Dull Thursday

I’ve pointed it out before. I can only conclude that the opinion writers in the major outlets take long weekends. Thursdays have been dull for years and are only getting more so. Other than a few laments about Jussie Smollett, the actor who is now suspected of filing a false police report when he claimed to have been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack, there isn’t much going on in the opinion pages today. He’s now been arrested and, if it can be proved that he sent himself a threatening letter containing crushed aspirin, he’ll be in even greater trouble.

There’s increasing fulmination about President Trump trying to “claw back” money given to the State of California for high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco. I don’t know what the law on this is. It’s possible that the state does owe the federal government $2 billion.

Venezuela is still collapsing and we should still butt out. We’re still in a state of national emergency and, apparently, will be for some time. I doubt that those who oppose Trump and his wall will get what they want from the Supreme Court. President Trump handles things very differently than I would in his shoes. He’s a cipher to me. If I were he and were to receive an injunction from a lower court to halt construction of the wall, I would ignore it pending the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Europeans still think that Americans are terribly gauche and naive. That’s been the case for 200 years but every time we are presented with another example it’s treated as though it were new. It might help to remind people that the play Lincoln was attending when he was assassinated was about the condescending attitude of Europeans (in this case Britons) towards Americans.

Just because the Kurds are rooting out the last territory held by DAESH in Syria doesn’t mean that violent radical Islamists are gone. As I’ve pointed out before such movements are endemic in Islam. Any notion we can end that is doomed to failure.

We may (or may not) get a report from Robert Mueller about his investigation next week. I predict that if we ever do actually get a report neither Trump’s supporters nor opponents will be happy about it. The prospect of Mr. Trump being perp-walked from the White House recedes with each passing day but he’s unlikely to be fully vindicated, either.

We are learning that there is a Deep State and that it is plotting against the president but it’s apparently mostly composed of idiots so we have that going for us.

Maybe I’ll find more later.

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Pritzker’s Budget Address

The editors of the Chicago Tribune summarize Illinois Gov. Pritzker’s first budget address in four bullet points:

  • He wants a graduated income tax. That will require amending the Illinois state constitution.
  • He wants to generate revenue from taxing recreational cannabis. The states’ experiences have been that revenues from recreational cannabis are less than they expected, in some cases a lot less.
  • He wants to increase the state’s tax base but he doesn’t know how.
  • He wants to keep kicking the pension can down the road.

I feel confident in predicting that a graduated state income tax will not produce as much revenue as he thinks it will. As I said before the election, how many confirmed votes has Mr. Pritzker lined up for amending the constitution? If that’s his primary plan he should already have committed votes.

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The Case of the DAESH Bride

Yesterday I mentioned the case of a young woman who left Britain to join DAESH and now wants back. USA Today reports on the case of another young woman who left the United States for DAESH and now wants to be come back into the U. S.:

An American woman who traveled to the battlefields of Syria and married and had a child with an Islamic State fighter wants to come home and face the U.S. justice system, her family’s Florida-based lawyer told USA TODAY.

Hoda Muthana left Alabama to join the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, four years ago at age 19. In Syria, she called for Americans to be attacked, and she spread the group’s propaganda online.

She is one of about 1,500 foreign women and children – the spouses and children of Islamic State militants – held in a Kurdish-run detention camp in northern Syria.

Muthana is there with her 18-month-old son. The child’s father is not alive. Two of her previous husbands, both Islamic State militants, are also dead. Muthana is not allowed to leave the camp and has armed guards protecting her from Islamic State sympathizers.

“The government needs to engage with her, but not just her; all of these people who joined ISIS” from the West, said Hassan Shibly, a legal representative for the Muthana family. “If she broke the law, then the justice system can deal with her, and if she didn’t break the law, she should come back anyway, so it can be determined if she is a threat.”

I’d need to know more details before I can express a confident opinion about this particular woman. It should be kept in mind that she didn’t merely leave the United States like a tourist going to Paris. She abandoned everything that we notionally believe and stand for to become what amounts to a DAESH camp follower and, apparently, was an active participant in their propaganda campaign.

Based on the information at hand she is an American citizen by birth so she should be allowed into the country, held for trial, and tried for treason simply based on what she herself has acknowledged. What should happen to her child is a puzzlement. Obviously, she should lose custody permanently. There may even be a question as to the child’s citizenship. I question whether the child’s grandparents should receive custody of the child, especially in the absence of proof of the father’s death.

My views about irregulars, not limited to DAESH, are pretty harsh. Basically, I think their status should be determined immediately in accordance with the requirements of the Geneva Convention and, if it is determined that they are irregulars, they should be executed then and there.

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Campaign Finance Law Question

I have a question about present campaign finance law. Consider this example. A candidate is running for office, accepts contributions, and, presumably is operating within present campaign finance law. The candidate hires a consultant. So far so good.

Here’s my question. Under present law can the consultant then hire the candidate? Follow-up question: can the consultant hire the candidate’s spouse? How about the candidate’s significant other?

