In today’s good martini, it sure sounds like North Korea is eager for a deal, but can this regime be trusted? Jim Geraghty of National Review is joined by CNN Political Commentator Ben Ferguson who is filling in for Greg Corombos of Radio America. Joy Reid makes an appearance in the bad martini. Can she be believed? Jim and Ben share their personal experiences with the MSNBC host. And what has become of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner? In the final segment Jim and Ben reflect on how this event has changed for the worse in recent years.
Archives for April 2018
Earlier this year, a $1.3 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill left many fiscal conservatives wretching over the rise in domestic spending, but Hillsdale College Prof. Gary Wolfram says mandatory spending is real emergency and we’ve got less than a decade to do something before it gobbles up all of our revenue.
Wolfram teaches economics and public policy at Hillsdale. He also served as chief of staff to former Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich, in the mid-1990’s and on the Michigan State Board of Education.
The omnibus controversy arose when President Trump and Republican congressional leaders agreed to huge increases in domestic spending in exchange for lifting the spending caps on national defense spending.
In a recent column, Wolfram explains that mandatory spending – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid – is the much greater threat. What makes it mandatory is specific congressional acts dictating how much is spent on those programs.
In our interview, he discussed how much federal revenue goes towards mandatory spending now and what it will look like in a few years if the problem is not addressed.
“If you look at mandatory spending plus interest on the debt, in 2019 it’s going to be 70 percent of the budget outlays and 89 percent of the revenue. So if Congress didn;t enact anything, 89 percent of the revenue’s going out the door already with mandatory spending.
“If you get to 2028, according to the Congressional Budget Office, 98.5 percent of all the revenue that comes into the federal government is going to be spent already, either through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and some other items that are already mandated, plus net interest,” said Wolfram.
“So if you do not do something about Social Security and Medicare, which between them are almost two trillion dollars in 2019 and are going to be $3.3 trillion in 2028, you’re not going to do anything about the deficit,” said Wolfram.
While Wolfram believes each mandatory program must be reformed, his first recommendation is to change the appropriations process. In Wolfram’s home state of Michigan, the legislature determined how much is spent on each program every year, regardless of what is mandated in statute. He says the same principle should be applied in Washington.
“Let’s say Social Security is supposed to spend $1.043 trillion in 2019. If this were the way the Constitution worked in the federal government, Congress appropriates a trillion dollars. Everybody gets their proportionate share of the trillion dollars. I think that’s the type of thing we’ve got to be looking at,” said Wolfram.
Wolfram says Congress won’t get serious about reforming programs until members are faced with passing a massive hike on Medicare and Social Security taxes.
He ought to know. When serving for Rep. Smith, Wolfram pushed legislation that would allow taxpayers to set aside a portion of the their Social Security tax payments into a private account in exchange for receiving smaller checks when they retire. Only one other members showed up at the press conference announcing the bill.
But he says there are still measures that could do some good.
He says keeping the system in place for Americans 55 years and older is doable if younger people are told they won’t get Social Security benefits until they are 70 or 75. However, he believes Medicare needs a far more drastic overhaul.
“With Medicare, you’ve got to change the way the system works. You’ve got to make it like health savings accounts are in the private sector, where it’s a high deductible policy where you get so much and then you ask the question, ‘How much does it cost when you go to get your blood test?'” said Wolfram.
He says there are simple ways to drastically reduce Medicaid costs as well.
“Think of what the incentives are in Medicare or Medicaid. It’s to produce something that the government will pay for, even if it’s inordinately expensive, because the person buying it is not the person receiving it,” he said.
Wolfram says the health savings account approach works well on Medicaid as well.
“If you apply that to Medicare and Medicaid, it’ll change the whole incentives of the system. I’ll be Walmart or Walgreens and I’ll have a nurse practitioner there, charge you ten bucks to tell you your kid’s got pink eye and then provide you with a prescription,” said Wolfram.
Congress refuses to deal with the problem, but Wolfram still holds out hope that lawmakers will do the right thing when they have no other choice.
“I believe at some point things are going to get bad enough that they’re going to have to deal with it,” said Wolfram.
It’s all good martinis to close out the work week. Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America are still plenty skeptical of North Korea, but they cautiously welcome the possibility of stability in the region – especially if it’s true that North Korea may have accidentally destroyed its main nuclear facility. They also applaud Bret Baier of Fox News for a thorough, substantive, and fair interview of former FBI Director James Comey, but are thoroughly puzzled by several bizarre answers from Comey. And they react to deputies in Broward County overwhelmingly demonstrating “no confidence” in Sheriff Scott Israel in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting.
The parents of an ailing, 23-month-old British boy have no say in the treatment of their child because of a United Nations agreement signed by the United Kingdom and every other nation on earth, except the United States.
