Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Best, the Okay, and the Worst of 2017

I thought it would be cool to recap the major political events of 2017 and give my take on them. Some thing that happened were great, some terrible, and some were in the middle. Here's what I came up with.

The Best

Neil Gorsuch

Trump with Gorsuch - Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Donald Trump fulfilled a big promise early in his president when he made Neil Gorsuch the next Supreme Court justice. The importance of appointing Gorsuch was to satisfy several conservatives (including myself) who were worried that he wasn't going to come through on his promises. This early victory was important for him to rally his base.

Reverse on Cuba

As a conservative and someone who has Cuban heritage, I have never been in favor of opening the United States with the communist dictatorship that has murdered 73,000 people unless changes are made or the regime is toppled. President Barack Obama didn't seem to care much for the Cuban-American population and decide to open relations with Cuba after he won his second term.

Trump, whether it be on his own accord or from the advice of others, understood the anger that was there. The president partly won Florida in 2016 thanks to the Cuban population in Miami and other areas in the south of the state. He has now ended the Obama policy on Cuba with a special ceremony in Miami. The audience surrounding him celebrated, just a many Cuban exiles and their descendants had when Fidel Castro died last year.

Tax Reform

Mitch McConnell speaks on tax reform - Getty Images
America needs a tax cut. Under Trump and the Republican Congress, we are finally (hopefully) about to get one. If a tax cut is implemented, then the United States is guaranteed to enjoy higher wages, economic growth, and private investment. A return of oversees capital held by multinational corporations could potentially lead to higher revenue than expected in the long run.

Mugabe Ousted

Robert Mugabe could have been a promising leader who unified blacks and whites together after he took power in Zimbabwe. Sadly, this wasn't the case. While his rise to power was important for the liberation of blacks who live in Zimbabwe, every move he made afterward only worsened the country and sent it into a state of decay. Mugabe became a Marxist dictator who only brought strife to his people. He has now lost power in a military coup. Let's hope Emmerson Mnangagwa is a better for the people of Zimbabwe.

ISIS Driven out of Iraq

In the Middle East, there has been a lot of success in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It is estimated that 98 percent of its territory has been lost since Trump took office. The recapture of East Mosul by forces battling ISIS paved the way for defeat of one of the world's most barbaric and insidious organizations. The Trump administration should immediately move to maintain stability in the region so that an ISIS problem does not reoccur.

The Okay

Theresa May's Failed Gamble

Theresa May speaks at the 2017 party conference - PA
When Prime Minister Theresa May called a general election for June, she held a massive lead in the polls that made a landslide seem inevitable. It wasn't meant to be. Over the short campaign season, the Conservatives blundered numerous times. Terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom only added to her grief. In the end, the Conservatives lost seats and were forced into a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

The coalition government barely holds a majority. As a result, Brexit negotiations have fallen apart. Several right-wing Britons demand May's resignation in favor of other politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg, but it's unclear a replacement could do any better with things as is.

The general election added some legitimacy to socialism. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party's current leader, is one of the most left-wing politicians in the House of Commons.

Angela Merkel Wins, but is Weakened

Chancellor Angela Merkel fended off threats from the right and the left. Her Christian Democratic Union won this year's federal election, but it is a lot smaller than before. With the Social Democrats declaring that they will never do a coalition again, Merkel only had the "Jamaica" option left to preserve some kind of order.

Talks with the Free Democratic Party and the Green Party have now failed, making governing Germany very difficult. There is a risk another general election will be called, which could benefit the populist insurgent Alternative for Germany. More seats for the AfD, however, will only lead to greater dysfunction in the Bundestag.

The Worst

Francois Fillon's Defeat in France

Fillon concedes - NDTV
Early in the year, I made it clear that I wanted Francois Fillon, a former prime minister, to win the French presidential election. Fillon won the nomination of the Republicans because he wanted to bring ambitious Thatcherite reforms to France. These needed changes would have helped the economy end the long-term bust it has been plagued with. Additionally, his proposal to spend more money on the French military could have given the United States a very reliable ally.

Unfortunately, Fillon lost his edge from scandals that showed he gave his wife a fake job when he was in office. The Fillons received a nice payout, but that hurt them electorally. Emmanuel Macron, the victor, is an improvement from socialist President Francois Hollande, but I don't think the changes he desires will be enough.

Health Care Reform Flop

It was the biggest promise the GOP made over the entire Obama presidency. His signature domestic policy, the Affordable Care Act, proved to be an unpopular mess that only added to the overwhelming burden of government bureaucracy. Millions of Americans across the country have lost their personal insurance due to skyrocketing deductibles. The horrible roll-out of the health care law led to a major Republican victory in the 2014 midterms and continued success in 2016.

With these victories, you'd think repeal would've been easy? In truth, health care reform was highly complex. First, Paul Ryan's proposal in the House of Representatives was destroyed by the House Freedom Caucus. Eventually, the speaker of the house managed to unite enough voters for passage, but the narrow Republican majority in the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, added to the difficulties. Three Republican moderates (John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski) sank the best chance there was to repeal and replace Obamacare. The GOP might never have such a chance again.

Venezuela's Continued Collapse

Protests in Venezuela - Eyevine
The people of Venezuela have suffered from another year of failed socialist leadership under Nicolas Maduro. Venezuela enjoyed a steady stream of revenue from oil production, but this is no longer enough and exposes the weakness of socialist economics. The free market is simply better at diversifying an economy because it leaves entrepreneurs and investors to their own devices.

The economic situation in Venezuela has crushed whatever private businesses existed in the country. Maduro will find it easy to crush political dissidents, but it will be hard for him to appease his creditors. The only way to make things better for Venezuela is for Maduro to fall. If that happens, then reforms need to be implemented that will bring capitalism and democracy to the people. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Star Wars: Battlefront II and the Art of Disaster

I was optimistic from what I saw, read, and heard about Star Wars: Battlefront II. It looked like EA really learned from its mistakes with the first edition and this one was going to blow everybody away with how impressive it was. The game was going to have a campaign and no season pass system. It was going to be a triumph in the gaming industry.

Wow, did they screw up.

Before we get into the infamous micro-transaction system that has the gaming community up in arms, I want to address the campaign first. It's really hard for me to not explain the problems with the plot without spoiling some things. EA and DICE promised players a plot involving the Empire (as clearly shown in the trailer). Back when I played the original Battlefront II, I loved the campaign following the adventures of the elite 501st Legion in the Clone Wars from the prequels and the Galactic Civil War in the original trilogy.

