Perception matters more than reality to the US president

Our friend Jill has written an excellent post on “Trumponomics 101” (a link is provided below). What I opined in a comment is Trump is more about perception than reality. Here are a few examples:

– he beats his chest on his trade and tariff decisions, but they have dampened the global economy, of which we are a key part, as well as certain US industries.

– he left the Trans Pacific Partnership which was designed to compete better with China on trade (note the other ten countries proceeded without us).

– he claims being tough on immigration and terror, but his travel ban and reduction in legal immigration are dilutive to our economy (note legal immigration has fallen as well).

– he touts his tax law, but it borrowed from our future to make a pretty good economy a little better for eighteen months or so.

Focusing on another tax cut to lessen the impact of the slowing growth is malfeasance, as was the first tax cut in December, 2017. And, lowering interest rates won’t push a lot of investment as businesses are concerned by the chaos caused by Trump.

So, Trump is worried about the market and economy retrenching from its growth not recognizing the headwinds he created. Note, for brevity I did not speak to other headwinds – not investing more in renewables, infrastructure, healthcare, etc.

Yet, the biggest perception he painted to his followers before the election was the US economy was in trouble citing the unemployment rate at 30%, then 40% then 42%. The reality is the unemployment rate was beneath 5% and we were in an economic growth period of 90 consecutive months (7 1/2 years) which continues to this day. He convinced his followers that he alone helped turn the economy around, which was doing pretty good.

Reality does matter. And, you won’t get a lot of that from Trump, who had a faux reality TV show.

Trumponomics 101

Advertisements

Helping people climb a ladder – a perspective

The following is an edited version of a comment on Hugh Curtler’s (a retired college professor of philosophy) post regarding whether we should help people in need or let them fend for themselves. I provide a link below to his post. I am going to cite the work a charity I used to be a part of that builds off the book “Toxic Charity,” written by a minister who lived with the disenfranchised people he sought to help. His name is Robert Lupton.

Lupton’s thesis is simple: true charity should focus on emergency or short term needs. What he argued for to help others long term and we did (and still do) is help people climb a ladder back to self-sufficiency. That should be the goal. An easy example is he would advocate for food and clothing co-ops rather than giving the food and clothes away. People love a bargain, so let them maintain their dignity while they get discounted help. This dignity thing is crucial – people would rather not have to ask for help.

Note, we cannot push people up the ladder. They must climb it.  A social worker I have advocated with used to say “we walk side by side with our clients.” The folks we helped are homeless working families. We had two keys – they received a subsidy for rent based on their ability to pay, but they had to plan, budget, get financially educated working with a social worker and attending required training programs. Our homeless clients had to be responsible for rent and utilities up to 30% of their income, which is threshold for housing risk. Another key is we measured success. Success to us is being housed on their own without help after two  years.

As a community and country, we need to better identify what we mean by success in our help for people in need. Also, are things like healthcare a right? Is food on the table a right? Is a roof over the head a right? What we need is better measurement of what we spend and how it helps. It actually is cheaper to provide housing to chronic homeless and partially-subsidized housing to those who are more acutely homeless (due to loss of job, reduction in hours,  loss of healthcare, problems with car, predatory lending on a car, etc.) than let them go to the ER or commit petty crimes and be jailed. People should know all homeless are not alike, so the remedies to help need to vary.

My former party likes to argue off the extreme anecdotes – the significant majority of people do not cheat the system, but the perceived thinking of such is much higher in Republican ranks. When I have spoken to church groups, chamber groups, rotary clubs, United Way campaigns, etc., I come across this bias which is firmly believed. Just last month, the US president announced curtailing a rule on food stamps which will put 3 million people at risk, as one man was able to purposefully game the system. Yes, there is a small percentage of folks that do that, but the significant majority do not.

What people like David Brooks, a conservative pundit, tout is a dialogue on what kind of country do we wish to be? Our economy is a fettered capitalist model, with socialist underpinnings to help people in need and keep people out of poverty. What is the right balance? Is it better to pay a much higher minimum wage or have a higher earned income tax credit, e.g. Is it better to have a Medicare for All system, subsidize those in need or have a free market system only? A factor in this decision is many employers now employ a larger part-time or contractual workforce (the gig economy) to forego having to provide benefits. This is especially true in retail and restaurant industries.

