Narcissism and pandemic misleading

The following is a brief letter I sent to my newspaper. Please feel free to adapt and use. Note I softened the last line from the word that I think best defines the actions – sociopathic.

The revelation the president admitted he knew of the pandemic risk, while misleading us, downplaying it and calling it a hoax, is troubling. Epidemiologists and historians have noted mission one in pandemics is tell people the truth, then they are prone to follow healthy safety directions. When we needed leadership, he passed and decided not to create a panic, which is absurd and deadly.

Help me understand, what kind of person holds several rallies without caution, knowing the virus is air borne, putting his most faithful fans at risk just to garner applause? This is beyond narcissism, in my view.

An interesting economic tidbit – trade deficit

A relatively small economic news item is worth noting given the amount of attention given by the president. In an article by the AP’s Martin Crutsinger entitled “US trade deficit surges in July to 12-year high,” the US trade deficit “surged in July to $63.6 billion, the highest levrl in 12 years…”

Per the article, “the Commerce department reported…the gap between what America buys and sells to foreigners, was 18.9% higher than the June deficit of $53.5 billion. It was the largest monthly deficit since July 2008 during the 2007 – 2009 recession.” The increase was “driven by a record 10.9% increase in imports” with a corresponding “8.1%” fall in exports.

Let that sink in. We are living in unique times with the pandemic. But, the whole world is exposed, not just the US. There are two points to be made.

First, the president has placed tariffs on major trading partners, who responded in kind. As economists have long noted, no one wins a trade war. Buyers just find less costly sources.

Second, America has so woefully handled the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is aghast. With around 4% of the world’s population, the US has around 22% of the global COVID-19 deaths. And, sadly the deaths continue. This truism runs in direct contrast to what the president touted at the RNC.

With other countries less impacted than we are, they can get closer to normal than we can. But, our folks can still buy from home. So, these numbers are not a surprise. As with any issue, the only way to solve a problem is to admit it exists.

Go-away pay

Seeing the latest executive, this one with a last name of Falwell, walk away with “go-away” pay totaling $10 million, it reminds me of a broken recording playing the same song over and over again. Mr. Falwell left his leadership position because he embarrassed the reputation of Liberty University with his sexual activities with his wife and another. Could he have survived if the university was not a Christian founded one or his name was anything but Falwell? We will never know.

What further troubles many is Falwell was not fired for “cause” under his employment contract. He was let go with a severance payment. My educated guess is the Board of the university did not want to risk a law suit and fire him over cause. There are a few viable reasons for this conclusion. The directors may have their own employment contracts with their employers and do not want to go on record identifying what they think “cause” is. Another reason is money. The university may spend in legal fees and damaging publicity what they spend to make Falwell go away. It is easier to pay someone to go away. Plus, they have worked with him, so he earned some goodwill with the Board.

Yet, this is not new. It has happened since the invention of executive employment contracts. It is reported, Roger Ailes, the creator and president of Fox News, got $37 million in go-away pay after being credibly accused of multiple cases of sexual misconduct. Further, like other entertainment companies, it is reported Ailes tolerated an old-boys club where other “talents” also were accused of sexual misconduct. It is reported a famous “talent” was also paid go-away money, eg. Ailes could have been charged with “cause,” but refer to the reasons above as to why he was not. I would add a fourth for him as the Board wanted to honor his creation of this news/ entertainment network.

Sadly, it does not stop with sexual misconduct. CEOs can wreck a company’s reputation or financials and still walk away with go-away pay. I know of more than a few situations where this has occurred. And, the severance is usually a 1 to 2.99 times multiple of pay. The reason for the decimals is severance pay above 3 x compensation causes some tax issues. So, companies do what they can to keep the amount below that threshold.

Executive severance pay is a key feature of employment contracts. Most often it is deployed in merger situations where companies sell themselves and the leadership of the selling company walks away with golden parachutes. Having worked in consulting and in large companies, I can assure you that the executive ranks of a selling company spends too much time talking about severance at the expense of making the transition work. What is less an issue is these executives stopped trying to make their old company work and realized it was easier to sell and jump out of the plane with that golden parachute.

