Saturday, August 31, 2019

Why Trump Is Worse In 2020 Than 2016

Over the past few years, I’ve watched the vast majority of the Republican Party rally around President Trump. As the 2020 election heats up, I’ve even seen many staunch opponents of the president come over to endorse Trump for 2020, sometimes reluctantly and sometimes enthusiastically. This is something that I have a hard time understanding because the Donald Trump who is a candidate in 2020 is much worse than the Donald Trump who ran in 2016.

I confess that I wavered on my opposition to President Trump as well. During the first year of his presidency, he governed reasonably well even though I found plenty to disagree with, such as his decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Even though his focus seemed to be on Twitter rather than legislative competence, his heart often seemed to be in the right place. I appreciated his regulatory reform (courtesy of Mick Mulvaney), his pro-life Executive Orders, and his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Even though he ultimately failed at repealing and reforming Obamacare, Republicans were able to pass much-needed corporate tax reform. At the same time, Trump’s worst instincts were tempered by advisors who were from a traditional Republican background, who persuaded him not to abandon NAFTA and NATO, for example, or the courts, which rejected the first versions of his “Muslim ban” Executive Order. Things were looking much better under Trump than I thought they would.

Then came 2018.

In 2018, Trump came into his own and his Administration’s policy became more inconsistent as Trump began to second-guess and push back against the advisors who had helped him, if not succeed then at least not fail, the previous year. Sometimes the traditional Republicans won, such as when the president was persuaded not to cut and run in Syria. Sometimes Trump won, as was the case when he launched a trade war on multiple fronts and embraced North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un with almost nothing to show for it. 2018 saw Trump attack America’s allies while siding with Vladimir Putin over the American intelligence community.

The nadir of Trump’s presidency (to date) occurred in the summer of 2018 with the policy of intentionally separating immigrant children from their parents, including families of legal asylum-seekers. The policy was so unpopular, even among Republicans, that Trump quickly issued an Executive Order reversing the practice, which had been implemented as a zero-tolerance policy by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April. Despite the Executive Order, there are disturbing indications that family separations are still taking place on a smaller scale and some families still have not been reunited. Interestingly, CBS News reported that 80 percent of reunited families were released rather than deported, begging the question of why the separations were necessary in the first place.  

Immigration also figured heavily in the 2018 elections. After the battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the midterm election suddenly looked winnable for Republicans. Rather than focusing on the economy or Democratic extremism, however, President Trump chose to make the Republican final appeal to voters a somewhat xenophobic argument against migrant caravans and illegal immigration. The strategy resulted in the loss of the House of Representatives, but Republicans managed to increase their margin in the Senate thanks to a favorable map in which many red state Democrats were up for re-election. Nevertheless, Republicans lost several winnable Senate races and saw the erosion of their support in suburbs around the country.

2018 was also the year in which the men who had restrained President Trump in his first year all fell by the wayside. After the departure of such underwhelming appointees as Mike Flynn and Steve Bannon in 2017, the seasoned experts were sent packing in 2018. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was first to go in March, later tacitly confirming reports that he had called the president a “moron.”

In an interview with Bob Schieffer, Tillerson described Trump as someone who is “pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, ‘This is what I believe.’”

“So often, the president would say, ‘Here's what I want to do and here's how I want to do it.’ And I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can't do it that way. It violates the law,’” Tillerson added. This is a troubling insight into the mind of a president who is increasingly ignoring his advisors to follow his own instincts.

Before the end of the year, two more of President Trump’s most senior and respected advisors were shown the door. Both Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly, once proudly referred to by Trump as “my generals,” left the Trump Administration in December 2018. Mattis’ made public his resignation letter, a polite yet blistering document that excoriated Trump’s foreign policy worldview. The Atlantic recently reported that Mattis’ closing words to the president were, “You’re going to have to get the next secretary of defense to lose to ISIS. I’m not going to do it.”

However, it has been 2019 that has so far been the worst for conservatives who respect the rule of law. This year was ushered in with the government shutdown that began in December 2018. Unlike previous government shutdowns, the Trump shutdown was not intended to cut spending; it was intended to increase the federal budget as President Trump demanded that Congress appropriate money for his border wall. However, as with previous shutdowns, the Trump shutdown also ended ignominiously. At 35 days, the shutdown was the longest in US government history and achieved precisely nothing except embarrassment for the Administration.

The president’s capitulation on the shutdown led directly to his next affront to the rule of law: the national emergency on the border. President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency was a blatant attempt to bypass Congress rather than attempting to compromise with the opposition party. After passing up at least three border deals with Democrats, the president decided to use the emergency declaration to force his will on the legislature.

No constitutionalist should back such as obvious ploy to subvert the role of Congress. David French ably pointed out the legal flaws to the plan, but there are logical flaws as well. Almost two decades have passed since September 11, 2001, with no firm evidence that Islamic terrorists have ever tried to cross the porous southern border. At the time of the national emergency declaration, illegal border crossings from Mexico were at a 50-year low. Despite Trump Administration claims, there was also no epidemic of violence from immigrants, either legal or illegal. Immigrants, even the illegal ones, are statistically less likely to commit violent crimes than native-born Americans and border counties had some of the lowest crime rates in the country.  Six times as many suspected terrorists were captured crossing the border from Canada than from Mexico.

There is also the matter of the Mueller report. While Mr. Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy involving President Trump, he did find evidence of attempted obstruction of justice by the president. Mr. Trump’s defenders ignore the fact that Mueller specifically cited the Justice Department policy that the president cannot be indicted in deciding not to make a judgment as to whether Trump broke the law.

In claiming “no obstruction,” President Trump’s defenders also gloss over the fact that the president was saved from successfully obstructing justice by subordinates who ignored his orders. The Mueller report cited ten instances where President Trump ordered members of his administration to obstruct the Russia investigation. Fortunately, Mr. Trump’s appointees were more trustworthy than the president himself. Unfortunately, as we inch toward a possible second Trump Administration, many of those trusted officials are no longer in the White House.

It is the revelations of 2019 that truly disqualify Trump and even make impeachment a legitimate course of action. While Trump has engaged in bad policies such as the one-sided détente with North Korea or the trade war against the rest of the world or the looming trillion-dollar deficit, it is his subversion of the Constitutional role of Congress and his general untrustworthiness with power as revealed by the Mueller report that are the most serious marks against the president. Since successful impeachment is politically impossible with Republicans in control of the Senate, it is up to voters send a message that President Trump’s abuses of executive power and lack of respect for the law will not be tolerated.