Yes, the game does give you a campaign from the perspective of the Empire...for the first two or three missions. Now I'm not completely against the kind of plot EA gave the players with the game, but the way they did it is the problem. Gamers play Commander Iden Veriso, the leader of a special forces unit called Inferno Squad. She follows the orders of her father Admiral Garrick Veriso during and after the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Death Star.

Early in the plot, Versio changes sides once she realizes that the Empire intends to destroy the climate of her home world Vardos. This creates a split between the members of Inferno Squad. She pleads with her father to stop the destruction of Vardos, but he refuses because he is a man who is dedicated to the Empire. The rest of the game has Versio joining the Rebel Alliance and now fighting the Empire.

What's frustrating about the plot is her sudden switch to the Rebels. It is an overwhelming disappointment because the fan base wanted an Imperial plot. Another problem is that her decision to challenge allegiances does not make sense. How is it that Versio has never seen some of the crimes against humanity that the Empire has committed for years? A casual observer would think that Versio would've known and possibly participated in some of the Empire's notorious ways to subjugating a population. I get that this time it is her own home that is about to suffer and she is having a moment of disbelief, but this could've been done better if the campaign had been longer and she had moments where she questioned her loyalty of the Empire as it continued on.

It would've been better if the attack on Vardos happened later, more towards the climax of the game allowing for a confrontation between her and her father. Perhaps they could've ended the game with some kind of choice like in Mafia III. There's a DLC with the game that includes events during the current trilogy. Maybe EA could've made two versions with one for the First Order and other for the Resistance. Do you choose to stay with the Empire, go to the Rebellion, or maybe take some neutral option where you abandon the war altogether?

There wouldn't have been anything wrong with an entirely different plot in the game where Versio remains loyal to the Empire even in the face of an impossible situation where she has no way of turning the war around. She could've gone out in a blaze of glory during an epic last stand with the rest of Inferno Squad and her father (at last stand like Red Dead Redemption).

That's not what we got. Instead, we got a plot that's terrible at worst and okay at best.

The multiplayer's problems are known by everyone and easy to explain. Basically, EA decided to abandon a season pass with multiple DLCs in favor of micro-transactions. These are what you usually see in mobile games. While you can earn credits through playing the game to buy uniforms and perks for your character in multiplayer, this is often takes a very long time. Despite the game being entertaining to play with plenty of fun maps, this pay-to-win system holds it back. Lastly, the game does have excellent graphics, but that's nothing new for games created by DICE.

It's clear EA was not prepared for the immediate consumer backlash. As of today, here's where Battlefront II stands on Metacritic:

As of December 22, 2017 on Metacritic
Wall Street and Disney are furious with the game. In the case of the former, it was that EA withdrew on micro-transactions by temporarily turning them off. Investors will not get the returns on their investment. Price target and profit forecasts are down for the company. The latter was angry for the opposite reason. The owners of the Star Wars franchise informed EA that the bad reviews of the game could impact the release of The Last Jedi (which from what I heard has divided fans). This game is a catastrophe for EA and there is no real way for them to regenerate the profit margins that anticipated. At the top of the month, the game only has 882,000 sales in the United States. This comes at a time when Call of Duty has provided strong competition and has sold 4.4 million games domestically. It's a lesson for the company that I think they'll never forget.

Gaming companies are now in a difficult position following Battlefront II. The season pass system is unpopular, but EA's attempt to fix it was worse. In the years to come they are going to have to wrestle with how they want to exactly present their content while profiting healthily. A good place to start is to not hide how they plan to make money until the last moment like with EA's micro-transactions.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Robert Mugabe and the Crushing of Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe - Reuters
In my opinion, development in African countries and reconciliation between blacks and whites can be generalized into two models. One is held by Nelson Mandela and the other is held by Robert Mugabe. Mandela's legacy is one of greatness, openness, and tranquility. Mugabe's legacy is one of horror, close-mindedness, and division. With the toppling of his dictatorship in Zimbabwe, I thought it would be a good idea to post about what led to the military's coup last month.

Mugabe, like Mandela, deserves credit for freeing millions of Africans who were oppressed by a white-only government in the twentieth century. In the 1960s, pressure was placed on the self-governing British colony of Rhodesia to end minority rule. This was met with fierce resistance by Ian Smith, a Rhodesian politician and Royal Air Force veteran who served in World War II. He founded the Rhodesian Front in March 1962 and led the country to independence on November 11, 1965. It left the Commonwealth in 1970.

For about fifteen years, Smith led the Republic of Rhodesia in the face of international backlash over maintaining oppressive minority rule. His country was notorious for being doggedly stubborn about enacting majority rule and giving Africans political and civil rights. Sanctions championed by Britain and the United Nations made matters worse.

Mugabe, among others, led African revolutionary forces in the Rhodesian Bush War with the support other African liberation movements in Mozambique and Zambia. Smith was backed by the Apartheid government in South Africa and white supremacist groups across the world. Eventually, the combination of economic strife and war fatigue was too much for Rhodesia. Smith gave in to the demands of majority rule and he resolved the Rhodesian Parliament for the last time on February 28, 1979.

A free and fair election in April 1979 gave Africans overwhelming representation in the new House of Assembly and sanctions were lifted soon afterward. Robert Mugabe's rise came in the next election just a year later. His Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) received 57 of the 100 seats. His two main rivals were the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo with 20 seats and Smith's Rhodesian Front (later Republican Front) with another 20 seats.

At this stage, Mugabe could have become a great leader if he had taken the same route Mandela did over a decade later. Unfortunately, this is where Zimbabwe plunged into the abyss of underdevelopment. While there were accounts of voter intimidation in the 1980 parliamentary election, Mugabe became blunt with his oppression two years later when he accused Nkomo and ZAPU of planning a coup. A year later, he sent the troops into areas where ZAPU was politically strongest. This was the beginning of the Gukurahundi massacres against Ndebele civilians. It is estimated that 20,000 people were executed by Mugabe's men.

This left Smith, who could never stick with one name for his "white tribe" political party. He renamed it the Conservative Alliance, but its political representation was collapsing because of the departure of thousands of whites. Smith stayed in Zimbabwe, but many whites were eventually forced out by Mugabe in 2000 when he decided to redistribute farms to blacks (a nice chunk went to his political allies). Banishing the white farmers stifled international investments.

Early on, Mugabe did not implement Marxist policies, but this began to change as he cemented his power. At the time of the redistribution, the whites still held most of the wealth and had very productive farms. Many of the black farmers who took control lacked the experience needed to reach the same levels of agriculture productivity, as the chart below from The Financial Times shows.

Mugabe was a lavish spender. Under his leadership, government spending increased from 32.5 percent of GDP in 1979 to over 44 percent in 1989. Bloated government led to more debt. He also made it virtually impossible to fire workers. This hurt private businesses because they could not get rid of bad employees or layoff people when times got tough. Even with this policy, unemployment is very high.

