Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cruising the Web

John Fund points out how many executive positions are still unfilled, mainly because Trump hasn't nominated people for these posts.
But while Democrats did stall several Trump Cabinet picks, the vast majority of sub-Cabinet slots that require confirmation are vacant because of a personnel crisis in the Trump White House. And there are many such empty slots. Trump has named only 20 sub-Cabinet-level positions, including two who withdrew — a list that includes nominees for ambassadorships, counsel positions, and commissioners, according to a tracker from the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service. CNN reports that “Trump has more than 1,900 vacancies within his new administration, most of which did not require Senate confirmation, according to data from tracking service Leadership Directories. The White House objects to those numbers, but didn’t provide me with any data of their own to refute them.
Fund goes through how many blanks there are in this administration. The Defense Department is just empty with no political appointees in place. And the Trump administration really has no excuse.
Team Trump has offered a series of excuses for the logjam. Some say that the FBI has been slow in finishing security clearances, but an FBI source has strongly disputed that to me. A top Trump aide told me that some Cabinet secretaries have been alerted that they will be able to name their own deputies only after the White House is assured that they are not liberals and that they did not take a Never Trump stance in the 2016 election. Jonathan Swan of the new media company Axios reported last week (based on an unnamed source) that when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke complained directly to Trump that he had no deputies beneath him, Trump replied that he would get his people “as long as they’re our people.”

Trump himself has his own explanation for some of the vacancies. He says critics misunderstand what he is doing in staffing his administration, because he doesn’t plan to fill every vacancy. “A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have,” he told Fox News in late February. “We have so many people in government. . . . I say, What do all these people do? You don’t need all these jobs. . . . Many of those jobs I don’t want to fill.”
Is it really preferable to have these positions filled by Obama holdovers who are doing their best to sabotage whatever the political appointees are trying to do?
A top Republican strategist who has worked on several presidential personnel teams told me that the Trump administration must take command of the situation.

“The President needs to ensure a process by which 30 to 40 top-tier nominations a week get processed for the next ten to 20 weeks to even be in a position to recess-appoint any who are bottled up by the Democrats,” he told me. “The entire system is down now, soup to nuts.” He says that the current staff at Presidential Personnel is incapable of handling anywhere near that flow. If nothing is done, the problem will only get worse. At the current rate of nominating individuals to positions, we could see the Trump administration’s first or even second anniversary before it would actually be filled with Trump people.
Remember how Trump campaigned saying, that as a businessman, he knew how to get things done. Well, now is the time to prove it. No businessman would run a business without personnel in place.

Glenn Reynolds writes
that Preet Bharara's grandstanding proves why Trump was right to fire him. First of all, ignore all the phony outrage about Trump replacing U.S. attorneys. Obama did the same thing when he came into office. So did Bill Clinton.
It’s traditional for new administrations to request the resignation of holdovers from the previous administration. It’s considered more polite than outright firing people. But that’s all it is: politeness.

Bharara’s refusal to resign wasn’t about the assertion of any sort of constitutional principle, or rule-of-law value. In fact, a respect for the rule of law would have required him to treat the chief executive’s legitimate powers with respect.

But — and I want to be clear here — Bharara’s refusal to resign wasn’t about principle. It was about putting himself publicly on the side of anti-Trump Democrats, no doubt in the expectation of future rewards, political or professional. It was not a brave act. It was, in fact, a species of corruption.

A prosecutor so willing to disrespect the constitutional chain of command for petty personal reasons is one who’s not fit to wield the enormous power that federal prosecutors possess.

And, to be fair, that’s been my opinion of Bharara for some time. Although he has his fans in the New York legal community, I remember when he subpoenaed Reason Magazine for the names of commenters who had made over-the-top (but not actionable) comments about a federal judge Bharara practiced before — and then banned Reason from publicizing the subpoena by subjecting them to a gag order.