First enacted in 1990, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child seeks to grant rights to children at the expense of parents. Combined with a government-run health care system, we get the nightmare playing out for the parents of Alfie Evans.
“It’s a lethal combination of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and state universal health care. In Britain, the hospital has been paying the cost of taking care of Alfie (since late 2016),” said Alison Centofante, director of communications strategies for the pro-life group Live Action.
“Because the UK has signed on to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, (Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James) do not have the right to demand care for their child. That is given over to the state,” she added.
“His parents don’t have any opportunity to protect his best interests. The state is doing that, and the state has determined in their courts that the best interests of Alfie are served by him dying, not by him having an opportunity to live,” continued Centofante.
Because of the UN agreement, even European institutions are powerless.
“Even when the European Court of Human Rights heard about Alfie, they’ve refused to intervene because the EU recognizes the Convention of the Rights of the Child,” said Centofante.
“He’s essentially being held captive at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool,” said Centofante, noting that Alfie is barred from going to Italy for treatment despite receiving Italian citizenship and a medical helicopter standing by to transport him.
“Unfortunately, there are policemen outside Alder Hey Hospital, ensuring that Alfie and his parents do not leave that hospital,” said Centofante.
Centofante says even efforts to let Alfie go home are being rejected. Reports from the UK suggest officials are demanding a “sea change” in attitude from Alfie’s parents towards the system.
The hospital removed Alfie’s ventilator on Monday, anticipating he would die within hours. Instead, he is breathing on his own three days later and responding to his mom and dad, despite the hospital intially denying him food or water for 28 hours. Centofante says eventually some hydration and oxygen were provided.
Alfie’s survival provides evidence for another major frustration for his parents.
“His father said, ‘This is not a miracle. This is a misdiagnosis.’ This couple wasn’t even able to have a second opinion, which they craved for,” said Centofante.
There are examples of hospitals and doctors effectively forbidding contact between parents and child patients here in the U.S. but Centofante says our nation’s refusal to sign the UN convention is a huge win for American moms and dads.
“Every nation in the world has signed on to the Convention of the Rights of the Child except the United States. The United States is a different system, thankfully. We recognize constitutionally-protected parental rights that allow us to direct the upbringing of children,” said Centofante.
And she insists that is the best system for cherishing life at every stage and this “dark moment” ought to make some truths even clearer.
“One, that the life of every child is worth protecting, that there is innate human dignity even for those who are the least of these. Maybe their future isn’t as bright or as full of opportunity as the rest of us, but that child has unique DNA and dignity that is worth protecting in law and in culture,” said Centofante.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America are cautiously optimistic after the Supreme Court appears to support the constitutionality of President Trump’s proposed travel ban. They also shake their heads at the sudden outrage over presidential physician Admiral Ronny Jackson, as Democrat Sen. Jon Tester and the media run wild with stories of Jackson’s drunkenness and prescription drug recklessness, yet somehow none of this ever came to light while Jackson served as doctor to President Obama and his family. And they sigh as the conservative love affair and liberal outrage over Kanye West hits another level after Kanye tweets that he loves Trump, slams Obama, and Kim Kardashian tweets in strong support of Kanye’s right to think for himself.
While the media firestorm swirls around President Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant and leading advocate for veterans is holding an open mind on Dr. Ronny Jackson while passionate prodding the VA to do better in caring for those who have served this nation in uniform.
This week, the media began reporting on allegations that Jackson excessively prescribed painkillers for government officials and was seen drunk in public.
Jessie Jane Duff served 20 years on active duty in the Marine Corps. She is now with the London Center for Policy Research. She says if the allegations are a big problem if true, but she says Jackson’s determination to proceed with the nomination speaks volumes, especially after President Trump opened the door for him to exit the process.
“I would suspect that if he himself knew that these things were true, he would not want to go forward and get embarrassed during any type of confirmation. That, to me, would be very much a no-brainer. Who wants to go up there and get humiliated?” asked Duff.
While reserving judgment in case the allegations prove true and admitting she’s a bit concerned due to Jackson’s lack of a track record, Duff wants to be sure these attacks are not just the product of partisanship.
“I didn’t have an opportunity to look at the allegations and who the senators were that were reviewing them. I’m curious if they were Democrats. The reason I say that is that they simply didn’t have a problem with Ronny Jackson being the physician to President Obama. Now he’s being nominated by President Trump. Sometimes I smell a rat when dealing with the swamp in D.C,” said Duff.
Critics are also concerned that Jackson doesn’t have the typical pedigree seen in VA secretaries. Duff says plenty of perfectly qualified secretaries were failures.
