Charlottesville and “Very Fine People”

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I waited to comment on the Charlottesville tragedy until more facts came to light. I want to focus on Trump’s extemporaneous comments at a press conference on August 15th because there is considerable debate about what Trump meant.

Some people believe Trump said there were “fine people” on the side of white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville rally. The other side argues that Trump was commenting, specifically, on those who want to preserve the Robert E. Lee statue in the name of the country’s heritage. The latter argument means there were at least three groups rallying for three different causes:

1. Neo-Nazis advancing the white supremacy agenda
2. The Anti-bigotry group promoting the anti-racist agenda
3. The Heritage group supporting the preservation of Confederate monuments and statues

I want to analyze Trump’s comments. My questions, comments, and notes will be written in red with parenthesis.

Here is the relevant section of the transcript of the press conference:

Another reporter: John McCain has called on you to defend your national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

Trump: I have already done it. I did it the last time.

Reporter: And he called on you again to —

Trump: Senator McCain? You mean the one who voted against Obamacare?

Reporter: And he said-

Trump: Who is senator- You mean Senator McCain who voted against us getting good health care?

Reporter: Senator McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those who perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville. (The reporter is talking about a specific attack by saying “the attack.”)

Trump: Well, I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I’m sure Senator McCain must know what he’s talking about. But when you say the alt-right…uh, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead.

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: No, define it for me. Come on, let’s go.

Reporter: Senator McCain defined them as the same groups.

Trump: OK. What about the alt-left that came charging at- (Why introduce the “alt-left” here?)

[Indistinct.]

Trump: Excuse me, what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt? (It is a fact that the anti-bigotry side was involved in fights. Items were thrown on both sides. Here is how one witness described the scene: “Most white supremacist and Nazi groups arrived armed like a paramilitary force — carrying shields, protective gear, rods and, yes, lots of guns, utilizing Virginia’s loose firearm laws. They used militarized defensive maneuvers, shouting commands at one another to ‘move forward’ or ‘retreat,’ and would form a line of shields or a phalanx — it’s like they watched ‘300’ a few times — to gain ground or shepherd someone through projectiles. It seemed that they had practiced for this.Another witness said Antifa launched an attack of their own:The streets were not barricaded. Violent antifa [anti-fascists] were not penned in their own area as per our agreement with the Charlottesville Police Department, but were roaming the streets and blocking the entrance to Lee Park. They immediately launched an attack on our group with mace, pepper spray, bricks, sticks and foul liquids. The police stood idly by on the sidelines while a brawl was allowed to ensue. We had to fight our way into Lee Park and dozens of our people were injured by mace and pepper spray as we marched through the gauntlet.” How much blame should we assign to each side in light of these testimonies?)

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: Let me ask you this. What about the fact they came charging — that they came charging, with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. So, you know, as far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day-

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: Wait a minute. I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day.

Reporter: Is it the same level as neo-Nazis?

Trump: I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it, and you have- You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group, you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent. (This is not true. The anti-bigotry side acquired two permits and the neo-Nazi group had an injunction. We must keep two events separate if we are going to do justice to the facts of this encounter. The opponents to the “Unite the Right” rally had permits from the city of Charlottesville to rally on August 12, 2017 near Justice and McGuffey parks from 9 am until 7 pm. Emancipation Park was the location of the white supremacist rally. All three parks are near each other. The Unite the Right group did not have a city permit to rally at Emancipation Park. The fact checking site Snopes explains: “On the other hand, the Unite the Right rally didn’t have a city permit — they had a judge’s order. According to documents provided by the city, organizer Jason Kessler applied for a permit on 30 May 2017 to hold the rally at Emancipation Park (which used to be called Lee Park), where a controversial statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee has been the focal point of racial tensions. The city had tried to move that demonstration from Emancipation Park, which is the size of one city block downtown, to McIntire Park, which is larger and away from central Charlottesville. But Kessler sued, and a judge sided with him…. The night before the deadly events of 12 August 2017, tiki-torch carrying white supremacists held another chaotic, violent demonstration during which they were also confronted by counter-protesters. In this instance, no one had a permit because no permit was needed.” Here is the permit that was acquired by the anti-bigotry protesters.)

