Thursday’s little bit of this and that

Having been away at the funeral for my friend’s mother, I have been a little out of sorts as well as out-of-pocket. The elections and next two days of affairs have my mind spinning, so please forgive me as I comment on a little bit of this and that.

The election results are encouraging from a number of fronts, but most of all from the number of diverse candidates that led to the Democrats retaking the House of Representatives. I am proud to see more newcomers and many women getting elected. These folks felt the need to get involved to focus on issues and decorum, which has been kicked to the curb. I wish for them to have the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job and the collaborative bipartisan bent of former Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan.

I was also pleased to see a number of ballot initiatives pass in various states. Several so-called red states voted on the expansion of Medicaid, which is telling. Florida passed an initiative that would overturn the highly restrictive limitations on former felons regaining the right to vote after they get out. And, in North Carolina, every former governor advocated for the successful defeat of a power grabbing measures by the GOP led legislature to limit the powers of appointment of the governor.

While the Senate result was a little displeasing given the election of a couple of folks who should not hold public office (Former Florida Governor Rick Scott and Texas Senator Ted Cruz), the GOP maintaining the majority was not news. My greatest disappointment is two races benefitted racist efforts to likely win, although one is still not certain. The fact Brian Kemp may win the Georgia governor’s race after his blatant unethical and untruthful efforts to channel Jim Crow-like voter restriction is disheartening. Should he win, the state of Georgia deserves much better than him, as if he cheated to win, he will cheat while serving. The other is in Florida, where the new governor Ron DeSantis has a racist past and benefitted from racists robo calls and dog whistle statements, one he made. Florida deserves better, especially following Scott.

What has not changed is the US President continuing to channel his inner child heightening his lack of truthfulness, bullying and denigration of the media. At his tempestuous news conference yesterday, I kept thinking that a leader needed to step up and put him in time-out. I am still amazed at how he can sell his followers that he is the one telling the truth and that everyone who is against him is lying. But, per his five biographers, that has been his schtick over time. His firing of AG Jeff Sessions was expected, but at the heart of this, is the US President thinks the AG represents him, not the country. It is not a puzzle that Trump cannot fathom that the recusal was the ethical thing to do. He asked, “what kind of man would do that?” An ethical one.

Finally, we have one more mass shooting in America. How can we stop them? It is simply quite difficult to stop a motivated lone gunman (and it is almost always a man). Our police and FBI are terrific, but with our freedoms of less-inhibited gun ownership and the focus more on the lesser problem of foreign terrorists taking money from preventing the far worse domestic terrorists and hate groups, we are making it easier not harder to kill many at one time. Our leaders have lacked the courage to do more and too many are paid to avoid doing so. So, I just pray that my family, friends and others are just not in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, I pray that those leaders find that conscience they misplaced.

 

 

 

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You don’t have to be cruel to be strong

Today on CBS Morning News, veteran broadcaster Bob Shieffer quoted FDR reinforcing his point that this vote is a referendum on us. FDR said, “a nation does not have to be cruel to be strong.”

This quote sums up the actions of the US President who has self-proclaimed he governs off “fear.” He has lied to and bullied allies, the media and anyone who dares criticize him. He paints groups of people as evil and enemies of the people. Why is the question we must ask?

My mantra is do not mistake kindness for weakness. But FDR says it a different way. We don’t have to be cruel to be strong. Strength is using your power only as the very last option, not the first. Leaders who want to wage war tend to be the ones who have never fought.

Let me close with a lesson from Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” When Atticus showed restraint when the real criminal spit in his face after Atticus fought to save a black man on trial, that showed a courage which too many did not understand. Atticus did not give his power away to this reprehensible man.

So, what kind of country do we wish to be? Do we want to be civil and strong or cruel and untrustworthy?

What are we voting for?

So, much of the focus has rightfully been on countering the most divisive US President this Independent voter has witnessed. He has bullied, denigrated, lied and made himself the center of attention on far too many issues.

Yet, let’s look at this record he touts as his reason to give him free rein. His followers say he has done what he promised. To me, therein lie the problems.

While the economy is going well, the economic growth has lasted 9 1/2 years, the second longest in US history. We have also had over 8 years of job growth. The tax law and deregulation have helped make it a little better, but we are doing so on borrowed time with increasing debt and less governance.