President Trump’s worst excesses relate to his abuses of executive power and the failure of Republicans in Congress to hold him accountable. President Trump’s statement in July 2019 that, “I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” should strike terror into the hearts of conservatives and libertarians. This is especially true as White House officials with the strength to say “no” become increasingly rare.

The abuses of a second-term Trump would be worse. As we’ve seen, many of the responsible members of the Trump Administration have been shown the exit and the president, more confident after three years in office, is less likely to listen to those who remain. If Donald Trump is rewarded with a second-term, his behavior will be even more reminiscent of Barack Obama, who famously whispered to then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” after winning his second election. The prospect of President Trump, who has already surpassed President Obama’s abuses of executive authority, with more flexibility should be disquieting to any constitutionalist. This is especially true in light of the president’s increasingly unhinged behavior over the past few weeks.

There are many reasons that I can’t support President Trump’s reelection effort. As a conservative, I disagree with much of his policy, particularly with respect to the trade war and international relations. I don’t like Trump’s divisive politics or his tendency to embrace top-down, big-government solutions. Further, I have the same concerns about Trump’s mental and moral fitness to lead that I had four years ago.

But, by far, the worst part is the president’s disregard for the rule of law. In his first term, we learned that Donald Trump has no qualms about issuing illegal orders or violating the constitutional order. If he is re-elected after having suffered no meaningful consequences for his abuses of power and with Republicans standing staunchly behind him, Mr. Trump will return to the well of executive overreach again and again over the next four years. Conservatives should act to stop him before he does.  

Originally posted on The Resurgent

Thursday, August 29, 2019

August 29th, 2019 The Trump Economy Is Starting To Make Republicans Nervous

“The economy is doing GREAT,” President Trump gushed on Twitter this morning, adding that there was “tremendous upside potential” if only “the Fed would do what they should.” However, an increasing number of Republicans are seeing Trump’s bullish tweets as an attempt to whistle past the graveyard.

“There’s no question that trade uncertainty is contributing to the slowdown,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said, quoted in Politico. “We’re in a very good place. The danger is: Where are we going to be a year from now if concerns about trade continue to be an irritant to growth?”

“The biggest risk to the economy is the whole trade situation,” agreed Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in an interview. “I think the president did a great job, we stopped doing the regulatory burden, we have a fairer tax system ... and the whole trade war has injected a huge dose of uncertainty and instability.”

“I don’t think [White House economic advisor] Peter Navarro understands the instability of what he promotes, [what] his trade war is injecting into the economy,” Johnson added.

At least one Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), has announced his intention to introduce a bill to curb the president’s power to impose national security tariffs this fall. Nevertheless, Grassley stopped short of attacking Trump’s tariffs earlier this month.

One reason that swing state Republicans are concerned is that the bond yield curve inverted again yesterday after flirting with inversions in recent weeks. When the yield on long-term (10-year) bonds is lower than that of shorter-term (2-year) bonds, it is typically seen as a leading indicator for a recession.

The disturbance in the bond and stock markets can be traced directly to the president’s tariff war with China. Over the past few weeks, both sides have launched new rounds of increased trade taxes and the Chinese have suspended purchases of American agricultural products, a direct assault on a core part of Trump’s base that has already been hit hard by the trade war. Even the Trump Administration’s farm subsidies and a new trade agreement in principle with Japan, which may be signed into a formal treaty in September, are unlikely to offset the loss of one of America’s largest agricultural export markets.

Farmers aren’t the only segment of the US economy that is reeling from the trade war. US manufacturing has also been flashing caution lights for several months now. Federal Reserve data from June showed that US manufacturing had already declined for two straight quarters, putting the sector in a recession. Last week, Fortune reported that the situation had gotten even worse with US factory activity contracting for the first time since September 2009. Other countries were also seeing their manufacturing activity decline as the world economy experienced decreased demand, which naturally follows the higher prices of goods traded internationally or built with imported components or materials.  

A further disturbing fact is this morning’s report from White House sources that Trump’s claim of calls from China asking to resume trade talks “didn't happen the way he said they did.” Per CNN, the officials said Trump was “eager to project optimism that might boost markets, and conflated comments from China's vice premier with direct communication from the Chinese.”

“What does Pat Toomey want me to do?” Trump reportedly responded this morning to Toomey’s comments. “Does he want me to say 'Let me put my hands up, China...continue to rip us off? Let me give up right now, China, even though we're winning?’”

What Trump is actually doing is steering more subsidies to his farm base as well as reaching the new agreement in principle with Japan. Prime Minister Abe said, “We believe that there is a need for us to implement emergency support measures for the Japanese private sector to have the early purchase of the American corn” due to “insect pests” but stopped short of committing to the “hundreds of millions of dollars” in agricultural products that Trump requested.

President Trump also said today on Twitter that he is preparing a “giant package” of aid to farmers who were impacted by both the trade war and the Trump Administration’s waivers to 31 refineries that allow them to not blend corn-based ethanol into their fuels. Even before the ethanol aid, Trump subsidies to farmers have reached $28 billion.  

“The administration has to be prepared to take off the tariffs in order to get a good agreement,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a former U.S. trade representative, recommended. “And there’s been some disagreement about that within the administration. Some are saying they should come off and others are saying we should keep them. I don’t think you’ll get a good agreement if you do that.”

But, to President Trump, removing tariffs without a deal would likely be seen as an admission of defeat and blinking in a moment of confrontation. Back in March, President Trump said that he might not remove tariffs even after a new trade was reached. The president’s only other course of action is “Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead,” hoping that the faltering Chinese economy causes President Xi to blink before the US election next year.

Not all Republicans are expressing doubts about the trade war, however. Perhaps most surprising among the defenders of Trump’s trade policy is Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), formerly a free trade conservative. Rubio recently argued in support of Trump, saying, “Do I like tariffs as a matter of policy on any given day? No. What other alternatives do you have to rebalance what has now been 30 years of cheating, lying, stealing and unfairness on behalf of the Chinese?”

The difference between Rubio and Toomey, Johnson, and Portman may be in the recent Morning Consult state polls of Trump approval. Trump is breaking even (within the margin of error) in Florida, but deep underwater in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. None of the four Republicans is up for reelection in 2020, however.

With both the president’s farm-state base and swing state factory workers feeling the pressure of the trade war, Republicans have little choice but to hang on and hope for the best. President Trump’s reelection almost certainly depends on maintaining a stable economy and finding a successful conclusion to the trade war. At this point, both are seeming less and less likely. If the economy takes a turn for the worse, even more Republicans may find themselves in rebellion against Mr. Trump’s trade policy.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Inspector General Slams Comey For Release Of Memos

The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice has released its findings with respect to former FBI Director James Comey. The just-released report (available to read here) concludes that Comey violated DOJ policy by releasing several memos about his conversations with President Trump. The DOJ declined to prosecute Comey over the releases earlier this month.