As I wrote at the time: “I continue to think that this is a case of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara doing one (or both) of two things: (1) Attempting a sort of brushback pitch regarding people talking smack about federal judges, to the effect of saying that we can’t punish you under the First Amendment but we’ll go after you anyway; and/or (2) doing a ‘favor’ for a judge before whom he has a lot of cases. Both seem like abuses of power to me.”

They still do, and Bharara’s self-centered and abusive behavior there was a stain on his career that I hope will be remembered down the line. So is his refusal to resign in order to bolster his political position, which is, as I said, a species of corruption in itself.

I think we can do better than that. And I guess Trump thinks so, too.

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Victor Davis Hanson points out that too many politicians are too focused on relatively unimportant decisions and paying less attention the "big stuff."
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg used to offer all sorts of cosmic advice on the evils of smoking and the dangers of fatty foods and sugary soft drinks. Bloomberg also frequently pontificated on abortion and global warming, earning him a progressive audience that transcended the boroughs of New York.

But in the near-record December 2010 blizzard, Bloomberg proved utterly incompetent in the elemental tasks for which he was elected: ensuring that New Yorkers were not trapped in their homes by snowdrifts in their streets that went unplowed for days.

The Bloomberg syndrome is a characteristic of contemporary government officials. When they are unwilling or unable to address premodern problems in their jurisdictions -- crime, crumbling infrastructure, inadequate transportation -- they compensate by posing as philosopher kings who cheaply lecture on existential challenges over which they have no control.

In this regard, think of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's recent promises to nullify federal immigration law -- even as he did little to mitigate the epidemic of murders in his own city.

Former President Barack Obama nearly doubled the national debt, never achieved 3 percent economic growth in any of his eight years in office, and left the health care system in crisis. But he did manage to lecture Americans about the evils of the Crusades, and promise to lower the seas and cool the planet....

Schwarzenegger's successor, Jerry Brown, warned of climate change and permanent drought and did not authorize the construction of a single reservoir. Now, California is experiencing near-record rain and snowfall. Had the state simply completed its half-century-old water master plan, dozens of new reservoirs would now be storing the runoff, ensuring that the state could be drought-proof for years.

Instead, more than 20 million acre-feet of precious water have already been released to the sea. There is nowhere to put it, given that California has not build a major reservoir in nearly 40 years.

The crumbling spillways of the landmark Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States, threaten to erode it. Warnings of needed maintenance went unheeded for years, despite the fact that some 20 million more Californians live in the state (often in floodplains) than when the dam was built. Meanwhile, the state legislature has enacted new laws regarding plastic bags and transgendered restrooms.

We have become an arrogant generation that virtue-signals that we can change the universe when in reality we cannot even run an awards ceremony, plow snow, fix potholes, build a road or dam, or stop inner-city youths from murdering each other.

IBD reminds us of the CBO's faulty predictions on Obamacare.
Shortly before President Obama signed ObamaCare into law, the CBO announced its findings that the health reform would cut the deficit in the first decade by a modest $119 billion, and possibly slash them by a trillion dollars in the second decade.

The CBO also predicted that 23 million people would be enrolled in ObamaCare exchanges this year, and that the number of uninsured would have gone down by 30 million.

None of that came to pass. ObamaCare didn't cut the deficit in its first decade — a combination of the failure of parts of the reform to work as expected, unrealistic cuts to Medicare, and politically-motivated changes made unilaterally by the Obama administration.

Now, costs for Medicaid and the insurance subsidies are climbing faster than the CBO had expected. As a result, the law is on track to add to deficits in its second decade as well, a fact we reported in this space recently.

As for enrollment, the number that actually signed up in the exchanges was less than half the CBO's projection. And the reduction in the uninsured is more like 14 million, not 30 million, and all of that reduction is the result of the Medicaid expansion, not the law's private sector regulations and mandates.

So when the CBO says that the GOP plan will cost 24 million their coverage, there's no reason to believe that any more than there was to believe its rosy predictions about ObamaCare.

The CBO, at least, admits this, saying that "the way in which federal agencies, states, insurers, employers, individuals, doctors, hospitals, and other affected parties respond to the changes made by the legislation are all difficult to predict, so the estimates in this report are uncertain."

