2016. The man with the boring quote in The New York Times piece speaking to Perry’s knowledge was let go by November 18.

That this guy and his quote are the source for that incendiary lede is utterly and completely disqualifying for Davenport and Sanger.
The guy they were quoting is claiming that the newspaper didn't accurately portray what he'd said.
Ian Tuttle also explains why this whole story was unlikely.
To anyone with even a passing familiarity with the subject matter, the Times’ claim should have been an occasion for skepticism. Perry spent 14 years as the governor of Texas, and the state’s Panhandle region is home to the Pantex Plant, the United States’ “primary facility for the final assembly, dismantlement, and maintenance of nuclear weapons” (in the words of Pantex’s website). It’s overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration, an Energy Department agency. The plant was established in 1942. Rick Perry is supposed to have been completely oblivious to all of this?

In addition, it turns out that Perry had spoken about "guarding our nuclear arsenal" in the remarks he made upon being nominated. So the whole point of the story was bunk. Observing reaction on Twitter to this story was quite amusing. Liberal journalists kept retweeting the story and making fun of Perry for supposedly not knowing what his job would be at Energy while conservatives on Twitter were immediately casting doubt on the story. But the NYT is standing by their story.
“We stand by our story, which accurately reflected what multiple, high-level sources told our reporters,” a spokesperson for the Times told POLITICO.
Ian Tuttle comments,
So the Times’s explanation for its dubious reporting goes something like this: “We stand by calling Rick Perry an ignoramus based on conversations with multiple high-level sources we cannot name, and whose existence we didn’t even bother to allude to in our original reporting.”

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Glenn Reynolds has a proposal
for Republicans as they plan a tax reform package. Why not cut some tax benefits from Democratic constituencies.
It's no coincidence that much of the Democrats' base doesn't have to worry about taxes much, either because they work for nonprofits and public entities that don't pay taxes, or because they live off government benefits, or because they work in industries -- like the motion picture and recording industries -- with a long history of shady accounting and favorable tax treatment. Republicans, if they're smart, can nonetheless teach them that tax increases do, in fact, hurt.

They should head into the next budget battle with a list of proposals for tax increases that will sting Democratic constituency groups, but which will seem eminently fair to voters.

The first such proposal would be to restore the 20 percent excise tax on motion picture theater gross revenues that existed between the end of World War II and its repeal in the mid-1950s. The campaign to end the excise tax had studio executives and movie stars talking like Art Laffer, as they noted that high taxes reduced business income, hurt investment and cost jobs....

For extra fun, they could show pictures of David Geffen's yacht and John Travolta's personal Boeing 707 on the Senate floor. You want to tax fat cats? I gotcher "fat cats" right here! Repeal the Hollywood Tax Cuts!

Another valuable proposal would limit the ability of tax-exempt organizations to escape scrutiny and hoard funds. To limit foundations' role as perpetual-employment agencies for cause-oriented Lefties (and it's mostly Lefties), Congress might require them to spend at least 10 percent of their endowment each year, with no wiggle room. Why should rich people be able to go on influencing the culture, tax-free, for decades after they die? (Or, perhaps more accurately, why should foundation apparatchiks be free to pursue their own goals tax-free with other people's money?)

Limits on the charitable deduction might be worth considering: Perhaps a $50 million lifetime limit, which should surely be enough for anyone; perhaps a $1 million to $5 million annual limit. Why should fatcats like Warren Buffett be able to get millions in tax deductions that average Americans can't?
I'm not fond of the idea of designing a tax policy to target one's political opponents, but Reynolds' ideas are intriguing.

Politico has a story
about how a friendly alliance has grown up between Ted Cruz and Trump. Reportedly, The Trump team felt Cruz out about a Supreme Court nomination, but Cruz declined. I guess he wants to run for president again.

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post looks back on the biggest whoppers that Obama told us.

According to The Hill, the Trump team is planning to do what they can to cut back on the size of the federal bureaucracy.
The changes they propose are dramatic.

The departments of Commerce and Energy would see major reductions in funding, with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies. The departments of Transportation, Justice and State would see significant cuts and program eliminations.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.

Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.

The proposed cuts hew closely to a blueprint published last year by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has helped staff the Trump transition.

Similar proposals have in the past won support from Republicans in the House and Senate, who believe they have an opportunity to truly tackle spending after years of warnings about the rising debt.

