When a known untruthful person endorses a message, what does that mean?

Sometimes the TV campaign commercials slip through the mute button. Usually it occurs when my wife or I leave the den and the remote is on the other end table. So, we get to hear the spiel from various Trump commercials, whether we want to or not.

Yet, when I hear him say at the end “I am Donald Trump and I endorse this message,” what does that mean? Trump is well-documented to be the most deceitful president in my lifetime. Plus, he laps the field of other politicians on lying, as his nature is to embellish every favorable truth and lie about the many unfavorable truths.

So, if Trump supports or endorses a commercial, that does not enhance its veracity. To me, it means it is likely very untrue or largely so. Just to state a few obvious points.

1.We have not turned the corner on COVID-19, it is getting worse. The president has not made it better; any achievements have largely been in spite of his mishandling.

2. Trump did not create the economy before the pandemic pushed us into a recession; he inherited the third longest growth economy in our country’s history.

3. Our economy before the recession was not the best ever, it is not even close. It was the longest growth period in US history, but 91 months of the growth occurred under Obama, with only 36 under Trump. But, the rate of growth was just pretty good.

4. He is not tough on China, he just appears to be such. I would argue with the ill-fated tariffs, pulling out of the TPP and the Iran nuclear deal, and picking on our EU allies, he has made China’s ascendency to the number one economy easier, not harder.

5. Biden’s healthcare plan will not close hospitals. He is talking about adding a public option to the ACA; that is not national health coverage; it is like Medicare. Hospitals will like getting paid. By the way, it is a fact the GOP led states that did not expand Medicaid under the ACA saw some rural hospitals close.

6. Biden is not a socialist, nor is Harris. They are both moderates and have the endorsement of several Republican groups. Biden will have a diverse cabinet, that will include all types of people – he even said he would include a few Republicans.

A final point that needs to be said. It is highly offensive and bothersome that the president of the United States is sowing seeds of racial unrest, division, conspiracies and doubt on the election process. Call me crazy, but the president is supposed to make things better, not worse. Donald Trump is making things worse with his rhetoric.

Conservative pundit David Brooks – How Democrats Won the War of Ideas

As an independent and former Republican (and Democrat), David Brooks is one of my favorite conservative pundits and authors. He is a regular participant on PBS Newhour’s Friday recap show with the more liberal Mark Shields. Like other key conservative pundits, MIchael Gerson, George Will, Ross Douthat, Eric Erickson and Max Boot, he is hoping that America votes out the incumbent president.

In his usual articulate and even-handed fashion, Brooks penned the following editorial last week called “How Democrats Won the War of Ideas.” The link is below, but I will highlight a few paragraphs for your review and comment.

“Over the last 100 years, Americans have engaged in a long debate about the role of markets and the welfare state. Republicans favored a limited government, fearing that a large nanny state would sap American dynamism and erode personal freedom. Democrats favored a larger state, arguing that giving people a basic economic security would enable them to take more risks and lead dignified lives.

That debate ebbed and flowed over the years, but 2020 has turned out to be a pivotal year in the struggle, and it looks now as if we can declare a winner. The Democrats won the big argument of the 20th century. It’s not that everybody has become a Democrat, but even Republicans are now embracing basic Democratic assumptions. Americans across the board fear economic and physical insecurity more than an overweening state. The era of big government is here.”

Brooks cites a few survey facts from last week’s New York Times/ Siena poll.

2/3 of Americans support allowing people to buy health insurance through the federal government

2/3 support Joe Biden’s $2 trillion plan to increase renewable energy and build efficient infrastructure

72% of likely voters and 56% of Republican voters favor another COVID-19 relief package

59% of Americans think government should do more to solve problems

2/3 think government should do more to fight climate change

60% support increasing the minimum wage and providing tax credits to low income workers

82% of voters and 70% of Republicans would like to expand requirements for paid family medical leave

Brooks also cites a study by the Mercatus Center which notes that Republicans are also moving left, just not at the pace of Democrats. This is contrary to what is believed by the media.

I have long said that more than 1/2 of the Republican voters are voting against their economic interests and do not know it. This survey indicates many do favor policies that would help them, but are sold a bill of goods packaged to woo their votes, but mask the purposeful deterioration of rights and opportunities.

A great example is the Affordable Care Act. When people are surveyed about the features of the act, the features receive high marks from all, including Republicans. The only feature that did not was eliminated – the mandate to buy coverage. Ironically, this elimination is the basis for 25 Republican Attorney Generals who have case to declare the ACA unconstitutional in front of the Supreme Court after the election, which should not occur as the case is not solid, but one never knows with these things. Sadly, the White House chose not to defend the law, which affects expanded Medicaid, exchange and employer-provided benefits.

Please read Brooks article below. It is very well done, as per usual.

Don’t worry about keeping up with the Jones’ spending

This morning I made the following paraphrased comment on a blogpost which was offering sound advice to budding business owners and young adults (a link is below to “Push through your fear to achieve financial freedom”). It is a variation of a theme I have written a few times about.

