Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trump As CEO President Has Actually Been A Huge Success

One of bigger appeals that Donald Trump had for a certain portion of the electorate was the myth that Trump was a very successful businessman and would run the US Government like a business. The problem is that running the federal government is nothing like running a business. Trump and his supporters may love to look at the President as a CEO but, if the President is the CEO, then Congress is a 535 member corporate board who will have to OK virtually every decision the CEO makes. And the federal judiciary is a massive legal department that can shut down policies that even the CEO and the board agree upon.

But, in so many ways, Trump does not seem to grasp these issues and insists on believing that the President has the same powers as a CEO. As Vox points out, the fact that Trump has tried to run the government like a business had meant that he has largely left government unchanged. He seemed shocked that his executive orders were not similar to his orders as head of the Trump Organization -it would just simply happen. And he was even more shocked that a judge somewhere in the country could simply and easily just stop those orders in their tracks.

He takes that same CEO authoritarian approach to his dealings with Congress and in his foreign policy. And this is compounded by his policy ignorance, in much the same ways bad CEOs (and there are plenty of them) don't sweat the details but focus on the "vision" for the company. This approach has poisoned Trump's relationships with our allies and even with Congress. As Vox notes, when Trump was trying to get the ACA repeal through the House, he said to "forget about the little shit" and left Bannon to tell representatives "Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill". To which one member replied, "You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn't listen to him, either". That authoritarian kind of mentality works in corporate America. It does not work with Congress..

And, just like most CEOs, especially one from a family-owned business, Trump believes in a small coterie of close advisers that will essentially make all the decisions. There is, however, a second layer of upper management who do exist, desperately trying to become part of the inner circle and show Trump that they can get things done. This is essentially the role that the cabinet fills for the CEO Trump. Often times this layer of upper management works at cross-purposes and spends a lot of time trying to politically push aside their peers. This is why we see Rex Tillerson and Nikki Haley virtually contradicting each other in explaining what is supposed to be US policy toward Assad. But for the CEO, this second layer of management performs one important role. If anything goes seriously wrong, if something goes south in a big way, they are there to take the blame and be the fall guy (and it's usually a guy).

The major corporate CEO has lost touch with and no longer understands the role that the vast majority of his employees actually do. To him, they are just another expense line on the balance sheet. But they are actually the people who get things done. Trump does not seem to believe that there is a reason to fill all the positions that are currently open in his administration. Of course, these are the people who actually implement the CEO's decisions and actually get things accomplished. But, like many CEOs, Trump does not understand the importance of these workers, which is a large part of the reason why he is not getting things done.

While Trump's attempt to run government like a business has been a failure in terms of accomplishment, there is one hugely important area where Trump's CEO mentality is a raging success. It is virtually the sole criteria upon which CEOs are judged and, in this sense, Trump is right when he says that his first 100 days is "one of the most successful in American history". That criteria is, of course, taking care of Trump's shareholders, which in this case is Trump's family and Trump himself. It is surely not the American people.

Every trip to Mar-a-Lago lines his pockets. Every foreign government or domestic organization that books a room or an event at his hotels adds to the shareholder dividend. Every sale of an apartment or condo in a Trump owned or branded building, whether by untraceable owners, foreign governments, or others, increases shareholder value. Every trademark that Donald and Ivanka receives in another foreign country boosts the bottom line. Every offer that Jared receives to bail out his disastrous investment in 666 5th Avenue, from the Chinese or others, is one step closer to getting rid of that loss. Every Trump visit to another Trump property is free advertising, as is official government outlets pushing his resorts and properties, as the State Department recently did with Mar-a-Lago. And every meeting that Donald or Ivanka or Jared or Eric or Don, Jr. has with a foreign dignitary or business leader is another opportunity for a soft sales pitch if not an outright quid pro quo.

By the standards of current American capitalism, the record of Trump as the CEO President has been an unqualified success. The shareholders are giddy. The profits are rolling in. The future may have some uncertainty but it certainly looks bright. The next 3-1/2 years look like it will more of the same. The fact that he has accomplished nothing is simply irrelevant. Trump has fulfilled the business school mantra of maximizing shareholder value and, based on the standards to judge American corporate leaders, he has done a great job. With results like this, it's certainly about time to give the CEO an enormous bonus.

Natural Weekends - Spring Flowers And A Backyard Friend

Spring has really arrived on the creek and in another week or two almost everything will be in full bloom.

And here is a closeup of our backyard squirrel.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Why Is Trump Antagonizing South Korea?

As Trump becomes more fixated on the epic failure of his domestic policies, he comes more and more dangerous in the foreign policy arena where he has far more leeway. This week, his focus has been on potentially starting a trade war with Canada and demands to renegotiate NAFTA. Last night, it was the threat of a "major, major conflict with North Korea". And today, incredibly, Trump goes after the South Koreans, threatening to cancel the US trade deal with that country and wanting to "charge" the South Koreans $1 billion for the missile defense system the US just installed there. Considering the US will need as much help as the South Korean's can muster, this seems like a bizarre approach to dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with representatives from South Korea and Japan, probably in another attempt to reassure them about what the US is actually planning to do. The South Koreans apparently already understand that Trump is just bluffing as usual and they scoffed at his trade and missile defense threats. But this is also what top administration officials spend their time doing these days - convincing Trump not to do something inconceivably stupid and reckless and reassuring our allies that, despite his words, he will not. As one Trump insider said, "If you’re an adviser to him, your job is to help him at the margins. To talk him out of doing crazy things."

This is one of many dust-ups and faux-pas that Trump has committed when dealing with South Korea. There was the issue of using the words "Sea of Japan" in an official government statement and then having President Xi explain that Korea was never "part of China". Like his mistreatment of Australia, all these incidents do is force our Asian allies to rethink their foreign policy and drive them into the lap of China.

Speaking of China, there seems to be this assumption that the Chinese have enormous sway over the North Koreans and that only South Korea and Japan are threatened by Kim Jung Un. But there are plenty of populous cities in China that are within reach of North Korea's new missiles. If the Chinese exert too much pressure, the North Korean's focus could switch on to them. So, in some ways, it is in the Chinese interests to have Kim focused on Trump and the USA. And that is especially true when Trump continues to alienate our Asian allies and make them rethink their relationship with China.

