US, Britain, and now France: The Established Order Kaput!

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIf we might borrow from Thomas Paine: These are, indeed, times that try men’s souls.

A disquiet, a sort of mass angst, seems to have settled over much of Europe just as in the United States. Three of the four great democracies have chosen to roll the dice rather than depend on tried and true establishment politicians and policies. Polls in the fourth great democracy, Germany, have gyrated back and forth, although Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has been gaining strength in recent polls.

Refugee and Immigration issues have weighed heavily throughout the European Union and voter preferences are hyper sensitive to terrorist attacks and to the type of outrages that occurred in Cologne and other German cities a year ago when women were attacked by gangs of Arabic-speaking refugees. The sane world is holding its breath, hoping the final May 7th election in France won’t be whip-sawed by a mad-man shouting Allahu Akbar.

Also, roiling voters, especially in the United States and Great Britain has been the ever-increasing centralization of power. Tens of millions of American have become fed-up with Washington, just as millions of Brits have had it with the constant flow of dictates from Brussels.

Right now, all eyes are on France. Nearly half of French voters cast their votes this week for candidates whose main appeal is that they’re ardently anti-establishment. Emmanuel Macron’s claim to fame is, essentially, that he’s never been elected to anything. He even had to create his own political party in order to run.

And Marine Le Pen, well, she’s a piece of work who has waited, perhaps impatiently, for just such a national angst to make a serious dash for the presidency. Le Pen, and her bizarre father, Jean-Marie Le Pen have been odd fixtures in French politics for a long time.  Marine broke with her father who founded the anti-immigrant National Front forty-five years ago. While she has tried to distance herself from papa’s fame as a holocaust denier, France’s Muslims and Jews will unite behind Macron, just to keep a Le Pen from stepping foot in the Élysée Palace. We suppose that’s a good thing.

Over half of French voters cast their ballots for neither Macron nor Le Pen so there is apt to be widespread discontent no matter who wins the May 7th tally.  Already, there have been violent protests at, of course, the Place de la Bastille by demonstrators who do not like the idea of either Macron nor Le Pen becoming their next president. Other protests erupted after the election at the Place de la Republicque as well.

We expect that Emmanuel Macron will become the next President of France, if for no other reason,   than because every other political party will campaign for him rather than see Marine Le Pen ascend to the presidency.

While all of the current attention is focused on the second-round elections to be held on May 7th, the real fly in the ointment may prove to be the legislative elections that follow a month later. A French President without most the parliament behind him or her is in a decidedly weak position. Such an outcome is not only feasible, but it seems to us probable.  Neither Le Pen nor Macron have much of party machine behind them, so the June legislative election looms very large. Without a majority of legislators in his or her corner, the new president could be a very crippled chief executive at the Élysée Palace, and that could utterly paralyze the French system of government.  Sound familiar?

Le Pen’s party, the National Front, has never done well winning elections at the legislative, or local,  level. While Le Pen has developed a following of sorts, the National Front has elected only two deputies in the 577 member National Assembly. This could make governing extremely difficult should Le Pen ascend to the presidency.

Macron doesn’t seem to be in much better shape. He split from the Socialist party to run for president and created his own party, En Marche or “the movement.” En Marche, has never run a single candidate in any election before, either national or local.

Arguably, the fact that the legislative elections take place well after the presidential election might give whoever is elected president time to rally support for local candidates who support their candidacy, but that looks, to us, unlikely. Local politics in France are, well, very local, and neither Le Pen nor Macron have a well-disciplined party apparatus working for them at the local level. If neither Le Pen nor Macron can rally support for local candidates who support them in the few weeks following the May 7th presidential election, the President of France could be what the revered Polish hero Field Marshal Jozef Pilsudsky once called the Polish Presidency a hundred years ago— “a bird in a gilded cage.”

Regardless of the outcome of the May 7th election we expect rough sailing in France for the foreseeable future.  Stability on the continent may prove elusive for years to come, and that’s not good for anyone.

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Trump Recalibrating

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIt has been a rather remarkable week. We suspect there’s a lot of head scratching going on in Moscow, Damascus, Tehran, Beijing and Pyongyang, not to mention Washington, DC.

Donald Trump who many saw (and see) as a pretender; a pro-Russian Manchurian Candidate (think Vanity Fair, Huffington Post, New York Times) or a sort of Bill McKay (played by Robert Redford) in the 1988 film The Candidate who, upon getting elected to the US Senate famously asks, “What do we do now?” Some delighted in portraying Trump as a puppet on the end of strings being pulled by Steve Bannon (think Slate, Politico, NY Daily News, SNL, Daily KOS).

Not anymore.

Last week, and 59 tomahawk cruise missiles later, President Donald Trump delivered on an unkept promise former president Barack Obama made to Bashir al Assad of Syria five years earlier when al Assad gassed his own people—lesson: don’t cross a red-line America draws in the sand.

And this week America, with a nod from President Trump, destroyed a network of tunnels in Afghanistan inhabited by scores of ISIS killers by dropping a massive non-nuclear, air-igniting bomb on the terrorists’ sub-terranian hideaway. At last count nearly 100 ISIS fighters, including four commanders, were killed by the blast — and the bad guys now know that tunnels no longer provide sanctuary.

The fact that President Trump seems to have recalibrated from political circus barker to Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful fighting force has not been lost on friends or foes alike. China abstained  rather than veto a UN resolution condemning Syria, and then actually sent a message to Pyongyang by blocking a shipment of coal headed to China from North Korea. Kim Jong-Un also seemed to get the message that this was a different America, as Trump sent the navy steaming toward the Korean Peninsula and warned China that if it didn’t rein in their man-child-dictator then we would.  Kim Jong-Un then suddenly and uncharacteristically called off a threatened nuclear weapon test, and instead fired off a missile that exploded upon launch.

Trump’s actions also earned praise from our allies most of whom have been scratching their collective heads ever since Donald Trump became the West’s senior partner.

A spokesperson for the U.K. said their “government fully supports the U.S. action, which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime and is intended to deter further attacks.” Additionally, UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said the airstrikes were “wholly appropriate” and that Prime Minister Theresa May had been “informed throughout” the U.S. military response.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed his country’s support for the U.S. retaliation in Syria. Turnbull described the airstrikes as “a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response” and said Australia will remain “fully committed as a coalition partner to our ongoing military operations in Iraq and Syria.”

