California’s Wildfires

Despite the apocalyptic rhetoric of environmental alarmists, the destructiveness of the raging wildfires in the Pacific Northwest are primarily the result bad policy–not climate change. See the short video below on the subject.

Bad policy is primarily to blame

JFB

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The Left Wing Embrace of Violence

“If they even TRY to replace RBG we burn the entire fucking thing down”. 

Reza Aslan.

For those lucky enough not to know who Reza Aslan is, he is a Professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside; an author of 4 books on religion including No God but God, a member of the American Academy of Religion and a member of the National Iranian American Council. 

Wikipedia lists his citizenship as Iranian-American despite the fact that there is no such category. Furthermore Iran does not permit dual citizenship at all, and the US. does not recognize dual citizenship of Iran and the United States. Ironically, the scholar who promises to “burn the entire fucking thing down” is the author of Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization

Perhaps Professor Aslan should consult his own book before going on another Twitter rant.

In his review of the book, John Meacham writes “It is Aslan’s great gift to see things clearly, and to say them clearly, and in this important new work he offers us a way forward. He is prescriptive and passionate, and his book will make you think.” The LA Times wrote “Aslan is not only a perspicuous, thoughtful interpreter of the Muslim world but also a subtle psychologist of the call to jihad.”

The Washington Post writes that Aslan’s book “Offers a very persuasive argument for the best way to counter jihadism.”According to New Yorker, his book represents “[A] thoughtful analysis of America’s War on Terror.”

Well. Aslan is clear, but I would hardly characterize his outburst (on Twitter of course) as subtle or thoughtful. Unfortunately, remarks like Professor Aslan’s are not all that unusual these days. The turn to violence has become increasingly common as small minded “activists” have foregone debate in favor of intimidating and silencing those with whom they disagree, a phenomenon increasingly prevalent on the nation’s campuses. 

While this is being glossed over, progressive media cheerleaders have spotted intimidation by Trump supporters in Fairfax Virginia. The New York Times reports that supporters of President Trump showed up at the Fairfax County voting center, waved flags and signs and chanted 4 more years. The Times noted that election officials said that the group stayed 100 feet from the building’s entrance and were not directly blocking access to the building, contrary to social media posts. 

Nevertheless, Democrats and their cheerleaders in the press made the case that Trump supporters were using tactics of disruption and intimidation. At this point it is worth examining the photo that the Times ran to see the alleged voter intimidation in action.  

Photo Credit: Kenny Holston for the New York Times

Here is a photo of six—count ‘em—six middle aged people, two of them women. Four are holding banners, one has his hands in his pockets and one has his arms folded across his chest. They are standing at a reasonable distance from the voters on line, who are busy ignoring them as they wait to vote. This is hardly a picture of what what any reasonable person would call intimidation. 

But the riots that have engulfed Seattle, Portland and other cities are routinely characterized as “mostly peaceful”. All in the service of the narrative. And so it is hardly a wonder why so many media outlets have lost so much credibility.

JFB

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The Many Absurdities of 2020

Pennsylvania is one of 8 states that chooses its Supreme Court justices by election. Both the Democrats and Republicans nominate candidates; third party nominees are occasionally on the ballot as well. Election winners are placed on the Court for an initial 10 year term. In 2015 Democrats won 3 open seats and flipped the partisan make-up of the Court. 

One year ago the Pennsylvania state legislature passed and Democratic Governor Tom Wolfe signed an election bill specifying that mail-in ballots must be received by 8:00 PM on election day. The State Supreme Court apparently had other ideas. On Thursday, despite the clear language of the law, they extended the deadline for the return of ballots to the following Friday—which is after the election has already happened. In other cases they ruled that mail-in ballots could be returned to drop boxes (apparently obviating the need for post marks) and knocked the Green candidate off the ballot this November. 

