America’s Silly Politics and Pundit Clown Show Continues ….

Conservative pundits losing their minds not realizing that Mr Trump’s “poor performance” was a play on them. Idiots. Mr Trump is conducting a not very smooth triangulation. By saying that any alleged attack on the 2016 elections was the fault of both sides he throws the establishment wings of both parties off kilter.

Right now he has a “strong” economy (I say that lightly. While the metrics look good, America’s economy is on a downward spiral) and he has his base’s support, a base that giveth not two shits about the establishment on either side of the spectrum. He can piss off Lindsey Graham and Paul Ryan knowing that after all the criticism, their stock is tied to his. He can piss off Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi in part because he enjoys bitch slapping them both.

Trump’s Helsinki summit was never designed to get anything of substance from Vlad the Impaler. The U.S. is 14 weeks from midterms and Mr Trump is more concerned about the optics of riding the middle between both sets of the political elite while keeping the base in play for 2020. Attacking the American electoral system is a non-issue for the Deplorables. Besides, if it was that important, Pelosi would have persuaded Mr Obama to push for some quasi wartime resolution against Russia versus issuing a bunch of meaningless pardons.

What Hillary Clinton realized but was too afraid and incompetent to put in her messaging was the economic threat to U.S. energy interests posed by Russia. America became a net exporter of oil during The Man from Kenya’s administration.

Unfortunately for the Democrats they had a candidate and a bunch of Democratic congressional members too inept to craft a winning message around what should have been a positive for the American if not global economy.

Everything burns and the circus, with Democratic and Republican clowns, continues.

Decolonizing the United States Virgin Islands

It is time for the Trump administration to follow the lead of the British and cut a couple colonies loose. The one colony I would like the Administration to let go its own way is the United States Virgin Islands. One quick note, especially to Virgin Islanders who find it hard to believe that the United States looks at the USVI as anything more than a colony: your vehicle license plates. The inscription, “America’s Caribbean” is code for America’s colonial attitude toward the Virgin Islands.

Another piece of evidence is the refusal to allow American citizens living in the USVI to vote in presidential elections. USVI citizens go through the farce of sending delegates to a party convention but every four years in November they are not allowed to cast a vote in the general elections. Nor does the USVI have voting representation in the U.S. congress. Its one delegate, Stacey Plaskett, can be a member of a congressional committee, make speeches on the House floor even. But vote? No.

In addition, the USVI has no say over its external affairs. Although not a part of the U.S. customs territory, the USVI cannot enter into trade deals without the permission of the United States. The governing document for the Virgin Islands, the Organic Act of the Virgin Islands of the United States, 1954, is more of an instrument for the public administration of internal affairs under the auspices of the American congress and executive branch. With the exception of a brief discussion on the importation of infected livestock from the U.S. mainland and the placement of duties on articles imported into the Virgin Islands, the Organic Act does not empower the Virgin Islands in matters of foreign trade. Public administration of the Virgin Islands is as colonial as it gets.

But what are the benefits to the United States from colonizing the USVI? In August 1916, the United States entered into an agreement with Denmark to purchase the Danish West Indies as part of the American strategy to protect the western hemisphere from European invasion during World War II. This strategy continued into the years of the second world war. For example, the Cyril E. King International Airport on St. Thomas was the site of an old army airfield that was later named after U.S. president Harry S Truman. As a child growing up in St. Thomas in the 1960s and 1970s it was never surprising to see an attack submarine surface in the harbor at Long Bay or at the old submarine base a couple miles to the east of the harbor. As a teen-aged member of the Civil Air Patrol, I led a search and rescue exercise around Magens Bay, taking my team into an area that housed a satellite communications facility. I don’t remember if it was military, but we were spotted by a white woman in a VW Beetle who threatened to rat us out given our failure to give her an explanation as to why we were there. Needless to say, we hauled ass after completing our mission.

