Tuesday Edition


1. Javier Milei’s Appeal

Bubba’s Two Cents: Admiration for tough-talking foreign leaders like El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele and Argentina’s Javier Milei gets interpreted as a sign that conservatives love authoritarianism. But that ignores frustrations with the way modern political systems can’t seem to get much of anything done. These people don’t want dictators, they just want somebody in charge to actually do what they say they’re going to do.

Conservatives are praising Milei for announcing on live TV that he’d fired labor secretary Omar Yasin over a controversy regarding government officials’ salaries. (Buenos Aires Herald)

The free market-loving, pro-limited government president said Yasin had failed to review a policy which automatically triggered pay raises for officials. Milei’s critics have accused him of using Yasin as a scapegoat.

U.S. conservatives saw it as a sign of Milei fulfilling his campaign vow to hold bureaucrats accountable and slash government spending to the bone. In his bid to rein in Argentina’s triple-digit inflation, Milei has taken drastic measures: he fired 5,000 government workers, cut the number of government ministries in half and lowered the peso’s value so it lines up with the market rate.


In El Salvador, Bukele’s taken similarly dramatic action to curb the country’s violent crime problem, imprisoning tens of thousands and loosening police oversight. Human rights groups have taken issue with Bukele’s strongarmed crackdown, but the results have been undeniable. Murders in El Salvador, which used to have one of the homicide rates in the entire world, fell 70% in 2023. According to government statistics, El Salvador’s murder rate (2.4 per 100,000 people) is now lower than the United States’s (5.5 per 100,000).

It’s not just Americans who are unhappy with the political status quo. Recent Pew Research Center polling found that around the world, fewer people are satisfied with how democracy is functioning.

2. Trump’s Plan to Fight the “Deep State”

Bubba’s Two Cents: One of the knocks on the “MAGA” movement and its leaders is that they generate a lot of sound and fury, but lack a “nuts and bolts” vision for getting their goals accomplished. Booting out supposed “RINOs” like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell might sound good in theory, until you realize that, whatever their faults, those guys know how the government actually operates. The Heritage Foundation’s plan to “dismantle the administrative state” is directly meant to address this problem - for better or worse, depending upon your perspective.

In painstaking detail, the 887-page “Mandate for Leadership” lays out a blueprint meant to help former President Trump (or whoever the next conservative president is) reshape the federal government. (NYT)

Among the Heritage Foundation guide’s recommendations: Reforming the FBI, making sure the Justice Department and Homeland Security are enforcing immigration laws, breaking up the Department of Education and cutting government diversity initiatives. The guide also calls for training up an army of “conservatives to go to work on Day 1 to deconstruct the administrative state.”

New York Times columnist Carlos Lozada’s assessment of the document: “There's three kind of main themes. One is flood the zone with political appointees, people who will be loyal to the president, loyal to the agenda of the new administration, and both kind of oversee and push out the career civil servants. Second, to politicize the Justice Department. I'm not reading tea leaves here. It's very overt in the book. They emphasize how the White House counsel's office and DOJ have to work as a team. That's a quote. How the FBI director should be as aligned with the president's agenda as any other agency head. … But the main message of this book is that for all the rhetoric for the need to dismantle the administrative state, downsize the government, that's not really what you see here. They pay lip service to it. But they want to enlist it. They want to harness it.”

While Republican rhetoric about the politicization of federal agencies has been kind of out there, the concerns aren’t completely unfounded.

  • A 2019 Justice Department watchdog report found major issues with how the FBI obtained its warrant to spy on Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

  • The FBI wrongly warned Twitter employees that the Hunter Biden laptop story was Russian disinformation.

  • A special counsel report found FBI investigators had engaged in “confirmation bias” during their probe into links between Trump and Russia.

Vox reporter Sean Illing on the “deep state”: “The deep state isn’t exactly a phantasm. There are parts of the US government that wield real power outside the conventional checks and balances of the system. It’s not a conspiracy against Trump, but the term does refer to something that exists.”

Republicans aren’t the only ones trying to remake the federal government. President Biden has signed a number of executive orders aimed at expanding federal diversity infrastructure. Biden hired the White House’s first ever chief diversity and inclusion officer and created the Chief Diversity Officers Executive Council. He’s also mandated that every single government agency create an “equity team.”