This is obviously a recipe for chaos. And it is clearly designed to assist Democrats in what is widely expected to be a close contest in a critical state. Democrats who keep complaining about the Trump Administration’s contempt for the rule of law have remained remarkably quiet about the Court’s partisan attack on just that. 

Freudian Slips

Meanwhile on the campaign trail Kamala Harris referred to a “Harris Administration”. The nominal head of the ticket, Joe Biden, referred to a Harris / Biden Administration. So for all those who think that Biden is both “moderate” and in control…Dream on.  

Kamala Harris
Joe Biden

Political Accountability

We hear a lot these days about how the Trump Administration is violating the independence of executive agencies and in the process threatening “our democracy”. Of course everything that leftists don’t like threatens “our democracy”. And it remains the case that in what is left of our Constitutional system, the executive agencies and their officers are subordinate to the elected President, derive their powers from him and report to him. It is called political accountability. 

So let’s conduct a thought experiment on political accountability by asking a question. When are Mayors of big American cities going to announce that going forward, their police departments are going to be independent and not answerable to elected officials? 

A Final Thought

Q. What is the proper course of action when the two major political parties nominate repulsive candidates?

A. Vote for a third party. 

JFB


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Biden Against Violence. Sort Of.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden is about to unleash a huge ad buy  decrying violence in general, but not in particular. The reason is obvious.  Polling indicates that he is being hurt in swing states where support for Black Lives Matter has plummeted as a result of months of violence BLM unleashed. Further, despite heroic efforts of the mainstream media to obfuscate the facts,  the violence is largely a left wing affair, aided and abetted by Progressive Mayors. Up until this point the Mayors have refused to enforce laws designed to protect people and property from just the sort of violence that has become a daily occurrence in some American cities. 

Conveniently enough, the Biden campaign, along with its media allies, has pivoted to blaming the violence on Trump and white racists. “Without evidence” as CNN is fond of saying. Well, take a look at the video below of “protesters” below chanting “Death to America” Iranian style and count the MAGA hat wearers among them. It won’t take long because there aren’t any. 

Critics of the Mayors’ response (or lack of it) to the chaos have correctly pointed out that the cities engulfed in violence have been governed overwhelmingly by Democrats for generations. Hilariously enough, the New York Times has rushed into the battle with a front page story saying, well yes, it is true enough that the cities have been run by Democrats but…Mayors, unlike the President, don’t have sufficient power to prevent the violence and in any event Republicans abandoned the cities ages ago. 

Where to begin. 

Let’s start with this. Law enforcement is essentially a local affair. Mayors have the responsibility to direct police priorities. Some actually are directly in charge of police departments. To insure political accountability, most of them appoint the senior management (e.g.— like the Police Commissioner). And as for power, New York City has over 35,000 uniformed officers, making it larger than the standing Armies of most countries. But by and large the Mayors, including New York’s de Blasio, have ordered the police to stand down. In addition plenty of the Mayors have rejected federal law enforcement aid. Nancy Pelosi went so far as to refer to federal law enforcement officers as “storm troopers”. The idea that Mayors in the United States lack sufficient authority or resources to prevent the violence is simply ludicrous on its face. 

Then there is the charge that the problem is that the Republicans have abandoned the nation’s urban areas. Or as the Times notes with a straight face

“…if cities have become synonymous with Democratic politics today, that is true in part because Republicans have largely given up on them. Over the course of decades, Republicans ceased competing seriously for urban voters in presidential elections and representing them in Congress.

“Republican big-city mayors became rare. And along the way, the Republican Party nationally has grown muted on possible solutions to violence, inequality, poverty and segregation in cities.”

It takes a level of duplicity that is simply astounding for the Times to complain that there are few, if any, big city Republican Mayors. The very prospect of an actual Republican Mayor, particularly in New York, is enough to send the paper’s editorial board into periodic convulsions of fear and loathing. True enough the Times endorsed Michael Bloomberg in 2005, a nominal Republican. But the party label was a mere convenience for Mr. Bloomberg, evidenced by the fact that he abandoned the Republican Party after a few years and went on the run for the Democratic Presidential nomination.   