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: Go ahead.

Reporter: Do you think what you call the alt-left is the same as neo-Nazis?

Trump: Those people, all of those people- excuse me. I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. (The video of the deadly attack is here. The attack starts at 11:09. Can you see anyone from the heritage group in the crowd?)

Reporter: Well, white nationalists-

Trump: Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee. So … Excuse me. And you take a look at some of the groups and you see and you’d know it if you were honest reporters — which in many cases you’re not. But many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself where does it stop? But they were there to protest- excuse me. you take a look the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of the Robert E. Lee. Infrastructure question. Go ahead.

Reporter: Should statues of Robert E. Lee stay up?

Trump: I would say that’s up to a local town, community, or the federal government depending on where it is located.

Reporter: Are you against the Confederacy?

Another reporter: How concerned are you about race relations in America and do you think things have gotten worse or better since you took office?

Trump: I think they have gotten better- or the same- I- look. They’ve been frayed for a long time, and you can ask President Obama about that because he’d make speeches about it. But, I believe that the fact that I brought in, it will be soon, millions of jobs — you see where companies are moving back into our country — I think that’s going to have a tremendous positive impact on race relations. We have companies coming back into our country, we have two car companies that just announced, we have FoxConn in Wisconsin just announced. We have many companies, I say pouring back into the country. I think that’s going to have a huge, positive impact on race relations. You know why? It’s jobs. What people want now, they want jobs. They want great jobs with good pay and, when they have that, you watch how race relations will be. And I’ll tell you, we’re spending a lot of money on the inner cities. We’re fixing the inner cities. We’re doing far more than anybody’s done with respect to the inner cities. It’s a priority for me, and it’s very important.

Reporter: Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?

Trump: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible and it was a horrible thing to watch, but there is another side. There was a group on this side — you can call them the left, you’ve just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group, so you can say what you want but that’s the way it is. (Look at the video again. The murder footage starts at 11:09. Does the scene look the way Trump describes it? Do you see clubs “violently attacking the other group” before the car rushes in to murder people?)

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Reporter: Mr. President, your words-

Another reporter: You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides. Are there-

Trump: Well, I do think there’s blame- Yes. I do think there’s blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don’t have any doubt about it either and- and- and- and if you reported it accurately, you would say it.

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Reporter: Neo-Nazis started this in Charlottesville. They showed up at Charlottesville, they-

Trump: Excuse me.

Reporter: To protest the removal of that-

Trump: [Inaudible.] You have some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group — excuse me, excuse me — I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name. (Which event is he referring to; the one that occurred on August 11th or August 12th? Is he conflating the two events? Are the events on August 11th or the events that occurred just before the car attack on August 12th relevant to how we should talk about the murder of Heather Heyer?)

Reporter: Do you support white nationalists, then?

[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]

Trump: Well, George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down- Excuse me. Are we going to take down, are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him?

Reporter: I do love Thomas Jefferson-

Trump: OK, good. Well, are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue? So, you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture and you had people, and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists because they should be condemned, totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You got a lot of bad people in the other group, too. (I think Trump is thinking about the August 11th rally, but it’s unclear. Where are the “fine people” in the neo-Nazi/White Nationalist crowd in the tiki-torch rally on August 11th or the August 12th neo-Nazi/White Nationalist crowd? Can he point them out in videos or photos?