The further down the totem pole finds average workers who just get let go if they do wrong. Or, the severance pay may be only a few weeks of pay. So, having a contract means you can usually walk away with money when you make yourself expendable. Only when right-sizings, downsizings or RIFs (Reductions in Force) occur, do the lower paid folks walk away with a little more.

Predicted and predictable

Nate Silver is the genius behind 538, one of the most accurate predictors of election results. 538 weights various polls based on their relative veracity. What his polls showed in 2016, after the late Comey announcement, that while the median favored Clinton winning, Trump could win within acceptable standard deviation. People focus too much on the median and not the range.

With this background, Silver said something of import recently, that many of us have said less succinctly. He said the COVID-19 contagions that are cropping in schools and colleges are both “predicted and predictable.”

When people get together without strict adherence to social distancing and mask wearing, exposure to COVID-19 will occur. And, the virus spreads exponentially, not arithmetically. This means when ten people get it, they infect ten more, who infect ten more…This is why the president was forewarned of the pandemic risk in January by US intelligence and why his misinformation and mishandling is so problematic.

Let me go further. If all people don’t wear masks, socially distance, wash hands and act with some common sense, COVID-19 will be with us much longer. I know we want to get back to normal, but managers, owners, deans, school executives, and elected officials must understand that corralling the virus cannot occur unless we all do our part. Even if a vaccine is created, a recent survey said only about 70% of Americans would take it.

This is why telling people the truth is so critical. Only then, will people follow instruction. And, sadly in the absence of truth tellers who must be supported not demeaned, conspiracy sources get listened to. As an example, measles had been eradicated in the US, until the anti-vaxxers spread their conspiracy information and now it is back.

Further, unless we have a president who tells the truth, we will not solve many problems. And, as an epidemiologist and historian said, telling the truth is mission one in dealing with a pandemic.

The biggest lie – “I created this economy”

The incumbent president likes to take credit for all things good and blame others for all things bad. This is true regardless of the extent of his role in the outcome. He boasts that he created this great economy before the pandemic and will help us get back to it. Although the economy continued to do well, to say he created it is not truthful. Given his loud chest beating on this one issue, it qualifies as his biggest lie, although other lies are further afield from the truth.

When he took the oath to his office in January, 2017, the US was on its third longest economic growth period in its history at 91 consecutive months of GDP growth. That translates into just longer than 7 1/2 years. It should also be noted for the six previous years, we had 2 million plus in annual job growth and the stock market more than doubled under his predecessor. To Donald Trump’s credit, the economy continued to grow for 36 more months, the stock market continued to climb and job growth continued until it fell with the pandemic. The recession officially started in February of this year.

Now, I wrote during Barack Obama’s presidency that presidents get too much credit and too much blame for the economy. They can provide headwinds and tailwinds, but that is about it. The “headwinds and tailwinds” remark is courtesy of conservative pundit David Brooks. The same goes with the current president. But, if people want to lay wreaths at Trump’s feet for the economy before the pandemic, they must also do the same for Obama. Obama actually inherited an economy in recession due to the housing crisis in late 2007 through mid 2009. He was sworn in January, 2009.

The incumbent president has provided some headwinds and tailwinds to help keep it going, sometimes at the same time. Here is a look at a few of these wind currents:

Tailwinds

The economy got a temporary boost from the December, 2017 tax cut that increased the debt by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. At a time when we should have been decreasing the deficit, we increased it. So, in essence, we borrowed from our future to make our economy a little better for a little while. One economist referred to it as a sugar rush. Before the pandemic, we fell back to growth at the same level as before the election. Overall, this growth period has been the longest, but the rate of growth under both presidents has lagged other periods. It has been a slow and steady climb, again before the recession caused by the pandemic.

Cutting through some regulations also provided some stimulus for businesses, but as noted below, these will cause future headwinds. People often mix bureaucracy with regulations. We need to constantly review regulations to see if they are working and how they can be improved or rescinded, if need be. So, regulations are not necessarily bad. Bloating bureaucracy is what we must guard against. I recall a story of Erskine Bowles, who eventually became Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff. When Bowles headed the Small Business Administration, he reduced the application from 42 pages to one.