Trump's First 100 Days - More Broken Contracts

Tomorrow will mark the 100th day of the Trump presidency and, as in all his dealings in his real estate empire, it will mark yet another string of broken contracts by Donald Trump. With the House admitting late last night that it did not have the votes for another run at Obamacare repeal and replace, Trump will sign yet another executive order, head to the NRA convention and a fundraiser for Karen Handel, and then probably end up at Mar-a-Lago, meaning that it will be another day of accomplishing nothing in his Contract With The American Voter, his "100-day action plan to Make America Great Again". And he leaves town with the hope that Congress will pass a continuing resolution to keep the government from shutting down tonight. If the Republican-controlled Congress can't even do that, it would surely be the capstone to Trump's first 100 days.

Let's review his broken contracts with the American people. For easier understanding, I have broken down his 28 promises into two groups, those that could be accomplished through simple executive actions, such as an executive order, and those that require legislation be proposed and passed by Congress.

Executive Actions

Propose a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress - No amendment has been introduced or even mentioned by Trump. Fail, No Attempt.

A hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health) - This was actually done as one of Trump's first acts on January 23rd but Trump recently reversed course and lifted that hiring freeze.  Fail.

A requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated - Trump's January 30th executive order made it sound like he was implementing this but in fact the order simply said that for every new regulation two existing regulations must merely be identified for possible elimination. In addition, there were numerous areas that were exempt and any rule was subject to exemption by OMB Director Mulvaney. Fail.

A 5 year-ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service - Trump signed an executive order that would ban officials from lobbying the agency they work for, not the total ban that he promised. In addition, the order allowed Trump to give special waivers to exempt specific individuals. Partial Fail.

A lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government - The same executive order as the above 5-year ban actually did implement this promise with the same caveat that special waivers could be issued. Success.

A complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections - Fail, No Attempt.

I will announce my intention to renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal under Article 2205 - Despite lots of threats, no action. Fail, No Attempt.

I will announce our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership - One of his first actions on January 23rd was to withdraw from TPP - Success.

I will direct my Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator - According to Trump, China stopped being a currency manipulator when he took office. Fail, No Attempt.

I will direct the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative to identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately - Trump did sign an executive order instructing the government to identify the sources of our trade deficit by country and product. There was no instruction on how to "end those abuses", however. Partial Fail.

I will lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal - While Trump has lifted some mining and drilling restrictions, none of that is anywhere near the $50 trillion level he promised. Other reviews and executive orders, such as allowing drilling in national monuments, will take years and much litigation to become reality, if ever. Partial Fail.

Lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward - Trump did allow the construction of the Keystone and DAPL pipelines to go forward. Although this promise was vague, we will give him full credit here. Success.

Cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama - Since we have no idea which Obama actions Trump is talking about, it is hard to judge this one. But he has reversed some of Obama's executive orders and the Senate has rolled back some Obama regulations using the Congressional Review Act. Again, we will grade Trump on the curve and give him credit. Success.

Begin the process of selecting a replacement for Justice Scalia from one of the 20 judges on my list, who will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States - Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch. Success.

Cancel all federal funding to Sanctuary Cities - Again, despite a lot of threats, no action has been taken and any action will be challenged in court. Fail. No Attempt.

Begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back - Trump and Sessions have stepped up immigration enforcement and an executive order in January directed government agencies to exert pressure on this countries that refuse to take back deportees. Although the promise to cancel visas for those countries has not been met, we will again give Trump credit. Success.

Suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting - Trump made two attempts to fulfill this promise with his Muslim bans. Both attempts were struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. Fail.

Legislative Actions

Cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure - This requires Congressional budget legislation. While Trump's budget framework includes rolling back climate change funding, that budget has been declared dead on arrival by Congress. In addition, no infrastructure legislation has even been proposed. Fail. No Attempt.

Middle Class Tax Relief And Simplification Act - Trump's one-page summary is a joke and not a tax plan. There is no way it will ever get enough Democratic votes to get through the Senate and its viability in the House is even in question, depending on the details that have yet to be fleshed out. There really has been no legislation proposed yet. Fail. No Attempt.

End The Offshoring Act - Again, despite threats of large tariffs, Trump has done nothing. Fail. No Attempt.

American Energy & Infrastructure Act - No legislation has been put forward yet. Fail. No Attempt.

School Choice And Education Opportunity Act - Again, despite some talk, no legislation has been put forward yet. Fail. No Attempt.

Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act - Multiple attempts to craft a bill that could simply pass the House have failed and no vote on the legislation has even taken place. Fail.

Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act - Again, much of this would have to be part of the budget, but, again, no specifics have been detailed by the Trump administration. Fail. No Attempt.

End Illegal Immigration Act - This promise contains funding to the border wall and changes to criminal law regarding illegal immigration. Despite Trump's push for border wall funding, Congress has rebuffed him and no legislation that would enact changes to criminal law have been introduced. Fail.

Restoring Community Safety Act - Again, no legislation has been put forward yet. Fail. No Attempt.

Restoring National Security Act - This is yet another budgetary item that would increase spending on the military and an attempt to privatize the Veterans Administration. Trump has proposed the increase in military spending in his budget that is going nowhere. No specific legislation has been introduced to privatize the VA. Fail. No Attempt.

Clean up Corruption in Washington Act - Again, no legislation has been put forward yet. Fail. No Attempt.

To summarize, of the eighteen promises that required only executive action from Trump, only six can be deemed to have been kept in some form or other. And none of his legislative promises have been kept. What's even more remarkable about this level of failure is how many of these promises Trump has made no attempt to fulfill, even those that require a simple executive action from Trump. It speaks to the incompetence and incoherence of the Trump administration that so little has even been proposed. While that may be a relief for many of us, that does not mean that these issues and promises are necessarily going to go away. That will require relentless vigilance and resistance.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Army Corps Of Engineers Has Bizarre Reason For Witholding DAPL Assessment

The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) has refused to release a study of the potential effects of a leak in the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) using the bizarre argument that releasing the study could "endanger people’s lives and property". So the reason the ACE will not release information on how a spill could effect people's lives and property is because releasing that information would possibly effect people's live and property. You really can't make this stuff up.

The reporters at MuckRock filed a Freedom of Information Act request back in March regarding the ACE's environmental assessment of a potential pipeline leak at Lake Oahe which was and is one of the major concerns of the nearby Standing Rock Sioux. The Sioux have maintained that a proper environmental review was never conducted so this piece of information would be highly relevant to their claim. According to other internal ACE memos, there are a number of other documents related to the DAPL that have also not been released to the public and the Native American population effected by the pipeline.

According to Energy Transfer Partners, the builder of the pipeline, there is no real issues at all as any pipeline leak would be quickly detected and halted due to the safety features the company has employed. That sounds at odds with ACE but also totally unbelievable.