Jason Kessler is named as the sole plaintiff in the injunction that granted the neo-Nazi/White Nationalist group permission to hold the rally. It seems only natural to think the rally was meant to advance his aimsHere is the injunction. Here is Kessler celebrating the injunction. Kessler clearly says Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, will speak at the rally. Here is what Spencer said at a rally that took place in 2016: “To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward. And we recognize a central lie of American race relations. We don’t exploit other groups — we don’t gain anything from their presence. They need us, and not the other way around. … America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.” What does Spencer’s planned speaking engagement at the rally suggest about the purpose of the rally? Kessler explicitly says in the aforementioned video that “the alt-right is hear.” 

Trump and his supporters talk as if support for preserving history and white nationalism are two non-overlapping agendas. Kessler married both agendas in these rallies. According to Business Insider:

“Kessler told a local radio station last week that the rally was meant as a show of “support” for Charlotteville’s monument to the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, which he said local politicians were trying to remove as part of “a push to take down all of these white historical figures.”

“We’re trying to do a pro-white demonstration,” Kessler said. “We’re trying to show that folks can stand up for white people. The political correctness has gotten way out of control, and the only way to fight back against it has been to stand up for our own interests.”

The rallies were “pro-white” according to its organizer.

I find it difficult to believe that “fine people” would stand next to these people to advance their non-racist historical agenda. Look at the photos from the August 11th rally. 

Here is a photo from the newspaper, Times Union:

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Here’s another image from KHOU.com:

Remember, the protesters were shouting “Blood and Soil.” The Washington Post gives a short history of this chant:

The concept of “Blood and Soil” (in German, “Blut und Boden”) was foundational to Nazi ideology. “Blood” referred to the goal of a “racially pure” Aryan people. “Soil” invoked a vision of territorial expansion and was used to justify land seizures in Eastern Europe and the forced expulsion of local populations in favor of ethnic Germans. The term was a rallying cry during the 1920s and early ’30s, when the Nazis and other far-right political parties opposed the fledgling Weimar German democracy. This concept played on resentment about German territories lost under the terms of the post-World War I Treaty of Versailles.

Here is an image from the August 12th rally from Variety:

Charlottesville rally flag

Contrary to Trump’s protestations, this was a white nationalist, alt-right rally.

What kind of person would ignore all of the white supremacists props, chants, and gestures in order to advance their “heritage” agenda? There pro-heritage protest should have instantly turned into an anti-bigotry protest once they saw all of the racist objects and actions present at the rally.   

Trump said there were “good people on both sides.” He is wrong about this and he should be utterly condemned. Donald Trump has gone too far. Perhaps we should get rid of Trump because he is acting like a “bad hombre.”)

Reporter: Who was treated unfairly? Sir, I’m sorry I don’t understand what you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? I just don’t understand what you were saying.

Trump: No. No. There were people in that rally — and I looked the night before. If you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people: neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest — and very legally protest, because you know- I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So, I only tell you this. There are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country. Does anybody have a final- does anybody- you have an infrastructure question.

What do you think? Is Trump guilty of drawing a false equivalency here?

Update (08/29/2017): A video was just been released showing a white supremacist shooting a gun at anti-biogry protesters. USA Today:

A 52-year-old Baltimore man who allegedly fired a gun within a crowd at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month was arrested by police on Saturday.

Charlottesville police identified Richard Wilson Preston as the man seen in a video published Saturday by the ACLU of Virginia, per CNN, in which a man walking among protestors and counter-protestors at the city’s Emancipation Park draws a pistol and fires amid the crowd.

Before doing so, the man, sporting a bandana and a tactical vest, appears to yell, “Hey, (N-word)!”

The video can be seen here.

 

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Trump’s Afghanistan Policy

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Trump gave a policy speech on Afghanistan yesterday. He covered a lot of areas, but many unanswered questions remain.