The most infamous example of Zimbabwe's failure of economic development comes from the money. Mugabe ordered the central bank to print money at a faster rate in order to pay off debts and pensions for war veterans. This only made things worse because it devalued the currency astronomically. By 2008, inflation was at 231 percent. In 2016, the government issued "bond notes" to try to restore wealth for the people. This has also been met with poor results. The money supply rose by 36 percent last year. The value of the notes has decreased by 80 percent. What keeps Zimbabweans alive today is the black market.

Mugabe's departure is a great day for the people of Zimbabwe. Thousands have celebrated in the streets of Harare and across the country. Now let's hope they move towards democracy and capitalism. Let's also hope the people in Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries where leaders and regimes are inspired by Karl Marx will soon be free as well.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Call of Duty: WWII Review

Back in the spring, I made a blog post about Call of Duty: WWII and that I thought going back to a video game with a historical setting was a good idea for the company. Last year, I brought up the contrast in popularity between the rollouts of their science fiction game Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and EA's First World War game Battlefield: One.

Call of Duty: WWII is the first game I have bought in the franchise since Advanced Warfare. I was excited for the game and the first half of it did not disappoint. As I expected, the game began with the epic landing on Omaha Beach during D-Day. I had a lot of fun storming through the beach, up the fortifications, and into the bunkers.

As the game dragged on, I started to get tired of some of the missions while still remaining excited during others. A mission in which you play a member of the French Resistance infiltrating the German headquarters in Paris was lot of fun. I also enjoyed the Battle of the Bulge. I did not like a mission involving a jeep chase with a train, which I thought was highly unrealistic.

In the game's campaign you play Ronald "Red" Daniels, a private who is part of a squad in the First Infantry Division. The game clearly emphasizes the brotherhood of the squad. The player is suppose to care for the other soldiers, most notably Daniels' best friend Robert Zussman. While the friendship between Daniels and Zussman provides a strong plotline, the other characters come off as weaker and less significant. The tension between the player's two superior officers is interesting, but the rest are more forgettable. Frank Aiello, another private, holds religious and racial prejudices that were typical of many people at the time. The only thing memorable about Drew Stiles, another private, is that he has glasses and a camera.

Overall, I consider the plot to be above average. It is strong in many areas, but there sections of it that are drastically weaker. It is a lot better than the plots in recent in Call of Duty entries. Infinite Warfare was basically World War II in space, pitching an alliance of democratic groups against fascists. Advanced Warfare involved the ridiculous concept of a private multinational corporation trying to takeover the world. The only part of the plot that was redeemable was (now disgraced) Kevin Spacey's character Jonathan Irons. Ghosts had an absurd plot where South America suddenly becomes a powerful, oil-rich union of nations and invades the United States.

As for the other aspect of the game, I enjoy the multiplayer and will be playing the game for years to come. I like most of the maps, with the exception of Gustav Cannon (a map that includes the towering German railroad gun of the same name), which is super easy or super hard depending on who holds the high ground in the center. Most are entertaining and provide the standard makeup of a Call of Duty map.

Overall, I like Call of Duty: WWII a lot and I think this is exactly what Activision needs. No, it probably won't be as successful and revered as greatly as the early Modern Warfare games and many of the original World War II games, but it's a good addition to the series that I think most gamers will like playing it.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Ending Net Neutrality should be Celebrated

Ajit Pai - Nicholas Komm/Getty Images
Two days ago, the Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality. Across social media, liberals exploded with anger. They claimed ending net neutrality (which basically means going back to the way the internet was governed pre-2015) was going to be a disaster for consumers and radically alter use of the world wide web. It was made out to be one of the worst repeals possible, but here we are a few days later and everything seems fine. In fact, net neutrality is one of the most least pressing issues of modern times.

To recap, net neutrality was approved by the FCC under the Obama administration two years ago. It was a regulatory takeover of the internet over something that was never a real problem. The primary reason for its existence was to mandate that internet service providers provide access to all content without discriminating against certain websites and content. Some of the largest corporations in the world lobbied for its implementation. Interestingly enough, while net neutrality was suppose to protect the free flow of information, proponents of it like Google are notorious for censoring videos from conservative channels.

Across social media, liberal politicians are trying to stir up the population into fear over the possibility of a system in which consumers will have to pay to gain access to specific content. The biggest hole in this argument is that consumers have never experienced anything of the sort before net neutrality was placed into law.

No Internet Service Providers engaged in this kind of behavior in the decades leading up to net neutrality. The Obama administration didn't conduct or collect any research before pushing the new policy through the FCC. In fact, the rollout of net neutrality has left some major gaps in its intentions.

When it comes to the First Amendment, net neutrality (or more formally the Open Internet Order) was suppose to simplify any objections by differentiating between "editorial intervention" and ISPs that act as a conduit for speech. Yet an incentive for ISPs to curate the internet was created because some that are religiously affiliated do engage in editorial intervention. A massive loophole was created with a court ruling this year that allows ISPs to exempt themselves of net neutrality when they offer "'edited' services." Even some of the biggest supporters of net neutrality were starting to realize the policy's mistakes.

With the net neutrality debate coming to an end, I found no objection to its repeal more laughable than a chart that was posted by Representative Ro Khanna of California. The chart is clearly meant to scare consumers into thinking that there will no longer be a bundled internet service. Instead, internet service would be chopped into paying for specific features. However, for many consumers this would actually be a good thing. Some consumers who don't care much for social media and gaming would not have to pay for it. They would save plenty of money.

Here's what to expect with repeal, right from commission director Ajit Pai:
Today, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would abandon this failed approach and return to the longstanding consensus that served consumers well for decades. Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet. Instead, the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate. 
Far too many millennials know little about net neutrality in the first place. Through personal experience and from reading polling data, I've learned that many people in my generation have the political memories of goldfish. By this time next year, many will forget what it even was in the first place or how it helped them with internet usage.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Tax Reform and Incentives

Paul Ryan speaking about tax reform - CNBC
The foundation on which supply-side economics is built is incentives. By lowering the tax burden, supply-siders expect more economic growth because there are more incentives for businesses to expand. This is at the heart of all major eras of tax reform. It is at the heart of the tax reform we are seeing right now.

The corporate tax cut proposed would bring the rate down from second-highest in the world to the hundredth-highest in the world. Such a decline would encourage companies to bring back $2.6 trillion in earnings that is currently sitting overseas.

This is where the Laffer curve comes in. For a recap, if a tax rate is 0% or 100% then the government will collect no revenue. As more taxes are collected, more capital is taken out of the economy. In order to maintain a vibrant economy, it is best to keep taxes low. This is why lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent is not just important for the economy, but also important for revenue.

