Two hopeful stories

Jeff Jackson and Nora Trotman are both running for the same State Senate seat in North Carolina, currently held by Jackson. By itself, that is not newsworthy. What is newsworthy is the civility that both are exhibiting during the campaign. It is a much needed breath of fresh air,

As reported last Sunday in The Charlotte Observer in an article entitled “Running a ‘positive’ campaign for state Senate,” the Democrat Jackson tweeted praise for Trotman, his GOP opponent. Per the Observer, he noted, “It feels like our divisions are growing deeper each day. So, let me just take a moment and commend my opponent on running an honest, positive campaign. She’s a good person and deserves your consideration.” He also included her photo and a link to her website encouraging people to find out more.

After some national attention, which brought a positive tweet from Rachel Maddow, Trotman responded with “A lot of people are running against each other rather than to represent their district…Happy our race is an exception. We need representatives not politicians!” In an interview with the Observer, she added “It’s important to have two people who really want a positive campaign and not attack each other.”

We need more stories and attitudes like Jackson and Trotman exhibited. Let me layer on one more story I heard on NPR this weekend. A piece of advice was shared from an old interview of Mister Rogers when we are facing a terrible tragedy.

The advice was being shared after the horrific shooting at the Pittsburgh temple which killed eleven people last week. Mister Rogers said in the old interview what his mother had taught him. She said “Always look for the helpers” during times of tragedy. Look for the emergency technicians, doctors, police, firefighters, and citizens as they do their best to help others during the tragedy. These people will give you hope when we need it most.

I heard these words while I was driving my car. They made me want to pull over and listen with more intent. To illustrate his point even more, the Pittsburgh shooter was taken to the nearest hospital and was nursed back to care. The hospital CEO and many of the staff are Jewish.

One of my mantras is “kindness is not a weakness.” It reveals an inner strength which is foreign to some who feel they must run roughshod over others to prove their mettle. Let’s celebrate the words and actions of Rogers, Jackson and Trotman.

 

 

You can’t play with them

Little Donnie came home in a huff and went to his room to sulk. When his mother asked him why he was so upset, he said because Johnny is playing with Steven and Joey.

His mother asked why he did not go play with them? Donnie said, “Because I am mad at Johnny and told him he is not my friend anymore. I told Steven and Joey they could not play with Johnny either if they wanted to be my friend.”

Seeing where this was going, his mother said, “Well you can sit here alone, you can go play with other friends or you can go make amends with your friends. But, if you choose one of the first two approaches, you may just get mad at them, too. So, why don’t you go make peace with Johnny?’

“Mother, I cannot do that as I will look like a weakling. It is important that they know I am tough. Plus, he made up stuff about me. I cannot believe Steven and Joey fell for his fake story about me. And, Uncle Roy told me never to apologize about anything.”

His mother sighed and said, “Well, it is up to you. Uncle Roy is smart, but he does not have many friends. So, take his advice with a grain of salt. If I were you, I might want to go see Johnny and become his friend again. Friends are like gold. Treasure them.”

“Mother, that is not true. Friends are people you use to do favors for you. If they don’t, then they are not your friends. Believe me. That is what Uncle Roy and Father said.

“Oh, boy,” said his mother to no one in particular.

*******************************************************

Fast forward to 2018. Turkey, France, Germany and Russia meet to discuss ending fighting in Syria. China and India are continuing to trade with Iran for oil, as the world’s supply cannot support their needs outside of Iran. And, the first anniversary of an Asia-Pacific trade agreement is approaching which includes all TPP partners, but one notable exception.

The sugar high is beginning to wane

The volatile and recent downward trend in the stock market is an indicator.The slowing of global growth, uncertainty over trade, increasing business costs due to tariffs and increasing interest rates are causing a dampening effect.

While the US economy had 3.5% annualized growth in the 3Q2018 following 4.2% in 2Q2018 (it was 2.2% in 1Q2018), imbedded therein are two numbers that should give pause. Business investment was much higher in 2Q2018 at 8.7%, partly due to getting stuff in the hopper before the tariffs started. Yet, business investment fell to 0.8% in 3Q2018. That is an ominous sign. This concern is also apparent in several third quarter earnings announcements by major corporations.

While we should finish 2018 with annual growth north of 3%, economists have predicted that 2019 will have 2.4% annual growth, falling to 2.0% growth in 2020. I should add they feel the impact of the tax cut for corporations is waning (which is sad because it is an imbedded profit margin increase). In other words, the companies view this tax reduction as a “sugar high” that won’t last.