The bizarre response of the ACE means that both the citizens in the area of the DAPL have no idea what the effect of a leak might be, but also that the people and property that might be effected by releasing this information also have no idea that they might be in danger somehow. The ACE decision keeps everyone potentially effected in the dark. The obvious answer for a transparent democracy, which is surely in doubt in North Dakota and the US, is to release the information so that the people will be informed and prepared.

MuckRock will, of course, appeal this decision.

Ivanka Trump's Hypocrisy Extends To The Chinese Workers Who Produce Her Fashion Line

Yesterday, I wrote about the brazenness of Ivanka Trump's hypocrisy in starting a "fund" or foundation to help empower female entrepreneurs while she is working in the White House as an adviser to the President. But Ivanka's hypocrisy is actually deeper than the fact her father continually and baselessly accused Hillary Clinton of corruption because of her connection with the Clinton Foundation.

Ivanka Trump's fashion line relies on Chinese workers who make the grand total of $62 per week. The apparel is manufactured at a Chinese factory, or sweatshop, for the company G-III Apparel Group Ltd. which has the license to make blouses, dresses, and other items for Ivanka's fashion line. But, according to the Fair Labor Association, conditions in that Chinese factory were far from ideal. According to NBC News, the Fair Labor Association audit found two-dozen violations under the U.N. International Labor Organization, including that overtime work exceeded the legally required limit of 36 hours per month. Workers were found to have accumulated another 42 hours to as much as 82 hours per month in the past year. The audit said that the factory's workers took home the equivalent of roughly $255 to $284 in U.S. dollars a month."

If Ivanka was really interested in empowering women, she would ensure that her apparel line would not be using factories that allowed or even created these kinds of working conditions. But she doesn't. Instead, she and her label are able to blame the whole affair on G-III who is licensed to produce her products. G-III for its part claims, "Our goal is to always attain and maintain the best labor conditions possible in these factories." Apparently they did not succeed in the case of this factory.

Ivanka' hypocrisy in this case is notable for who she is and what her father has done. But this kind of arrangement where popular fashion labels license the manufacturing to third parties and then absolve themselves from the conditions in which their products are made is rampant. Erik Loomis highlights the findings of the NGO Fashion Revolution, noting, "Few fashion brands are implementing measures to disclose details on their supply chain...Any ethical breaches within many of the world’s 100 leading brands may be undetected. Worse still, they may be undetectable...No brand scored higher than a 50% level of transparency. Such a score would require that brands publish 'detailed information about assessment and remediation findings and detailed supplier lists from manufacturing right down to raw materials'." The report says that few brands provide any information beyond the first tier of suppliers and only four brands are even making an attempt to ensure that workers throughout the entire supply chain are paid a living wage.

The fashion industry claims that tracing the full supply chain is almost impossible because it is so fragmented. But that's just a convenient excuse for their willful blindness to how exactly their products get manufactured. As Loomis notes, we will never be able to change this kind of abuse unless we create some sort of legal framework where full information on the supply chain for each and every product is required. As long as companies can not only outsource the manufacturing but also outsource the responsibility for the workers doing the manufacturing, abuses will remain. And the fashion labels and Ivanka Trump can maintain their hypocrisy of innocence.

NY Times Story About GOP Deficit Hawks Can't Even Cite One

Alan Rappeport in the New York Times has a piece today entitled, "Trump’s Tax Plan Is a Reckoning for Republican Deficit Hawks". It is a uniquely titled piece that explores how the admittedly sketchy Trump tax proposal will add $3 to $10 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. The wide variance in estimates is simply because the details in the plan are so lacking.

The story goes on to quote a whole host of independent organizations warning about the dangers of unfunded tax cuts while others spouted the usual Laffer curve nonsense that these massive cuts will spur economic growth.

The most interesting part of the story is that only two current Republican members of Congress are even mentioned in the piece and they are both indicating initial support for the tax plan. According to Rappeport, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch "could live with cuts that added to the deficit if it meant getting the economy moving faster". And Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is quoted saying, "Rather than conforming to arbitrary budget constraints, the president’s plan rightfully aims to jump-start investment, which will produce significantly more revenue for the Treasury over the long term than any revenue-neutral tax plan could generate."

So a story about Republican deficit hawks can not even produce just one of that mythical species. When will the Times and the national media realize that there is no such thing as a Republican deficit hawk. There never has been and there never will be. There are only Republicans who like to rant and rave about the debt and deficit, usually ones they have themselves created, when Democrats are in power. For the last 30 years, the only party that has really had any deficit hawks are Democrats.

Trump Tries Everything To Deflect From The Failure Of His First 100 Days

It is pretty clear that all of Trump's actions this week are entirely focused on distracting us all from the complete and utter failure of his first 100 days. Trump is obviously obsessed with his failures and is going to great lengths to obscure it.

It started out with the demand to fund the border wall. Of course, everyone in Congress knew Trump was bluffing and, as has become his habit, he completely folded on the issue in just a couple of days.

The tax "plan" that was released yesterday was a joke, nothing more than a one page campaign document that, for a variety of reasons I have already documented, will never see the light of day in Congress.

The revised health care plan may have pleased Mark Meadows and the House Freedom Caucus but it is still doubtful it will get past the House and, even if it does, it will almost certainly not pass muster in the Senate. The plan essentially entails the same drastic Medicaid cuts as before and eliminates the requirement to cover pre-existing conditions and provide a minimum level of coverage. But rather than mandating the elimination of these requirements, it leaves that "option" up to the individual states. In addition, the proposed bill exempts Congress from those changes. Considering the level of opposition to the prior bill, it seems hard to believe that the GOP House members are going to actually vote for rolling back the requirement to cover pre-existing conditions, even if it is "optional".

Similarly, Trump's threatened executive order to pull out of NAFTA was yet another huge bluff meant to deflect attention from his failures. Trump caved on that bluff in just a couple of days as well and now he will try to get Mexico and Canada to move "swiftly" on renegotiation.

The new trade war with Canada is, like the border war, just another deflection to convince his supporters he really is doing something on trade . Similarly, the intelligence briefing on North Korea at the White House today apparently provided very little new information but made for a nice spectacle.

Even the Executive Order on allowing states to open national monuments to mineral exploration, as bad as it is, will take years to complete the review and make its way through the guaranteed court challenges to come. His ridiculous idea to break up the Ninth Circuit is something that he has no control over and would take an act of Congress, with Democratic support, to actually accomplish.