The conclusion of the report notes, “Even when these employees believe that their most strongly-held personal convictions might be served by an unauthorized disclosure, the FBI depends on them not to disclose sensitive information” and points out that “Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees—and the many thousands more former FBI employees—who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information.”

The OIG found that Comey’s memos were official FBI documents rather than personal documents as he had claimed. Comey also violated FBI policy in not returning the documents and failing to disclose immediately that classified information had been released. One memo reportedly contained classified information, but the OIG found that Comey did not release any classified material to the media.

Comey responded by declaring victory on Twitter, saying, “I don’t need a public apology from those who defamed me, but a quick message with a ‘sorry we lied about you’ would be nice.”

Comey also sharply attacked his critics, tweeting, “And to all those who’ve spent two years talking about me ‘going to jail’ or being a ‘liar and a leaker’—ask yourselves why you still trust people who gave you bad info for so long, including the president.”

It is difficult to see the report as a victory for Comey except in that he was found to have only broken policies rather than laws and that he won’t face prosecutions. The report firmly condemns the former FBI director’s judgment in taking matters into his own hands but falls short of supporting all of the accusations made by his critics. The report is yet another in a series of such reports in which neither side is totally vindicated and the truth lies in the middle.

The OIG report released today was focused entirely on Comey’s actions. A subsequent report is expected soon that will detail the investigation into allegations that Department of Justice improperly spied on members of the Trump campaign.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Swing State Polls Are Nightmare For Republicans

President Trump’s approval rating isn’t exactly in a freefall, but the president’s popularity is declining. Even worse for Mr. Trump’s reelection chances, the problem seems to be worst in must-win battleground states.

One of the few regular polls that breaks down presidential approval to the state level, where it really matters for elections, is the Morning Consult poll that is released monthly. The numbers for July were recently released and they are not pretty for Donald Trump, particularly when it comes to the Rust Belt and the traditional swing states.

Axios puts the poll data into a handy chart that is the stuff of nightmares for Republican leaders. Looking back to January 2017, Axios found no less than 15 states in which President Trump’s approval has gone from net positive to negative. In nine of those states (in order of highest disapproval to least: New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maine, New Mexico, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, and Iowa), the president’s net disapproval is in double digits. In another four states (Pennsylvania, Arizona, Ohio, and Virginia), Trump’s net disapproval is greater than the margin of error for the poll. Additionally, in Florida and North Carolina Trump has gone from a double-digit positive to a one-point negative, making both states tossups if the election were held today.

Further, polling data for Georgia and Texas shows problems for the president as well. While both states show Trump with net positive approval, Georgia is just outside the margin of error with a two-point edge for the president while Texas shows a positive six points. The two states were at net 18 and 21-point positives for Trump in January 2017.

There were no states where Trump approval increased in the same time period. Even in Alabama, the Trumpiest state in the Union, the data showed a one-point decline in the president’s approval, which translates into a change in net approval of negative 10 points.

Of the states where Trump’s approval has gone from positive to negative, nine (Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maine (where Trump won one of three electoral votes), Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) are states that Trump won in 2016. Even assuming that North Carolina and Florida might remain in the Republican column, the shift of the other swing states would represent a 314-224 Electoral College loss for Trump if the election were held today.

There are some caveats. Polls are historical, not predictive. This means that the situation could easily change prior to Election Day. The problem for Republicans is that it could also change for the worse. The July numbers don’t include Donald Trump’s disastrous last week. The state polls should be considered very accurate. Margins of error are listed by state and are not greater than four percent. The battleground states have much lower margins of error.

Approval rating is not a direct proxy for an election poll, but an approval rating of less than 50 percent is not a good sign for an incumbent. This is backed up by a spate of recent polls that show Trump trailing the top four Democratic candidates by healthy margins and only leading Pete Buttigieg in national polling.

There is a possibility that Donald Trump can reverse his slide in the polls, but Republicans need to realize that what the president is doing is not working. A fundamental change in the president’s approach is needed if he wants to win reelection and Republicans want to avert an electoral disaster.

Trump’s one strong point has been the economy but recent polling shows that the trade war has cut into that advantage. At least one poll, by the Associated Press, already shows Trump underwater on the economy. If the country slides into a downturn or recession, any chance of Trump’s reelection will evaporate.  

The best scenario for Trump would be a quick victory in the trade war, but that appears unlikely with China continuing to ratchet up retaliatory measures. A second-best alternative would be for Trump to seize on something – anything – that will allow him to save face and end the tariff battle before it results in a recession. At this point, this option also appears unlikely.

Instead, the president appears intent on continuing to escalate the battle, threatening last week to cut off all trade with China.

Other Republicans are so far backing the president. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is up for reelection next year himself, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” over the weekend, “We just got to accept the pain that comes with standing up to China.”

“Accept the pain” is a horrible campaign slogan for Republicans as we enter an election year. Better advice would be to look back to Bill Clinton’s motto from 1992:

“It’s the economy, stupid.”
Originally published on the Resurgent

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Facebook Makes Changes To Win Conservative Trust

The long-awaited results of Facebook’s year-long audit have been released. Unsurprisingly, the report shows that conservatives don’t trust the social media platform for a variety of reasons.

Per Axios’ exclusive report of the audit results, conservative complaints about Facebook fell into six broad categories. These include concerns that Facebook algorithms make it more difficult to spread conservative content, that community standards that label some long-held traditional beliefs as hate speech, that enforcement was biased against conservatives, that Facebook labeling an ad as “political” would jeopardize tax-exempt status, about long approval times for time-sensitive ads, and that Facebook employees writing rules and community standards were biased against conservatives.

The audit was conducted by Jon Kyl, the former Republican senator from Arizona at Facebook’s request. Kyl describes the process in the Wall Street Journal today. The audit consisted of 133 interviews with “individuals, groups, and lawmakers who either use, study or could potentially regulate Facebook,” beginning in August 2018.

In response to the audit’s findings, Facebook has already committed to a series of reforms that are specifically intended to benefit conservatives. The first reforms include:
·        Oversight board – A board will be formed to hear appeals for difficult content-removal cases.
·        Explanations of news-feed rankings – Facebook is launching “transparency tools” that will explain why the content that users see in their feed is there.
·        Page transparency – Page owners can now see when content has been removed for violating community standards and when distribution is reduced due to “false” ratings from fact-checkers.
·        Staffing – Facebook has hired four new employees to work with small groups and answer questions and complaints about content removal.
·        Ad labeling requirements -  Rather than labeling ads as “political,” ads will now be classified as “about social issues, elections or politics.”
·        Ad policies – Facebook has changed a policy that prohibited ads that showed medical tubes in patients. The change will make it easier to get pro-life ads approved.

