Odds and ends number 83

Subtitled, the post-election edition.

I have a number of items I collected over the last few weeks that I figured I would end up getting to after the election. Well, the election is over so now I can clean out the e-mail box with this handy feature.

Despite Donald Trump’s stated defense of Planned Parenthood (coupled with his vow to defund it) and shaky position on abortion, the head of the pro-life group Created Equal was pleased with the election results and their efforts in securing them.

“Now, we must hold our new president-elect accountable for his promises to defund Planned Parenthood, pass a 20-week ban, and nominate a Constitutionalist to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Created Equal’s Mark Harrington.

Defunding Planned Parenthood will be a battle since Congress controls the purse strings and a Republican majority couldn’t get the job done in this edition of Congress. And as a reminder: they are funded through September 30, 2017 – the end of the federal fiscal year. Passing a 20-week ban and getting a pro-life SCOTUS justice will also be difficult with 48 Democrat Senators, although eight of them may want to keep in mind that Trump won their state and they are up for re-election two years hence. (In 2018 Democrats face the same minefield Republicans did this time: 23 of 33 Senate seats at stake are held by Democrats, along with two “independents” who caucus with the Democrats.) But I suspect the pro-life side will be disappointed with a President Trump; however, I never thought he would be President either so he may shock us all.

Another group angling for a payoff is my old friends at the American Alliance for Manufacturing, who are begging:

President-elect Trump and Congress must come together on much needed investment that will put Americans to work building and repairing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Stronger trade enforcement to address China’s massive overcapacity and a crackdown on countries trying to circumvent U.S. trade laws can boost manufacturing jobs.

Factory workers were more than a prop in this election. Now’s the time to deliver for them.

The signs are there that Trump may be their kind of President: we know he’s more hawkish on trade, and he’s planning on making it possible for up to $1 trillion in private-sector infrastructure investment over the next decade. But it takes two (or more) to tango on trade, so progress on that front may be slow. And the union-backed AAM may not be happy with the infrastructure plan if it doesn’t feature union-friendly rules and prevailing wage regulations. (Maybe this is a good time to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act? I doubt Congress has the guts to.)

But if you thought AAM wanted a tougher stance on trade, this diatribe came from Kevin Kearns, head of the U.S. Business & Industry Council:

Trump’s antagonists (on trade) are Wall Street institutions, multinational corporations, major business organizations, academic economists, editorial boards, business journalists, opinion writers, bloggers, and the generally knowledge-free mainstream media. All are opposed to Trump because they are wedded to a false, outdated “free trade” dogma, which has decimated the working and middle classes.

On Capitol Hill, a minority of Democrats and majority of Republicans are partial to the same free-trade theories. Speaker Paul Ryan admitted as much in his remarks on the election victory, noting that Trump alone had recognized the dire plight of average Americans.

I found it interesting that the LifeZette site has as its editor-in-chief Trump ally (and radio talk show host) Laura Ingraham. But this was the real payoff of the Kearns piece for me:

Trump must impose a Value-Added Tax of 18-20 percent applicable at the border to all imports. Over 150 of our trading partners use such taxes to make American exports pricier in their home markets. We should reciprocate.

So anything we import becomes 18 to 20 percent more expensive? Yeah, that will end well.

Another item in the election hopper was some attempted reform from another guy who I’ve oftentimes cited on my website, Rick Weiland. A “trifecta of reform” his group successfully put on the South Dakota ballot went 1-for-3 the other night. Measures for redistricting reform and non-partisan elections failed, but South Dakota voters narrowly passed a sweeping campaign finance reform package the state’s Attorney General said “may be challenged in court on constitutional grounds.”

Personally, I would have been fine with the two that failed in a broad sense – as a Maryland resident, I know all about partisan gerrymandering and would be interested to see how non-partisan elections pan out. (The duopoly would have a fit, I’m sure.) But this campaign finance reform was a bad idea from the get-go, and it tips the Democrats’ hand on how they would attack the Citizens United decision. One controversial facet of this new law would be a $9 per registered voter annual appropriation to pay for this public financing - such a law in Maryland would be a required annual $35 million appropriation from our General Fund. (The fund Larry Hogan used in his successful 2014 campaign was built with voluntary donations via a checkoff on income tax forms; a checkoff that was dormant for several years but was restored last year.)

And instead of “democracy credits” as this amendment proposed, a better idea would be one I believe Ohio still uses: a tax deduction of up to $50 for political donations. But I’m sure soon a South Dakota court (and maybe beyond) will be ruling on this one.