The Times did endorse Republican Rudy Giuliani for a second term, basically because his rival Ruth Messinger displayed breathtaking incompetence; not because they agreed with his policy stances. You have to go all the way back to 1965 to find another Republican Mayoral endorsement. That would be John Vliet Lindsay, who like Bloomberg, eventually abandoned ship and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Presidential nomination in the 1968 cycle. 

The Times isn’t really interested in Republican policy proposals for cities, unless they have all of a sudden decided they are in favor of, say, school choice. What they really want is for the occasional nominal Republican to run as long as said Republican advances the policy objectives of the Democratic Party. 

Let’s be clear about what is going on here. The Democrats are caught in a vise. The radical left that increasingly controls the party’s agenda is sympathetic to the rioters. But the people who used to be rank and file Democrats, “the deplorables” as Hillary Clinton called them, are so unenlightened that they don’t relish having their houses and businesses burned down in the name of social justice. So Biden is trying to square the circle by decrying violence in general, while pointing at right wing racists, in a delicate effort to assuage all elements of his coalition by carefully avoiding saying anything of substance. 

Will it work? Who knows? It could. It is certainly a cynical enough strategy.

JFB

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Truthful Lies

Sometimes lies tell the truth, however inadvertently. 

Ever since May when George Floyd was killed while in police custody there have been waves of protest in America’s cities, often spilling into violence. The violence has not been random and sporadic. It has typically been orchestrated by professional agitators, often by ANTIFA and the more radical members of Black Lives Matter (BLM).  

Up until just recently, Mayors of cities under siege have displayed a remarkable tolerance for the violence, arson and anarchy unleashed in the cities they nominally govern. The political calculus driving this has two prongs. First, the chaos would likely redound to the benefit of Joe Biden thereby making the task of beating demon Trump all that much easier come November.  Second, the Mayors, Progressives all, were (and are) sympathetic to the protesters who are becoming increasingly hard to differentiate from the rioters. 

The whole while, Progressive politicians who kept insisting on the importance of the rule of law, refused to enforce basic laws on the books designed to protect citizens and their property. The truth, made manifest by their behavior, exposed the lie of their devotion to the rule of law. 

Some polls have begun to suggest that the public has had enough. One recent poll, taken shortly after the Republican convention, shows Biden a mere 2 points ahead of Trump, well within the margin of error. In addition, the Trafalger Group (an outlier) who called key races in 2016 and 2018 correctly when others got it wrong, says that Trump is only a half-point behind Biden in Minnesota and slightly ahead in Michigan and Wisconsin. 

In the meantime the mainstream press studiously avoided the violence for months, insisting that there was “nothing to see here” and that the  demonstrations were “mostly peaceful”. Now they have changed the script. It turns out that there is a problem with violence after all, and that it is all the fault of—Donald Trump. Of course, Trump’s narcissistic insistence that everything is all about him, all the time, makes the job that much easier. 

Then there is the matter of the apparent murder of a Trump supporter in Portland, Oregon during another night of “non-violent” protest. The apparent shooter is a man named Michael Forest Reinoehl, a self-identified “anti-fascist”.  Among other things he wrote: 

“I am 100 % ANTIFA all the way! I am willing to fight for my brothers and sisters! … We do not want violence but we will not run from it either! … Today’s protesters and antifa are my brothers in arms.”

Shooting in Portland

So about those lies that tell the truth. The lie that tells the truth is that the Democratic Party is run by moderates who wish to return to normalcy. That is manifestly not so. If that were actually true they would have taken action long ago to confront the rioters and restore order. Maintaining order is, after all, a local responsibility and the Mayors of America’s large cities are overwhelmingly Democratic. Actions speak louder than words. 

Now that the violence is being directed against them, some of Mayors seem to be having second thoughts—kind of like Robespierre most have had on his trip to the guillotine. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler can not have been happy last night when the rioters set an occupied apartment building on fire, apparently because they thought he lived there. 

