Thursday Thimblefuls of Thoughts

It is supposed to be a rainy, cold day here. So, it is a good day to wander with my thoughts, since I cannot wander outside. Here a few thimblefuls of thoughts on this Thursday. Please be forewarned, these thoughts and $3.00 will get you a cup of regular coffee.

I sure hope Democrats will learn a lesson from the Virginia election results. They should have seen it coming, but continued to fail to act. The bickering by Democrats in the US Congress led to their still not passing the three month overdue infrastructure bill and a tandem piece of legislation that would actually help Americans. I pleaded with the Speaker and two other representatives to get something done. The Americans expected them to pass something, but they still have not. It is akin to a circular firing squad.

As for the Republicans, while their party is adrift, untethered to truthfulness and lawfulness, their choice not to participate in the governance process in Washington does not seem to hurt them. What concerns me is the members of the party do not seem to care that untruthfulness and unlawfulness are key tenets.

And, it is not just rationalizing the untruthful and seditious actions of the former president. Critical Race Theory has been invented as a name-calling hammer that most people don’t know what it is, but have been told it is bad. As a white suburban mother said, it just teaches kids the truthful history, that bad things have been done by those in power to disenfranchised people – always has. But, the conservative leaders and opinion hosts have been beating a drum about how dare people teach that white people did some bad things in our past. This white washing of history has been a planned effort to woo votes.

It saddens me how ill-informed Americans are on the whole about issues, history, economics, etc. I have written several times that we are “The United States of Entertainment.” Most people spend time focusing on sports and entertainment news. If we do read or watch news, we tend to get it from sources who are telling us what we want to see or hear. Or, worse we will get it from someone on social media, where false stories are routed six times more often than real news per a media analyst. This is why Facebook did not change their model, as they made more money letting falsehoods flow more quickly.

We have serious issues that are not being dealt with or discussed. And, some are at a burning platform stage, pun intended. Climate change is hurting us now, so we must act. This is no longer a future issue. More and intense wildfires, more sunny day flooding in coastal towns, more stalled weather patterns, more damaging hurricanes with higher sea levels are all predicted events (per Climate change scientists) that are happening with greater frequency.

Voting and civil rights are under attack in the US and in other paces. The fear of the other sells. Lies sell. The former president knows this which has been his modus operandi for decades. Voting and civil rights have been under attack for several years, but they have been heightened by the staged and planned Big Lie by the former president that he was cheated out of the election, which he still cannot prove. He lost because he got fewer votes, but is not adult enough to admit it. As his niece Mary said before the election, her uncle will “burn it all down to avoid losing the election.”

Then there is naysaying of COVID vaccines that continues to get promoted that keeps us from moving full steam ahead. And, that debt and deficit will not fix itself, especially when we have to spend to improve and fix our infrastructure. Finally, we must be more civil to one another. We can disagree without being disagreeable. Listen to understand not to respond.

What frustrates this independent and former member of both major parties, is what I said above is overtly obvious if people would just read or watch multiple news outlets. I have said many times, it is hard enough to govern with facts and the truth, but when we govern off lies, it is nigh impossible. We must get our legislators to focus on doing their jobs, not just keeping their jobs. When they don’t, we are the people who get hurt.

Letter to my Republican Senators on Debt Ceiling

I posted the following letter on my two Republican Senators’ websites. If you agree with its theme, please feel free to modify and use.

Dear Senator, as a retired business consultant and manager, I am disappointed in the Republican Party stance on the debt ceiling. I am glad eleven Republicans did the right thing and passed a measure to allow it to be raised for several months, yet I was disappointed you were not one of the eleven.

I have long been concerned with our building debt and annual deficit that has gotten worse. We need to address this issue when we discuss spending and revenue, not with the debt ceiling. Our reputation to our creditors is essential. To be frank, as an independent and former Republican, my former party is only concerned with debt ceiling when they are not in the White House. It did not seem to bother the party when it increased under Trump.

Yet, what also concerns me is the hypocrisy of both parties. The GOP passed a tax reduction in December 2017 that raised the debt by $2 trillion, approximately. And, we passed two pandemic aid bills that to me should have been directed at employers to keep people employed and not furlough them, as well as helping folks not working. We missed opportunity and spent poorly.

We need the infrastructure improvements which are ten years overdue. Yet, we must figure out ways to start bringing the debt down before the interest cost approaches the military spend in our budget.