Many of the specific cuts were included in the 2017 budget adopted by the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus that represents a majority of House Republicans. The RSC budget plan would reduce federal spending by $8.6 trillion over the next decade.
More power to them. There will be screaming and yelling, but it's about time that the trend in the size of the federal government starts going the other way. Each one of the proposed agencies to be cut has a constituency who will scream and yell about it, but for many of them there is no need for the federal government to have that responsibility. And if, as a recent survey is anywhere near the truth, things should become more possible. Jazz Shaw links to a survey that more than a quarter of federal workers are seriously considering quitting their jobs when Trump is president.
Less than two-thirds of the federal workforce is firmly committed to staying on the job following the election of Donald Trump as president, according to a new survey.

More than one in four federal workers, or 28 percent, will definitely or possibly consider leaving their jobs after Jan. 20 when Trump is sworn into office and becomes leader of the executive branch, according to a new Government Business Council/ poll. Sixty-five percent of feds say they will not consider ending their federal service.

About half of those who will consider leaving are eligible for retirement and would do so earlier than they originally planned, while another 37 percent said they would seek another job outside of federal government. Just 1 percent said they would quit and figure out their next step at a later time, while an additional 12 percent said they were not sure what they would do. Federal employees considering leaving government have not backed off those threats now that a Trump presidency has moved beyond the theoretical; in October, 27 percent of civil servants were considering retiring or finding a new job.
And here are the reasons they are giving for their decisions.
For those who opt to leave government, their jobs could remain vacant for an extended period of time as Trump has vowed to freeze hiring across agencies immediately upon taking office. Just 15 percent of feds said they hold a positive view of that proposed policy, while 67 percent expressed a negative view. A smaller majority -- 51 percent -- said they oppose Trump's proposed requirement that federal agencies eliminate two existing rules or regulations for every new one they create, while 23 percent said they support it.
Jazz Shaw comments,
So let me get this straight. You object to Donald Trump’s plan to reduce the federal workforce, so you’re going to protest that policy by… reducing the federal workforce for him?
We'll see how many actually do leave. I'm starting the unit on the presidency and bureaucracy on Monday. One of the themes in the past has been about how difficult it is to either control or trim the bureaucracy. We'll see if Trump is another in a long line of presidents who come in claiming they'll be cutting "waste, fraud, and abuse" and go out having done little while the size of government increases.

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Chris DeMuth looks at the ways in which the Trump administration could and may well reform our administrative state.
In regulatory policy, his administration will be ambitious and results-oriented. It will focus on dramatic reductions in energy, environmental, and labor market controls; on easing permitting restrictions on transportation, pipeline, and other infrastructure projects; and on reforms to financial regulation to encourage business lending.

The Trump administration's initial regulatory steps will be executive actions, while Congress begins with tax and Obamacare legislation and perhaps Dodd-Frank reform. President Trump is likely to do some immediate things on his own, such as approving the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. These will be akin to President Reagan's instant decontrol of petroleum prices in January 1981, demonstrating his personal resolve and differences from his predecessor. He will issue a passel of new executive orders, one of them beefing up the review of agency regulations by the Office of Management and Budget under a cost-benefit standard and adding a requirement that agencies withdraw two existing rules for every new one they impose. There will be directives to the regulatory agencies to postpone the effective dates of late-term Obama administration rules, and to review these and other inherited rules with an eye toward revision or rescission.

At the agencies, the new managements will take immediate aim at the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, the Labor Department's overtime rule, and others that are legally dubious, at odds with President Trump's economic goals, or both. They will mount a concerted effort to liberalize federal permitting, environmental impact statements, and restrictions on energy exploration and development. Several Obama-era initiatives lying outside the immediate jobs-and-growth agenda will be caught in the initial sweep. One hopes these include the Education Department's rules to maintain control over K-12 schools in defiance of the 2015 Every Child Succeeds Act, and the havoc its Office for Civil Rights has wreaked through intimidating "Dear Colleague" letters to college administrators and school boards.

In these endeavors, the Trump administration will be aided by a feature of American government that conservatives have been complaining about for years—Congress's delegation of expansive lawmaking authority to executive agencies. Most of the regulatory measures President Trump has already telegraphed are well within the bounds of existing statutory authorities (some will pull back Obama administration rules that actually exceeded the statutes, such as its Clean Power Plan). Current statutes afford many further opportunities for executive actions that would profoundly improve economic performance.
Once again, cue the screaming which will be accompanied by the implication that any federal regulation instituted by the Obama administration should somehow now be a permanent part of our government. DeMuth goes on to say that there will be limits to these sorts of pull-backs of regulation that Trump can achieve. And administrators such as Scott Pruitt at the EPA will be hamstrung by a very hostile workforce there. But there is still some action that the Republicans can accomplish.
And no matter how well he masters the bureaucratic ropes, he will still be dealing with decades-old, badly outmoded statutes, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, which greatly limit the possibilities of constructive reform. The same is true of the energy, labor, interior, and transportation agencies and statutes.