We have announced the pull out of the Paris Cilmate Change accord and are an outlier in the world. The President lied to people about climate change being a hoax and has added insult by damaging our environment through enabling industrial polluters. He is borrowing time the world does not have.

The ill-conceived tariffs are bad enough, but bullying and lying to our allies far exceed the damage tariffs will do. We are harming our relationships, which are a key strength of America. We are also less trustworthy. As Trump’s former economic advisor said after telling him he lied to the Australian PM, Trump is a “professional liar.”

We have focused on immigration as a major problem, but it has been sold on fear and is not as big a problem as advertised. We have made immigrants the bogeymen and have lost sight of the impact of domestic terrorists already here. Yes, we should fix immigration, but three promising bills before this President were waylaid for political reasons.

We have allowed a President to build off Republican leadership efforts to sabatoge the Affordable Care Act making premiums higher than they otherwise would be. His party has screwed Americans to win a political argument. And, now the GOP has the unmitigated gall to say they want to protect pre-existing conditions.

We have put in place two very conservative justices, but the President forced the Senate to move away from a super majority to a simple majority. This has made it easier to get a less moderate Justice on the court. I want well-tempered jurisprudence, not partisanship. The most recent Justice lied to the Senate.

We have allowed a President to make money off the Presidency, which he has been sued over. The trial is permitted to move ahead. We have not criticized a President enough for denigrating rhe media. Trump is on record  as lying more than any other politician. Our democracy is at stake because of these two issues. He is President, not King.

Finally, civil rights are under attack with this President. His hate speech and bullying have greased the skids for white supremacists. The President is a racist and misogynist.

This is his record. And, I have not even discussed the Russian issue. I would give him kudos on discussions with North Korea and some deregulation. The tax cut helped some, but went too far and is hurting our debt. And, we have done little to better govern guns or invest in our infrastructure.

That is what I think as an Independent voter, who left the GOP over ten years ago. We need to better govern this President. He certainly is not up to the task.

 

Republican Congressman says the obvious

Per a recent Reuters article, “Speaking at a POLITICO Playbook Elections event in Philadelphia, retiring GOP Rep. Ryan Costello said the polarized political climate is the result of many variables that are ‘shaking up the hornet’s nest’ but that Trump’s rhetoric ‘is certainly one of them’ for people on both sides of the aisle.

“’In the grand scheme of things, if you were to subsequently ask me, does he quell or exacerbate? I would say he oftentimes exacerbates,’ Costello added.”

These are obvious statements. In fact, he could be even more definitive. The divisiveness in America did not start with Trump, but using Costello’s word he has exacerbates it.

It is good to see a Republican saying what others know, including Republican leaders.  Unfortunately, he is retiring. It seems those who are retiring are more emboldened to speak. Others fall in line as sycophants and only rarely risk the wrath of Trump. It will be interesting to see what the election brings. If the GOP retains the House as well as the Senate, my guess is the sycophancy will be far worse. If General Mattis leaves his position, we will also lose a governor on the mercurial President.

In my view as an Independent, former Republican, Trump does far worse than exacerbate the divisiveness. He exploits less informed people to bend to his wishes. He knowingly bullies, lies and demeans. Yet, he does it so much, it is second nature.

His campaign for reelection (which has never ceased) is running a commercial that “America is back.” Really. We have continued economic good news, but we have dug ourselves a hole. We have retrenched from our global leadership using fear, more than diplomacy. We have alienated our allies by bullying them and placing tariffs on them. We have non-white Americans who feel their rights are secondary. We have an environment which is now more threatened.

We must have leaders speak out against these actions and behavior. They will be met with childish ridicule from the self-annointed King, but must continue to lean into the wind. He has more than exacerbated – he is exploiting us.

 

The sugar high is beginning to wane

The volatile and recent downward trend in the stock market is an indicator.The slowing of global growth, uncertainty over trade, increasing business costs due to tariffs and increasing interest rates are causing a dampening effect.