“We believe these and other measures described in our interim report are steps in the right direction,” Kyl writes. “Yet these are complicated issues, some of which involve conflicting opinions even among conservatives. For that reason, restoring trust fully may remain an elusive goal. Conservatives no doubt will, and should, continue to press Facebook to address the concerns that arose in our survey.”

In a statement, Facebook VP of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg, wrote, “Regardless of one’s own political views, this is about whether we apply our own policies fairly to all sides, and whether those policies begin with an understanding of how core groups of users express their beliefs.”

“While we err on the side of free speech, there are critical exceptions,” Clegg added. “We don’t allow content that might encourage offline harm or is intended to intimidate, exclude or silence people. And we work to slow and reduce the spread of content like debunked hoaxes and clickbait by downranking it in News Feed. We know we need to listen more as we work to strike the right balance with these policies.”

“Even if we could craft them in a way that pleased all sides, when dealing with such nuanced issues, involving policies that apply to billions of posts, we will inevitably make some bad calls, some of which may appear to strike harder at conservatives,” Clegg acknowledged.

The new reforms are merely the first step in Facebook’s attempts to fairly enforce its rules. The process is ongoing and Kyl’s team will issue another report in a few months.

Many conservatives on Facebook have spent time in “Facebook jail” for seemingly innuous posts or had content removed will understandably be skeptical of the social media giant’s commitment to fairness, but today’s announcements mark a significant victory for both conservative users of social media and free markets in general. As a private platform, the company does have the right to enforce its own rules and restrict objectionable content, but it has responded to consumer pressure to enforce its rules more fairly. This is not only good news for conservatives on Facebook but also for advocates of small government who were skeptical of conservative calls to regulate the social media platforms in the name of “fairness.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

The Payroll Tax Is Not The Problem

Fresh from defending the economy against recession fears over the weekend, there are now reports that the White House is considering a payroll tax to stimulate the economy. The fit of mixed messaging comes after a week of erratic stock markets and amid several softening economic indicators.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the Trump Administration was considering a payroll tax cut to avert a possible slowdown as the next round of tariffs takes effect. The new tariffs, which heavily impact consumer electronics products, are slated to become effective on September 1 for some imports and December 15 for others. The tariff increase will apply a 10 percent tax to most of the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports that have escaped import taxes so far. A report by JP Morgan estimates that new tariffs will increase the cost of the trade war from $600 to $1,000 for the average American household.

In another hint that the White House is concerned about the economy, President Trump has renewed criticism of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. On Twitter, the president has pushed Powell for more cuts to interest rates that are already near zero.

The Post reported that members of the Administration were in preliminary discussions about the possibility of a payroll tax cut to offset the cost of the next round of tariffs to American consumers, but a White House spokesman officially denied the report in a statement to CNBC, saying, “As Larry Kudlow said yesterday, more tax cuts for the American people are certainly on the table, but cutting payroll taxes is not something under consideration at this time.”

Most working Americans pay a 6.2 percent payroll tax into Social Security that is matched by their employer. Considering a median household income of $61,372 annually, the average family pays about $3,800 in payroll taxes every year.

Cutting the payroll tax to stimulate the economy is not a new idea. President Obama passed a payroll tax holiday in 2010 which exempted qualified employers from paying the tax. The Heritage Foundation pointed out at the time that the tax cut failed to stimulate the job market, arguing that “reducing employer costs and uncertainties will make employers more willing to pursue new opportunities in the economy, which is the key to growth.”

While there are no specifics of any proposal that might be under discussion in the Trump White House, payroll tax cuts typically are intended to make the cost of labor less expensive and leave people and businesses with more money to spend. Such a cut could be targeted at either the employer side of the tax, the worker side, or both. As a change to existing law, Congress would have to approve a payroll tax cut.

A big problem with payroll taxes, aside from their ineffectiveness, is that they reduce revenue to  Social Security and Medicare entitlements that are already in financial distress and contribute to a rising deficit. The Social Security Administration already estimates that the SSI trust fund will be exhausted by 2037, only 18 years from now. The federal deficit is up sharply under Donald Trump and is expected to top $1 trillion this year.

The prospect of a payroll tax cut comes as US Steel announces hundreds of layoffs in the battleground state of Michigan due to the temporary shutdown of two blast furnaces. The news is an unintended consequence of the tariff war, which was originally ostensibly launched to protect American steel and aluminum producers. As tariffs were announced last year, steel companies increased production to meet an expected increase in demand as Resurgent reported at the time. But subsequent tariffs led consumers of steel to cut back, which caused a glut in the steel supply and sent prices tumbling.

Donald Trump’s attempt at central economic planning is generating other problems as a result of the Law of Unintended Consequences as well. The loss of China, one of American agriculture’s largest export markets before the trade war, has necessitated bailouts to keep farmers solvent. The farm bailouts alone have cost the US Treasury more than the sum total of all revenues received from tariffs.

While the US economy is slowing, it is not payroll taxes or interest rates that are the problem. The tax cut that would benefit Americans most is an end to the tariff war. In a perfect world, restoring the tariff taxes the status quo antebellum would be accompanied by President Trump restraining himself from dabbling in the economy. His interference has led to unpredictable and inconsistent rules that make long-term business planning impossible.

As Ayn Rand famously put it in Atlas Shrugged, “Get out of the way.”
Originally posted on The Resurgent

Team Trump Tries To Allay Recession Fears

President Trump and his economic advisors fired back against recession predictions over the weekend. Over the past few weeks, recession fears have mounted as prospects for a trade deal with China have dimmed, sparking an 800-point selloff in the stock market and an inverted yield curve for bonds, which is often a leading indicator for economic downturns.

Two top White House advisors made the Sunday talk show rounds yesterday in an attempt to allay concerns about the trade war. Speaking to Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Chief White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow said, "No, I don't see a recession. And let me add just one theme ... Just one theme. We're doing pretty darn well, in my judgment. Let's not be afraid of optimism. It's a funny sign of our times. And I think there's a very optimistic economy going on out there.”

After that appearance, Kudlow popped up on “Fox News Sunday” with Dana Perino, where he again touted the Trump economy, saying, “First of all, I don't see a recession at all. Second of all, the Trump pro-growth program, which I believe has been succeeding lower tax rates, bid rollback of regulations, energy opening, trade reform, we're going to stay with that.”

White House Trade Advisor Peter Navarro showed up on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper where he argued that tariffs are “not hurting anybody here” because China was devaluing its currency to a greater degree than the Trump Administration was imposing tariffs.

