Friday, July 31, 2020

Is It Time To Burn Down The GOP?

Back in 2016, I remember many Trump supporters arguing in favor of “burning it down.” At the time, “it” was the bloated federal government and lobbying system that they saw as corrupt. Four years later, it is Trump critics who are saying “burn it down” but now the target of the arsonistic tendencies is the Republican Party itself.
It is no secret that I have never been aboard the Trump Train and I would be among the first to project my profound disappointment and anger at today’s Republican Party. The Republicans of 2016 who promised to hold Trump accountable have instead aided and abetted him for the past three years.
Republicans covered for Trump when Robert Mueller’s report showed Trump’s attempts to obstruct the investigation. They hemmed and hawed when the president abused national emergency authority to perform an end-run around Congress’s power of the purse. They preened about how the president would never engage in a personal quid pro quo for military aid to ally under attack and tut-tutted when it was revealed that this was exactly what Trump had done. Most only managed strangled “no comments” when Trump fired not one but five inspectors general who were critical of his performance. Even separating immigrant children from their parents brought only muted condemnation from congressional Republicans. The list of Republicans abandoning traditional conservatism and making excuses for the man they promised to hold accountable is long, but you get the idea.
Now Trump is lagging in the polls, his lack of competence having finally caught up to him as he faces the triple crisis of the pandemic, the recession, and racial tensions and handles all three badly. The sharks have caught the scent of blood in the water and are circling to attack. The question for conservatives who have escaped falling under Trump’s spell is how far they should go since the Republican Party appears to be on the ropes.
Some, such as the Lincoln Project and The Bulwark favor a burn-it-down approach. Others are concerned about the consequences of going all-in on leveling the Republican Party.
Many Trump supporters deride the burn-down-the-GOP point of view as “saving conservatism by voting for Democrats.” In truth, there is a certain amount of logic to the idea.
Donald Trump is uniquely bad as president. In fact, “bad” doesn’t fully communicate the existential danger that Trump presents to the United States. Beyond the obviously bad handling of the pandemic, the pointless trade war, and the president’s numerous attempts at global retreat, Donald Trump has shaken the very foundations of the American Republic, undermining constitutional institutions, checks-and-balances, and traditional norms.
The precedents that Trump has set are dangerous because they will be used and expanded upon by future presidents, just as Trump learned from and expanded Barack Obama’s abuses of executive power. From this perspective, it is imperative that voters reject Donald Trump and the party that has enabled his abuses. Can anyone really trust the congressional Republicans who looked the other way through four years of one of the most corrupt presidents in our history? From this perspective, it would be justifiable to burn down the Republican Party and salt the earth where it stood.
On the other hand, Democrats are not to be trusted with power either. It was Barack Obama who paved the way for Trump. Back in 2009 and 2010, we saw Democrats ram through massive bills like the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reform with little or no input from conservatives. Democrats abetted Obama’s attempts to bypass Congress, just as Republicans did for Trump.
There would be benefits to razing the Republican Party and starting over. The Republican brand has been seriously damaged over the past few decades, even before Trump came on the scene. George W. Bush was historically unpopular due to missteps in the Iraq War, the prevalence of conspiracy thinking among the Republican base took off during the Obama era, and the party’s reputation as a white party goes back even further. Creating a new party without all that baggage might be a blessing for conservatives.
However, burning down the Republican Party will not destroy the voters who first elevated Trump to power. Nor will it destroy the Republican partisans and principled conservatives who supported Trump while holding their noses. If the Republican Party goes away, whatever entity that replaces it will have to deal with all the disparate factions of the old GOP. A new party would also, by necessity, attract many of the experienced political professionals who are currently Republican. In other words, if the Republican Party ceased to exist, whatever replaced it would be largely the Republican Party under a new name and new management.
What conservative Trump critics should really be aiming for is divided government. There is no doubt that Donald Trump needs to lose and lose bigly for the good of the country. This is not a pro-Biden statement. It is a rejection of Trumpism’s incompetence and corruption and a call for a return to traditional conservatism and Republicanism. That will not happen if Trump is reelected. If the president is rewarded with a second term, the GOP will go even farther down the dead-end road of Trumpism and the eventual and inevitable backlash will be even worse.
The best solution is for voters to reject Donald Trump but maintain Republican control of Congress. Republicans would do a much better job of holding a Democratic president accountable than they have of Donald Trump. A Republican Congress would also serve as a brake on the progressive agenda and preserve the filibuster for at least a few more years. The combination of a practical Democratic president and Republican Congress worked relatively well for the country in the 1990s.
Republicans look to be heading towards an electoral cataclysm of historic proportions and, make no mistake, they deserve the thrashing that they are about to get. But as much as President Trump and the Republicans need to be punished for their actions of the past three years, Democrats don’t need to be rewarded with unfettered control of the government.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Trump Suggests Delaying Election

