This zero-sum discourse needs to stop

What does zero-sum discourse mean? It means framing topics in terms of who wins and who loses. I fault politicians, pundits and reporters for this mindset. This mindset preceded the current White House incumbent, but he views most everything through a very short-term transactional lens. Did I win?

The dilemma in discussing who wins and loses on actions, speeches or tweets is it takes the focus away from the issues. Does this decision help or hurt the people, environment or region?

I heard a news discussion on whether the US pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal helps or hurts Trump’s image? That is the wrong question among many better questions. Does it make the US safer? Does it make the world safer? Are we harming our relationships with our allies? Are we making a fact based decision as other leaders are questioning the veracity of this decision? And, so on.

Whether it is healthcare, debt, taxes, environment, financial protection, etc., I do not care who wins or loses politically. When people care too much about winning or losing, I can tell you who gets screwed – it is the people they represent.

Americans want Congress to address healthcare, with the majority saying to fix Obamacare. Instead, the President and leaders in Congress have sabotaged it over the past three years making premiums even higher. They want to see it politically fail while screwing American people.

I am tired of the lack of collaboration. I am tired of the abuse of factual information. And, I am tired of this zero-sum discourse. To be frank, our leaders need to stop trying to keep their job and start doing their job.

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Let’s fix the larger gun death problems

Mass shootings are very tragic and heart wrenching. Homicides are also tragic. Yet, the biggest gun problem and another tangible and avoidable problem make up between 60% and 70% of annual gun deaths in America. The lion’s share of gun deaths in America are suicides. Last year, over 23,000 of the 38,000 plus gun deaths were suicides. This ratio is not unusual and tracks pretty well year in and year out.

The other much smaller, but more avoidable gun death problem is accidental shootings. And, tragically the ones doing the shooting or getting killed are children who come across a weapon. To lose a child is the worst nightmare I could possibly imagine. But, to lose one because you did not put away your gun, is even more traumatic. The gun owner has to live with the guilt. While accidental shootings are about 2% of gun deaths, they seem to be ones we should be able to avoid irrespective of one’s fervor for the 2nd Amendment.

After each mass shooting, there is concern registered by kids and parents about not letting this happen again. The people for and against more gun control go into camps with some saying now is not the time, while the others asking when is the time. I must give a huge amount of credit to the Parkland kids and others around the country who are forcing action. But, outside of a little lip service in Washington, nothing tangible happens. They may regret inaction come November.

These past few months, the barest of minimum change was done, but there was the President of the United States speaking before the NRA convention last week. He was the one who taunted Congress representatives for not standing up to the NRA. These were obviously just words, which we should be used to by now. With this said, I do give kudos to Florida who acted a little more demonstrably than DC.

To prevent more suicides, background checks on all sales with elongated waiting periods are needed. Doctors must be permitted to ask patients if there is a gun in the house as the propensity for suicide is much higher than one without. All it takes is an impulse and it is over. We must add more psychologists and counselors to schools. The greater gun risk is a depressed student taking his or her life. And, we should expand Medicaid in the remaining 18 states along with its mental health benefits.

As for the accidental shootings, the majority of states require guns to be locked up at home, but why do not all states have such a requirement? I have shared this before, but I asked my father-in-law to lock up his weapon, as I did not want his grandkids around a loaded weapon. He did so. One idea that has merit is requiring a finger printed trigger, where only the owner can use the weapon.

Please note that none of the above speaks of taking weapons away. These steps would help reduce the number of suicides and accidental shootings. Even if the number is only 100, 500 or 1,000, those are lives saved. Isn’t this what it’s all about?

 

 

US is going alone again

Unless we alter our course, this period of time will be remembered as when the US ceded its global leadership role. We are following a path of nativism and retrenchment. And, there is one thing for certain – we cannot shrink to greatness.

First, we drop out of an Asia/ Pacific trade partnership early in the Trump presidency. The remaining countries proceeded without the US and inked a deal at the end of last year. Why is this important? When approached to do a bilateral agreement, Japan told Trump to reenter the Asia/ Pacific agreement.

Second, last June we decided to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, leaving an agreement with pretty much the rest of the world. Even ExxonMobil told us to stay in the accord. Fortunately, businesses, cities and states are picking up the dropped baton, but more is needed from our DC leaders.

Third, we do our darnedest to restrict immigration into our country from several countries and are actively seeking to expel both undocumented immigrants and children who came forward under DACA. What we fail to understand is immigration is accretive to our economy and this is a key part of our ideals.

Fourth, we have introduced tariffs on our allies and trading partners. Not only are we acting like a bully, we are acting unwisely, so say 1,140 economists including Nobel laureates and Presidential advisors. We could be precipitating a retrenchment of the global economy, of which we are a key part. The economists say this is how recessions start.

Fifth, by pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, we are heightening global risk. But, we also have turned our back on our allies who asked us to work with them to stay in the agreement. With the reimposed sanctions any EU countries doing business with Iran will also be sanctioned. This will invite sanctions by the EU on the United States’ companies doing business there.

