The John Batchelor Show

Tuesday April 11 2017

Air Date: 
April 11, 2017

Photo, left: Russian Air Force, Latakia, Syria.  
Co-host: Larry Kudlow, CNBC senior advisor; & Cumulus Media radio  
Hour One
Tuesday  11 April 2017 / Hour 1, Block A: David M Drucker, CNN & Washington Examiner Senior Congressional correspondent; in re: Kansas, 4th CD:  The Daily Kos put in $140K to Democrats. Was this a referendum on D J Trump? On Gov Sam Brownback?  Quien sabe?  The race is for Mike Pompeo’s seat (he who resigned to become DNI). Look for margin of victory that the Republican probably will have; Trump won this CD by 27 points.  However, Democrats have a new burst of enthusiasm. GOP raced in with a late rescue mission – poured in $100k; Trump did robocalls and Pence visited.  Tax reform.  Border import tax favored by House, but rejected by Senate.  Wonder if we’ll end up with bit tax cuts but no tax reform.  Currently Trump administration seems to have to tax policy formulated.  We need to focus laser-like on corp tax cuts to multiply investment and increase wages. Look also to capital return from overseas ($2 trillion?). We might lose on this critical matter.
President is surrounded by nationalist, liberal Democratic, and conservative Republican factions, but president doesn’t have his own [developed opinion] on these issues.  Today, Steve Schwartzman was talking about a listening tour!  Why? No complaints about Gary Cohn on the Hill.  Just [praying] for no chaos.
Republicans hope to fend off Democratic surge in Kansas  via @DCExaminer #KS04
Tuesday  11 April 2017 / Hour 1, Block B:   Tunku Varadarajan, Hoover, in re: Untied Air Lines corporate terrorism. Abuse of business by business. Bullying: a behemoth demands that a paying customer leave a flight because the air line had overbooked; he declined; United asked in airport security who dragged the man, screaming, down the aisle.  This was a contract dispute between United and Dr Dao.  Dickensian, went out of fashion in England in the Nineteenth Century. This in fact is not trivial. Then the CEO stood rigidly in favor, and 24 hours later issued non-apology apologies.   Head of Jet Blue said, “Just keep upping the cash offer.” There’s a market solution.  You’ve oversold, you sort it out.
Overbooked and Under Siege. @Tunku
If a Flight Is Overbooked   Airlines are required to offer vouchers to volunteers to give up their seats. If an airline denies boarding to a ticketed passenger, it must put the passenger on the next available flight and cover any hotel costs. The key is “available.” If flights are booked for three days, you’ll have a long wait.
What Compensation Can You Get?  
If the airline gets you to your destination within...
... one hour of scheduled time, no compensation is required.
... between one and two hours domestically or one and four hours on international flights, the airline owes you 200% of your one-way fare up to $675.
... more than two hours on domestic flights and four hours on international flights, 400% of your one-way fare up to $1,350.
Tuesday  11 April 2017 / Hour 1, Block C: Veronique de Rugy, Mercatus Center Senior Research Fellow, testifying today on borrowing’s impact on federal spending. LK: we need to issue hundred-year bonds. Can cover Social Security and Medicare. I agree that Medicaid is hopeless. I'd like us to grow our way out of this.   VdR: The faster we grow, the smaller the needed reforms. This discussion should be about economic growth, Absent that it’ll be painful. Take Soc Sec:  at current rate, in 2035, benefits will have to be cut 25%.  Add economic growth, problem goes away for a while and you can tweak it.  My fear is that they do things when they have absolutely no choice.  Dunno about Medicaid, but we do know Soc Sec.  Cuts will be esp brutal to the oldest.  Can't do that!  Can adjust retirement age for younger cohort. My preferred reform option for health care; free the supply of health care from the regulations and rules that strangle innovation. In other industries, leads to higher care at lower costs. Reduced the burden on the govt.  We have a price-control system that’s completely distorting everything. No stomach for this on the Hill. 
Therefore focus on Obamacare repeal and reform.  The clock is ticking. In ten years everything will be Medicare, mMedicaid and the Defense Deaprtment.
Below is an excerpt from de Rugy's testimony before the Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs:
[T]he drivers of our future debt are spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Without reforms today, vast tax increases will be needed later to pay for the unfunded promises made to a steadily growing cohort of seniors.
[A] consensus has emerged recently that spending-based fiscal adjustments are not only more likely to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio than tax-based ones, but they are also less likely to trigger a recession. In fact, if accompanied by the right type of policies (especially changes to public employees’ pay and public pension reforms), spending-based adjustments can actually be associated with economic growth.