Headwinds

We must guard against debt. Dipping into debt to stimulate the economy dragging from COVID-19 is one thing, but the 2017 tax cut needed not be so severe that it increased debt. Note, many said this before it was passed, not just now. By the end of this decade, we should be beyond $40 trillion in debt on an annual revenue budget (during 10/18 – 9/19 FY) that is currently just less than $3.5 trillion, with expenses around $4.5 trillion. With the pandemic stimulus, the annual 2019-20 deficit will be around $3.7 trillion. Eventually, interest cost will rival the biggest budget items if we do not remedy this growing problem. Some poor president and congress will have to make some hard decisions as revenue is too low and costs are too high.

Letting polluting industries skate on fewer regulations will come back to haunt us. Chemical spills, polluted water and nuclear waste causes major environment concerns to people, animals, carbon eating trees/ plants and food crops. Even the best of developers and manufacturers would like someone else to pay for their shortcuts. Industries go to great pains to hide their dirty laundry. The laundry is there, it just needs to be more cleaned up. Relying on a company’s altruism is not an effective means of controlling pollution.

Tariffs on all partners cause echo tariffs from our trading partners. And, no one wins a tariff war, regardless of what the president might say. As we have become harder to deal with, buyers and sellers find other markets. The increase in farmer bankruptcies has been significant since the tariff wars started, increasing dramatically over previous levels. One farmer said, other countries sought out other sources of farm goods, so we lost a future pipeline for sales. And, just today, I read in conservative George Will’s editorial that trust in America to do the right thing has fallen to 24% and preference to America as a trading partner has fallen.

One of the business lessons I learned over the years, is if you become difficult to work with, your customers and clients will be forced to find other providers of services and products. It does not get any plainer than that. One of the best things a president can do is create new markets – Reagan, Clinton, Nixon, and Obama all were good at creating new avenues for trade. It is not surprising that Clinton had the most jobs created on his watch, with Reagan having the most jobs as a Republican president. And, Nixon for all his corruption, should be remembered well for opening up relationships with China. Trump should get credit for renewing a refined NAFTA agreement, but he hindered his efforts to compete with China when he pulled the US out of the Trans Pacific Partnership which went on without us and backtracking on deals with Cuba, Iran and the Paris Climate Change Accord, has placed the US at odds with others.

Global trade builds revenue. A country cannot shrink to greatness. And, what we are seeing today is other countries not wanting the hassles of dealing with the US as much as before. And, this is before the mishandling of the pandemic that has left the world aghast.

A conversation between Garfield and Odie

The following conversation was spawned by a delightful post called “The Conversation” on Gigisrantsandtraves blog called Rethinking Life. A link is provided below. I caught wind of it by a reblog from Holly of House of Heart.

As Garfield said to Odie, “can you believe this guy is admitting to using the post office to win the election?” Odie nods yes. “Can you believe that senator guy from the cheese state admits that his committee’s investigation is designed to help Biden lose?” Odie nods yes. Garfield asks “Odie, are you nodding yes because you are not surprised they are cheating or they are telling us they are cheating?” Odie holds up a sign “Both, but the question is why is this not considered a problem anymore?”

When Garfield looks surprised at the astute observation, Odie holds up another sign that said “When Kevin McCarthy admitted in an interview in 2015 the continual Benghazi hearings were to help Hillary lose, he was asked to step down from consideration as Speaker of the House. Apparently, lying and cheating are now a new sport.”

Author’s note, while Garfield and Odie are fictional characters, the subject of the stories and conclusion are sadly real. Please read the inventive post by Gigisrantsandraves. This conversation would not have been written without her marvelous post.

https://gigisrantsandraves.wordpress.com/2020/08/15/the-convrsation/

If people like conspiracy theories, why not look at real ones

There has been a lot of press about Marjorie Taylor Greene, an advocate of the conspiracy theory website QAnon winning a GOP primary in Georgia. Unless the GOP finds its conscience, she will become a member of Congress. Getting less press is Madison Cawthorn who is the GOP candidate running for now Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ old seat. Cawthorn has some social media references to white nationalists and has bragged on visiting the Hitler bunker in Germany. In this case, the GOP leadership supported his opponent in the primary.