Now read this article at Medium.

Something to keep in mind: the greatest scandal is frequently what’s legal.

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Priorities

Anyone who has ever driven from Illinois into Iowa, Indiana, or Wisconsin notices something immediately. The road improves when they leave Illinois. In an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal Steve Malanga remarks on “why service is lousy in high tax states”:

These face-offs between states are part of a larger national debate that has intensified this year as new Democratic governors in California, Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey push to raise taxes even higher. They say higher taxes are necessary to pay for better services. But it’s far from clear that the already-high taxes in these Democratic strongholds have created better government and happy residents. People in states with high taxes are more likely to say they are eager to move elsewhere, and polls show residents increasingly questioning whether they are getting value for government “investment.”

Seven of the eight states with the highest percentages of people who want to move elsewhere are solidly Democratic in party affiliation, according to Gallup polling. Most are high-tax environments. “Even after controlling for various demographic characteristics including age, gender, race and ethnicity, and education, there is still a strong relationship between total state tax burden and desire to leave one’s current state of residence,” Gallup concludes.

The reasons for this are obvious. Politicians have priorities. The relative priorities of politicians are, in descending order of importance:

  • The power and fortunes of politicians and their families
  • The financial interests of major constituencies, in many cases public employees
  • Everything else

Here in Illinois “everything else” is barely registering on the political interest-o-meter.

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Things Are Connected

The editors of the Washington Post remark on the tensions rising between Pakistan and India:

Pakistan has long sought to use terrorists to gain leverage over India, with which it disputes control of Kashmir, and the United States, which it would like to force to accept rule by the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is making headway on the latter goal with the Trump administration, which has been negotiating with the Taliban about withdrawing U.S. troops. That increases the complications for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces a national election in the coming months.

Mr. Modi has vowed “a befitting reply” to the attack, and other officials have used harsher rhetoric; one promised an “unforgettable lesson” for Pakistan. The government has already suspended trade preferences and withdrawn its ambassador. It appears to have at least the rhetorical support of the White House; national security adviser John Bolton told his counterpart that the United States supports India’s right to defend itself, according to an Indian statement.

Pakistan sells nuclear technology to countries unfriendly to the United States is a primary reason that the war in Afghanistan is impossible for us to win, and threatens its neighbors.

Explain to me again why we’re subsidizing them, something the editors of the Washington Post support?

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Thinking Big

I agree with Eugene Robinson’s latest column in the Washington Post:

That’s a rationale for the Green New Deal that the Make America Great Again crowd should embrace. If you believe in American exceptionalism, you believe that the United States has a duty to lead at moments of crisis. This is such a moment.

Look at the big picture. Unless you deny the science of climate change, you have to believe that we need to take bold action. Stop all the nitpicking. Enough with the posturing. Let’s talk about what to do.

Let’s think big! Here, just off the top of my head, are some examples of such big thinking:

  • Ban container ships. Indeed, ban large cargo ships entirely. There is no such thing as a green cargo ship.
  • Ban intercontinental air travel.
  • Prohibit privately owned non-commercial jet aircraft from landing at public airports.
  • Prohibit Congressmen from traveling by air during their terms of office.
  • End the construction of interstate highways.
  • Eliminate agricultural subsidies.
  • Ban the interstate sale of electrical power. It’s inefficient.
  • Reduce or eliminate immigration from Mexico and Central America. A family of four in Mexico or Guatemala produces substantially fewer carbon emissions than that same family of four in the United States.

I could go on practically indefinitely. At least arguably every single one of the things I’m proposing would reduce carbon emissions, they’re all within the power of Congress, they don’t need appropriations, and they don’t require imaginary science.

Solar and wind power would probably have to go. Nearly all solar panels and windmills are completely produced or use components produced in Asia (nearly all use components made in China) and shipped here in container ships. When looked at from a total lifecycle standpoint they aren’t nearly as green as their proponents seems to think. And are pretty awful from an environmental standpoint. Hydroelectric is suspect—it certainly isn’t green.

Electric vehicles aren’t as green as you might think, either, when everything is taken into account (small diesel might actually be better). A lot depends on how the electricity they use is generated. Small modular nuclear reactors would be a lot greener than just about anything presently in use, particularly if they’re manufactured here with components made here.

I’ll leave you with just one thought. Why do all examples of “big thinking” that are promoted by columnists in the Washington Post seem to involve doling out large sums of money and increasing the power of politicians?

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How Not to Further the Rule of Law

I think the editors of the Washington Post have gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick on the debate about President Trump’s exploitation of the National Emergencies Act to build the wall he promised:

SIXTEEN STATES, led by California, have filed suit in federal court to block any construction of a wall along the southern border using reprogrammed funds pursuant to President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. Their complaint presents a persuasive case against the president’s move, to the effect that it runs contrary to the constitutional rule that the executive branch may not spend money without Congress’s permission. And, in this case, Congress has explicitly denied Mr. Trump funds to build any barrier except for 55 miles of bollard-style fencing in a specific area of Texas. Not only is there no national emergency, the complaint argues, but also the wall would not meet the definition of “military construction” in the statute Mr. Trump claims as authority for $3.6 billion of his proposed spending.