Consider what happened in the 1920s. Thanks to the laborious work of Hoover Institution senior fellow Thomas Sowell, it's easy to know how the rich responded to reductions in income taxes. When Woodrow Wilson, the founder of the income tax, left office there was a top income rate of 73 percent. His successors Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge believed taxes needed to be brought down. From 1921 to 1929, the top income tax rate decreased to 25 percent.

In 1916, there were 206 people who reported incomes of $1 million and higher, but as Wilson's tax hikes continued this number decreased precipitously. In 1921, the year Harding was inaugurated, the number of people who claimed to have an income of $1 million and higher was only twenty-one. Yet in 1925 there were 207 people who reported incomes at that level. The reason this occurred was because the tax cuts created the incentive for the rich to report more of their income, which had been placed into tax shelters. Tax revenue increased during the period, from $700 million in 1921 to over $1 billion in 1929.

If history is not persuasive for someone who opposes the tax cut, then maybe academic information will be. Professor Eric Ohrn of Grinnell College looked into the domestic production activities deduction, which lowers the corporate tax rate for American-based manufacturers. He calculated that 1 percent reduction in tax rates leads to an investment increase of 4.7 percent of installed capital, 0.3 percent of sales, and decreases debt by 5.3 percent of total assets. 

Studies from the Tax Foundation show how the Tax Cut and Jobs Act will help the economy. In the analysis of the version from the House of Representatives it is projected that GDP will be 3.5 percent higher, wages 2.7 percent higher, and an additional 890,000 full-time equivalent jobs long-term. The Senate's version is slightly better with 3.7 percent higher GDP, 2.9 percent higher wages, and 925,000 full-time equivalent jobs. In both cases, after-tax incomes of all taxpayers increase (by 4.4 percent from the Senate's plan and by 3.8 percent from the plan brought by the House of Representatives).

Now to the politics. According to the latest poll, 64 percent of Americans oppose the tax bill. In my opinion, the reason why is because of lies being pushed by Democrats who argue that a tax cut will somehow lead to a tax increase for the middle class and the poor while only helping the rich. Fact-checkers have proven this talking point to be false on numerous occasions.

Unfortunately, this is the argument opponents of tax reform are going to make. The only way to prove it false is to implement the tax bill as quickly as possible. When the economy booms, the voters will realize the success of it and re-elect Republican politicians. As a side note, President Trump really needs to stop with the unnecessary rhetoric. The economy is booming, but because of the way he acts his popularity continues to sag. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Doug Jones wins Alabama's Special Senate Election

Doug Jones celebrates his victory in Birmingham - Bob Miller/The New York Times 
Looks like I'll finish 2017 with my one and only prediction of the year being wrong. Despite history and the current political climate of Alabama being in Roy Moore's favor, former United States attorney Doug Jones has won the special election in a major upset. He took 49.9 percent of the vote to Moore's 48.4 percent.

Moore lost the election more than Jones won it. In order to just be competitive, Jones needed to turnout African-American voters in in cities like Birmingham and the "Black Belt" region of the state. Running from east to west across the center of Alabama, the Black Belt earned its name from the soil. It also includes heavily black cities like Montgomery and Selma. In many of these Black Belt counties, Jones won more than 70 percent of the votes cast.

However, the biggest reason Jones won was because many conservatives could not bring themselves to vote for Moore because of the allegations of pedophilia and sexual harassment. In 2016, Donald Trump won Alabama with 62.1 percent of the votes (over 1.3 million). Jeff Sessions was so popular in 2014 that he had no opponent, but he still won 795,606 votes (or 97.3 percent). Moore only received 650,436 votes in this election.

Some of these voters were independents who switched sides, but because Alabama is so conservative the number of right-leaning voters who stayed at home was the most important factor. Some conservatives wrote-in their own candidates. There were 22,819 write-in votes (1.7 percent). There was an effort among Never Trump conservatives to get Alabama Republicans to not vote for Moore. David French at National Review wrote:
Anyone who tells you that your choice is limited to pro-abortion Doug Jones or an incompetent, unfit apparent child abuser like Roy Moore is simply lying to you. If you are a faithful conservative, you can write in a different name or stay home. You can reject the choice served up by the plurality of Alabama GOP primary voters and simply say, “If you want my vote, you have to do better.”
In the civil war within the Republican Party, this is battle where Steve Bannon is the greatest loser. Bannon and his allies spent many resources trying to elect Moore, only to come up short. If this his his strategy to make the GOP more populist and nationalist, then it is spectacularly failing. Mitch McConnell, who favored Luther Strange, will be happy about the election results. While he is losing a seat, he did not want someone as despicable as Moore in the Senate. Richard Shelby, the other senator from Alabama, is also pleased with the results.

As for greater ramifications, it is difficult to say. In terms of public policy, the Republicans in Congress will have more difficulty in passing bills. Moore's defeat means the GOP will lose a seat and now have 51. That's barely a majority. Aside from the legislative problem, this election was clearly a referendum on Moore's conduct. The scandals sunk his candidacy, not national issues like Obamacare and tax reform. It is likely that Strange and other Republican candidates who lost in the initial primary would've won re-election easily. However, there are some big warning signs for Republicans onward.

The results in Alabama have are similar to a special election for Senate in Massachusetts in January 2010. The election was held following the death of Edward "Teddy" Kennedy and it was expected to be an easy victory for Democrats because of the Bay State is very liberal. Yet due to the weak economic recovery and President Barack Obama's falling approval rating, Republican Scott Brown won. Is Alabama a testament of what's come? It's certainly possible.

Here's Doug Jones' victory speech:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Prediction for the Alabama Senate Election of 2017

Roy Moore at a rally on September 25 - Scott Olson/Getty Images
All eyes are on Alabama tonight to see if Republican candidate Roy Moore can defeat Democrat Doug Jones in the special election to replace Jeff Sessions. When Sessions left to become the attorney general, Governor Robert J. Bentley appointed State Attorney General Luther Strange to take his place. Nevertheless, it was decided that a special election would be held.

The Republican primary was highly bizarre. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed Strange. Yet some of Trump's biggest supporters endorsed Moore. Steve Bannon, Laura Ingraham, and Phil Robertson have supported Moore since the primary. Even Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson didn't stand by his current boss on this one.

Strange lost the primary because he was viewed as too moderate and too establishment. Additionally, Governor Bentley was forced to resign after being booked on campaign finance charges in order to avoid felony charges he would have faced because of a sex scandal involving an aide. Bentley's scandals assisted in tarnishing Strange's campaign. The incumbent lost in his own primary, taking 45.4 percent to Moore's 54.6 percent in the runoff on September 26. Either way, many Republicans expected an easy victory. Alabama is one of the most Republican states in the country.

