This, that and another thing

Now that the state of the union and Democrat rebuttal are behind us, it would be nice if an independent voter had a turn. On the talk (and some shouting) shows, the independent views do not get heard enough and that is disappointing. For once, it would be illuminating for a member of neither party to share their thoughts.

For example, we might learn:

  • Global warming really is a concern and we should be doing something about it. On Bill Maher’s Friday show,  he noted that Senator Marco Rubio used the argument against the President for declaring a national emergency to build the wall, as what would stop President Kamala Harris from doing so to address climate change? Maher correctly pointed out the latter is becoming a national emergency, while the wall is not even a top ten issue and is overblown as a solution. He also noted, with the very real concerns over Miami, Rubio may become the Senator of Atlantis.
  •  A growing debt which is around $22 trillion with an annual deficit about to hit $1 trillion is a problem, especially with the deficit in a good economy. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget models the debt to be around $34 trillion at the end of the 2027 fiscal year. We must have spending cuts and revenue increases both. The math will not otherwise work. If a politician tells you differently, he or she is lying to you. Don’t let them.
  • The Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are the same thing. So is KyNect in Kentucky. Too many people still don’t realize this in the GOP. But, don’t look to politicians to solve this, as they really do not understand how our complex healthcare system works. We need to stabilize the ACA and stop sabotaging it, as the GOP has done.  My recommendation as a retired benefits consultant, actuary and manager is to fund money promised to insurance companies to pay for adverse selection and committed to deductibles, copays for people beneath 2 1/2 times the poverty limit. I would also expand Medicare as a pilot, measured effort to retirees below age 65, such as 60 or 62. This will reduce the cost rate in the exchanges and Medicare. The remaining states need to get off the dime and expand Medicaid – it is a no brainer per GOP Governor John Kasich.
  •  Addressing America’s crumbling infrastructure would help rebuild assets and provide good jobs. We also need to build on the community college system with some added funding to retrain people to do the jobs of the future, as technology claims even more (this is the major threat, not immigration or trade). Also, building on the bipartisan idea pitched to the President last year by Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman from Ohio, we should co-invest with car manufacturers to retool plants to make the cars in demand and keep the factories open. This idea was ignored and the President was offended when GM announced some plant closings.
  •  There are so many more ideas around rethinking ill-conceived tariffs and trade fights, poverty issues, and gun governance, but let me make a general statement that is important. Start treating our allies and citizens with fairness and dignity. Stop the adversarial BS. A country and business makes more money long term by having a productive long term relationship. We need to stop measuring success on short-term transactions. Listen to your advisors as they actually study our problems. And, stop beating up on a free press. From where I sit, they are not perfect, but the true journalists try to get it right. The main source of fake news in the country sits in the oval office and he only cares about looking good.

Well, that is enough for now. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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When your friends begin to leave

It is amusing to me that the Republican National Committee is doing its darnedest to prevent another candidate running in a primary against the current US President. This is very premature in my view and is not reading the tea leaves very well. This will be a year when the you-know-what hits the fan, which has already started to build.

There are many dregs in the tea leaves that the RNC should pay attention to, but here are a few they may want to consider.

First, as of today, two separate polls – The Washington Post/ ABC poll and the Marist College poll have very similar figures that might be worth considering about the President. When asked whether you would vote for Donald Trump, the two polls said the following:

  • No – 56% and 57%
  • Yes – 28% and 30%
  • Undecided – 14% and 13%

Granted, he won with 46% of the vote and it depends on where these folks are located, but this should give the RNC pause. It should be noted the Texas Republican leaders told the RNC they are worried about Trump carrying their state. If someone is going to run against him, they need to start fundraising now.

Second, he has been yet again berating journalists, but this time he picked on two reporters on the news side of Fox News. An anchor named Julie Banderas at Fox took issue with Trump’s condemnation as she tweeted, “@realDonaldTrump This is NOT right. I stand by my colleagues @johnrobertsFox and @GillianHTurner They don’t deserve this. No reporter does. They are doing their jobs and reporting the facts. They are not opinion journalists and deserve the respect from the @WhiteHouse they cover.” 

Third, he has unfriended Ann Coulter returning her attacks with her disillusionment over his backing down calling him “weak.”  Personally, I am not a fan of Coulter’s as she tends to be mean-spirited, flippant and loose with facts. She and Trump are very similar in how they treat others. Yet, no one is safe from criticism in Trump’s world. As an attorney who worked with him for years said, if you are on Trump’s good side, you won’t be there for long.

To be brutally frank, shutting down the government is not a very good business decision by the boss. Usually, the boss wants his employees at work serving customers. In this case, the boss called the strike not others. People are harmed by his decision. Plus, he further harmed his reputation by once again reneging on a deal, the second time around immigration and the wall. If you deal with Trump, get it in writing. A contractor who has worked with Trump said it plainly, when you deal with the Trump organization, get your money upfront.

