Posted by on December 8, 2015

(If you read the title of this quickly, you will note the slight play on words.)

My post on Trump has generated a lot of comment, so I think that it is worthwhile to spend a little more time on this subject.

I have frequently written about the “law of unintended consequences,” particularly as it is consistently demonstrated by the Left.   It turns out that the rise of Trump is another great example.  The comment that I am most often receiving from Trump supporters is that, despite all of his manifest failings, he at least is willing to “tell it like it is.”  And it isn’t just me who has noticed this.  A recent article in The Economist cites exactly the same factor to explain the “strange loyalty” that Trump generates.

I am convinced that this is another thing for which we can thank the political correctness movement.  The PC crowd has so stifled discussion that Trump’s willingness to talk trash is seen as a refreshing outbreak of honesty.  As much as I dislike Trump’s vacuity, I too find myself silently applauding, for example, the comments in his Iowa speech about PFC Bowe Bergdahl and the fact that he looks likely to escape jail time.   Compared to the total nonsense that the Obama administration talked, and performed, about Bergdahl, I can understand how Trump would appeal.

As usual, the Left has managed to produce the exact opposite of its intentions, unless this has all been a very clever plot to induce the Republican Party to commit political suicide by nominating Trump.  But I think that this is giving them way too much credit.

But we should not mistake Trump’s lack of a “filter” for political honesty or courage.  Look at his support for ethanol subsidies in his Iowa speech.  This is a flagrant example of hypocrisy and political pandering, combined with economic ignorance.  Just because Trump is willing to talk trash, we should not confuse this with talking sense.

If they are looking for bluntness in a candidate, then I suggest that Trump supporters should switch their allegiance to Chris Christie, whom I refer to as “the thinking man’s Donald Trump.”  Christie is every bit as plain spoken, although he also understands that there is a difference between “telling it like it is” and infantile vulgarity.   Unlike Trump, he is also able to make a coherent argument instead of just engaging in name calling.  Finally, Christie would more than hold his own in a debate against any Democratic nominee, whereas Trump would be savaged.  As Christie mentioned in the last Republican debate, I would dearly love to see him “prosecute” Hillary Clinton on a debate stage.

The other major comment I have received is that Trump, although bad, is still a better choice than Hillary Clinton.  This one is harder to dispute, although I still think that it is wrong.   The proper response to this Hobbesian choice is tactical voting:  a Clinton presidency held in check by a Congress dominated by Republicans.

I think that we could count on a Republican-controlled Congress to blunt Clinton’s worst instincts for four years, after which time a number of today’s Republican candidates will have the experience necessary to make them truly viable.   Conversely, a Trump candidacy could cripple the Republican Party for years.  So, I would choose four more years of gridlock with a Democratic President and a Republican Congress, over Democrats as far at the eye can see with a crippled Republican Party.

Hillary and Bernie: Help!

I am just completing my 2014 US tax return – us lucky US taxpayers living abroad have a filing deadline delayed until December 15 – and I am having the thoughts I always have at this time.

Whenever I listen to Hillary or Bernie, or any other Democrat for that matter, they always talk about all the tax breaks those nasty Republicans have managed to sneak in for the plutocrats.   But if these exist, then I would really, really like to know about them.  Really.

How about personal exemptions?  Partially reduced for higher-income filers.  The school fees I pay for my children?  Disallowed.  Mortage interest deductions?  Subject to caps.  Deductions for my foreign housing costs and alimony?  Granted with one hand, but then taken back with the Alternative Minimum Tax.  The property and casualty loss I suffered from an attempted theft?  Not unless it’s over 2% of my income.  Schedule A deductions?  Partially clawed back.  The Obamacare 3.8% investment income surcharge?  No way to avoid it, even though I have no prospect of using Obamacare.   Capital losses in excess of capital gains?  Sorry, but it’s heads the government win, tails the taxpayer loses.

I could go on.  In fact, the only obvious tax break for the wealthy that I see is the ridiculous capital gains treatment for “carried interest” payments to hedge fund and private equity managers.   Although it is a disgrace that this has not been eliminated already, at the end of the day, it is small beer: the Congressional Budget Office estimates that treating carried interest payments as employment income, as it should be, would raise an average of US 1.7 billion a year in taxes.  This should be done but the impact will be more symbolic than real.

Of course, this is more or less exactly what you would predict.  If you are a large company, or if you are wealthy enough to write a needle-moving check to a PAC, then the politicians will accommodate.  Which is why corporate tax breaks abound and we still have a tax break for hedge fund and private equity billionaires.  If you are part of the multitudinous group whose votes are worth much more than any potential tax raid, then you too are a protected species.  But for the routinely well off, it is always open season.