1. What are we trying to accomplish in Afghanistan? We are still in the dark about our purpose for being in Afghanistan. In the past the Taliban served as hosts for Al Qaeda. Are we trying to prevent this from happening again? Trump suggested as much when he said, “We must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America.” Are we trying to totally eradicate the Taliban? This doesn’t seem to be the mission, especially since Trump said he wants to get the Taliban to the negotiating table. Trump said, “Another fundamental pillar of our new strategy is the integration of all instruments of American power — diplomatic, economic, and military — toward a successful outcome. Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.” Is the goal to have a central government is Kabul?
2. Trump said, “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.” Why should we abandon our nation-building mission?
3. How many troops will be added to the mission?
4. When is it appropriate for US troops to leave? What will Trump have to see before he calls for a withdrawal?
5. Speaking of troop withdrawal, does this speech amount to a failed campaign promise? Here is what Trump said in the past:

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Here are some quotes preserved by ABC News:

One of the most controversial statements Trump made about Afghanistan came during an October 2015 interview with CNN.

“We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place,” he said on CNN’s “New Day” on Oct. 6, 2015.

“At some point, are they going to be there for the next 200 years? At some point what’s going on? It’s going to be a long time,” he said.

“We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place. We had real brilliant thinkers that didn’t know what the hell they were doing. And it’s a mess. It’s a mess. And at this point, you probably have to (stay) because that thing will collapse about two seconds after they leave. Just as I said that Iraq was going to collapse after we leave.”

If this is not enough, Trump suggested pulling out of the Middle East entirely. “When it’s not ISIS, it will be somebody else. We have been over there for so many years. We have spent up to $5 trillion,” he said this on Fox News in May 2016. Remember, this is when his campaign was in full swing.

How will Trump supporters view this apparent policy reversal?
6. Is Trump’s policy reversal motivated by Afghanistan’s mineral wealth? The New York Times wrote:

President Trump, searching for a reason to keep the United States in Afghanistan after 16 years of war, has latched on to a prospect that tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western companies.

Mr. Trump has discussed the country’s mineral deposits with President Ashraf Ghani, who promoted mining as an economic opportunity in one of their first conversations. Mr. Trump, who is deeply skeptical about sending more American troops to Afghanistan, has suggested that this could be one justification for the United States to stay engaged in the country.

Trump seems to hit at this concern in his speech when he said, “As the prime minister of Afghanistan has promised, we are going to participate in economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.”

7. Trump said, “It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.” How will this be heard by the Pakistani government? What was Trump trying to accomplish by publicly insulting Pakistan?
8. Erik Prince was the head of the former company Blackwater and he is now the executive director and chairman of Frontier Services Group. Blackwater employees were convicted of killing 31 unarmed civilians in Iraq’s Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007. This man who was the founder of Blackwater said he has advised Trump. There is speculation that Prince may have a role to play in Trump’s Afghanistan strategy. Will Erik Prince play a role in Trump’s Afghanistan strategy?
9. What will we do to dramatically decrease the number of civilian deaths? The Guardian reports:

The number of civilian deaths in the Afghan war has reached a record high, continuing an almost unbroken trend of nearly a decade of rising casualties.

The number of deaths of women and children grew especially fast, primarily due to the Taliban’s use of homemade bombs, which caused 40% of civilian casualties in the first six months of 2017, according to UN figures released on Monday.

Child casualties increased by 9% to 436, compared with the same period last year, and 1,141 children were wounded. Female deaths rose by 23%, with 174 women killed and 462 injured.

US and Afghan airstrikes also contributed to the surge in civilian victims, with a 43% increase in casualties from the air, the figures showed.

… In June, the US conducted 389 aerial attacks in Afghanistan, putting this year on a par with 2013, when there were nearly 50,000 US soldiers in the country.

Of the 232 civilian casualties from 48 aerial operations, 114 were caused by Afghans and 85 by Americans. In one especially deadly operation, the US killed 26 civilians in airstrikes in Sangin district in Helmand.

Once again, what measures will we take to reduce civilian deaths?