Some folks are unfamiliar with QAnon, but the president is not one of them. He often parrots conspiracy theories and it is nirvana for a conspiracy author to hear their words come out of his mouth. My favorite QAnon story is Hillary Clinton was running a Satanic child pornography ring out of a pizza parlor in Washington DC to raise money. As asinine as this sounds, a North Carolina man armed for bear with an AR-15, showed up at the pizza parlor and is now in jail serving the third year of his four year sentence.

Another conspiracy theory is the deep state is trying to unseat Trump. Per Michael Lewis’ well researched book “The Fifth Risk” on the briefing materials that incoming Trump people did not choose to read or show up for a briefing, the deep state are those hard working folks who remember their oath and know what they are talking about. The purpose of Lewis’ book (who read the unclassified materials) is to reveal the many risks that are not being talked about that keep these folks up at night whether they were forced to resign or remain employed – chemical and nuclear waste type risk inside of the US, eg.

But, the best example of conspiracy theories, is Alex Jones of InfoWars. He said for years that the Sandy Hook shooting of twenty-seven children and teachers was a hoax. He was sued for damages by distraught parents and lost his case and the appeal. From what I gather, he is at least been fined $550,000, but it may be more. Jones now confesses that Sandy Hook was not a hoax.

These are all untrue conspiracy theories. But, if people are so fascinated by such, there are real ones right in front of us. Here are a couple:

– The New York Times* reported Senator Mitch McConnell had a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service buried before the 2012 presidential election. Why? It was the fourth study by a reputable entity showing data that trickle down economics does not work.

– The Hill** reported (and Lewis’ book expands on) the following true story. Trump appointed a for profit weather company CEO to run NOAA and its weather service. Lewis reports that Barry Myers is using the weather service tax paid efforts in his for-profit business. That is called a conflict of interest.

– The Charlotte Observer*** reported on the Trump appointed Louis DeJoy as postmaster general having a conflict of interest in hamstringing the postal service, noting he has between $30 and $75 million in investments in for-profit delivery service competitors.

– Then there are the older true stories of Bill Clinton conspiring to keep a White House affair out of the press leading to his impeachment for lying under oath, Ronald Reagan conspiring in the Iran-Contra affair to illegally sell weapons to Iran for money to support the Contra rebels in Central America and, of-course, Richard Nixon’s Watergate conspiracy which led to his resignation before being removed.

These are real conspiracies. They deserve to be looked into by the ethics officers and Inspectors General. The fact the last two have occurred on the president’s watch makes his firing of Inspectors General even more disturbing. Why this is not a big issue to Republicans is beyond me and certainly not in keeping with the good governance. One of my GOP Senators wrote to me it is in the president’s purview to fire people, but what he lost sight of is the president is firing the umpire not the player. If a publicly traded company CEO fired audit people who had reported abnormalities, the Board of Directors’ Audit Committee would be looking into it.

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

* Here are the first two paragraphs of The New York Times article from 2012.

“What do you do when the Congressional Research Service, the completely non-partisan arm of the Library of Congress that has been advising Congress—and only Congress—on matters of policy and law for nearly a century, produces a research study that finds absolutely no correlation between the top tax rates and economic growth, thereby destroying a key tenet of conservative economic theory?

If you are a Republican member of the United States Senate, you do everything in your power to suppress that report—particularly when it comes less than two months before a national election where your candidate is selling this very economic theory as the basis for his candidacy.”

** Here are the first three paragraphs from The Hill article:

“President Trump has chosen Barry Myers, the CEO of the private weather forecaster AccuWeather, to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In that role, Myers, who has served as the chief executive of AccuWeather since 2007, would head the agency charged with executing a broad portfolio of responsibilities ranging from providing severe storm warnings to managing the nation’s fisheries.

If confirmed by the Senate, the nomination would install a business executive at an agency more recently headed by scientists. Former President Obama’s last NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan, for example, was a geologist and former astronaut.”

***Here is a select paragraph from The Charlotte Observer Article that cites The Washington Post.

“The Washington Post reported that DeJoy and his wife have between $30 million and $75 million in assets in postal service competitors or contractors, according to her financial disclosure report filed with the Office of Government Ethics.”

