But What Do They Support?

The editors of the Washington Post are pretty good at telling us what they don’t like:

UNTIL NOW, it was possible to hope that the damage caused by President Trump’s terrible incompetence, ignorance and impulsivity in foreign policy was largely theoretical, and possibly reparable. That is no longer true. The cost of his latest Syria blunder is unfolding before our eyes: Innocent lives lost. U.S. servicemen and -women betrayed. Butchering dictators emboldened. Dangerous terrorists set free. A ghastly scene is playing out, and it almost surely will get worse.

but they are remarkably shy about saying how they plan to avoid those problems. Rather than point out the many fallacies in the statement above, I’ll tell you what they want.

They want to occupy and colonize the Middle East permanently.

They are quick to make analogies with Germany and Japan, conveniently forgetting that we had conquered the Germans and Japanese and the Germans and Japanese aren’t shooting back. Quite to the contrary people in the Middle East are shooting back as well as setting IEDs to kill Americans.

They don’t have an exit strategy because they don’t plan to exit.


The Factors in Impeachment

At Brookings William Galston analyses what he says have been the three major factor in recent impeachments—presidential job approval, public support for impeaching and removing the president, and bipartisan support in Congress—in the context of the present situation:

Persuading the public to support impeaching and removing a president is a two-step process. The public must be convinced that the charges are true—and that they are weighty enough to justify overturning the results of a presidential election. Mr. Nixon’s accusers met both these tests, and he was forced to resign. By contrast, Mr. Clinton’s accusers met the first test but not the second. As the Senate trial began, 79% of Americans thought the president had committed perjury and 53% that he had obstructed justice, but only 4 in 10 believed that either charge warranted Clinton’s removal from office. The Senate vote fell far short on both counts of the indictment, and their target served out the rest of his term as a popular chief executive.

As the impeachment effort against President Trump gets underway, the American people are divided on both these tests, and his accusers must meet a weighty burden of proof. It remains to be seen whether the Democrats’ announced determination to proceed swiftly to impeachment will give the people enough time to assimilate new information and perhaps change their minds.

The article does shed some light on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s interest in moving the inquiry as quickly as possible to its conclusion. She may be trying to save her own job.

Read the whole thing.


New York Medicaid Spending

You might be interested in this article at Empire Center about New York State’s unsuccessful attempts at controlling Medicaid spending in the state, twice as high per insured as in most states:

More than money is at stake. Much of the inefficiency of New York’s Medicaid program is a symptom of underlying mismanagement – of programs that deliver fragmented, wasteful care, put the interests of providers ahead of patients and leave the state vulnerable to abuse and fraud.

Medicaid plays a critical role in the lives of millions of New Yorkers, including its most disabled and vulnerable citizens. It’s incumbent on state leaders to get it right.

The article is interesting and informative but I think it has a flaw common to many analyses of health care policy or economic policy more generally. The authors appear predisposed to think of health care spending as a physical phenomenon like gravity. I think it should be viewed more as a game or a transaction. One party (the state) moves. Then the other party (providers) moves.

If I’m right the implication of that is that, unless you change the rules of the game pretty substantially, cost control must be a continuing process. There is no master stroke which will resolve the problem for all time.


What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The editors of the Chicago Tribune tentatively support Gov. Pritzker’s proposal to consolidate the suburban and downstate police and firefighter pensions funds:

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is getting behind a proposal that could begin to ease pension pressure on property taxes. A Pritzker task force recommends consolidating the suburbs’ and downstate’s roughly 650 separate pension funds for firefighters and police into two main accounts. Pooling the assets of all those local funds would deliver greater annual investment returns, and perhaps reduce the expensive gaps taxpayers have to fill when investments fall short.

Pension problem solved? Not even close. But it’s a step toward bending the curve. Hundreds of municipalities face the pension monster that is gobbling up resources — and driving employers and other residents to flee Illinois. Pritzker says he’ll push lawmakers to pass legislation allowing for consolidation during the fall veto session, which begins Oct. 28. That’s ambitious.

So, what’s not to like about the plan? When the consolidated fund falls short, as it most certainly will, it puts Chicagoans on the hook for the underfunded pensions of every police officer or firefighter in the State of Illinois rather than just those of Chicago. A vibrant, fiscally sound Chicago will attract people to Illinois. A bankrupt Chicago with even higher property taxes than it has now will drive them away.

If a provision to rebate to Chicagoans the proportion of their state taxes used to pay police and firefighter pensions it would be more just. We’re already paying the pensions of teachers who never taught in Chicago as well as Chicago teachers.

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The Enemy of My Enemy

Reuters reports that the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces have struck an agreement with the Syrian government to oppose a Turkish invasion of their territory:

BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) – The Syrian army will deploy along the length of the border with Turkey in an agreement with the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria to help repel a Turkish offensive, the Kurdish-led administration said on Sunday.

The army deployment would support the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in countering “this aggression and liberating the areas that the Turkish army and mercenaries had entered”, it said, in reference to Turkey-backed Syrian rebels.

It would also allow for the liberation of other Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin, the statement said. The Turkish army and its Syrian rebel allies drove Kurdish forces from Afrin in 2018.

It seems to me that this is precisely the sort of agreement that we should welcome. Note, too, that it signals the likelihood of the preservation of a multi-ethnic state in Syria, again something we should welcome.