Then came Moore's scandals. On November 9, The Washington Post published a story on well-substantiated claims made by four women on Moore's sexual behavior. They have said that the Republican nominee had a sexual relationship with them they were just teenagers. Another woman made more allegations days later.

These scandals sunk Moore's support in Alabama. If you look at the RealClearPolitics average, you will see that Moore had a lead of six percent on November 9. On the seventeenth, Jones finally led by a margin of just 0.2 percent. He held a slight lead for ten days, but now Moore is back ahead. As of now, Moore leads by a margin of 2.2 percent. The latest polling has been insane. Emerson College shows Moore up by 9 percent, while a Fox News poll has Jones up by 10 percent. Other polls shows Moore ahead by a smaller margin.

I predict Moore will win. Even with these scandals, we're still talking about Alabama. To give you an idea of how strongly Republican it is, more than 423,000 people voted in the GOP's primary compared to the 165,000 who voted in the Democratic primary. In presidential races, the percentage of people who vote Democrat just keeps going down. Al Gore received 41.6 percent in Alabama in 2000, Barack Obama had 38.7 percent in 2008, and Hillary Clinton got 34.4 percent in 2016. The last Democrat to carry the state in a presidential election was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

The only way Jones could possibly win depends on extremely high turnout in the urban centers. Cities like Mobile, Huntsville, and Birmingham have large numbers of African-American voters. The other thing he has to do is win voters in the right-leaning suburbs of those cities. Strange was backed by many Republicans in these areas and they are more likely to dump Moore than are Republicans in rural areas.

Ultimately, I believe Moore will win the state with 51-54 percent of the vote. Whether or not he will stay in the Senate once elected is a different matter. Personally, I believe Moore should be kicked out for his behavior. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado is leading the Republican effort to do just that. This means another appointment from the new governor, Kay Ivey, but it is obviously for the better. No one should want a disgusting man like him walking around the halls of the Senate.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Of Course Trading for Bowe Bergdahl was a Mistake

Bowe Bergdahl at the Fort Bragg military courthouse
When Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier in the United States Army, was traded in exchange for five Taliban members in 2014, President Barack Obama held a press conference celebrating his return. Many Democrats and liberals in media followed suit. In fact, before the trade Fox News was criticized in July 2009 because retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters said on of their programs that Bergdahl "abandoned his buddies, abandoned his post, and walked off." Peters, who is known for his blunt personality, doubled down.

Fast forward to 2017 and the "hero" Bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion. His decision to flee led to the deaths of six soldiers who were searching for him. In my opinion, the costs were of the trade were too great and I am someone who believes terrorists should never be negotiated with. Obama's decision was a disaster and it should've never been made. Sadly, Bergdahl won't be suffering any punishments for his desertion. The judge has ruled no jail time.

Eight years after being attacked by politicians and media pundits, Ralph Peters wrote an excellent opinion article on the Bergdahl decision. He concluded:
This case isn’t just about punishing one jerk. It’s about the combat effectiveness of our military in time of war. While the man is judged, the institution is sentenced. 
That judge condemned the institution when he decided that Bergdahl should go free. 
We expect explanations. 
Meanwhile, Bergdahl can celebrate. The activist left can celebrate. Former President Barack Obama can claim redemption and Susan Rice can grunt with satisfaction that, despite his dishonorable discharge, Bergdahl kinda-sorta “served with honor and distinction,” didn’t he? 
And the widows Bergdahl’s actions left behind can go to hell. Wives serving their own life sentences of caring for heroes incapacitated by wounds because of Bergdahl’s treachery can be damned. His comrades who served honorably can kiss off. Let’s all line up and spit on those who serve proudly. 
This is a wonderful day for America’s enemies, foreign and domestic.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Right Rises Among German-Speaking Peoples

Angela Merkel's speech following electoral victory - Reuters
No one was surprised when the Christian Democratic Union secured its fourth term. Angela Merkel's popularity has declined since the last federal election in 2013, but not by enough for her premiership to be in any serious danger.

Yet despite the celebrations among CDU voters, there is some rightful concern. Since first becoming chancellor in 2005, she steadily moved her party to the center. This opened up a vacuum on the right that could be exploited in the event of a crisis. The Syrian Civil War triggered the exact confrontation that Merkel hoped to avoid. No one should deny that Merkel has incredible talents as a politician. She has maintained a coalition of center-left, center-right, and more ideologically conservative voters, but over 1 million CDU supporters decided to vote for the Alternative for Germany and Alice Weidel. The CDU won 32.9 percent of the German voters. They won 41.5 percent four years ago.

The final results from the election on September 24 are as follows:

Christian Democratic Union (Angela Merkel) - 246 (-65)
Social Democratic Party (Martin Schulz) - 153 (-40)
Alternative for Germany (Alice Weidel) - 94 (+94)
Free Democratic Party (Christian Lindner) - 80 (+80)
The Left (Sahra Wagenknecht) - 69 (+5)
Green Party (Katrin Göring-Eckardt) - 67 (+4)

Forming a coalition will not be easy for Merkel. Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz has declared that there will be no coalition with Merkel following the election. The SPD continues to find itself in a worse political situation following every election. Even if Schulz wasn't going to become chancellor, there was some early anticipation among SPD loyalists that he'd at least increase the size of his party in the Bundestag. Alas, his party only won 20.5 percent of the votes, down from 25.7 percent in 2013.

There are two parties that Merkel won't form a coalition with. Unmistakably, the AfD is not an option because of their staunch opposition to the European Union and to migration. The other party she vehemently opposes is The Left. For readers of my blog who aren't familiar with this party, it basically encompasses old fashioned communists and younger voters who hold a romantic view of the pro-Soviet German Democratic Republic.

Christian Lindner at an FDP rally in December 2013 - Adam Berry/Getty Images
That leaves two other parties. The Free Democratic Party was the junior partner of a coalition with the CDU after the 2009 election. In 2013, the party faced a major setback when they failed to meet the 5 percent threshold needed to be in the Bundestag. Fortunately, FDP leader Christian Lindner repaired the party's imaged and doubled the vote total, from 4.8 percent in 2013 to 10.7 percent now.

While the AfD is similar to Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, the FDP would be the party of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich. In general, Merkel has a fiscally conservative economic record, which is why she finds the FDP appealing. The problem is a coalition between the two still does not meet the number of seats needed for a majority.