As an almost 62 year old fart, part of the theme of this post – “The fear of being ostracized causes us to keep up with the Joneses” caught my eye.

A key word of advice to all people who feel they must spend to buy more things in some level of competition with the infamous Joneses. Ask yourself do you really need this? Will it make you happier if you buy it? I have an attic-full of things we forgot we have, that are obviously not that important anymore.

There is an instructive documentary movie called “I Am” by an action movie director. He wrote and produced it after he realized that buying the biggest of houses, did not make him happy. His realization occurred the moment he entered the house with his new set of keys and closed the door.

The movie reporter speaks with religious, spiritual, psychological and medical folks about what makes us happy. The key conclusion that is revealed is straightforward – money does not make you happy; however, the absence of money does make you unhappy. Once you have enough to put a roof over your heads and feed your family, there is diminishing marginal return to more money. And, more things.

I hope this thought might help. It helped me. So, don’t keep up with the Joneses. And, if you don’t like the above argument about watching your spending, there is book that might interest you called “The Millionaire Next Door.” It is about the person who spent wisely and saved and is now wealthier than you imagined as you were swayed by his ten year-old cars and his beat up lawnmower.

Just a quick refresher on the ACA animosity in the Republican Party

Our friend Scottie asked me why the Republican Party detests the Affordable Care Act (ACA) so much and wants to kill it. I have written many posts about this, but here is quick refresher.

The Republican party has spent about ten years nay-saying the ACA. This is in addition to actual efforts to sabotage it by Senator Marco Rubio and President Donald Trump and the fourteen states who still have not expanded Medicaid. Rubio and Trump’s actions caused premiums to increase. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBS of NC) said it was geared to have a 0% increase in 2018, but after Trump de-funded reimbursing insurers for co-pays/ deductibles for people making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty rate, BCBS of NC said it would have a 6.6% increase. Not only did Rubio’s action cause premiums to go up, it drove some insurers out of the exchanges lessening competition which also hurt consumers. *

So, to me the Republicans are so far down the path of killing something that is working pretty good (it still needs improvements), they cannot stop. And, it is apparent that Trump has an Obama obsession that he must kill everything that Obama did regardless of its level of efficacy. As a retired benefits consultant and former actuary, what the GOP came up with in 2017 to replace the ACA was god-awful. It was throw-against-the-wall planning. The fact the Republicans did not follow due process was a key reason Senator John McCain voted it down. Mind you, I fault Obama for the terrible roll out of the exchanges in 2013, but he at least involved Republicans in the planning process in very public sessions (although they were told not to vote for it).

And, here is the rub. The reason the GOP does not have a plan is the ACA is largely based on a Republican idea set in motion by Mitt Romney for Massachusetts, when he was governor. It worked so well, that Senator Jim DeMint, the leader of the Tea Party, advocated its national use in writing to President George W. Bush. And, DeMint politicked with Romney on stage in 2008, Romney’s first run for president. I recognize the ACA is not exactly the same as Romneycare, but there are a number of similar constructs.

Everything I mention above, including the DeMint piece can be found by Googling. But, here is the major concern I have. Employers have been going to more part-time and contract work forces even before the pandemic. Why? – to avoid providing subsidized health care benefits. So, to survive in this gig and part-time employment world, the ACA is essential.

Plus, the ACA imposes requirements on employer based plans as well that may go away if SCOTUS rules unwisely with the court case. Those include pre-existing condition protection, guaranteed renewability, no deductibles on wellness visits, and limitations on insurer margins in pricing, e.g. So, a bad SCOTUS ruling could impact over 200 million Americans not just those in the exchanges and Medicaid.

* Note: The reason for the premium increases are complex, so I will mention them here. Rubio led a Republican move to defund 89% of the payments to insurers for adverse selection (pent up demand for new policy holders) for the first few years, a process used when Medicare Part D was rolled out. Insurers were forced to increase premiums and some left the market with the US owing them money that was promised. The Trump change is more complex. By stopping the reimbursement to insurers for this extra benefit for low paid policyholders, the insurers still honored their commitment to the policyholders. This drove up premiums. Trump said this would only impact insurer profits, but that was not true. The CBO said it increased the annual deficit by $10 billion because the premium subsidies went up as well. The people who ultimately got screwed were those who did not get a full subsidy.

Letter to editor – health care actions speak loudly

I have written longer posts on the actions of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Republicans to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. What many do not know, after the election, a court case will decide its fate, brazenly brought forward by several Republican state AGs after Congress stripped away the coverage mandate during a budget vote. The following is a brief letter I sent to my newspaper.

The truth matters. Actions matter. Four years ago, Trump said we had to wait and see his healthcare plan. None existed and still does not. Three years ago Trump cut payments to insurers to fund their payment of co-pays and deductibles for ACA members making less than 2 1/2 x the poverty rate and then lied about its impact – it actually increased premiums and the deficit per the CBO.