Too bad everybody skips that part.

Scott Walker has some good advice for the Republicans in Congress. With all the raucous protests we're seeing today against Republicans, Scott Walker has a sense of déjà vu.
In 2011, after winning the governorship and control to both houses of the Wisconsin legislature, Walker faced a divided Republican caucus and 100,000 protesters marching on and occupying his state capitol to protest his collective bargaining reform legislation. His polls were so low, he says, TIME magazine declared him “Dead Man Walker.” Yet he managed to unite his party and overcome Democratic obstruction (including 14 Democratic legislators who fled the state to prevent a quorum). (Disclosure: I have co-authored a book with Walker.)

Result? His legislation passed, and voters rewarded him at the polls. “We’ve now won three cycles in a row – ’12, ’14 and ’16 — where Republicans have gained seats in the legislature and have moved the state so far that we not only got Ron Johnson reelected, but, obviously, we for the first time since Reagan carried the state for a Republican presidential candidate,” he says.

Walker recently met with the House Republicans to share the lessons of his experience in Wisconsin. And he gave them a clear message: ignore the protests and do what you promised. If you do, voters will reward you as well.

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill are urging their leaders to slow down, but Walker says that is a mistake. “On Obamacare and tax reform, it’s a mistake to push it off until later this year or next year,” he says. This is for two reasons. First, Walker says, “the longer you wait, the more excuses there will be.” Squeamish legislators begin complaining “that it’s too close to the next election. We can’t do these things.” Members of Congress don’t get more courageous with time.

Second, he says, “You need time to show that it works.” If Republicans act now, the positive effects of their legislation will be felt before voters go to the polls in 2018 and Democrats won’t be able to demagogue their reforms. “All the protests in the world don’t have the kind of effect that the protesters want if people see their lives getting better,” Walker says. Tax reform will be “like pouring jet fuel into our economic engine. And then, no matter what people think about some of these other issues — building the wall, the travel issues and other things — suddenly people start seeing things that are having a positive impact in their life. And even if they don’t care as much about the other issues, they see progress, and that’s what people want. They want progress.”

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When the House GOP talks about the three stages of how they're working on health care, the second phase is what the Secretary of HHS, Tom Price, can do just through the power granted in the ACA. Brian C. Joondeph explains what Price could do.
Within the bill there are 2,500 references to “the Secretary”. 700 times the Secretary “shall” do something, 200 times the Secretary “may” do something, and 139 occasions when the “Secretary determines” what should be done.

These "shall" and "may" determinations cover things like what type of insurance coverage Americans are required to have, how insurance networks and exchanges are organized, how grant money is doled out, what the “essential health benefits” that every insurance policy must cover are.

Suppose the new Secretary determines that Americans “shall” only be required to have catastrophic insurance? Or no insurance at all? What if the “essential health benefits” are left to the discretion of the purchaser of the insurance policy? What if the Secretary “determines” that there will be no insurance mandates or penalties? Or that insurance “may” be sold across state lines?

The Secretary also has discretion over “pilot programs” and “demonstration projects” for controlling costs. These include wellness plans, information technology, quality measures, and national payment for Medicaid. Perhaps throw in tort reform and a rollback of many of the many more onerous regulations strangling the medical profession. The Secretary “may” implement these reforms.

In reality, the Secretary has the statutory power to infect Obamacare with the cancer of repeal and replace, metastasizing into so many aspects of the law that what emerges is a shadow of the original bill. Repeal and replace from within.
Of course, a Democratic president and HHS secretary can come in and reverse any of these actions by Tom Price.
So what? Even if Congress could somehow repeal the entire law, a future Democrat Congress and President could resurrect it, or implement something worse. That’s the cyclical nature of politics but it’s not an excuse for inaction today.

Christopher Jacobs explains how the rules of reconciliation process make some elements of the House GOP bill problematic.
Indeed, my conversations with more than half a dozen current and former senior Senate staff, all of whom have years of expertise in the minutiae of Senate rules and procedure, have revealed at least four significant procedural issues—one regarding abortion, two regarding immigration, and one regarding a structural “firewall”—surrounding the bill’s tax credit regime....

