A sad party run by sad people

As a fiscal conservative and social progressive, I left the Republican Party about twelve years ago. My main reasons for becoming an independent were the Republican stance on climate change, an unhealthy focus on evangelicals and guns, and a tendency to make things up. These reasons still exist twelve years later.

The Grand Old Party is no longer grand and it really is no longer Republican. At the recent RNC convention, they did not vote on a platform, so as one reporter said, “the platform is whatever Donald Trump says it is.” In and of itself, this is the final takedown of the old flag and raising of the new Trump Party banner.

Further, evidence of the dissolution, is an Alternate Republican convention was held the same week. This convention brought together several groups of Republicans bent on the defeat of Trump in November. They include The Lincoln Project, Republicans for the Rule of Law, and Republican Voters against Trump. Two additional groups of former Republican governors and intelligence leaders have also come out against Trump.

The Trump Party is a sad group led by sad people. Here are a few things that seem to be the major tenets in of the Trump Party:

– Truth, decency and empathy are not valued
– Protecting Americans against the COVID-19 pandemic is less important than winning the election. Not informing Americans of known risks is inexcusable.
– Civil rights of non-whites is less important and protestors of all races seeking equality for blacks are “thugs.”
– Soldiers who fight for America are “losers” and “suckers” and if captured, not heroes. It is OK that a country can put bounties on our soldiers without pushback.
– Using the presidency for profit is acceptable and it is OK to extort and use other countries for personal gain.
– Any Inspectors General, whistleblowers or those who testify under oath over legitimate concerns about wrongdoing can be removed without questions.
– Finally, it is OK to say absolutely anything to further the cause. It is OK to malign the voting process without doing a darn thing to make it secure. It is OK to blame any person or group for things that are caused by the president. It is OK to name call any critic. Trump called two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Woodward a “wack job,” but it was the president’s own words that are causing the furor.

These words make me sad for our country. It makes me more sad to know sycophants, rationalizers, and enablers have allowed this to happen. Names like McConnell, Graham, Cotton, Johnson, Nunes, Cruz, Jordan, McCarthy, Meadows, Miller, Kushner, et al should be remembered along with the Trump name as people who led to the demise of the Republican Party, our democracy and our planet. If this corrupt and deceitful person wins again, America will move even more toward an autocracy run by a sad person.

Five minutes of your time – listen to candid wisdom on COVID-19 mishandling

If people want to get a sense of the failure of the president to lead us during the COVID-19 pandemic, following his admission and confirmation he lied to the American people (and continued to do so) about the risk of COVID-19, please click on Scottie’s post which has a five minute commentary by a very smart man who goes by the name Beau of the Fifth Column. Even a few minutes of the commentary will give you the gist.

The fact the president misled Americans on the dangers of COVID-19 is not news. The fact he admitted he knew and lied is. What the president fails to realize then, during his misleading press conferences and tweets, and even today, is too many people believe his BS. And, too many sycophants furthered his lies and downplayed the danger.

Too many Americans have died and more will. Too many Americans have gotten sick and more will. And, putting this in terms the president might understand, dying and sickness is not good for the economy. When people get sick when we reopen stores, schools, rallies, etc. without seriousness of purpose, it is predicted and predictable people will get infected.

I will say this bluntly. This calls for the resignation of the president.

Let’s talk about Trump, Woodward, and bad days….

Saturday sense and sensibilities

It is going to be another hot one today, maybe too hot for “Saturday in the Park,” which was my first title. Instead, allow me to borrow from Jane Austen to summarizing a few sense and sensibilities.

The president has denied calling fallen soldiers “losers and suckers,” even though it has been corroborated by four news agencies, including Fox News. A few additional reasons to believe the comments were made are his on-the-record comments about Senator John McCain only being a hero because he was captured, plus calling him a “loser” and not wanting to lower flags to half-staff when he died. He took on a Gold Star family who had the temerity to criticize him. And, his favorite name calling word for critics is “losers.” Apparently, he has used such expressions on more than one occasion, saying soldiers who fought in Vietnam were “suckers” per a Fox News report. I guess he is forgetting that “draft” thing and how he avoided going.

PBS Newshour had an excellent report on the Australia, UK and Switzerland response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have each handled it better than the US, with the UK having to wait some on its Prime Minister’s initial cavalier attitude to change (until he was infected). The keys are telling folks the truth, leaders not doubting the science, and central management of the problem. Having national healthcare, helped as it took the issue off the table who will pay for things. Sadly, the US crossed 187,000 COVID-19 deaths yesterday. Trump gets good marks for funding the vaccine research and this new simplified testing release, but overall his mishandling and misinformation has contributed to our poor results. Too many Americans do not take this seriously enough, starting with the president.

On the good news side, 1.4 million people went back to work in August, lowering the unemployment rate to 8.4%. Economists are pleased, but cautious as the number includes 238,000 temporary Census workers and the numbers are expected to fall off again. One economist from Grant Thornton noted, the unemployment rate is actually closer to 10%. And, many economists worry about that cavalier COVID-19 attitude above, where some think reopening things means returning to normal. It does not.