President Trump also got into the act, telling reporters on Sunday, “We're doing tremendously well. Our consumers are rich.”

“And we're not going to have a recession. But the rest of the world is not doing well as we're doing,” Trump said.

“I think our economy is very, very good,” the president said, but then seemed to acknowledge that the trade war was acting as a brake on the economy, adding, “We can do a lot of things, but if it slowed down it would be because I have to take on China and some other countries. Look, you have other countries that are just as bad as China, the way they treated us.”

When the president had dinner with Apple CEO Tim Cook on Friday, Cook took the opportunity to bend the president’s ear on the upcoming tariffs on consumer electronic products. Cook pointed out that the tariffs would affect Apple more than Korean phone manufacturer Samsung since iPhones are made in China, but Samsung phones are built in several different countries.
“I thought he made a very compelling argument” about the difficulty in competing with Samsung, Trump told Bloomberg. “It’s tough for Apple to pay tariffs if it’s competing with a very good company that’s not.”

This contradicts Trump’s statement to reporters that “In the case of China, China is eating the tariffs. At least so far."

Trump and his advisors crowed over retail sales numbers released last week, which increased for the fifth straight month, but other recent indicators are not so rosy. Job growth was slower than expected in July and housing starts fell by four percent, the third straight month of declines.

Farmers are also showing signs of discontent with the trade war. Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said, “Words and twitters and tweets, that doesn’t pay the farmer’s bills, that doesn’t solve the problem we’re dealing with.

“This would is self-inflicted by our president,” Wertish added. “We definitely agreed with him at the beginning, but it doesn’t appear that there’s a plan B.”

“Short-term, stair-stepped subsidies ... stimulate production but not sales and therefore do little to undo the long-term log jam caused by not selling soybeans to destinations like China, the world’s number one customer.” Lindsay Greiner, the president of the Iowa Soybean Association, said in a statement earlier this year.

The president also addressed concerns about the inverted yield curve, saying, “Also, when you go in and analyze the [bond yield] curve, the curve always means that about two years later, maybe you will go in [to a recession].  That's a long time, two years. But I don't think so. Interest rates are low. I think I could be helped out by the Fed. But the Fed doesn't like helping me too much.”

Navarro denied that there was an inverted yield curve at all, saying, “An inverted yield curve requires a big spread between the short and long. All we have had is a flat curve. It’s a flat curve which is a very weak signal of any possibility.”

Most economists and investors disagree with Navarro. The Wall Street Journal cited uncertainty over the stock market, news that the German economy shrank 0.1 percent in the second quarter, Brexit concerns, and Chinese economic figures as pointing towards a slowing economy and pushing investors towards the more stable bond markets. The Journal noted that the market warning signs are an “omen of the future, not destiny,” however.

The key to averting an economic downturn is for the Trump Administration to find a way to make a trade deal with China and call off the trade war. While some celebrate news of the slowing Chinese economy, the Journal points out, “a Chinese recession would mean a European recession, which would send U.S. growth down too.” As I’ve noted before, the Chinese don’t have to outlast the US economy, they only have to outlast President Trump and, if Trump loses his one unequivocal advantage in the solid economy, his departure in 2021 would be virtually guaranteed.

Unfortunately, the president does not seem ready to declare victory and end the trade war, maintaining that China’s economic pains are “why they want to come to the table,” as well as that “President Xi, I'm sure, likes me very much.”

“Our country is going to be stronger by far than ever before,” Trump insisted. “I mean, if I wanted to make a bad deal and settle on China, the market would go up. But it wouldn't be the right thing to do. I'm just not ready to make a deal yet. China would like to make a deal, I'm not ready."

Originally published on the Resurgent

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Trump's Self-Made China Mess

American relations with China, a centerpiece of President Trump’s foreign policy, are unraveling. Trump’s China policy has been erratic, inconsistent, and working towards cross-purposes at various times. After three years, the effect of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy seems to be coming home to roost as China gears up to quell democratic protests in Hong Kong while simultaneously nearing endgame in the trade war against the United States.

Even though China figured prominently as a foil in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the new president initially reached out to the Chinese government for help in dealing with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, even as China and the US began trade talks. Chinese President Xi Jinping was reluctant to help Trump rein in the Chinese client state. This may be partly because the Chinese see Trump’s overtures to Kim as an attempt to take North Korea out of China’s sphere of influence.

In 2018, as the US and North Korea were experiencing a détente, Trump was beginning the tariff war against China and myriad of other nations. The trade war began with US tariffs on washing machines and solar panels in March and ramped up in April with tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The first rounds of tariffs did not single out China, but the Chinese government responded with 25 percent tariffs on 128 US goods. Trump fired back with a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of Chinese imports. The cycle has continued throughout the 16 months since.

Fast forward to August 2019 when pro-democracy activists began protesting Chinese rule in Hong Kong. As the protesters waved American flags and sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the Trump Administration seemed to be in disarray. Many members of a party that is making the argument against American socialism a central theme of the 2020 election seemed reluctant to criticize the communist Chinese government’s actions. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called the Hong Kong situation an “internal matter,” while National Security Advisor John Bolton took the opposite tack and warned China that a crackdown similar to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre would be a “big mistake.”

For his part, the president, who had spent the last two years criticizing China, was unusually subdued when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday, saying, “The Hong Kong thing is a very tough situation, very tough. We'll what see what happens. But I'm sure it'll work out. I hope it works out for everybody, including China, by the way.”

Politico reported on Wednesday that President Trump agreed not to press President XI on human rights abuses prior to the G-20 summit in June. Per three people who were familiar with the telephone conversation between the two leaders, Mr. Trump did not extract a promise from China for his concession.

Since news of the conversation became public, President Trump cautiously broached the subject of Hong Kong in a tweet that first complimented President Xi and then said that Trump believed that “if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it.” Trump also offered Xi a “personal meeting.”

The bottom line is that even though many of President Trump’s supporters maintain that he is playing 4-D chess, it is more and more apparent that he has been outfoxed by both President Xi and Kim Jong Un at every turn. First, Kim won a diplomatic coup in having the president of the United States come to him without making any concessions. Now, Xi seems to have planned ahead to silence Trump as China handled Hong Kong while simultaneously destroying Trump’s chances for re-election.

China’s response to Trump’s latest tariff threat was to allow its currency to be devalued and shutting off Chinese purchases of American agricultural products. The cheaper yuan will make Chinese exports more attractive to other trading partners while shifting Chinese agricultural purchases to Russia will deprive American farmers of one of their largest export markets. The economic attack on American farmers is especially problematic for President Trump since rural white voters are a vital part of his base. Trump’s farm bailouts have already cost more than the combined revenues from his tariffs.