With Roger Stone being indicted with strong evidence, with Rudy Guiliani saying people on the Trump campaign had interactions with Russia, with The New York Times reporting over 100 contacts with the campaign and Russian officials and surrogates, and with the concern by Politifacts, five biographers and staff members with his difficulty with the truth, this should give the RNC concerns. This is without even mentioning the economy may have headwinds due to the tariffs, trade challenges and slowing global economy, nor does it recognize the House will be doing more investigations into Trump.

So, when your friends start to leave, that does not help with your popularity. At this point, the President needs all the friends he can get. Yet, there is the rub. He tends to value loyalty through a one way lens.

 

 

And now, a word from George Will

I have noted before the significant number of respected conservative pundits and editorialists who have shared concerns over the President. George Will, a long time conservative, is among those who see the damage being done by the man in the White House. Like other conservative critics, his voice should be one that is heeded by those conservatives who are not totally in lock-step with the President.

In his most recent column called “Trump’s misery is also country’s,” Will is hypercritical of both the policies and behavior of the current President. He is also not too keen on the current Senate leadership for not doing their job to govern, being too interested in acquiescing to the President’s commands.

As for policy, he cited several examples, but two jump out. He is critical of the Trump and the GOP leadership as he notes, “Except that after two years of unified government under the party that formerly claimed to care about fiscal facts and rectitude, the nation faces a $1 trillion deficit during brisk growth and full employment.”

Will also notes concern over the US getting out of a trade deal designed to compete with China. He said, “The President’s most consequential exercise of power has been the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, opening the way for China to fill the void of US involvement.” It should be noted the agreement went forward without the US and has become effective for six countries at the beginning of this year, with five others coming online later this year.

But, Will leaves his harshest criticism for the President’s behavior which has been destabilizing. He writes “Still the ubiquity of his (Trump’s) outpourings in the media’s outpourings gives American life its current claustrophobic feel.”  Will goes on to note that “He (Trump) is an inexpressibly sad specimen…He seems to have as many friends as his self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life.”

As a result of Trump, Will notes the “GOP needs an entirely new vocabulary. Pending that, the party is resorting to crybaby conservatism: We are being victimized by ‘elites, markets, Wall Street, foreigners, etc.'”  This is what unfolds when fear is used as the key selling point. Principles are thrown aside, as exaggerations, over-simplifications, misinformation and lies paint others as bogeymen and the reason for any problems you might have.

As noted earlier, Will does not stand alone among conservative writers. My friends in the GOP and who have more conservative leanings need to pay more attention to people like him, Erik Erickson, Steve Schmidt, David Brooks, Michael Gerson, Ross Douthat and others, and less to those who the President seems to hold in high cotton. These are not Democrats who are raising concerns. These are people whose opinion used to matter more to Republicans and conservatives. They still should.

Saving ourselves from the whimsy of a mercurial man

I don’t agree with some of what conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru writes about, but I found myself in agreement with his latest editorial, “Keeping the US Economy safe from Trump’s feelings.” The key theme is the President’s whimsical tweets and statements regarding various policy statements can be harmful to the economy. In my view, it goes even further than the economy factoring into global relationships, climate change inaction, civil rights abuses, etc., but let’s start there.

Ponnuru notes that the President cannot say he was not forewarned by GM about the impact of his tariffs, as the company said in June the tariffs “could lead to fewer jobs, lower wages for our employees” and risked “undermining GM’s competitiveness against foreign auto producers.” He notes the reasons for the downsizings are more than just the tariffs, as demand for sedans is much lower than anticipated and interest rates are picking up. But, GM is not the only company to forewarn the President about his tariffs.

Yet, he notes the President is trying to convince GM to keep plants open using power he does not have. He cannot take away subsidies for electric cars, only Congress can do that. He cannot keep plants open as promised during the campaign, as market forces dictate that and publicly traded companies must respond to shareholders. Plus, he should not be commenting on the actions of any specific company, nor threatening one who do something that he does not like.

It should be noted that the two Senators in Ohio noted in the spring that the government should find ways to help GM retool and update their plants to do SUVs and electric cars rather than gas-powered sedans. This request for action before things got worse was not heeded. That would have been the time to step up to help. Now, his comments are just staging.

Ponnuru used a phrase that is on point to define the President’s actions. He said, “Trump tends to make policy decisions spasmodically.” He further notes the“President keeps adding to his reputation for making idle threats, and even self-canceling ones.”  The White House staff and various departments have been trying to manage the mercurial President’s whimsy. The resulting turnover has been pronounced. Decisions either have no substance because they are beyond the purview of the Presidency or they are unwound because of the next whimsical decision. Or, the staff may hope he forgets one of his inane pronouncements.