All these actions are either doomed to failure or, at best, will take years to actually become a reality. They are solely designed to deflect from the total failure of his agenda in the first 100 days. They are the desperate flails of a failing President whose massive ego cannot accept criticism or defeat.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

NHL Round 2 Predictions

The battle for the Stanly Cup resumes tonight as Round 2 begins. One thing I've found over the years is that every new series is unique and it is always a mistake to read too much into how a team played in the prior round. Because, no matter how badly a team might look to have played, they did win the series. With that in mind, here are my predictions:

Eastern Conference
New York Rangers v. Ottawa SenatorsOttawa can certainly put the puck in the net, while Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding in the defeat of the Canadiens. Ottawa relies so much on Erik Karlsson for both offense and defense, logging over 70 minutes of ice time in just the last two games of the Bruin series. But Karlsson has two hairline fractures in his ankle and just doesn't have the quick jump that he had all season. I think the ranger depth will wear Karlsson and the Ottawa defense down and Henrik Lundqvist will do the rest.  Rangers in 6.

Washington Capitals v. Pittsburgh Penguins - This really should be the conference final as the two top point leaders are going head-to-head. I expect the Capitals to be far better than they were against Toronto. Braden Holtby will lift his game. And the Penguins will miss Kris LeTang on defense. This should be an awesome, brutal series. Caps in 7.

Western Conference

St. Louis Blues v. Nashville Predators - Nashville looked unbeatable in their sweep of the Hawks and St. Louis is clearly a team with a lot of momentum. Both Jake Allen for the Blues and Pekka Rinne for the Preds have been outstanding and the difference in this series may come down to which one can steal a game for their team. Nashville, however, just looks like a team on a mission. Predators in 6;

Anaheim Ducks v. Edmonton Oilers - As in the East, this series should also be the conference final. This will be a study in contrasts. The Oilers are the brash, young, talented newcomers while the Ducks are the wily, grizzled, veteran team. The matchup will be the Ducks defensive specialist Ryan Kesler's line versus the flashy Oiler superstar Connor McDavid. But the more important matchup will probably be the Ducks tandem of John Gibson and Jonathan Bernier versus the Oilers Cam Talbot. And Talbot will be the difference for Edmonton. Oilers in 7;

The Brazenness Of The Trumps' Hypocrisy And Corruption Is Astounding

I know we've all come to expect an unprecedented level of corruption and hypocrisy from Trump, his family, and his administration, but this is truly beyond the pale, even for this crooked crew. According to Axios, Ivanka Trump is basically going to set up a lookalike to the Clinton Foundation and run it out of the White House. The reported goal of the fund is to help empower female entrepreneurs across the globe.

According to the report, "Canadians, Germans and a few Middle Eastern countries have already made quiet commitments, as have several corporations...The fund will provide working and growth capital to small- and medium-sized enterprises...President Trump is a huge supporter of his daughter's idea, and she has consulted with World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim about how to pull it off in a huge way."

Look, I absolutely have no problem with Ivanka Trump trying to help empower women, but not while she is an adviser to the President who has enormous conflicts of interest, as does she, and while she is working in the White House and effecting US Government policy.

Of course, the hypocrisy of this action is beyond extreme considering Trump himself, with a large helping hand from the media, spent the entire campaign claiming that Hillary Clinton was doing favors for the Clinton Foundation while serving as Secretary of State, despite no evidence that could ever be produced to support that claim. I'm hoping the NY Times devotes even half the coverage they gave to the Clinton Foundation non-scandal to this issue.

But beyond the hypocrisy is the sheer brazenness of the corruption. Even if you believed the worst about Clinton, she was not openly fundraising for the Foundation out of the White House they way Ivanka Trump is apparently already doing.  While the details of what this fund is and how it will be administered are unclear, it is bound to run into ethical problems. But, as we have seen, that never seems to bother the Trumps. 

Trump's Tax Proposal Will Line His Own Pocket And Turn Us All Into Kansans

Some details of Trump's tax plan that will supposedly be announced today mimic the very ones that have failed massively in Kansas. The plan calls for lowering the tax on businesses from the current 35% to 15% and allows multinationals, that have been warehousing their profits overseas waiting for a day like today, to repatriate those profits at a 10% rate. In addition, pass-through businesses like Schedule C corporations and the Trump Organization would see their rate lowered from the personal tax rate as high as 39.6% to 15% as well. Needless to say, Wall Street rejoiced at this announcement, with the Nasdaq hitting a record high and the Dow not far from its own.

As with anything Trump proposes, it is doubtful that this plan, as is, will become law. Even if it were to gain traction in Congress, it faces the hurdle of getting 60 votes in the Senate under budget reconciliation, unless Mitch McConnell wants to nuke that rule as well. If Republicans want to avoid budget reconciliation and pass it with just 50 votes, then the bill can not add to the deficit beyond the ten year window. This is how the Bush tax cuts were passed and why they had to be phased out in 2011. But, as opposed to individual rate cuts, corporate taxes will almost immediately guarantee an increase in the deficit beyond the ten year window. One estimate would be that they would have to sunset in just two years in order to stay within the ten year window. So this a just another shiny object that Trump is putting out there to distract us from his 100 days of failure. But it is worth looking at this proposal on its own merits to show just how radical the thinking is in the current Republican party.

But, incredibly, this is actually worse than most Republican tax plans. Steve Mnuchin has already declared that there will be no attempt to offset the loss of tax revenue created by this plan. He has revived, once again, the old zombie of the Laffer (aka Laugher) curve that insists these tax cuts will pay for themselves through increased growth. It's never happened before, despite what they may tell you about Reagan's tax cuts, and it won't happen now.

To be blunt, the allowance of a 10% repatriation rate for multinationals is essentially a reward for years of tax avoidance, if not evasion, and it amounts to a huge gift to just a few dozen companies. Over half the current offshore profits are held by high-tech and pharmaceutical companies and 75% of the offshore profits are held by around 50 companies. None of these multinational companies are having trouble making money. Yes, this tax giveaway might produce a one time bump in federal revenue as billions in corporate profits finally get declared here in the US. But it is a huge gift to just a handful of companies.