The Democratic Party, now in the process of being taken over by Jacobins, has no institutional desire to return to normalcy. That is merely a cover and a transparent one at that. These modern day Jacobins mean to transform America and its liberal institutions in the service of a radically illiberal and utopian left-wing ideology. The Democratic Party has simply become an empty vessel waiting to be filled by Progressives so they can get on with the transformation. The truth is that these radical Progressives are so full of hatred for freedom that they are willing to tolerate, if not celebrate violence so long as it serves a tactical purpose in the quest for power.    

The final truth embedded in the lies may be revealed by the difference between real votes and those cast by ballot. An individual ballot, despite all the hysterical rhetoric, has virtually no practical significance. But voting with your feet has very real significance for the voter / mover.  Moving to a new locale is probably a much better indicator of what someone really thinks. 

By all reports there has been a torrent of wealthy and upper middle class migration out of the major cities and into the suburbs and smaller secondary cities. Undoubtedly some of this has to do with COVID-19 and the widespread adoption of working from home. But at least some is attributable to the unrest and increased incivility of the big cities. That could presage a much larger change than the results of this November’s elections. 

JFB 

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Mostly Peaceful Protests

“Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

Spurred by the killing of George Floyd while in police custody, protests against police violence—defined as the unjustified use of force—have erupted across America. These protests are invariably described as “mostly peaceful”. And they are, the way most people at Ford’s Theatre were just there to see the show. 

Then too, there is the matter of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. He too represented only a small minority of the theatre goers; but of those, he is the one who mattered most. Because his actions defined the event. 

Riots, attacks on police and violence against people and property have taken place in New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Portland Oregon, Seattle Washington, Minneapolis Minnesota, Los Angeles California, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Salt Lake City Utah and Atlanta Georgia, to name a few. And by and large, the police, following the orders given them by civil authorities, have backed away. In some cases, like Portland Oregon, organized violence has become a nightly affair. 

The media has studiously ignored the violence, preferring to emphasize the current narrative of “systemic racism” and “structural racism” being at fault. It is especially convenient to blame the violence on systemic and structural racism inasmuch as those terms lack definition and thus present a non-falsifiable hypothesis. And it is a politically convenient ploy because it distracts attention from the fact that America’s cities have been run by Democratic machine politics for generations.  

Virtually all the burning cities are run by Progressives, and have been for decades. In addition to the obvious mistrust felt by significant portions of their citizens, those cities are also notable for their failing public school systems and their chronic fiscal ineptitude. 

Taken together, failing public schools; police mismanagement; fiscal ineptitude, and the presence of powerful public sector unions present a picture of routine managerial incompetence. None of which has precluded the re-election of the same incompetents year after year. The obvious question is why. 

Why is it that year after year the people with the most to lose from failing schools, incompetent policing and fiscal incompetence, insist on voting for the same politicians who routinely produce the same failures of governance? 

The simple (and probably correct) answer is twofold. First, the opposition Republican party has not presented a viable alternative and shows little interest in doing so. Second, the party in power, the Democrats have  effectively become a wholly owned subsidiary of powerful special interest groups like public sector unions and environmental groups who dictate policy. 

In response, upper income groups are increasingly abandoning cities to escape from (1) rising crime and disorder and (2) a rising and oppressive tax burden. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be the catalyst, not the cause. If the trend continues and turns out to be more than fleeting, the results could be dire for the cities. As the truly wealthy head for suburban enclaves, taking the tax base with them, the cities will become islands of poverty surrounded by wealthy suburbs unwilling to finance urban excess. 

The remaining question is whether upscale former urban dwellers will bring their politics with them to the suburbs, or have they finally had enough? And if they have tired of financing failure, will the cities finally reform? Or will Progressives complete the takeover of the Democratic Party  and produce catastrophic failure nationally rather than just locally? 

We may get a hint in November. 