At the end of the day, Gandhi said it best – a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its less fortunate. With so great a disparity in the haves/ have nots in our country, I can tell you we are out of whack as our middle class has declined and far more of them fell into a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. Ironically, even in the age of Trump promises, we have many people who do not realize they are voting against their economic interests. Doing away with the ACA and not expanding Medicaid are very harmful to rural areas, e.g.

So, I agree with Gandhi, Lupton, and Brooks that we need to help people, but decide what is the best way. We should measure things and adjust them when they get out of whack. It is hard to fix what you do not measure. The group I was involved with would alter its model, if the numbers showed less success than hoped. What I do know is over 80% of the people we helped are still housed on their own after two years of leaving the program. In other words, they live without a subsidy.

Finally, what we need most is for politicians to check their tribal egos at the door when they enter the room. Having been a member of both parties, each party has some good ideas, but both have some bad ones, too. I do not care what a person’s party preference is or if he or she is more conservative or liberal than me  (I am fiscally conservative and socially progressive), we need to use facts and data to make informed choices. And, continue to measure the results making modifications, if needed.

Dilemma

The Good and Bad

Several stories crossed my screen, so I decided to pair good and bad news items on related topics.

Good: Ford and Volkswagen are co-investing in developing electric vehicles sharing development costs.

Bad: In spite of the significant decline in bee populations, the Trump administration has approved a bee-harmlng pesticide.

Good: The American economy is now into its 121st consecutive month of growth with nine straight years of 2 million plus jobs created.

Bad: The 2019 economy has softened some from 2018 due to trade/ tariff concerns, slowing global markets, waning impact of the 2017 tax law, growing US debt, and increased uncertainty which impedes investment and it should slow even more as predicted by economists.

Good: The interest in space travel and exploration involves an increasing number of countries – Japan and China have gone to the moon, eg. That spawns more interest in science which is terrific.

Bad: With the heavy cost of space travel, why don’t countries share the burden as Ford and Volkswagen are doing above? There is a lot of dupication of effort requiring money that could be invested here on earth to address water, food and climate issues.

Good: In spite of the US announcing a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Accord, other countries, states, cities, investment groups, companies and innovators continue to execute ideas that are addressing the issue.

Bad: The US federal governmenf needs to do more, not less to abet these efforts. Yet, another concern is getting little notoriety – the global water crisis, which is made even worse by climate change. Another city in India of 5 million people is in dire straights as its reservoir has almost dried up.

We should celebrate the good, but address the bad. We seem to be ignoring too many signals. It is hard to move forward, if we only look in the rearview. mirror. Food, water, climate, debt are signaling needs that must be addressed.

 

 

 

The Land of Misfits (Fruits and Veggies)

On one of the Christmas movies, there was a land of misfit toys. Today, I read an article about a company named Misfits Markets called “A company that delivers ugly produce is coming to Charlotte,” by Rachel Chernaskey of CharlotteFive.com.

In the US, we throw away a significant amount of usable food. A good portion of that is misshapen, bruised and unloved produce that does not make the cut for grocers or restaurants. Misfits Markets is a subscription service whose “company’s mission is focused on alleviating the environmental impact of food waste,” per its CEO and founder Abhi Ramesh.

Per Chernasky, Ramesh said he was inspired when he saw a Pennsylvania farmer collecting 2,000 or so apples to toss away. This is not uncommon, as some farmers find it easier to toss the food rather than donate it. The time and expense of trucking it to the food bank, make it easier to toss it.

Misfits Markets sell weekly, seasonal boxes of food priced by family size. The boxes will include a seasonal mix of apples, bananas, beets, berries, celery, kale, lima beans, pumpkins, squash, yams, et al. For a family of two, the box is $19 plus shipping and for four it is $34 plus shipping.

This is a marvelous idea as it promotes sustainable commerce from waste. It addresses head on the path to just discard usable food and with the challenges facing farmers, it could make a difference to their bottom line. Please look into Misfits Markets. There are other companies doing this as well.