Convincing as they are in policy terms, however, the states’ arguments face an uncertain future in court. Though Mr. Trump’s emergency declaration flunks the common-sense test, it might actually pass legal muster, because the relevant law — the National Emergencies Act of 1976 — includes no definition of “emergency,” and courts might be loath to second-guess this president for fear of limiting the discretion of future ones.

What’s more, Congress has already provided a means of checking executive overreach, in the aforementioned National Emergencies Act, through the termination of a declared emergency by a simple majority vote of both chambers. If the Democratic House disapproved Mr. Trump’s declaration, the Senate would be required to vote on the matter, too, within 18 days. Crucially, such a resolution would be considered “privileged” and could not be filibustered.

Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate have pledged to oppose Mr. Trump’s declaration “using every remedy available,” and they should certainly use this one — despite the fact that it comes with a huge disadvantage: Mr. Trump retains the power to veto a joint resolution. Therefore, Congress could terminate the emergency only by overriding his veto, with a two-thirds vote of both houses.

but that doesn’t promote the rule of law. It promotes micromanagement along political lines. If the Congress can muster enough votes to override a presidential veto in the interest of declaring the situation at the border a non-emergency, they can do so to repeal the National Emergencies Act entirely which is the right thing to do. No president should have the sort of discretion provided by the National Emergencies Act and Congress should not have the ability to delegate that authority.

I don’t believe that a wall on our southern border is the sine qua non of immigration control but there are people of good will who do. President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to accomplish his promise of a wall is no more illegal than President Obama’s DACA decision or his executive orders that extended refugee status to battered wives and people fleeing gang violence.

Supporting some executive overreach while rejecting others is no support of the rule of law. Neither is dragooning the courts into settling policy differences. Congress needs to summon the courage to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities itself rather than relying on the executive or judicial branches to do it for them.

If every member of Congress should be required to vote on President Trump’s use of the National Emergency Act to build a wall, they should also be required to vote, straight up or down, on whether they think that refugee status should be extended to battered wives, those fleeing gang violence, or those who just want a better job as well.

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It’s Not Working

I thought you might be amused by this. On the left is Illinois’s state tax revenues for 2016 and their sources. On the right is Illinois’s state tax revenues for 2017 and their sources. You can click on either image for a larger image.

Between 2016 and 2017 Illinois personal income tax rate increased by 25%. Despite that increase or, some would say, because of it, between 2016 and 2017 Illinois’s tax revenues decreased by about 3%.

From these data our state’s politicians conclude that Illinois needs to increase personal income tax rates. I think a more reasonable conclusion would be that strategy is not working.

Illinois is not paying its bills. It’s already paying more to borrow than any other state. It already has the highest property tax of any state in the union.

If you’re wondering what prompted this post, consider this op-ed from the State Journal-Register:

A decade ago, pension payments consumed about 8 percent of the state’s revenue. By 2017, they were consuming 18 percent, according to a Moody’s analysis of state financial reports.

Illinois can’t even keep up with what Moody’s refers to as a “tread water” level of payments. “Tread water” payments cover only new obligations, plus accrued interest for the pension plans. They don’t begin to address Illinois’ $133.5 billion in unfunded liabilities.

[…]

The Civic Committee is taking a sober look at the state’s politics and finances. Their decision to stand down for now on a structural fix to the state’s pension problems is a reflection of prior failed efforts to work around a state constitutional ban on diminishing or impairing employee pension rights.

Writing a decade ago, the committee foretold an Illinois that now exists. “The State then will be faced with two difficult choices: massive cutting of state expenditures and grants, or raising taxes to such a high level that some businesses and residents will flee Illinois. Or both,” the Civic Committee warned.

Spending has not been cut. But the Committee was right about the rest: Taxes are higher, and people are fleeing Illinois.

Solutions are limited and they amount to political hara-kiri. Either the state’s constitution must be amended to allow the state to reduce public employee pensions, the number of state employees must be cut, pay rates for state employees must decline, or some combination. We quite patently can’t increase revenues by increasing marginal rates. We must cut expenses.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

It’s hard to know where to start in criticizing John Tamny’s most recent offering, this one in support of Amazon. It resembles nothing so much to me as one of those “how many things can you find wrong with this picture?” features that used to run in the newspapers.

I’ll just limit it to a question and a statement. Would Amazon.com exist at all if Internet commerce had not been exempted from state and local sales taxes?

Here’s the statement. Amazon does not pay enormous taxes. It pays zero in federal income taxes. Its customers pay sales taxes. How much does it pay in property taxes? Probably not as much as Mr. Tamny thinks since it has received sweetheart deals from various jurisdictions to avoid them. Let’s see some facts.

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