The best example of this is from Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House.” On a totally different subject related to Trump’s attempted ban of transgenders in the military, he was set to meet with more than a dozen members of his staff including his Joint Chiefs of Staff on the subject. Great pains were taken to develop four ideas, noting how constitutional each was, and other pros and cons for the President’s consideration. As they waited that morning for the President, he noted he would join them soon. In the interim, the President sent out two tweets making his decision, noting that everyone was in agreement, which was not a true statement. He also picked the least constitutional action and a court has held up the change.

The key point of this story is not the subject matter. It is the lack of good-faith dealings with others. He said your opinion does not matter and then lied about them being in agreement. The other key is this type of decision-making is not an isolated occurrence. Using Ponnuru’s term it is “spasmodic.” Another conservative writer, David Brooks’ refers to the White House as “equal measures of chaos and incompetence.” I would add that it shows a lack of respect for his subordinates and is not the actions a true leader would take.

As we have painfully learned, the mercurial man is not prone to change. Saving ourselves is another story. Fortunately, the courts help as more than a few things Trump does are not constitutional. The other is to pressure Congress to remember their oaths. The Senate is quite concerned by the President’s blowing off the human rights issues surrounding the MSB’s knowledge of the murder of a journalist and Saudi Arabia’s atrocities on the Yemeni people. Another is to read and watch better news outlets. The media is not the enemy of the people, but many so-called news organizations are not unbiased.

We should also pay heed to conservative voices who have been critical and disowned by Trump’s followers. Ponnuru is not alone, but is less critical of the President than other conservative voices – Brooks, Gerson, Erickson, Will, Douthat, to name a few. These voices are important to echo as the President has done a tremendous sales job on his followers noting it is the media and Democrats who just don’t like him. When I am accused of this, I reiterate my independent status, but when that fails, I say what I dislike is people lying to me and then making decisions off the lies.

Plausible sensationalism creates the illusion

In follow-up to a satire post inspired by The Onion, back and forth comments with Linda and Jill noted a sad truth. There is so much fake news created by, for and passed along by this President, it may be putting The Onion’s satire on the back burner. What used to play as satire is being covered by pseudo-news/ entertainers on various shows as news or plausible speculation. And, some pseudo-news outlets have a mission of putting forth conspiracy theories or false stories.

Democracy requires an informed electorate. On NPR, I heard a news reporter who has been victimized in a cruel way by fake news, state that in Europe, they are used to Russian propaganda. One of the top rated shows on Sunday night in one of the Baltic States is to highlight fake news that has been planted by Russian agents that week. Whereas we watch some faux-reality show here in the US, they are debunking myths presented as news. In the US, it has been proven we will believe just about anything.

The key is for the fake story to have “plausible sensationalism.” To create a saleable illusion it has to be sensational. Yet, it cannot be off the boards crazy, as it will not be believed. It has to have some grounding or plausibility. The plausibility could be a person who is painted as untrustworthy or it could be related to a fact. The news reporter speaking on NPR noted the Russians under Putin have done this for years and often will surround a fake story with three or four true ones. So, the reader or watcher will be fooled in believing each story is true.

InfoWars does this quite often, which is a reason they offend and are often sued. The lead storyteller, Alex Jones, will say the mass shooting at Sandy Hook was staged, for example. Or, he may claim that Hillary Clinton is raising money by running a child pornography ring from a pizza parlor in Washington. The first story relies on the NRA and their avid members to make the story plausible. The second one relies on the built-over-time mistrust of Clinton coupled with a pizza parlor for plausibility.

Recently, we had Geraldo Rivera and others on Fox claim the story of the bombs being sent to fourteen Democrats was a “false flag” operation. Per these pseudo-news/ entertainers, the bombs were not real and being sent by a Democrat plant. The purpose of the operation is to influence the election. The false story got so much airplay and social media use, it had to be debunked by the US Justice Department.

The same goes with the President who is the biggest purveyor of fake news in America. He watches these shows or hears of the stories and passes them along. Then they get reported on Fox or mainstream news, and then he repeats them saying “people are saying.” All they have done is repeated the lie the President said. It is akin to validating your own rumor when it circles back to you. The President will often say things without proof or make up parts of conversations as he did with the Finnish President when he said they rake the forests to prevent forest fires in Finland.

Whether he is saying there our middle eastern terrorists among a slow-moving caravan of many women and children which justify the cost of sending troops to our border or claiming rampant voter or election fraud, there is enough plausible sensationalism to make people believe his BS. On the first one, why would terrorists spend months in a caravan to infiltrate the US, when they have such a good track record of recruiting people online? On the latter one, his party has been claiming greater voter fraud than exists to pass voter suppression laws.