But today, in the 21st century, where the United States deploys nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, satellite communications, and long-range jets, does the U.S. really need to use the Virgin Islands as a land-based aircraft carrier in the Caribbean Sea?

And given that the Virgin Islands keeps the federal income taxes it collects from its residents while enjoying limited social welfare benefits, the United States is probably losing a few billion dollars in tax and other revenues.

Politically, where is the benefit to either Democrats or Republicans in the United States from America’s Caribbean? Again, the delegate from the Virgin Islands is a non-voting member of the U.S. House. The thirty or so thousand eligible voters, while allowed to cast, in my opinion, a symbolic vote in the primaries and send delegates to the parties’ conventions, are not allowed to vote for president.

Culturally, the Virgin Islands do not add to America’s social fabric. While a significant portion of the population enjoy the trimmings of Americanism, from shopping to cable television to American sports, we are still, whether we are aware of it or not, still Caribbean. We live in two worlds with a significant “down island” portion of the population helping to keep our feet in the goings on of the Lesser Antilles. The Democrats would not want Virgin Islanders playing a significant role in their party politics. West Indians are more conservative than your run-of-the-mill American, and while most won’t admit it, do not share as close an affinity to black Americans as most would think, skin color notwithstanding.

Other than the prestige of saying that, like other European powers, they are in possession of overseas territories, I see no benefit to the United States in playing the empire game in the Caribbean. The United States should truly consider some decolonizing especially if it nudges my people to more self-determination.

Donald Trump fires another salvo from the bully pulpit

If you want to know why stump speeches are referred to as coming from the bully pulpit, Donald Trump’s speech tonight at a rally in Montana provided an excellent example. Mr. Trump was in Montana to help rally support for Matt Rosendale’s bid for the United States Senate. I didn’t know who Mr. Rosendale was before the speech and I will only give him a moment’s thought in the future because of Mr. Trump’s fiery performance on his behalf. It was the ballsiest if not one of the ballsiest speeches I have heard him deliver.

While Democrats and liberals will no doubt spend the next 72 hours criticizing the speech, what you won’t hear them admit that from a political strategic view, Mr. Trump sent a message that he was confident, emboldened by his perceived successes, and that he has no problem being bombastic. In his mind, he was keeping it real, and that may be the type of ammunition that Democrats and liberals will have a hard time countering.

About the only place Mr. Trump has left for Democrats and liberals to go to are the same old increasingly tired arguments about his lack of couth, his alleged dealing with the Russians, his boarish behavior, and failure to follow precedent set by past presidents when engaging in foreign relations. While not stylish, Mr. Trump’s strategy not only provides his base with the personality and rhetoric they have grown to expect, but the approach also tells voters who oppose him and voters sitting on the fence that this is the man you saw on the campaign trail and nothing has to change from 2016 because anything less just wouldn’t be me. Mr. Trump’s attitude was captured during the speech when he acknowledged indirectly that he may not win in 2020 or might not even run; therefore, what does he have to lose from sounding like the other well-known resident from Queens, ‘Archie Bunker.’

Mr. Trump stood full frontal, stuck his chest out, and unlike past presidents, did not hesitate to call out Democrats by name, notably Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, and Maxine Waters. He gave Mrs. Warren a little extra attention, challenging her to a DNA test to prove her Native American heritage; daring her to fire an arrow in rebuttal. He reminded Democrats that their new leader was Maxine Waters and he even took the liberty of renaming the “Democratic Party” to “Democrat Party.” And while taunting the Democrats to fire back, he touted what he believes are his achievements: tax reform, the whittling away at Obamacare, beginning disarmament talks with North Korea, his upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin, an economy that he expects to grow at four percent or more, and great unemployment numbers for Hispanics and blacks. He has decided to gamble that not only would any reaction from Progressives not score points, but that it would show that the only place their responses will come from is a weak, emotional place.