 

Weariness and Frankness

This independent voter is weary of people not addressing the obvious and rationalizing actions and behaviors that are less productive. Having been a member of both parties, a Democrat for about ten years of my early adult life and about twenty years as a Republican, I define myself as fiscally conservative and socially progressive. Both parties have some good ideas, while both have some bad ones.

So, let me be frank with my opinions, built off this foundation.

Democrats can defeat Trump, but they can also lose to him. Please study why George McGovern and Walter Mondale got shellacked in 1972 and 1984 and why Michael Dukakis and John Kerry lost in 1988 and 2004. It is not ironic that winning candidates Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were more moderate Democrats. Democrats cannot beat Trump without Independents and some Republicans. They could start by working now to address shoring up the ACA as they committed to do in the mid-terms and not waiting until 2021. Medicare for All is worth the discussion, but we need to address issues today, especially after the healthcare fiasco the GOP went through in 2017.

With that said, people need to look under the hood as to why more progressive Democrats have a few socialistic ideas. We should not ignore that the US economy is fettered capitalism with some socialist underpinnings. On the top end down, we have rules that govern collusion, monopolies, interlocking boards, insider trading, bankruptcy, etc. and on the bottom end up, we have socialistic programs that offer Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Workers Comp, and unemployment protections. Yet, the reason for their focus is America has a widened disparity between the haves and have nots. The key is to have a good debate as to how we address this disparity, not name-call ideas to win elections. Plus, this discussion must be done in the context of our huge debt and deficit problem (see below).

Seeing a dozen Oregon Republican state lawmakers leave the state to avoid voting for a Carbon Cap and Trade bill should be a clarion call. Cap and Trade used to be a GOP idea, but fossil fuel funders told them not to like it. We are facing a climate change crisis and voters must ask what candidates are going to do about climate change. Let me emphasize I left the GOP twelve years ago in large part due to its stance on climate change. Fortunately, climate change action is not waiting on head-in-the-sand politicians, but could be leveraged by more federal help.

My concerns are exacerbated as not only did the US president announce our withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Accord, he asked the G20 this week to soften language on climate change. It should be noted this is in contrast to his businessman stance, where a few years ago Trump staff requested in writing the Scottish government give them permission to build a sea wall at one of his golf courses to hold back the rising seas due to climate change. The word you are looking for his hypocrisy. The other words are fossil-fuel funding.

An issue not being discussed is rising US debt and deficit. Both parties are to blame. Nonpartisan groups and the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee clearly state this problem cannot be solved with just spending cuts and tax increases – it must have both, as the math will not otherwise work. These groups also note the GOP tax cut in December, 2017 was imprudent. But, Democrat candidates speaking of tax increases to pay for new social programs are being imprudent, as well. We need tax increases and spending cuts to pay for the poor stewardship of their predecessors.

When America forgets its ideals, we become just another country. I hear we must be a nation of laws, but we are treating migrants like chattel and not following due legal process. There is a reason so many attorneys are volunteering their services to migrants. If we are concerned about illegal immigrants, punishing companies that hire them would limit the economic slavery that goes on every day. Yet, we should also recognize that these folks are doing many jobs Americans don’t want. So, a thoughtful, humane and fact-based solution is warranted rather than a political one. Both parties are to blame, but I hold this president to account for making a recurring problem much worse with his words and actions. He reneged on a bipartisan agreement sixteen months ago and the House never took up a bipartisan Senate bill passed in 2013.

Finally, if we are to be a nation of laws, we should be gravely concerned the country is being run like a mafia family. The White House incumbent is clearly making money off the presidency and favoring countries where he sees business growth for his empire. It greatly troubles me that is daughter and son-in-law are serving unvetted and unapproved roles in the White House, because the president values loyalty over competence and experience. Then, comes the lying, bullying and denigration of critics, allies, media, public servants, etc. I have long been concerned over his setting policy off his lies be it climate change, voter fraud, Russian influence, Saudi prince innocence, Iran nuclear deal, the ACA, environmental pollution, and so on.