The final party to win seats is the Green Party. As in the United States, the Greens in Germany are what you expect. They are a left-wing party that emphasizes environmental protection. Merkel does have a strong environmental record, but that might not be enough to bring them into the fold. It's hard to see the FDP and the Greens working together in a coalition. What's being called the Jamaica Coalition is possible, but demanding.

In response to the AfD's rise, Merkel wants to take her party even further to the left. At a conference for the youth-wing of the CDU, she said she believes the party prioritizes the economy too much and should focus more on individuals. Jens Spahn, a CDU member of the Bundestag, holds a very different view. In his speech the night before at the conference, he asked, "Does anyone seriously believe we lost 12 percent to the AfD in Baden-Württemberg is because of old-age care policy?"

This election could very well be Merkel's last. The question is what kind of party the CDU will be when she leaves (if she leaves before the next election at all). Merkel is doing her best to prevent a major shift to the right, but I can see that happening when she's gone. If the CDU continues to follow her beliefs, then it could lead to more losses in the next federal election. Conservative voters are deeply concerned with the refugee crisis, but at the moment a U-turn within the CDU will not take place under Merkel.

Sebastian Kurz gives his victory speech - Reuters
While the AfD won't be part of any coalition in Germany, their equivalent in Austria will have power. The New People's Party has won first place with 62 seats, a gain of fifteen. Their leader, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, will seek a coalition with the right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria. Europe's first millennial leader will give right-wing forces in his country the ability to implement an agenda.

The FPO has a neo-Nazi past, but has become more mainstream under leader Heinz-Christian Strache. Anti-Semitism has been dumped for opposition of Islamic refugee migration and economic nationalism. He has said that Anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in his government. As for the larger party, Kurz has brought other, more symbolic changes as well. Originally, it was called the Austrian People's Party until he changed the name. Additionally, he changed the color from black (traditionally used by parties on the right, including the CDU) to turquoise.

The rise of the Austrian right poses major problems for Merkel and her ally Emmanuel Macron. He has been an outspoken critic of the European Union and demands that his fellow leaders do more to defend their borders. He also wants to limit access of refugees to welfare. As for European politics, Kurz says he wants to "bridge" the divide between western European leaders who want to keep the status quo and eastern European leaders who desire reform.

Kurz can be a very promising leader if he plays a crucial role in improving relations among European countries. At the same time, his rise is another defeat for Europe's establishment. While they've enjoyed recent victories in the Netherlands, France, and somewhat in Germany, anti-EU populism can still find areas of success.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Merkel Set for Another Easy Victory

Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz before a debate.
German voters will go to the polls on September 24. Some of the key issues are how to treat refugees from the Middle East, Germany's position in the European Union, and its position in the greater world. Through the last four years, Chancellor Angela Merkel has suffered several setbacks, yet she has survived every one of them and is set for another landslide this year.

Problems arose with her decision to accept a seemingly unlimited number of refugees into her nation. She faced a threat from the right. Voters who had more nationalist, patriotic, and Eurosceptic views abandoned the Christian Democratic Union for the Alternative for Germany. The AfD became known as the anti-EU insurgency party. Some members of the CDU began to question Merkel's leadership. Her party was weakened by regional defeats.

Yet those who believed Merkel was on the ropes don't know her too well. Her extreme pragmatism is what keeps her in power and she was aware of the challenges. The CDU's promises in this campaign include boosting deportations of refugees who have links to ISIS or do harm in Germany, increasing defense spending to the NATO requirement of 2 percent of gross domestic product, and has maintained that the United States still remains Germany's most important partner outside of Europe despite disagreements with President Donald Trump.

Decisions like these were attractive to new AfD members, so they rejoined the CDU. Secondly, some of these voters might be thinking strategically and have decided to back the center-right CDU in order to avoid the rise of a Social Democrat chancellor.

At this time, the SPD has been making no gains in the polls. This means that they'll likely remain the junior partner in a coalition government or even lose that position if the pro-market Free Democratic Party secures enough seats for a more right-wing coalition with the CDU. In a very clever moment, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel decided to resign for the good of his party. Martin Schulz took the reigns and offered a clear leftward direction. His manifesto included not raising military spending to the 2 percent of GDP level and greater protections for refugees. The race started to tighten as the SPD shot up in the polls, but momentum stalled almost as soon as it started.

A state election in North-Rhine Westphalia should've been easy for the SPD (Schulz was from there after all), but on May 14 they received disappointing results. The CDU had momentum and won a close race. The SPD has slid back to where it started before Schulz became their party leader. Part of this is due to being in a grand coalition with the CDU. They share the achievements of the last four years. The number of votes who are in traditional blue-collar occupations (the kind of workers the SPD has historically appealed to) has reduced from 37 percent in 2000 to just 19 percent today. There's also the German economy, which has been very strong under Merkel's leadership. The party already looks like it is moving on to the next election.

I predict the CDU will win by a large margin, securing somewhere between 35 and 37 percent of the German vote. The SPD will probably win between 22 and 25 percent, with all the minor political parties around 10 percent or less. This leads to the difficult business of coalition making. In 2013, the Free Democratic Party failed to meet the 5 percent threshold needed to have seats in the Bundestag. They were the junior coalition partner in Merkel's government after 2009 and if they win enough seats this they could be again. The chancellor would prefer a coalition with the FDP because they offer similar parties than the SPD does.

Alternatively, if the CDU and the FDP is not enough, then there's also the option of making the Green Party a third partner. This is being called the "Jamaica coalition" because of the colors of three parties. This coalition would be difficult due to the leftist slant of the Greens, but could be the only option if Merkel wants the SPD out of the equation.

As for the United States, President Trump has many differences with Merkel, but there is no doubt that she is going to be the chancellor he has to work with for the rest of his term. That means maintaining free trade agreements and close diplomatic relations with the Germans. They are a nation the United States cannot afford to ignore.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Trump Drops the Ball on Charlottesville

Donald Trump's response to the terrorist attack in Charlottesville could've been stronger had he not attempted to defend some members of the alt-right in a Tuesday press conference. During the conference, which took place at Trump Tower in New York City, the president said this:
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. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee. 
So — excuse me — and you take a look at some of the groups and you see and you would know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases, you are not. But, many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it is 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?
Except the people at the rally in Charlottesville and at the one the night before are anti-Semites and racists. The event was hosted by the likes of Richard Spencer and Mike Enoch. Trump referred several times to that night rally, where hundreds of alt-right members were carrying tiki torches to look scary (they actually looked ridiculous). At the rally, they chanted "Jews will not replace us." There was more to it than defending Confederate statues. They want to exterminate people they don't like.

That's what a neo-Nazi is and the president should know it. Trump has never been a great communicator, but he at least needs to be a competent communicator if he wants to stay as president. Attempting to defend some people in the alt-right is not the way to do that and it will only hinder the progress of his administration.