Mr. Trump had no problem sounding like a bully today. With an economy behind him that, for the moment, is producing jobs, he did not look afraid to swing the club.

Of Congressional factions, disruptive economy, and Donald Trump

The Goodlatte-McCaul Immigration & Border Security bill, HR 4760, failed to pass a few minutes ago.  I believe that Mr. Trump will gain more traction from the failure of both bills to pass and from the further weakened position of congressional Republicans as their majority starts looking like the majority that former president Barack Obama had in the first two years of his first term in office.  I would go further and argue that the sweet spot for Donald Trump would be the finish the second half of his first term with at least one chamber of Congress under the control of Democrats.

While on the surface the disruption may seem abnormal or undesirable, disruption, as represented in a split Congress, disruption is what Americans should expect. A majority of interests cannot exist without a minority of interests.  There is no such thing as congressional harmony.  There cannot be harmony given the political goal of a party: to persuade the electorate that the party should have a monopoly on the power and prominence that comes with office.  Mr. Trump, I believe, already had a sense of this going into office and the dysfunction of his party may have strengthened the rationale for his findings.

For example, take Obamacare. The premature consensus was that with majorities in both chambers, Mr. Trump would be able to move a repeal of the controversial Affordable Care Act through a friendly Congress. Pundits and constituents were wrong. The Affordable Care Act is still on the books thanks primarily to its provisions that extend care to children up to age 26 and its protection of consumers with pre-existing conditions.  Mr. Obama put a bomb in the ACA that Republicans are now afraid to detonate.

Another example: tax reform. While the GOP was able to pass some measure of tax reform, the level of difficulty in getting a bill to Mr. Trump to sign caught Congress watchers off guard.  Did Republicans doubt their chances so much in November 2016 that they started a new Administration and entered the 115th Congress with no coordinated plan?

It doesn’t help that the electorate does not look favorably on Congress. The average approval rating for Congress is 17%, according to a May 2018 Gallop poll.  Among Democrats the approval rating is approximately 12% while Republicans hold Congress in slightly higher regard at 22%.  The President’s approval rating is another matter.

According to Gallop, Mr. Trump’s current approval rating is approximately 45%, up from a low of 35% back in December 2017.  While his overall approval rating gives him some cushion against the low view of his colleagues in Congress, what is being overlooked is his performance among independents and Democrats.

Mr. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is 90%. No surprises there. Among independents, Mr. Trump’s current approval rating among independents is 45%. At the low point the approval rating among independents was 29% but has been hovering in the thirties throughout 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, a small number of Democrats are flirting with the idea of liking Mr. Trump. While his favorable rating among Democrats has mostly been in the single digits, since his inauguration his weekly average favorable rating has been in the double digits twelve times. It is currently at 10%.

I see Mr. Trump having room to maneuver away from the congressional Republicans and while moving away from the party may seem disruptive, disruptive is the modus operandi in today’s economy. We hail disruptors like Elon Musk, Brian Chesky, and Garrett Camp for using technology to upend the electricity, hotel, and transportation industries. Mr. Trump is doing the same thing, albeit not with the smooth intellect of an Elon Musk.

He has shown no fear in governing as an executive, using the executive order option with no hesitation. And while his ability to transfer his deal making skills from the world of real estate to the game of thrones has taken heat, his negotiations with Kim Jong-Un could move him toward silencing critics.

Politics is about creating the political packages that win over the pawns necessary for winning the throne. Mr. Trump, so far, is beating the Democrats.

Too bad the Democrats chose to politicize today’s EB-5 immigrant investor hearings

I am always reminded when watching a congressional hearing that the first duty of Congress is to keep the Executive in check. Today was no exception as I tuned into the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s hearing on the Employment Based Immigrant-Fifth Preference Program. The chairman of the committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, called the meeting to discuss the problem of fraud in the program.