3. Big Tech CEOs Shift Right

Bubba’s Two Cents: Silicon’s Valley mantra used to be “move fast and break things.” That fit in perfectly with the left when it was associated with the counterculture. But a change has taken place as liberals have come to dominate major institutions — right-wingers are increasingly the rebels who don’t play by the rules.

Less than 25% of Silicon Valley residents voted for former President Trump in 2020, and the vast majority of tech CEOs are liberal, but a growing share are veering to the right. (AFP)

Elon Musk is the best example of this trend, but he’s not alone. Others in the group include venture capital company founder Marc Andreesen, former PayPal CEO Peter Thiel, tech entrepreneur David Sacks and Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya. And those are just the most high-profile examples.

There’s even a (small) shift among tech employees. Donations to Republicans from Google, Apple, Amazon and Meta employees jumped from 5% in 2020 to 15% in 2022.

According to Stanford political economy professor Neil Malhotra, who co-authored a study on tech entrepreneurs’ political orientations, there are a number of reasons for the shift. While the 2017 survey found tech CEOs tend to be extremely liberal on social issues, “wokeness” on transgender and racial issues might be a bridge too far for them. Attacks on Big Tech from progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders may have helped push the CEOs rightward. There’s also been the fact of unions’ growing power in the Democratic Party.

4. Congressional Chaos Tipping Point

Bubba’s Two Cents: In some ways we’ve become numb to just how ineffective Congress is, but with spending going off the rails and experienced lawmakers getting fed up and calling it quits, it seems like the country’s on the edge of a major wake-up call.

As of this month, a whopping 51 members of Congress have announced they’ll be resigning or won’t seek reelection. (National Review)

Lawmakers are bowing out at a record pace, with many of them citing Congressional dysfunction as the reason. During the 2020 election cycle, just 40 members of Congress decided not to seek reelection. Meanwhile, the current Congress has passed only 24 bills in its first year, the fewest in decades.

This is all happening at the same time as deficits and debt are ballooning to historic levels. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the federal deficit will hit $1.6 trillion in 2024, with deficits expected to exceed $2.5 trillion within ten years. Interest payments alone on federal debt are set to exceed $870 billion this year and nearly double in a decade.

Put those two problems together and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. With interest making up a growing share of debt, simply kicking the can down the road becomes less and less effective. Meanwhile, you’ve got fewer veteran lawmakers who are capable of crafting policies that fix the problem.

As American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Matt Weidinger has noted, this doesn’t leave lawmakers with a lot of options other than passing the buck onto taxpayers.

Weidinger: “To keep legislation from further increasing the deficit, cutting other spending is an option but a rarity in D.C. That suggests that the future will likely feature a drive for still more tax hikes — beyond those already needed to cover soaring entitlement costs — which will only make legislating harder and less rewarding, especially for rank-and-file members of Congress who often have little input in important bills.”

5. Hospitals for Profit

Bubba’s Two Cents: One of the big themes in politics in recent years has been whether America needs to reexamine its relationship with capitalism and the free market. The left’s obviously been focused on the issue for a while, but many on the right have grown more skeptical given the outcomes society has started to take note of, particularly as major industries like real estate and health care are increasingly dominated by private equity.

There’s been a wave of hospital closings across America, with low-income communities hit particularly hard. (Business Insider)

From 2018 to 2023, major hospital closures occurred in Ohio, West Virginia, Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Louisiana. Critics accuse private-equity firms like MPT (Medical Properties Trust) of engaging in money-making schemes that end up depriving communities of sorely needed medical resources. They say MPT saddles hospitals that are already hurting financially with rent payments, driving them out of business while the company’s top executives walk away with huge bonuses.

  • A financial analyst who looked at MPT’s deals estimated only 10% of dividends were reinvested into the hospitals, with the rest distributed to owners or going to repay debts on distributions.

At least 13 hospitals have closed or filed for bankruptcy after selling their land to MPT, which controls $16 billion of hospital real estate, making them one of the largest hospital bed owners worldwide. MPT's largest tenant, Steward, a chain of 32 hospitals, announced in January it could no longer pay its rent, signaling potential future hospital closures. 2.2 million people are served by Steward.

In December, Congress announced an inquiry into private equity ownership in U.S. hospitals.

Business Insider reporter Bethany Mclean on what Congress might learn: “If Congress does its job and follows the money, it may find itself confronting one of the biggest financial heists in American history — one that transferred billions of dollars from needy patients to greedy investors.”

Declining: Less than half of Americans (48%) rate the quality of America’s healthcare “excellent” or “good”.

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