As the US economy teeters on the brink of recession thanks to the trade war and Trump faces increasing pressure to show progress due to the looming elections, China has more weapons ready to fire in the tariff tiff. Last May, the Chinese warned that they would use rare earths as an economic weapon against the United States if the trade war persisted. China controls about 90 percent of the world’s supply of these metals, which are used in the manufacture of electronics from games to smart weapons. If China cuts off the supply of rare earths to the US, the effect on the tech industry would be devastating.

Another weapon that the Chinese might deploy against the US is our own debt. With more than $1 trillion in Treasury notes, bills, and bonds, China is the largest foreign holder of US debt. China could call in this debt and cause the value of the dollar to crash. This is likely a doomsday scenario since the accompanying world financial crash would also be devastating to China.

On the other hand, Trump is running short of leverage to use against the Chinese. Typically, the US would respond to a problem like China’s actions in Hong Kong with economic sanctions, but American trade with China has been hard hit by the trade war. As trade between the two countries declined, so has America’s ability to influence the Chinese government. With heavy taxes on most Chinese goods, there are few arrows left in President Trump’s quiver.

There appear to be few ways out for Donald Trump. His choices are to stay the course and risk a recession or back down and risk his image. Even though the trade war is hurting also China, as I’ve pointed out before, China doesn’t have to outlast the American economy, they just have to outlast Donald Trump.

President Trump is in a very tight spot. If he persists in the trade war then it is almost certain that China will continue to ratchet up the reprisals on the American economy. More and more economists see the likelihood of a recession before the election, which would be devastating to Trump’s chances of re-election. Yesterday’s stock market sell-off was based on recession fears.

Likewise, if the Chinese decide to crack down on Hong Kong’s democracy demonstrators, people who are appealing directly to the United States, Trump would have very few tools to influence the Chinese government on behalf of the protesters. As a result, the US would lose face around the world while China flexed its muscles.

In either case, Trump would look bad at home. His strongest area has been the economy so, if the US enters a downturn, the president loses his best argument for re-election. Further, Trump’s base has long relished his reputation as a fighter. If he is seen as ineffective against a brutal Chinese action against Hong Kong, his tough-guy image could shatter and cost him support.

Trump’s current situation is almost unwinnable and the president has no one to blame but himself.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Republicans Fret About Trump On Guns

President Trump’s advisors are worried about his stance on gun control in the wake of a series of mass shootings. After active shooter attacks in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, the president has signaled that he is open to new gun control proposals including red flag laws and expanded background checks, but his advisors are concerned that such a move might erode his slim electoral edge from 2016.

“It’s very simple: There’s nobody that is more pro-Second Amendment than Donald Trump, ” Mr. Trump told reporters Tuesday, quoted by the Wall Street Journal. “But I don’t want guns in the hands of a lunatic or a maniac, and I think if we do proper background checks, we can prevent that.”

Conservatives are split on the new proposals, but polling shows that the public at large strongly favors the new proposals, which even have broad support among Republicans. Sources say that Trump’s advisors have warned the president against embracing new gun laws despite their popularity.

“When you’re president because of a grand total of less than 78,000 votes spread out over three states, you don’t have to alienate too much of your base on an issue they care about to lose,” conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace said in the Journal.

Mr. Trump has long been soft on guns. Last year after the Parkland shooting, he said that he was open to an “assault weapons” ban championed by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The president didn’t follow on through that proposal but did ultimately use his bureaucracy to ban bump stocks. He seems to have paid no political price among Republicans for that action.

President Trump told reporters that “Don Jr. is my gun expert. He knows more about guns than anyone I know.”

Donald Trump, Jr. has expressed skepticism about the proposals for red flag laws and expanded background checks according to WSJ sources.

At this point, it is uncertain whether there is actual support from Republicans and the president for tighter gun laws, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week that red flag and background check bills would be “front and center” in the Senate. McConnell specifically cited a proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to extend grants to states enacting red-flag laws and a proposal for expanded background checks from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) as topics for discussion.

Gun legislation represents a minefield for Republicans. There is strong support for measures designed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerously mentally ill people, but there is also strong opposition to any new gun laws from the right. There is a risk for Republicans in doing nothing, but there is also a risk in passing laws that would be unpopular with a large and vocal part of the base. If there are additional active shooter attacks by killers who were known to be threats before the election, the issue could become even more important to voters.

The most likely course for Republicans may be to take the middle road and slow walk the gun bills. If the bills get stuck in committee or fail to gain enough votes for cloture then neither congressional Republicans nor President Trump has to make a difficult stand on the issue. That would give Democrats another campaign issue, but it might well be one where they would overreach and allow Republicans to label them as “gun grabbers.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Delays Tariffs Due To Christmas

What if they gave a tariff war and nobody came? That, unfortunately, isn’t what happened when President Trump launched his tariff war last year, which seems to have involved pretty much all of America’s trading partners, but at least American consumers have a reprieve from the president’s next round of tax increases.

Yesterday the Trump Administration suddenly delayed plans to implement some new tariffs on an additional $300 billion in Chinese goods that were slated to go into effect on September 1. The new tax would have added a 10 percent duty to items such as smartphones, laptops, toys, and videogames imported from China. Tariffs on some items such as tools, apparel items, and some footwear will still go into effect on September 1 while tariffs on other items, including Bibles and shipping containers, will be removed from tariff lists entirely.

“We’re doing this for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers,” Mr. Trump told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

Trump’s statement flies in the face of months of claims that his tariffs do not affect American consumers and businesses. The president has maintained since the onset of the tariff war last year that tariffs were filling US “coffers” and were being paid directly by China at no expense to Americans.

The president’s statement that the delay for the tariffs was due to Christmas undercuts his previous claims that the tariffs only affected the Chinese. Although some Chinese celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ does not warrant an official holiday in communist China. Christmas does, however, represent the major retail season in the United States. Both businesses and consumers would not be happy to find gifts from China to be 10 percent more expensive as the holiday approaches.

Despite claims of revenue being generated by the tariffs, the US government is losing money from the trade war. The Council on Foreign Relations points out that the Treasury collected $19 billion in tariff taxes from US importers, but is slated to pay out more than $25 billion to farmers hurt by the president’s trade policies.

Other sources in the Trump Administration say that there were other reasons for the delay. The announcement of the tariffs and disappointing news from the trade talks had prompted a loss of more than 1,000 points in the Dow since late July. The US reportedly took into consideration that businesses had already locked in prices for seasonal goods and would be forced to either absorb the cost of the tariffs or pass them along to consumers.