Finally, we saw two visits to Kenosha by the presidential candidates. One stood in front of a burnt building, while the other visited with the victim, his family and community. The latter sat down with members of the community and listened. As Jonathan Capeheart and David Brooks said in the weekly review on PBS Newshour, one candidate’s visit was political, while the other was presidential. The presidential one was done by the one who is not president. Brooks noted it is good that Biden is condemning violence and looting saying they are not protesting. That needs to be said, as protecting people, their homes and their businesses is important, as well. It is not an either/ or paradigm as the president points out. We need better and fair policing that supports all in the community.

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.

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.

The president has said “without proof”

Seemingly, a phrase frequently being used by more legitimate news sources is the modifier “without proof.” Without proof is being added to news coverage of the latest assertion made by the president.

It may become the successor to “fake news” as it accompanies reporting of the many untruthful statements or conspiracy theories said or tweeted by the president. Using a mathematical expression, it is “causally related” to the frequency of the president’s blathering, not just correlated.

Without proof. The Washington Post has tracked over 20,000 lies by the president in about three and a half years. That is staggering. Plus, from biographers to reputable authors to attorneys to staff to military leaders to relatives, including his sister the judge, there are many sources who note the president’s untruthful nature. His sister the judge says her brother “lacks credibility.”

So, do yourself a favor and do what I do. Do not believe a word Donald Trump says. The odds are well in your favor. But, if you feel I am all wet, let me share as Examples A and B, two recurring lies the president has used. These are not one time lies – he has uttered or tweeted these two lies multiple times.

Example A – China is paying for the tariffs on US goods. This is simply untrue and each time he says it, economists point out the importers pay the tariiffs and usually pass along the cost to consumers. This means we shoppers pay the tariffs.

Example B – Trump passed the VA Health Care Choice bill to help veterans. He has said this multiple times, but the bill was passed in 2014. He was not inaugurated until 2017. This is the issue Paula Reid, a CBS reporter raised the other day when Trump again said it in a press conference.

I can share top of mind lies the president has uttered or throw in a few unproven conspiracy theories he has espoused. But, these two examples are recurring lies that he will likely use again. Right now, he is on a warpath to convince Americans mail-in voting is subject to significant fraud, again “without proof.” What should be more known is fellow Republicans are advocating mail-in voting as it used exclusively in five states and consequentially in thirty five more. Why would they be doing that if fraud was a concern.

As for fraud, it should be noted, last week. the Republican led Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed the overall veracity of the Mueller report, saying the Russian involvement in the Trump campaign was even more intrusive. So, this confirms, with proof, the president’s campaign was guilty of fraud.

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?

Brief letter to Senators and Congress people (sent Saturday morning)

I posted the following on the my two Senators (and select others) and Congressman’s websites.

I am disappointed that Congress has failed to reach a decision to help people. As with any communication problem, it is the fault of at least two parties, so the president’s attempt to blame only the Democrats is just more posturing than fact. Please find a way to make a deal. Americans are hurting and the president does not have the authority to do what is needed.

I am big believer we must deal with the debt, but the hypocrisy of the Freedom Caucus and others astounds me. They had no trouble in voting for a $1.5 trillion tax bill when it helped the wealthy and businesses at a time when we should have been reducing debt with a pretty good economy. So, we wasted that debt cost to make a pretty good economy a little better for a little while. Now, we need to help people.

Is the Democrat request to high? Likely. Is the GOP insistence of helping employers escape liability an insensitive move? Likely. A payroll FICA tax cut is not the answer as it won’t be as accretive to the economy as extended unemployment benefits. People with jobs will save more of the money and pay down debt, but those without income will spend it.

I beseech you to get back to work and do your job. It needs to be done in the right way and not left to a perception-focused and autocratic bent president. We cannot give any president more power than they have, but especially this one.

Please feel free to adapt and use, now that the president has made an executive order doing things he does not have the authority to do.

Let’s keep our eye on the ball

Let’s keep our eye on the ball. Yes, we need to find smart ways to improve commerce and get more people working, but 157,000 plus Americans have died from COVID-19 and that number is growing.

I read this morning that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is encouraging folks to wear masks, socially distance, avoid large groups and wash your hands to save lives, is getting death threats. Really? A man trying to save lives is getting death threats?

A real leader would not let this happen. A leader would be straightforward and truthful from the outset. When the US president started lying about the pandemic in January, he set in motion more lying by him and his sycophants. So, steps that could have been taken earlier, were not.

If he had been truthful from the outset, more people would take this pandemic seriously. Fauci would not be getting death threats and, if he did, a leader would tell people to stop that BS. And, BS is actually kind to describe people who threaten the life of anyone, much less someone trying to help others.

A real leader would tell us to keep our eye on the ball. He would not have to be reminded to keep his eye on the ball.

People are dying, mr. president.