In these circumstances, the Trump administration's regulatory relief ambitions will eventually require legislative collaboration. The Gingrich-era Congressional Review Act (CRA) may be used to dispatch a few Obama "midnight regulations" but is of little use beyond that. There is interest on Capitol Hill in enacting something like the REINS Act, which passed the House twice in recent years and again in early January—but REINS, like CRA, is designed for blocking regulatory excesses rather than empowering positive reforms. The Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which sets the framework for agency rulemaking and judicial review, is due for a major upgrade—but that will not help with the immediate priority of revising embedded regulations. Something more is needed for the task at hand.
DeMuth has some criticisms of the REINS Act and suggestions to improve it. I like the sound of all this, but it would still have to gain eight Democratic senators' votes. I don't see that happening. They're too invested in the overreach of the administrative state.

Timothy Carney examines Obama's "corporatist legacy."
Obama and Geithner's bailouts and regulations helped widen the moat that protects the big guys from competition, and helped make the big banks more or less immortal. It would be easy to call it Wall Street cronyism, but financial corporatism is more precise.

Obama's stimulus, in his second month, was a giant raft of subsidies for everyone from the concrete pourers to the computer makers to the solar-panel peddlers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed this massive spending bill.

Obamacare was another exercise in corporatism. Hammered out in the back room with the drug lobby and the hospital lobby, Obamacare directly (and perhaps deliberately) has driven consolidation among hospitals and insurers. The law includes subsidies for hospitals, mandates to buy private insurance, plus protections and subsidies for drug companies. No wonder the drug lobby celebrated the law's passage and pledged money to re-elect Democratic senators who voted for it. No wonder insurers and hospitals defended it in court.

Charles Krauthammer reflects on Obama's outrageous commutation of Chelsea Manning's sentence and how this one action will endanger future American actions abroad.
The cables were embarrassing; the military secrets were almost certainly deadly. They jeopardized the lives not just of American soldiers on two active fronts — Iraq and Afghanistan — but of locals who were, at great peril, secretly aiding and abetting us. After Manning’s documents release, the Taliban “went on a killing spree” (according to intelligence sources quoted by Fox News) of those who fit the description of individuals working with the United States.

Moreover, we will be involved in many shadowy conflicts throughout the world. Locals will have to choose between us and our enemies. Would you choose a side that is so forgiving of a leaker who betrays her country — and you?

Even the word “leaker” is misleading. Leak makes it sound like a piece of information a whistleblower gives Woodward and Bernstein to expose misdeeds in high office. This was nothing of the sort. It was the indiscriminate dumping of a mountain of national-security secrets certain to bring harm to American troops, allies, and interests.
The contrast to the outrage over the WikiLeaks release of the private conversations of Democrats is notable.
What makes this commutation so spectacularly in-your-face is its hypocrisy. Here is a president who spent weeks banging the drums over the harm inflicted by WikiLeaks with its release of stolen materials and e-mails during the election campaign. He demanded a report immediately. He imposed sanctions on Russia. He preened about the sanctity of the American political process.

Over what? What exactly was released? A campaign chairman’s private e-mails and Democratic National Committee chatter, i.e. campaign gossip, backbiting, indiscretions, and cynicism. The usual stuff, embarrassing but not dangerous. No national-security secrets, no classified material, no exposure of anyone to harm, just to ridicule and opprobrium.

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Rob Long has some funny tongue-in-cheek thoughts on how Hollywood can help America adapt to President Trump because their business if full of Trumpian characters.
President Donald J. Trump is the insane director you hired so you could get the actor you wanted, and you’re just waiting and hoping that the footage you’re seeing from the location can somehow, in editing, get stitched together into something usable. President Trump is the movie star you need to get the money for the project, but the movie star has decided to rewrite the script over the weekend, and the reports you’re getting back about the new pages are alarming. President Trump is the actor starring in your series who is going to make your life miserable for the next four years. President Trump is what you get when you put the talent in charge.

I mean, he’s probably going to be worse than that, but it’s not like he’s utterly outside of the Hollywood context. Petty, emotionally unstable behavior isn’t exactly unknown in the 818, 310, and 323 area codes. Score-settlers, braggarts, and braying egomaniacs are almost certainly within arm’s reach of you right at this minute. Look around you. If you’re a working professional in the entertainment industry and you don’t think you have a Donald J. Trump in your life, I’ve got bad news: You do, and you’re it.