Confederate Interrogation

There are more than 700 Confederate Monuments in the United States according to FiveThirtyEight. The same site provided the following map of the locations of these monuments:

I’m having a difficult time finding good arguments for the preservation of these statues. I’ve decided to throw the question to the public. Are there good arguments for the preservation of Confederate monuments and statues?

A Quick Note about Transgender Members of the Military

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Donald Trump is going to ban all transgender people from joining the military. Here are the relevant tweets:

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I want to zero in on the monetary argument. Trump wrote that transgender people burden the US budget with “tremendous costs.” Is this statement true? Bloomberg looked into the matter and found that transgender people make a negligible dent in the defense budget:

A 2014 study estimated that 15,500 trans people were currently serving in the U.S. military. The Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA School of Law that researches gender identity, came to that figure using a 2011 survey of 6,546 transgender Americans. Around 20 percent of that survey’s respondents said they had served in the armed forces. There are currently 1.3 million active-duty personnel in the U.S. military and an additional 800,000 in reserves.

Using various extrapolations based on population estimates and rates of service for men and women, the Williams researchers concluded that 8,800 people were in active duty and another 6,700 were in the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve. Trans people, the Williams report suggested, might even join the military at a higher rate than other groups.

“It’s a consistent finding in studies that have been done across a variety of different data sources that trans people serve in the military at higher rates than the general population,” said Jody L. Herman, a co-author of the Williams study. She cited academic interviews conducted with transgender servicemembers that underscored the appeal of the military’s perceived hypermasculine environment.

But, as Herman added, “trans people want to serve in the military for the same reasons as everyone else wants to serve in the military.”

Researchers from RAND used much lower numbers to estimate transgender-related health-care costs, putting the total ranks of active transgender service members between 1,300 and 6,600 and concluding that only about 130 might seek gender-related surgeries. But even if the number of transgender service members is closer to the Williams Institute’s estimate, the cost for their medical care would be a negligible share of the military’s total health budget.

Trans people represent a small number of military members and thus a small portion of healthcare costs. If budgetary concerns aren’t the real motivation for the ban what is?

There is some speculation that Trump issued this tweet to divert attention from the raid on Paul Manafort’s house (see previous post for details). This theory is supported by the fact that we have no details or timeline for the execution of the ban.

This post is not meant to argue the merits of allowing transgender people into the military. This is meant to expose deception in Trump’s arguments against allowing transgender people into the military.

Warranted Home Invasion

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The Washington Post printed news that represents a significant escalation in the Russia investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller. The FBI raided the home of the former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on July 26th.

Think about the significance of this action. Search warrants must be signed off by a federal judge. This means a federal judge saw enough evidence to support a sudden, unannounced intrusion into Manafort’s home. This move suggests that Manafort is not being as cooperative as the special counsel would like him to be. Remember, federal investigators were using the less intrusive subpoena process to gain information from Manafort. Why the shift in method? A writer for CNN wrote:

The tactic appears unusual for a case that has been under investigation for months and for which Manafort has already turned over hundreds of pages of documents to Senate investigators.

Paul Manafort was awoken by federal agents knocking on his bedroom door!

FBI agents did not leave Manafort’s home empty-handed. The FBI seized documents and “other materials” from Manafort’s home. Tax and banking documents were taken from the home. The FBI even took “binders prepared ahead of Manafort’s congressional testimony.”

Here is my advice to Republicans: seriously consider jumping ship. Untether yourself from the administration’s sinking vessel.

The CBO: What does the CBO say about the Senate Healthcare Bill? (Part 3)

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What did the CBO conclude about the Senate Healthcare Bill?

