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.

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It is time to govern

Now that the elections are over, it is time to put away the rhetoric and focus on governance. This used to be how it was done, until we segmented the news into various markets. The past twenty years or so, we seem to govern off the campaign rhetoric rather than facts and collaboration has become a dirty word.

As an Independent voter, who has been a member of both parties, the governing off rhetoric and lack of collaboration need to stop. Neither side owns all the good ideas and both sides have some bad ones. And, we need to focus on the underlying truths and facts rather than tweets and who wins a public relations battle over an issue. Process matters – when politicians deviate from process, it is for political reasons.

In this spirit, here are the issues that this voter thinks we should focus on. Many voters have voiced agreement on some of these, but some issues just don’t get due attention.

– we should stabilize and shore up the ACA which most Americans favor: funding commitments to insurers will stabilize premiums, as will expanding Medicaid and considering the expansion of Medicare down to age 55, 60 or 62.

– we should ditch the harmful tariffs and work with our allies and the WTO to pressure China to stop the intellectual capital theft. Tariffs hurt consumers and producers, especially our farmers.

– we should address infrastructure needs which are many, doing so as we have done in the past with a blend of business, venture capital and federal, state and local government funding.

– we should recognize that the two biggest threats to our planet per the World Economic Forum are our water crisis and climate change, which exacerbates the first issue: strides have been made, but we need to reassume our global leadership role on climate change and focus on measures to address both.

– we should add more governance around gun control issues: Gun-owners and non-gun owners have voiced agreement on measures that would help. It should be noted most gun-owners do not belong to the NRA, so the NRA’s political activism against reasonable change should be noted, but not over-emphasized.

– The deficit and debt are building to a point of huge reckoning. It has been eight years since the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Resuction Committee report was shelved. It was shelved because it recommended $2 in expense cuts to every $1 in revenue increases. It was shelved because neither party had the political courage to roll up their sleeves and make tough decisions – we cannot get there with only expense cuts or revenue increases, needing both.

– We should stop the lack of civil discourse and beating up on the media. The media’s role is vital to our democracy. Pay attention to where your news comes from. Be wary of opinion disguised as news. Tweets are not long enough to show context or subtlety and are an easy way to misinform, as a result. To this end, it is vital for our democracy to return to appropriate Congressional oversight. We are not a kingdom.

If anything, we must have our politicians work together. The crime bill the President is pushing and that passed the House is not perfect, but is a bipartisan effort. It makes steps forward. Let’s make needed improvements and get something done. And, that is what Americans want most from our politicians – stop the grandstanding and get stuff done.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.