President Trump touched the third rail of pandemic politics this morning with a suggestion that this year’s election be delayed. In a mid-morning tweet, the president once again assailed mail-in voting and suggested the country “delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote.”
Until this morning, the prospect that the Trump Administration would use the pandemic as an excuse to delay the election was the province of left-wing alarmists and conspiracy theorists (who are not solely on the right). That changed with the tweet in which the president seemed to embrace the idea.
The tweet itself is a mishmash of confusing and contradictory information. For starters, the president does not have the authority to delay the election. The date of the election is established by federal law to be “the Tuesday next after the 1st Monday in November, in every even-numbered year.” There is no provision within the law to alter that date. Congress would almost certainly not pass a law to change the date.
Likewise, the president’s claim that mail-in voting is bad but absentee voting is good is a head-scratcher. There is variation in state rules but the two are essentially the same as noted in an analysis back in June. (My advice on all fact-check articles is to read the article, not just the headline). It’s reminiscent of the famous “Office” meme:
If you’re keeping score at home, we now have a good sense of what President Trump thinks are safe and unsafe behaviors during the pandemic. It is safe to send your kids to school or to go to work yourself. You can go to church and you can take part in the economy.
On the other hand, voting is definitely not safe. It’s also not safe to stay in prison (if you are Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, or Roger Stone). Lockdowns are also dangerous and not going to school will probably kill more kids than the virus.
It is tweets like this that are driving the president’s approval rating into the ground. One cannot read this tweet without coming to the conclusion that Donald Trump is either incompetent, corrupt, or, and I judge this to be most likely, both. He seems to have little knowledge of the Constitution or the rule of law and, after nearly four years in office, no interest in learning.
Criticisms of Joe Biden’s mental capacity are valid and concerning but so are criticisms about Donald Trump’s mental fitness. Joe Biden at least has the good sense to stay out of the limelight where Donald Trump cannot stand to not be the center of attention. As a wise man once said, “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool than to talk and remove all doubt of it,” but President Trump compulsively shows the world his foolishness on a daily basis.
There is one point in the president’s tweet that hit the nail on the head, however. The world is watching as Americans choose a new president from the worst two candidates since… well, since 2016.
“It will be a great embarrassment to the USA,” Trump said in the tweet.
You got that right, Mr. President.