Batman: The Enemy Within Review

Following the popularity of Batman: The Telltale Series, Telltale Games decided to release a second season on August 8 called Batman: The Enemy Within. I finished playing episode 1 and while I won't be able to complete the game until all episodes are released in the next several months, it does successfully build off  of the first season. I also think it improves from some of the last season's weaknesses.

Since the storyline is interactive, players are forced to make changes that effect relationships in the game. This season introduces players to Amanda Waller, who is often at odds with James Gordon. Both have different methods to fighting crime, leaving the player to choose between the two of them. Is Gordon's traditional style of following due process the just way to hunting criminals or is it preferable to be like Waller and throw civil liberties out the window?

In other cases, players will have to decide how much information they want to give to others. It could help build trust with one character, but it could also risk Batman's secret identity. Speaking of his secret identity, players will also find that they have to spend a good portion of time playing Bruce Wayne.  As Wayne, players can find alternative means to go after criminals. A wealthy businessman, Wayne is guaranteed to attract attention from villains, which endangers himself and his allies. How this is handled is up to the player.

As with Telltale's previous games. Every choice has positives and negatives. Unlike past games, which merely reveal statistics of what choices all the players made, this one includes relationship statuses that could alter the direction of the game in the future.

This season introduces the player to new villains in the series. In addition to the Joker, you'll face the Riddler in this game and he's significantly better villain than Jim Carrey's portrayal in the atrocious Batman Forever. Riddler's obsession is to prove that he's more intelligent than Batman. He wants to prove it by breaking Batman's moral code. This will lead the player to make other tough choices. It also sets up the main premise of this season. Should Batman do everything he needs to defeat the villains, even if it means other people will get hurt?

Telltale's games aren't without their weaknesses. The QTE sequences can get very repetitive, though with each game they do get more complex. I think with every game, the company is trying to experiment more. They know they can't give out the same materials every time, so they have to build-off on what they have.

In truth, if you don't like the Telltale style by now, then don't bother. If you're indifferent about it, but like Batman, then it is worth a go. The story and the interactive gameplay is what matters, so if you really like Batman or have had a lot of fun with previous Telltale titles, then this is for you.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Threat of the Alt-Right

It has been seventy-six years since the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor. The attack crippled the U.S. Pacific Fleet, but soon Japan and the rest of the Axis regretted their decision. The entrance of the United States into the Second World War ensured Allied victory. The losers were Japanese imperialism, Italian fascism, and German Nazism.

Before American entered the war, a Nazi group called the German-American Bund promoted an alignment with Germany. Only German who moved to the United States and Americans of German descent were allowed into the group. Like the Nazis, the German-American Bund promoted the views of anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and nationalism socialism. The group faded from any relevancy when Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, following Franklin D. Roosevelt's declaration of war against Japan.

Although the organization was small (at its height there were only 5,000 to 10,000 people signed as members). Rallies could often include larger numbers. Their largest was in Madison Square Garden in New York City, where 20,000 people were in attendance.

Like the German-American Bund, the modern alt-right endorse Nazism and their strength is thankfully limited in the thousands. Even so, they manage to draw attention to themselves like their predecessors did. The night before their big rally in Charlottesville, alt-right members marched in the University of Virginia with torches. It was reminiscent of the Nazi marches of the 1930s.

Then came the day of the "Unite the Right" rally. The white supremacists were met with thousands of protestors to counter them. Protestors who believed in equal rights. That's when a car driven by one of the racists plowed through a group of the counter-protestors, killing one and injuring many others. Two state troopers died in a helicopter accident responding to the attack.

Two things have led to the rise of alt-right in our society. The first is that the memory of World War II is starting to fade. It will be a sad day when there's no more veterans who fought in the war. We will have our historians and textbooks, but knowing and listening to people with personal connections is always different and makes a greater impression on people. Decades from now, college students can read about the experience of a GI on D-Day, but they wouldn't be able to actually meet them.

The second is that the alt-right feels emboldened with Donald Trump's victory. The president himself is not a Nazi, but no one can doubt that he's had problems with calling out white supremacist groups. Back on the campaign trail in February, he refused to disavow the KKK and racist activist David Duke. He later backtracked and said he had a bad earpiece. His father was arrested following a KKK riot in 1927. The alt-right believes Trump's concerns over immigration and foreign policy means he is speaking to them. He isn't. He has criticized the actions taken by the alt-right member.

The alt-right replied by attacking Trump. Duke attacked Trump by saying it "was white Americans who put you in the presidency." Newsflash to Duke: white Americans make up the majority of the country. Every president was elected with the support of many whites, as well as blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

I think Trump's speech should have been tougher on the alt-right groups, but he has done what would be done. Racism has no place in our country and it is the job of every American to confront it. It is also important to remember that we're not fighting a war. We should never engage in violence of our own, even though their views are horrifying. Everyone has right to say what they want and we have a right to call them out for it.

Paul Ryan's Easy Opponents

Ryan in Janesville - Gannett
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is set to run for another term in the House of Representatives. He has been winning nonstop in Wisconsin's first district since 1998 and that doesn't look like it's going to change. In addition to becoming a giant of national politics, his opponents are bumbling fools.

I'll first address Ryan's Republican primary opponent Paul Nehlen. While I have brought up Nehlen before on this blog, they were only passing references. I was too busy focusing on the presidential election to look into the 2016 GOP primary in the first district. I did, however, believe that it was very likely Ryan was going to win another term. The truth is Nehlen is an embarrassment for Wisconsin Republicans, many of which take pride in the fact that one of their own is the top man in the House of Representatives.

Now that I have time to focus on the race in the first district, I just want Republicans there to know that Nehlen knows little about Wisconsinites and only seems to be in it for himself. According to Jeremy Carpenter of Media Trackers, Nehlen has registered to vote in four different states over the last ten years. He has voted or has been registered in Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In the case of my home state, Nehlen voted here in 2008 presidential election and in the 2012 gubernatorial recall election. He came back from Michigan in 2014 and voted in the gubernatorial election. Does this sound like someone who truly understands Wisconsin?

Since his first campaign, Nehlen has established a super PAC called Citizens Revolt. Don't donate to it because it's a total scam. Carpenter looked into the controversy, finding that Nehlen hired Dan Backer, an attorney based in Washington DC. Backer has been infamous for his involvement in many super PACs, many of which have been proven to be scams that only benefit employees running them, not Republican candidates or voters.

After losing in 2016 by a landslide, Nehlen has returned. Though he might win more votes this time from Republican voters who are dissatisfied with Ryan, it's obvious he's going to get pummeled again.