The President views the world in a transactional way which is why he prefers bilateral agreements. He must win the transaction. In multilateral agreements, everyone wins some and loses some. He also does not value diplomacy as we have retrenched in those capabilities. The hard work is done by these folks and China is lapping us in their diplomatic efforts.

We cannot go this alone. We should pay attention to the words of French President Emmanuel Macron when he spoke to the US Congress. He beseeched us to remain involved working with others.

 

Monday memorables

“Monday, Monday” sang the Mamas and the Papas. Here are a few memorable items from the news of the day, but I will stop short and let you draw your own conclusions.

Vladimir Putin was sworn into a new six year term, but decided to commemerate it by having protesters arrested, including his most vocal critic who opposes his leader for life mission.

Poland decided to loosen laws on remembering the holocaust in the manner it should be remembered. Yesterday it was announced there has been increased vandalism of the Auschwitz Museum.

Closer to home, convicted coal miner executive Don Blankenship may win the Republican primary for US Senate. Just to remind people, Blankenship was convicted and very lightly sentenced of safety violations that led to the death of 29 violations.

Our friend Gronda reports that Congressman Devin Nunes is in danger of losing his seat in the fall. His home town paper has vilified him for his unethical and highly political behavior. It was so egregious, Senator Richard Burr of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligebce Committee asked Speaker Paul Ryan to not allow the release of the Nunes’ memo as his Committee did not agree with its findings and criticized Nunes for slandering a fellow Senator.

Rudy Guiliani has decided to be a legal spokesperson for Donald Trump while still learning the facts, per him and Trump. A sensible question to ask would be then why are you talking? Yet, I don’t think his boss knows the facts he wants to tell for the best story. This is a key reason he threw Guiliani under the bus on Friday. And, then came Sunday. Truth be told, he and Trump are two peas in a pod – neither knows when to shut up and both have a limited relationship with the truth. Anorher question I pose is will Guiliani last the week?

Closing with a feel good story, there will be a Royal wedding which includes a divorced, multiracial American. Less than 100 years ago, a future king abdicated his right to the throne because he wanted to marry a divorced American. Times have changed for the better and the two appear to be much in love and a lovely couple. Cheers.

 

Ain’t no witch hunt, but this witch better watch out for falling houses

President Richard Nixon resigned in August, 1974 because his Republican confidantes said he would be otherwise impeached. He said two things over and over before his demise. The first was “I am not a crook.” He was. The second was to refer to the Watergate investigations as a “witch hunt.” They were not.

President Trump uses the same second phrase over and over again, with his confidantes, sycophants and subordinates echoing the line. The Russian thing is a “witch hunt” or it is a “Russian witch hunt.” As with Nixon, this is not a witch hunt. Robert Mueller has indicted thirteen Russians and five people, four of whom have some relationship to Donald Trump. Three of the four have confessed to lying to the FBI, with one serving jail time. The most egregious offender per the indictments thus far, will stand trial.

But, as we consider the thirteen Russians indicted, help me understand that if this was a witch hunt, why did the US government include those thirteen people in specific sanctions when the President finally succumbed to pressure to act? Call me crazy, but that seems to be a direct admission by this administration that Russian meddling occurred. So, how could that be a witch hunt?

One of the sad truths about what is transpiring is the House Intelligence Committee making intelligence gathering political. The leader of this committee, Congressman Devin Nunes, has done several unethical things and had to step aside for awhile as one action was investigated as a breach. While cleared of wrongdoing, it did not erase the lack of ethics in the first of several questionable actions by Nunes to mask the truth.

His lack of ethics was the subject of a conversation between Senator Richard Burr, the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committee and Speaker Paul Ryan. Burr told Ryan his committee did not support the conclusions or the release of the famous Nunes’ memo on a report he never read. Burr also said that Nunes had defamed with false accusations another Senator who happened to be a Democrat.

Yet, the purpose of Nunes’ politically partisan efforts was to give the President a prop to waive and tweet about. Fortunately, the Senate committee has been far more thorough and bipartisan. And, the Senate Judiciary committee has passed a bipartisan bill to give a fair hearing to Robert Mueller if he is fired by this President. It is sad the Mitch McConnell won’t bring this bill to the floor for a vote, which is highly political as well.

But, the one clear action of the President over the last sixteen months is to consistently change his story about things related to the Russian meddling. Why? Quoting Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, “if the President is innocent, it would help his case of he acted like it.” Gowdy answers his own statement in the first part of the phrase.

Just paying attention to this issue and what the President and his confidantes have said, I see a man who is guilty of obstruction of justice at a minimum. His own words and changing story to as late as yesterday indicate this. I see a man, at a minimum, who is an unwitting participant in Russian meddling, so says a CIA agent who testified in front of Congress. Yet, I will not be surprised if he is guilty of worse. A man who cares about his image and what people think of him would be interested in what was going on around him to get elected. Plus, there are those many financial relationships between Trump and Russian investors.

So, this is not a witch hunt. The FBI and Justice Department are not the bad guys. I find Trump’s attack on honorable law enforcement people a disgrace. But, I will say, if someone has done witchy things like this President does and appears to have done, he may want to watch out for falling houses.