Both individually and collectively, these four potential procedural concerns hint at an intellectual inconsistency in the House bill’s approach, one Yuval Levin highlighted in National Review last week. House leaders claim their bill was drafted to comply with the Senate reconciliation procedures. But the bill itself contains numerous actual or potential violations of those procedures and amends some of Obamacare’s insurance regulations, rather than repealing them outright, making their argument incoherent.

Particularly on Obamacare’s costly insurance regulations, there seems little reason not to make the “ol’ college try,” and attempt to repeal the major mandates that have raised premium levels. According to prior CBO scores, other outside estimates, and the Obama administration’s own estimates, the major regulations have significant budgetary effects.

Republicans can and should argue to the parliamentarian that the regulations’ repeal would be neither incidental nor extraneous—their repeal would remove the terms and conditions under which Obamacare created its insurance subsidies in the first place, thus meeting the Byrd test. If successful, such efforts would provide relief on the issue Americans care most about: Reducing health costs and staggering premium increases.

On the tax credit itself, Republicans may face some difficult choices. Abortion and immigration present thorny—and controversial—issues, either of which could sink the legislation. On the bill’s tax credits, the “Byrd bath,” in which the parliamentarian gives guidance on what provisions can remain in the reconciliation bill, could become a bloodbath. If pro-life protections and eligibility verification come out of the bill, a difficult choice for conservatives on whether to support tax credits will become that much harder.

Marvin J. Folkertsma fantasizes about what forcing elites to live under the policies they advocate.
Next, academic La-La-Land is desperately in need of a kind of intellectual Drano. Try this proposal for starters: Every professor who has published a great deal should be required to relinquish authorship of at least half of his/her publications to those who have published nothing at all. These academic enthusiasts for income redistribution need to understand how ripping off producers to benefit those who contribute nothing works in an endeavor they hold dear. Again, mental clarification is the goal.

What can be done with radical feminists? This is simple, actually. Require the most ardent ones to sojourn for a year in Saudi Arabia, not as pampered celebrities, but as ordinary women forced to endure daily humiliations of male dominance. Then have them return to America to recount their experiences about what a misogynist society is really like. Look forward to them explaining the charms of following Wahhabism to their fellow travelers, who remain convinced that a woman needs a man like a tick needs a trampoline.

Brad Slager explains what was really going on with the protests at Standing Rock. It wasn't about the environment. We know that, basically, due to all the environmental mess that the supposed environmentalists left behind after their protests. But it was never about the environment or the supposed protection of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The tribe has been in court battling the Army Corps of Engineers over the pipeline. Tribal elders resisted despite the dubious merit of complaints this construction would violate sacred tribal lands and threaten their water supply, even though numerous other pipelines already run through these lands.

The tribe may have been actually just haggling over compensation. The Washington Examiner reported that during talks with the group representing the pipeline construction—Energy Transfer Partners—the tribe had been given a number of offers. Addressing the concerns cited, ETP pledged water monitoring systems and pipeline emergency support.

These offers were not accepted: “time and again the tribe rebuffed or ignored the company’s offers demanding, instead, a toll on the crude that passed through the pipeline, an ultimatum that showed the tribe’s true desire — easy money.”
By the time all the protesters evacuated, they left behind a real mess and waste that threatens the environment.
Hundreds of large-capacity waste removal trucks have already carted out more than 1,000 tons of waste. Another environmental hazard is underreported: authorities have counted several hundred abandoned vehicles. The camp sat on a natural floodplain, and the work now is round-the-clock to clear out waste and debris before the spring thaw.