1. The Bill will reduce the federal deficit by $321 billion over the next 10 years
2. 22 million Americans will be uninsured by 2026

Source: FiveThirtyEight

3. There will be 15 million fewer people enrolled in Medicaid by 2026
4. Premiums will rise 280% for the elderly and the poor
5. A principal complaint against the Affordable Care Act is it penalizes those who do not purchase health insurance. Republicans complained that the ACA forced people to buy something they didn’t want. There is a version of that penalty in both the Republican House and Senate bills. Here is how FiveThirtyEight describes it:

Penalizing those who went without insurance for more than 63 days by imposing a six-month waiting period before they can get coverage in a new plan. All three systems — the ACA, the House bill and the Senate bill — seek to punish those who don’t have insurance in order to discourage people from buying health insurance only after they have gotten sick and to make sure that relatively healthy people get insurance, which helps keep insurers’ costs down. The ACA does this through the so-called individual mandate, which charges a tax penalty to people who don’t have health insurance. The House bill would have done it by allowing insurers to impose a 30 percent surcharge on premiums for people who had gone without coverage for 63 days or more in the previous year.

Once again, this bill is a colossal failure.

The CBO: How Accurate are CBO Projections? (Part 2)

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Skepticism of CBO projections may appear to be warranted if we consider:

1. In March of 2010 the CBO said 21 million people would buy insurance on exchanges created as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by 2016. In fact, only 11.5 million people purchased coverage by the end of 2016
2. That same report said there would be 30 million fewer uninsured people in the US. The reality is the CBO reduced that number to 22 million in March of 2016.

Why is there such a gap between the CBO estimates and reality? First, I think we need to understand the basis of the CBO’s baseline projections. CBO projections are based on the “assumption that current laws governing federal revenues and spending will generally remain unchanged.” Here is how the CBO further explains their projections:

The baseline projections are not intended to be a prediction of budgetary outcomes. Rather, the projections reflect CBO’s best judgment about how the economy and the budget will evolve under existing laws. That approach allows the baseline to serve as a neutral benchmark against which Members of Congress can measure the effects of proposed legislation.

This means projections will be modified when there are relevant legislative changes. One wonders how anyone could be in the ballpark in any projection or forecast if we couple possible legislative changes with unpredictable human behavior.

Let’s consider again the CBO’s estimates of how many people would purchase insurance on the new insurance exchanges. There were several mitigating factors here:

1. The CBO thought more employers would stop offering health insurance to their employees
2. More people were eligible for Medicaid than the CBO expected. This means the CBO underestimated how many people would get coverage through Medicaid.
3. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the Medicaid expansion in the ACA was optional for states

The CBO changed its estimates after the 2013 Supreme Court decision. The revised forecast said 89% of Americans would have insurance by 2016 and, in fact , 89.7% of Americans under 65 had insurance in 2016.

A formal study was done by the Commonwealth Fund and it concluded:

Simulations of the effects of health insurance reforms have received considerable attention over the past two decades, leading to substantial improvements in modeling. The CBO, and several private forecasters, were fairly accurate in their predictions of the likely coverage and cost implications of the ACA. A few forecasters—notably the CMS—assumed much higher rates of responsiveness to subsidies and coverage expansions, and these models generated the least accurate predictions. CMS estimates of participation in subsidized coverage, Medicaid enrollment, and total marketplace spending were 2.7, 2.0, and 2.9 times, respectively, higher than actual figures.

I think we can trust the findings of the CBO as long we keep in mind the reasonable limitations mentioned in this series.

The CBO (Part 1)

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There is a lot of talk about the CBO and the accuracy of their work. I thought it might be helpful to do an in-depth series on the CBO.

What is the CBO?

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is a body composed of economists and budget analysts who provide independent budgetary and economic analyses for monetary decision making.

Standards for Objectivity

Employees of the CBO commit to the principles of objectivity and transparency. Some members are even required to provide financial disclosure statements to make sure they have no conflicts of interest. CBO employees are required to get permission from managers if they want to be employed by an entity outside of the CBO. Political activity that could identify the CBO with a “political campaign, candidate, officeholder, or cause” is forbidden.

These are just some of the ways the CBO tries to maintain a high level of objectivity. I think this goes a long way to help employees remain objective.

