Debt and more debt

The following is a brief sample letter to the editor on the US debt problem that is being unwisely ignored. Please feel free to adapt and use if you agree.

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The last time we had a balanced budget was when Bill Clinton left office, but we still had debt. Now that debt is about $21.5 trillion and is expected to grow by almost $12 trillion by 2027. The tax reduction law passed last December will increase the debt by $1.5 trillion and the spending bill from the spring will add to it as well.

The annual deficit is once again approaching $1 trillion, which is about 30% of our annual tax revenue. I believe it was poor stewardship to increase the debt with the tax change and now I understand another tax bill is in the works. We cannot cut our way out of this problem – we need both spending cuts and more tax revenue.

A day of reckoning will come and future legislators will have to address this poor financial stewardship by three Presidents and their Congresses.

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Calm before the storm

Sitting four hours inland in North Carolina, we are in a holding pattern with Hurricane Florence. She will hit hard and large on the Carolinas coast and may linger over the eastern parts of the two states dumping a lot of water which will overwhelm the water systems. In Charlotte, we are as yet unaware what kind of storm effect we will get and may not know for a few days, but the current model shows us on the north side of the eye, exposed to winds and rain.

Best wishes for all, but especially those closer to the shore. I commend the efforts to keep us informed and get us prepared. We should all batten down the hatches, ready our homes, and leave, if needed and required. But, the recovery will be an elongated effort as it has been with previous hurricanes.

With this said, our country could be doing a lot more to address these emergencies. We could fund FEMA through the normal budget and not have to rely on event funding. A former FEMA person said we rely too heavily on an on call work force, especially when multiple disasters hit. Last year’s multiple hurricanes proved problematic and it showed, especially in Puerto Rico. There is a metaphor in Puerto Rico that still exists one year later of hundreds of unopened crates of water sitting on a runway.

We could also recognize what NOAA, Union of Concerned Scientists, United Nations and climate scientists know. Sea rise and warmer oceans due to climate change are creating more and dangerous hurricanes that hit shore from a higher vantage point. One scientist said it is like dunking a basketball off an elevated court. It is easier to do damage. This is especially true with beach erosion.

The term which will and should get more air time is “sunny day flooding.” This represents the increasing number of days that ocean tides are washing into coastal city streets. We must do more about this increasingly costly problem. Hurricanes only make this problem worse as they lay bare already weakened areas.

So, while we brace for Florence, let’s think about how we can plan even more proactively. And, please think good thoughts for those in harm’s way.

Instead of labels, consider these thoughts

I do not like labels. I think they are shortcuts to demean. There are plenty of labels used by people Trump appointed that are quite caustic as they crudely define Trump’s relative smarts and inconsistent truth-telling, some from Woodward’s book and some from earlier reporting. Rather than repeat those labels, I would prefer to cite comments about his actions from people who have worked with Trump or know of his organization.

From Woodward’s book, there are two stories attributed to Gary Cohn which I find telling. Cohn, who is Jewish and was the head of the White House Economic Council, said the biggest mistake he made was not resigning after Trump’s comments on Charlottesville which gave the White Supremacists a hall pass. The other is he is one of the people who took things off Trump’s desk. Mind you, Cohn was one of Trump’s most proficient hires, who openly disagreed with his tariffs and trade policies. Cohn resigned over the latter issues.

The other one I often cite comes from Thomas Wells, an attorney who worked for Trump for years. Among many other observations around his lack of interest in understanding issues and job requirements, he said “Donald Trump lies everyday, even about things of no consequence.” Mind you, there are far more succinct quotes in the Woodward book that state this premise, but I prefer Wells’ comments as they focus on the act of lying not the person lying. If his base would react to more succinct critique, I refer them to what his attorney John Dowd said in the Woodward book.

The final one came from a contractor familiar with the Trump organization who was asked in a voter panel, what he thought of candidate Trump. He succinctly said, “Word on the street is if you deal with the Trump organization, get paid up front.” This is consistent with a modus operandi of Trump stiffing contractors because of bad service. Wells noted if Trump did this a few times, that would be one thing, but he regularly cited bad service to get out of paying, one reason for the large number of Trump’s lawsuits. Many a contractor got stiffed, accepted less payment or went out of business because of one Donald J. Trump. What the contractor panelist did was corroborate what has been published.