When the tax bill was passed, the White House and Congress touted that it would take GDP growth to 4% and pay for itself. Tax cuts have never paid for themselves and the best they have done is abet the economy enough to save maybe 20% to 30% of the foregone tax revenue. But, the tax bill was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to increase the already $21 trillion in debt by $1.5 trillion over ten years. And, the tax bill did nothing to address the projection the debt would increase by $10 trillion by 2027. Absent any change, we are looking at debt of $33 trillion by 2027.

It should be noted the annual deficit increased in the government fiscal year just ended to $779 billion from $665 billion, partly due to foregone $166 billion in tax revenue. The deficit is budgeted to be $985 billion in the 2018-19 fiscal year, on projected expenses of $4.407 trillion and revenue of $3.422 trillion. The deficit is expected to grow past $1 trillion in fiscal year 2019-20.

The US President has tended to be a short-term thinker. He is too focused on doing things that look good now. This is one reason he has had six bankruptcies. The problem is the sugar high is going to end. And, we spent $1.5 trillion to add more sugar to a pretty good economy. We are now beyond 9 years in economic growth (the second longest in US history) and 8 years in job growth, with a bull stock market dating back to March, 2009. Plus, we took one of our levers off the table with an unneeded tax cut. I was all for lower corporate tax rates, but we went well beyond deficit neutral.

This is not a new concern of mine, as I have been actively writing about our debt and deficit for several years, well before the current President took his oath. One of my concerns over Obama was his not doing anything with the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan. Both he and Congress just put a very good working draft on the shelf. Our building debt is a ticking time bomb that will cause a huge day of reckoning. And, one things politicians don’t talk about it, is it will take tax increases and spending cuts to get there. The math will not otherwise work. That is the conclusion of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Simpson-Bowles effort.

The real voter fraud

Living in a state that has had its voter ID law overturned for unconstitutional discrimination along with several attempts at gerrymandered districts, I have witnessed first hand Jim Crow-like voter suppression. In fact, the latest ruling against gerrymandering happened just two months ago, too late to change the districts for the 2018 election.

To avoid the obvious point, this is cheating. Both sides have cheated in the past, but using the wording of an appellate judge on the North Carolina GOP voter ID law, it was a “precision-like” effort to discriminate.

Sadly, the states of Georgia and North Dakota are witnessing orchestrated attempts to suppress votes. What makes the Georgia suppression efforts targeting African-American voters so inappropriate is the man running for Governor, Brian Kemp, oversees the voting process as Secretary of State. He is running against a Black female Democratic candidate, so this is blatant cheating and highly unethical.

In North Dakota, Native Americans are being discriminated against. Many use a PO Box for mail purposes, as their rural homes often do not have a physical address. So, a voting law was passed requiring the use of a street address or you have to go through more hoops to vote. The Native Americans tend to favor Democrats. Again, to state the obvious, this is cheating.

These laws are designed to address a fairly non-existent problem. Yet, the orchestrated public relation efforts of their advocates paints a much overstated problem. The laws tend to go beyond an innocuous sounding voter ID issue, which is discriminatory by itself. The laws tend to include other 21st century versions of Jim Crow efforts to make voting harder for people of color. Ironically, the one area that sees a more than a trace voting fraud is absentee voting by mail. Since this method has tended to favor Republican voters, it tends not to get included in the voter ID laws.

I am Independent voter who was a Democrat as a young adult and Republican as an older one. A key reason I left the GOP was a tendency by the party and its biased news support to make things up, far more than the Democrats. This obfuscation of the truth has actually gotten much worse with the current US President. So, from my vantage point, the only voter fraud I see is being perpetuated by the Republican Party.

A Day in the Life of Trump

I am currently reading the excellent book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” by twice Pulitzer Prize winning author and Watergate reporter Bob Woodward. The book is excellent and very believable with its depth of reporting and consistency with known facts.

Many things jump out while you read, but I felt the following two abridged examples of a “day in the life” of the Trump White House are revealing of his modus operandi. I will reserve judgment until after the anecdotes.

First, is the infamous tweet Trump sent out which said the military would no longer accept or allow transgender people “after consultation with my Generals and military experts.” This is a blatant lie.

This tweet was sent at 8:55 am and followed up by two more tweets at 9:04 am and 9:08 am. These times are important as he agreed earlier in the morning to meet with his Generals and Defense Director at 10 am to discuss the pros and cons of four options Trump might want to consider. The options ranged from the more legally supportable to what Trump announced on his own before the meeting which was later ceased by four federal courts.

Trump not only surprised his Generals, he lied and said they agreed. The sad truth is there are numerous stories like this about how this man flies by the seat of his pants and drags others down with him.