The nonpartisan Concord Coalition on the absent relief package

The Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan group that researches and educates on the US deficit and debt problems. The following was in my inbox from that group and it speaks for itself.

“The following is written from the perspective of Concord Coalition Policy Director, Tori Gorman.

Avid readers of The Lookout will notice that my missive today is unlike any of my previous entries. If you are accustomed to the colorful charts and technical policy analyses that usually accompany my posts, my sincerest apologies. Those features will return, but today’s post is from the heart.

Last week I fully anticipated that I would be spending my waking hours prior to publication of this newsletter buried in legislative text, frantically distilling the latest coronavirus relief package from Congress for our readers. Instead, I find myself staring at an empty desk while federal officials jet home for their sacrosanct August recess. Why? Because despite over 160,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, a record-setting decline in economic activity, over 31 million people collecting some form of unemployment, and millions of children unable to return to school, lawmakers refused to compromise.

Unconscionable.

Each side has expressed support for another pandemic relief bill and each side has tendered their initial offer. The House-passed HEROES Act would spend another $3.4 trillion whereas the Senate Republican package of proposals would spend closer to $1.2 trillion. Clearly there is plenty of playing field in between to reach agreement.

On what planet is an acceptable outcome ZERO?

To add insult, on August 8, President Trump announced with great flourish a series of toothless executive memoranda from the ballroom of his eponymous Bedminster golf club – actions that will have virtually no effect except to make any further negotiations more difficult: A payroll tax proposal that neither side in Congress supports, a pseudo-unemployment insurance scheme virtually no state can navigate nor afford, an eviction ‘moratorium’ that isn’t, and student loan action that could have been, and should have been, more robust.

At some point in our political history ‘compromise’ became a dirty word. Somewhere it became acceptable in an election year for Congress to punt the people’s work until the November results were known. In today’s environment, however, where twin crises are leaving a trail of death and destruction, it is imperative that lawmakers rise above the low expectations they champion, return to Washington, and do the work they were elected to do.

Americans deserve no less.”

What the president has fashioned with executive orders is beyond his authority. Congress has the purse strings given to them by the Constitution. What the president has proposed is unworkable in parts and unwieldy in others. But, again we are not an autocracy and Congress needs to do its job.

What I also find interesting is the president’s executive order did not include a price tag on debt impact. I have done some back of the envelope calculations and it is likely nearer the $1.2 trillion GOP figure, if it is not extended, but we just do not know. I also feel that cutting FICA taxes will be harmful to Social Security and Medicare, at a time when they need more funding not less.

Yet, what no one has done is calculate what we need to do, including all three parties, the Senate, the House and White House. The House at least passed a bill on May 15, but the Senate could not bring themselves to debate and vote until the bewitching hour. Frankly, that is poor leadership by Senator Mitch McConnell and the president. Crisis planning is often not the best of planning.

You would think our so-called leaders could take the time to do some homework. But, what do I know?

A female with questions – the president’s greatest fear

Ever since the presidential candidate Donald Trump refused to attend a debate because Fox’s Megyn Kelly asked him tough questions at a previous one, he has shown he is not comfortable with anyone who knows facts asking him questions, but especially females. He recently showed poorly with male reporters Fox’s Chris Wallace and Axios’ Jonathan Swain pushed back when he was not being truthful on a couple of points, but he did not vacate the premises.

Over the weekend, the president walked out of a press conference, when CBS reporter Paula Reid corrected him on a continual mistatement that he passed the Veteran’s Choice Healthcare Act. She noted he had not as that was passed in 2014. He signed an amendment to the act, but he often does not let facts get in the way of a good story.

Per Tom Jones of The Poynter Report in an article called “Why does President Trump react so strongly when challenged by female reporters?” Jones notes CNN’s Kaitlan Collins caused him to walk out of Coronavirus briefing with her questions. And, Trump referred to CNN’s Weijia Jiang as “nasty” and PBS Newshour Yamiche Alexander he asked to “be nice.” Reid has also bwen referred to as “disgusting.”

To me, he is also fearful of Speaker Nancy Pelosi who pushes back on the president. After an incident last fall where she asked the president in a televised meeting to not mischaracterize her position, she haa not made too many more appearsnces in the oval office.

