A mean spirited, dishonest budget

On PBS Newshour last night, Mark Shields and David Brooks defined the President’s budget succinctly. They said it was a “mean-spirited, dishonest budget.” I had been searching for the right words to define a proposed budget that kicks people in poverty in the teeth. Fortunately, Senator John McCain said the budget was “dead on arrival.”

The budget is bothersome in so many levels as it severely cuts Medicaid and food stamps, as well as other programs. The latter has grown because of the greater number of people in need. Yet, while these cuts are occurring, tax breaks for the wealthy would be provided.

But, it does not end there. It has been reported about the extra rosy and very hard to achieve projections on revenue growth. While this is not too uncommon, it is still sleight of hand. When people say tax cuts pay for themselves, that is as believable as the check is in the mail. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget will say there often are some revenue improvements, but nothing near paying for the entire cut.

Yet, there is more dishonesty. Former Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers said in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post that there is some double counting of revenue sources, an obvious error. Per Summers, “You can’t use the growth benefits of tax cuts once to justify an optimistic baseline and then again to claim that the tax cuts do not cost revenue. At least you cannot do so in a world of logic.” Summers noted he has not seen something like this in a budget proposal in 40 years and a business person should know better than to double count like this.

To be brutally frank, this is not what the President advertised in the campaign. He touted his business leadership as something the country sorely needs. Yet, former Speaker John Boehner said with the exception of foreign policy, Trump’s presidency has been a “complete disaster.” I would argue his point on the foreign policy omission. But, it should be noted is how this budget, the AHCA bill, and other measures harm the very constituents that rose up to vote for this newcomer. He is screwing them and they still lack awareness that is what he is doing.

Getting back to Brooks, I have cited his earlier observation after the horribly planned and executed travel ban. “This White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Summers used the latter word in his piece, as well. We can now add “mean spirited and dishonest.” These are not words that he had hoped to elicit when elected.

 

 

A few thoughts for Thursday

I would be remiss if I did not express my sympathies to the victims of the terrorist bombing at the conclusion of Ariana Grande’s concert. Targeting civilians is bad enough, but targeting young adults and kids is vulgar in its cowardice and an insult to any deity the perpetrators say they worship.

As a needed antithesis, I applaud the many angels who helped the hurt, lost and confused after the attack. They revealed the best of humanity as a direct contrast to the worst shown by the terrorist. Peace be with those angels, survivors and the families of the victims and injured.

In other news of the week, I do want to give credit to the President for his visit to the Middle East to further relationships. And, he has been surprisingly well behaved, which is traceable to him sticking to script and not tweeting his thoughts. Yet, we do need to peel a few layers back and understand that he spoke to a group of autocratic Sunni leaders in Saudi Arabia about dealing with terrorism. It was an important step away from his negative Islamic rhetoric, but terrorists exist because of the corruption of autocratic leaders who cause disenfranchisement.

The other concern is to paint Shia led Iran as THE bad guy, when they just had an election while he was there and elected the moderate Incumbent Rouhani to continue as President. Iran has a median age of 35, so by trading with Iran and treading carefully, we can help break down barriers for the future.

Finally, just yesterday, a Republican candidate for Congress in Montana named Greg Gianforte apparently does not like tough questions. He has been arrested for assaulting Ben Jacobs, a reporter from The Guardian when Jacobs asked him about the CBO scoring of the repeal and replace AHCA bill that would knock 23 million people off insurance. In front of other reporters, Gianforte choked, shoved to the ground and began punching Jacobs.

Let me state the obvious. A leader does not beat up someone for asking questions you don’t like. I am positive entertainers like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh will drum up their fans saying it is OK to beat up a liberal reporter. No, it is not. And, if a wannabe leader has to resort to force, it means you are worse than a name caller and certainly no leader irrespective of the outcome of the election.

Interesting thing is happening at energy company shareholder meetings

An interesting development occurred at annual shareholder meetings of two major companies in the energy business – PPL Corp, a utility serving Pennsylvania and other states and Occidental Petroleum Corp. A shareholder instigated vote took place at each firm and passed over the recommendations against it by their Boards of Directors. The proposal is for each company to share formally a report on what they intend to do about climate change.

Per the website “Financial Advisor” the following was reported earlier this month about the Occidental vote:

“The proposal received the backing of Occidental’s largest shareholder, $5.4 trillion asset manager BlackRock Inc. BlackRock, which owns a 7.8 percent stake in the oil explorer, said it took action due to the “lack of response” on the issue by the company and a lack of improvement in its climate-change related reporting following a similar proposal last year which received more than 40 percent support.”

The shareholder proposals are at the impetus of CalPERS, one of the largest pension trust funds in the world and a major investor in each company. Other state pension trust funds are supportive of CalPERS’ push. A similar vote was taken recently at Royal Dutch Shell and was defeated, with another vote scheduled at ExxonMobil. It should be noted that institutional investor groups are recommending against these proposals, but two have passed.

With a White House at odds with the rest of the world on climate change, we will need a groundswell of advocacy. Fortunately, we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy due to falling prices and rapidly increasing jobs. And, some of these same companies are advocating the US stay in the Paris Climate Change accord. Yet, the US cannot leave the table. To assure that we remain, we need these kinds of shareholder votes and other advocacies.

The White House has now canceled two meetings to discuss the future of our involvement in the Paris Climate Change. I believe this is in reaction to the push back from business. We cannot backtrack on this and other environmental issues. Let’s push forward and, if the President does not want to play a role, we and the rest of the world can leave him behind.