The belief that high US corporate taxes are hurting American businesses is pure bunk, just propaganda put out by corporations and their cronies in the Republican party. The reality is, because of the wide variety of deductions, most businesses pay an effective tax rate in low 20% range. And there is no indication US businesses are hurting. After tax corporate profits as a share of GDP are near an all-time high that was reached in 2012 and the share of total income that is going to corporate profits has increased by over 13% in the last 30 years. That is a massive shift in the income distribution in this country. The real problem with US businesses is not they are not making money, it is the opposite. They are making plenty of money but not reinvesting that money in any useful manner, rather spending it on stock buybacks, higher director and CEO pay, and increased dividends for their shareholders.

The last prong in the Trump plan is to tax pass-through corporations at the 15% level rather than at the individual rate. This was Arther Laffer's (there he is again), Trump adviser Stephen Moore's, and Governor Sam Brownback's plan in Kansas. The idea was this would not only cut taxes on businesses, and, using the mythical Laffer curve, increase revenues but it would also spur company formation and economic growth. Of course, it was a disaster. Revenue cratered in Kansas, the budget went into serious deficit requiring the state to cut back on services. Education budgets were cut and some school districts could not keep schools open the entire year. Road maintenance was also gutted and some areas in the state reverted back to dirt roads in order to reduce maintenance. The state's $700 million rainy day fund was raided down to virtually nothing. And the expected economic boom and capital formation from that low business tax never materialized. In fact, Kansas lagged its neighbors in economic growth. The end result was far fewer services, far less state revenue, higher borrowing costs, and far slower income and economic growth. Brownback, having created the disaster, has taken some obscure Trump position as an agricultural representative in Rome.

Even worse, a study released last summer shows that the biggest effect of the pass-through tax rate change in Kansas was not the formation of new business but a clear pattern of tax avoidance as individuals converted normal wage income into pass-through income by setting up sole proprietorships without creating any new job or income. As the paper succinctly puts it, it was simply "recharacterization of wage income as contract labor".

It is important to note this is a huge tax break for the President himself. He is still a beneficial owner of the Trump Organization. For the rest of us, probably not so much. The possible appeal of a tax cut for wage earners by opting to voluntarily become contract labor will, of course, be a further boon for business. No longer would they have to contribute to health care or deal with thorny HR issues. Their costs would plummet and their profits would rise. For the individuals who opted to do so, however, expenses would rise and savings would probably drop. Healthcare would now be their cost and they would no longer get any benefits for corporate 401Ks, profit sharing, or bonuses.

Meanwhile, the federal deficit will go through the roof again and interest rates will rise accordingly while corporate profits will continue to explode. And there will still be no real investment, like infrastructure, in our country and our future. Just another massive shift of income to the already rich. No wonder Wall Street loves this plan. For the rest of us, we'll all be Kansans.

Astronomy Adventure - Messier 47

Messier 47 is another open cluster, this time in the constellation Puppis. It was "discovered" in the mid-1600s and added to Messier list in 1771. Under dark skies, it can be a naked eye object. Unfortunately, once again tracking and focusing was not perfect in this photo.

Here are the technical details for those handful who might be interested:
Scope: Starblast 4.5; tracking on, but clearly not perfectly polar aligned
Magnification: ~25x
Camera: iPhone6 using NightCapPro app; ISO 8000
Processing: 2x10 sec. images stacked in Deep Sky Stacker; with darks; adjusted curves using GIMP

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Senate Staffing, WH Obstruction Shows Why Russia Investigation Must Move Out Of Congress

The revelations of the past two days show us once again why the Russia investigation needs to move out of Congress and to an independent body with real subpoena power. Republicans in Congress by and large are colluding with the White House in covering up whatever coordination occurred between the Russians and the Trump campaign before and after the election. And the White House continues to lie about those contacts and hide information that would make those contacts clear.

Yesterday's revelations were about the one Intelligence Committee in Congress that was supposed to be functional but clearly is not. The Senate committee has no full time staffers assigned to the Russia investigation, just seven part-timers. None of those seven part-timers has any investigative experience nor are they lawyers. The investigation has held no interviews and issued no subpoenas, only requesting individuals and entities preserve documents. One reason that no subpoenas have been issued is because the Republican Chairman, Richard Burr, has refused Democrats' requests for those legal summons. Compare this pathetic level of staffing with the never-ending House investigation of Benghazi which had 46 full time staffers dedicated to the inquiry.

Today, we discovered that the White House has refused a request from the resuscitated House Intelligence Committee for documents related to Trump campaign adviser and former NSA Michael Flynn. The ranking Republican and Democratic members of the committee said that Flynn quite possibly broke the law by failing to disclose payments from foreign interests when he applied for his security clearance. The White House refusal is apparently based on three issues. The committee's request for documents while Flynn was NSA is overly broad, documents from the transition are not the responsibility of the White House, and the same goes for documents from the Trump campaign.

Republicans and the White House are determined to drag their heels on this investigation for as long as possible. We have already seen former House chairman Devin Nunes and current Senate chairman Richard Burr collude with the White House in deflecting and slowing the investigation. It will not get any better, which is why we must demand this investigation move outside of Congress to an independent investigative body with real subpoena power. That will take some doing. But it will not happen until Democrats start demanding it. And even if these demands are ignored, it will set the Democrats up for a useful campaign issue for taking back the House in 2018.

Trump Is Weak And Now Everyone Knows He's Always Bluffing

In my prior post , I talked about how the GOP Congress is virtually ignoring all of Trump's demands regarding the potential government shutdown at the end of this week. They want to pass a "clean" continuing budget resolution and will probably do so with the knowledge that Trump will sign it no matter what. It also appears that health insurers also know that Trump is bluffing about withholding the cost-sharing subsidies from insurers as a ploy to get Democrats to deal on the ACA.

The majority of insurers in Virginia and Kentucky have made initial filings to participate in the ACA for 2018. Nine of the ten insurers in 2017 will be back in 2018 in Virginia as well as two of the three in Kentucky.  While these are only initial filings and the companies still have the chance to withdraw in the coming months, it does indicate that health insurers are not scared off by Trump's threats.

Because of the chaos that Trump's pledge to repeal Obamacare threatened to create, many states have already moved their filing deadline back a month and into June. But so far the initial indications are that health insurers do not believe that the Republicans will be able to come up with a plan to replace the ACA and certainly do not believe Trump's idle threats about withholding their cost-sharing subsidies. And, as Trump caves on threat after threat, he will become weaker and weaker and more and more irrelevant.

Trump's Weakness Apparent As GOP Congress Takes Control Of The Agenda

Congress has finally returned from the Easter recess and they have apparently learned one very important lesson and that is to ignore Donald Trump. I don't think there were too many GOP congressman getting an earful about not repealing Obamacare and not following through on Trump's agenda. With Trump's popularity still in the low 40s at best, most of them know they have nothing to fear from the President right now.