The EB-5 immigrant investor program promotes foreign direct investment in the United States by granting a green card (permanent residency) to an immigrant and his or her family where the immigrant invests $1 million or $500,000 in an investment that targets rural or underserved urban areas.

I was less interested in the fraud aspect, hoping that between any discussion of the downside of theft that the panel and its lone witness would shed some light on its benefits.

I should have known better….

A number of Democratic members of the panel, Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, decided to go off script and ask questions that had more to do with the issue of children being separated from parents detained at a Mexican-U.S. border non-port of entry versus how to tweak an investment program so that underserved communities in the United States get some economic attention.

It is no wonder that Congress gets blamed for not getting things done. One could argue that one thing these senators could have gotten done was ask why there were no immigrant investor regional centers in the United States Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. Given the high rates of poverty in both territories and the need for more economic development, attracting investment to underserved areas like U.S. Caribbean territories should have been among the committee’s priorities.  If they had any sense of awareness, one look at the calendar should have told them that it was that time of the year where Caribbean territories are preparing for another hurricane season.  Maybe one of those foreign immigrants they give so much credit to as innovators could be incentivized to invest a million or so dollars in the USVI or Puerto Rico in exchange for a visa….

… but that’s asking too much …

The political takeaway here is that criticism of any sitting president’s policy is the “doing something” that Congress is best at. You have to apply an entropy effect approach to understanding congressional politics. Taking time to conflate the EB-5 program with President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigrants trying to enter the U.S. without a visa should not be a surprise. It should be expected.

It’s not about suppressing black votes, Mr Booker. It’s about cutting off the Democratic Party’s meal ticket

Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, today raised an issue concerning Steve Bannon’s attempts to target black voters during the November 2016 elections. In testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Cambridge Analytica’s former director of research testified that Steve Bannon, former assistant to President Donald J Trump, sought to use data harvested by Cambridge Analytica as part of a campaign to discourage blacks from voting. Mr Booker wants us to ignore the possibility that more blacks are turning away from his party.

The reason for the butthurt over Mr Bannon’s alleged targeting of blacks has nothing to do with black voter suffrage per se. Mr Booker’s issue is that if Mr Bannon or others like him are successful in steering blacks either away from the polls or worse yet to other candidates, then the Democratic Party would be in serious trouble.

According to data compiled by BlackDemographics.com, a significant portion of the black population is affiliated with the Democratic Party. In 2012, 76% of the black population were affiliated with the Democratic Party, either calling themselves Democrats or aligning with Democratic principles or values. You would have to go back to 1968 to see the affiliation percentage exceed 90% (93%).

As for the percentage of blacks who vote for the Democratic candidate, between 1936 and 2012 that percentage was equal to or greater than 90% on four occasions; in the years 1964, 2000, 2008, and 2012. There are a couple data points that may be concerning Mr Booker and his colleagues. While a couple data points do not make a trend, they should be something to keep one’s eye on.

Back in 2000, seven percent of the black population affiliated themselves with the Republican Party. By 2004, that percentage more than doubled to 15%. A priori, that jump may have had to do with the U.S. involvement in a two-front war in the Middle East and George W. Bush’s ability to sell the U.S. on his ability to prosecute the war. Also, Mr Bush attempted to stimulate the economy during the 2001 to 2003 period via tax cuts and the one-time issue of checks to households.

By 2008, however, the portion of the black populace affiliated with the Republican Party fell to four percent, but the portion of blacks affiliated with “independent” climbed to 20%. Apparently, more blacks wanted to hedge against the probability of being on the losing side of history. Vote for the first black president without moving into the Democratic playpen. By 2012, black Republicans went back home with 16% of the black population affiliating with the Republicans.

What may be underlying these numbers is a change of heart and direction on the part of younger blacks when it comes to the Democratic Party. According to NPR, black voter turnout fell from 66.6% of blacks in 2012 to 59.6% of blacks in 2016. Over four million black voters stayed home and according to the NPR report part of the reason is that a growing number of blacks no longer believe they have a home in the Democratic Party. Blacks may no longer see voting as the best way to change their economic or social plight as the population still sees unemployment rates higher than whites and neighborhoods that are run down and facing abandonment.