People

The CBO has a visiting scholars program that enlists the help of macroeconomists, health economists, and public economists. These men and women must have PhDs and demonstrated research in relevant fields. Recent Visiting scholars include: Sheng Guo, assistant professor of economics at Florida International University, Hassan Tetteh, U.S. Navy Commander and an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and Chao Wei, associate professor of economics at the George Washington University.

The panel of economic advisers includes professors from the University of Maryland, University of California, Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard, and the University of Chicago.

In all, there are about 235 staff members at the CBO.

Legal Creep and Moral Fortitude (Part 5)

 

 

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Moral Fortitude

Fortitude refers to the strength of mind and character to endure pain and hardship. Moral fortitude is exemplified when a person does the right thing in the face of tremendous pressure to do evil. Republicans must choose between party loyalty, potential campaign loses, and the common good. I want to list some pertinent issues raised by the 2016 Republican platform and ask Republicans some questions.

A party’s platform is supposed to tell the public what matters to the party. A platform is also supposed to embody a party’s values. Let’s take a look:

1. Executive Orders: “The President has refused to defend or enforce laws he does not like, used executive orders to enact national policies in areas constitutionally reserved solely to Congress….” (pg. 9) Trump echoed this plank of the platform when he spoke at a town hall in South Carolina in February 2016 when he said, “The country wasn’t based on executive order.” He also said “[r]ight now, Obama goes around signing executive orders. He can’t even get along with the Democrats, and he goes around signing all these executive orders. It’s a basic disaster. You can’t do it.” Trump signed more executive orders in his first 100 days than any other recent president since World War II.

2. Presidential Credibility: “Our most urgent task as a Party is to restore the American people’s faith in their government by electing a president who will enforce duly enacted laws, honor constitutional limits on executive authority, and return credibility to the Oval Office.” (pg. 10) Let me quote at length from an article written by conservative Kevin Williamson in the National Review:

It is impossible to get at that in a meaningful way without considering the unsettling question: What sort of man is the president of these United States? We know he is a habitual liar, one who tells obvious lies for no apparent reason, from claiming to own hotels that he does not own to boasting about having a romantic relationship with Carla Bruni, which never happened. (“Trump is obviously a lunatic,” Bruni explained.) He invented a series of imaginary friends to lie to the New York press about both his business and sexual careers. He has conducted both his private and public lives with consistent dishonesty and dishonor. He is not a man who can be taken at his word.

Conservatives used to care about that sort of thing: Bill Bennett built a literary empire on virtue, and Peggy Noonan wrote wistfully of a time “When Character Was King.” But even if we set aside any prissy moral considerations and put a purely Machiavellian eye on the situation, we have to conclude that having a man such as Trump as president and presumptive leader of the Republican party is an enormous problem for conservatives and for the country corporately. Allegations of petty corruption against Donald Trump cannot simply be dismissed out of hand, because no mentally functioning and decently informed adult thinks that Donald Trump, of all people, is above that sort of thing. Quid pro quo patronage? He’s proud of it. Dishonesty? He boasts about it in a book published under his name. Question: If a young, attractive, blonde woman employed by the Trump Organization came forward claiming to be having an affair with the president, why wouldn’t you believe her? Because Donald Trump isn’t that kind of guy? He’s precisely that kind of guy — that’s the main reason anybody outside of New York ever knew his name in the first place.

Of course it is the case that Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans are predisposed to believe the worst about the man. But the fact is that doing so is not obviously wrong or unreasonable. Trump apologists instinctively want to treat Democrats’ exaggeration and hysteria as contemptible scandal-mongering, but their defenses — no hard evidence of collusion with the Putin regime! — sound a lot like “no controlling legal authority.”

The question isn’t whether the president is a crook. The question is: What kind of crook is he?

Can anyone believe Trump can “return credibility to the Oval Office”?