While the US economy had 3.5% annualized growth in the 3Q2018 following 4.2% in 2Q2018 (it was 2.2% in 1Q2018), imbedded therein are two numbers that should give pause. Business investment was much higher in 2Q2018 at 8.7%, partly due to getting stuff in the hopper before the tariffs started. Yet, business investment fell to 0.8% in 3Q2018. That is an ominous sign. This concern is also apparent in several third quarter earnings announcements by major corporations.

While we should finish 2018 with annual growth north of 3%, economists have predicted that 2019 will have 2.4% annual growth, falling to 2.0% growth in 2020. I should add they feel the impact of the tax cut for corporations is waning (which is sad because it is an imbedded profit margin increase). In other words, the companies view this tax reduction as a “sugar high” that won’t last.

When the tax bill was passed, the White House and Congress touted that it would take GDP growth to 4% and pay for itself. Tax cuts have never paid for themselves and the best they have done is abet the economy enough to save maybe 20% to 30% of the foregone tax revenue. But, the tax bill was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to increase the already $21 trillion in debt by $1.5 trillion over ten years. And, the tax bill did nothing to address the projection the debt would increase by $10 trillion by 2027. Absent any change, we are looking at debt of $33 trillion by 2027.

It should be noted the annual deficit increased in the government fiscal year just ended to $779 billion from $665 billion, partly due to foregone $166 billion in tax revenue. The deficit is budgeted to be $985 billion in the 2018-19 fiscal year, on projected expenses of $4.407 trillion and revenue of $3.422 trillion. The deficit is expected to grow past $1 trillion in fiscal year 2019-20.

The US President has tended to be a short-term thinker. He is too focused on doing things that look good now. This is one reason he has had six bankruptcies. The problem is the sugar high is going to end. And, we spent $1.5 trillion to add more sugar to a pretty good economy. We are now beyond 9 years in economic growth (the second longest in US history) and 8 years in job growth, with a bull stock market dating back to March, 2009. Plus, we took one of our levers off the table with an unneeded tax cut. I was all for lower corporate tax rates, but we went well beyond deficit neutral.

This is not a new concern of mine, as I have been actively writing about our debt and deficit for several years, well before the current President took his oath. One of my concerns over Obama was his not doing anything with the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan. Both he and Congress just put a very good working draft on the shelf. Our building debt is a ticking time bomb that will cause a huge day of reckoning. And, one things politicians don’t talk about it, is it will take tax increases and spending cuts to get there. The math will not otherwise work. That is the conclusion of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Simpson-Bowles effort.

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.

A Day in the Life of Trump

I am currently reading the excellent book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” by twice Pulitzer Prize winning author and Watergate reporter Bob Woodward. The book is excellent and very believable with its depth of reporting and consistency with known facts.

Many things jump out while you read, but I felt the following two abridged examples of a “day in the life” of the Trump White House are revealing of his modus operandi. I will reserve judgment until after the anecdotes.

First, is the infamous tweet Trump sent out which said the military would no longer accept or allow transgender people “after consultation with my Generals and military experts.” This is a blatant lie.

This tweet was sent at 8:55 am and followed up by two more tweets at 9:04 am and 9:08 am. These times are important as he agreed earlier in the morning to meet with his Generals and Defense Director at 10 am to discuss the pros and cons of four options Trump might want to consider. The options ranged from the more legally supportable to what Trump announced on his own before the meeting which was later ceased by four federal courts.

Trump not only surprised his Generals, he lied and said they agreed. The sad truth is there are numerous stories like this about how this man flies by the seat of his pants and drags others down with him.

Second, after grave concerns over Trump’s open disdain for NATO, the EU, trade agreements and our allied relationships that have kept us safe and prosperous, the Generals, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis et all invited Trump to a retreat at the Pentagon to go over why these are important. After listening for awhile, prodded by Steve Bannon, Trump went on one of his rants, as an attendee described in Woodward’s book.

“The president proceeded to lecture and insult the entire group about how they didn’t know anything when it came to defense or national security. It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisors, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views.”

This is the meeting where Tillerson uttered his famous criticism due to his frustration over how the Generals were treated. He said Trump is a “f**king moron.”

These two examples paint a picture of a dangerous loose cannon who bullies and lies. We are not safer with this man in charge. And, the sooner his sycophants listen to voices who know better and have the courage to act, the safer we will be.