Second, after grave concerns over Trump’s open disdain for NATO, the EU, trade agreements and our allied relationships that have kept us safe and prosperous, the Generals, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis et all invited Trump to a retreat at the Pentagon to go over why these are important. After listening for awhile, prodded by Steve Bannon, Trump went on one of his rants, as an attendee described in Woodward’s book.

“The president proceeded to lecture and insult the entire group about how they didn’t know anything when it came to defense or national security. It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisors, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views.”

This is the meeting where Tillerson uttered his famous criticism due to his frustration over how the Generals were treated. He said Trump is a “f**king moron.”

These two examples paint a picture of a dangerous loose cannon who bullies and lies. We are not safer with this man in charge. And, the sooner his sycophants listen to voices who know better and have the courage to act, the safer we will be.

Diversity remains a strength

Our friend Jill noted today yet another episode of an American chastising someone for not speaking English. People who feel they are the annointed natives giving them the right to berate people for not speaking English, need to be reminded of a few historical items.

The English language came from England, which means it came with immigrants. The first natives spoke a variety of dialects. But, we should also recognize they came here as immigrants over an ice bridge in the Bering Sea. Then, came the Vikings, Spanish, French, English, Irish, West Africans, Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Syrians, Russians, Philippinos, Australians, Iraqis and so on. Please forgive if I overlooked a group as the list is long.

One of America‚Äôs strengths is its diversity. We are indeed a melting pot of people with all of their strengths and weaknesses. Plus, our constitution and bill of rights tell us that no one is more American than another. My rights are no more important than another’s and vice-versa.

Just from a practical standpoint, we have access to a variety of ideas, innovations, inventions, foods, music, art, religions, prose and poetry. Newcomers tend to be hard-working and more enterpreneurial. Immigration is accretive to the American economy, Just because a so-called leader masks over that fact, does not make it go away. If we close our doors, we would retrench. And, we cannot shrink to greatness.

 

Sunday summaries

I hope your weekend is going well. Several topics have toyed with me writing a full post, so I will resort to a brief summary of a few. In no particular order:

The royal family of Saudi Arabia has done a pretty inept job of lying to the world about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. It is so unartful that even the US President, who is not known for truth and wants just to do transactions, is being forced to admit they must be lying. I applaud other world leaders and even more than a few US Senators for stepping up to cry foul. My guess is this will eventually lead to the fall of Crown Prince MSB as he is embarrassing the family and country and this is adds to a growing list of notorious screw-ups.

Heading north to Great Britain, there were an estimated 750,000 British folks that protested in the streets of London yesterday asking for a new Brexit vote with actual facts being disseminated. While I fully understand the rationale of those who want Brexit, from the outset, Brexit will be harmful financially to Great Britain. Many financial companies and EU headquarters have either moved or are planning to move to an EU site. Plus, Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to talk openly of votes to leave Great Britain should it occur. If that is not enough, it is believed that Vladimir Putin has had a hand in the disinformation as he did with the 2016 and current 2018 elections in the US.

Returning to the US, candidates of my old Republican Party are taking a lot of heat over their positions on healthcare over the years. They should. Not only has this party not tried to improve and stabilize the Affordable Care Act, they have sabotaged and made it worse. It should be noted politicians don’t seem to understand a lot about healthcare. Here is a letter I sent to my newspaper that will give you a sense of what has transpired.

It seems healthcare is a key issue this election. Surveys the last eighteen months have indicated the majority of Americans want the Affordable Care Act stabilized and improved. Yet, the GOP leadership has tried to repeal it and actually has sabotaged its success making premiums higher than they otherwise would have been. The Senate’s defunding by 89% of adverse selection payments to insurers, the President’s defunding of payments to insurers to help people in need with co-pays and deductibles and the fight in states like NC to not expand Medicaid have increased exchange premiums and driven more carriers out of markets. This retired actuary, benefits consultant and benefits manager believe these measures have harmed Americans and people should know this.

Finally, a story that should get even more airplay than it is relates to the voter suppression attempts by the Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp in his role as State Secretary. Whereas an ethical person would recuse himself from overseeing elections, Kemp has been pretty blatant in his efforts to make it harder to vote. I do not like the voter ID laws, gerrymandering districts and aggressive voter suppression tactics being done in my own and other GOP led states. These are Jim Crow-like. Yes, Democrats have done similar tactics, but what is being done the last eight years has been an orchestrated effort by a group called ALEC, funded by the Koch Brothers.

I am pretty tired of this the “ends justifies the means” rhetoric. I see what can happen when people cheat. They cheat to get elected and cheat once they are there. The US President is not only enriching people who donated to his efforts, he is enriching himself by using his position to make more money. This self-dealing is actually illegal. And, when people cheat, it devalues our country and state governance.