Solving this problem requires data and effort, not sound bites. I have seen the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget do an exercise in Rotary or college groups that ask tables of people to solve the Social Security deficit. Armed with about two dozen ideas and price tags, these tables can solve the Social Security deficit in 90 minutes.

Solving the bigger problem can be done and will take time, but not if we never start to do so.

Grandstanding is not governance – not even close

As someone who follows the news and used to hold most elected officials in higher esteem, I am continually frustrated with the absence of good governance in Washington and various state capitols. Rather than governance, I see grandstanding for sound bytes to beat the other party over the head with. The purpose is to remain or regain power, where they will be in charge of doing nothing to govern.

Several Congressional representatives and Senators have retired or are retiring. The principal reasons are the disillusionment with the open hostility between factions and the fact over 1/3 of their time (some said 40%) is fundraising for the party. Let me say that last part in a different way. We taxpayers are paying for elected officials to hit us up for money between 33% and 40% of the time.

In essence, elected officials are more interested in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs. A further frustration is the number of folks who just don’t bother to reach out to all constituents and only care about their own party. The truth has become a casualty. And, what is sad is those who pay attention to the news know many of these elected officials are lying and know they know they are lying, but they lie anyway.

Grandstanding is a pronounced way of lying drawing attention to the person so doing. To me, it is akin to a gorilla beating on its chest to make an opponent cower and not fight back. Right now, we have an entire party that is OK with the US defaulting on its debts. Increasing the debt ceiling is to address what we have already spent or decided to spend, which the same folks did not seem to mind doing. Or, they cut revenue which also increased the debt.

In fact, many of these same folks voted on a tax bill in December, 2017 that reduced taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals which raised the debt by $2 trillion, approximately. In essence, we added to debt to make a pretty good economy a little better for a little while. Per the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, we must do both – cut spending and raise revenue to address our deficit and debt. The math will otherwise not work.

I have shared with several Senators it is OK to push back on spending to make sure we consider the best investments, but grandstanding on a debt limit that you helped make worse is not the place to do it. Before the pandemic, the US was around $22 trillion in debt with a $1 trillion annual shortfall on our budget ($3.4 trillion in revenue on $4.4 trillion in expenses). After needed pandemic stimulus, we are even worse off on debt and scheduled to be even further behind.

The last time we had a debt limit standoff was about eight years ago, led by Senator Ted Cruz (who by the way voted for the tax bill increase noted above increasing the debt). Our allies pleaded with us not to renege and when the US was within twenty-four hours of defaulting, ten female Senators from both parties told Cruz and others to get out of the pool for an adult swim. These ten women resolved the matter and the US did not default.

Our debt and deficit has been caused by both parties. Do not let either party say it is the other one’s fault as that simply is not true. And, we need for both of them to be involved to remedy this. Unfortunately, no one has the stomach to do what it really takes to resolve this. Any elected official can spend money and reduce taxes. Any elected official. But, that is precisely the problem. We need serious discussion with data and not grandstanding. Grandstanding is not governance.

Letter to Editor on Wedge Issues

The following letter I sent in to my local newspaper was published in its entirety, which is rare. Please feel free to modify and forward if you like the message.

It amazes me how so much time can be spent on created wedge issues for political gain and so little on real ones. The global (and US) water crisis and need for accelerated climate change action are key environmental issues. Investing in deteriorated infrastructure while also reducing the US deficit and debt are at odds, but both are needed, so we must be judicious with spending cuts and revenue increases, as both are needed to solve the math problem.

And, we must stop this degradation of civil rights that were long fought for. Attacking the right to vote under the guise of staged and unproven election fraud claims is abhorrent in the eyes of this independent voter and should be in the eyes of more elected officials.

The ice is going to break – a retelling

The following post was written a couple of years ago, but remains relevant today. We have one party that would rather talk about issues they have told their following are desperately important, but are over-inflated and another party who is having trouble pushing some of these issues, while ignoring the last one.

The title is a crucial line from a movie called “The Dead Zone,” based on the Stephen King novel. I use this line as a metaphor for ignoring real problems. Let me explain the context. The movie stars Christopher Walkien as Johnny who, because of a car accident, could see the future after touching someone. But, if the future was less clear, a dead zone as he described it, he could alter the outcome.