“We haven’t had the best of luck with a lot of our VA secretaries, so I’m open-minded at this point. I think many men have gone in there with vast experience but incapable of dealing with the Washington bureaucracy. We are talking about the second largest agency in the federal government. It’s second only to to the Department of Defense,” said Duff.
Duff says there are some things the VA does very well, like dealing with prosthetics and treatment for post-traumatic stress and other medical conditions most often seen in veterans.
But other basic care for veterans is still not where it should be.
“There are many, many locations throughout the Veterans Administration, with their hospitals, where people have been waiting for cancer treatments beyond what we would normally expect if they were on a regular insurance provider,” said Duff.
She is encouraged that the VA is making strides in allowing veterans to access private sector care but she says many physicians are reluctant to take on a lot of veterans as patients because the government is often very slow to reimburse them and provides only a fraction of what those doctors could make treating other patients.
After 15 months of the Trump administration, Duff says some hard realities are being learned and important progress is being made.
“You just cannot imagine how difficult it is to get change in Washington because of these bureaucracies that have been embedded, systems that are very difficult to change overnight. It takes diligence and lots and lots of perseverance. I didn’t expect dramatic changes in 15 months, but I did expect to see changes in the right direction.
“The fact they’ve been working on firing those employees that have been defaulted in their responsibilities for those veterans, that’s a huge win for me. e’re still working on the private care. We have made accomplishments in that area , and that’s a huge win for me. But nowhere are we done with this battle. This war has been going for awhile with the Veterans Administration,” said Duff.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America welcome a Republican win in an Arizona congressional race, although the margin should have been a lot wider. They also groan as many conservatives suddenly adore Kanye West because of a few tweets that poke the left as being the thought police. And they discuss the furor over Budget Director Mick Mulvaney admitting he only met with lobbyists who donated to his campaigns while serving in Congress. While they can see why this seems distasteful, Jim and Greg wonder how people thought politics worked in the real world and they don’t believe the liberal shock and horror for a second.
President Trump’s instinct is to scrap the Iran nuclear deal while French President Emmanuel Macron is willing to amend it but not rescind it without another plan in place, but a leading figure in the Iranian resistance says the deal doesn’t stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons but does help the radical mullahs stay in power.
President Trump has until May 12 to declare whether Iran is in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, and whether the U.S. will remain a party to the seven-nation agreement.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, says despite Tehran’s bluster about exiting the deal if the U.S. does, the Iranian leaders badly need the agreement to continue.
“There’s no way the Iranian regime wants to lose this agreement. They want to do everything possible to keep it, because the regime knows that absent this agreement, there’s really not too many other options left for them,” said Jafarzadeh, who says threats to the contrary are nothing but “hot air.”.
He says that’s because internal unrest is reaching a boiling point.
“The regime is facing tremendous problems domestically, particularly on the economic side of it. We’ve seen the uprising going on since December that were built around the economic corruption in Iran and the high rise in prices for very basic food. Inflation is so high. Inflation is skyrocketing,” said Jafarzadeh.
Iran is clamping down on media outlets and social media, so reports of the ongoing protests are hard to find, but Jafarzadeh says they are still going strong and are appearing in many different parts of the country.
“The protests are continuing ever since they started. It expanded to 142 cities starting back in December,” said Jafarzadeh, listing off a number of cities seeing major protests in the past several days.
“Every week there is a new hot spot in Iran. People are chanting with the same intensity against the regime, making significant demands, none of which the regime can really meet,” said Jafarzadeh.
He says some chants even explicitly scold the government for blaming its problems on America and stating that only the Iranian regime is to blame.
Keeping the deal in place is critical for the Iranian leaders because the money that flowed back into Iran from the agreement has been trumpeted as the solution to Iran’s economic problems.
However, even that good fortune could soon backfire on Iran’s leadership.
“Once the people realize that all the money that was given to the Iranian regime ended up in the pocket of the mullahs, the ayatollahs, and the Revolutionary Guard. It was basically the military structure and the clerical structure that benefited from that.
“Imagine if there’s more pressure built against the regime what kind of political problems it’s going to create for the Iranian regime,” said Jafarzadeh.
The more pertinent issue for Trump, Macron, and other world leaders is whether the JCPOA is actually preventing the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program. Jafarzadeh is convinced it doesn’t.
“The agreement has kept almost all of the nuclear infrastructure of the Iranian regime intact. It has allowed the research and development of more advanced centrifuges that could actually enrich uranium much faster and more efficiently further down the road.
“It hasn’t put any meaningful restrictions on the missile program of the Iranian regime, which is really marching forward with more missile tests on nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. And it has this ridiculous sunset clause. In a few years, all those restrictions on the nuclear program are removed,” said Jafarzadeh.
And he says the hurdles to inspections make enforcement of the existing deal virtually impossible.