 

Poverty is highly correlated with large families

We have a global poverty problem, but what may surprise some, the US has not escaped the problem. Our middle class has been squeezed, but unfortunately, gravity has caused too many of them to fall beneath or just above the poverty line.

There are many reasons for the decline, but it has been occurring over the last 45 years, so all politicians own this issue. Technology advances, globalization, stagnant wages, downsizing of union populations, costly healthcare, etc. are all contributing factors.

Yet, it should be noted that large family size and one parent families are highly correlated with increased poverty. These two factors should not be a revelation, but too many folks look past these causes to others. This a key reason for the importance of family planning to help families manage their family size and health.

Today, I saw a report that noted the US has more teen pregnancies than other western nations. A data point was cited (without a source) that 30% of teens in the 9th grade have sexual relationships increasing to 60% in the 12th grade. The report supported the practice of more holistic sex education in schools, an experiment being promoted in West Virginia, where 1 out of eight births are to teen mother.

The training speaks to more than abstinence and contraception. It speaks to   how to say no and not give in to pressure. It discusses sexual assault and STDs. It speaks to relationships and the role sex plays when folks are ready.

Family planning and sex education are key tools in fighting poverty. There is a causal relationship between family planning and fewer abortions, which should give  those against family planning some consolation, Rather than condemn or not fund these efforts, we should look at the data and support them.

Good news for NC voters

Amid the pervasive news out of Washington, the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appellate case that ruled the North Carolina Voter ID unconstitutional. This is excellent news for all voters, but in particular African-American, older and college student voters.

Within the law were highly discriminatory provisions designed with “surgical precision” per the US Court of Appeals in the 4th District to infringe upon African-Americans. It was designed to “kick Democrats butts,” so said a Buncombe County GOP leader on The Daily Show, a tape of which was shown during the court case. It should be noted the leader resigned the next day.

When I made reference to this law as “unconstitutional and Jim Crow-like,” to members of the NC General Assembly before it was passed, one of its authors strongly disagreed. My response was simple, “as a 56 year-old white man and former Republican, we both know what this law is about.”

It also attempted to solve a problem that is not significant. Voting fraud is not pervasive as some would let you believe. Numerous studies do not support the claim of more than very small numbers of voting problems. It should be noted that the attempt to discredit our Presidential election through claims of voter fraud was a key part of Russian meddling in October to create doubt.

And, a final key comment is important. The problem we face in our country is not enough people voting. To be such a significant democracy, we don’t have enough citizens participating in the process. We should be doing everything in our power to encourage not discourage voting. And, if voter fraud is such a concern, why did the NC General Assembly not include absentee voting in the law, where there is more fraud (still not a lot) than at the polling sites? The answer is who tends to vote in larger numbers as absentees.

Right now, my strong advice to the NC General Assembly is to not do what they are thinking about, trying to rework the law. The General Assembly has now had four laws passed in the last few years ruled unconstitutional. The solution is stop passing laws that are unconstitutional, not trying to see what you can sneak through.

Celebration for passing a bill may have been premature

With a White House eager to claim legislative victory, there was a celebratory bash after the Republican led House passed the AHCA by a squeaker of margins 217 to 213. The bill has been vilified by several advocacy groups like the AMA, American Cancer Society and AARP and it has still not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office. The bill is also dead in the water in the Senate “once it gets sent there.”

Wait a minute, the last sentence said “once it gets sent there.” To the surprise of some Republican House members, the AHCA bill has not yet been sent to the Senate. Why, you might ask? Since the House did not wait for the CBO to score the cost and impact of the bill on the numbers of uninsured, it cannot be included in the budgeting process, and would thus require 60 votes, not 51 to pass in the Senate. The whole idea was to sneak the bill through this process, so it did not need the super-majority of 60 votes, which it cannot achieve.

Unless the CBO scores this where it saves a threshold amount of the budget, it may not qualify. So, the House leadership has not yet sent the AHCA to the Senate. If they did and the CBO results were not favorable, the House would have to start over. Again, I should reiterate that this bill cannot get even the 51 votes needed due to the impact on Medicaid. As we speak, about two dozen state governors are beseeching the Senate about not harming Medicaid. Unlike the House, the Senate is actually listening.

So, the victory lap on mile 250 of the Indy 500, may have been premature. Voting on something without knowing its impact is not the wisest course of action and is unbecoming of a legislator we trust to do our homework.

 

Musings during the Ides of May

I don’t know about you, but the routine chaos surrounding our fearless leader is wearing me out. A week has not passed by without some chaos, almost all of it self-inflicted. And, sometimes it is daily, if not hourly wounds.

We should remember that Julius Caesar was killed during the ides of March. Yet, while Julius was knifed in the back by Brutus, our leader needs to look in the mirror at his worst enemy who is doing him in. Our President’s greatest enemy is Donald Trump and it is not even close.

The Guardian has a story today about the worst leaker in the White House. His name is Donald Trump. Who is the source of the most lying – Donald Trump? Who is the source of changing the story which discredits his people who are lying for him – Donald Trump?

It goes on. Whose actions and inane statements, unsupported by fact, routinely get himself in trouble – Donald Trump? Whose unfamiliarity and disdain for knowing what his job entails and necessary history causes unforced errors? You guessed it, Donald Trump.

We will likely look back on the Ides of May as the beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency. Firing James Comey for the reasons he finally fessed up to and doing it in such a terrible fashion reveals a man trying to save himself, but he does not know how. He looks like a guilty man because he is acting likely a guilty man.

Trump said he is the most mistreated President ever. If he believes that, he needs to look in the mirror and tell the image to treat himself better.