Fellow NATO member Turkey also backed the US action in Syria. A spokesman for President Tayyip Erdogan said the airstrikes were “an important step to ensure that chemical and conventional attacks against the civilian population do not go unpunished.” Turkey is also calling for Assad to be immediately removed from power in Syria.

And while Trump was busy collecting rare, but well-deserved accolades from our allies, he took time out to deal with the west-wing provocateur, Steve Bannon.

President Trump yanked senior strategist, Steve Bannon, from his role as a principal member of the National Security Council. Describing Bannon with a classic Trump put-down as “a guy who works for me,” he was clearly telling his top disrupter-in-chief, who once described himself as a Leninist, to shape up or get out.

We see Bannon’s apparent fall from grace as more significant than merely an intramural dust up with a White House advisor. The worst kept secret in Washington has been Bannon’s ongoing face-off with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and most trusted adviser. Kushner and his wife (and the President’s daughter and uber-trusted advisor), Ivanka, and economic adviser Gary Cohn along with deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, are known to be coaxing Trump toward the center, where American policy has traditionally resided and where it is most apt to succeed.  Bannon, of course, is first and foremost a populist and nationalist rabble rouser. While he might be beloved by the so-called alt-right (whatever that is), he is (and belongs) incredibly out of place at the center of American government.

The reader should not misinterpret our nod to President Trump this week. We continue to lament that our President is unread, intemperate, imprecise, inarticulate, and rather shockingly unqualified compared to nearly all leaders of liberal democracies (as distinguished from liberal parties) which are, by definition, open societies, characterized by the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for everyone.

Nonetheless, we found the almost uniform criticism of President Trump’s actions this week in much of the liberal press to be remarkably partisan and unsparingly critical. That there is a sizable swath of the American body politic that is committed to criticizing anything Trump does, lest someone see something positive in a Trump decision, is unfortunate and, ironically, it risks engendering a huge backlash among uncommitted voters.

A generation ago, a similar “anti Nixon” movement energized what Nixon called the Great Silent Majority—voters who were uncommitted, fair minded and offended by attacks on the president that they saw as rabid and irrationally antagonistic. They delivered the biggest landslide in American history to a president who presided over violent protests throughout the country during the infamous summer of rage, the use of lethal force against protesting students at Kent State University, and the cover up of one of America’s greatest political scandals (Watergate), and a president who served as Commander-in-Chief during the extremely unpopular Vietnam War, in which more than 21,000 young Americans died in combat during his first term in office.

So Never Trumpsters beware.  On balance, the last two weeks have been good for the Trump Presidency.  That’s reality—not a bitter pill.

Enjoy any or all of Hal’s books at Amazon, Kindle, Apple I-books, Nook,  Barnes and Noble, Audible and other fine book stores.

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Trump’s Very Presidential Week

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsDonald Trump may not have been our choice for President (then again, neither was Hillary) and we have not been sparing in our criticism of him, but this was a good week for Trump, the Presidency and, we believe, the country.  For the Never Trumpsters who may be reading this, feel free to skip and, perhaps, tune in instead to the Baylor-Ole Miss basketball game this afternoon, or tune into MSNBC and contemplate why the Syrian nerve-gas attack against their own civilians was really President Trump’s fault.

Syria:

We believe the military strike ordered by President Trump against Syria’s Shayrat air base was entirely justified, brilliantly planned and executed, and consistent with the latitude he has to strike under the War Powers Act. There are hundreds of American troops in Syria and thousands in the general region. A beleaguered dictator like Bashir Al Assad using outlawed and very deadly nerve gas anywhere in the area is sufficient justification for the President, as Command-in-chief, to take immediate action. Assad has five more airbases, and, depending on what he does next, we hope the President doesn’t hesitate to destroy Assad’s remaining air power infrastructure.

Few knowledgeable people today doubt that President Trump did what former President Obama should have done four years ago. President Obama’s failed bluff drastically changed the course of the civil war and the balance of power, as Russia swiftly took advantage of America’s timidity and moved into Syria and, effectively, took over the war against the Syrian people. Approximately four hundred thousand Syrian civilians have, subsequently, died and another million have fled into Europe. America’s fecklessness during Assad’s war against his people will, eventually, become the focus of historians. They will not be writing volumes about which Americans are apt to be proud.

One of the worst kept secrets of the Syrian civil war is that there have been dozens of  gas attacks since Syria officially agreed to give up its weapons stockpile following a 2013 sarin gas attack against a Damascus suburb. Gas attacks are known to have taken place in Idlib and Saraqeb where doctors said they had treated more than two dozen patients following a suspected chlorine gas attack.

A global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said it was confident that chlorine gas had repeatedly been used as a weapon.

Since President, Barack Obama stepped back from enforcing his “red line” on the use of gas, continued Syrian attacks have drawn nothing more than public condemnation from western leaders.

Assad seems to have assumed that as long as his gas  attacks were kept relatively small he could get away with using chlorine and sarin. But many in the west knew the toll of dead and maimed civilians was mounting, and many have become concerned that the use of chemical weapons was no longer as shocking as it was a few years ago.

“There is certainly a huge risk of normalizing the use of chemical weapons,” said Richard Guthrie, a British chemical weapons expert who has raised concerns about the wider impacts of Syria’s continued use of toxins as weapons. President Trump’s decision to strike lets the world know that the United States has no intention of letting these weapons become “normalized.”

So we think President Trump acted wisely and decisively. He also sent a well-honed message to both China and their ward, the North Korean man-child dictator Kim Jong Un.

President Trump’s military strike will also not be lost on Vadimir Putin when he meets with US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in their first face-to-face encounter next week. Putin now knows that whatever assumptions he has made about Donald Trump must now be recalibrated.  We suspect the Ayatollah is doing some recalibrating in Tehran as well.

Gorsuch nomination:

 We were also pleased that Neil Gorsuch was confirmed for the Supreme Court by the US Senate, even if only along party lines. We do not know what positions the new Associate Justice will take regarding issues the court will be addressing. We have our concerns. But the spectacle of the Schumer-promoted filibuster of the nomination of an eminently qualified conservative justice was ridiculous and, we believe, most of the country saw it as ridiculous. We believe Senate-majority-leader McConnell’s decision not to take up Justice Garland’s nomination was rather bone-headed, but not without justification—justification provided in the past by none other than, you guessed it, Senators Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden.  In a speech urging President Bush (43) not to nominate anyone should a vacancy occur, Biden took to the Senate floor, and said the nomination process should be put off until after the election, which was on Nov. 3, 1992. Schumer was even more explicit in opposing a nomination in a president’s last term arguing, “if any new Supreme Court vacancies opened up, Democrats should not allow Bush the chance to fill it.” We think all of this is a sad commentary, but in partisan Washington DC we suppose what’s always been good for the goose has always been good for the gander.