No, Mr Booker. It appears that something more substantive is going on to turn away blacks from the poll other than a sponsored ad running on the right-hand side of a person’s Facebook page.

Why is net neutrality a partisan issue and how is it negatively impacting privacy rules?

Net neutrality shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The internet isn’t a government agency even though a number of governments around the world would like to restrict their citizens access to it and regulate the content that flows through it. If the internet, as it is viewed in the United States, is a means by which liberty, equality, and democracy intersect and are expressed, then shouldn’t the Republican and Democratic wings of Congress unite on those three pillars of American society?

Is there any contention in the area of liberty as it pertains to the internet?  It does not appear that way. The left replaces the word “liberty” with “freedom” and sticks pretty close to the traditional wording of the open internet, meaning no blockading of consumer access to the legal content of a website.

The right would agree with the left that consumers should be able to access the legal content of their choice. This issue goes to the fundamentals of conservative philosophy, liberty.

Regarding equality, I see contention. On the left, equality on the internet means that traffic from one website is treated the same as traffic from another website. A broadband access provider should not be allowed to throttle a site’s traffic prior to delivering the traffic to a consumer. The principle of equality would also hold, according to left internet philosophy, regarding the issue of paid prioritization. Paid prioritization occurs when a content provider pays a broadband provider for the privilege of special treatment of its traffic. The broadband provider may provide the content provider with “faster lanes” or some other privilege that grants that content deliverer’s traffic some priority over other traffic.

The right may not necessarily disagree that paid prioritization grants a one provider an advantage over another. Whether that advantage is fair or merely a valid business decision is the question and if the decision to provide priority to one type of service versus another is reasonable, then why not?

Prioritization occurs every day. Take the example of packages sent via a common carrier such as the post office. A consumer of postal services has an option of paying to send mail via regular mail or by priority mail, getting his package to its final destination within the next one or two days. The content of the mail may be such that rush delivery is of the essence.

Taking a flexible approach to prioritization may be in keeping with varying demands of different applications. In its recommendation for bipartisan legislation on net neutrality, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation noted that:

“Legislation should allow clear flexibility for traffic differentiation for applications that require it, avoiding an overbroad flat ban on prioritization, while clearly prohibiting anticompetitive conduct. Legislation should put some restrictions on paid prioritization to limit the potential for abuse, such as a simple ban on exclusive dealing or a requirement
to offer similar terms to all customers.”

Finally, the left has made vigorous arguments that broadband access providers have the potential to threaten democracy on the internet because of their technical capability to block and throttle traffic. This potential bad behavior would restrict a consumer’s ability to choose or produce the content of her choice.

While conservatives may empathize with the self-expression argument, I would expect a two-pronged rebuttal. First, since broadband access and the internet (for the most part) is a private, commercial enterprise, there is no state action intervening in a citizen’s right to participate in the political process. That alone should make the concerns about democracy moot. Second, it is not in a broadband provider’s best business interest to discourage the use of its network. The more users and more traffic exchanged, the greater the revenues and profits and lower the operational costs of the network.

Given the heightened concern over the last two years about privacy on the internet, the left and right wings of Congress should use the need to bring certainty to privacy as a catalyst for closing the philosophical gaps in the vision for the internet. Privacy is being placed on the backburner which is unfortunate because while most consumers are fine for the most part with the internet as it is (growth in ecommerce is one such indicator of the internet’s health), codifying net neutrality principles, general principles that the left and right agree with, in the form of a statute plus providing bright-line rules on privacy and privacy enforcement will bring certainty to consumers of broadband services as to a safer internet and certainty to broadband providers that wish to continue investment absent the nightmare that a back-and-forth that the current regulatory framework creates.