To view the testimony in its entirety and de Rugy's related studies on the issue, please click here
Also:    President Trump “has scrapped the tax plan he campaigned on and is going back to the drawing board in a search for Republican consensus behind legislation to overhaul the U.S. tax system,” the AP reports.
“The administration’s first attempt to write legislation is in its early stages and the White House has kept much of it under wraps. But it has already sprouted the consideration of a series of unorthodox proposals including a drastic cut to the payroll tax, aimed at appealing to Democrats.”
“Administration officials say it’s now unlikely that a tax overhaul will meet the August deadline set by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. But the ambitious pace to figure out a plan reflects Trump’s haste to move quickly past a bruising failure to broker a compromise within his own party on how to replace the health insurance law enacted under President Obama.”
Tuesday  11 April 2017 / Hour 1, Block D: Larry Kudlow, in re:   . . .  roadblock called “Pay for”:  reconciliation packages can pass with 51 vote (fiscal; law says must be paid for; cannot run deficits over a decade).   Not necessary to score this by CBO.  Can score $4 billion of extra revenue by using a different referee. Difference between static and dynamic analyses.  The Senate parliamentarian has said to Mike Lee that she’s willing to accept dynamic scoring, and there’s no law or rule that says you have to use the CBO numbers.  Will talk to the Senate chairman after the recess. 
Bz tax rate down to 15% or 20%;  business expensing; repatriation. All three can be done together.   ;
Hour Two
Tuesday  11 April 2017 / Hour 2, Block A:  Stephen F. Cohen, NYU & Princeton professor Emeritus; American Committee for East-West Accord; author: Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, & The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag after Stalin; in re:  Signs of hot war in Baltics; in  Ukraine (both a civil and proxy war – and both are directly on Russia’s border; anciently, Cold War border was in Berlin, far from Russian border); and Syria, in danger of becoming a proxy war. The imminent danger: any one of these could become a Cuban-missile-crisis decision-making problem. The Russians thought and Candidate Trump thought Russo-American cooperation in Syria was desirable.  Now we have a Hegelian flip where we wake up and see the US and Russia are moving ever closer to conflict in Syria.  Note: Russians think Trump sent out Cruise missiles to show domestically he was anti-Russian.  According to a Russian doc: US said it collected [sarin] data on the ground. Do we have anyone on the ground? Seems to be social media.  Finally, what possible motive could Assad have had for committing such a monstruous attack, knowing it’d cause him endless grief? He was doing well politically and militarily. The unfactchecked narrative!
Tales of the New Cold War: Trump, Syria & Russia’s Red Lines?   Claiming that Assad’s rule “is coming to an end,” Tillerson previewed his message to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.  “We hope that the Russian government concludes that they have aligned themselves with an unreliable partner in Bashar al-Assad,” he said.
In what was in effect an ultimatum, he said Moscow must calculate the costs of remaining an ally of Assad, the Iranians and Lebanon’s Shiite militia Hezbollah.
“Is that a long-term alliance that serves Russia’s interests?” he told reporters. “Or would Russia prefer to realign with the United States, with other Western countries and Middle East countries that are seeking to resolve the Syrian crisis?”  [U.S.-Russia rifts were already widening before missile strike]
Russia has maintained that a Syrian government airstrike last week hit a factory where Syrian rebels were manufacturing chemical weapons in the northern Idlib province. After the U.S. missile strike, Peskov asserted that the Syrian government “has no chemical arms stockpiles. ”
Moscow says it fulfilled its part of a 2013 agreement mandating that Russia oversee the destruction of Assad’s chemical-weapons arsenal. On Monday, Russia’s general staff said two sites where chemical weapons might remain are in territory controlled by Syrian rebels.  (1 of 4)
Tuesday  11 April 2017 / Hour 2, Block B: Stephen F. Cohen, NYU & Princeton professor Emeritus; American Committee for East-West Accord; in re:  
 (2 of 4)
Tuesday  11 April 2017 / Hour 2, Block C: Stephen F. Cohen, NYU & Princeton professor Emeritus; American Committee for East-West Accord (3 of 4)
Tuesday  11 April 2017 / Hour 2, Block D: Stephen F. Cohen, NYU & Princeton professor Emeritus; American Committee for East-West Accord (4 of 4)
Hour Three
Tuesday  11 April 2017/ Hour 3, Block A:   Kori Schake, Hoover, in re:  The perils of an unpredictable Commander-in-Chief. @KoriSchake @HooverInst   The biggest risk coming out of the attack, though, may be the ease and speed with which the commander in chief flipped his position. Horrible as the Khan Sheikhoun attack was, the Assad government has used chemical weapons dozens and dozens of times, and has committed numerous other war crimes. The regime has killed a half million people and made refugees out of 5 million more. This week’s attack was a difference of degree, not of kind. Yet Trump was moved to reverse himself on involvement in the Syrian civil war. Al Qaeda’s success on 9/11 was not only the murder of 2,996 people in a shocking atrocity, but the subsequent redirection of U.S. national security interests. Trump has now allowed his national security priorities to be similarly hijacked, which could incentivize other adversaries to try to provoke similar redirections. (In the president’s defense, however, he managed to keep the visit with China’s president on track.)