US officials warned that the move should not be seen as an olive branch to China, despite the fact that the US did not obtain any concessions for the delay. After the president announced the new tariffs in early August, China allowed its currency to depreciate and announced that it would suspend purchases of US agricultural products. So far, there has been no reversal of these policies.

Even if the delay is only temporary, the news was welcomed by the stock market. The Dow surged on the news, closing with a gain of 372 points.

Over the past few months, a clear pattern has emerged in financial markets. When the president announces tariffs or bad trade news, markets tank. On the other hand, when trade talks look promising or tariffs are delayed, the markets surge.

Perhaps Mr. Trump should take note.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Deficits Soar To Obama-like Levels

Once upon a time, there was a country that spent too much. This country had the largest economy on the planet and took in trillions of dollars from its citizens in taxes, but every year it went deeper into debt because it always spent more than it took in. The overspending created a monster called “the national debt.” This went on for years and years and both of the ruling groups pretended to care about the overspending, but no one ever did anything about it.

For years, the federal budget deficit was relatively small and only caused the national debt to grow a little every year. Even then people worried about both. Then, about 40 years ago, the deficit got bigger and the national debt started growing by leaps and bounds.

Things really got bad after an enemy attacked the country. The government had to borrow money to fight the evil people that had murdered thousands of its citizens. The war lasted a long time and the national debt had doubled in short order.

As the threat of war receded, the country went into a financial crisis. The country’s new leader decided that the answer was to throw money at the problem. His spending increases caused the largest deficits that anyone had ever seen and pretty soon the national debt had doubled again.

After the financial crisis, a brave knight came to the king and said that spending was at dangerous levels. When the knight confronted the king, they finally were able to come to an agreement that cut spending for the first time in the reigns of many, many leaders.

But, alas, the spending cuts didn’t last long. And the knights never slayed the deficit. They only made it smaller for a little while. Pretty soon, both the deficit and the debt started growing again.

A new king soon came to power and, despite the fact that there was no war or financial crisis, the new king quickly grew the deficit back to levels that it had only seen during national emergencies under the old kings. The national debt looked like it might double again during the new king’s reign but this time no one was worried. In fact, one of the knights who had fought the deficit years before now said that no one had ever really worried about the deficit at all!

I wish I could say that this story has a happy ending where “they all lived happily ever after,” but obviously this is not true. This story doesn’t have an ending yet and this year the deficit monster is going to be as big as ever, feeding the national debt to levels that are unprecedented during peacetime with a good economy.

The sad truth for Americans is that the Republicans who valiantly fought the deficit during the Obama years, now don’t seem to care about it. While most Republicans are merely silent about the deficit, which will exceed $1 trillion this year, the highest point since 2012, none other than Rush Limbaugh has now embraced the once-liberal position that deficits don’t matter.

Responding to a caller last month who argued that President Trump was not a “fiscal conservative,” Rush responded, “Nobody is a fiscal conservative anymore. All this talk about concern for the deficit and the budget has been bogus for as long as it’s been around.”

Rush is wrong. There are many of us who are still fiscal conservatives and whose concerns about the deficit were genuine from the beginning. We may not hold office, but we do vote.

The unpleasant truth for Republicans is that Donald Trump is worse on the deficit than either Barack Obama or George W. Bush or any prior president. Trump’s deficit is going to rival the worst years of Barack Obama and be worse than that of any other president. This is without the excuse of a war or the Keynesian excuse of needing deficit spending to overcome a financial crisis. In the US today, deficit spending is the rule regardless of what is happening in the economy or the rest of the world.

To be fair, Donald Trump did inherit much of the mess. The largest part of the deficit is driven by mandatory spending on entitlements that Congress and the president don’t control on an annual basis. In the 2019 federal budget, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, and health spending account for more than 60 percent of federal spending. In contrast, defense spending (including veteran’s benefits) makes up only 20 percent. Interest on the federal debt accounts for almost six percent by itself.

But Trump has made the problem worse. Under President Trump, federal spending reached a record high. This is partly due to increases in mandatory entitlement spending, but it is also due to increases in discretionary spending championed by Mr. Trump. Earlier this year, the president proposed a record $4.7 trillion budget, which would increase federal spending by almost a trillion dollars over the current year. The proposed budget cuts some programs but includes a big increase in military spending.

The Trump Administration has also hurt the income side of the deficit equation. Tax reform slashed corporate income tax rates, but, despite this, tax revenues are at a record high. They are not, however, as high as they would be in a growing economy if the tax rates had been left unchanged.

The theory is that the lower tax rates would help to grow the economy and to some extent that has been true. The theory did not account for President Trump’s tariff war, however. President Trump’s increases to tariff taxes have offset the benefits of tax reform for millions of American individuals and businesses. The higher the tariffs go, the more they are a drag on the economy.

Mr. Trump’s economy has not yet achieved his target growth rate of three percent per year. Despite achieving three percent growth in several quarters, Donald Trump’s annual growth rates average worse than Barack Obama’s. This is due in large part to his tariffs.

The best news for Republicans is that Democrats would probably be worse on deficits and the debt. With a number of Democrats proposing giveaway programs like free college tuition and Medicare-for-all, there is no political home for deficit hawks. Neither party really wants to cut spending. They just want to cut spending on the other side’s priorities so that they can shift tax dollars to their own programs. Meanwhile, politicians on both sides of the put on an Alfred E. Neuman grin and say, “What? Me Worry?”

The bad news for us all is that the overspending, particularly that of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, have boosted to the national debt to 104 percent of GDP. No one knows how such a high debt level will affect the world’s largest economy and the holder of the world’s reserve currency.

What we do know is that the high debt level restricts the number of tools that the Fed has to deal with future recessions and economic problems. For example, with interest rates at near-zero, there is little room to reduce them further to goose the economy. If the Fed raises interest rates, the deficit will go up as the government’s interest payments on the debt increase. The flip side is that low interest rates come at the cost of discouraging saving and investment.

Do deficits matter? We are about to find out.
Originally published on The Resurgent

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Epstein’s Suicide Sends Both Sides Over The Edge

If you wanted to purge your social media accounts of those who push conspiracy theories, this weekend was your opportunity. The sudden death of billionaire pedophile and friend to the rich and famous, Jeffrey Epstein, brought the tinfoil hat crowd out of the woodwork and into plain view on the internet.

Within a few hours of the news of Epstein’s death on Saturday, keyboard warriors were advancing theories that reflected their political biases. Rather than a suicide, Epstein was killed by the Clintons, the Trump Administration, Russia, or the British royal family, depending on who you don’t like. And that’s if you think he’s dead at all. Some woke users advanced the idea that Epstein’s death had been faked so that he could be inserted into the witness protection program. The fact that there is so far not a shred of evidence that Epstein’s death is anything other than what it seems has done nothing to stop the conspiracy theorists who knew from the moment that they read the headline that their suppositions were correct.