A boy he was tutoring was supposed to practice ice hockey on a frozen pond with his demanding father as the team’s coach. But, when Johnny touched him, Johnny saw the ice breaking. His father said that was crazy, even though both men knew the father did a background check before hiring the tutor. Johnny slammed his cane on a chess board and said “the ice is going to break!” The son stayed home, but the father went ahead with practice and four kids drowned as the ice broke.

So, Mr. President, members of Congress and various state legislators, let me state obvious problems with this metaphor in mind.

– We have a global water crisis including in the US with the World Economic Forum identifying it as a top long term risk. Farmers are having to fight harder to protect their diminishing water rights. It will be made even worse by climate change, especially the droughts, wildfires, encroaching seas into aquifers and greater evaporation of reservoirs.  And, the problem is exacerbated with the significant water loss in fracking and lead pipes tainting some of the dear water.

– That climate change thing is a problem in its own right. Our federal government and several state government need to pitch in more and help. The former president backing out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is as poor a decision as could have been made, especially when it came the day after ExxonMobil shareholders voted to order management to inform them on what they are doing about climate change. Getting back to the table is the adult thing to do. Fortunately, strides have been made, but we need to accelerate these efforts.

– I learned today (note this was in 2019) our EPA is turning a blind eye to asbestos. Since Brazil stopped production of this toxic product, we now are importing asbestos from Russia. As a metaphor for this the former president, each bag of toxic asbestos imported from Russia has Donald Trump’s picture on it. A toxic material imported by a toxic man from another toxic man. While all of this is going on, you can easily watch TV commercials advertising about getting compensation for the use of dangerous asbestos without your knowledge.

– Although, debt is not an environmental concern, our so-called leaders are ignoring this huge and growing problem. As interest cost grows to a greater part of our budget, it will hinder our ability to do other things. Both parties are to blame for our increasing debt which has only been made worse by the pandemic relief and 2018 tax law change. At some point, some poor soul will address this issue assuring he or she will not get reelected. It should be noted that it will require spending cuts and revenue increases, as the math will not otherwise work, per the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The ice is going to break. We must heed the warnings now. If we don’t, we may be the ones who drown.

Thursday thunderbolts

What is happening in Afghanistan is awful, but it is not a surprise. The Taliban taking over was bound to happen no matter when the allies pulled out. Truly, the only surprise is the haste of the change. Afghanistan has long been called the “graveyard of empires” because no invading nation has ever been successful.

The US failed to heed that lesson, even after a reminder of the USSR failure in the 1980s. The opposing force is too distributed and the terrain too mountainous and arid-like. And, the Taliban carries through on its threats against locals who favor the enemy. As a result, the locals are scared to cross them.

Sadly, this failure falls on many presidents, even dating back to Ronald Reagan when Congressman Charlie Wilson helped secretly fund and supply the Mujahideen to drive out the Soviets in the 1980s. What we failed to do is help the country after the Soviets left and the US became more mistrusted and things deteriorated.

But, with George W. Bush authoring the invasion after 9/11, Barack Obama’s continuing push, Donald Trump’s acquiescence to the Taliban and Joe Biden’s decision to honor the agreement to leave, we have shown an inability to solve problems, leaving behind more. Since we dove in, leaving entirely should not have been the answer, as it is like the husband leaving the wife when times got hard. They needed to stay together to make it work. So, now our trustworthiness is even lower than if we never invaded.

Yet, this is not the only problem we let fester because of lack of focus or courage to analyze, discuss and try to solve problems. Reasonable immigration efforts have moved forward on a bipartisan basis, but they fell flat. A pretty good bill passed the Senate in 2013 under the tutelage of a “Gang of Eight,” but the House would not take it up. This led to the Obama DACA executive order which is not the way to govern hard issues.

Both parties talk about the debt and deficit when they are not in the White House, but show little appetite to do things when their party gets there. George W. Bush was actually handed a balanced budget by Bill Clinton and he proceeded to make a tax cut that his Treasury Secretary adamantly said was unneeded (and was fired). Outside of a sequestration approach (which said if we don’t make changes, these cuts will go in place), nothing substantive has come out of Congress to deal with the deficit and debt since Clinton. The debt will soar past $40 trillion by the end of the decade.

Then there is climate change. The naysaying mandate pushed by the fossil fuel industry which has known for several decades about the climate change risks, is appalling. Many do not realize that Dick Cheney, the second Bush VP, came out of the oil industry. Cheney and his old colleagues wrote key language in the 2005 Energy Act to give frackers a hall pass on scrutiny by the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Air Act. In my view, we lost twelve years of more demonstrative action in the past twenty years.