Tuesday  11 April 2017/ Hour 3, Block B: Jed Babbin, American Spectator, in re:  April 10, 2017, 12:04 am  In the absence of any coherent strategy, everything remains unclear.   President Trump’s cruise missile strike on Syria last Thursday night is being thoroughly misread at home and abroad. That’s entirely understandable, because the president apparently has no coherent strategy or policy that he’s trying to implement.
There was no attack on America that preceded the missile strike, necessitating a military response. The Assad regime’s forces was against Syrian civilians. It employed a chemical weapon – probably Sarin – and left about 70 people dead, including a number of children. President Trump’s action was taken as a direct result of his emotional, visceral reaction to the horrors of war for which he was unprepared to see. Pictures of the casualties shocked him to his core.
On Wednesday, reacting to the Assad regime’s attack, Mr. Trump seemed almost unbelieving of the brutality of war. His voice shook when he said, “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal – people were shocked to hear what gas it was. That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.”
Military options were prepared and presented to the president. He chose the easiest one, an attack that didn’t risk the lives of American soldiers or sailors. About 63 hours after the Assad regime’s attack, 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched by two American destroyers targeting the Shayrat airbase near Homs. About 20 Syrian aircraft were destroyed and perhaps a dozen casualties were inflicted.
The attack wasn’t decisive: It didn’t kill Assad or topple his regime. Was it a reversal of policy? That remains unclear.
About an hour after the missiles hit the Syrian air base, Mr. Trump said, “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
Well, no. There is a very important distinction here. Yes, we have an interest in preventing the spread or use of chemical weapons but not one that qualifies as a vital national security interest.
A vital national security interest of the United States is an interest that has to be defended by military force against any aggression. A chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians, terrible as it may be, isn’t against a vital U.S. national security interest.
The fact that we have hundreds of troops in Syria to fight ISIS necessitates a military response to any aggression – chemical attack or otherwise – against them. Deterring an attack on our troops may also have been one of the president’s thoughts in ordering our missile attack, but that’s not the reason he gave in justifying our action.
So where does that leave Mr. Trump’s often-announced policy of destroying ISIS? Does it now include forcing regime change in Syria?
In March, Secretary of State Tillerson said Assad’s future should be decided by the Syrian people. Faint hope there was of that, given the strong support of Assad by both Putin’s Russia and Ayatollah Khamenei’s Iran. Now, Mr. Trump and his team are saying that Assad has to go. Or are they?
On Sunday, Tillerson gave voice to the president’s incoherence. Tillerson said on Face the Nation that “we believe that the first priority is the defeat of ISIS.” He also seemed to declare victory over ISIS and then think better of it.
Tillerson said, “By defeating ISIS and removing their caliphate from their control, we’ve now eliminated at least or minimized a particular threat not just to the United States, but to the whole stability in the region.… Once the ISIS threat has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria.” And why we need to do that, he didn’t say.
Adding to the confusion, Tillerson said he was still hoping for a solution to the Syria war, which meant bringing Assad, Russia, Iran (and who knows who else) to the bargaining table.
“Clearly, that requires the participation of the regime with the support of their allies,” Tillerson said. He added, “and we’re hopeful that Russia will choose to play a constructive role in supporting ceasefires through their own Astana talks, but also, ultimately, through Geneva.” He went on to imply that “safe zones” for civilians could be established by the Russians. Why they would do that, he didn’t say.
Which is just what we heard from the Obama administration for the past five years.
Through the campaign, Mr. Trump was saying that it would be good for us to partner with Russia to fight ISIS in Syria. There never was a serious hope of that. After last week’s missile strike on the Shayrat air base, Russia cancelled its agreement with us that allowed “de-confliction” of air operations in Syria to prevent U.S. and Russian aircraft from colliding with or shooting at each other.
Also in response to our attack, the Russians announced that they were going to strengthen Syria’s air defense systems.