Bannon:

Finally, it seems, that President Trump has, perhaps, grown a bit wary of his senior strategist Steve Bannon. We’ll have to see. We never believed Bannon should have been appointed a principle member of the National Security Agency, and for reasons not fully understood at this time, President Trump has yanked him from that position.

All in all, a good week for President Trump.

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Rescinding Internet Privacy Rules: Not as Bad as Advertised, But Bad Enough.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsFact: There will be no greater sharing of your internet browsing and purchasing history if President Trump signs the legislation that has now passed both houses of Congress and is awaiting his signature than there is right now. That’s because the FCC rule prohibiting Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) from selling or sharing your browsing and purchasing proclivities have not gone into effect and won’t go into effect until next December. They are free to market your internet history right now.

Eager to avoid controversy, the nation’s largest ISP’s—Comcast, AT&T and Verizon all rushed to state that they do not, and will not, sell personal web browsing histories without the customer’s permission even if the President signs the new law—which raises an interesting question.  Why rescind the regulation that prohibits the ISP’s from doing what they have just pledged not to do anyway?  What’s the hurry?  Why not wait until one of the companies breaks its pledge not to sell personal browsing history?  Silly question.  If selling your personal browsing history is a bad idea, or an infringement of internet user privacy, then the customer’s approval should be required before an ISP begins hawking the sale of his or her internet visits. Promises are easily broken. Laws and regulations are not so easily broken without risk.

Lawyers for the ISP’s argue, somewhat disingenuously we believe, that rescinding an ISP’s right to market your personal internet history is a violation of YOUR first amendment right of free speech. They argue that you can’t exercise your right to speak (for instance to buy or rent a movie on the internet) if the purveyor of that movie isn’t free to communicate to you that it is available. Yeah, we think that’s a bit far-fetched too.

We think the eleventh-hour, Obama-era FCC rule that prohibits ISP’s from selling your personal information unless you specifically opt-in and give your permission to have your history marketed is, on balance, a worthwhile protection of an individual’s right to privacy. FBI Director Comey’s warning that “there is no such thing as absolute privacy in America” may be true, but we doubt that many Americans would simply shrug their shoulders if they knew their ISP was free to sell to the nation’s purveyors of goods and services, without their permission, whatever visits they made on the internet.

Here’s the real rub as we see it. Our individual buying or browsing decisions, when aggregated with those of millions of other internet users gives ISP’s the wherewithal to move aggressively and powerfully into the marketing and advertising business without paying for the biggest asset they have – our individual, but now aggregated, internet history. In fact, the ISP customer pays the ISP to provide him or her with internet service. Perhaps the ISP should provide substantially discounted internet service to its customers in return for the Big Data muscle the customers are, collectively, providing the ISP. Now that would be something worth considering.

As might be expected, every Republican senator voted to kill the FCC privacy rules and every Democratic senator voted to preserve them. The opposition never misses an opportunity to politicize an issue if it makes them seem more virtuous than those who are in power. Of course, the reverse is true as well. Those in power will try to marginalize the opposition by politicizing issues that serve their interests.

To be clear, ISPs can only “see” a domain name such as www.halgershowitz.com (my personal web address or URL), but the ISP can’t “see” which of my books or other links you may have accessed once you arrived at my (or any) URL. Nonetheless, being able to profile nearly every consumer by his or her web preferences is an incredible marketing tool, and ISP’s garner that information as a side benefit of providing internet service to their customers. That they can “follow” every customer to whom they provide service and report the “comings and goings” of their customers to whoever is willing to pay for that information is no small matter. No one would tolerate a gumshoe following them around and reporting where they go and what they buy, and, we would bet, few people want their internet comings and goings reported to the highest bidder either.

To be sure, ISP’s have always had the ability to do that and, to date, there is little evidence that they have abused that capability. Internet retailers such as Amazon can, of course, track with specificity what you buy once you enter their domain, but the consumer understands that when he or she clicks into Amazon to shop.  Social media users also volunteer considerable profile information when they subscribe, and just about everyone understands that social media activity is the antithesis of privacy.

ISPs such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are different and they are on the cusp of becoming advertising behemoths because of their access to the personal shopping and browsing preferences of their customers. That is exactly why they have lobbied so hard against these rules. They have the potential of mirroring the Googles and Facebooks of the world by providing advertisers with incredibly valuable data about their customers’ internet preferences.

People subscribe to ISP’s to gain access to the internet, and ISP’s are well paid to provide that service. Where people shop or browse once they have secured internet service is really no one’s business other than the user and whomever he or she is communicating with. An individual’s browsing and shopping history should not be for sale without the individual’s permission.

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Trump Walks: He Finally Did the Right Thing.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsAs readers of these essays know by now, we’ve not showered President Trump with accolades since he’s been in office. Quite the opposite.

But this time we think he did the right thing.  He walked away from his dysfunctional Republican-majority Congress, and their Democratic never-Trump erstwhile allies. The American Health Care Act (ACHA), the Republican first-phase legislative attempt to begin the process of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was, to be sure, never going to be an easy sell, nor was it even close to being the final legislative fix to the ACA (better known as ObamaCare). It was, however, a beginning step in the right direction. Forget the well calculated avalanche of criticism and vituperation that Democrat talking heads and their strange, ultra-conservative, Republican bed fellows have leveled at Speaker Ryan and the AHCA. The AHCA addressed very legitimate issues, and the attempt to shift some of the responsibility for subsidizing healthcare costs (premium subsidies) to the states, was not unreasonable, nor was the attempt to create a more competitive health insurance marketplace.  We’ve expressed our doubts in these essays (last week) whether the AHCA would produce the premium cost reductions President Trump promised, but the AHCA was a step in the right direction, even though many more course corrections were certain to be necessary.