JFB

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Competing Nightmares

We live in a strange political times. One of the strangest things of all is that winning candidates get elected because of who they are not. Donald Trump got elected in 2016 because he was not Hillary Clinton. If Joe Biden gets elected in 2020 it will be because he is not Donald Trump. If Donald Trump manages to get re-elected it won’t be because of his sterling personality. It will be because Biden’s habit of playing footsie with his party’s increasingly assertive radicals is a bridge too far. Or because his obvious problems with cognitive decline have become too obvious to ignore for suburban voters who decide he is not worth the risk. The devil you know and all that. 

Consider the theme that Michelle Obama rolled out on the first night of the convention: Empathy. Joe Biden is empathetic; he is one of us; he knows what you are going through and he is here to help. As a matter of electoral strategy this is probably a pretty smart move, especially when it’s part of a larger bait-and-switch effort. After all, it’s a lot easier getting people who like you to vote for you. Especially when you consider that President Trump, during his tenure, has displayed about as much likability, decency and empathy as say, Ted Bundy. (Apologies to Ted.)

The problem is that all the empathy and flag waving doesn’t cover up the stark reality of the situation, which is that the Democratic Party is increasingly driven by its most radical members. Those members have graduated from being frustrated junior-high hall monitors to legislators. And they include Kamala Harris, the imaginary centrist whose voting record in the Senate is a bit to the left of Bernie Sanders. As a result the values of the party’s leadership and the party’s members are increasingly at odds. Consequently, the party has chosen to emphasize “moderation” in its messaging, but its policy preferences are actually those championed by its radicals. 

The truth is, if Biden is elected and the Democrats take the Senate and hold the House, the U.S. is in for a ride on the wild side. The Democratic Party has promised massive increases in taxing, spending and borrowing. They have promised to include in the Fed’s mandate a requirement for the central bank to seek racial equity. For those unfamiliar with the code, “equity” refers to equal outcomes, not equal opportunity. They have proposed lowering the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 60 even though the program is already insolvent.  The party seeks to increase payments and eligibility for Social Security by increasing taxes on “the rich”.

The Party has announced that it will seek to eliminate the Senate filibuster “if necessary”.  The Party has threatened to pack the Supreme Court and to eliminate the Electoral College. And don’t be surprised to see the party seek the imposition of a wealth tax. 

Yes, Joe Biden is not Donald Trump. And he is not a psychopath. But that hardly justifies the enthusiastic embrace of economic illiteracy. Which is an accurate description of the policy prescriptions of Joe Biden and the party of which he is nominally in charge.

JFB

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Propaganda as Thought

In an era where bumper sticker slogans substitute for thought, the master propagandists of the BLM Movement have learned their craft well. Plenty of otherwise sensible people have signed on to the sentiment without understanding what they have actually signed up for. Others have simply been intimidated. Still others just use it for marketing campaigns.

But the BLM Movement, led by radical Marxists, will never be satisfied. The video below provides a useful warning of what this is really all about. And it isn’t about equal opportunity for all.

John Stossel

JFB

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Government by Executive Decree

According to press reports, by Executive Order President Trump is preparing to suspend the payroll tax through the end of the year retroactive to July 1. He also intends to extend supplemental jobless benefits, although at what level and for how long remains unclear. Add to that his intent to impose a partial moratorium on evictions and assistance with student loans and you have a perfectly tuned re-election program aimed squarely at the economic illiteracy pandemic now afflicting the voting public. 

The program would be a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, both in its particulars (Article 1, Section 8, clause 1) and in its violation of the separation of powers.  The precedent for this Constitutional vandalism was firmly established by former President (and University of Chicago Constitutional law lecturer) Barack Obama. Notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. Constitution locates the taxing power in the Congress, President Obama ordered the IRS not to enforce the penalty for non-compliance with the coverage mandate required by the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.  