Mr. Trump finally seems to understand that Russia isn’t going to cooperate with us against ISIS or in any other way. On Friday, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley blasted the Russians, asking, “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” That was obviously a rhetorical question. On Sunday, National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said Russia was supporting a “murderous” regime in Syria.
But how does Mr. Trump intend to deal with Russia (which is supplying the Taliban with arms and other support)? We don’t know and probably neither does he.
So what comes next for ISIS and Syria? Though he has indicated otherwise, it’s entirely likely that Mr. Trump’s missile strike was a one-off event.
As Mr. Trump probably has discovered, his options are severely limited. The Russians and Iranians dominate the Syrian battlespace and will prevent us from removing Assad.
As I’ve written before, Russia has established permanent naval and air bases in Syria. Their foothold will expand as they defend the Assad regime against the rebels we support. Those who casually say that we should establish “no-fly zones,” as we had in Iraq before the 2003 invasion, either don’t know or don’t care that we’d have to take on Russian and possibly Iranian air forces to do so.
Given the fact that we don’t have a vital national security interest in Syria, we shouldn’t want to take on those forces. And given the horrific state of our airpower – both Navy and Air Force – we probably can’t. Even if Mr. Trump wanted to, we lack the ability to sustain a big fight in the Middle East or anywhere else. (Too important a subject to cover here, suffice it to say that 70 percent of the Marines’ F/A-18s are incapable of combat operations as are 30 percent of all USAF aircraft. The Navy isn’t in better shape.)
It’s arguable whether the defeat of ISIS is a vital national security interest, but its actions in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan (where ISIS killed a U.S. soldier last week) and in about two dozen other countries qualifies it as a serious threat. But that doesn’t differentiate it from other terrorist networks such as al-Qaida. If we are going to “utterly destroy” ISIS, as Mr. Trump said he’d do, he’s going to have to destroy it in Syria as well as Iraq, Afghanistan, and about two dozen other countries. It’s evident that he has no strategy to do so.
Mr. Trump is not prepared, by education or experience, to deal with his lack of coherence on war strategy and foreign policy. Even if he understands that problem, he apparently is content to wait to solve it until after his White House team and Cabinet cease fighting among themselves for position and influence. [more: ]
Tuesday  11 April 2017/ Hour 3, Block C: Robert Zimmerman,, in re: Labor trouble shuts down Big Space. Bob Zimmerman, The labor strike that has shut down Arianespace’s French Guiana spaceport has taken to turn for the worse with an attempt by about 30 strikers to occupy the spaceport.
The article provides almost no details. We also have had no recent updates on the state of the labor negotiations. At the moment it appears this strike could last a while.  (1 of 2)
Tuesday  11 April 2017/ Hour 3, Block D: Robert Zimmerman, (2 of 2)
Hour Four
Tuesday  11 April 2017/ Hour 4, Block A:  Eddie Alterman, @CarandDriver; in re:  Autonomous Cars & Bad Drivers.  The NY Auto Show.   General Motors intends to launch a semi-autonomous feature called Super Cruise later this year despite the fact that federal safety regulators have already expressed concern about a key aspect of the system’s design.
Under certain highway conditions, according to company officials, the Super Cruise system can follow lanes, brake, and control speed. Slated to make its debut this fall on the 2018 Cadillac CT6 sedan, it is seen as a building block toward more sophisticated autonomous driving systems.
While GM touts the system as “true hands-free driving technology for the highway,” Super Cruise still requires drivers to pay attention to the road.
A small camera located on top of the steering column uses infrared lights to track the driver’s head position when Super Cruise is activated. If the system determines a driver is inattentive, the motorist will receive an escalating series of cues and warnings that urge him or her to turn attention back to the road.
Should motorists ignore these alerts, the vehicle activates its hazard lights, and the Super Cruise system will bring the car to a controlled stop; the issue is that it does so in the middle of its current lane rather than navigate to the shoulder of the road. That’s a potential safety hazard that eventually could lead to the recall of any cars equipped with Super Cruise, according to a top lawyer for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (1 of 2)
Tuesday  11 April 2017/ Hour 4, Block B:  Eddie Alterman, @CarandDriver; in re:  Autonomous Cars & Bad Drivers.  The NY Auto Show  (2 of 2)
Tuesday  11 April 2017/ Hour 4, Block C:  Tyler Rogoway, The War Zone/The Drive; in re:
and of course:  (1 of 2)
Tuesday  11 April 2017/ Hour 4, Block D:  Tyler Rogoway, The War Zone/The Drive (2 of 2)