The so-called Freedom Caucus, a rag-tag, rabble-rousing, far-right group of Republicans confronted Speaker Ryan and President Trump with a list of demands intended to make sure the baby got thrown out with the bath water.  President Trump tried to meet some of their demands, but, to our surprise and satisfaction, he walked rather than allow this group to make a further mockery of what he and Ryan were trying to accomplish. Every successful negotiator knows that the strongest arrow in a negotiator’s quiver is the willingness to walk away from any negotiation that has gone sour. Trump walked and he was right to do so.

So just what were President Trump and Speaker Ryan trying to accomplish?  Perhaps they were trying to turn a sow’s ear into a purse.  If not silk at least a fabric that would serve a useful purpose.

Look, the Affordable Care Act is in very serious trouble.  The promises that were made to sell the ACA to the American public were not made in good faith. There was never any truth to the assertion that: (1) premium costs would come down (they have consistently gone up as have deductibles), (2) everyone could keep their doctor “period!” (emphasis added by President Obama), (3) everyone could keep their healthcare plan if they liked it. All totally disingenuous rhetoric.

The case for the ACA was a sham and a deliberate one at that. Remember what Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist and key architect of the so-called Affordable Care Act stated quite publicly, “the stupidity of the American voter” made it important for him and Democrats to hide Obamacare’s true costs from the public. That was really, really critical for the thing to pass,” said Gruber. He admitted that the sales pitch was one big cover-up operation: “Lack of transparency is a huge advantage. And basically, you know, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever. But basically, that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.” That may have been candid, but it was also vile. And former Speaker Nancy Pelosi had the temerity to refer to the AHCA as “a cruel bill.”

 The so-called Freedom Caucus bragged that it had the votes to kill Ryan’s health care bill, and they thought they had enough clout with the White House to force Trump to negotiate even after Ryan indicated no more changes would likely be made. Trump did the right thing once it was clear the recalcitrant Republicans were out to scuttle any real meaningful deal.  He walked.

Thus far in the Trump presidency we have had little positive to say about how this Administration has comported itself. In this instance, however, we think the President did exactly the right thing.  The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) needs an overhaul.  First, it is not affordable. Aside from steady premium increases each year with an average whopping 25% bubble of an increase last year, increasing deductibles made a sham of coverage for many families.  In some cases, families could keep their premiums from increasing if they opted for a higher deductible. Talk about a cruel hoax. The higher deductible may have kept their premium from increasing, but it certainly didn’t keep their costs from increasing.

We have real concerns about whether a more competitive marketplace for health insurance can produce the kind of cost savings the Trump Administration envisions.  Healthcare involves very high fixed costs which are relatively unaffected by reducing the demand for healthcare services.

To further exasperate matters, the average annual growth rate of healthcare spending will, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, exceed five percent over the next five years. That’s because new medical treatments and drugs—especially for life-threatening conditions like cancer—are very expensive. The resulting increased demand for more expensive procedures drive up premiums for the entire pool of insured Americans, and when younger, healthier individuals and families forego coverage as many do, the remaining pool of insureds is hit particularly hard. This has been especially true under the so-called Affordable Care Act. Consequently, millions of Americans, especially the younger, healthier ones, have opted to forgo coverage—despite the tax penalty associated with opting out of coverage. Preliminary data shows that roughly 5.6 million people paid a penalty instead of buying health insurance in 2015. A typical family, for example, could pay a mandatory penalty of almost $1,000 because they found it preferable to the $400 or $500 monthly cost of an ACA health plan.

State budgets are also taking a hit because of the ACA’s hidden costs. For example, one of the major components of the ACA is Medicaid expansion, whereby states can choose to accept federal dollars to expand the government insurance program. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office 13 million additional people will be enrolled in Medicaid this year because of the ACA. But there is never a free ride. The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) determined that adult Medicaid enrollment in 24 of the 29 states that accepted Medicaid expansion exceeded CBO projections by an average of 110 percent. That means the states’ share of Medicaid expansion costs will rise from five percent to 10 percent by 2020, leaving taxpayers in those states on the hook for vastly increased state budgets.

So, most of the hysterical criticism of the Ryan-Trump effort to repeal and replace the ACA (ObamaCare) is carefully calibrated political rhetoric.  The effort to move the AHCA (Ryan-Trump bill) forward has failed because the far-right fringe of the Republican Party thought they could gut the effort with the demands they made of Trump.  He was right to walk.

The Schumer-Pelosi wing of the US Congress are enjoying the moment. It remains to be seen, however, how long the laughter lasts.

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The ACA, AHCA and the CBO

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsSo, America is getting a close-up look at the sausage-making spectacle we know as the U.S. bi-cameral legislative process. But at least we’re getting to see the spectacle this time around as the Republican-controlled Congress wrestles with the American Health Care Act (AHCA). This, of course is the attempted repeal and replacement of President Obama’s so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The reader will recall the ACA was (is) the Act that Speaker (at the time) Pelosi proclaimed we could see AFTER congress passed it.  And pass it the Democrats did.

So, what have we finally learned about the ACA (aka ObamaCare). Well, for one thing the ACA is a seriously deteriorating, preexisting condition. It really is.  The only question is whether the intervention by Speaker Paul Ryan will produce a better healthcare alternative for the American people. We have our doubts, but continuing the ObamaCare course the nation is currently on really would constitute a type of governing malpractice.  We’ll hasten to stipulate that abrogating healthcare coverage for up to twenty-four million Americans, as the CBO projects will happen under the AHCA, would be an even worse case of governing malpractice. We’ll get to the CBO a bit further down in this essay.

When all is said and done, under the ACA, premium costs that were supposed to dramatically decrease by 2012 have, instead, dramatically increased as have deductibles. People who were assured they would be able to keep their doctors quickly learned they couldn’t necessarily do that as promised (no matter how much they liked him or her), nor could they necessarily keep the healthcare plan with which they were quite satisfied.

Worse, much worse, the Faustian bargain the insurance industry made with the Obama Administration is turning out to be what all Faustian bargains turn out to be—a disaster. The Obama Administration promised the insurance industry tens of millions of new customers. The problem is the government delivered a large preponderance of older, sicker, higher-cost customers and fewer younger, healthier customers whose low demand for service was supposed to invigorate insurance company income statements.

We’re sure there are many very bright people in the insurance business. We’re just not sure where they were when their industry signed on to supporting the ACA. The critical flaw in the ACA is that it created an actuarial breech of titanic proportions through which flooded a tide of red ink. If no one could be turned down or charged more because of illness including very nasty pre-existing conditions, why (one might ask) would young, healthy men and women or families pay for insurance before they got sick and needed it?