What I Think About Impeachment

If President Trump has violated the law in his dealings with Ukraine including the statutes against abuse of power, the House would be right to vote to impeach him. The House Democrats should vote to conduct an impeachment inquiry, conduct the inquiry with all proper decorum, and do their utmost to show that the president violated the law. That is their strongest course of action and maximizes the likelihood that enough Senate Republicans will join with Democrats to remove Trump from office.

If the president has not violated the law or abused his power, the House Democrats should censure the president and spare the country the pain of a completely partisan “impeachment inquiry” followed by an equally partisan rejection of the impeachment or acquittal by the Senate.

While it is technically correct that the House has the power to impeach without a crime having been committed, the Constitution is pretty clear that the House is empowered to impeach on the grounds of “high crimes and misdemeanors”, a phrase that actually has a meaning in law. We should keep in mind that the assertion that a high crime or misdemeanor is anything the House says it is originated with Gerald Ford, has never been tested, and I don’t particularly want it to be tested now.

If the House Democrats cannot identify a law that has been broken or prove that the president had corrupt intent in his conversation with the president of Ukraine, something required for abuse of power in the absence of an underlying crime, as noted above I think they should vote to censure but I don’t think they should stop there. They should enact into law a proscription of the behaviors in which they do not believe the president should engage.



One passage in the Reuters news article about the announced U. S. deployment of troops in Saudi Arabia caught my attention:

Trump said the United States would not bear the expense of the deployment. “Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we’re doing,” he told reporters.

Are U. S. troops really mercenaries in the pay of Saudi Arabia? IMO the only justifiable reason to have U. S. troops in Saudi Arabia would be to oust the Saud family from their present control. The present regime is one of the most ghastly in the world.

From the 14th century through the early 19th century the Ottoman maintained an elite corps of Europeans called the Janissaries. Initially the Janissaries were Christian boys who were enslaved and forced to fight for the Ottoman. The Janissaries were known for their cohesion and ferocity in battle.

Have we been reduced to the Saudis’ janissaries?


Why Are CEO Salaries So High?

The Foundation for Economic Education struggles mightily to explain why CEO salaries as as high as they are:

A CEO’s pay is a function of the executive’s relationship to the company and its shareholders. Shareholders provide capital to the corporation with the hope of a return on their investment. The CEO helps generate investment returns by growing the value of the company and its shares. Thoughtfully structured executive compensation is based on a combination of expected value creation along with measurable performance and shareholder value growth. When executives perform well for the owners of a company, it makes sense that they are compensated for their performance.

but I think that, ultimately, they fail. CEO compensation has risen much, much faster than corporate earnings, GDP, median wages, or the S&P 500. The discrepancy between the S&P 500 and CEO compensation is even more pronounced when you recognize that 30% of the S&P 500 is just five stocks and, well, most CEOs are not Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, or Satya Nadella.

I don’t think that present CEO compensation can be justified economically. You’ve got to look at political and social factors. They are as high as they are because their boards of directors award them those compensations. Who sits on their corporate boards of directors? Other CEOs.


Asked But Not Answered

Rather than cite a bunch of opinion pieces and news articles I’ll just say okay, I get it. A lot of people are unhappy about “abandoning the Kurds”. Rather than just express outrage, I want to know what the alternative is? Do they want to maintain military bases in Syria on an indefinite basis? That’s a violation of international accords to which the U. S. is a party. Do they want the U. S. to occupy the entire Middle East and parts of West Asia indefinitely? What’s the exit strategy? Is there an exit strategy? Do they want an exit strategy?

And what’s the nonsense about sending thousands of U. S. troops to Saudi Arabia? The last time we did that we experienced a one-two punch. First, hundreds of our soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack on their barracks and then we experienced the most severe terrorist attack in the United States in our history with thousands killed. Since then we’ve spent trillions in a futile war against terrorism. I have no idea what they think they’re going to accomplish.

If you think the security measures we’ve put in place since 2001 have been effective, here in Chicago we have a news story about a little old lady who’s been sneaking onto flights at O’Hare for years. She’s just been apprehended again. There are probably hundreds or even thousands of such stories nationwide. If an old lady can sneak on flights, so can terrorists. Our security measures are security theater not real security.


Process Matters

At RealClearPolitics A. B. Stoddard articulates what is quite close to my position on the House Democrats’ “impeachment inquiry”. First, the Democrats need to conduct a floor vote on the inquiry. Then they should conduct their official inquiry at a measured pace with a minimum of grandstanding and no prevarication. Then

Democrats need to use these months for an investigation that will further educate voters about what a threat to the balance of power and our constitutional democracy the president’s conduct, combined with his subpoena blockade, represents, and that under the Constitution he is not empowered to defy impeachment or congressional investigation.

Democrats should also be advocating for, and campaigning on, badly needed reforms such as the requirement for disclosure of any campaign help from foreign governments. Another would be to provide for expedited court consideration of future oversight battles between the legislative and executive branches — Republicans should have no problem voting for both.

Finally, there should also be concern that a narrow impeachment sent to the Senate may never go to trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would have no choice but to take it up, but on CNBC he added, “How long you’re on it is a whole different matter.” We can all too easily imagine a scenario where McConnell dispenses with and rejects articles of impeachment on the argument that the House vote was partisan and Republicans “can’t impeach the president for one phone call.”

The risks that Democrats face is that they’ll provide no reason for Republican senators to vote to remove and they may convince independents that they’re engaged in a purely political exercise.