I also received some free post-election advice from the creators of iVoterGuide, which is an offshoot of a small Christian group called the Heritage Alliance (not to be confused with the Heritage Foundation.)

Pray specifically for the appointment of Godly people as our newly elected President selects his Cabinet and closest advisors.  Pray that the Administration, Senate and House will work together to honor life and liberty as set out in our constitution by our founding fathers.  Pray for ALL elected officials to humble themselves and seek God’s will for our nation.  We need to repent, individually and as a nation, and turn from policies contrary to God’s word.

Pray for unity and peace.  Our country is deeply divided. Christians must truly start loving our neighbors as ourselves so that there can be a spiritual awakening.  Now is not a time to gloat but to turn our hearts continually toward God so we can be examples of His love and work toward reconciliation and unity.  Pray for all nations, as a new stage is being set both nationally and internationally.

I think I can handle that. Oddly enough, this was also a subject of our Bible study prayer group Wednesday – maybe one or more of them is on this e-mail list, too. As for iVoterGuide, what they need is a larger state-level base as Maryland and Delaware aren’t among the handful of states they cover (it’s mostly federal.)

As iVoterGuide‘s executive director Debbie Wuthnow concludes, “we ask you pray about how God wants you to be involved in retaining the freedoms He has so graciously granted us.” I suspect I’m going in the right direction here but one never knows what doors open up.

I was originally going to add some energy-related items to this mix, but I think I will hold them until later this week for a reason which will become apparent. There’s one other subset of items I’m going to have fun with tomorrow – I would consider them odds but not ends. And so it goes.

Out to build a state (and a nation)

Originally I was going to add some of these items to my “odds and ends” post but decided to promote the idea to a post of its own. I have a lot of things which I can neatly tie together.

It’s now been a decade since America’s economy even grew at a 3% rate, as Rick Manning pointed out a few weeks ago. While he lays a lot of the blame for what he later termed an 8.9% ”real” unemployment rate on government regulation and policy, other industry groups like the U.S. Business & Industry Council (USBIC) and Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) point the blame squarely at China. First is USBIC President Kevin Kearns:

Can anyone doubt that America’s trading relationship with Beijing is a one-sided, one-way catastrophe for the American economy? Our massive trade deficit with China represents a constant outflow of jobs and productive capacity to a country that refuses to play by the rules of world trade. It’s been 15 years since China joined the World Trade Organization. There can be no doubt that America’s experiment in so-called ‘free trade’ with China is a miserable failure.

AAM’s President Scott Paul:

Now we have even more evidence as to why voters are deeply concerned about China and its impact on the American economy. Our trade deficit with China in 2015 again surged to record levels, and that helps explain the struggles we’ve seen in manufacturing recently – particularly in critical sectors like the steel industry.

The 29,000 factory jobs gained in January is good news, but it’s certainly no indication of an upward trend. Many dangers persist, including a strong dollar, China’s economic weakness, and its massive industrial overcapacity. It strikes me as an inopportune time to be pushing a Trans-Pacific Partnership that is projected to cost America more than 121,000 factory jobs, according to the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

So just how do we compete? There’s no question that 40 years of buildup and advantages accrued by foreign competitors in the areas of lower wages, lack of regulation, and outright cheating more than make up for the millions of dollars in shipping costs required to ship cargo across the Pacific to the American consumer market. The relics and ruins of our Rust Belt convey the depth of the opportunities squandered. If we can’t beat them on price, we have to beat them on quality and be smarter than they are.

One thing I’ve noticed about the Senate race is that several GOP candidates are focusing on the manufacturing sector as a ticket to the state’s prosperity. For example, Rich Douglas had this to say the exodus of jobs to Mexico and about his platform:

Ten thousand jobs lost in Maryland alone.  That’s what Texas businessman Ross Perot meant when he predicted a “giant sucking sound” of U.S. factories moving to Mexico after Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  If elected to the U.S. Senate from Maryland in November, I will work to bring them back.

The “sucking sound” was real.  In the mid-1980s I lived and worked in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across the river from El Paso, Texas.  The Juarez of my memory is a vast collection of big-box factories in the desert, bearing well-known U.S. names.  Jobs lost from the U.S.