Originally published on the Resurgent

Justice Ginsburg Is Back In The Hospital

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is back in the hospital for a “minimally invasive non-surgical procedure” per a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court. Ginsburg, 87, is battling liver cancer but the current procedure is a “revised a bile duct stent” and is apparently not related to her cancer.
“According to her doctors, stent revisions are common occurrences and the procedure, performed using endoscopy and medical imaging guidance, was done to minimize the risk of future infection,” Kathy Arberg, the Court’s spokeswoman said in a statement reported by ABC News.
Ginsburg said in a statement on July 17 that her prognosis is good and that her most recent scan showed a reduction of the existing cancer and no new spots.
“Immunotherapy first proved unsuccessful,” Ginsburg wrote. “The chemotherapy course, however, is yielding positive results. Satisfied that my treatment course is now clear, I am providing this information.”
“I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam. I remain fully able to do that,” she added.
Conservatives, and particularly pro-life Christians, should pray for Ginsburg’s recovery. This is not only because wishing Ginsburg good health is the decent thing to do as a human being, but because of what effect a lame-duck vacancy on the Court would have on the country.
Depending on when the vacancy occurred, the situation would be different but most possibilities are uniformly bad. If Ginsburg’s seat opened up before the election, it would likely galvanize Democrats to get to the polls to protect the balance of the Court, the same way that Republicans did in 2016 after the death of Antonin Scalia.
If Mitch McConnell and President Trump decided to move forward a Trump nominee, the Republican Party would open itself up to charges of hypocrisy after McConnell’s rebuff of President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. The left would go apoplectic and civil disturbances may well increase.
While conservatives and Republicans have typically approved of Mr. Trump’s judicial nominees, his Supreme Court picks have not been as popular with voters. Both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were less popular than most nominees with Kavanaugh being particularly unpopular. Ramming through a Trump appointee would not bode well for Republican electoral chances.
Assuming that Republicans could force through a nominee, Joe Biden, the likely presidential victor, would be under intense pressure to take action. If Republicans lose both the White House and the Senate, as seems increasingly likely, there is a Democrat plan to pack the Court by adding justices. This would almost certainly require eliminating the filibuster as well.
If eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominees was the nuclear option, the court-packing plan would be the Death Star world-killer ray option. The fight would be intense and partisan divisions would be further cemented. Any hope for renewed civility and unity would disappear amid tribal rancor the likes of which we cannot begin to imagine.
For the good of the country, we should hope that Justice Ginsburg continues her recovery. A Supreme Court nomination fight needs to be delayed until America is better equipped to handle it.
Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Trump To Withdraw A Third Of US Troops From Germany

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has announced that the US will redeploy 11,900 US soldiers from Germany. The move, which Resurgent reported was initially announced last month, will cut American forces in Germany by about a third.
CNN reports that Esper made the formal announcement about the redeployments in a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday. The reduction will meet a Trump-mandated cap of 25,000 US troops in the country and is slightly larger than the original estimate of 9,500 troops.
“The current EUCOM plan will reposition approximately 11,900 military personnel from Germany, from roughly 36,000 down to 24,000, in a manner that will strengthen NATO, enhance the deterrence of Russia, and meet the other principles I set forth,” Esper told reporters.
Of the 11,900 troops being redeployed, a US official said that 5,400 would be “staying in Europe.” The remainder, 6,400 soldiers and their families, will be sent back to the US but will ultimately be redeployed again to new bases in Europe. The movements will take years and cost billions of dollars in new construction of military bases outside Germany.