At spring melt the Cannonball River current is strong enough to carry these left-behind vehicles, along with fuel, oil, and other polluting agents, into the Missouri River. Thus, in the desire to prevent a pipeline disaster that could pollute the Missouri someday, these globe-lovers have threatened that same river with an environmental crisis that is more likely to happen tomorrow.
And the Sioux tribe has also been hurt when the protest was supposed to be about helping them.
For its efforts to protect the region, the Sioux tribe has incurred significant losses. The land they wanted to keep pristine has been befouled by the very people who undertook their cause. The tribe has also reported $6 million in losses at its nearby casino, largely because the squatters shut down the bridge that channels gamblers to its resort. Following a number of fires protesters set on the causeway to keep out the authorities, the bridge was declared unsafe.

The tribe has collected money for the cleanup efforts, but the state of North Dakota is absorbing most of the costs. Most of the effort to clear the hazardous waste is conducted not by the tribe, but the Army Corps of Engineers.

Let’s process this: As the Sioux tribe took the Army Corps of Engineers to court to ostensibly protect lands, their resulting protest created an environmental crisis on those lands. The very same Army Corps is cleaning up the mess to prevent pollution in the very same water the tribe fears could become polluted. It doesn’t take a shaman to see this has become a self-fulfilled prophecy.

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Bloomberg looks
at how Cinderella schools in March Madness experience an increase in applications.
A number of universities that defeated top-seeded competitors during March Madness have seen a similar application bump. Schools that upset teams seeded at least 10 spots ahead of their own rank experienced a median student application increase of 7 percent, according to a Bloomberg analysis of five years of tournament results and Education Department data for 148 schools. In 2012, 15th-seeded Lehigh University beat No. 2 seed Duke in the first round. Lehigh’s application rate jumped 9.2 percent year-over-year, modest compared with that of FGCU, but considerably higher than the average 4 percent increase for all schools that participated in the NCAA Tournament from 2010 to 2014.

Even if a school didn’t beat higher-ranked competition, they could still be rewarded with applicants if they lasted longer than expected in the tournament. Wichita State University saw a 29 percent application increase after its aptly nicknamed Shockers made it to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed in 2013. The year earlier they’d failed to make it past the first round. Other schools that also advanced four rounds further in the tournament than they had in the previous year saw a median applicant increase of 10 percent.
After George Mason University made it to the Final Four in 2006 and they saw an effect on their applications.
In 2006, a George Mason professor conducted a study on the Patriots' Final Four trip and concluded that George Mason had netted around $677 million worth of free advertising for the school during that run. According to Miller, when Butler went to the Final Four exactly 12 months ago, the school estimated it was worth about $450 million in exposure.

Of course, that doesn't include the tangible effects of that exposure. After George Mason's run, admissions inquiries increased 350 percent. Out-of-state applications increased 40 percent. At Butler, the school also saw an increase in admissions inquiries, as well as big boosts in ticket sales, alumni activity, donations and the number of students who identified Butler as an impressive balance of academics and athletics:
This trend is so well recognized that is called the Flutie Effect after Flutie's 1984 Hail Mary pass lead to an increase in Boston College the following years.

I can't find the reference, but I know I saw it at one time. After Ronald Reagan was shot, he was rushed to George Washington University Hospital. My husband and I are both graduates of GWU and, as we watched the news, I predicted that the repeated mentions of the university's name every time there was a bulletin on the President's condition or an interview with a doctor would increase the applications to GWU. My husband thought I was crazy and no one would base a college decision on such a flimsy reason. Later I saw some report that this actually happened. It's not often that I prove my husband wrong so I definitely remember this.

I think it's rather bizarre that students would make college decisions based on their appearance in the NCAA tournament or because it appeared in current events. But, apparently, this is so.

All the debate over NBA teams resting their star players focuses on how fans who have spent money to bring their families are being given the shaft when the stars are rested, David Aldridge has a reasonable sounding approach for the league to take with teams. One of the elements of his solution would be to require the sitting players to travel with the team and show up early to the game to take pictures with the fans. He would also have the league provide all the fans with swag for the game. I like the idea. I don't mind the teams resting players throughout the year. It makes total sense to try to keep players fresh and save them for the playoffs. That's what the whole point of the season is. So Aldridge's solution at least addresses the disappointment of the fans who had spent their money on the tickets.