While Ryan will likely win the Republican primary, his main opponent is expected to be Democratic activist and ironworker Randy Bryce. Bryce received national attention for his announcement video, which focused on the impact on his family if the Affordable Care Act would be repealed. Yet if Obamacare was so appealing to him, it's worth asking why he'd want a single-payer health care program to replace it.

Bryce is clearly hoping to focus on domestic issues and wants to appeal to blue-collar workers who voted Republican in 2016. His greatest weakness is that he also has to confront foreign policy issues. It is in this area that Bryce is lacking. In an interview with Fox 6 on July 5, he showed major ignorance on a serious threat to global tranquility. First Bryce said, "I don't have information on what North Korea launched." After that, he stated "we're going to take a trip later this month to Washington get better educated on the issues, and I hope to have more information then." Candidates should already be informed on the issues before they run.

Sometimes Congress has to vote on a declaration of war. Do we want someone who knows nothing about our enemies voting on legislation to approve conflicts? I don't and neither should anyone else. The North Korean crisis is difficult issue involving crimes against humanity, nuclear weapons, allies like South Korea and Japan, and enemies like Russia and China. We require knowledgeable politicians to handle it. Bryce is clearly not one of them.

Somewhere, Paul Ryan must be smiling.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Republicans Need Legislative Victories

The Republican Party is in their most powerful position since 2004. They have control over both branches of Congress and the presidency. They controlled none of these back in 2008, but they rebuilt their party by making promises to the American people. Repealing and replacing Obamacare was one of those promises.

The health care reform failure shows that these promises may not be fulfilled. The hard work to reverse Obama's signature legislation ended with three Republican senators. They might not get a chance to repeal Obamacare again. If this was their only bill, then there's little chance the Republicans could make gains in Congress (most importantly the Senate). An opinion article for The Guardian helps explain why many conservatives are feeling right now:
Back then, repeal meant, at minimum, doing away with major parts of Obamacare: Medicaid expansion, subsidies, all the new insurance rules and regulations and taxes that the law imposed on health insurance and ordinary Americans.
Of course, it was easy to make such statements in the fall of 2015. Barack Obama was never going to sign a repeal bill, skinny or not. In hindsight, the dozens of repeal votes from Republicans in both chambers seem now to be so much political grandstanding. Moderate Republican senators who voted for full repeal in 2015 hypocritically oppose it now, and conservative senators who opposed skinny repeal in 2015 supported it on Thursday. They are all guilty of the same rank hypocrisy. 

There is a grave danger for Republicans in all of this. If there’s one thing the 2016 presidential election should have taught the GOP establishment, it’s that Americans are disgusted with politics as usual – the showboating, the sloganeering, the canned talking points and the pervasive, poisonous insincerity of it all.
Failing to repeal and replace Obamacare means that tax reform is even more critical. The GOP has to run on something in 2018. The Republican Party is the supply-side party of the United States. Every Republican in Congress supports reducing the tax burden. The big question is how.

A tax cut for the American people might seem easy, but that's until you get into the details. Let's the corporate tax cut is going to decrease the rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. There could be a divide between more moderate Republicans who want something like 30 percent and more conservative Republican who'd prefer around 10 percent. Then there's the many deductions and special tax credits. Will different Republican want to change different portions of the tax code while defending others?

In the White House, Steve Bannon (ever the populist), has been calling for a top income tax rate of 44 percent while cutting taxes for poorer Americans. This might seem like a good idea, but it's better to reduce taxes for everyone. There's no way a majority of Republicans would support his proposal.

One thing is clear: no matter the divisions, Republicans have to come together and finally pass a flagship item of legislation this year. That means President Trump has to get involved and push harder than he did for health care.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Wisconsin Boom Continues

Walker announces the Foxconn deal at the White House - Associated Press
The Foxconn deal is the latest great news for the Wisconsin economy. An electronics manufacturing corporation, Foxconn was looking to establish a plant in the United States and many states competed for it. In the end, Scott Walker managed to secure the deal for the Badger State. It's a big win for Wisconsinites.

If the deal goes according to plan, the new plant will create 13,000 jobs, offers employees an average annual salary of $53,875 plus benefits, and an investment of $10 billion. It will include the construction of a massive manufacturing campus. In addition to the workers at the factory, there will be $5.7 billion spent on the construction, which support 10,000 direct and 6,000 indirect jobs.

Like many other businesspeople, what attracted Foxconn chairman Terry Gou to Wisconsin were the incentives Walker and Republican legislators have implemented over the years. Tax relief for the company included $1.5 billion in income tax credits for job creation, $1.35 billion tax credits for capital investment, and $150 million for the sales and use tax exemption. In total, Foxconn gets $3 billion in tax credits and exemptions over fifteen years.

Politically, this places Walker in a strong position for re-election next year. Scott Walker's economic model has led to a major boom in the state economy. Unemployment has continued to go down and is now at 3.1 percent. If the job growth continues, then Walker could soon hold the record for the lowest unemployment rate in Wisconsin history. Unlike at a national level, labor force participation continues to rise. At the moment, Wisconsin's unemployment rate is the seventh lowest in the county and the labor force participation rate is the fifth highest in the country.

Democrats often love to point to Minnesota as a liberal success story while ignoring other states, but Wisconsin's unemployment rate is now lower than its western neighbor's. Then there's the Midwest state every Democrat prefers to ignore: Illinois. In response to the Foxconn announcement, the editorial board of The Chicago Tribune unloaded on state Democrats, especially leaders Michael Madigan and John Cullerton:
Cranky Springfield apologists for Madigan and Cullerton will say we're overreaching, that Gov. Bruce Rauner is somehow to blame for losing Foxconn to Wisconsin. Except Rauner has been pushing exactly the kinds of employer-friendly reforms that Madigan and Cullerton have resisted, often to please their allies who lead labor unions.
It's Madigan and Cullerton who've set up Illinois to fail in these contests for jobs. Madigan and Cullerton who haven't sent Rauner a no-gimmicks property tax freeze to even slightly offset the extra $5 billion their income tax hike will gouge from companies and workers. Madigan and Cullerton who won't make major fixes to a workers' compensation system that drives away employers. Madigan and Cullerton who can't deliver significant pension reforms to Rauner's desk. Madigan and Cullerton who can't bring themselves to slash that costly roster of 7,000 local governments.
A statement by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin reveals the little ammunition they have to attack Walker on the Foxconn deal. They thank Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representative Mark Poncan, rather than Wisconsin's governor, for somehow being responsible for Foxconn's Wisconsin plant. They then go into the concerns that the jobs being subsidized by the government aren't going to offer "a living wage and safe working conditions." Walker can see a third term on the horizon.