Montenegro to Join NATO: I Feel Much Safer

The Wall Street Journal reports that NATO is set to make Montenegro the 29th country in NATO.  This is the first expansion of NATO since 2009, when those two other military powerhouses, Croatia and Albania, joined.  I can already feel the burdens of the West’s collective defense being lightened.

For those who don’t know it, Montenegro is another of the successor states to the former Yugoslavia.  It is a lovely country with a population of a little over 620,000, not counting bears and wolves, of which there are many this mountainous land.  Montenegro has a military of slightly less than 2,000 people, but this may include cooks and other support personnel, using weaponry that wasn’t even state of the art when the country broke off from the rest of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

These are the kind of foreign policy decisions that drive me around the bend.  Although I can fully understand the desire of Montenegro to wrap itself in a NATO security blanket – complete with an Article 5 obligation to treat an attack on one as an attack on all – what conceivable benefit can the US and the rest of NATO hope to derive from bringing Montenegro into the fold?   Other, of course, than the opportunity to give a further poke in the eye to Russia, which opposes any expansion of a military alliance that it considers a Cold War relic and which it believes we pledged not to expand as the quid pro quo for the non-violent dissolution of the Warsaw Pact?

In justification of the decision, Secretary of State John Kerry lectured Russia that it would be “a great mistake to react adversely” toward Montenegro’s entry into NATO: “Countries have chosen of their own free will to be part of a Europe that is whole and free and at peace.  NATO is not a threat to anybody….It is a defensive alliance.”  As I have commented earlier (echoing John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago), it is really not John Kerry’s place to tell the Russians whether they should think of NATO as a threat or not.  Nor am I terribly persuaded by the argument about Montenegro’s freedom to choose NATO membership.  If we grant Montenegro free will, then why can’t we exercise our own and say “thanks for your interest, but our club is not accepting new members at the moment, particularly ones that cannot conceivably pull their weight and that can only be a source of weakness and potential trouble”?

Nobody likes Russia and its petty thug, Putin.  But Russia is a fact with which we have to live.  Why then annoy Russia in return for absolutely nothing?   Why can’t we, for once, pursue a foreign policy that is based on our interests?

More Hypocrisy on the Left

As a libertarian, it is not obvious that I should choose to side so openly with the Republican Party.  I think that the largest reason for this choice is the nauseating hypocrisy of the Left.  They have been up to it again.

When it comes to democracy, I am in Churchill’s camp that “democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”  I believe that it should be used judiciously and should never be viewed as an end in itself, but rather a means to an end.   This leads me to conclude, for example, that electing judges is crazy and that we should not make voter registration automatic since this simply encourages more lazy and uninformed voters.

But the Left has a different view.  For them, democracy is a good in itself.  Unless, of course, it produces results they don’t like.

In the UK, the House of Lords is feeling its oats.  For those unfamiliar with the English system of government, you might be surprised to hear that the House of Lords can, in certain circumstances, veto legislation passed by the democratically elected House of Commons.

There is no more undemocratic institution than the House of Lords, where the appointees are chosen by the governing party, in many cases as a reward for political or financial support.  Because of the rule of the Labour Party from 1997 to 2010, combined with life appointments and a regrettable longevity, the House of Lords currently has an anti-Conservative majority.

This majority has recently used its veto powers, in a highly unusual and borderline unconstitutional manner, to veto Conservative legislation on changes to tax credits for low income citizens.   This is forcing the Conservative government to pass legislation further restricting the unelected Lords.  This has, of course, brought protests from the Left, who have decided that democracy can take a back seat this time.

Turning to the States, we have more hypocrisy on display from the Obama administration.  The Wall Street Journal reports that Obama’s Justice Department is using court settlements to funnel money to preferred political groups.

It works like this: The Justice Department enters into a settlement with, for example, JP Morgan over its allegedly predatory sub-prime lending.  Part of the settlement is a requirement that the bank makes donations to community groups which are allegedly helping the alleged victims.  JPM is strongly encouraged to do this through, for example, “double credit” for these contributions against penalty obligations.  This is done despite internal Department of Justice guidelines discouraging donations since they can “create actual or perceived conflicts of interest and/or other ethical issues.”

As you can imagine, the beneficiaries of these donations do not include the Daughters of the American Revolution or the Rotary Club.  Instead, the money has gone to the likes of the National Council of La Raza, the National Urban League, and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.  In at least one case, money has even been directed towards a “housing counseling” program that had been specifically defunded by Congress.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter where the money has gone.  Using the justice systems to shake down the private sector for the benefit of preferred clienteles is just wrong, pure and simple.  I also seem to recall something about the US Constitution vesting the power to collect and dispense revenue solely in the legislative branch of government.   But this appears to be another case where Obama, who formerly lectured on the Constitution at Harvard, views his training as primarily a roadmap for violating the spirit of that document.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom




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