We have other big problems that we have let fester under multiple presidents. But, the above shows what happens when we do not address them. They do not go away. They just build steam like a pressure cooker. We need to do something before they explode.

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.

Don’t believe your eyes

Yesterday, Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin testified in front of Congress that the tax cut of December, 2017 would pay for itself before ten years. Really?

This is after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the tax cut would increase the national debt by $1.5 trillion before it was signed.

This is after we have witnessed the deficit increasing over previous projections the past two fiscal years.

This is after the president said the tax cut would increase GDP growth to 4%. It rose from 2.3% in 2017 to 2.9% in 2018, but softened to 2.1% in 2019.

This is after previous studies that said no tax cut has ever paid for itself. In fact, it is quite nervy to say it would – think of that statement. “It will pay for itself.”

It takes even more nerve to sit in front of Congress and say that it still will, now that the sugar rush has died off. Companies tended to buy back shares with the tax gain rather than invest the gain.

In short, the tax cut borrowed from our future to make a pretty good economy a little better for a little while. For Mnuchin to follow his boss’ lead and ignore facts is troubling. We have a debt and deficit problem that is being downplayed. To solve a problem, it requires admitting we have one.

Annual US Deficit projected to pass $1.5 trillion on 2028

One of two nonpartisan organizations that have been ringing alarm bells about US debt and deficits is The Concord Coalition (TCC). The other is the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. We should be listening to these folks and urging politicians to do the same.

In a press release, Bob Bixby of the TCC notes the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the US deficit will pass $1 trillion this fiscal year ending 9/30/2020. In eight years, the CBO projects the deficit to pass $1.5 trillion. My guess is it will be sooner, given politicians being too infatuated with adding expenses and cutting taxes.

It should be noted we are now passed $23 trillion in US debt. Sans change we look to soar passed $35 trillion by the end of the decade. This means our annual interest cost will be a much larger chunk of our budgeted annual revenue which is around $3.65 trillion.

Two key points need to be made. With our pretty good economy going on 128 consecutive months of economic growth, we should be decreasing our deficit, not increasing it. Sadly, we were sold a tax break that helped a pretty good economy get a little better for a little while, but will add over $1.5 trillion to the debt.

The other key point needs to be said loudly. Our debt cannot be solved by only expense cuts or tax increases. The math will not work. It will need both. Do not let politicians tell you otherwise. It matters not how fervent or well they speak, the math will not work. We need politicians with thick skins and lots of courage.

Gumpish questions

I have written a few posts on asking more why questions, but let me define a few dumb questions, in the spirit of a fictitious chatacter, Forrest, Forrest Gump. It is amazing how these questions don’t leap off the news pages or out of cyberspace.

In know particular order…

Help me understand how the president can cause a problem, then get kudos (or claim such), when he solves (or lessens) his own problem?

Forrest Gump answered his drill sergeant’s question of his purpose? “To do exactly what you tell me to do, drill sergeant!” The drill sergeant called Gump a “genius” for his answer.

Help me understand how one of the largest US Christian denominations cannot resolve conflict and will be splitting in two? What message does that send?

Forrest Gump’s girl Jenny gave Forrest the best answer to danger. What should he do? “Run, Forrest, run.”

Help me understand how legislators, presidential candidates and current president don’t seem to care that our annual deficit and debt are exploding?

Forrest’s mama answered her son’s question of what is his destiny? “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get.”

How can people not see the intense and elongated forest fires in Australia, Brazil and California and not think we have a new paradigm with our heating planet?

Forrest got a Purple Heart. When asked where he was shot, he said “I got shot in the buttocks. They said it was a million dollar wound, but I haven’t seen any of that money.”

How can people feel that putting a face on an opposing argument, then beating on that person can pass for reasoned counter argument (think Al Gore and Greta Thunberg)?

Lieutenant Dan showed up at dockside to honor his promise that he would be Forrest’s first mate if he got a shrimp boat. He told Forrest he wanted to get his “sea legs.” Forrest said, “But, you don’t have no legs.” “Yes, I know this,” Lt. Dan replied.

Help me understand why important people are so cavalier with their reputations by spending time with Jeffrey Epstein and underage girls (think Prince Andrew, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton)?

Forrest answered Bubba’s mother when she asked “if he was crazy or just plain stupid?” Forrest uttered his classic line, “Stupid is as stupid does.” That is a profound statement.