A couple of tax truths get revealed

Long before the Tax Plan was passed in December, I have shared my concern about our runaway debt problem. So, I am none to thrilled by a Tax Plan that will make it worse. Yet, that is not my only concern. While I was all for some tax relief on corporations to encourage the repatriation of overseas earnings, Congress and the President went much too deep.

Their stated goal was to fuel even more growth in the economy which was already doing pretty well for a long time – over 8+ years of growth – which is now the second longest growth period in our history. In essence, we borrowed from our future to improve on something that was percolating at a pretty good clip.

Yet, while this was a stated goal, I said then and repeat now, that may have been oversold. My fear is by giving money to corporations with no requirement, they would likely use it to benefit their EPS using a fairly expedient approach – they would buy back shares from the open market. Companies that cannot figure out how to grow earnings, can easily reduce the outstanding shares in the denominator through buy backs. I learned many years ago, share buy backs are usually a sign of weakness. Companies do this to meet EPS targets to pay bonuses. Board members do not complain as they may be doing the same thing at their own companies.

But, don’t take my word for this concern. In an article in Reuters this week, “Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, in a move that may undercut his party’s message about the recent tax overhaul ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, told the Economist magazine there is ‘no evidence whatsoever’ the law significantly helped American workers.

‘There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers,’ Rubio said in the interview published Thursday.

In fact they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.’”

Per an article in March by CNN Money reporter Matt Egan, “Buy backs have exploded in 2018 thanks to windfall from the Republican tax law. American companies including Wells Fargo (WFC) and Cisco (CSCO) have showered Wall Street with $214 billion of stock buy back announcements so far this year, according to research firm TrimTabs.

But critics argue Corporate America’s fascination with stock buy backs has come at a real cost to American workers. Instead of focusing on short-term rewards for shareholders, they say companies should make long-term investments by retraining workers, ramping up benefits and boosting wages.

Stock buybacks have been a prime mode of both concentrating income among the richest households and eroding middle-class employment opportunities,‘ said William Lazonick, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell who has studied the impact of stock buybacks.”

In my view, it would not be surprising to see some additional growth in our economy, but it is projected to be much less than Congress and the President have touted. What is throwing even more water on projected growth is the President’s announced tariffs. This has thrown global markets in a state of disarray and companies do not like uncertainty. If they don’t know if terms will be favorable, they will choose more cautious roads which lead to less but more predictable profits.

This uncertainty is already showing up in the capital markets. What frightens me is we sold our future with more debt while not even addressing the existing debt. And, for what purpose is to be determined.

Letter from Senator Thom Tillis regarding Mueller

I received the following letter in response to my calling and writing Republican Senator Thom Tillis to compliment him on his bipartisan  legislation to make sure Robert Mueller is given a fair hearing if he is fired. The letter speaks for itself.

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Thank you for taking the time to contact me about S. 2644, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act. I appreciate hearing from you.

I believe in the rule of law, regardless of who occupies the White House or which party leads the Justice Department. That is why in August I introduced a bill to create a judicial-review process to prevent the removal of a special counsel without good cause.

Over the past several months, Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE) and I have been working with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), who introduced a similar bill, to reconcile the differences between the two proposals. On April 11, 2018, we introduced the compromise, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.

Last May, when the Justice Department named former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel, virtually all lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike — praised the choice. Mueller has had a distinguished career in law enforcement and public service, and he has a well-earned reputation for impartiality. I have confidence that he will follow the facts, wherever they may lead. I also have confidence that he is leading the investigation without bias toward either side of the political spectrum.

Letting his investigation run its course is in the best interest of the country, and it is the only option to ensure that the American people have trust in the process. This is critically important because it means when the investigation concludes, our country can move forward together. Our bill will help ensure that happens.

I have received a good deal of criticism from my own party for introducing special-counsel legislation, with the common refrain being that it is harmful to President Trump. It isn’t, for two main reasons.

First, if the president actually removes the special counsel without good cause, it would likely result in swift, bipartisan backlash and shake the country’s faith in the integrity of our legal system. Talking heads and pundits on television encouraging the president to make such a drastic and counterproductive move most certainly do not have his best interests at heart. The result would not be good for the American people, my own party or the president.

Second, the constant headlines and rumors that President Trump is considering or has considered removing Mueller — “fake news” or not — are a distraction from the president’s agenda and successful policy initiatives. While the president is understandably frustrated with the investigation, I don’t believe he would ultimately remove Mueller, and the White House and the president’s legal team have indicated that he does not intend to do so. This bill becoming law would remove that narrative from the conversation.

Political grandstanding requires no courage — independence and compromise do. The focus needs to be on achieving a legislative outcome, not a talking point. There are members of my conference who want to get to “yes,” and can get there, especially because the bill will be subject to an amendment process in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill can be improved. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle who support the bill for the right reasons and want a result will be working hand-in-hand to build consensus and get us closer to 60 votes.

The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act is about protecting the rule of law and producing an outcome that is good for our country. It’s not about producing an outcome for one political party.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. Please do not hesitate to contact me again about other important issues.

Sincerely,

Thom Tillis
U.S. Senator