Not surprisingly, many health insurance companies got clobbered. Industry giant, Humana, seeing a flood of red ink flowing their way decided to withdraw entirely from its participation in the law. Aetna, also quickly began withdrawing from exchanges as has UnitedHealth and Humana.

And, speaking of insurance industry giants, there is the case of Anthem Inc. which announced just before the election last November, that it may join other major U.S. health insurers in largely pulling out of Obamacare markets by next year if its financial results under the program don’t improve.

Anthem’s retreat from the Affordable Care Act means that almost all the major American health insurers have substantially pulled back from the law. Hundreds of U.S. counties now must rely on only one insurer left in the marketplace.

Time will tell whether the AHCA (Trump/Ryan replacement bill) turns out to be the improvement President Trump has promised. There is much more that we don’t know than we do know because most of what eventually would become the AHCA hasn’t been drafted yet.

Most of what will be the final legislation has yet to be drafted because the current focus is on an initial phase that deals with aspects affecting the existing budget and subject to the arcane reconciliation process which only requires a simple majority to pass in the Senate which, presumably, the Republicans can muster. All of the nuts and bolts of the AHCA will follow the reconciliation phase and will, therefore, require a super majority of sixty votes in the Senate. That will involve a lot of arm twisting or as President Trump declared, “It’s a big, fat, beautiful negotiation. Hopefully we’ll come up with something that’s going to be really terrific.” Well, let’s hope.

Most of the details of what will be the final AHCA are unknown and largely unwritten at this time. Here’s what we do know.

The individual mandate in the ACA that requires individuals who can afford to buy insurance to do so or pay a penalty is eliminated in the AHCA and replaced with a “continuous coverage incentive” that would impose a 30 percent penalty for people who do not buy insurance until they are sick.

The employer mandate, as of this time, would be repealed.

Under the AHCA premium subsidies would be based on age rather than income.  Tax credits of $2,000 would be available in full to individuals under thirty earning less than $75,000 and households earnings less than $150,000.  The tax credit would be increased to $4,000 for people over sixty.

The ACA enabled states to expand Medicaid coverage by raising the eligibility cutoff to 138% of the federal poverty level. The AHCA would let states keep Medicaid expansion and allow states that expanded Medicaid to continue getting federal funding as they would have under the ACA until 2020. Federal funding under the AHCA for people who became newly eligible starting in 2020 or who left the program and came back would be reduced.

The AHCA would just about double the amount individuals or families could put into tax-free health savings accounts.

It seems to us that most of the other essential elements of the ACA are maintained in the AHCA.

Enter the CBO.

CBO (Congressional Budget Office) is a truly non-partisan agency responsible for estimating the budgetary impact of legislation. Some of its projections are pretty objective such as dollar inflows and outflows. Some are far more subjective such as estimating how people will behave given certain economic circumstances.

The Democrats and most of the press have made much of the recent CBO scoring of the AHCA. They’ve largely ignored the substantial objective projections of reductions in the federal deficit of nearly $340 billion over the next decade and the $1.2 trillion reduction in federal spending during the same period. Instead they have focused, almost deliriously, on the subjective projections of how people will behave, or more succinctly, how many will choose to buy insurance or not buy insurance in a more competitive marketplace which will be a key element of the final AHCA.

The CBO is projecting that 24 million fewer people will be covered by 2026. CBO projects the reductions in insurance coverage would result from changes in Medicaid enrollment, believing some states will discontinue their expansion of eligibility, and that some states that would have expanded eligibility in the future would choose not to continue, and per-enrollee spending in the program would be capped.

We suggest a bit more caution is warranted here regarding these subjective projections of individual and family participation in the AHCA. This is the same CBO that estimated that 21 million people would enroll in the ACA exchanges in 2016. Actually, closer to 10 million people enrolled. CBO estimates that 18 to19 million people will be enrolled in the ACA exchanges, but, in fact, enrollment is currently declining.

Our concern with the AHCA, at least with what we know of it, is that President Trump and Speaker Ryan are counting on very substantial reductions in premiums stemming from vastly increased competition as barriers that keep insurance companies from competing on a national basis are eliminated. Premium reductions must come, primarily, from lower reimbursements that insurance companies negotiate with hospitals and physicians for service. At some point, the insurance companies will have wrung just about everything they can out of hospitals and physicians. We’re not sure just how much room there is for further reductions and, thus, future premium savings through competition. These are costs that insurance companies can only mitigate so much. Health insurance premiums may not be as influenced by market-driven forces as the Administration thinks.

The Administration might want to temper its expressions of certainty regarding the social benefits of Adam Smith’s invisible hand theory of the social benefits of individual actions seeking what is in the individual’s best interest. On the other hand, the resist-at-any-cost faction should think more than twice about embracing a failing government healthcare program.

The opposition, even former President Obama, now acknowledges that the ACA needs to be fixed. They have, however, been no more forthcoming than the Republicans had been on how they would fix it.

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Trump’s Address to Congress: Time for Watchful Waiting.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIt’s an interesting term, watchful waiting. In medicine, it is generally defined as a policy of taking no immediate action with respect to a situation or course of events but of following its development closely. Ironically, it has been used once to define American foreign policy with respect to, of all countries, Mexico. That was when Woodrow Wilson used watchful waiting to describe American policy towards Mexico in his State of the Union address, in December 1913. Mexico ‘s long revolution was still raging at the time.

We suggest that this is a good time to engage in some watchful waiting ourselves to determine whether President Trump has, indeed, become more presidential, having succeeded in delivering a, mostly, solid presidential address—mostly, but not entirely. There was a clear demagogic nod in his call for a new initiative which he named VOICE—an acronym for Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement. The isolationist, anti-immigration sentiment is great enough in this country without creating a government entity to further whip those xenophobic flames. It’s very name is designed to do just that.

The response to President Trump’s address throughout the political spectrum, from left to right has, with some scattered dissension, been remarkably positive. Seventy percent of viewers described their reaction to the speech as positive according to a CNN-ORC (Opinion Research Corporation) poll. We watched the Twitter feed for much of the morning and the “tweets” were overwhelmingly positive.  This is rather telling, given that the Twittershpere is populated by individuals of all political stripes who simply engage in 140-character stream-of-consciousness communication. The stream was clearly flowing President Trump’s way.