The troops being relocated include both US Army and Air Force units. Gen. Tod Wolters, the commander of US European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said that the US European Command headquarters would be relocated nearer to NATO headquarters in Belgium. The US Africa Command headquarters, currently located in Stuttgart, is also being moved, but AFRICOM’s new location has not been determined.
“We also intend to reposition three brigade-size headquarters, an air defense artillery battalion, and an engineering battalion to Belgium from Germany, and two smaller support and contracting organizations to Italy,” Wolters said. A USAF F-16 fighter squadron and two army battalions are also slated to move from Germany to Italy.
President Trump has previously indicated that he ordered the redeployments because he believes that Germany spends too little on defense. In June, Trump said, “One of the only countries that hasn’t agreed to pay what they’re supposed to pay (on NATO) is Germany. So, I said until they pay, we’re removing our soldiers, a number of our soldiers, by about half. Then when we get down to about 25,000, we’ll see where we’re going.”
However, CNN notes that Belgium and Italy spend a smaller share of GDP on defense than Germany. Germany spends about 1.38 percent of its GDP on defense while Belgium’s military spending is at 0.93 percent and Italy is at 1.22 percent.
More importantly, even a cursory glance at the European map shows that the redeployments would put American soldiers at a disadvantage in their primary mission of defending Europe against a Russian invasion. Forces stationed in Italy would have to move hundreds of miles north toward the presumed invasion corridor across the Baltic states, Poland, and Germany while Belgium-based forces would have to travel east to meet the aggressors. American forces based across the Atlantic at home might arrive too late to be of any help at all.
After the Cold War, the possibility of a Russian invasion of Europe was considered to have diminished. That changed in 2014 when Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded portions of Ukraine. The conflict there continues to this day and Ukrainian leaders fret that Russia may attempt to take the rest of their country.
For at least a decade, Putin’s goal to reconstitute the Russian empire of the czars has been known in the West. Many parts of the old empire are in central and eastern Europe. Several countries that are historical targets of Russia are now part of NATO. These include Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Ukraine, while not a member of NATO, has a mutual defense treaty with the US.
When the Trump Adminstration announced the troop withdrawals last month, the move drew widespread opposition from both parties. Twenty-two Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee signed a letter to Trump that asked him to reconsider the drawdown.
“We strongly believe that NATO allies, such as Germany, should do more to contribute to our joint defense efforts. At the same time, we also know that the forward stationing of American troops since the end of World War II has helped to prevent another world war and, most importantly, has helped make America safer,” the letter said.
The Republican letter noted that the Russian threat has not diminished and stated their concern that projecting weakness would encourage further Russian aggression. The congressmen also noted that Germany is a transhipment point for US troops and supplies moving all around the world and that the drawdown would cause logistical problems.
Defense officials noted that the timeline of the drawdown will take “months to plan and years to execute” as well as cost billions of dollars. The redeployment will not be completed before the November election and could become a political issue.
Given Russian aggression both in Europe, cyber attacks in the US, and reported bounties offered to the Taliban for killing American soldiers, it is likely that, if Joe Biden ever emerges from self-isolation to mount a campaign, Trump’s Russia policy will be a point of criticism. To date, the president has not criticized or raised the issue of the bounties with Vladimir Putin. President Trump’s determination to withdraw soldiers from Germany gives Biden an opportunity to assume the mantle of national security hawk over a president whose inclination is to have America retreat from the world stage.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Both Parties Have New COVID Relief Bills; Here’s What’s In Them