Trump has spent most of the congressional recess trying to force Congress to give him a big win somewhere so he will have something to show for his first 100 days. First, there was the big push to make another attempt at Obamacare repeal and replace. Then there was the threat to suspend the insurer subsidies to Obamacare in some bizarre attempt to force Democrats to deal on the ACA. That was never going to happen. Trump then offered Democrats a worse deal, trying to trade continuing the insurer subsidies for money for the border wall, a deal that was again immediately rejected. Then he threatened to shut the government down if he didn't get money for the border wall. That couldn't even make it by Republicans in Congress and Trump has apparently caved on that. All he is left with is announcing, again, a "framework' for tax reform and a few more of those executive orders.

Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, are just interested in passing a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open after April 28th. They have no interest in helping Trump get a "win" because that will just complicate their efforts to pass the CR. Democrats will need to provide votes in the Senate in order to get anything passed so their demands for a "clean" CR will probably be met, although it's still possible, but not probable, that the House Freedom Caucus will not even go for that.

The real question is how long the CR will be in effect. Republicans probably want a short-term CR so they can package together some kind of combination of omnibus agreement for agreed upon budget items and a CR for the areas of the budget where the parties can not agree, but it is hard to see why Democrats would go along with that. I would hope that Democrats would shoot for a CR to expire in September or October, further filling the legislative calendar and making it harder for Republicans to pass any budget that this year that fulfilled any of Trump's promises. Increased spending for the military, defunding Planned Parenthood, and funding for the border wall would all essentially be blocked.

Trump will bluff and bluster like he always does. But this time, probably for the first time, Republicans in Congress are simply ignoring him. They are not afraid of his bully pulpit because they know he can't use it effectively. He may still be popular with his base, but that isn't enough. Congress will pass the CR with the full knowledge that Trump will cave on everything he's demanded and sign it. Trump's weakness will be laid bare for all to see and that does not bode well for any of his priorities that do not exactly line up with the GOP in Congress. That means Trump's agenda will now be set by Congress and it will be tax breaks and regulation rollbacks and not much more. That will still be terrible but Trump himself will have effectively been sidelined.

Canadiens Should Do Unthinkable And Trade Carey Price

The Montreal Canadiens, having once again been eliminated early the Stanley Cup playoffs, must seriously consider doing the unthinkable, trading superstar goalie Carey Price in order to rebuild this team from the ground up.

This was the year the Canadiens were set up for a deep run in the playoffs. Alex Galchenyuk was supposed to come of age and be the dynamic scoring centerman the Habs desperately needed. Tomas Plekanec would have his usual solid two-way game and be able to contribute a bit on offense as well. Andrew Shaw would be another experienced center and perhaps Philip Danault would surprise.  KHL import Alexander Radulov would add skill and the ability to score. Nathan Beaulieu was going to blossom into the rushing, offensive defenseman he always wanted to be under the tutelage of Shea Weber. And Carey Price would hold down the fort like has done since he joined the Canadiens in 2011. GM Marc Bergevin even brought in three big bodies late in the season, Steve Ott, Dwight King, and Andreas Martinsen, in order to make sure the Habs did not get pushed around come the playoffs.

In the end, none of it panned out. Galchenyuk ended up as a third line winger, although he was the team's second leading scorer. But nether he nor Pacioretty, the leading scorer, broke through versus Henrik Lundqvist. Plekanec, Shaw, and Danault produced less than half a point a game each this year, and only Plekanec had a playoff goal. Ott, King, and Martinsen were held pointless the entire series. Beaulieu ended the season being benched. Only Radulov surprised to the upside, being an offensive force in the regular season and the playoffs and playing a decent two-way game.

The Canadiens' Achilles heel has been scoring and it's been that was for over a decade. Incredibly, the team has not had a player finish in the top ten in scoring this century. Over one-third of their wins this season came from games which they won scoring only two goals or less. The offense effectively came from just one line and, when the Rangers shut that line down, there was no one to pick up the slack. There appears to be no one down in the AHL at St. John's who is going to come up and plug the offensive deficiencies. So, the Canadiens have to rely on a good defense and Carey Price. Price had a .933 save percentage and a 1.86 GAA in the Rangers series yet the team still lost. 

More importantly, Price becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season. Looking at the present roster and the lack of stars at St. John's, it is hard to see how this team improves on offense next year. Galchenyuk, Radulov, ageless wonder Andrei Markov, and Beaulieu are all unsigned for next year as are Ott, King, and Martenson. GM Bergevin is focused on resigning Galchenyuk and Price for longer terms. Price says that he wants to stay but how long is he going to put up with carrying this team on his back. Even if the Canadiens make the playoffs next year, the offensive woes will just make it another short visit. Price has won at every level and there will come a point when he will want to win a Cup. It is hard to see that happening next year for this team.

Rather than struggle through another woeful offensive year and another quick exit from the playoffs and then see Price leave for free agency, the Canadiens would be better off trading him this summer for a boatload of offensive talent and rebuild this team from the ground up. There are teams like the Flames, Stars, Panthers, Sabres, Canucks, and Jets who would love to have Price and actually have some young talent who can score to give up. You can teach a guy to become a great two-way player but you can't teach a guy to score. And Price, as he has shown in Montreal, is a guy who can take a mediocre to bad team and give it a chance to make the playoffs. 

The Canadiens had a three year window to make a deep run at the Cup. A midseason collapse last year kept them from even making the playoffs. Woeful offense kept them from winning a playoff round this year. And there is nothing to make you think next year will be any better. The window is shut. Time to rebuild this team from the ground up.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Comey Was A Partisan Hack Driven By Fear Of The GOP

Over the weekend, the New York Times had an in-depth analysis of James Comey's actions during the election and kindly decides that his actions were not partisan even though the outcome of those actions created a purely partisan result. According to the Times, Comey was doing his best to protect the institution of the FBI and was largely working in uncharted waters.