One clinical psychologist we know opined that if Trump is, indeed, a narcissist the very positive reaction to his speech might well inform what he says, and, perhaps, what he does in the months and years ahead. If he is motivated by praise and approval, he may have just learned an important lesson.

He railed against job-crushing federal regulations, and has decreed that two regulations be eliminated for every one new regulation. While we think the President’s point regarding excess regulation is well taken, his formulaic answer (two regulations cut for each new regulation) may make for good political rhetoric, but makes little sense otherwise.

With respect to Obamacare, the President and the Republican leadership are somewhat akin to the dog that caught the car. What to do with the car—that’s the tricky part. The Trump Administration is committed to keeping everything that they say is good about Obamacare while doing away with the mandate that makes funding possible for what he says is good.  What is “the good” the Administration wants to preserve?  The coverage for pre-existing conditions, allowing kids to stay on their parent’s policies until they are twenty-six and making health insurance affordable for everyone. “The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we will do,” he promised. Fair enough and worth some watchful waiting.

Trump endorsed tax credits that would allow Americans to purchase health insurance, a proposal at which some House conservatives have balked, saying it would, in effect, create a huge new government subsidy. And it would, because the poor don’t earn enough to pay taxes or, therefore, to get a tax refund. That’s why we created the so-called refundable tax credit in which a credit is paid to the tax filer even though the filer did not earn enough to pay any federal income taxes.

Congress will also be asked to appropriate what President Trump referred to as “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” Fair enough.  If our armed forces have been depleted increased investment in defense is certainly warranted.

And everyone agrees that our infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports) requires massive investment.  We’re talking a Trillion here and a Trillion there. All in all, a very expensive, albeit necessary, array of investments.

We’ll need a lot of new money (tax revenue) to do that. Concurrently, President Trump said that his “economic team is developing historic tax reforms that will reduce the tax rate on our companies” and “provide massive tax relief for the middle class.”  All good stuff, but potentially a conundrum for balancing revenue inputs and investment outputs. Certainly, eliminating wasteful programs and regulations will contribute a lot. But eliminating wasteful spending won’t begin to cover the cost of the increased spending we’re about to undertake.

Enter “dynamic scoring.”

It is a safe assumption that when individuals, households or corporations suddenly have more money at their disposal they will, in some way, behave (economically speaking) differently. It is fair to assume that individuals and households will spend somewhat more, and that corporations will invest more, either in labor or capital improvements.  This change in behavior will, of course, result in a somewhat commensurate change in economic activity, which will, of course, result in a change (presumably an increase) in tax revenue to the government. So, the thinking goes, reducing tax rates should result in an increase in tax revenues. Actually, we agree. It seems to make perfect sense. The problem is predicting just what that change in behavior will be and just what increased economic activity will result from that change in behavior.

The reduction in tax rates will be a front-end certainty. The increased economic activity that will follow will be a back-end uncertainty. And the tax revenues that ultimately will flow to the government from that increased economic activity is a whopper of a back-end uncertainty. We’re not suggesting, at all, that the back-end benefit isn’t worth pursuing.  We are suggesting that neither we nor the Administration knows what the ultimate tax largess, if any, will be.

We were, on balance, somewhat encouraged by President Trump’s address. We’re far from ready to celebrate, but we, like most Americans, will wait…watchfully.

Hal’s books to read or to listen to: Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kindle, Apple iTunes, and Audible.

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TRUMP’s Secret Weapon? Anti-Trump Excesses

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWe haven’t seen this much “movement politics” for a long time in America.  And the dominant movement in America today seems to be some variation of “Stop Trump” or “Dump Trump” or even “Impeach Trump.”  It’s no wonder. After all, President Trump is one of the most divisive public figures ever to occupy the White House.  We won’t reiterate all of President Trump’s perplexing qualities.  We’ve already done that in essay after essay.  Suffice it to say, we’re not Trump fans, and so far, we’ve seen little evidence that he’s about to make America Great Again. We haven’t seen this much dissension and resentment directed at an American president for a long time—but we have seen it before.

Enter Richard Milhous Nixon.

The Trump/Nixon comparison is quite instructive. Many readers of our essays certainly remember the anti-Nixon protests during the ill-fated president’s first term, when the national mood was in a state of extremis over Viet Nam.  Both presidents are (were) incredibly polarizing and both are (were) the target of massive, sometimes violent protests. Nixon came to power during the so-called Summer of Rage. If anything, the anti-Nixon protests were far more substantive than the anti-Trump protests. Most of the anti-Trump resentment stems from the fact that so many people consider him to be spectacularly unpresidential and unqualified for the job, and a bully, a chauvinist, a demagogue, and, well, a boor. And, yes, many people think he’s down-right dangerous, and there’s the well-deserved furor over his bungling of an ill-advised immigration executive order.

But Nixon hatred was different. After all, nearly 21,000 young Americans had died in Vietnam during Nixon’s first term in office. There was the bombing of Cambodia and the horror at Kent State right in the middle of his first term.

The Watergate caper also unfolded (although not completely) during Nixon’s first term, and senior members of his Administration were implicated in the break in. Think for a moment of the news during the months leading right up to the presidential election in 1972.  There was a series of events that would have cratered anyone’s hope of being elected to anything. On June 17, 1972, four months before the election, five men, one of whom said he used to work for the CIA, were arrested at 2:30 a.m. trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel and office complex in Washington. On June 19th, a GOP security aide was found to be among the Watergate burglars.  On August 1st a $25,000 cashier’s check, apparently earmarked for the Nixon campaign, wound up in the bank account of a Watergate burglar. On September 29th, John Mitchell, while serving as attorney general, was found to have controlled a secret Republican fund used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against the Democrats, and on October 10th FBI agents established that the Watergate break-in stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon reelection campaign. In the same month, a federal jury indicted the five Watergate burglars along with G. Gordon Liddy, General Counsel to the Committee to Re-elect the President, and former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt for conspiracy, burglary, and a violation of federal wiretapping laws.

What skullduggery emanating from the Nixon White House!

And then, a month later, on November 7th, Richard M. Nixon was reelected in one of the largest landslides in American political history taking more than 60 percent of the vote.  Huh?

Remember the so-called silent majority. On the heels of a major nationwide protest against the Vietnam War in October 1969, Nixon delivered a speech on November 3, laying out his plans for ending the war through diplomatic negotiations and asking for the support of the “great silent majority” of Americans.