In the midst of surging Coronavirus cases, both parties are acknowledging the need for another relief bill. As I wrote last week, the pandemic is a true national emergency and one of the few instances in which, as Barack Obama put it, shoveling money out the door is the right response, but how the money is going to be spent is also important. The two parties have starkly different visions for where the relief money should go.
Direct payments For starters, Democrats and Republicans both agree that there should be another round of payments to Americans. The relief money, which is often referred to as a stimulus but is more accurately for subsistence, paid out by the federal government in March has long been exhausted by the people who are on the financial brink. The $1,200 per person payments don’t go far when three months of rent or mortgage and car payments are considered.
Both parties favor a new $1,200 payment for individuals. Per CNN, the Republican plan would max out at $2,400 per family plus an additional $500 for each dependent while Democrats would allow a maximum of $6,000. Both bills would start to phase out benefits at an income level of $75,000 for individuals or $150,000 for married couples.
As I wrote previously, the government should be encouraging people to stay home as much as possible until the pandemic is under control in their area. A better solution than another one-time payment would be a measure that authorizes payroll subsidies when virus levels reach certain metrics that require sheltering in place.
Unemployment The current $600 per week addition to unemployment benefits is scheduled to expire at the end of July. The Democrat plan would extend the enhanced benefit through January and enable those receiving regular state benefits to continue receiving the extra money as late as March. The Republicans would decrease the benefit to a $200 per week extra payment which would expire December 31.
The $600 per week enhancement is too much. It has allowed many people to earn more on unemployment than at their jobs. This benefit should also be tied to success in the fight against the virus.
Small business loans Republicans would allow businesses to apply for a second loan through the Paycheck Protection Program provided that they have fewer than 300 employees and have lost more than 50 percent of their revenue during the first or second quarter of the year. The maximum loan amount would be reduced from $10 million to $2 million. The GOP program also creates a low-interest loan program for seasonal businesses or companies that operate in low-income communities with fewer than 500 employees and 50 percent lost revenue. Republicans would also give businesses more flexibility on how to spend the money.
The Democrat plan does not extend the PPP but does add $10 billion to the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program that ran out of money last week. The program was initially funded with $20 billion. Some Democrats have said that they would also be open to extending the PPP.
The additional loans to small businesses are much-needed. The PPP has been mostly successful so replenishing the available loan funds is a good thing, as is giving businesses more flexibility.
Education The Republican plan grants $105 billion for education which would be split with $70 billion for K-12 schools, $30 billion for colleges, and $5 billion to be allocated by governors. Two-thirds of the money would go to schools that reopen for in-person instruction. Democrats offer a total of $100 billion with $59 billion for K-12 and the remainder for higher education.
With virus levels high throughout much of the country, there should be a focus on funding more virtual classes rather than pushing schools to bring students back to in-person classes. Children are at lower risk for COVID-19 but can still spread the disease to vulnerable people in their families and community.
Liability Republicans would give liability protection to businesses, schools, health care providers, and non-profits that would prevent people from suing if they contract COVID-19 from using their facilities. Democrats oppose these liability protections and want OSHA to require employers to create plans to protect workers from COVID-19 exposure.
The focus should be on reopening safely not on escaping liability. Any liability protections should be extended only to organizations that take steps to protect their customers and employees.
State and local funding The Democrat plan includes $500 billion for states and $375 billion for local governments. The money could be used to address budget shortfalls due to lost revenue from taxes or other fees or to pay for Coronavirus-related expenses.
This is needed by many state and local governments. Tax revenues will be taking a hit due to the slowing economy and costs for measures like setting up Coronavirus screening stations and sanitizing government buildings have been high.
These bills will undoubtedly be changed as they work their way through the legislative process. Ideally, the final product would be an amalgamation of the best Republican and the best Democratic ideas. In this charged political environment, however, it would not surprise me if both of these bills stall, despite the fact that the country is very much in need of relief.
It is in the interests of both parties to work together to get the relief bill passed. As the CARES Act provisions expire, unemployment will rise and real estate prices, which have so far been solid, may collapse, further worsening the economy. Republicans won’t benefit from a collapsing economy in November, but Democrats will probably not benefit from transparently obstructing the bill. Americans want both parties to put on their big-boy pants and do the job they were sent to Washington to do.
Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, July 24, 2020