So, what do we do about this? Please check your sources. If you are getting your news from InfoWars, Breitbart, Donald Trump, the MSNBC or Fox pseudo-news shows after their real news efforts go off the air, please stop or take it with a huge grain of salt. If you quote Alex Jones or Sean Hannity to someone, then be prepared for pushback that you should get. If you cite the President, be similarly prepared as he is more untruthful than he is not, as measured by Politifacts and judged by people who know him well.

A final rule of thumb. Sensational stories are not necessarily false, but be skeptical and ask questions. There are two well-known sensational ones underway right under our noses. Did Mohammed bin Salmon order the execution of the Khashoggi? The Keystone Kops storytelling by the Saudis imply something is amiss and our own CIA said he did. The other is the inadvertent or planned collusion with Russia to influence our 2016 election. The fact the Russians did is pretty much accepted, even begrudgingly by the President. But, we must get to the bottom of the bigger question.

Should we be skeptical? Of course, but consider the sources and nature of those involved. And, consider the degree and magnitude of changing stories that has gone with each. One thing for certain in my book – neither one is a witch hunt.

Two hopeful stories

Jeff Jackson and Nora Trotman are both running for the same State Senate seat in North Carolina, currently held by Jackson. By itself, that is not newsworthy. What is newsworthy is the civility that both are exhibiting during the campaign. It is a much needed breath of fresh air,

As reported last Sunday in The Charlotte Observer in an article entitled “Running a ‘positive’ campaign for state Senate,” the Democrat Jackson tweeted praise for Trotman, his GOP opponent. Per the Observer, he noted, “It feels like our divisions are growing deeper each day. So, let me just take a moment and commend my opponent on running an honest, positive campaign. She’s a good person and deserves your consideration.” He also included her photo and a link to her website encouraging people to find out more.

After some national attention, which brought a positive tweet from Rachel Maddow, Trotman responded with “A lot of people are running against each other rather than to represent their district…Happy our race is an exception. We need representatives not politicians!” In an interview with the Observer, she added “It’s important to have two people who really want a positive campaign and not attack each other.”

We need more stories and attitudes like Jackson and Trotman exhibited. Let me layer on one more story I heard on NPR this weekend. A piece of advice was shared from an old interview of Mister Rogers when we are facing a terrible tragedy.

The advice was being shared after the horrific shooting at the Pittsburgh temple which killed eleven people last week. Mister Rogers said in the old interview what his mother had taught him. She said “Always look for the helpers” during times of tragedy. Look for the emergency technicians, doctors, police, firefighters, and citizens as they do their best to help others during the tragedy. These people will give you hope when we need it most.

I heard these words while I was driving my car. They made me want to pull over and listen with more intent. To illustrate his point even more, the Pittsburgh shooter was taken to the nearest hospital and was nursed back to care. The hospital CEO and many of the staff are Jewish.

One of my mantras is “kindness is not a weakness.” It reveals an inner strength which is foreign to some who feel they must run roughshod over others to prove their mettle. Let’s celebrate the words and actions of Rogers, Jackson and Trotman.

 

 

The real voter fraud

Living in a state that has had its voter ID law overturned for unconstitutional discrimination along with several attempts at gerrymandered districts, I have witnessed first hand Jim Crow-like voter suppression. In fact, the latest ruling against gerrymandering happened just two months ago, too late to change the districts for the 2018 election.

To avoid the obvious point, this is cheating. Both sides have cheated in the past, but using the wording of an appellate judge on the North Carolina GOP voter ID law, it was a “precision-like” effort to discriminate.

Sadly, the states of Georgia and North Dakota are witnessing orchestrated attempts to suppress votes. What makes the Georgia suppression efforts targeting African-American voters so inappropriate is the man running for Governor, Brian Kemp, oversees the voting process as Secretary of State. He is running against a Black female Democratic candidate, so this is blatant cheating and highly unethical.

In North Dakota, Native Americans are being discriminated against. Many use a PO Box for mail purposes, as their rural homes often do not have a physical address. So, a voting law was passed requiring the use of a street address or you have to go through more hoops to vote. The Native Americans tend to favor Democrats. Again, to state the obvious, this is cheating.

These laws are designed to address a fairly non-existent problem. Yet, the orchestrated public relation efforts of their advocates paints a much overstated problem. The laws tend to go beyond an innocuous sounding voter ID issue, which is discriminatory by itself. The laws tend to include other 21st century versions of Jim Crow efforts to make voting harder for people of color. Ironically, the one area that sees a more than a trace voting fraud is absentee voting by mail. Since this method has tended to favor Republican voters, it tends not to get included in the voter ID laws.

I am Independent voter who was a Democrat as a young adult and Republican as an older one. A key reason I left the GOP was a tendency by the party and its biased news support to make things up, far more than the Democrats. This obfuscation of the truth has actually gotten much worse with the current US President. So, from my vantage point, the only voter fraud I see is being perpetuated by the Republican Party.