Of course, the reason Comey was largely in uncharted waters is because he decided to comment on the Clinton email investigation in July. The Times goes even further into absolving Comey by saying, "For all the attention on Mrs. Clinton’s emails, history is likely to see Russian influence as the more significant story of the 2016 election." This statement is against all evidence pointing to the decisive element of Comey in his October letter about the Abedin emails and his silence on the Trump campaign's Russian connections. In fact, the only way for the Times' statement to be true would be for collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Kevin Drum did a great job over the weekend of highlighting the fact the Comey's actions were always driven by the fear that Republicans would go after him and by the unfounded assumption that the Department of Justice was trying to sabotage the investigation. The initial, by-the-book decision by the DOJ to call the email investigation simply a "matter" for the FBI struck Comey as a disingenuous attempt to help Clinton and hew toward her talking points. A third party email from Democratic operative claiming AG Loretta Lynch would keep the email investigation from going to far was taken at face value, despite no supporting evidence, and furthered Comey's suspicions about the DOJ. That letter and Bill Clinton's meeting with Lynch on the airplane in Arizona convinced Comey that he must make the announcement about the results of the investigation rather than the DOJ in order to protect his and the Bureau's "independence" and avoid the wrath of Republicans. Comey's indictment of Clinton while admitting that there was no reasonable case to charge her was also designed to insulate himself and the Bureau from attacks from Republicans that the FBI was being lenient on a Democrat and to appeal to his own agents' prejudices. Finally, Comey's main concern in releasing the October letter about Abedin's emails before they knew whether or not they were relevant was driven by his desire not to have to face Republican investigations should Clinton win the election and the emails turned out to relevant. In fact, despite Comey's assumptions, the DOJ was so afraid of looking political that it continually let Comey violate DOJ rules and procedures when it came to Clinton's email investigation.

When it came to Russia, however, Comey was downright infuriating in his demands to follow the rules and not comment. Having offered to come forward in September about Russian attempts to influence the election, Obama and the DOJ wanted a united front from all intelligence agencies when making that charge. When that time came in October, Comey stuck to policy and said it would be too political to comment so close to the election and refused to sign on to a statement that he had been willing to say a month earlier.

What you realize from reading the Times story is how much Comey feared attacks from Republicans and how much that drove his actions and his supposed desire to "protect" the Bureau. Comey and those in senior leadership at the Bureau apparently believed that the FBI would be destroyed as an institution by Republicans if Hillary Clinton was elected and the Abedin emails turned up some new incriminating information. According to a senior Comey adviser, "I don’t think the organization would have survived that [Republican investigations]". His decision to comment on the investigation in July was driven by the idea that the DOJ would not be trusted and that the FBI needed to insulate itself from attacks by Republicans that it was muzzled by the DOJ.

Sadly, in many ways Comey's fear of Republicans is somewhat justified. For two decades, the GOP has made a habit of destroying the institutions and norms of governance in pursuit of raw political power. Comey's fear that the GOP would destroy the FBI was probably unreasonable but not unfounded. It shows just how effective and destructive the constant Republican partisan attacks have been and the power of the right wing media outrage machine. And look what the result has been for our democracy.

Update: I see as I was writing this, Kevin Drum has also highlighted Michael Tomasky who makes a similar point to this post but from the opposite view. Tomasky's take is that there was one group that never figured into any decision that Comey or the FBI made and that was Democrats. According to Tomasky, "[T]here is one group Comey appears not to have feared at all: Democrats.
....The Times talked to 30 people, and apparently the idea that Comey may have feared how the Democrats would react to any action of his just wasn’t brought up. Amazing." Apparently Comey was determined to be non-partisan only when it came to Democrats.

Uber's Travis Kalanick Is A Serial Abuser Of Legal And Ethical Boundaries

The New York Times' profile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick only confirms all the worst about the company and its leader. Driven by an insatiable desire to "win", Kalanick will do virtually anything to achieve his goals, disregarding any legal, ethical, or moral boundaries. While the Times article is definitely hard-hitting, they certainly soften their words somewhat in describing someone who could be called a serial criminal.

Kalanick's first venture, Scour, was a peer-to-peer network a la Napster that let users share digital files, much of which were copyrighted songs and videos. Like Napster, Scour was essentially sued into oblivion for copyright infringement. But Kalanick avoided the $250 billion copyright suit by simply having the company file for bankruptcy.

From there, Kalanick moved on to Red Swoosh, which focused on the transfer of large files, this time legally. However, when Red Swoosh struggled, Kalanick used tax dollars from employee paychecks to keep the company going, yet another flagrant violation of the law. Kalanick was saved from bankruptcy this time by investors who paid back the IRS and kept the operation afloat. In the end, Kalanick was able to sell Red Swoosh for $19 million, setting himself up for his next adventure. Two companies with two clearly illegal acts had made Kalanick a multi-millionaire and he took that lesson to heart.

When UberCab started up in 2010, Kalanick made it very clear that the enemy was the taxi business and he was going to defeat it by any means possible. The company had to change its name in in 2010 to simply Uber because it was marketing itself as a taxi service in San Francisco without the proper licenses and permits. This refusal to abide by local laws requiring the licensing and permitting of taxi companies would follow Uber into virtually every market it entered.

Uber's overarching theme was growth and that led to a workplace culture that Kalanick fostered that meant virtually anything goes as long as you are growing the company. The "culture" led to rampant sexual harassment and intimidation at the company and a well documented trail of illegal and unethical activity in cities and countries around the world.

The Times' biggest revelation is that Uber would still track users even after they had deleted the app from their iPhone.  In response to massive fraud in China where drivers would create accounts on stolen iPhones and use the app to both hail and serve the same non-existent ride, Uber created a digital fingerprint on every iPhone where its app was installed that would remain even if the iPhone had been erased or the app was deleted. Unfortunately, that was in violation of Apple's privacy policies. So, Kalanick had the fingerprint obscured whenever someone from Apple's headquarters in Cupertino would look at the Uber app's code, essentially making the fingerprinting "blind" to only Apple. Of course, Apple eventually caught on and Kalanick was forced to remove the fingerprinting from the Uber app.

The Times story describes a man who has had serious legal and ethical problems at all three companies he has been involved in. Yet he is still described as an entrepreneur and leads the sixth largest internet company in terms of revenue in the world. What more can that say about the state of capitalism in America and the world these days.