The above paint a picture with actual examples. I do wish Cohn had resigned with the Charlottesville issue, as it would have been a major statement. I also like the contractor’s statement as it tell us a story that is at odds with his “I am on your side” message to supporters. From what I have observed and read, Trump is only on one side – Donald J. Trump’s.

Not so Freaky Fridays anymore

It seems that news people recapping the week are in a continual, almost weekly, loop saying the President had a difficult week. One week it was the appropriate backlash on his Helsinki acquiescence to Vladimir Putin. Another week was the conviction and confession of two of his cronies. Earlier it was the detention of migrant children away from their parents. And, there are many others.

This past week started last Saturday with the funeral of a true hero and honorable public servant, an event to which he was purposefully uninvited. Not being invited to the national mourning of Senator John McCain was bad enough, but his modus operandi was appropriately criticized without mentioning his name by more than a few speakers.

By itself, this event would warrant a bad week, but it was followed by the release of excerpts from highly credible reporter Bob Woodward’s book on the disruptive White House environment. For younger voters, Woodward was 1/2 of the team that broke the Watergate story. While nothing surprising about Trump was revealed, it was reassuring that the President’s people do their best to keep him between the white lines.

While the White House was in full damage control mode, an anonymous op-ed was published in The New York Times by an insider which echoes much of what Woodward’s book reveals. It should be noted that the both pieces echo some earlier books that were also denounced by the White House, as well as previous leaks and actual observations by reporters.

A few comments are in order:

– Many GOP legislators are painfully aware of these shortcomings of the President, but choose not to act. Right now, supporters are ignoring the consistent message and focusing on the messenger.
– A plausible reason the anonymous op-ed writer has not gone to Congress is it would likely not do any good given the willingness of too many GOP sycophants wanting to save their tribe and not do their job.
– The President’s boorish behavior is not a secret, except to his base, who water down the criticism. What is known by fewer folks is what conservative columnist David Brooks noted as early as last year regarding various mismanaged events when he said the “White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.”
– But, his offensive behavior and poor management predates his campaign and White House. Five biographers note Trump’s problems with the truth and financial reporters have lauded his sales skills, while being critical of his poor management skills. It is easy to see why he is deemed a poor manager given his ego, temper and lack of attention to detail.

What frustrates me as well, I have consistently reached out to Senators and members of Congress usually after various missteps or misstatements by the President. Two questions I often ask are “is this the man you want to spend your dear reputation on?” and “what will it take for Congress to act?” Seeing us bully our allies and forego our global leadership role is highly frustrating. Seeing us make changes that favor corporations and wealthy is another. Seeing us ignore climate change and our building huge debt are yet more concerns. But, the lying, denigration, name-calling, admiration for autocrats and disdain for democratically elected leaders takes the cake.

You may have noticed I have not mentioned the Russian collusion issue or his historical sexual misconduct. More will come out on these issues, but I find it of interest the lone constant in both issues is the story changing by the President. This is a key reason he did so poorly on a mock deposition in preface to a possible real one with Robert Mueller. The contradictions abounded.

So, I leave you with the questions I asked the GOP legislators above. Apparently, this is the horse they are going to ride. My added question is where will he lead you? And, us?

Capitalism and socialism coexists

On more than one occasion, I have seen letters to the editor speak of setting up beachheads in the coming election around capitalism vs. socialism. To me, this is a name-calling gimmick to persuade a voter who does not do much homework. Voters that are prone to listen to name-calling as debate will buy into this logic time and again. The irony in this debate is the United States’ economy is a blend of “fettered” capitalism with socialistic underpinnings. So, both co-exist here.

For readers in the either camp, this observation probably surprises them, especially those who are gung-ho capitalists. But, the word in quotes is also important as we do not have unfettered capitalism. If we did, the US President would have run out of money long ago with his many bankruptcies. I believe in capitalism as well, but we need to understand why we ventured down the path of the socialistic underpinnings.

These underpinnings spoke to a nation that was in a great depression and who seemingly got lost in poverty later on. Social security is a low-income weighted pension, disability and survivor benefit program that is funded equally by employers and individuals. To determine the base level benefit, 90% of average wages are used for the earlier wages then added to 32% of the next tier of wages which are added to 15% of the highest wages up to a limit.

In the 1960s, LBJ’s “War on Poverty” added Medicare and Medicaid to the mix, with Medicare helping retirees and Medicaid focusing on people in poverty. Then, we can mix equal measures of unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation and food stamps which are now called SNAP benefits. Each of these programs are forms of “social insurance” benefits. That is socialism designed to keep people fed, housed and protected.