(snip)

Citizens with a path forward to jobs, homes, and a future remain in school, avoid drugs, do not riot, and keep their unborn children.  Maryland needs factories and jobs.  A way to attract them is to send the right people to Congress.  What sets me apart from the rest of the Senate field?  Experience and scars earned in markets where U.S. ethics are mocked.  Experience with U.S.-imposed hurdles to U.S. exports.  Experience with the human cost of free trade.

But Douglas is not alone. It turns out fellow candidate Chrys Kefalas is a vice-president at the National Association of Manufacturers, which again is urging people to be manufacturing voters:

Notes Kefalas on his social media page:

I’m all about manufacturing more jobs in Maryland and the U.S. And that means fighting so that companies like Under Armour and small businesses can bring more jobs to Maryland. I will.

Adds yet another Senate hopeful, Dave Wallace:

Many will remember when Marylanders proudly made steel, Chevys and many other quality products and enjoyed a prosperous life. Today our infrastructure and job prospect are crumbling, and high taxes and regulations are driving away the jobs and investments we need.

While this is a promising beginning, Wallace remains short on details. But it’s better than nothing, as I’m not finding where the other major candidate, Kathy Szeliga, addresses manufacturing at all.

Actually, I take that back. Nothing is better than this mess that punishes achieving businesses and expands the government’s role at a time when they need to stand down and let the market grow. Remember, doing it this way has led to a “lost decade” of slow-to-no economic growth.

Since this part of the state isn’t dependent on government jobs to survive – but could use an economic shot in the arm to diversify from the poultry and tourism industries – it seems like we would be an ideal location to be the place to make things. The cost of living is fairly decent, the area is nice, and there are a lot of people who are willing to put in a little bit of elbow grease to get things moving. All they need is for the state to let them compete, and even though a Senator doesn’t necessarily guide state policy he or she can lead by example.

Odds and ends number 76

Once again I have a potpourri of items that I think need between a couple sentences and three paragraphs, so here goes.

Over the last few months I have followed the saga of atheists who have tried to have the Bladensburg Peace Cross removed thanks to attorney and second-time U.S. Senate candidate Richard Douglas. Early last week a federal judge dismissed the case in a brief, two-page order, although the plaintiffs promised to appeal. Douglas called the decision ”a good day for liberty,” and I tend to agree. Kudos to the good barrister for lending a hand.

Something Douglas has stressed in his populist campaign is the plight of the working man. So while manufacturing jobs held relatively steady over the last couple months, those who advocate for manufacturing thought the job report was rather bleak. “It’s the latest evidence that manufacturing in America is at or near a state of recession,” said Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) head Scott Paul. ”While much of the service sector is growing albeit with low wages, our goods-producing economy is struggling under the yoke of global weakness and China’s massive industrial overcapacity.”

That imbalance with China was also the subject of print ads sponsored by another industry group, the U.S. Business & Industry Council.

Their point is simple: there were no currency manipulation provisions included. While China, which has a long-standing reputation for the practice, is not a part of the TPP, other members have also been accused of similar tricks. The USBIC apparently desires a united front among many of China’s regional trading partners.

Those who can’t find jobs often need government assistance such as food stamps (now known as SNAP.) But the state of Maine recently grabbed the notice of the Daily Signal for a proposal to ban the purchase of junk food and pop with EBT cards. Certainly to some it would border on nanny statism, but the state argues that:

“Our current food stamp policy lets water in one end of the boat while bailing out the other,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “If we’re going to spend millions on nutrition education for food stamp recipients, we should stop giving them money to buy candy and soda. Maine is facing an obesity epidemic, especially among its low-income population, and we should be solving that problem rather than enabling it.”

In short, if you wish to gorge yourself on Skittles and Mountain Dew, find a job and get off the dole. Maine has cracked down on welfare programs since Governor Paul LePage took office – maybe Larry Hogan should pay attention.

Someone in Hogan’s administration got the hot water turned up on him, as the James O’Keefe video I talked about a few days back had the sequel. Now we know his deputy isn’t particularly into martial fidelity, but then again we sort of factor that into the equation anymore. This guy named Clinton was elected president for doing far worse, so perhaps being on the large end of the Project Veritas telescope will be a resume enhancer for this liberal deputy AG.

Chances are, though, soon Thiruvendran “Thiru” Vignarajah will be ignored by the media, sort of like what we’re advised to do by columnist, fill-in radio host, and would-be Congressman Dan Bongino regarding Barack Obama. Whether it’s gun control, border security, Syrian refugees, or simply his method of leadership, America is better going in the opposite direction our feckless President desires us to go. Simple advice that’s worth the read, as Dan often is.