“Most importantly, there’s no serious access and inspection of a number of nuclear sites where the core of the nuclear program of Iran is. It’s not just the enrichment but the weaponization part of the program. We exposed at least six nuclear sites we believe need to be inspected,” said Jafarzadeh.
He says the bottom line is the JCPOA doesn’t stop Iran from getting nukes.
“As of now, the current restrictions are not sufficient enough to prevent the Iranian regime from developing nuclear weapons further down the road,” said Jafarzadeh.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America are glad to see Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo win the vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thanks to a change of heart by Rand Paul and Democrat Chris Coons bailing out the poor leadership of Chairman Bob Corker. They also recoil at the Toronto attack carried out by a van driver, who sped a mile down city sidewalks, killing 10 and injuring 15. They marvel at how easily the media moved on to different stories since the weapon wasn’t a gun and there’s no immediate link to jihad. And they rail against the British government for trying to stop the parents of Alfie Evans from seeking additional opportunities to save their son’s life, a truly frightening result of government expansion.
Businesses and families vote with their feet and a new study of the states with the brightest economic futures suggests lower taxes and less regulation are a prescription for sustained growth, while heavy burdens from government lead to decline.
In the 2018 edition of “Rich States, Poor States,” published by the American Legislative Exchange Council, economists Jonathan Williams, Stephen Moore, and Arthur Laffer, say it’s clear which states are thriving and which ones are floundering.
For the eleventh consecutive year, Utah tops the list of states with the brightest outlooks. Idaho, Indiana, North Dakota, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Virginia round out the top ten.
New York finished dead last in the study. Vermont, Illinois, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, Minnesota, Montana, Maine, and Oregon make up the remainder of the lowest ten states.
Williams says the ranking is simply a compilation of the most important economic measuring sticks.
“We look at things that matter for economic growth,” he said. “We look at the 15 economic policy variables that Dr. Laffer, my co-author and Reagan economic adviser, came up with years ago that really do matter for economic growth.
“Also, they’re things directly controlled by state lawmakers: tax rates, regulation, labor policy. Those are really the three broad categories. In essence, what we have is an economic competitiveness ranking that predicts future growth,” said Williams vice president at the American Legislative Exchange Council..
But Williams says the factors that determine future growth are already producing results, especially for those states at the top of the list.
“It’s where people are voting with their feet and going towards. It’s where businesses are moving from high tax states to low tax states. They’re going to states like Utah. They’re going to states like Indiana, Arizona, Florida, Texas – that whole list of states that are competitive.
And of course they’re flocking to those states from states like New York, Illinois, California, New Jersey – the states that are perennially in the bottom of the index,” said Williams.
He says the number one reason people move is for economic opportunity and the same is true for businesses.
“When the Hertz Corporation leaves New Jersey and relocates and opens in Florida, or when Toyota USA leaves California and goes to Texas, or you see these massive movements of job creators going from high tax states with limited economic opportunity and high cost of doing business to states that value competition and free market environments, you absolutely see the natural connection when people then vote with their feet and go towards those job opportunities,” said Williams.
Williams suspects all states will see their economies improve in the near term, thanks to the federal tax cuts.
“The untold story of the success of federal tax reform is what it’s meant for state budgets. When states come back and are analyzing what tax reform means for their state budget, they’re seeing, in many cases, hundreds of millions of dollars – if not billions of dollars – in unexpected revenue – coming in at the state level. That’s because state tax codes link to the federal tax code,” said Williams.
He says two states rocketed up the list this year for taking steps to make the benefits of the federal tax cuts even sweeter.
“Idaho and Georgia were two of the states that utilized that the best this year by cutting their own state tax rates with that unexpected revenue. Instead of allowing it to be a tax increase at the state level, they’re using it to reduce their tax rates and become more competitive,” said Williams.
Idaho shot up from number ten to number two as a result of those moves. Georgia jumped from seventeenth to eleventh. And Williams says many other states are moving up the list because they are embracing freedom.
“Rewind the clock a few years ago and states like North Carolina and Indiana were in the middle of the pack. Both of those states are in the top ten this year for economic outlook because of great fiscal policy and reforms, tax cuts, pension reform, Indiana of course going right to work.
“States like Wisconsin have made huge movements over the years. My home state of Michigan (has as well). New Hampshire, the ‘Live Free or Die” state, moved up to it’s all-time best of number seventeen this year.
“While the states in the bottom of the index have basically been stuck for most of the ten or eleven years (of doing the survey), we’ve seen some great upward mobility of states getting it right and being able to crack through to that upper echelon of rankings,” said Williams.
While some might quibble with the methodology, Williams says you can’t argue with what is actually happening in the states.
“The proof is in the pudding. The data is very clear that there’s a big growth premium associated with being a competitive state economy,” said Williams.