July 24th, 2020 Why My Kids Are Not Returning To Class

There is a lot of discussion about whether schools should reopen as the pandemic rages. Over the past few weeks, I’ve offered some of my thoughts on the subject as well as talked to several teachers to get their opinions. Our school district in Georgia, which is slated to begin classes on August 10, offered parents the option of in-person classes, virtual classes, or withdrawing their children for homeschooling. My wife and I considered all the options with an open mind and finally reached the same conclusion.
Let me begin by saying that we are generally happy with our school district. Our children’s teachers have been good for the most part. Not a single one has ever taught our children to hate America. My wife is a substitute teacher so she has insider knowledge of how the local educational sausage is made. That hasn’t been a good thing in some districts where we have lived, but she has been happy with the teachers and administrators in our current location.
Our kids like their schools as well. Both of my children, who are middle and high school age, said that they preferred to return to in-person classes ceteris paribus (economist speak for “all other conditions remaining the same”), a phrase that neither of them knows but a concept that they understand. My wife and I also preferred that they go back to class… ceteris paribus.
The problem is that all other conditions are not remaining the same from previous years. We live in a rural county where 14 people have died of Coronavirus. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but Georgia’s Coronavirus statistics page shows that our sparsely populated county is averaging about 10 new cases of COVID-19 daily. More than 10 percent of county COVID patients have required hospitalization, a fact not considered by the reopen crowd which trumpets a 99 percent survival rate for the disease. (The case mortality rate for my county is actually 2.6 percent.)
Although our county is rural, our next-door neighbor is a large urban area where the numbers are much worse. This neighboring county is reporting about 100 new cases every day. There is a lot of traffic between the two counties as people go to work and shop in the city. The virus level in both counties is much higher now than it was back in March when schools closed for the last term.
The back-to-school push comes at a time when the pandemic in both Georgia and the United States is raging out of control. In Georgia, the number of new cases is averaging more than 3,000 per day while nationally we are seeing more than 70,000 new cases daily. Deaths are trending up in both Georgia and the US as a whole.
Many of the cases are serious and not asymptomatic. Upwards of 400 Georgians have been hospitalized for Coronavirus every day this week, leading to shortages of hospital beds. Yahoo News reported on Thursday that 88 percent of the state’s ICU beds were filled.
The good news is that COVID patients are spending less time in the hospital, which helps to relieve some pressure. Doctors attribute this improvement to having gained experience in how to treat the disease more efficiently. The bad news is that COVID-19 has been found to be a whole-body disease and survivors can experience long-term health damage, another factor seldom mentioned by those who push for a return to normal.
The situation both in Georgia and the nation as a whole is so dire that many health experts have recommended another shelter-in-place. Earlier this week, 125 public health experts signed an open letter asking leaders to “Tell the American people the truth about the virus, even when it’s hard” and to “take bold action to save lives — even when it means shutting down again.”
The dangers of reopening schools should be obvious. Although children are more resistant to Coronavirus than adults, they do die from the disease or from an associated multi-system inflammatory syndrome.
What’s more, children may not be dying from COVID-19 in large numbers but they do spread it to people who are more high-risk. Children who go to in-person classes may end up carrying the disease home to vulnerable parents or grandparents. Of course, teachers who spend all day with possibly infectious children can also be at high risk.
Additionally, there is strong evidence that central HVAC systems can spread Coronavirus over much farther distances than the traditional six-foot distance mandated for social distancing. Schools and office air conditioners cranking out cold air in the Southern summer may be to blame for some of the recent spike in Coronavirus cases.
Finally, there is the anti-mask zealotry to contend with. I haven’t seen polling on the subject but my sense from talking with other parents in community chat groups is that many, if not most, of the parents who are sending their children into the classroom are the same people who view masks as tyranny.
Our school district has said that masks will be “strongly encouraged” but not required. In practice, this means that many children and teachers won’t be wearing them. This means that the virus is more likely to spread.
On Thursday, Georgia’s State Board of Education failed to act on a proposal to delay the start of the school year until September. This is despite the danger signs and the news that the school that President Trump’s son attends will remain closed. President Trump also recently canceled a large part of the Republican convention, yet schools are expected to reopen as usual. Some districts are acting on their own to delay the first day of school, just as most businesses here are now acting unilaterally to require masks without a state mandate, but others are forging ahead.
So we made the decision that we thought was best for our family. We decided to enroll our children in virtual school rather than sending them to in-person classes. We view it as the safe thing to do, not only for our extended family with elderly and immune-compromised relatives but for the teachers and our community as well.
We did not succumb to irrational fear. We assessed the risks and rewards of returning to traditional classes and decided that it was not appropriate to take one for the team by sending our kids into a viral hot zone.
It’s also likely that virtual students will have an advantage for the coming year. I fully expect that some in-person teachers will become exposed and have to take self-isolate at home or be absent for long periods of illness. Brick-and-mortar classroom students may spend weeks with substitutes and make-work while virtual students keep up with the curriculum.
And that’s assuming that the schools can find substitutes. My wife reports that few of her sub friends are willing to sign on for the coming year. The $55 daily rate in a job that does not provide health insurance is apparently not very enticing at this point.
Our children were initially disappointed to learn that they would be doing online classes for at least the next semester. Their disappointment was quickly tempered, however, when they talked to their friends and realized that most of them were not going back to in-person classes either. It seems that many parents are voting with their feet for virtual classes.
Parents considering the possibility of needlessly exposing their children and families are turning out to be more conservative about the risks to public health than our political leaders. To a certain extent, that’s good, but with obvious danger threatening their citizens, our elected officials should be taking the lead in protecting public health.

Originally published on The Resurgent