There is, of course, a great silent majority. They certainly don’t seem to talk to pollsters, anyway. Ordinarily, we would bet the great silent majority would be getting very antsy about President Trump even though they voted for him in the States that mattered. But that silent majority doesn’t seem to like the roar of an angry crowd…any roar…any crowd. That’s why they’re the silent majority, and the roar and the hyperbole and the talk of impeachment (in the absence of any discernible impeachable offense) is apt to backfire on those who want Trump out. Remember, we’re not in the circus atmosphere of a presidential campaign anymore. We’re in the reality of a presidency.

Many of the anti-Trump proponents seem to think that a Trump impeachment is already a conclusion merely awaiting the right presidential misstep. Probably not likely.  There have been many very unpopular presidents. James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Franklin D. Pierce, Warren G. Harding and Millard Fillmore come immediately to mind, but none were turned out of office. Johnson, however, did come pretty close.

Article II, Section 4, of the Constitution, the impeachment clause, says a President can only be impeached for “Treason, Bribery and other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” So being a jerk, or just being nasty, or insulting the press doesn’t seem to be impeachable. In fact, neither is incompetence.  James Madison successfully argued against making “maladministration” a cause for impeachment. One could argue that section 4 of the 25th Amendment which provides for the removal of the President in the case of  death, removal, resignation or incapacitation, is relevant. It isn’t!

We also do not think the much touted “Emoluments Clause” is going to undo President Trump. That’s the clause that states that “No Title  of Nobility shall be granted by the Unite States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.”

So let’s get back to reality. People are going to watch protests and the selective TV and newspaper shots of isolated violence, and they will see and hear the rhetorical excesses.  Statements by talking heads and some editorial writers that the Flynn-Russian conversations are the biggest scandal since Watergate (quite possibly not scandalous at all other than Flynn’s lack of candor with the Vice President), or that the Flynn-Russian conversations are the political equivalent of 9/11 (ridiculous) are, quite possibly, assuring a Republican romp in 2018 and the re-election of President Trump in 2020. Many of the people who hate Trump revel in this type of hyperbole. Many more, we would bet, recoil at it.

There is one other thing we think the anti-Trump people should keep in mind. Americans have, traditionally, maintained a rather curious, but admirable, sense of fair play. That’s why the birther movement never resonated with the American mainstream. Similarly, a Quinnipiac University poll conducted last summer demonstrated that two-thirds of Americans believed the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson should have been allowed to participate in the Republican Primary debates even though the same two-thirds said they would never vote for him.

We Americans seem to like our politics to be rough and tumble.  We also, from time to time, seem to be quite capable of drawing a line in the sand. That’s why President Obama had no problem winning in 2012. The birther issue probably won him more votes than it cost him.  So, we would bet, did accusations that he was a closet Muslim or some kind of Manchurian candidate. This suggests to us that over-reaching and engaging in hyper-caffeinated rhetoric can, and probably will, backfire. We’ve seen it happen before.  It is likely to happen again.

All available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, Apple iTunes and Audible –

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Trump’s justification for failed Ban: I’ve Got a Secret

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThat’s the message the President relayed to the American people when he stated, “I’ve learned a lot in the last two weeks, and terrorism is a far greater threat than the people of our country understand, but we’re gonna take care of it.”

When all was said and done, that was the heart of the President’s argument before the Federal 9th Circuit Court justifying the ban. President Trump’s attorneys could have filed a sealed brief with the court specifying the specific evidence of a threat to our national security that necessitated the ban on travel from the seven Muslim-majority countries, but they didn’t. They didn’t think they had to, and maybe we’ll ultimately find that they may be right.

Few people would argue with the broad powers the President is given in the case of a national emergency, or a substantial threat to our national security. Giving the President the unfettered authority to do whatever he wants to do in the name of national security, however, is another matter. The President should be prepared to demonstrate, albeit in confidence if necessary, some evidence that there is a relationship between the threat and the action with which he seeks to mitigate that threat. Otherwise, the president—any president, can, on a whim, transform our government into an autocracy simply by declaring that a national emergency exists without offering any evidence that such an emergency necessitates the action he or she seeks to take.

Having listened to the arguments from both sides before the 9th Circuit Court, and having read opinions that support the Government’s position and those that support the Court’s decision, we recognize that this is one of those constitutional issues that could, ultimately, be decided either way.

We have, in the recent past, taken particular issue with the position of the Trump Administration that the United States does not adequately screen prospective refugees. That simply is not true. Refugees from these seven countries, and all other countries, are arduously screened. It generally takes years to enter this country as a refugee. Refugees from Muslim countries are, invariably, fleeing from the very regimes that threaten us.

The real issue, beyond the constitutional question, is whether a threat exists from immigrants or refugees from the seven countries subject to the ban that justifies the President’s Executive Order. That, to us, is more relevant than the fine points of constitutional law.

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration specialist at the libertarian CATO institute, has compiled a list of every country from which foreign nationals have killed Americans on American soil. It’s quite revealing—2369 Americans have been killed on American soil by terrorists from Saudi Arabia, 314 killed by terrorists from the United Arab Emirates, 162 killed by Egyptian terrorists, 159 by terrorists from Lebanon, 6 by terrorists from Kuwait, 3 by terrorists from Cuba, 3 by terrorists from Kyrgyzstan, 3 by terrorists from Pakistan, 2 by terrorists from Palestine, 1 from Armenia, 1 from Croatia, 1 from Taiwan and 1 from Trinadad and Tobago, but NONE from the countries subject to the ban.

Furthermore, only three Americans have ever been killed by refugees—THREE, and those three refugees were from Cuba and that was in the 1970’s.

One particular aspect of the 9th circuit court hearing was, to us, particularly fascinating. The Justice Department’s lawyer, August Flentje, seemed to argue that a national emergency or threat necessitated the Executive Order, even though no evidence was offered to demonstrate such an emergency or threat. He then stated that the President’s decision that an emergency justified the seven-nation ban and the suspension of the settlement of refugees into the United States was not reviewable by the court. The court, he argued, could only review the correctness of the form of the brief—that it was “facially” in order. In other words, when President Trump (or any president) determines that there is a national emergency or a threat to the nation’s security, his judgment and his action, thereafter, is not subject to judicial review.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyala Law School professor and a critic of the executive order, argued that the court needed to send the message that the president should not be “un-reviewable” — especially for an order considered by many to be a “Muslim ban.”