While Epstein’s death seems convenient to numerous powerful people on the surface, the reality is different. While Epstein won’t be around to name names, he leaves behind a mountain of evidence. A search warrant had already been served on the accused sex trafficker’s Palm Beach home and investigators likely have incriminating photos, videos, and documents that can be used to indict co-conspirators. A potential murderer would have to know that Epstein’s death might not be the end of their own problems.

Epstein’s death might actually mean more trouble for co-conspirators who were caught on film or mentioned in his papers. Adam Klasfield of Courthouse News pointed out on Twitter that “no one else will have the standing to challenge the search warrant on his house. Everything will be admissible against any other defendant without possibility of a motion to suppress.”

Throughout the weekend, people asked the question of how Epstein could have committed suicide while on suicide watch from his previous attempt. The answer turned out to be that he was no longer on suicide watch. The question then became who removed him from suicide watch and why. It seems very suspicious until you find out details of how suicide watches work.

An interesting Twitter thread by C.Z. Edwards, who has experience with suicide watches in clinical facilities, explains the procedure. Inmates are typically not kept on suicide watch for more than 72 hours because it entails many things that could actually drive a person to want to kill themselves even more. Suicide watches include checks by guards every 15 minutes, having the lights on all day, no clothing other than a safety smock, no linens for a bare vinyl mattress, limited reading material with no other media allowed, and no privacy. Even bathroom breaks are supervised. She notes that about a third of in-patient suicides occur while the patient is on suicide watch. In other cases, inmates convince doctors that the danger is over and then bide their time until they have another chance to attempt suicide. That seems to be what happened to Epstein.   

There is also evidence that guards at the prison dropped the ball. The New York Times reported today that a procedure that required guards to check on Epstein every 30 minutes was not followed the night before his death. The jail also allegedly transferred out his cellmate and allowed him to be housed alone two weeks after being taken off suicide watch, another violation of procedure.

Epstein certainly had reason to want to kill himself. Up until a few months ago, he had the world at his fingertips, but in his last months, he had totally lost control of his life. He was at the mercy of the judicial system and would likely face a humiliating public trial to be followed by spending the rest of his life in prison.

Even though Epstein had the means and the motive to want to kill himself, it isn’t impossible that he was murdered. If we assume that Epstein was murdered, what about the difficulty of covering the trail of an assassin who just killed the most infamous inmate in America? Epstein’s death was certain to invite close scrutiny and a jail is a closely monitored facility. There are cameras, guards, locked doors, and records of who goes in and out. Any murderer would leave a trail that could be quickly followed.

Among the most unlikely suspects for a murder attempt would be the Clintons. The #ClintonBodyCount meme is a long-running joke that applies blame to the Clintons for pretty much any death within six degrees of separation. The Clintons are blamed for suicides and deaths from natural causes in addition to actual murders such as that of Seth Rich. Yet, to those who bother to look at the actual facts of the cases, the conspiracy claims don’t stand up to scrutiny.

The Clintons are said to have a motive because of Bill’s relationship with Epstein, yet the fact that we already know about their friendship cancels out the motive. The Clintons are said to be so sinister and sly that they have killed as many as 100 people and never been caught (even though everyone except law enforcement seems to know that they are guilty), yet Hillary was so incompetent that she forgot to visit the Rust Belt in 2016. The contrast between the two claims, which are often made by the same people, strains credulity.

Further, the allegations against Bill Clinton were made by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, a former Epstein employee, rather than by Epstein himself. Yet Giuffre, an easy target outside of the prison, remains alive while Epstein does not. Likewise, Ken Starr, Juanita Broaddrick, and Monica Lewinsky are all still breathing despite crossing the Clintons.

President Trump retweeted an allegation by a follower that blamed the Clintons for Epstein’s death yet it is Donald Trump’s Justice Department that will investigate. If there is evidence that the Clintons are complicit in Epstein’s death – or anyone else’s – it would give the president a good reason to “lock her up,” but he hasn’t done so.

And speaking of Trump, the president also makes a poor suspect. Although Mr. Trump also seems to have a motive in covering up his associations with Epstein as well as the opportunity to clear a path for the hit by virtue of his control of the Department of Justice, this also seems farfetched when examined more closely.

Fresh from the Russia investigation, Mr. Trump hopefully learned from the experience that it isn’t a good idea to flout the law. The Mueller report revealed the president to be willing to order aides to disobey the law, but, when they refused to follow illegal orders, the president did not force the issue by firing those who refused to fire the special counsel. It seems unlikely that he would act more forcefully to order a hit on a federal inmate. Trump would have to assume that anyone who received such an order would be quickly writing memorandums to memorialize the occasion in case there is another investigation if not to leak the information directly to the press.

The royal family and the Russians also don’t pass the logic test. The royal family might have a motive, given the allegations that Prince Andrew had sex with Epstein’s girls, but lacked an opportunity. Such an assassination, if it went bad, would jeopardize relations with Britain’s closest ally at a time when it is trying to develop closer trade ties due to the looming Brexit. The Russians have less to lose and fewer inhibitions about assassinations but lack a motive. Putin’s intention seems to be to weaken the US by wreaking political havoc. To that end, Epstein was probably more useful alive and able to spin yarns about everyone from the president on down.

As I write this, information is just coming about Epstein’s autopsy,

Occam’s Razor is a principle of logic that holds that when there are two possible explanations for an occurrence, the simplest one is usually correct. In a case like this, that means that the probability that the prison personnel messed up and unintentionally allowed Epstein to kill himself is the most likely explanation. If there was a conspiracy, evidence will probably surface given the tightly-controlled nature of prisons and the propensity of people to talk and make mistakes that leave a trail. My favorite aphorism, Hanlon’s Razor, puts it more succinctly: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

A lot of people posting conspiracy memes probably don’t really believe them. Many of the memes are funny and are probably shared in a spirit of fun. Nevertheless, as we’ve seen in recent years, conspiracy theories can be taken seriously by the suggestible people and can sometimes lead to real violence. We’ve seen time and again in recent years how heated political rhetoric can spur radicals to resort to violence. A lot of people that I thought were reasonable and sensible have jumped on the conspiracy bandwagon over the weekend.

The one thing that both sides seem to agree on is that they believe the other side to be capable of anything, including murder. In an already tense political situation, spreading conspiracy theories only serves to further inflame political passions. We should all sit back, take a deep breath, and wait for the facts before we make up our minds rather than squaring facts with what we want to believe.

Originally published on The Resurgent