There is so much more I could write about. We need Americans to pay attention to better news sources, question things, and push back on politicians asking what they intend to do about issues. We need Congress to remember their job of governance. I feel this president is a clear and present danger to our democracy, our planet and even the Republican party. We are a Republic, not a kingdom and certainly not a mafia-ruled domain.

A little bird and a big crow

While at a stop light, I saw a flying metaphor. A little bird (about three inches in height) chased off a big crow who is closer to a foot in height. The little bird chased the bigger one for well over 100 feet, most likely a mother defending her nest from an egg stealer.

I feel the big crow is analgous to the America First mindset, where we are devaluing our relationships and bullying people into action. Now, some might say we have always thrown our weight around. Yet, our allies are reacting to being treated worse with tariffs and talk of more, our pulling out of multilateral or global agreements, our denigrating respected multinational groups, and telling countries who they can and cannot do business with.

The little bird represents individual countries, businesses and farmers who are doing what they must to perpetuate commerce. When certain avenues are closed or made difficult or costly to use, they have to find new suppliers or customers. They are chasing away the impact of the crow. It is a simple equation – the more difficult an entity becomes to deal with, others will seek other options. Plus, the more difficult we make it for all transactions, then fewer transactions will be made and global trade will suffer.

It is reported the President reached out to former President Jimmy Carter. The reason is Trump’s having concern over an ascendant China. This was happening any way, facilitated by actual long term planning by China. Yet, what Trump fails to realize is his role in greasing the skids. By retrenching from our position of strength, pulling out of a Trans-Pacific trade deal meant to even the playing field with China, he has allowed China to fill the void. By telling countries they will face tariffs if they deal with Cuba and Iran, we are greasing the skids for China to fill the void.

These little birds have to eat. They will look out for their best interests. If they must acquiesesce to the big crow, those actions will be remembered, if they are needed in the future by the crow. It should be noted,  a foreign diplomat said two years ago, the strength of the US is its allied relationships – failing to nurture them comes at a cost.

And, that Chinese bird is getting even bigger and faster than this old crow.

Mobile homes aren’t too mobile and create financial risk

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” may have a comedic bent, but is one of the best news shows around. The latest episode included a detailed look at the mobile home industry. The key takeaway is private investor groups prey upon the mobile (and modular) home buyers through a rigged system.

Between a truly captive audience (more on this later), the fact the significant majority of mobile home buyers rent the land underneath, and the predatory lending and sales practices, the buyers are at the mercy of greedy players in a shady industry. Adding to that, the value of the mobile home will only depreciate (like an auto), so the buyer truly must beware.

We have come to this problem as several conditions have culminated together. We have an increasing number of “have-nots” in America, so mobile or modular homes are the most affordable route. The mobile home park owners have consolidated and were purchased by several private investor groups, but even the larger regional players operate under this rigged system. These folks see a market to squeeze. Finally, if the buyers do not own the land, they are truly held hostage.

Why? Over 80% of mobile homes never move due to the cost of moving. The property owners know this, so they annually jack up the rent increasing by exorbitant amounts. The renters are then inundated by collection agencies who get them to pay. When they cannot, they eventually move, leaving their home behind. Then, the property owner takes possession of the abandoned home and rents it out.

Finally, the sellers of these products often own the financing agency offering a turn-key purchase. The loans are more like predatory car loans than they are mortgages. So, the interest is higher than normal at the same time the rent is getting increased.

Oliver’s show highlights a couple of the players in the industry. One property owner has sites in 25 states and offers seminars on how to gouge your captive tenants. In one instance, this property owner referred to his tenants as “like being chained to a Waffle House table.”

There is a small movement afoot which will allow homeowners to buy the mobile home park land en masse, as a right of first refusal. Nonprofit funders are helping make this happen. What is needed is more states to have right of first refusal laws, so that the property is not sold to a predatory landlord.

The other need is education. If you must buy a mobile or modular home, place it on land you own or in a tenant owned development. Also, seek better financing than what is offered by the seller. But, know going in this home will not go up in value. If you buy a modular home for $50,000, it may be only worth $10,000 in a few years.

The “have-nots” have little recourse in this industry. Education is a must, as you will truly become a hostage in your home.