After the election, SCOTUS will be hearing a case to rule on the constitutionality of the ACA premium subsidy after Republicans stripped away the coverage mandate, which would severely hamper the law and may lead to its end. The White House chose not to defend the law. The ACA impacts both exchange and employer benefits, three key provisions of which are allowing pre-existing conditions, requiring guaranteed renewability and requiring wellness doctor visits not be subject to deductibles.

Sadly, beyond the nay-saying, there has been more sabotage of the ACA which increased premiums (Google Marco Rubio and risk corridors), repeal and replace efforts which were fortunately defeated, and fourteen states (including NC and SC) who still have not expanded Medicaid, a key part to help people in poverty. Health care coverage access is a major issue this coming election so says this retired benefits consultant, benefits manager and former actuary.

Eliminating the ACA which which may impact over 200 million Americans  (including the ACA requirements on employer plans) is unwise in my view, in general. But, doing so in the middle of a poorly handled pandemic by the White House with over 200,000 and growing American deaths, is plain asinine and mean-spirited.

Please feel free to adapt and use. Actions speak louder than words and my former party, the GOP, has purposefully sabotaged the right for Americans to have access to health care coverage. This is why your vote matters.

Dig beneath the sales schtick

It was Bill Maher who mentioned this first, but the words aligns well with what Donald Trump does. Maher, being from New Jersey, said he grew up hearing this kind of talk, so he recognized it early on. Donald Trump is all about “New Jersey schtick.” In his mind, it is a constant banter to make truths better and tell lies to sell anything, including your reputation. In all fairness to folks from New Jersey, this kind of “schtick” can be found everywhere.

From the Free dictionary, the word schtick, which is also spelled shtick, means: A characteristic attribute, talent, or trait that is helpful in securing recognition or attention Salespeople use schtick, but it is unfair to paint all salespeople with this brush. The ones who focus on relationship selling will tend to use less of it, while those who focus on transactional sales, will tend to use more of it. What do I mean by that?

Relationship sellers want to work with you long term, building a relationship. Transactional sellers want to get a sale to maximize profit in short order. The latter represents Trump’s approach, which is one reason he is less concerned with long relationships with other countries. And, since he does not care to be a student of history, he does not place a value on the relationship. So, he focuses on transactions.

To do that, he looks for props to sell from. He needs a very short, bumper sticker solution to a problem. The fact the problem is more complex or the solution won’t really solve it is irrelevant. His transactional focus is to win. It is a zero-sum game – I must win, you must lose. “Build the wall” fit nicely on a bumper sticker. Getting folks to chant it and the response to who is going to pay for it is all about sales schtick. The fact immigration is down the list for why folks are disenfranchised matters not – technology gains and offshoring jobs were the main culprits.

Props work best when they can be used to placate fears that are stoked. The Black Lives Matter movement gave Trump two props that he is using today. The handful of folks who are creating violence is one prop. The “defund the police” is the other. Now, defunding the police does not mean take all of their money away. That would be ludicrous. But, repurposing funding to hire licensed social workers and train police to deescalate crises is important. So, Trump and his sycophants are playing this up just as Richard Nixon did in 1968, the year MLK and RFK were assassinated that led to rioting and violence.

Let’s be clear. Donald Trump will say anything to get elected and to be liked by his base of followers. This is a key reason he does not know where the truth stops and the lies begin. Paula Reid of CBS News noted to Trump at a press conference after he just repeated what he has often said that he signed the VA Healthcare Protection Act, that was not a true statement. He likely had no idea he was lying. The act was signed in 2014. He just signed an amendment to it.

Financial reporters, who have covered Trump for decades, note he is not the best of managers. He does not have the emosthy, patience, temperament or time for it. What he is good at is selling. Make the deal and leave a way to get out when the cookie crumbles. He started selling his name for building developments, but he left himself an out when problems surfaced and he could bail. This was a transactional sales person’s dream – get your revenue without any responsibility.

Unfortunately, this is how he approaches the White House. Get the accolades, take credit for all things good regardless of your role and blame others for any problems, even if your failures contributed to them. He and his sycophants spend a lot of tax payer dollars trying to erase or re-write history to absolve him of any accountability.

So, the way to beat Trump is to define truthful props that can be pounded like a drumbeat.

– Trump admitted to lying about the pandemic and now 200,000 (and growing) Americans have died
– America is less trusted because its president is untrustworthy
– Trump does not even try to unite Americans
– It is hard to put out racial fires when the president is carrying a gas can
– Trump is making it easier for China to ascend to number one in economic clout
– Trump is making it easier companies to pee in your water supply
– America is only one of three nations to not support the Paris Climate Change Accord
– The ACA may be ruled unconstitutional after the election by SCOTUS due to changes made by Republicans
– How does a president take credit for building an economy with 7 plus years of growth when he took office?

There is little hope of changing the mindset of someone wearing a t-shirt that says “Jesus died for you – Trump lives for you.” That is just a load of BS. But, that is the base’s mindset. His one genius is to get people to buy his schtick and not believe anyone else. And, he knows they won’t as, if they start to question him and heed the uncomfortable truths, the cognitive dissonance would be overwhelming. This is why the words of Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney and fixer fell on deaf ears, when under oath he said “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat.”

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.