While on the hustings, the Obama Administration argued that the mandate did not constitute a tax. However, in front of the Supreme Court the Administration argued that the mandate was in fact a tax. The Supreme Court agreed with them and declared the mandate to be a tax. It was a tax that the Administration pointedly refused to enforce. 

It is worth noting that the mandate was a necessary element of the bill for two reasons. First, the CBO used the mandate to overestimate how many young people would comply with the bill, thus reducing the cost estimate.  Second, the CBO cost estimate served to bolster the Obama Administration’s risible claim that the bill would reduce unit costs and therefore consumer insurance rates. 

In the event, Republicans asked a prescient question: What would happen if a Republican President announced he would not enforce a different section of the tax code, for instance the capital gains tax? Progressives gave their stock answer: “That will never happen”, they said.  That by the way is answer they usually give when pressed about the potential consequences of promoting lawless activity. 

Well, here we are. The president, a Republican, has said that unless certain conditions are met, he will indeed refuse to enforce the tax code in a way that is liable to help him electorally.  And let’s not kid ourselves. This type of lawless governmental behavior has become the rule, not the exception. 

Governors, for instance, often rely on declaring tax holidays, sometimes targeted to dates, sometimes targeted toward geographies. Except that generally sales taxes are not transaction taxes—they are use taxes, and so cannot be legally declared exempt for certain situations within the meaning of the law. And not to put too fine a point on it, there has not exactly been a rush to enforce laws protecting people and property from rioters in large American cities. Nor has much mention been made of the obvious fact that the rioters are on the whole, whiter than the police departments they are accusing of systemic racism. 

 So here we have a situation where a Republican president is threatening to refuse to enforce the law because he expects it to redound to his electoral benefit. It is a stunt that progressive politicians have been pulling for years (See DACA). The depth of the cynicism is notable though. Since there is no “pay for” mechanism and since it extends through election day, it is aimed at a short term goal, namely Trump’s re-election campaign. 

It also creates creates several other political advantages for Trump and the Republicans. He will have the space to claim that he unilaterally delivered on several Democratic-populist goals, namely student loan assistance, and an eviction moratorium. But it does something else that could prove excruciatingly painful for progressives. By suspending payroll tax collections, it would bring the day of insolvency for Social Security that much closer. 

The Social security system is already being battered by the economic downturn with its mass unemployment. A six-month month suspension of payroll tax receipts would constitute a direct and massive hit at the solvency of what we laughingly call the Social Security Trust Fund, thus bringing the day of reckoning closer. 

It should also be noted that something like 75% of taxpayers fork over more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes. Progressive hysteria aside, the income tax system falls overwhelmingly on people in the upper brackets.  A suspension of the payroll tax would therefore have two important impacts, one direct, the other indirect. On the political side, if the Democrats were to resist, they would effectively be denying a substantial tax cut for a huge proportion of the voting population, particularly the blue collar workers they are trying to win back for the 2020 Presidential contest. 

There is an important indirect consideration as well. A suspension of the payroll tax, and even more so with somewhat reduced supplemental unemployment insurance, changes the back-to-work calculation. It would raise net after-tax compensation for workers who go back on the job, thereby increasing the incentive to work and reducing the incentive to stay home. That would likely increase the pace of economic recovery. 

But there is no such thing as a free lunch. The price to be paid for all this is in the disaster known as public finance. Federal, state and local governments are piling up horrendous deficits and off balance sheet obligations at an unsustainable pace. The time to address those obligations could be, and probably is, just around the corner. The problem is that a pervasive free-lunch mentality has contributed to the creation of a dependent and subservient portion of the population. 

The other price we pay is continued lawlessness by government. By continuing to operate by decree justified by bumper sticker sloganeering, government becomes progressively more authoritarian. It fails to perform its primary function of securing natural rights and protecting ordered liberty. The evidence of failure is all around us, whether it is the near universal failure of urban public schools, public distrust of basic institutions, or the collapse of traditional institutions like the family, spurred on by public policies designed for centralized command-and-control of citizens’ everyday lives. 

JFB

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