Yet Obama’s government is still powerful and has the capacity to make peoples’ lives miserable. Take the Internal Revenue Service and a new proposed rule that will ask nonprofits to keep Social Security numbers for donors who give more than $250. Tonya Tiffany of MDCAN got her moment of fame as an advocate against this regulation.

Those who are interested in stating their case have until December 16 to go here and give their opinion. Operations which only have sporadic activities and run on a shoestring would be most affected, and MDCAN falls under that umbrella as their primary activity is the Turning the Tides conference each January.

As they argue:

The IRS wants to make non-profit organizations responsible for storing and reporting the Social Security Numbers for anyone who donates more than $250. This will burden the non-profits financially as well as increase your chances of having your identity stolen. It could also make it easier for the IRS to target organizations based on politics and move on to also targeting the private individuals who support those organizations.

On the latter point, I think back to the emotion surrounding donations to the side supporting Proposition 8 in California some years back (in favor of traditional marriage.) Even years later, those who chose to donate in its favor had to deal with its fallout. Instead of harassment from a group, though, imagine the full weight of the government harassing donors. The system isn’t really broken so there’s no need to fix it.

There’s no need to fix my e-mailbox, either. While it’s not completely empty, the remaining items deserve more of a hearing. Look for these in the next few days.

The manufacturing perspective on TPP

Political junkies know the first Friday of the month will generally bring the unemployment rate and job creation numbers from the previous month. As of Friday, the government told us we were at 5% unemployment for the first time since the Bush years, when economists talked us into a recession. (This was back when tepid job growth actually increased the unemployment rate. Of course, people blamed the president at the time.)

Be that as it may, though, there were no net manufacturing jobs created during the month, a fact which concerned pro-manufacturing organizations like my old friends at the Alliance for American Manufacturing. To quote their president, Scott Paul:

Underneath the euphoria over a good topline employment number is this fact: Manufacturing hasn’t gained a single net job since January. 

That’s terrible news for our economy. The effects of China’s industrial overcapacity can be seen in waves of layoffs in American steel, aluminum, and other manufacturing sectors. This weakness in factory hiring comes at a very inconvenient time for the proponents of the TPP, which analysts predicted will widen our record manufacturing trade deficit. (Emphasis in original.)

Regarding the TPP, the U.S Business & Industry Council (USBIC), an advocacy organization for small businesses, said in a statement that the TPP is full of “special deals” for multinational businesses. USBIC president Kevin Kearns:

The TPP is anything but the free trade agreement it purports to be.  The use of the term ‘free trade’ is simply a codeword designed to attract the support of Congressional Republicans who lurch zombie-like to support anything so labeled, without examining the fine print.

A real free-trade deal could be written on a single sheet of paper, with commitments to remove all tariffs and non-tariff barriers of any kind.

Over at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), writer Linda Dempsey demanded a thorough review of TPP’s provisions. All this makes it clear that manufacturers are wary about the effects of this trade deal. I also covered some of the other potential pitfalls on Friday for my weekly Patriot Post piece, which leads me to wonder: just who the heck is for the deal?

Well, actually, NAM is part of a broad coalition of business interests seeking the deal, which makes it less of a Main Street vs. Wall Street issue and mote of a tug-of-war between union interest in protectionism and businesses after free trade. But one question worth asking (as Kearns does) is why we need over 5,000 pages of agreement to clear the trade docket? One can also ponder what benefits we really get as the largest partner by far – it’s not a coalition of equals by any stretch of the imagination, although depending on the source the per capita GDP has been measured slightly higher than ours for partners Australia and Singapore.

If there was ever a case where the devil is in the details, this may be the one. I noted in Friday’s article that time is not of the essence – the 12 nations have up to two years to ratify the agreement, with only 6 (one being the United States) being enough to enable it under certain conditions. (It boils down to we have veto power, and Japan also might depending on the direction of its GDP compared to the dozen as a whole. The Japanese are close to the 15% of total TPP GDP needed to sink the deal if they don’t pass it. By the way, we have a roughly 65% share so we are by far the biggest frog in this little pond.)

The concept of free trade works best among equals. Unfortunately, there aren’t many peers at the level of the United States so you get the complexity of the TPP, which I won’t dare profess to understand. Just on gut instinct I think the acronym KISS is in order here but when it comes to modern government it seems we can only weave tangled webs.

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