University of California law professor and former Bush attorney John C. Yoo concurred, stating, “they should have lost. The order was done badly, The government badly defended it in court by claiming the 9th Circuit couldn’t even review the executive order.” Yoo said the ruling was a well warranted rebuke.

Here President Trump’s habit of speaking hyperbolically and, not infrequently, inaccurately if not untruthfully, has put him in a difficult position to argue for unfettered power simply by declaring the existence of a national emergency or a threat to our security. While President Trump may ultimately be found to have the legal authority to take such action without review by the courts, he doesn’t have the credibility to take such action given his record of wild and fanciful tweets and allegations.

American Presidents do have, and do need, the power to take drastic action in the face of a national emergency. It is an awesome power we give to our presidents. And it is a power that has been abused in the past. It did not take an Act of Congress for the Roosevelt Administration to, essentially, incarcerate over 100,000 loyal American citizens following Japan’s attack on Peril Harbor simply because they were of Japanese ancestry. This was done with the wave of a pen by President Roosevelt when he signed Executive Order 9066. He simply signed an order and tens of thousands of Americans were rounded up and locked away for years. Today, we recognize that Roosevelt’s executive order was wrongheaded and based on little more than war hysteria, with a healthy dose of racism thrown in.

It isn’t asking too much for President Trump to offer to the court, under seal if necessary, some evidence that a draconian executive order is justified. Hinting in a speech that he’s learned a lot in the past two weeks about the threats facing the nation isn’t sufficient. President Trump, in particular, has to offer the courts more than “I’ve got a secret.”

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Embrace Immigrants As Though America Needs Them

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsBecause we really do.

No, we’re not talking about the work no one wants to do. We’re talking about the creation of work everyone wants to do.

I had the privilege once again this year of working with Bret Stephens at the superb Rancho Mirage Writer’s Festival. Stephens is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and the Wall Street Journal foreign-affairs columnist and deputy editor of the Journal’s editorial pages.

Bret shared a bit of his family’s history with the audience. His mother was an immigrant who arrived in America in 1950, as an impoverished, ten-year-old child, a displaced person who had survived the ravages of World War Two. His grandparents had fled the Bolsheviks in Russia and the Nazis in Germany. His mother was born in Fascist Italy in 1940. Sixty-three years later she accompanied her son, Bret, when he received his Pulitzer Prize at a ceremony at Columbia University.

Stephens delivered the keynote address on the first night of the Writers Festival. President Trump had just signed the Executive Order, essentially, banning Muslims from seven countries from immigrating as refugees to the United States, an order that has just been stayed by a federal Judge as we go to press.

Those who had been barred from entering the United States were all refugees who had been previously vetted and approved by our government. Stephens tore up his prepared remarks and, instead, addressed the role immigrants have played in the great American success story.  Rarely, have I ever witnessed an audience as spellbound as was this gathering listening to this son of an immigrant.

Stephens reminded his audience that the United States has won approximately 40% of all the Nobel Prizes ever awarded, and 30% of America’s Nobel prizes were won by first generation immigrants—foreign born scientists, statesman and writers, including refugees like Henry Kissinger or chemistry Nobelist Martin Karplus, after whom the Karptlus equation is named which describes the chemical basis of proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Of the Fortune 500 companies, 90 were founded by immigrants and another 114 by the children of immigrants. Stephens named as examples Sergei Brin of Google, Andy Grove of Intel, Daniel Aaron of Comcast. These immigrants or sons of immigrants created enterprises with accumulated combined revenues of trillions, which is more than the GDP of most countries in the world, and, of course, they employ tens of thousands, and the industries that their ingenuity has made possible employ millions.

Stephens, of course, was just scratching the surface.

In fact, Fortune 500 companies, founded by immigrants employed 3.6 million workers worldwide in 2011, and produced $1.7 trillion in revenues the year before, according to the Partnership for A New American Economy.

A report published in 2010 found that immigrants are more than twice as likely start a business as someone born in America. In fact, one in ten American workers were employed by immigrant-run businesses

According to a recent report by the National Foundation for American Policy, immigrants have started more than half (44 of 87) of America’s startup companies valued at $1 billion dollars or more and are key members of management or product development teams in over 70 percent (62 of 87) of these start-up companies. According to the report, immigrant-founded start-up companies in America worth more than a billion dollars today have created an average of 760 jobs per company. The collective value of the 44 immigrant-founded start-up companies studied is $168 billion, which approximates about half the value of the stock markets of Russia or Mexico.

Stephens concluded his address by asking a series of questions that every civics teacher (we presume schools still teach civics) should ponder. These are the questions, the answers to which will define whether America’s future will be defined by growth, prosperity and equality or the fading embers of a once great nation.

1) What is our attitude toward foreigners? Are we a country that seeks and attracts immigrants, or do we see them as threats to our culture, economy and security?

2) What is our attitude toward failure? When we fail, do we tend to first blame ourselves and ask, ‘How can we make this right’? Or do we blame others, and adopt the attitude of ‘who did this to us’?

3) What is our attitude toward global leadership? Do we put our values first, as we did when we saved West Berlin, and then define our interests accordingly? Or do we put our “interests” first, in the sense of what’s materially good for us irrespective of values? In other words, do we believe in leading the world so that all may benefit from that leadership, or do we think, “America First”?

4) What is our attitude toward change? Do we believe in and foster innovation? Or do we strangle it through regulation? Do we believe in the value of free trade, acknowledging that the inevitable costs are outpaced by the larger benefits?

5) What is our attitude toward each other? Do we have a healthy civic culture in which we can respect each other’s different opinions, and do we respect bedrock institutions like a free press, that are so essential to the well-being of democracy? Or do we tear ourselves apart by an increasingly cynical and combative attitude toward these institutions?

6) What is our attitude toward the future? Do we see America’s prospects as fundamentally bright? Or will we be a pessimistic nation, fearful about the world and doubtful of our abilities to master the challenges before us?

Stephens concluded his keynote with a prediction. He predicted in the year 2037—20 years from now, that the child of one of the people in the hotel clean-up crew would be speaking at the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival, and that we would all be proud to call him or her our fellow American.

The audience cheered.

Hal Gershowitz’s novels about immigrants available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kindle, Apple iTunes and Audible.

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Ideas and commentary with allegiance to neither the left nor the right, but only to this sweet land of liberty.