The president has a hard time with facts and the truth, per too many sources to mention. One theory is he lies so much, he does not know when the truth stops and lies begin. The other is he uses truth as a commodity. Even when he uses it, he has to exaggerate good news or his role in making good news happen. It is likely a blend of both theories, but I lean toward him just making stuff up becauae it sounds good.

But, he seems to especially not care for women correcting him. Getting back to Kelly, she asked him legitimate questions about his treatment of and relationships with women. He has been accused of sexual assault and harassment on numerous occasions and has been overtly critical of some women’s appearance. Mind you, Kelly’s questions were several months before the Access Hollywood tape where Trump described his power to grope women with impunity, which he dismissed as “locker room talk.”

Maybe, this is why he has a hard time with women questioning him. Maybe he sees them through a “locker room” lens, using his metaphor. Or maybe he wants a women to be more acquiescent. I don’t know the answer, but Jones is not the first editorialist who has opined on Trump’s fear of women who push back with questions.

Some very stupid questions

It is disappointing the US Congress cannot come to an agreement to help people in these difficult times. Republicans and Democrats are to blame, in spite of the president’s modus operandi to blame only the Democrats. It takes at least two parties to have a communication problem.

In this case, three parties as the White House is not on the same page with its own Republican legislators. And, one of its negotiators, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, has had a career of blowing up legislation when in Congress. Let’s hope this is worked out this weekend, as the last person to try to make changes, because he is limited legally and facts are secondary, is the president.

So, with this in mind, let me ask some very stupid questions on this and other issues.

– One of the sticking points is giving companies liability protections from employees who are forced to work in unsafe conditions and exposed to COVID-19. Since many who have gotten the virus work in jobs where they do not have choices and must come to work even when sick, how does this help people other than the employers?

– The president wants to have a FICA tax payroll cut, a large one. Since you must have a job to pay FICA taxes, how does this help the unemployed folks? A corollary question is how do you know people working will spend the extra cash and not save it and pay down debt? If they do this, it will be less accretive to the economy, than giving money to those without income.

– The pandemic is now reaching into more rural areas and states that had not as much exposure. Right now, South Dakota has an influx of 250,000 motorcyclists for an annual event, who are mask less and not socially distancing, as South Dakota has not had such requirements. How will this not impact South Dakota folks and the attendees in a negative way? If 10% need to be checked and 10% who are tested have COVID-19, that means 2,500 of these bikers may have it. Even if it is less, this virus does not spread arithmetically, it is exponential.

– The US intelligence folks note they have evidence that Russia, China and Iran are trying to influence the election, Russia being the most active since it has been doing it effectively since 2014. Russia again is helping Trump, as they see him as the best weapon to disrupt America’s power and influence. China wants Biden, as they are tired of dealing with such an unpredictable person. China’s ascendency has been enabled by Trump with his retrenchment from global agreements and tariffs, yet China would rather deal with a rational person than the mercurial and perception-focused Trump. With this confirmation, why has this president and Congress not done even more to assure the elections are protected? This lack of interest and urgency, which includes the reluctant Mitch McConnell, dates back two years or more.

– Several states have relied only on mail-in voting and about thirty-five states have used it to more than a minimal extent. The president again is stating fraud risk for something that works well and, as per usual, offers no proof. Why is the president so against mail-in voting when even Republican legislators support it? The answer is the same as above, if he loses, he wants to have reasons to claim fraud and sue. Quite simply, the president’s ego does not handle losing very well.

– Finally, we have 160,000 plus COVID-19 deaths and the president behind the curtain keeps telling us everything is going well. When asked in an interview last week about the 1,000 deaths per day, he said “it is what it is.” Why does he not treat this pandemic with a seriousness of purpose – wearing a mask routinely, requiring the wearing of masks, condemning people who are critical of people trying to help, requiring social distancing, and supporting decisions on how states and communities reopen?

I have many more stupid questions. But, let me pick up on the president’s quote, which I have never liked when used by anyone – “it is what it is.” How can reasonable people not use this same quote to try understand why the Trump presidency is replete with chaos, incompetence, lying, bullying and corruption? I guess “it is what it is.”