Taking this a step further, utilities are so needed to our communities, they are either co-ops or fettered capitalistic models where rate increases must get approved by a state governing board. Companies like Duke Energy and Con-Ed must get permission before they change their rates. For the co-op model, the customers own the business.

But, the word “fettered” enters into the mix on other businesses as well. To prevent monopolies, insider trading, interlocking boards, collusion, the misuse of insider knowledge by investors, etc. rules are set up to provide governors on capitalism. Then, there is that bankruptcy thing, where a business or person can claim bankruptcy to pay debtors what they can and restart. I use the President as an example, but his experience is a good one, as he filed for bankruptcy six times on various investments.

I want people to think about our country in this context. We want people to earn their keep and be fully functioning tax paying citizens. Yet, we have programs in place to keep them out of the ditch. As we considering changes to programs, we should consider what they are accomplishing and how changes could make them more effective. And, we must understand that things must be paid for, so how do we get the best return on the investment into those stated goals?

For those that have followed my blog for some time, you know I have been involved for many years in helping homeless working families find a path back to self-sustainability. We help the homeless climb a ladder, but they climb it. Yet, we are also successful in keeping people housed on their own after two years of leaving our program because we measure things and make improvements. The ultimate goal is self-sustainability, so we measure how we can be the best financial stewards toward helping people achieve that purpose.

We need social underpinnings to help people be fed, housed and protected. Some need to be temporary in nature, while others are longer term like Medicare and Social Security. There is a cost-benefit to these equations, but we should understand that we have poverty problem in our country. We must also understand technology advances will continue to change the paradigm on employment as it has throughout the industrial age placing additional pressures to even more wage earners. Not providing ladders out of poverty or ways to avoid it would be a bad path to follow for our country.

 

Questions for Campaigning Republican Legislators

Our diligent and thorough blogging friend, Gronda, wrote a post regarding answers to questions that Republican Party leadership provided GOP candidates. Most of the questions are of many of the messes the President finds himself in of his making, but truly miss the boat on where Republicans and the President have failed to address larger US and global issues.

There is plenty to ask about of these legislators. Here are a few of my questions:

– why are you allowing the easier maltreatment of our environment by industry?

– why are you supporting leaving the Paris Climate Change Accord ignoring the rest of the world?

– why have you failed to address our water concerns in Flint and similar places?

– why have you not only ignored our rapidly rising and expensive debt, but made it worse?

– why have you stood by and let the President trash and cut our diplomacy staff and bully our allies?

– why are we placing tariffs on everyone, without concern for past failures and ignoring better channels to address China involving our allies?

– why have you not listened to Americans and improve the ACA actually harming it instead?

– why have you not done anything to materially address gun governance?

– why have you allowed a President to trash our hard working people in important government departments to create an illusion of conspiracy to save his hind end?

– why have you tolerated a President who believes the civil rights of whites matter more than that of other races?

– why are we doing things to make our poverty problem worse, not better?

– why have we not addressed infrastructure with our significant needs and resulting job creation when interest rates were lower?

That is a start. These folks have a lot to answer to. To be frank, all Americans should be asking these questions, but if I were a young person, I would be even more alarmed. Just with climate change and growing debt, this party is screwing our youth.

But, there is so much more. I am an Independent voter who left the GOP over ten years ago because of their failure to speak to the truth on real problems – Trump has made it worse and his followers have been conned to believe the opposite.

Question for gun owners

Since legislators are more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing their jobs, I felt the need to pose the issue on better gun governance to gun owners. Doing nothing is obviously not the answer, although that seems to be the course too many advocate. My newspaper was kind enough to print the following letter to the editor, with a few edits. Please feel free to adapt and use if you concur.

“After yet another mass shooting in America (this time in my home town), in addition to three shootings over two days in Charlotte, doing nothing to address this issue is not working. I believe we can still honor 2nd Amendment rights and enact better gun governance. I have shared with legislators the suggestions that have majority support in the country. My question is for gun owners – what do you suggest we do to govern the ownership of a device designed to kill? We govern car ownership to keep the driver, passengers and others safe. Surely we can add better governance to gun ownership.”

Since I wrote this, there was another shooting incident in Charlotte this morning at an elementary school. Fortunately no one was hurt. Our law enforcement do a highly credible job, but stopping gun violence is extremely difficult in America.