NHL Playoff Round 1 Recap

The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs ended yesterday as both the Ottawa Senators and the Washington Capitals ended their respective playoff series in 6 games with overtime victories away from home. This round of the NHL playoffs had more overtime games, 18, than any in history, proving that there is no easy series if and when you make it to the postseason. It also proved once again that the regular season standings are virtually meaningless, the important thing is to simply make it to the postseason. Both the #1 and #2 teams in the West went out in the first round as did the #1 team in the Atlantic Division. Let's recap the first round series and compare it to my earlier predictions:

Eastern Conference
Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs - Result: Caps in 6; my prediction: Caps in 5.
The Leafs put a helluva scare into the top team in the league this year as five of the six games in this series went to overtime and the other game was just a one-goal game as well. Toronto is a young, talented team that will be a threat to win the Cup for years to come. The Leafs got their fair share of lucky breaks and bounces but capitalized almost every time. They kept throwing the puck on net and making life difficult for Caps goalie Braden Holtby.  Washington, however, was simply awful in this series. They looked tight throughout, sat back with a lead, made far too many turnovers, always kept looking for the perfect play, and missed the net on numerous glorious opportunities way too often. And when their shots were on target, Frederick Andersen was outstanding, clearly outplaying the Vezina-nominated Holtby in this series. To be fair, much of the Caps difficulty was induced by Toronto's speed and relentless pressure. In the end, though, the Caps had just enough when they needed it to survive this series. But Washington won't advance any further if they continue to play like that.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets - Result: Penguins in 5; my prediction: Penguins in 6.
Columbus just could not stop Pittsburgh on the defensive end, especially with Vezina-nominated Sergei Bobrovsky having a poor series in net. The Blue Jackets penalty killing was woeful, giving up five power play goals and they just could not score even when dominating play. Marc Andre Fleury stepped in as an emergency starter in game 1 and was superb throughout all five games, making up for the Pens defensive deficiencies with the loss of Kris Letang. With the return of Evgeny Malkin, the Penguins just had too much firepower for Columbus and it never felt like they were threatened in this series.

Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins - Result: Ottawa in 6; my prediction: Bruins in 7.
This was another ridiculously tight series, with four of the six games going to overtime and the other two being one goal affairs as well. The Bruins weakness on defense was apparent throughout as they had lost two of their starters before the playoffs began and lost two more during the course of the series. It was just too much to overcome. Ottawa's win was full of heartwarming stories. Clarke MacArthur scored the series-clincher in overtime, just his second goal of the entire season after missing most of the last two years with concussion related symptoms. Craig Anderson was big in net for the Sens after his own tumultuous season where he had to take personal leave from the team twice as his wife dealt with cancer. And Sens defenseman Erik Karlsson is just a stud. Despite apparently playing with two hairline fractures in his ankle, he logged over 40 minutes in ice time in game 5's double overtime loss and around 30 minutes in yesterday's overtime win. And he can dominate both ends of the rink when he is on the ice.

Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers - Result: Rangers in 6; my prediction: Rangers in 6.
It's hard to imagine that the most physical series in the East involved these two teams, but it was so. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist outplayed his Vezina-nominated counterpart, Carey Price, just enough to allow New York to advance. The Rangers had more offensive firepower than the Habs and the Canadiens power play was impotent. And, like Columbus, the Habs could not score even when they thoroughly dominated much of the game. Their offensive futility was exemplified by Max Pacioretty who had no goals in the series, despite leading the entire playoffs in shots through six games, and Tomas Plekanec's having the bottom two-thirds and the top half of the net wide open and putting the potential game tying goal in game 6 into Lundqvist's pad.

Western Conference

Chicago Black Hawks vs. Nashville Predators - Result: Nashville in 4; my prediction: Nashville in 7.
The Predators simply smothered the Hawks in this series. They were too fast, hit too much and too hard, and gave the Hawks no time or space. And when the Hawks did get chances, Pekka Rinne took care of it. Chicago's stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were taken out of the series and the Preds speed made the Hawks defense look half a step slow and, frankly, a little old. Nashville was the dominant team and deserved the sweep.

Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues - Result: Blues in 5; my prediction: Blues in 7.
Thankfully for Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, the Blues won game 5 in overtime, saving him from yet again the possibility of losing the first round in a game 7. In many ways, the Blues effort matched what Nashville did to Chicago. A stifling defense kept the Wild's scorers at bay and, when Minnesota did get their chances, Jake Allen was there to save the day. And the Blues got just enough scoring from unlikely sources to win a series that was probably closer than the five games indicate.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames - Result: Ducks in 4; my prediction: Ducks in 5.
The Ducks are a veteran, tested team and the Flames team as presently constructed was making its first real visit to the playoffs. And it showed. Brian Elliott could not make up for the Flames defensive lapses and the Flames scoring relied mostly on their power play. In the end, the Ducks experience and good goaltending was just too much for the talented, yet young Flames.

San Jose Sharks vs. the Edmonton Oilers - Result: Oilers in 6; my prediction: Sharks in 7.
This was a great series to watch. The Oilers love to just go up and down at a breakneck pace and the Sharks used to like that style as well. But the Oilers are younger, faster, and more talented and it showed throughout the series. It didn't help that the Sharks top centers, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture were hobbled with injuries in the series or that the San Jose power play was impotent. The Oilers were always going to be able to score, and they did, and Cam Talbot had a good series as well, propelling Edmonton to the victory.

I'll be back with Round 2 predictions tomorrow.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

US Military Keeps Civilian Casualties Down By Calling Every Adult Male A Combatant

I have written earlier about how inaccurate and misleading those Pentagon images of the dropping of the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) in Afghanistan are. We see those pictures but we have no idea what the impact and the casualties on the ground really are. As one commenter noted, it amounts to military porn. But according to US authorities, incredibly there were no civilian casualties from the MOAB.

Over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Christa Blackmon points us to Sarah Shoker detailing how the US actually determines civilian casualties. The answer is shocking and it is certainly something that I nor most Americans are actually aware of. According to the official United States position, any male adult sixteen years or older is considered a combatant. It does not matter if he was unarmed, it does not matter if he was simply walking by the bomb target when it hit, it simply does not matter. Under US policy, if you are a male over fifteen years old and you die in a drone raid or bomb blast, you are considered a combatant.

This is a policy that has been in place in both Republican and Democratic administrations, during the Obama years and Bush II. So when you hear that some number of militants have been killed in a drone strike, that only means that that number of males were killed, with no knowledge of how many or any were actually militants. And when we hear that there were no civilian casualties from the dropping of the MOAB, that only means that we can't confirm whether any women or children were killed, regardless of how many potentially innocent men might have been killed. And when you do hear that US military operations have kept civilian casualties to a minimum, it is a lie. Half the people just aren't counted.

Natural Weekends - Visit To The San Diego Zoo

Zoos are total contradictions, possibly necessary anachronisms that are horrible and depressing places where beautiful animals are jailed but that yet may present the best hope for the survival of those species as man destroys them and the environment they live in. The San Diego Zoo is apparently the #1 attraction in that town but I would never do it again. Having done it, however, let's try to enjoy some of the beautiful creatures that are there.