3. Crony Capitalism and Corporate Welfare: “Cronyism is inherent in the progressive vision of the administrative state. When government uses taxpayer funding and resources to give special advantages to private companies, it distorts the free market and erodes public trust in our political system. By enlarging the scope of government and placing enormous power in the hands of bureaucrats, it multiplies opportunities for corruption and favoritism. It is the enemy of reform in education, the workplace, and healthcare. It gives us financial regulation that protects the large at the cost of the small. It is inherent in every part of the current healthcare law, which is packed with corporate welfare. Crony capitalism gives us special interest tax breaks, custom-designed regulations, and special exemptions for favored parties.” (pg. 28)

Donald Trump often points to his deal with Carrier as an instance of fulfilling his promise to retain American jobs. The problem is this is just another instance of crony capitalism. These are not my words. They are the words of conservative Robert Tracinski in the Federalist:

Donald Trump won the presidency with a promise to “drain the swamp” of crony insider deals in Washington DC. Then again, he won the presidency with a whole lot of promises, including one to save American manufacturing jobs from competition with cheap labor in China and Mexico.

Spoiler alert: he is not going to save American manufacturing jobs, because China and Mexico are not the reason those jobs are disappearing. The big truth is that American manufacturing output has steadily increased all along and is at record highs. We still produce things in this country. But American manufacturing employment has been in steep decline, because while we produce more things then ever, we produce them with more machines and fewer workers.

…Trump is not going to change these big trends, because he is not going to overturn the laws of economics. But Trump is a showman, and he knows that he can make a big show of reversing these trends and “bringing back our jobs.” Hence his big announcement about how he personally negotiated a deal to get Carrier to keep a thousand jobs at a plant in Indiana instead of shifting them to a new factory in Mexico. (Another 1,300 jobs are still going south of the border, but that’s buried down in the seventh paragraph, so nobody is going to notice.)

So how did Trump make this deal? With your money, of course. The company agreed after a personal call to the CEO from the president-elect—and oh, yeah, after Mike Pence, Indiana’s current governor and our vice-president-elect, offered them a big fat chunk of what the New York Times report calls “economic incentives.” That’s buried in the eighth paragraph, demonstrating that our media is doing its usual bang-up job. So in place of crony insider deals made in Washington DC, we get crony insider deals made in Indianapolis.

… So let’s see: the president cuts a deal with corporate executives to give him favors—in this case, a press conference and some good PR—in exchange for straightforward handouts and the implicit promise of greater rewards in the future, to be gained from personal access to public officials. What would you call that?

This blog series is dedicated to the examining the facts emerging in the Russian scandal. We know Donald Trump and his administration is under investigation by the FBI. Let’s rehearse what Republicans said about people under investigation by the FBI:

Senator Marco Rubio (R): “Can this country afford to have a president under investigation by the FBI? Think of the trauma that would do to this country.” November 1, 2016

Kellyanne Conway (White Counselor):

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Image result for Kellyanne Conway hillary made history today we've not

Jeb Bush: “I don’t — I only get my news from Fox & Friends, so that’s all I get. All I’m saying is that she’s under investigation by the FBI. Just pause and think about that. That’s not, that’s a pretty uncommon thing for a presidential candidate. And each and every week it just seems like there’s more information. Now there’s, according to Fox again there’s expanded investigation on the connection with the Clinton Foundation. This is a serious deal. So I’m, look, I want to win. I think the Republicans need to win. We need to unify. Hillary Clinton would be an unmitigated disaster for ideological purposes. But she also has this legal problem that would really undermine our country.”

Mike Huckabee:

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I could go on, but I think the point is clear. Donald Trump has crossed clear red lines for Republicans and conservatives. Do conservatives have the courage to denounce Donald Trump? Will Republicans initiate impeachment proceedings at the appropriate time? Will Republicans act in accordance with their clearly stated moral convictions? Does anyone in the Republican Party have the virtue of moral fortitude?